Here it is. Arguably our favorite list every year. A year’s worth of listening all distilled into one list. 2014 was a surprisingly weak year for hip hop (minus the colossal RTJ2), a wonderful year for triumphant returns (Beck, Jenny Lewis, D’Angelo), and a showcase of how important honesty is in music with some beautifully vulnerable records (Perfume Genius, Sun Kil Moon, Damon Albarn). Who knows what 2015 holds, but for now we can reflect on all the greatness their was in 2014. Now onto the list.
20. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Sturgill Simpson is the 21st century country outlaw, with the same rebellion and classic sound of his country forefathers with a post-modern, existential spin to wrap your head around. Sturgill will have trouble beating his 2014 release, an instant country classic in Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.
19. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
The Soderberg sisters that make up First Aid Kit have some of the purest harmonies in years, and Stay Gold was a huge step forward for the Swedish duo that sounds like they are from the Carolinas.
18. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Angel Olsen’s 2012 debut Half Way Home was a beautifully promising first step, but Burn Your Fire For No Witness is a giant leap forward, thanks to 11 tightly written songs and some dynamic production from John Congleton, undoubtedly our producer of the year since he’s responsible for the new St. Vincent, Strand of Oaks, and Angel Olsen.
17. Strand of Oaks – HEAL
Goshen, Indiana’s own Timothy Showalter releases titanic rock songs as Strand of Oaks, and HEAL is the big ambitious rock album that was missing from mainstream rock this year. For more on Strand of Oaks, read my breakdown of his perfect tribute song in “JM”.
16. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Like Perfume Genius, Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon releases music as brutally honest and open as a high school diary. While it may come out clumsy at times, after over 20 years of music, Benji is no doubt Kozelek’s masterpiece.
15. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
Jenny Lewis releases music only every few years, but it’s an absolute treat when she does. The Voyager is her first album in six years and succeeds thanks to some surprisingly great production work from Ryan Adams and Beck.
14. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
There are few artists as singular and sophisticated as Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus, making some truly one-of-a-kind electronic music. You’re Dead, a concept record about death and mortality, brings some heavy hitter guests like Herbie Hancock, Ennio Morricone, Kendrick Lamar, and Thundercat.
13. Ty Segall – Manipulator
Ty Segall is as prolific at releasing music as Taco Bell is at releasing new menu items, but Ty Segall is actually good. Manipulator might be the garage rock youngster’s best album yet, filled with monster riffs, tons of attitude, and even better melodies.
12. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso released musical Pop Rocks with their debut, a sparkling electro-pop album for the ages.
11. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
Damon Albarn has headed up Blur, Gorillaz, and the Good, Bad, and the Queen, so it’s interesting that he finally releases an album under his own name over 20 years into his career. Everyday Robots is a dark-night-of-the-soul album for the 21st century, speaking to how we use technology to shield are loneliness.
10. TV On The Radio – Seeds
Coming off the death of their bassist Gerard Smith, TV On The Radio regroup and make their most immediate and catchy album in Seeds.
9. Courtney Barnett – The Double Ep: A Sea of Split Peas
Our favorite new artist of 2014 is witty Aussie Courtney Barnett, whose combined EPs from 2013 was released in 2014 as one of the best albums of the year. Her guitar work, sense of humor, and song craft has us excited for much more.
8. Jack White – Lazaretto
Beyond releasing one of the greatest instrumental songs of all time in “High Ball Stepper” and putting on our favorite live show of 2014, there is nothing Mr. White can’t do. Lazaretto is yet another great release from a living legend.
7. Run the Jewels – RTJ2
Usually super groups never deliver on their promise, but El-P and Killer Mike are the undisputed rap champs of the year with RTJ2. Never has Killer Mike sounded so vicious, and never have El-P’s production sounded so urgent.
6. Beck – Morning Phase
Beck’s long-awaited (and completely unexpected) sequel to his acoustic change-up Sea Change was a perfect record for the quietness of winter. Unfortunately as the year has went on, Morning Phase fell a little ways down on our list from it’s number #1 spot midway through the year, but still deserved to be up here with the best.
5. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Guitar goddess St. Vincent has truly become fully formed on her self-titled fourth album, her most confident and unique album to date.
4. The Antlers – Familiars
Another one of our favorites just keeps churning out quiet but beautiful masterworks. Familiars is the trio’s third album, and while it’s their least immediate, it also blossoms more and more with each listen.
3. Spoon – They Want My Soul
Back from a minor hiatus and sounding as rejuvenated as ever thanks to the sonic stylings of producer Dave Fridmann, Texas indie giants Spoon prove why they are one of the ten best bands in the past ten years with They Want My Soul.
2. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah
After a 15 year hiatus following his R&B masterpiece Voodoo, D’Angelo proves some things are worth waiting for, releasing the perfect R&B album at the perfect time, looking to restore the racial divide that has torn apart the U.S. in 2014.
1. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius releases nakedly honest ballads, but with his third album, he has combined beautiful vulnerability with creative ambition to make his best album yet and our best album of 2014. It’s a once of a lifetime album from Hadreas.
Wes – Lykke Li – I Never Learn
Power ballads are usually left to AM radio and bad 80’s rock compilations, but Lykke Li has mastered the art of them on I Never Learn: triumphant love songs you can reflect on quietly or belt out to the sky.
Todd – Sharon Van Etten – Are We There?
Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is undoubtedly beautiful and a real lift to Todd’s soul.
Austin – Taylor Swift – 1989
Some pop music just can’t be denied, as is the case with Taylor Swift’s 1989, her full-on conversion from pop and country darling to full-on pop superstar.