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Best of 2014: Our 37 Most Favorite-est Albums of the Year

Posted by December 31st, 2014 No Comments »

Holy smokes what a difficult year to select our favorite records: 119 albums received votes from more than 20 contributors. Debates were had. Opinions were expressed. Sacrifices were made.

Now at long last, and without further ado, we present the glorious, sprawling mess that is our list of favorite records from 2014, some with a musical sample, some with a video and others with analysis from our team of writers. Please share your own 2014 favorites in the comments section below.

37. Survival Knife – Loose Power 

Survival Knife Loose Power on

Loose Power is an overwhelmingly beautiful juxtaposition of raw punk energy, prog-intellectualism and classic rock. Featuring Justin and Brandt from seminal 90’s band Unwound, Survival Knife is just punk enough for the hardcore kids, but also musically adventurous enough to entice the attentive listener. This is what happens when punk rockers grow up, smoke grass and listen to a bunch of 70’s rock. – Ben Allen

Watch the video for the title track from Loose Power

36. Rodrigo Amarante – Cavalo

Rodrigo Amarante – Cavalo on

Cavalo is a wonderful 2014 release from Brazilian singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rodrigo Amarante. – MA

Watch Rodrigo’s live Deezer session featuring songs from Cavalo 

35. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams Ryan Adams

For his 14th studio album in as many years, Ryan Adams finally went self-titled with Ryan Adams. And it’s a great name, because with the combination of rock and roll tracking, haunting vocals and insane lyrics, this is truly the Ryan Adams-iest Ryan Adams album. Stand out tracks include “Let Go” and “Kim.” – Kevin Nelson

Watch Ryan perform “Kim” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon 

34. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah 

D'Angelo – Black Messiah

Time will tell if Black Messiah is deserving of the hype it’s received since R&B sensation D’Angelo suddenly and unexpectedly released it on December 15, 2014, but the fact that contributors anxiously sent updates to their “top albums lists” and specifically asked that it replace another album is a good sign. It’s the Richmond, Virginia native’s first release in 14 years. – MA

Listen to “Really Love” from Black Messiah 

33. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time 

Todd Terje – It's Album Time on

Norwegian house producer Todd Terje‘s 2014 release It’s Album Time was good enough to earn votes even from contributors who don’t pay nearly enough attention to EDM. Crossover success! – MA

Watch the video for Todd’s track Dolorean Dynamite”

32. Israel Nash – Rain Plans  

Israel Nash – Rain Plans on

A troubadour in the vein of Neil Young, Israel Nash wrote and recorded Rain Plans after moving from New York City to a small Texas town. – MA

Watch Israel perform the title track from Rain Plans live 

31. Tacocat – NVM

Tacocat - NVM on

Tacocat have been rocking small clubs in town for a few years now, so it was exciting to hear just how terrific their new album is. Masters of efficiency, the band punches through 13 songs in under a half hour. That’s nothing new, but the quality of the songwriting and sharp production result in many happy repeat listens. “Crimson Wave,” “Psychedelic Quinceanera,” “Snow Day” and “Alien Girl” are little hits I’ll be humming for years. Plus, their name is a palindrome. – Abe Beeson

Watch the video for Tacocat’s “Crimson Wave”

30. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold 

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

There’s no earthly reason to explain how First Aid Kit’s Soderberg sisters are able to sound so world-weary at 24 and 21. The only thing I can figure is that sometimes Swedes just know how to rock from the outset. “I don’t know if I’m scared of dying / But I’m scared of living too fast, too slow” is one of the more succinct expressions of frustration I’ve heard, despite the age of the songwriter. Add sparkling El Lay production from Saddle Creek’s Mike Mogis, and you’ve got yourself a good stew going. – Adam Lawrence

Watch First Aid Kit’s video for “My Silver Lining” 

29. Taylor Swift – 1989

Taylor Swift – 1989

…because sometimes manufactured, major label pop music rules and Taylor is THE BEST. Unlike many pop albums, 1989 shines between the singles as well. – MA

Watch the video for Taylor’s “Blank Space”

28. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

St. Vincent – St. Vincent

How great was it when St. Vincent played Saturday Night Live earlier this year and freaked out all the squares? Super great. It was super, super great. – MA

Watch the video for “Birth in Reverse,” one of two songs St. Vincent performed on SNL 

27. The Afghan Whigs – Do the Beast

The Afghan Whigs Do the Beast put two albums by the Afghan Whigs, Gentlemen and 1965, in the top ten on its list of the 150 best albums of the 1990s so it’s no surprise that we had some support for their comeback record, Do the Beast, which sounds surprisingly urgent and fresh despite being badly over-produced. – MA

