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Under the Radar’s Top 140 Albums of 2014

Dec 12, 2014
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2014, the year that U2 invaded the privacy of half a million Apple users and Mark Kozelek fought The War on Drugs. Ariel Pink also went to battle with Madonna and Grimes. And Taylor Swift shook it off all the way to the best first week U.S. album sales in 12 years, but U.S. album sales also hit a record low (best illustrated by Paula, Robin Thicke’s big flop of an attempt to win back his estranged wife, Paula Patton).

Chris Walla left Death Cab for Cutie, Neutral Milk Hotel announced their final shows, Vivian Girls called it quits, and Guided By Voices broke up again (but don’t worry, Robert Pollard probably has five new solo albums already in the works). On TV we said goodbye to Sons of Anarchy, The Newsroom, Boardwalk Empire, The Colbert Report, Psych, True Blood, and, in one of the most disappointing series finales this side of Lost, How I Met Your Mother (spoiler alert: the mom dies).

But then Slowdive, Sleater-Kinney, OutKast, Ride, and Pink Floyd all returned. And we got TV series premieres for Fargo, True Detective, Missing, The Flash, The Leftovers, Gotham, and Garfunkel & Oates. Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making opus Boyhood was finally released and we checked into Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. We helped Benedict Cumberbatch play The Imitation Game and Chris Pratt guard the galaxy. Plus David Lynch and Mark Frost announced that they were taking another twisted trip to Twin Peaks in 2016. “Weird Al” Yankovic was also back in a big way, getting “handy” and “tacky” with a bunch of viral videos and his first ever #1 album.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. We may have just landed a probe on a comet for the first time ever, but 2014 was a tumultuous year for world events, both in America and internationally. One passenger jet disappeared without a trace and another was shot down in Ukraine, while a Virgin Galactic test flight also fatally crashed. The Ebola Virus ravaged Africa. The police shooting of unarmed suspect Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, sparked massive protests and renewed the dialogue on police shootings and racism in America. ISIS’ reign of terror and beheadings continued unabated and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict also worsened. Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman both died under tragic circumstances and we also lost Bobby Womack, Gravenhurt’s Nick Talbot, Harold Ramis, Bob Hoskins, Rik Mayall, Lauren Bacall, and music photographer David Redfern. The 44% of Scottish people who voted for independence were left disillusioned. The U.S. midterm elections were either disastrous or victorious, depending on your party affiliation. And, spoiler alert, Beth died on The Walking Dead!

Despite all the disease and terror and protests and zombies, we’ll always have the music of 2014 to look back fondly on. And what a year it was for tunes. Other music magazines and websites might present you a Top 50 albums of 2014, a Top 100 at most, but we couldn’t leave it at that-too many great albums would be left out. So here we have the Top 140 Albums of 2014. It’s a slight, but helpful, coincidence that “14” appears in both numbers.

Here’s how it went down. Twenty-four of our writers and editors (including our two publishers) each submitted their personal Top 45 albums of 2013 lists and then those were all combined and calculated together to form this master list. For an album to make the list it had to be picked by at least three writers and when all the calculating was done we came up with 140 titles and just went with it. Our #1 album was the runaway winner, with all but four of those who voted having it on their list somewhere (many at #1, most in their Top 10). But our #2 album also made a very strong showing.

So now that you’ve finally dried off and warmed up from that ice bucket challenge you did back in the summer and have survived another Black Friday (and up to a record seven feet of snow in late November if you live in Upstate New York), sit back and peruse our choices for the best that music had to offer in 2014. And let us know in the comments below if we somehow left out anything you loved or you have any other thoughts on the list. By Mark Redfern


The War on Drugs

Lost in the Dream

Secretly Canadian

The War on Drugs’ brilliant third LP is an ambitious, hour-long sprawl of ambient roots rock, akin to Springsteen’s The River run through a filter of haze and effects pedals. Where their first two records sometimes came across as unchecked, cathartic bursts, Lost in the Dream is relatively composed: intimate, carefully-woven musical textures form a softening layer around uncommonly direct lyricism. Perhaps the album’s sublime consonance can be chalked up to the lonely, laborious year that perfectionist Adam Granduciel spent recording, scrapping, and re-recording the songs, or maybe it’s just a case of a band hitting their stride all at once. Either way, Lost in the Dream is far and away 2014’s most cohesive musical vision. Viva la Bossgaze!

By Austin Trunick


St. Vincent

St. Vincent

Loma Vista

With St. Vincent, Annie Clark hit the perfect fusion of avant-garde innovation and toe-tapping tunes. Her fourth album is as magnificently weird as it is listenable, filtering the Texas-raised musician’s never-ending need to push boundaries through a hurdy-gurdy of joyous digital melodies. A career peak, yes, but one that leaves the impression there’s much more to come.

