2014 was a surprisingly weak year for music, both critically and commercially; only one album managed to go platinum, and it did make my list. This may not be surprising following a year where we saw colossal albums from mainstream and independent superstars. What did happen was a series of unlikely artists, new and old, emerged with this year’s best songs and albums.
1. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
El-P and Killer Mike’s unorthodox collaboration proved to be this year’s best album. The album is strangely both cartoonish and serious, the industrial and aggressive production is unrelenting, and the lyrics are political, yet they do not come off preachy or cheesy, as many rap artists have failed to do.
2. Jessie Ware – Tough Love
This British singer made an incredible, genre-bending pop album. The songwriting and producing team of Devonte Hynes, Miguel, Ed Sheeran, and BenZel created beautiful soundscapes and poetry for Ware to croon on. From the ‘80s Giorgio Moroder-styled, synth heavy title track to the funky “Want Your Feeling,” this album hits at the emotional core.
3. Mac Demarco – Salad Days
This indie-rock goofball has written a brilliant collection of songs on the pains of growing up and facing reality. DeMarco stayed in his style of lo-fi sound, while also making forays onto deeper more electronic sounds on “Passing Out Pieces” and “Chamber of Reflection.” Lyrically, it is the songwriter’s finest and most relatable piece.
4. Spoon – They Want My Soul
The Austin-based band crafted songs on this album the way Lamborghini crafts sports cars. The attention to detail that went into this album created beautiful works. The subtlety of “Inside Out” and the jangly “Do You…” as well as an eclectic mix of songs make for a great return after a weak showing on 2010’s Transference.
5. Ariana Grande – My Everything
Over the top production and bravado makes Grande’s second album one of the year’s best pop albums. The petite singer belts over R&B, EDM, and hip-hop backings by a number of fantastic songwriters and producers. The album is evenly dance pop and highly emotional ballads.
6. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
Lewis writes in a similar style to that of number 7, but in a truly adult way. Voyager is deeply personal and the songwriter is so talented that you feel a true understanding and connection. From start to finish, Lewis and producer Ryan Adams orchestrating, takes you on an emotional roller coaster.
7. Taylor Swift – 1989
Swift continues to capture America’s heart, even while making a foray into pop. Every song on this album has the potential to be come a platinum single (and she’s already got 2 off the album with “Shake It Off” and “Blank Space”). It’s a good thing that this year’s single platinum album manages to be a great one.
8. Chet Faker – Built on Glass
The Australian crooner and electric artist made one of the deepest records of the year. The dark and soulful production and vocals are heartbreaking and relatable. The sultriness of Faker’s lyrics and voice give Miguel and The Weeknd a run for their money.
9. The War on Drugs – Lost in The Dream
This Philadelphia band made this year’s greatest true rock album. Lost in the Dream conjures the stylings of golden era Bruce Springsteen. The long songs, full of fantastic guitar riffs and solos, conjure imagery of driving through the Great Plains as only ‘the Boss’ could.
10. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Pinata
The combination of Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs and legendary producer Madlib was a strange idea but, much like Run The Jewels, it turned out for the best. The album is an incredibly old school one where Gibbs finds his way, flowing as smooth as silk. Gibbs has some great assistance from fellow rappers Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown and Ab-Soul.
- Sam Smith – Stay With Me
- Vic Mensa – Down On My Luck
- Jessie Ware – Want Your Feeling
- Spoon – Inside Out
- SZA – Childs Play (featuring Chance The Rapper)
- Ariana Grande & The Weeknd – Love Me Harder
- Jenny Lewis – Just One Of The Guys
- Chance The Rapper & The Social Experiment – Arthur: Everyday Wonderful
- Run The Jewels – Early (featuring Boots)
- Chromeo – Jealous (I Ain’t With It)
- ILoveMakonnen – Tuesday (Remix featuring Drake)
- Mac Demarco – Passing Out Pieces
- The Black Keys – Gotta Get Away
- Future – Move That Dope (featuring Pusha T, Pharrell Williams & Casino)
- Chet Faker – Talk Is Cheap
- Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener
- Rick Ross – Sanctified (featuring Kanye West & Big Sean)
- The War on Drugs – Red Eyes
- Taylor Swift – Wildest Dreams
- Clean Bandit – Rather Be
- Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You)
- Jamie XX – Sleep Sound
- RiFF RAFF – Lava Glaciers (featuring Childish Gambino)
- Phantogram – Fall In Love