Top 50 Albums of 2014

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top 50 albums of 2014 real estate20. Real Estate
Atlas (Domino)

This isn’t a crazy departure for Brooklyn by way of Jersey indie-popsters Real Estate. The band’s Feelies-on-‘ludes guitar jangle that made 2011’s Days one of that year’s best albums is back. Martin Courtney’s pleasing color-in-the-lines, serve-the-song vocals are ever present. What’s better? The songs are. It’s apparent in the opening seconds on the ode to miscommunication “Talking Backwards,” with its bright guitars on the chorus and wonderful pleading lines “The one thing I can’t seem to do,” is expertly down. And you have admire the confidence of a record where the catchiest song is an instrumental, “April’s Song.” And really, there’s not a misfire in the bunch. – SC

sun-kil-moon19. Sun Kil Moon
Benji (Caldo Verde)

Mark Kozelek has expressed obvious adoration for fellow midwestern cynics Modest Mouse, so it seems fitting to use a quote from that band to address Sun Kil Moon’s big year: “God, who’d wanna be such an asshole?” It’s easy to look back and let Kozelek’s 2014 be summed up by less-than-ideal behavior towards other bands that may or may not have secured a higher place on our best-of lists at the end of the day. But, in a way, too harsh of a critique would be hypocritical because it’s that same snide, that same bitter personality and tendency to laugh a little too hard at his own jests that made Benji such a singular and captivating affair. In the most depressing album of the year, Kozelek surrounds the listener with detailed, personal accounts of death, disappointment and misery. It’s his sticky personality, the part of Kozelek that makes him comment on a local restaurant’s decor of “sports bar shit” or express his aging body via a humble-brag like “And when I fuck too hard/I feel like I’m gonna have a heart attack,” that make the man’s publicly accessible midlife crisis not only bearable, but emotionally transcendent. Benji is a landmark record that is as prickly and complicated as Kozelek himself. And you can’t have one without the other. – ATB

top 50 albums of 2014 shabazz palaces18. Shabazz Palaces
Lese Majesty (Sub Pop)

Few hip-hop artists in recent years have proven to be as sonically complex and pleasing as Shabazz Palaces. Essentially expanding off of the blueprint of their outstanding debut Black Up, Lese Majesty contains a bevy of detailed otherworldly, space-aged sonic collages that, in and of themselves, represent awfully satisfying listening. Throw Ishmael Butler’s often mystifying wordplay on top and you have yourself a very worthy follow-up to an album that’s practically already achieved classic status. Whether critiquing consumerism or rapping about some obscure mysticism, Butler isn’t always the easiest MC to follow, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun trying. – CK

top 50 albums of 2014 iceage17. Iceage
Plowing Into the Field of Love (Matador)

Besides having one of the best records this year, Iceage might have the most aptly titled album of 2014. The Denmark punks have been plowing over us for three albums now; Plowing Into The Field of Love is just longer and more crushing as Iceage’s slowing of the pace puts a fuller realization on the emotional weight of the music. Whatever Iceage has lost in hardcore punk, they’ve added in heart. We hear pieces of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Joy Division, Tom Waits, Wire, Pogues, The Gun Club and The Mekons strewn about, but none of those bands are as heavy as Iceage. Initially, it seemed like the band had gone country-punk, but further listens present that label false, as well as a little insulting. Iceage still make venomous punk tunes — check the disgruntled moans and tangled guitars of “Cimmerian Shade” or the vicious unison of snare hits and acoustic strum on “Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled”— but they’re exploring new territory with string arrangements, piano, horns, and a mandolin. In society, you either grow up or get left behind. In Iceage’s case, they did so without abandoning their greatest gift: Vigor. – JJM

top 50 albums of 2014 perfume genius16. Perfume Genius
Too Bright (Matador)

Too Bright doesn’t do much to dispel the notion that Mike Hadreas is tortured, save for the lovely infusion of unexpected distortion and synthesizers. For many of us, Perfume Genius is opening a window into an unknowable life experience. He hides nothing about what it means to deal with hurtful societal prejudices. Not surprisingly, he channels his pain into a startling and breathtakingly gorgeous work of art. In one of the more gut-wrenching tracks on the album, “Don’t Let Them In” we hear him lament in a sort of fragile warble that he is “too tired to hold myself carefully.” This song, and indeed this album, is full of anthems and laments for those who live on the fringe, in the liminal spaces of society. And that would be everyone at some point. Perhaps one of the best lines of the album pops up in the more thundering, fantastic number, “Queen,” pointing out the absurdity of the movement against gay marriage, “And no family is safe / when I sashay.” He’s right, just not the way they think he is. – NG