By Billy Hamilton


Future Islands



This Baltimore trio has been working hard touring, recording, and generally kicking ass for eight years. However, it was a performance on Letterman and sick dance moves that finally put these synthpoppers in the national spotlight they’ve long deserved. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that Singles is their best album yet.)

By Austin Trunick


Real Estate



Outwardly serene, Atlas is rife with internal contradictions. The lyrics speak (rather wisely) of doubt, but the melodies offer peace. Generations of indie rock history are enfolded into it, but it sounds like nothing else. The pristine songs could have been written in minutes, but are constructed to last decades.

By Michael Wojtas


Angel Olsen

Burn Your Fire For No Witness


Angel Olsen’s second album is equal parts haunting, vicious, melancholy, and powerful, often in the same song. From the powerhouse vocals of “High & Wild” to the Leonard Cohen-ish “White Fire” to the quiet “Enemy” (which manages to channel early Dolly Parton), each of these 11 tracks is a stunner in some way, each listen revealing a new layer of depth.

By Ryan E.C. Hamm



Our Love


Dan Snaith described Caribou’s latest album, Our Love, as a “generous” release intended for everyone. Indeed, the sonic canvas here is expansive, even as Snaith’s psychedelic ambient signature is present amid new influences and guests. The title track in particular stands alongside Caribou’s finest work.

By Matt Conner



They Want My Soul

Loma Vista

Spoon have achieved the nearly impossible in this era and released their eighth consecutive excellent album. On They Want My Soul, Britt Daniel and Jim Eno tinker with their formula slightly by bringing Dave Fridmann and Joe Chiccarelli in as producers on a few numbers. They certainly up the ante for the band sonically, but this album is still quintessential Spoon, best exemplified by the gorgeous closing number “New York Kiss.” It eschews cheap sentimentality while managing to tug at your heart strings—no easy feat, but one this band have perfected over the course of nearly two decades’ worth of peerless albums.

By John Everhart


Sharon Van Etten

Are We There


There’s something of the hopeless romantic to Sharon Van Etten. Despite the heavy-hearted melodies, album number four for the New York songstress holds an overpowering sense of someone sold unconditionally on love. Swooning with elegant compositions, Are We There is the bloodied and beautiful sound of a woman running an emotionally charged gauntlet. The result is as gorgeous as 2014 got.

By Billy Hamilton


Wye Oak



On Shriek, Wye Oak jettison the guitar and drums-dominated pop which has defined their prior three albums, instead favoring silvery synths, sawing cello, and a bedrock foundation of bass. The results dazzle, proving that Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack are capable of making a great album even when they take themselves out of their comfort zone. Shriek is light years removed stylistically from their earlier efforts, but their knack for crafting a killer hook is thankfully still intact.

By John Everhart



This Is All Yours


Alt-J follow up their critically acclaimed debut An Awesome Wave with another collection of scenic and dramatic songs on their sophomore effort This Is All Yours. Alt-J manage to strike their niche in seriously focused indie pop yet again, with eclectic rhythms amid layers of harmonies and even a few surprises. Highlights include “Hunger of the Pine,” “Every Other Freckle,” and “Left-Hand Free,” their conspicuously un-alt-J single.

By Cody Ray Shafer


Mac DeMarco

Salad Days

Captured Tracks

Snooze-pop? Louche-rock? Slouch-gaze? However you want to define Mac DeMarco’s sophomore LP, it’s impossible to ignore the distinctly mellow gauze wrapped around each sleepy, shimmering melody. This languid flora made Salad Days the perfect accompaniment to the cocktail-infused glow of hazy, lazy summer nights. A slow-burning, lethargic treasure.

By Billy Hamilton


Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels 2

Mass Appeal

After a lackluster year for hip-hop, El-P and Killer Mike, under the guise of Run the Jewels, decided to take the whole industry hostage with their Molotov cocktail of a sophomore release. What was originally a “blowing-off-steam-between-solo-albums” project has now refreshed the creative energy of both Mike and El, allowing them to unleash a record that takes the shit-talking rampage of their 2013 debut and turns it into righteous, hilarious fury aimed directly at disrupting the state of the nation. It’s hip-hop that’s politically radical, culturally significant, and banging. What more could you want?

By Patrick Bowman


FKA twigs


Young Turks

It’s easy to listen to contemporary R&B and wonder if there are any new ways to sing and make music about sex. But then FKA twigs comes along with her debut album LP1 and makes a record that’s not just insanely sensual and smooth, but also accompanied by a fully formed artistic vision. LP1 is the next step in the continued R&B renaissance (after Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, and Miguel), and will prove to be a bellwether album for decades to come.

By Patrick Bowman


Flying Lotus

You\'re Dead!


It sounds like a 21st-century mashup of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain. Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, recruited Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, and jazz luminaries such as Herbie Hancock for a largely instrumental concept album about death. By turns ethereal and earthy, it sounds anything but grave.

By Stephen Humphries


Jenny Lewis

The Voyager

Warner Bros.

