1) St. Vincent – “St. Vincent”
St. Vincent, 32 year-old lavender-haired Annie Clark, released her self-titled fourth album this year as her cult leader, new-age rockstar persona — referenced by everyone from The New Yorker to my dad. Her robotic-performance tendencies and brassy, electronic interludes contribute to the otherworldly and dominating effect of this album.
2) Run the Jewels – “RTJ2”
“Who really run this?” If we are talking about 2014’s rap game the answer is, fittingly, Run The Jewels. “RTJ2” featured Killer Mike’s distinct, gritty raps over El-P’s inventive electronic beats to create an album that flows in a consistent coercion that grabs you from the first track and won’t let go until the end.
Sidenote: Run The Jewels dethroned Yeezus from having Yeezy season every season on “My Spotify Year in Review” — and that says something. Also, cats.
3) Mac DeMarco – “Salad Days”
On Mac DeMarco’s second full-length album, the gap-toothed Canadian slacker who once freaked out the neighborhood became introspective — well, sort of. Recorded after a year on the road, the album coats his anxieties about aging and relationships, with a dreamy jangle pop sheen. DeMarco contains multitudes, and “Salad Days” proves that with its sunny sound, mid-twenties malaise and thick cloud of cigarette smoke.
4) Schoolboy Q – “Oxymoron”
Schoolboy Q manages to strike the perfect balance between accessibility and abrasiveness in his major-label debut. The great variety in production, excellent ensemble of guest stars and first-rate showmanship demonstrate that “Oxymoron” is one of the most exciting, hardest-hitting party rap albums of the year.
5) Real Estate – “Atlas”
Real Estate’s laid-back feel is complemented by robust guitar and rich drum arrangements that perfectly entwine with and weave around the mellow vocals in their third studio album. The somewhat melancholy feel of the album is echoed in the circling melodies and whirly repetition.
6) The War On Drugs – “Lost in the Dream”
The War On Drugs made plenty of headlines this year, though many of them had to do with a non-existent but highly-sensationalized “beef” between the Philadelphia-based band and this list’s No. 17 pick, Mark Kozelek. But don’t let Pitchfork-published drama overshadow the greatness that was “Lost in the Dream” — a strong follow-up to 2011’s “Slave Ambient” — that proved The War on Drugs are a welcome and consistently impressive presence in indie rock.
7) tUnE-yArDs – “Nikki Nack
8) Angel Olsen – “Burn Your Fire For No Witness”
Though Angel Olsen put out both an EP and a full album before this year’s “Burn Your Fire For No Witness,” the lo-fi singer-songwriter made waves with her sophomore LP. Gritty and heartbreaking, Olsen’s record made the perfect soundtrack for all of 2014’s moodiest, dreariest and loneliest moments.
9) FKA Twigs – “LP1”
10) Flying Lotus – “You’re Dead!”
In a sonically gorgeous concept album about death and the afterlife, Flying Lotus may have created his most joyous record yet with You’re Dead! Casting a wider net of styles and collaborations (“Never Catch Me” feat. Kendrick Lamar a highlight) on his fifth album, FlyLo effortlessly combines jazz, electronic and hip-hop to evoke so much emotion while saying so little.
11) Taylor Swift – “1989”
Of course Taylor Swift made our list, because no matter what you thought about the star before 2014, she won you over this year with the power of perfect pop. We’re all Taylor fans now, whether we like it or not.
12) Lana Del Rey – “Ultraviolence”
Lana Del Rey unexpectedly found the perfect production partner for her languid, moody pop music in the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. In her second album, Del Rey revels in the glamorous iconography of Americana-Lou Reed, beat poetry, Chevy Malibus and “silver starlets” — as a facade for depression and isolation. In a year in which “Happy” spent 10 weeks at No. 1, “Ultraviolence” was the rare pop record to embrace gorgeously lush ballads brimming with a pervasive sadness.
13) Spoon – “They Want My Soul”
14) Foxygen – “…And Star Power”
“…And Star Power” is an involved 82-minute 24-track trek through different genres and time periods with Sam France and Jonathan Rado. The duo’s sonorous dissonance flows in this elaborate album.
15) Caribou – “Our Love”
16) Sylvan Esso – “Sylvan Esso”
Described by one Scene writer as the “Purity Ring Album of the Year” Award Winner, Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut album was a bit familiar, yes, but somehow also unexpected. Made up of singer Amelia Meath (of Mountain Man) and producer Nick Sanborn, the folksy duo created the surprisingly bass- and beat-filled album of electro-pop in May, making “Sylvan Esso” the perfect summer album.
17) Sun Kil Moon – “Benji”
Say what you will about Mark Kozelek the person — or Mark Kozelek the persona — but the man behind Sun Kil Moon produced his most powerful statement this year with his sprawling album “Benji.” Kozelek concocts a beautiful blend of classical guitar work and twisting, tangent-laden songwriting that totals to his magnum opus. Steeped in intimate, personal accounts and a lifetime’s worth of tragedy, no album was more emotive, or irrational-fear inducing, in 2014.
18) Ben Howard – “I Forget Where We Were”
Although he had not released music to add to my “Chill/Study” playlist since 2011’s “Every Kingdom,” Ben Howard did not “Forget Where We Were” — delivering the raspy, culminating vocals and hypnotizing guitar riffs I had been waiting for. His vocals, instrumental arrangements and lyrics combined in a haunting way to evoke nostalgia and satisfaction.
19) Sharon Van Etten – “Are We There”
The only problem with Sharon Van Etten’s self-produced, star-studded album was that it wasn’t talked about. The singer-songwriter’s fourth album, “Are We There,” is Etten at her best.
20) Walk the Moon – “Talking is Hard”
The sophomore album from Walk The Moon, a four member indie-pop band from Cincinnati, is an upbeat, danceable album that will having you yelling “Shut Up and Dance” at your friends when it is played. However, you may also choose to belt out the catchy, summer-nostalgic lyrics while you moonwalk.