Beck top 50 albums of 201415. Beck
Morning Phase (Capitol)

Yes, the lush, dawn sunshine of Morning Phase invited comparisons to Beck’s brilliant Sea Change and the mid-90s psych-tour Mutations, the albums that eschew dada lyrics, turntables and microphones for harmonies, acoustic strumming and strings. It’s unfair, because this album exceeds its cousins and rivals Odelay in terms of sheer quality of material. Album centerpiece “Heart is a Drum,” which found its way onto the radio in some cities, is a masterpiece, a Nick Drake song for the Spotify set, in its combination of guitar plucking and hushed singing. And the dewy honeysuckle of “Country Down” features some of Beck’s best singing of his career. – SC

top 50 albums of 2014 caribou14. Caribou
Our Love (Merge)

Dan Snaith’s latest album as Caribou effectively leaves behind his knotty electropop in favor of the beats he recently embraced as Daphni, and revisits the heady days of early 2010. In the span of four weeks back then, Four Tet and Pantha du Prince released beloved and incredibly similar albums—There is Love in You and Black Noise, respectively—that imbued electronica with a spastic, jazzy kind of warmth. It was north of minimal, south of house, and due west of chillwave, and Snaith nimbly navigates that sonic map with songs like “Can’t Do Without You” and “Mars.” Yet represented by work including the hiccuping falsetto exhortations in “Silver,” and the sound of BET for the 22nd century in “Second Chance,” the Caribou version ups the ante with earnest attempts at blue-eyed soul and legit R&B. If you’ve ever wondered what techno and soulful house sounds like at a slow burn, press play on Our Love. – AB

top 50 albums of 2014 beyonce13. Beyoncé
Beyoncé (Columbia)

Bey’s shock-and-awe strategy of releasing a complete new set of songs and videos in the thick of Holiday Shopping Season ’13 certainly paid off in the marketplace, but her managing to keep the making of this album a total secret for more than a year might have had a side benefit. With nobody looking at her too closely or expecting anything she was free to stretch out, and created an album that punched out of the pop vacuum in startling ways. What’s most admirable is despite being perfectly entitled to write a cheery album about marital bliss, material comfort and new-found maternal joy, Beyoncé took an almost furious U-turn into insecurity, the ecstasy and power shifts of explicit sexuality, a defense of eros in the realm of feminism and… well, new-found maternal joy. Give her that at least. The beats are insistent but foreboding; the music dark, fluid and unstuck from the past. Beyoncé’s voice goes wherever it has to, whether in the requisite belt of “Pretty Hurts” or the pleasure-stricken monotone of “Partition.” Capped off with easy but by no means cheap crowd-pleasers like “XO” and “Drunk in Love,” Beyoncé’s surprise was more than a continuance of a solo career that’s looking more impressive by the year – it’s one of the most significant artistic steps ever made from anyone at her level of pop superstardom. – PP

top 50 albums of 2014 mac demarco12. Mac DeMarco
Salad Days (Captured Tracks)

Mac DeMarco cultivates a public persona of Puckish mischief — remember when he flashed us his balls in that TOPS video? — but behind that gap-toothed smile and haze of Viceroy smoke is a quiet romantic adept at penning brief, sentimental earworms like those that make up his sophomore LP. Salad Days spends its fleeting half-hour building a warm, intimate atmosphere in which DeMarco’s sparse, jangly compositions can breathe. It’s a lovely, unassuming record for which a production flourish simply means adding a keyboard. If this record really does mark the end of DeMarco’s “salad days,” he shouldn’t worry: he’s doing fine as a grown-up. – SP

top 50 albums of 2014 fka twigs11. FKA Twigs
LP1 (XL)

With hypnotic visual and two haunting EPs under her belt, FKA twigs had already proved to be an incredibly vital artist, bringing a much-needed weirdness to an often-banal pop landscape. LP1 is at its very essence is an R&B album – but one that eschews both gospel-tinged ballads and typical club bangers. LP1 essentially picks up where Aaliyah left off – minimal beats, slinky grooves, and smoothly sensual vocals – and brings it to the next level with trip-hop coolness and collaborations with some of music’s most exciting artists (Arca, Dev Hynes, Clams Casino, Emilie Haynie, among others). It’s a subtle album that rewards repeated listening, with songs like “Give Up” and “Video Girl” that quietly embed themselves in your mind. On the onset, LP1 was criticized for being too cold, too distant but after multiple close listenings the album revealed a feral passion and vision that was anything but cold or distant. Like Aaliyah and Ciara before her, twigs is an incredibly magnetic performer incorporating disarming dance moves and fearless imagery that pulls her ahead of the pack. – JI

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