After years of crafting bombastic indie rock with Rilo Kiley and trying on dusty Americana with her solo work, Jenny Lewis has finally embraced her Los Angeles heritage by perfecting an excellent version of ’70s Laurel Canyon rock with her sophomore solo album The Voyager. A legion of gauzy, soft guitars and sturdy melodies pair perfectly with Lewis’ casually witty songwriting, which has frankly never been better. At this point in her career, Lewis has seen it all, a true pro who seems like she can crank out albums as effortlessly excellent as Voyager for the next 10 years.

By Patrick Bowman


East India Youth

Total Strife Forever


William Doyle eschewed his previous musical identities for a digital restart as East India Youth, and the initial turn, Total Strife Forever, yielded a Mercury Prize-nominated release with striking emotional resonance. With results somehow eerie and elegant, Doyle should have messed around in the bedroom a bit earlier.

By Matt Conner


Aphex Twin



Thirteen years out of the limelight hasn’t done Richard James any harm. While the musical landscape around him has continually evolved, Aphex Twin’s return felt as grey matter-clattering as ever. Writhing to a jumble of syncopating beats and distinctly ’90s effects, Syro was typically trend-shunning fare from someone who pays no heed to the world around him. Long may it continue.

By Billy Hamilton


The New Pornographers

Brill Bruisers


2014’s finest power-pop release is also The New Pornographers’ best album to date. Tracks like “Fantasy Fools” and “War on the East Coast” hook quickly, but enjoying the satisfying start-to-finish whole of Brill Bruisers rather than sampling is the difference in a memorable text exchange and spending the night.

By Hays Davis


Lykke Li

I Never Learn


Pain fuels Lykke Li, and while 2011’s Wounded Rhymes was an acute postmortem of heartbreak, I Never Learn burrows even deeper into the darkness. Wounds here are much more raw as Li’s voice tears through “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” and drums pound like damaged heartbeats on “Gunshot.” Li triumphs with calamitous vigor.

By Melody Lau



The Future\'s Void


For The Future’s Void, Erika M. Anderson’s sophomore album as EMA, she’s looked at our perilous digital futures and decided that we’re all just polishing the brass on the Titanic with every tweet, Facebook update, and Instagram photo. The album’s abrasive electropop is paranoid, but propulsive and beautiful, with Anderson finally growing into the caustically interesting songwriter only hinted at on her debut.

By Patrick Bowman


Parquet Courts

Sunbathing Animal

What\'s Your Rupture?

Parquet Courts—composed of Andrew Savage (vocals, guitars), Austin Brown (vocals, guitars), Sean Yeaton (bass), and Max Savage (drums)—are an aberration in 2014, as they actually sound like a band and not a home recording project. You can draw a straight line from them to Swell Maps, The Fall, Sonic Youth, and a slew of other greats, but they strike a divine balance between homage and originality on “Dear Ramona,” which finds the band sounding like they’re covering The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Beginning to See the Light” at half speed, with quixotic ennui replacing the detached anomie of the original. There isn’t a hint of a sophomore slump here—Sunbathing Animal augurs that this band’s just beginning to hit their stride.

By John Everhart



To Be Kind

Young God

To Be Kind is an album that requires the listener’s undivided attention, and for good reason. It’s a focused, deranged work of tension and terror framed in heavy post-rock instrumentation and nervous, surreal lyrics. The music swells with uneasiness and frequently crosses the threshold into a purely cacophonic assault. It’s a demanding work, but one that is undoubtedly worth the investment.

By Cody Ray Shafer





Alvvays’ debut self-titled album is a lesson in refurbishing familiar sounds to form thrilling new melodies. Somewhere between ’60s pop and early 2000s indie-rock is the band’s splendid sound of jangling new classics built as a framework for singer Molly Rankin’s hopelessly romantic and self-deprecating observations.

By Melody Lau


First Aid Kit

Stay Gold


Three albums in, the novelty of remarking on their Swedish origins worn away, Johanna and Klara Söderberg’s brand of Americana continues on with beauties like “Cedar Lane” and “Master Pretender” as well as the rollicking “Heaven Knows.” Stay Gold is one of 2014’s most pleasing records, made for that All-American activity of driving on the open road, windows down.

By Jim Scott


Slow Club

Complete Surrender


The realization that Slow Club may never achieve wider acclaim casts a gloomy shadow over 2014. Complete Surrender was the most accomplished record of the London-based duo’s career, yet its symphonic soul-pop barely breached public consciousness. Glossily produced and peppered with glistening melodies, this felt like a career high for a band forever on the periphery. If only the rest of the world would notice.

By Billy Hamilton


Perfume Genius

Too Bright


No album in 2014 contained as much swaggering confidence as Mike Hadreas’s third full-length as Perfume Genius. From the impudent flag-planting of “Queen” to the slinky threat of “My Body” to the heartache of “Don’t Let Them In,” Too Bright contains multitudes, and somehow they all not only work, but fit together.