Watch the video for the song “Matamoros” from Do The Beast

Read Gabe’s article about the Afghan Whigs’ return 

Red Red’s review of the Afghan Whigs Seattle show in May 2014

26. Temples – Sun Structures

Temples – Sun Structures on

Temples are a British psychedelic rock band who made waves at this year’s SXSW festival and went on to critical acclaim. – MA

Watch Temples perform the title track from Sun Structures on KEXP 

Read Ian’s feature on Temples

25. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Against Me Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Based on the album’s title and slab of flesh displayed in sobering black and white on the cover of Against Me!’s sixth album, it’s clear they aren’t taking the subtle route in exploring identity and the problematic assets of utilizing a binary gender construct. But when has the Gainesville power-punk band ever needed a reason to tone it down? In 2012, bandleader Laura Jane Grace publicly revealed that she’d suffered from transgender dysphoria and was met with a vast array of public reaction; confusion, aggression, overwhelming support, and, possibly most important of all, curiosity.

With the release of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the autobiographical perspective historically found in the band’s catalog meets an issue desperate for an educated, passionate voice. Grace’s range – visceral yowl to point-blank indignant – is telling of a difficult journey and, I’m willing to bet, the first time many Against Me! fans considered the tumultuousness of such diagnosis. Considering the album almost wasn’t made, Transgender Dysphoria Blues feels all the more important in jumpstarting a necessary conversation. – CD

Watch the performance video for “Black Me Out” from Transgender Dysphoria Blues 

Read Cameron’s recount of the first time he saw Against Me! live 

24. Ty Segall – Manipulator 

Ty Segall – Manipulator on

Manipulator is the latest from prolific California garage rocker Ty Segall. – MA  

Watch the official video for the title track from Manipulator 

23. Meatbodies – Meatbodies

Meatbodies – Meatbodies on

Chad Ubovich plays guitar for Mikal Cronin and bass in Fuzz. Now he has his own band called Meatbodies and they are pretty bitchin’. – MA

Watch the video for the Meatbodies song “Tremors”

22. Wussy – Attica

Wussy – Attica on

Rising from the ashes of Americana stalwarts Ass Ponys, Wussy has been quietly excelling at making great but unheard albums for 13 years. Perhaps that’s a lucky number for the band, since this year’s Attica! is probably their best work. Fronted by a male/female duo of former lovers that is greater than the sum of its parts, Wussy’s tales of hard luck in Anywheretown, USA trailer parks and basements put you right on the shore of the frozen lake and burned-down flophouses. – AL

Watch Wussy play “Teenage Wasteland” for Cincinnati Magazine 

21. The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader

The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader on

Alongside Temples, The Wytches earned some deserved hype during this year’s SXSW festival in Austin. To my liking, their brand of psychedelic rock is more Black Sabbath meets Nuggets meets Nirvana than Tame Impala or Moby Grape. – MA

Watch the Wytches video for “Gravedweller”

Read Matt’s interview with the Wytches

20. FKA twigs – LP1 

FKA twigs – LP1 on

Seemingly out of nowhere (at least from my vantage point), English singer-songwriter, producer and dancer FKA Twigs was EVERYWHERE in the second half of 2014. And for good reason. – MA

Watch the video for FKA Twigs’ “Two Weeks”

19. Protomartyr – Under the Cover of Official Right

Protomartyr - Under the Cover of Official Right on

There’s a lot of darkness in Protomartyr’s second record — and that’s a good thing. These well-crafted songs rip along precise trajectories designed to delve into some of the darkness of the world both lyrically and musically. Turn to the slow burner “Come & See” for what is perhaps the best summation of a collection of songs that can’t be summarized (“And I’ll try to live defeated”) — and then dive into the churning shadowy waters of “I Stare at Floors” to get a good idea of the dystopia Protomartyr is prophesying. – CD

Watch Protomartyr perform “Maidenhead” on KEXP 

18. Mac Demarco – Salad Days

Mac Demarco – Salad Days on

Oddball Canadian singer/songwriter Mac Demarco is the year’s surprise breakout Indie success story. – MA

Watch Mac perform “Salad Days” on Exclaim! TV 

17. New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers on

Long-time favorites The New Pornographers released their sixth studio album of tasty power-pop and, Brill Bruisers, ramping the punk rock energy back up a touch in their beautifully crafted compositions. – MA

