Top 50 Albums of 2014

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Over the last two weeks we’ve listed our favorite electronic albums, punk albums, hip-hop albums, metal albums, overlooked albums, worst albums and favorite songs of 2014. And it’s been fun, if a bit exhausting. But today, we finally close out 2014 right and proper: With the Top 50 Albums of 2014. Every year we listen to hundreds of albums, and every year there’s a long process of narrowing those down to a solid list of the best of the best. This year wasn’t that hard, actually. Sometimes consensus takes some debate and discussion; this year, it just sort of worked itself out. Across numerous genres from various corners of the world, we found an easy 50 favorites. There’s really no point in putting it off any longer; here are our 50 favorite albums of 2014.

Written by Adam Blyweiss (AB), A.T. Bossenger (ATB), Stephen Chupaska (SC), Nicole Grotepas (NG), Jackie Im (JI), Chris Karman (CK), Giovanni Martinez (GM), Jordan James Michael (JJM), Paul Pearson (PP), Sam Prickett (SP), Dan Pritchett (DP) and Jeff Terich (JT).

top 50 albums of 2014 parquet courts50. Parquet Courts
Sunbathing Animal
(What’s Your Rupture/Mom+Pop)

This year in Brooklyn, the yuppies officially won; it was inevtiable — anyone who said they didn’t see it coming just didn’t bother looking at the horizon. But now it’s official: Brooklyn is now the country’s most expensive housing market, and the environment has become even more inhospitable for D.I.Y. music venues. So you can hardly blame Parquet Courts for wrapping themselves in a security blanket of New York sounds from ’68, ’77 and ’83. There are almost no stylistic reference points on Sunbathing Animal that took place after Mayor Ed Koch left office, which makes it all the more interesting that the album feels so contemporary. Perhaps it’s something to do with millennial angst, or just the sideways, itchy way that the group hammers through songs like “Dear Ramona” and “What Color is Blood,” or the emotional arc of an epic slacker journey on “Instant Dissasambly,” Sunbathing Animal feels like the right record for the right time — a hazy celebration on top of the rubble. – JT

Damon Albarn Everyday Robots49. Damon Albarn
Everyday Robots (Parlophone)

Can we stop trying to figure out how this beautiful little record fits within the sprawl of Damon Albarn’s multifaceted career and just focus on how good it is? Everyday Robots’ pulse hardly rises above a deliberate shuffle — the delightfully simple “Mr. Tembo” is as about as ebullient as this LP gets — but he infuses this set of introspective ballads with a lush, sample-happy production that renders the songs intensely familiar but also strangely alien (just try and figure out that drum sample on “Hostiles,” for example). This is a subtle album that unfolds a little more with every listen, and for that it deserves to be considered on its own merits. – SP

top 50 albums of 2014 clipping.48. clipping.
CLPPNG (Sub Pop)

When Stefan Burnett closes a door in Sacramento, Daveed Diggs opens a window in LA. This year marked the long goodbye of Burnett’s industrial-rap duo Death Grips, the denouement a piecemeal affair of surprise video releases, pictures of handwritten notes, and Björk samples. For all of their talent and promise, their existence and departure ultimately smacks of being too cool for school. Thankfully, immediately stepping in to fill that void were Diggs and his friends in clipping. Released in June, the trio’s first proper album features a whole mess of loud programming from the Kanye West school of hipster appropriation with hints of Clams Casino’s groove, Autechre’s glitch, and Dan Deacon’s borderline irritation. The secret weapon, however, isn’t really so secret: Instead of Burnett’s staccato bursts of rhyme and non sequitur anthem-yells, Diggs deftly raps with Busdriver speed and occasional horrorcore imagery. Having seen them open for universally admired Shabazz Palaces on tour, I dare say they stole the show. clipping. and CLPPNG constitute a breath of fresh chlorine gas. – AB

top 50 albums of 2014 juan maclean47. The Juan Maclean
In a Dream (DFA)

The Juan Maclean released their debut single “By the Time I Get to Venus” a good six months before James Murphy mourned the loss of his edge, and 12 years later, they remain one of the most interesting and enduring groups ever to have the fortune of being slapped with the DFA lightning bolt. In a Dream is only their third album in 10 years, but the intervals that take place between each release have undoubtedly proven to be time well spent. That this is their best album yet justifies the five years it took to get here, John Maclean and Nancy Whang refining and expanding their robot funk into grooves more sultry (“Running Back to You”), sleek (“Charlotte”), and altogether cosmic (“A Place Called Space”). Every track bangs, and every melody like a laser beam to the pleasure zone, but In a Dream hangs together wonderfully as an album, or — more accurately — interstellar excursion. – JT

Against me top 50 albums of 201446. Against Me!
Transgender Dysphoria Blues
(Total Treble)