By Jim Scott


Ariel Pink

pom pom


Those who got on board with “Round and Round” and never bothered to explore the back catalogue might be horrified, but pom pom is pure, distilled Ariel Pink. Throughout these 69 minutes, the idiot-glee hooks never misfire once (plus, who else would embed a sophomoric sex joke in a record’s runtime?).

By Michael Wojtas



Wonder Where We Land

Young Turks

Jessie Ware, Caroline Polachek, Ezra Koenig, and A$AP Ferg are just a few of the guests on board for SBTRKT’s second LP, which finds the masked producer exploring twice the sonic territory as he did on his first album. His music is just as dark and down-tempo, but now it’s more beguiling than ever before.

By Austin Trunick


Hooray For Earth



On Hooray For Earth’s sophomore album, they sound nothing like MGMT’s synth-pop brother band, a tag they never deserved, and more like themselves—an act with an endless well of inventive guitar hooks that don’t sound in the least bit clichéd or conventional, thanks largely to frontman Noel Heroux’s knack for off-kilter tunings. This makes the album sound as though it was beamed in on some staticky alien FM radio frequency. Pop structures are toyed with and inverted, rendering Racy a challenging yet endlessly compelling listen.

By John Everhart



More Than Any Other Day


In a highly synthesized year, there’s been little room for agitated, socially conscious guitar bands. But in their own thrilling way, Ought made a space for themselves. The Montréal ensemble’s debut LP fizzed with taut melodies that rattled to the festering polemic of frontman Tim Beeler. Often enthralling, always confrontational, More Than Any Other Day is a cantankerous and cranky triumph.

By Billy Hamilton


How to Dress Well

What Is This Heart?


Any complaints people might’ve had about Tom Krell—limited scope, faux-RnB posturing—are shattered on What Is This Heart? Leaving behind the aesthetic crutch of lo-fi production for a warmer, more-sophisticated sonic template, Krell deftly incorporates a variety of disparate aural flourishes—crisp guitars, jagged and minimalist piano, reverb-drenched beats, ominous synths, stream-of-consciousness vocal narratives—into a fragile tapestry that blows open what contemporary artists of any genre are capable of. Not quite indie, not quite pop, not quite RnB, but altogether heartstrings-trying.

By Sameer Rao


Cloud Nothings

Here and Nowhere Else

Carpark/Mom + Pop

Drummer Jayson Gerycz was mentioned in nearly every review of Here and Nowhere Else this year, and let’s hope the trend continues in the year-end onslaught. His explosive, I-am-actually-falling-down-a-staircase-right-now drumming propelled bandleader Dylan Baldi’s fist-pumping anthems into a new stratosphere, the snare-drum thwack as crucial as Baldi’s snotty hooks in driving some of the band’s finest songs to date. Crucial anthems like “I’m Not Part of Me,” “Psychic Trauma,” or “Just See Fear” exist somewhere out of time, with ’80s and ’90s punk tropes steeped in enough modern malaise to keep the fire burning vigorously. The album’s title says it all, really, the raw straightforwardness of these tracks demanding you show up and its snaking dynamic shifts shooting sparks any time you might be drifting.

By J. Pace





With Ruins, Liz Harris brushes away the bleary effects so closely associated with her work and locates an emotional center that was only glimpsed fleetingly on prior releases. Recording to 4-track and employing just voice, piano, and incidental noises, she continues to defy genre; her marriage of song-craft and ambience is presently without rival. The peculiar sounds of frogs, rainfall, and natural reverb billow through these circular compositions, providing the album with its own specific texture, temperature, and sense of place. Ruins feels lived-in and spied-upon, as much of an environment as it is a set of songs.

By Michael Wojtas


Adult Jazz

Gist Is

Spare Thought

Adult Jazz’s debut is one of the most surprising and uncompromisingly unique albums of 2014. It’s a beautiful work of chamber pop that makes as much use of silence and scarcity as it does smooth and ethereal harmonies. Gist Is is both a complicated musical experience and a sober exploration of dreamy soundscapes. Highlights include “Hum,” “Donne Tongue,” and “Spook.”

By Cody Ray Shafer


Dum Dum Girls

Too True

Sub Pop

With Too True, Dee Dee Penny went all in on those nascent ’80s influences, now guiding Dum Dum Girls as essentially a solo project and giving herself over entirely to the darkly romantic, post-punk-inflected inclinations her ex-bandmate Frankie Rose has since pursued. Beyond the chorused guitars and other sonic similarities, Penny’s path feels darker, edgier than Rose’s dreamy (and equally worthwhile) meanderings, earning justified mentions of Siouxsie Sioux, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure, and other genre yardsticks. “Rimbaud Eyes” serves as a fair benchmark, Penny channeling all her confidence (and at least one reviewer still insists Julian Cope) in its commanding chorus. For the vulnerable side, there’s “Trouble Is My Name,” softly closing out the album with a wash of reverb and lamentation.