Watch The New Pornographers perform “Brill Bruisers” live at WFUV

16. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty

Shabazz Palaces - Lese Majesty on
Watch Shabazz Palaces’ video for #CAKE

Check out Bridget’s review of Lese Majesty 

15. Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys

Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys on

Once renowned as a child actor turned musician, its clear Jenny Lewis was always meant to make music. Her return to solo albums after the 2011 breakup of Rilo Kiley took five years to complete and deals with some heavy shit. Fortunately, Lewis lost none of her wit or unique approach to lyrics. There are more poppy tones throughout The Voyager, but Lewis has always had an appreciation for the shiny and catchy. As she sings on “Head Underwater, “There’s a little bit of magic, everybody has it / There’s a little bit of sand left in the hourglass.” Indeed. – AL

Watch the video for “Just One of the Guys” 

14. Real Estate – Atlas

Real Estate – Atlas on

This record is deeply sound-defining for a certain brand of indie guitar rock in a way that Death Cab’s stuff was in the early nineties. String contender for this year’s “Most Copycat Bands Generated” award. – Chris Klepac

To say that Real Estate grew up on their third record, Atlas, isn’t quite right. Growing up often means excising some of the wistfulness, daydreaming, and drama that come with adolescence. Instead, I’d say that Real Estate evolve with their third album, not forsaking their roots in suburban daydream, but sinking them even deeper, fine-tuning that melancholy until it sounds suspiciously like joy. – Chris McCann

Watch the video for “Crime” 

13. Swans – To Be Kind 

Swans – To Be Kind on

Like a fine wine, Michael Gira and his Swans project have become better with age. Reforming the band in 2010 and releasing 2012’s ambitious The Seer found the group with fans left over from their early Manhattan No Wave days, but also younger cats curious about technical, noisy, repetitive music. To Be Kind follows closely in the footsteps of The Seer, with sprawling numbers, many passing the 10 minute mark. While at times Gira and company can sound dark, the goal has always been ecstasy through long, improvisational powerful arrangements. – BA

Watch the video for “Oxygen” 

12. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots on

Nineteen years on, let’s sit back and contemplate the “Britpop Wars.” Simply put, Damon Albarn won. With 2014’s Everyday Robots we finally have Albarn’s début solo album (let’s set aside the questions of how the Gorillas was a group effort, or what exactly the opera “Dr. Dee” was), and a fine record it is too. Despite a certain languor, this is a very accessible collection of songs that starts out likeable, and quickly becomes loveable. For a notoriously opaque artist, Albarn presents us with a very personal work, firmly rooted in place and time – Notting Hill (“You and Me”), childhood (“Hollow Ponds”), fatherhood (“Photographs (You are Taking Now)”), and heroin usage in the general standout track “You and Me”. Albarn’s often underrated voice is superb throughout as well. – R. Sterling

Watch Damon Albarn perform the title track from “Everyday Robots” to an android audience 

11. Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Perfume Genius - Too Bright on

Watch Perfume Genius perform “Hood” on KEXP

Check out Cee Cee’s review of Too Bright  

10. Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time 

Shovels & Rope – Swimmin' Time on

While not necessarily groundbreaking in their folk/Americana approach, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent write incredibly well-crafted tunes under the moniker Shovels & Rope. Their vocal harmonies border on gospel perfection and you’ll feel transported to a simpler time, when picking out a sparse melody on guitar accompanied by an intriguing story was all your audience required. – BA

Watch Shovels & Rope perform “Birmingham” on KEXP

9. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal

Parquet Courts Sunbathing Animal on

Sometimes rock n’ roll is imperfect, and that’s alright. Parquet Courts vocalists A. Savage and Austin Brown speak/sing and when they push it, sound like drunken hyenas. Equally engaging is the two minute conclusion of “She’s Rollin” where a bat-shit crazy atonal harmonica solo rambles on for what seems like forever. I haven’t heard raw indifference this appealing since the heyday of Pavement’s 90’s output. – BA

Watch Parquet Courts perform “Black And White” on KEXP

8. Weird Al Yankovic – Mandatory Fun

Weird Al Yankovick – Mandatory Fun on

It would feel weird not to give props to Weird Al this year. Al not only found a home and a peer group in the comedy insurgency coming out of podcast culture, he actually made the funniest and most relevant album he’s put out since I’d say somewhere around Even Worse. He could have easily dropped off and rested on his laurels, but I love how active and sharp he’s been in the past year or two. – CK