Rebel yell. Wilhelm scream. Clarion call. Shifted paradigm. Transformative statement. The Gainesville, Florida punk quartet delivered one clear, consistent message on their sixth album: the story of and struggles with their lead singer’s gender transition. Made and released during her progression from her old life as Tom Gabel, Laura Jane Grace’s insistence that this was a concept album about a transgendered prostitute buries the lede. Musicians have often compared themselves to whores, all just pros in it for the money, but Grace sheds a harsh and uncomfortable spotlight on this particular moment in life’s fuckery. “Black Me Out,” for example, moves on from people uncomfortable with change, including some of her former bandmates; “Drinking with the Jocks” revisits her own discomfort in social situations, be they closeted and fake or out-and-proud yet at-risk. Her anthems default to the personal, yet in doing so stumble upon the universal. There are few albums that manage to correctly apply punk’s anger, rebellion, and bewilderment at the world around it to any single topic, let alone to autobiography. Transgender Dysphoria Blues hits that mark. – AB

TV on the Radio Seeds45. TV on the Radio
Seeds (Harvest)

The loss of bassist of Gerard Smith left TV On The Radio with a void to fill. But last year, they bounced back with the brilliant track “Mercy,” making the case to fans and critics that they were far from being done. As Tunde Adebimpe sings on the bouncy, “Happy Idiot,” “It’s been a long way down.” And yet, here, they’ve risen back up. The last stage of grief is acceptance, and Seeds is the band’s own acknowledgement of that step, and their effort to keep pushing forward. The production is more refined and with this seed planted, this record lays down a new foundation for TV on the Radio. They’ve come a long way from their earliest sounds, and as the impressive display on Seeds shows, they only continue to grow as unstoppable musicians. – GM

Lone Reality Testing44. Lone
Reality Testing (R&S)

Lone is the UK electronic producer responsible for the dance-tastic “Crystal Caverns 1991” from 2012’s acidic Galaxy Garden. And even though we might not be able to dance as hard as that to anything from Reality Testing, the album is another step forward for Lone’s imagination through colorful beatscapes. Reality Testing sounds current without being too beholden to trends, and there’s lots of joy involved. This partly has to do with the clear hip-hop influence on Matt Cutler’s beats, though he still coats the tracks with his signature sheen. Reality Testing is retro and contemporary and Lone’s efficient use of space ensures satisfaction. Even though these beatscapes are captivating enough without any rapping over them, it would be interesting to hear Reality Testing mixed with choice rhymes from some of hip-hop’s industry leaders. But, hey, maybe that would just take the focus off of Lone’s evolving creations that sound from the future. A female voice sample in “Begin to Begin” asks, “Am I dreaming? Am I awake?” Honestly, it’s tough to tell. – JJM

Saintseneca Dark Arc43. Saintseneca
Dark Arc (Anti)

Indie-folk had seemingly slipped, as genres often do, into mostly tepid, mainstream territory. And while I don’t hold any personal grudges against the likes of Mumford & Sons and Lumineers, it was a little painful to hear a genre I once adored stripped of its social awareness and sonic originality. Cue Saintseneca, not newcomers by any means, but given newfound purpose via a new label and production assist from the incredibly prolific Mike Mogis. The songs on Dark Arc are not only daringly creative and impressively exploratory — they are really quite fun too. The Columbus, Ohio collective kicks off this chilling set of songs with an acoustic-centered intro akin to their previous releases, but before opener “Blood Bath” concludes, the act has transformed into a complex and multi-faceted folk-rock group, minding equal reverence to tradition and innovation. – ATB

top 50 albums of 2014 owen pallett42. Owen Pallett
In Conflict (Domino)

It takes a few listens to comprehend just how many boundaries Owen Pallett pushes against with In Conflict. The narrative bleeds, sometimes literally, around a normalized life (not “normal”). Moments of consummate intimacy become enveloped in shades of epic-scale heroism and tragedy, but somehow land back in the center of something. Compositionally, Pallett jumps off with classicist (not “classical”), orchestral grandeur that fades into futurist pop and electronics, and you can’t hear a single stitch. For every dramatic vignette he sings in an even but emotional tone, there’s a miniaturist moment of observation that’s heart-rending. In Conflict is exactly as it’s titled, but its clashes produce more emotionalism, sadness and still-breathing hope than entrails and guts. Even if it does end with someone getting stabbed. History is going to be very, very kind to this one. Or it better. – PP

Alvvays self titled41. Alvvays
Alvvays (Polyvinyl)

Molly Rankin, the singer, songwriter, guitarist in Toronto band with the “fuck you, spellcheck” name of Alvvays (say it like “always”), has dug in for what could be long run of writing witty and lovelorn pop songs. The 26-year old, who is a daughter of the famous Canadian folk singing clan The Rankin Family (they’re like the Cowsills with better healthcare) clearly has a love of the shambolic and charming C86 sounds made, well if not popular, certainly known to some, by the Darling Buds and early Primal Scream. But there’s something more to Rankin’s songs than record collection emulation. On lead single, “Archie, Marry Me,” starts with the a couplet that will hit home with many a couple: (“You’ve expressed explicitly your contempt for matrimony/ You’ve student loans to pay and will not risk the alimony”). And then there is the perfect angst of “Ones Who Love You,” which makes it sound like Nova Scotia is the worst place in the world to get dumped (“The winter’s are all wet/And you can’t ever feel your face/ You can’t fucking feel your face”). What to say but can’t wait for the next album. – SC

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