By J. Pace


Fear of Men



The surroundings and settings of where an album was made can tell you a lot about how the results came to be. Rather than just another filler detail for a press release, the fact that Fear of Men’s Loom was recorded in an underground studio in their native coastal town of Brighton makes perfect sense. It may appear all idyllic and tranquil on the surface but scratch a little underneath and there’s tension aplenty in this emotionally-fraught debut.

By Luke Morgan Britton


Cymbals Eat Guitars



Despite its name, Cymbals Eat Guitars’ LOSE—their third since 2009—is as much about loss as it about dealing with it. At 25, frontman Joseph D’Agostino is at that exact age that lifestyle magazines have come to term as the “quarter-life crisis.” Indeed, both D’Agostino and his band seem at a crossroads on LOSE but, luckily for listeners, the turmoil and uncertainty has been channeled wisely, resulting in perhaps their tightest, most cohesive and penetrating effort to date. “This is what it felt like when I was 25,” D’Agostino sings on standout track “Chambers,” and, surprisingly, it actually sounds pretty appealing.

By Luke Morgan Britton



The Take Off and Landing of Everything


You’re either all in or you’re not with Guy Garvey and Elbow. The subject matter, the earnest delivery, the grand perspective is central for Elbow’s music, including 2014’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything. Each release continues to feel more substantive, more spirited, and even more important than the last. Take Off is arguably the accomplished band’s finest hour yet.

By Matt Conner



Love Letters


Under the direction of frontman and lead songwriter Joseph Mount, the last few years have seen Metronomy hone themselves into Britain’s most unique and forward-thinking pop group. Switching from the niche glitchtronica of their early work into subtle, well-observed eccentric pop, the band has extended the scope of its sound whilst exploring idiosyncratic themes, drawing influence from Mount’s youth amongst the sun-kissed holiday resorts of his home county Devon. Conversely, latest album Love Letters—while drawing inspiration from the same places—extends the metaphor to the off-season, where the rides have closed, the beaches are empty, and you are alone. From the quiet pleas of opener “The Upsetter,” where Mount sings, “I’m back out on the Riviera/It gets so cold at night,” the album sets up a world full of loneliness (“Call Me”), heartbreak (“Never Wanted”), longing (“I’m Aquarius”), and petty jealousies (“The Most Immaculate Haircut”), a world which feels entirely alternate to their last LP. This is a different space from that occupied by The English Riviera and yet entirely the same, the night to its day—where the holiday is over and all you have to keep you warm are your memories.

By Tom Fenwick


The Horrors



One time garage goths The Horrors turned a baggy/shoegazer-y corner on their third album, Skying, which took them out of cult territory to a psychedelic kaleidoscopic space. Skying’s even more experimental follow-up, Luminous, is just that, bathed in blinding light. Atmospheric guitar washes and shimmering synths push Luminous into a danceable realm. Pulsing with dreamy accessibility, “First Day of Spring” jangles brightly while “Mine and Yours” dazzles with its whale talk-like rhythms and “I See You” sparkles with disco chimes.

By Lily Moayeri


Sun Kil Moon


Caldo Verde

Something seemingly everyone knew in February: Benji is a goddamned masterpiece, a touchstone of confessional songwriting and a complete realization of the vision Mark Kozelek has refined since the Red House Painters threw in the towel. Never mind that its creator took to a salvo of much-publicized, cantankerous shenanigans later in the year, seemingly custom-designed to challenge genteel indie rock notions of the art and the artist, to birth long and vicious comment threads in every dark armpit of the Internet. Perhaps said Internet can call it justice served should Benji trickle further down these lists than The War on Drugs’ latest, as it most assuredly has here. But go back, for chrissake, and listen to “Carissa,” to “Truck Driver,” the crushing “Pray for Newtown,” and others—walk through this bleak graveyard of an album, and if you have lived and lost to any minor degree, chances are it has tears to coax.

By J. Pace



Morning Phase


Beck claimed his latest effort was a spiritual sister piece to 2002’s Sea Change, arguably one of his best. Usually “more of the same” is a mark of stagnation, but in Beck’s rarely-repetitive repertoire, it was intriguing. Morning Phase turned out to not only share similar thematic and production elements, but is an album of equal measure to its predecessor, and at times even brighter and more beautiful. Beck has managed to pay tribute to himself while also setting a new musical high mark.

By Cody Ray Shafer


Todd Terje

It\'s Album Time


The Norwegian nu-disco mastermind Todd Terje has been gracing us with his talents as producer, DJ, and songwriter for well over a decade. This year, at long last, he delivered his debut full-length, which we knew he had in him all along. The charmingly titled It’s Album Time showcases Terje’s skills as a visionary electro songsmith who’s continually working to breathe new life into what’s become a mega popular and dreadfully watered down format. And that rework of Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary” with Bryan Ferry on vocals? Sheesh. Terje’s at the very top of his class.

