21. Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker
We all just need music that we can rock to now and then and Benjamin Booker gave us one of the most rockin’ albums of the year. This is the kind of album that when it comes on in the car you can’t help but turn it up to 11. Booker’s mix of rock, blues and punk punches through straight to the soul, and his lyrics consisting of hypothetical conversations with himself and his loved ones are thoughtful and hard-hitting. This album kicks ass.
22. Caribou – Our Love
It’s a very rare moment when I like a band that uses exclusively non-traditional instrumentation – to give some context, I had an unfortunately difficult time getting into Chvrches (fear not, I have seen the light), but if anything, Carbou’s 2014 effort Our Love was a fantastic integration tool for me. The music is enthralling, but not offensively so, pairing perfectly with studying or any activity which doesn’t require the utmost concentration. While the video for “Our Love” may be one of the creepiest five and a half minutes of my life, the ethereal nature of the music is executed masterfully – a theme that is continuous throughout the album. Our Love is a great intro to a genre I’m usually (I’m afraid to admit) more cautious to explore.
23. Alt-J – This is All Yours
Even the departure of guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury did not stop Alt-J from coming out with a hit record this year. The lineup change may be the cause of the slight change of feel on the album. Their main single this year “Left Hand Free” gives a more steady rock/blues vibe than their previous signature indie-rock sound. This album even includes a feature from Miley Cyrus, who is a strong supporter of the group and happily gave them rights to the sample in their song “Hunger Of The Pine”.
24. Courtney Barnett – A Sea of Split Peas
Courtney Barnett burst onto the music scene in early 2014 with the release of her first full length album, A Sea of Split Peas. Courtney Barnett has a simple yet impactful style that artists the likes of Nirvana would be proud of. She also had my favorite lyric of the year in her song “Avant Gardener”. “The paramedic thinks I’m clever ’cause I play guitar/I think she’s clever ’cause she stops people dying ”
25. Avey Tare & The Slasher Flicks – Enter the Slasher House
David Portner, stage name Avey Tare, is best known as one of the founders of Animal Collective, an experimental rock band hailing from Baltimore known for its weird and at times psychedelic musical style. Avey does other things well, too, though. Tare, along with his Slasher Flicks, former Dirty Projector Angel Deradoorian and drummer Jeremy Hyman (of band Ponytail), has begun on a new musical project and their debut album was at least good enough to score twenty-fifth on our top fifty this year. The album’s sound, with its cool, airy instrumentals and at times wildly imaginative melodies, is largely reminiscent of Animal Collective, which is always a (great) thing. But what really sets it apart from other Tare projects is the presence singles, like “Little Fang”, a quirky little tune which sounds exactly like the way you wanna feel when you walk into a bar (wearing a leather jacket).
26. Eagulls – Eagulls
I have to be honest, this album took me completely by surprise. I had never heard of Eagulls, and decided to give them a listen at random. God damn, was that a good choice. A raw energy dominates the entire album and practically dares you not to nod your head and say, “this is fucking sweet”. Eagulls taps into their English punk heritage with an unwavering momentum made up of driving drum beats, heavily distorted guitars, and George Mitchell’s reverb drenched vocals that sound as if his voice was designed with the sole intention of singing punk rock. If you haven’t listened to Eagulls yet, then you have some homework to do.
27. New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
The sixth studio album from Vancouver-based super group New Pornographers shows that the band is concerned with growing as musicians and team members. Personally, I don’t think Brill Bruisers packs quite as strong of a punch as Mass Romantic or Challengers, but the album is still a notably solid release. A.C. Newman has remarked in several recent interviews that he thinks Brill Bruisers is the best thing the band has ever done, as each member is held in a balance that he originally desired when the band first formed. Newman, Neko Case, and Dan Bejar each have their own moments as lead vocalists, but the album definitely offers more of a fusion of voices than their past releases. There are countless moments when it is almost impossible to tell exactly who is singing (even though, on their own, Newman, Bejar, Case, and Kathryn Calder all have very singular voices). The album shows a group of remarkable musicians at their best, in terms of collaboration. Also, “Champions of Red Wine” and “Dancehall Domine” are simply two of the best songs of the year. If you disagree, don’t even bother talking to me.
28. SZA – Z
Words cannot describe my love for SZA. For this being her debut album, it is admirable to see such power and skill that was sealed into every song. Her natural, flawless voice glides over soothing beats and deep percussion to leave you in a lovely hypnotic state. She has the sexiness of FKA Twigs mixed with her own mysterious style that is both chilling and soothing at times. Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper, and Isaiah Rashad grace their presence on a few tracks that are all undeniably crafted to perfection. The most notable song on the album is “Babylon,” where Kendrick interjects mid song to speed-up the track and then leaves SZA to finish it in complete fragile mist. This may be SZA’s only appearance on any 2014 top 50 albums list, but I promise this album is well worth a listen, or twenty.
29. Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right
Protomartyr is a post-punk band from the tough city of Detroit and their music can hit hard. Tracks like “Son of Dis” and “Pagans” that wouldn’t sound very out of place in punk’s beginning days. But it isn’t the playing that really gets people. The lyrics look at the scary dark side of life most of us prefer to ignore. He talks about terrible dads, murders, wars, alcoholics, and more. Though the lyrics cohesively make little sense out of the context of interviews with the artists, the words themselves like “Let me talk to the son of sacrifice/I’m suffering” are usually enough, especially with a band that plays dynamically to set the mood for the lyrics.
30. Minor Characters – Voir Dire
I first heard these guys in a basement in West Lafayette, Indiana in 2012. I got the chance to chat with them for a while and developed something of a friendship with them, so I had really followed the leadup to this album’s release. I helped fund it on Kickstarter which earned me a download a few months before it was officially released, and I knew from the first listen that it belonged on this list. Voir Dire, their most ambitious effort to date is exceptionally balanced between fun, upbeat indie rock songs, and emotionally crooning compositions, laced with haunting harmonies, hypnotic basslines, and all wrapped up in an exceptional production quality. Seeing this band mature and progress is very exciting, and if Voir Dire is any indication of that progress, the future is bright.