11. TV on the Radio – Seeds
TV on the Radio’s fifth album has the band’s signature sound, but at the same time sets it apart from the rest. The vocals on this album were impeccable. The harmonies on the single track “Happy Idiot” are fluid and but also crisp; lead singer Tunde Adebimpe did not hold back. Many of the tracks are uplifting and jittery, like “Trouble” and “Winter,” but others feel ominous, like “Seeds” which has a pulsing back track and addicting beats. Seeds is a classic TV on the Radio album, with a little something different that makes it oh so addicting.
12. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Sharon Van Etten’s career has, until now, revolved around light, delicate songs with sparse orchestration. Are We There marks a sort of evolution in her sound, not only in terms of dynamic, but also in expression. The album flirts with chamber rock grandeur with its swelling organs, heavily layered vocals, and post-rock guitars yet manages to maintain the lightness that has always been at the heart of Van Etten’s songs. She sings of the pain that comes with being in love, sometimes atop a mountain of sound like in “Your Love is Killing Me”, while in “I Love you but I’m Lost” her vocals drift over a skeletal orchestration of only piano and drums. This kind of duality drives the album, keeping it interesting and curious. Are We There is evidence of a momentum that is propelling Van Etten’s career to new exploratory heights, leaving me anxious for what the next step will be.
13. Warpaint – Warpaint
This album delivers a previously underdeveloped sound from Warpaint. We might be used to the band’s easy-going melodies, but this album dampens it and becomes sterner. The vocals glide about eerily in tracks like “Love is to Die” and “Tesse,” but are certain enough to never stretch a note farther than should be allowed. This self-titled album is fashioned into what feels like an icy lullaby, bordering a fragility which never actually feels weak and maintains an animated tempo. It’s entrancing and calculating, suitable for daydreaming and mindless tasks.
14. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
New York indie-rockers Parquet Courts showed incredible growth on the first of two 2014 albums. The hooks are still there, but more subtle. The lyrics are less direct, but still great. The guitars still sound excellent. There’s more force behind these songs, indicative of a more mature approach to song writing and structure. “Sunbathing Animal” is basically just one chord for the whole song, but it’s ferocious, loose and hard-hitting. The band knows just when to take their foot off the gas, however, placing lighter moments like “Instant Disassembly” or “Dear Ramona” exactly where they’re needed. If you liked what you heard on Light Up Gold, you won’t be disappointed here.
15. Jack White – Lazaretto
Jack White’s album turned heads for trying to make vinyl cool again by having plenty of hidden goodies, such as a holographic angel guiding the needle of your record player or songs hidden underneath the paper label of the record. This may lead assumptions that this gimmick hides a filler album. However, this may be Jack White’s most complex recorded album since his White Stripe days. His arrangements are more unique (“Would You Fight for My Love” is pretty epic) and the music now has as many elements of blues as alternative music (the artsy “High Ball Stepper” exemplifies this balance best). Jack White’s music is also equally wild as it ever was but now there is maturity in his songs, making for a rather seductive sound.
16. Temples – Sun Structures
It seems like neo-psychedelic bands are popping up all over the place now, and a lot of it tends to sound the same to me. Temples is an enormous exception. Their undeniably infectious guitar hooks and full vocal harmonies contribute to the lazy, tripped-out sound so necessary in psychedelic rock, yet there’s a modernity that bleeds through, stands out, and refuses to just sound like late-60’s Beatles. The arrangements of songs like “Move With the Seasons” create such a dense landscape without bogging down the driving momentum of the album. Sun Structures takes a genre stuck in the Woodstock era, challenges it to sound relevant to the 21st century, and succeeds.
17. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
Though they’re far more relevant overseas than they are here in the United States, Bombay Bicycle Club quietly dropped one of the year’s best albums. Featuring Liz Laurence, an added female vocalist, BBC showcased a new, more pop-heavy sound than on past albums. Tracks like “Luna” and “Home By Now” feature Laurence’s vocals to a tee, which is, if nothing more, a welcome addition to Jack Steadman’s voice, which can get a little meek. The same incessantly catchy and anthemic choruses are ever present on So Long, See You Tomorrow, as well, which can at times get repetitive – but there is enough variation to give the listener a hint of the full scale of the London-based band’s ability, which, as it turns out, is quite vast.
18. Beck – Morning Phase
Long before Morning Phase was released, Beck made it pretty clear what kind of album we were to be getting – a companion to his acclaimed heart breaking record of 2002, Sea Change. Known as Beck’s “breakup album”, Sea Change narrates the emptiness following the difficult end to a relationship. Morning Phase instead focuses on optimism and progression, and although the album taps into an entirely different emotional well, it still delivers the stunning beauty that cemented Sea Change as a milestone in Beck’s career. At times, the songs are fragile, balancing between finger picked guitars and delicate vocals. At other times the orchestration and harmony is a tidal wave of complexity and staggering beauty. Morning Phase stands as a testament to two elements of Beck’s musicianship. One is his ability to deliver on a promise; we were offered a companion to the most sincere and lush piece of his repertoire, and that’s exactly what we got. The other is the continued proof of Beck’s remarkable versatility as a songwriter (Futurama put it best: “I always dreamed of being a musician-poet who transcends genres as he re-invents them”), and it’s that versatility that keeps me coming back to his music, never bored, and never disappointed.
19. Real Estate – Atlas
Real Estate’s Atlas seems to have popped up on Album of the Year lists everywhere, and that is no surprise. It sounds like something that could have been released alongside The Grateful Dead or Paul Simon. While the album might sound simple, Atlas reinforces the idea that sometimes, less is more. Their subtle, calming instrumentation fits together like a perfect puzzle, resulting in Real Estate’s best album yet.
20. Parkay Quarts – Content Nausea
Content Nausea may have been awarded the hotly contested 20th spot on our list thanks to my victory in a staff beer chugging race, but that shouldn’t diminish this excellent record. This album may not be as cohesive as the other Parquet Courts album from this year, but songs like the jittery, paranoid “Content Nausea” and the spacious epic “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth” are some of the best in the bands catalog. It manages to successfully combine the ultra catchy guitar riffs from their debut with the more straight faced punk aesthetic of Sunbathing Animal. It’s clear the band was experimenting on this album, the addition of horns is surprisingly fitting, and while it doesn’t always work, the abrasive spoken word piece “The Map” isn’t easy to sit through, the album has enough gems on it to keep it in rotation for a while.