By Kenny S. McGuane



La Isla Bonita


Originally conceived as an homage to the titular Madonna song, La Isla Bonita instead ended up on the other end of the ’80s spectrum—with its grizzled hooks and sea sick melodic structures framing Satomi Matsuzaki’s largely anti-imperialist lyrics, it presents the band as a spiritual successor to the bands from Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life. But Deerhoof are too damn obstinate and idiosyncratic to be pigeonholed, and only they could achieve a ballad as queasily gorgeous as “Mirror Monster” in 2015, its celestial chime belying the apocalyptic dread slyly evinced by the line, “We are riders in the cavalry and we’ll soon be the victims of our imitators.” Like the rest of this album, it’s simultaneously sepulchral and celebratory, not an easy feat to achieve, but one Deerhoof fitfully stomp and stammer through.

By John Everhart


Bear In Heaven

Time Is Over One Day Old

Dead Oceans

After losing longtime drummer Joe Stickney, whose nimble prowess lent the band’s two superb prior albums a strong Kraut-ish feel, Bear In Heaven thankfully don’t miss a beat on Time Is Over One Day Old. Stickney’s absence is felt, as new drummer Jason Nazary is more conventional stylistically than his predecessor. Yet here, frontman Jon Philpot’s facility for wrapping his vocals around guitarist Adam Wills’ sinewy leads has never been stronger. Philpot intones dejectedly “The suicide of staying alive/Looking at the pieces” on “If I Were to Lie,” over a slinky, lava-gurgle rhythmic groove provided by Wills. But there’s little trace of perfidy or subterfuge evident on Time—it’s the sound of a band embracing its formidable strengths, to dazzling effect.

By John Everhart



Nikki Nack


A whirlpool of Haitian basslines and free-form percussion, Merrill Garbus’ third LP was typically unruly. Perhaps not quite as jaw-gaping as 2011’s w h o k i l l, Nikki Nack still emitted a freshness that flowed through every one of its violent R&B patchworks. An utterly fascinating glimpse into one of music’s most creative minds.

By Billy Hamilton


The Rosebuds

Sand + Silence

Western Vinyl

The sixth full-length from Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp is a Rosebuds album only in name. Instead, Sand + Silence might be better understood as the product of a veritable indie super group. While Howard and Crisp still lead proceedings, old friend Justin Vernon takes on guitar and synth duties (Vernon once claimed that The Rosebuds “…make some of the most important music in the world”), while Sylvan Esso’s Nick Sanborn looks after the bass and Bon Iver drummer Matt McCaughan takes care of percussion. This concentration of diverse musical talent was always going to have an increased risk of backfiring, especially with the added pressure that such a collective is bound to generate. Ease your mind, however, as Sand + Silence is a record that combines all the best parts of the indie rock songbook into a work that definitely equals the sum of its constituent parts. The Rosebuds sound just as full of energy as they did five albums ago.

By Will Moss


Craft Spells


Captured Tracks

It’s easy to overlook Craft Spells, given that they’re on a label overstuffed with higher-profile talent (DIIV, Wild Nothing, Beach Fossils). It would also be a mistake to, as the band, lead by John Vallesteros, have created a soft-hewn, epicurean follow-up to Idle Labor, deftly avoiding a sophomore slump by virtue of Vallesteros’ keen melodic instincts alone. There are vestiges of Flying Nun pop here, in particular the celestial hooks favored by The Chills, but they’re merely ghosts in Nausea’s magical ether, a self-contained, gorgeous world rife with love and loss. “There’s pain and joy from laughter,” incants Vallesteros on the lofty, swirling “Changing Faces.” Nausea encompasses pain, joy, laughter, and the emotions that lie unseen between those spaces, channeling them with divine fire on this superb album.

By John Everhart



The Shadow of Heaven

Bella Union

Epic in sound, theme, and execution, the debut from U.K. four-piece MONEY was also an unveiling of vocalist and central songwriter Jamie Lee’s compelling vision of mortality. A record focused around Lee’s adopted hometown of Manchester, The Shadow of Heaven is a mercurial album that feels literary without pretensions or over-sincerity. A woozy production washes over the record but the album’s stronger and more melodic tracks reveal a greater depth and talent to the band than one might expect from such an ambitious undertaking.

By Paul Bridgewater


Glass Animals



From “Gooey:” “I’ll say I told you so/But you just gonna cry/You just wanna know/Those peanut butter vibes.” We quote those lyrics not because we understand them, but because they typify Glass Animals’ idiosyncratic songwriting. We don’t think it’s nonsense so much as a refreshing display of lyrical inventiveness.