Parody is a delicate art, and make no mistake—Weird Al is an undisputed virtuoso, and one of my personal heroes. He truly studies and understands how to replicate every facet of wellknown songs before he reimagines them with new lyrics or in different musical styles, and I’ve always admired Al’s ability to keep the lyrics PG-13 while still asserting razorsharp allegorical social commentary, genius pop culture references, and countless brilliant turns of phrase. Few artists have remained this sharp and this relevant for more than three decades. – Leah Brezinski

Watch the video for “Foil” 

7. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Sturgill Simpson Metamodern Sounds in Country Music on

As soon as I listened to clips of this album, I had to have it. That voice of his! Sturgill Simpson’s latest record is full of well-written, low-to-mid-tempo outlaw country songs, mostly with simple guitar/bass/drums backing, tweeked with touches of cosmic keyboard washes and subtle electronic elements – fresh and familiar at once. Sturgill even makes the When In Rome new wave hit “The Promise” his own. – Abe Beeson

Read Ian’s review of Sturgill Simpson live at the Tractor this year    

Watch Sturgill perform “Life of Sin” on the Late Show with David Letterman 

6. Spoon – They Want My Soul

Spoon They Want My Soul on

Spoon is not an alternative rock band, an alt country band, a metal band or a heavy metal band. They are a rock band. They solidify that fact on their latest, They Want My Soul.” Highlights include “Rent I Pay,” “Outlier” and the title track. – Greg Lehman

Watch Spoon perform “Rent I Pay” on KEXP 

5. Beck – Morning Phase 

Beck Morning Phase on

I wasn’t particularly excited by the idea of a new Beck album until the buzz around Morning Phase was more than I could ignore. I was worried when Beck seemed to be shifting from the lean triumph of Modern Guilt into some weird car commercial phase, but then he brought out this record, a more than worthy successor to Mutations and Sea Change. It’s confident and beautiful. – CK

Beck just sounds better when he’s in pain. His most enduring work, including this year’s Morning Phase and it’s sonic sibling, 2002’s Sea Change, each came after a painful breakup. Now, that may be a neverending goldmine for love ’em and leave ’em artists like Taylor Swift, but for Beck, his pain becomes our gain, just not as often. – AL

Watch Beck perform “Blue Moon” on Saturday Night Live

4. Sleaford Mods – Divide & Exit  

Sleaford Mods Divide & Exit on
Minimalism as high art. One man pushes play on a laptop. Another man spits venom. And you end up sounding kind of like The Fall. “Fizzy isn’t from this Nottingham duo’s excellent 2014 album Divide & Exit, but the performance, recording in April of this year, gives you everything you need to know about Sleaford Mods. – MA

3. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

Run the Jewels 2 on

The second album from Killer Mike and El-P is as flawlessly perfect as their debut. – MA

2. The War on Drugs – Lost In the Dream

The War On Drugs Lost in the Dream on

We live in nostalgic times. There are moments throughout Lost in the Dream that put me right back on the school bus, right back to sharing a wall with my Prog-rock loving brother, right back to watching those first late night MTV video blocks, straining for sounds of my father stirring, and riding the volume button until it was safe to listen again. In an ocean of Remember When culture, where everything old is new again, The War on Drugs have tapped into an authentic well, wringing genuine emotion from once fertile ground. The guitar sound on “An Ocean In Between the Waves” is straight out of a 1983 Dire Straits album, while the reverb heavy drum line running throughout “Disappearing” reminds me of any Depeche Mode or Tears for Fears track from 1985.

But while it’s easy to ape an era-specific sound, the real challenge lies in doing something new with an old model. Songwriter/singer Adam Granduciel manages to do just that with his lyrics. They’re earnest, sincere, but also wistful of bygone times. He writes from a grown-up’s perspective, perhaps for the first time, and laments what used to be. “Eyes to the Wind” is a sequel to Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” in the best way – simply asking “what the hell happened?” with a sigh and more than a little regret. This is music designed to be played on long, slow back curves while driving the Mustang you bought after turning 40. – AL

Read Adam’s full review of Lost in the Dream  

1. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness

Angel Olsen Burn Your Fire for No Witness on

As we declare our democratically selected favorite album of the Year of Our Loud Two Thousand and Fourteen, it’s important to note that Cameron kind of called this one back in March when previewed and reviewed the Missouri performer’s show at Barboza this spring. It’s also important to note the Angel Olsen is the only act that the editor and publisher of got to stand on the stage for during this year’s Capitol Hill Block Party. I also share this picture of Cameron, taken after her Block Party set at the merch booth to further prove our angel love.

Cameron Image 2

These motivating forces aside, I can tell you that Burn Your Fire for No Witness got more votes than any other album from among our field of 25 contributors and appeared on more ballots than any anyone else too. We like us some Angel. – MA

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