Top 30 Albums of 2014 (So Far)

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Best Albums of 2014 So Far

Protomartyr under colorProtomartyrUnder Color of Official Right
(Hardly Art)

Post-punk; indie rock; Detroit City garage-rock: Every common descriptor of Protomartyr would have you assume they are a revival act, continually referencing the past. And while the Detroit rockers draw from a variety of influences, their energy and approach are unique to their unit; the individual members and the city from which they were forged. Their sophomore release, Under Color of Official Right, has an energy that’s oddly fierce yet embracing; Joe Casey’s toxic ramblings surrounded by some of the tightest rock jams you’ll hear all year. – ATB

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Real Estate AtlasReal EstateAtlas

You don’t usually get a lot of praise for being pleasant, casual or gentle, but Real Estate is a unique band. The New Jersey group has been cultivating a uniquely chill sound for more than half a decade, and while their songs are never aggressive or overbearing, they’re not boring or forgettable either. Songs like “Crime” or “Talking Backwards” are refreshing and satisfying like a round of gin and tonics, and all without ever stepping on the fuzzbox or blowing out their Marshall stacks. In 2014, it seems oddly risky to play it cool and quiet, but for Real Estate, it’s a risk that’s paid off handsomely. – JT

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St. Vincent - self titledSt. VincentSt. Vincent
(Loma Vista)

Like Beck’s Odelay, Annie Clark’s fourth album as St. Vincent contains so many elements heretofore unheard but somehow familiar, making even a face-value listen immensely rewarding on its own. But Clark’s powers of empathy and observation earns her the right to any external image she might choose to execute, occupying the neutral zone between childlike wonder and adult sagacity with equal authenticity. The pointed social critic of “Digital Witness” and the adoring daughter of “I Prefer Your Love” have the same weight, and through inspired accomplishment St. Vincent becomes a totemic statement of being for a pop generation feared to be losing itself. – PP

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Sun Kil Moon BenjiSun Kil MoonBenji
(Caldo Verde)

Mark Kozelek has never been one to shy from hard-hitting emotional realities, but on Benji, he does away with protective coating and poetry and just sings about life events in unadorned, literal detail. That’s a huger risk than it seems, but it pays off even bigger dividends. Kozelek’s straight-dope style cuts away all layers of mystery, but Benji works because he still talks in ways that indicate he’s still finding out new stuff himself. In doing so he almost reverses the lachrymose pattern he’s established in Red House Painters and earlier Sun Kil Moon records: He realizes how hard it was to get to this point in his life, but his stories constitute a celebration. – PP

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Swans To Be KindSwansTo Be Kind
(Young God)

Two minutes longer than its predecessor The Seer, aggressively accessible, and the first Swans album ever to make it into the Billboard Top 40 for first-week sales, To Be Kind breaks rules, records and possibly the Internet. After 30 years performing under the Swans name, Michael Gira continues to set his sights higher, and pull sounds from a deeper, more guttural place. The end result is a curiously funky, menacingly fun, and transcendent epic that puts the “Argh!” in art rock. Let’s hear it for lucky album number 13! – JT

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Todd Terje It's Album TimeTodd Terje It’s Album Time

Todd Terje’s It’s Album Time — his first full-length record since he started as a DJ in 1999 — might be the most fun you have with a record this year. It’s a disco album coated in sparkling and bubbling synthesizers, deliberately arranged but gleefully executed. It’s an album that shows Terje’s 15 years of experience, but leaves you desperately hoping it won’t take him another 15 years to make another.- SP

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Tombs Savage GoldTombsSavage Gold

2014 is looking like yet another fantastic year for creative, adventurous metal. Brooklyn-based Tombs’ extreme metal was already exhilarating on 2011’s Path of Totality. Mix in post-punk influences and a strong touch of psychedelic and metaphysical overtones, and you have something extraordinary.  Like last year’s Album of the Year — SunbatherSavage Gold is an intense pummel of an album but reaches far beyond the genre’s typical elements to move and challenge the listener’s ears and mind. – ATB

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Triptykon Melana ChasmataTriptykonMelana Chasmata
(Century Media)

Crushing riffs, doom atmosphere, and monstrous production are the key ingredients that make up this behemoth of an album; Melana Chasmata is a metal offering that refuses slip by unnoticed. Throughout its nine tracks, Triptykon makes use of its dense, cold sound and calculated musicianship to craft a haunting work of art that can be as uncomfortable as it can beautiful. Melana Chasmata is a reminder to all that in the year 2014, metal is still alive and kicking. – GS

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War on Drugs Lost in the DreamThe War on DrugsLost in the Dream

Though Lost in the Dream‘s heart is with the earthy anthems of Springsteen and Dylan, War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel’s mind is ever forward thinking. The atmospheric, epic, reverb-heavy rock sound may seem familiar, but the drive and passion found on here is undeniable. Lost in the Dream proves to be a soul-warming, nostalgic-feeling highlight of 2014, and one we’ll be listening to all-year round. – GS

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4_29_Wye OakWye OakShriek

Jenn Wasner’s shift from guitar towards electronics was a gradual process, capriciously funneled through a couple of side projects. With Wye Oak fully committed on their fourth album, she unlocks a secret emotional history that somehow sounds as natural as her other work with drummer Andy Stack. That Shriek is as lyrically robust and unveiling as it is on “Before,” “The Tower” and “Sick Talk” wasn’t unexpected. But that the indie rock duo have made as melodiously warm, expertly composed and fulfilling a synth-pop album as almost anyone in the past 30 years makes you wonder how much adaptability they have unplanned. – PP

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