By Austin Trunick


Lia Ices



Underneath its glacial title and freezer-burned synths, Lia Kessel’s third studio album is a surprisingly warm affair. Led by her ethereal intone, the record’s breathy electronic swells served up a transcendental listening experience. Unquestionably, one of 2014\‘s most intriguing listens.

By Billy Hamilton


Wild Beasts

Present Tense


On their fourth album, Wild Beasts’ toying with electronics gives the art-rockers’ controlled rage a synthetic boost. Their signature dual vocals are cast against the crying synths on “Mecca” while a percussion breakdown gets jiggy on “Daughters.” Maturing without becoming predictable, Present Tense is arguably the Beasts’ strongest work to date.

By Lily Moayeri


Jesse Ware

Tough Love

PMR/Friends Keep Secrets/Interscope

This British singer received assists from Miguel, Dev Hynes, and Ed Sheeran on select songs for her second LP, which showcases bigger choruses than her debut, and an impeccable electronic production. Even in the new company, her own songwriting talents shine through almost as brightly as the confidence in her voice.

By Austin Trunick



Plowing Into the Field of Love


Few bands in recent memory have changed their sound as completely and effectively as Copenhagen punk outfit Iceage. After the lacerating noise punk of their first two albums, 2011’s New Brigade and their 2013’s You’re Nothing, positioned the group as one of the brightest stars of the European underground, they returned in 2014 with Plowing Into the Fields of Love, a record that channels the quartet\‘s live wire energy and chilly, arty veneer into a rockabilly and country rock molotov cocktail. The album, replete with searing tracks like the honky-tonk rampage of “The Lord’s Favorite” and the dark and dusty backroad tumbler “On My Fingers,” proves that Iceage can scorch the earth in any genre.

By Patrick Bowman



The Hum

Weird World/Domino

Hookworms return with a second album that delivers the same pure energy as 2013’s Pearl Mystic, unleashing pounding rhythms filtered through cranked up distortion. Most bands lose a little direction on sophomore efforts, but Hookworms manage to pick up the same momentum they left off with, leaving an album full of the same raw passion, with a few surprises.

By Cody Ray Shafer


Ty Segall


Drag City

On Manipulator, garage-rock virtuoso Ty Segall proves that the quality of his high volume output is no mere fluke and when given a longer period of time, he can truly refine his lo-fi craft. Tracks like “It’s Over” and the rumbling highlight, “Feel,” turn jam sessions into crisply tuned opuses that stand out as some of Segall’s best work yet, seemingly outdoing himself with every record he releases. But those extra months devoted to writing and recording Manipulator have undoubtedly amounted to an exceptionally rollicking affair by a man already well known for delivering riffs no matter the constraints.

By Melody Lau


The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Days of Abandon

Yebo Music

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart powered through a significant roster overhaul to deliver a joyous, exhilarant third LP. While still primarily a vehicle for Kip Berman’s buoyant compositions, two of Days of Abandon’s best songs—“Kelly” and “Life After Life”—are actually sung by new member Jen Goma, also of A Sunny Day In Glasgow.

By Austin Trunick


Total Control

Typical System

Iron Lung

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before: an upstart band has skimmed the post-punk history book, collaging highlights of the past in order to create a new chapter. But what makes Total Control’s approach refreshing is the violence and velocity with which they move from graceful nods to the genre’s foundations (Berlin-era Bowie, Suicide, Kraftwerk) to unholy noise experiments and binary, electro-pop primitivism. Exhilaratingly, these Aussies refuse to let all the competing sounds synthesize into something containable, resulting in an anarchism that both subverts and honors their influences.

By Michael Wojtas


Hundred Waters

The Moon Rang Like A Bell


Hundred Waters’ The Moon Rang Like a Bell boasts a unique sound full of twinkling keys, gorgeous vocals and complex, rhythmic percussion. Largely electronic, the album (interestingly out on Skrillex’s label) contains compelling references to traditional folk and gospel, and it’s launched to lofty heights by the powerful, beautiful vocals of frontwoman Nicole Miglis. Echo and reverb abound, and songs like “Out Alee” and “Xtalk” make this one of the best nocturnal listens of 2014.

By Scott Dransfield


Owen Pallett

In Conflict


While it’s easy to divert your attention to Owen Pallett’s other achievements this year (an Oscar nomination, a Polaris Music Prize nod, a brief foray into music journalism), it’s his fourth album In Conflict that deserves the highest praise. Upgrading his classical pop arsenal with synth loops and heavy percussive flourishes (with the addition of Matt Smith and Robbie Gordon on bass and drums, respectively), In Conflict unfolds new dimensions of Pallett’s intricate vision. Pallett’s earnest exploration of more vital existential themes such as adulthood, queerness, and depression further brandish his growth into an incredible musical figure both on and off stage.

By Melody Lau


Freddie Gibbs & Madlib


Madlib Invazion






Cold Specks




I Break Horses


Bella Union


Jack White




Big Scary

Not Art



Strand of Oaks


Dead Oceans


Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Pax-Am/Blue Note


Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Wig Out at Jagbags




Sun Structures

Fat Possum


Woman’s Hour


Secretly Canadian




Moshi Moshi


A Sunny Day in Glasgow

Sea When Absent



The Mary Onettes




Gruff Rhys

American Interior





Sub Pop



El Pintor



My Brightest Diamond

This Is My Hand

Asthmatic Kitty


Damon Albarn

Everyday Robots



Ballet School

The Dew Lasts an Hour

Bella Union


TV on the Radio




\"Weird Al\" Yankovic

Mandatory Fun



Ramona Lisa












The Drums




Vince Staples

Hell Can Wait

Def Jam




Rough Trade



Soft Friday








…And Star Power



Sylvan Esso

Sylvan Esso



Syd Arthur

Sound Mirror



Manic Street Preachers





World Peace Is None of Your Business




Rave Tapes

Sub Pop






Twin Peaks

Wild Onion

Grand Jury




Marathon/House Anxiety






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Tim Mudd
December 12th 2014

FINALLY – a list where the #1 album aligns with my own! Nice list guys!

Nate Taylor
December 12th 2014

This is my favorite end-of-the-year best album list and it still is.  But it’s misguided to write “is also The New Pornographers’ best album to date.”  Also think Sunny Day in Glasgow, TV on the Radio, and Bombay Bicycle Club are underrated but I’m happy to see them on the list.  St. Vincent is my #1 album of 2014.

Frank Waters
December 12th 2014

Actually Buffalo got seven FEET of snow, not inches. Thanks for the list!

Michael Harvey
December 12th 2014

Lana Del Ray

December 12th 2014

Top 10 for me off this list:
1.  Jungle
2.  Elbow
3.  The War On Drugs
4.  First Aid Kit
5.  Tune-Yards
6.  Liars
7.  Little Dragon
8.  St. Vincent
9.  How To Dress Well
10.Jessie Ware

December 13th 2014

A little bit surprised that Timber Timbre’s Hot Dreams didn’t make the cut.

December 13th 2014

Did you really have to put TV spoilers in a fucking best music list? Thanks… (note: spoiler warning’s leading right to the spoilers do jack shit.) Thanks guys

December 13th 2014

Liars and The Black Keys deserve to be higher on the list.

December 14th 2014

Your lists get more absurd with each year. It’s like putting in order EVERY single record you have reviewed. Cut it short, stick to those that are truly the best.

Mchl Cortez
December 14th 2014

I liked the album The Drop Beneath by Eternal Summers.

December 16th 2014

Ariel Pink, way too goofy and childish.  Sounds like Magnetic Fields doing Sesame Street songs.

Would like to see The Twilight Sad and Temples higher.

Would’ve added these:
Bear Hands, The Apache Relay, Cold War Kids, Generationals, Skaters

December 16th 2014

I feel like Phantogram’s Voices is missing from this list..

Mark Redfern
December 16th 2014


How I Met Your Mother’s finale aired many months ago and The Walking Dead’s finale aired a few weeks ago. Both spoilers were very well publicized online, as both were controversial. Which is why I thought it was safe to include both. But we apologize if we ruined either episode for you.


December 16th 2014

I believe there is a typo in no 48’s description. I think it is supposed to read: “It’s easy to overlook Craft Spells…” instead of “It’s easy to overlook Captured Tracks…”
Nice list though

December 18th 2014

Hi Stef, as a musician who has CDs out, I can undnrstaed the ‘copyright issue’ which might seem a little strange to someone who loves listening, writing and reading about music. However, you could always try getting permission from the artists/CD company to use sound samples (and leave a copyright/PRS note on each page), or just put links (which you do sometimes) to peoples websites/CD company/MySpace letting people listen if they are interested.All the best and good luck.

December 20th 2014

Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey?
Bermuda Waterfall by Sean Nicholas Savage?
Picture You Staring by TOPS?

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Len Levin
December 26th 2014

Love the list.  Thanks for posting it.  Omissions that I notice are Conor Oberst (seems to be missing from everyone’s lists this year, but I love the album); Mirah; Phantogram; and the Fanfarlo album.

December 29th 2014

If you liked ‘Lost in the dream’ try:
Steve Gunn: “Way out weather” Missing on this list.
(kurt Vile compadre;)

Aaron Yost
December 30th 2014

UTR thanks for the list! Big fan of the longform, and your selections are usually in line with my taste. I really dug the Slow Club love, they are tragically absent from nearly every list I’ve read. Additions would be Kishi Bashi’s ‘Lighght’ Gabriel Kahane’s ‘The Ambassador’ and Phox’s ‘Phox’.

Len Levin, I agree thoroughly with all those nods! All but Phantogram ranked high on my list - here’s the link if you want to check it out:


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