Here we present to you the top 5 albums of 2014 from the personal perspective of 5 different OurVinyl writers, who each have quite varied tastes from each other. We hope this presents you with a balanced look at some of the best albums from the year of 2014. Please feel free to tell us in the comments section below which writer you agree/disagree with, your own top 5, or any other type of feedback.
Sean Brna | Editor
Caribou is a band that brings out the best of the electro-rock genre. In ‘Our Love’ we find them presenting a vibrant and energetic collection of songs, with more zest than their recent releases. The result is an album that had everyone talking, and for good reason. It’s an album with an energy that just borders a rave’ish feel without ever jumping full in. It can be enjoyed equally well on the dance floor, or via headphones while sitting on a plane. Stellar tracks ‘Our Love’ and ‘Silver’ should be on everyone’s party mix, as they adroitly fuse electronic rhythm sections with indie-rock vocal/synth layering, with a dash of hip hop inspired sampling.
2014 wasn’t exactly a year for fantastic rap/hip hop releases, as the more popular form of the genre seems to have been reduced to quasi-electronic, hook-centric, radio-aspiring-singles. Not so with Run The Jewels and their second self titled release. El-P and Killer Mike brought us the year’s best rap album – and one of the years best overall – through breakneck belligerent beats and frenetic lyrics that are interesting and compliment the beats perfectly. With Run The Jewels 2 we are reminded that hip hop is a state of mind just as much as a musical genre. And while it has plenty of drugs, sex, and anger (such as within ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)’) it also exudes a surprising amount of mature reflection (such as with ‘Early’, a track that discusses police overreach). Make sure you have the subwoofer on for this one, because it hits hard, wonderfully so.
Mac DeMarco’s Wikipedia page describes his music as slacker-rock, or blue-wave. But it certainly isn’t depressing or unambitious. In Salad Days Mac has brought us an album filled with songs that border between mellow and upbeat, but with each track taking a slightly different approach to that energy level. The result is something that sounds like a summer album, but can be played all year long. It’s like Elliott Smith meets The Beach Boys. With a handful of ear-candy instrumentals as well, it’s not anything if not unique. And with each repeated play it gets easier and easier to fall into the genial, low-maintenance yet engrossing, musical realm Mac has given us in ‘Salad Days’.
Wow. This album is what an indie-psych-pop-rock album should sound like. With 60’s esque melodies, 90’s ish grunge rock guitar playing, and contemporary psych rock construction Ty Segall gave us a gem with Manipulator. The grooves are thick and catchy, the guitar licks are haunting, the vocals are indelible. You don’t have to be into psych-rock or hard-rock to love this album, both because not every song is intense, but also because somehow Ty made a universally accessible album while sacrificing none of his wonderful quirkiness. For this author Manipulator isn’t just one of the best rock albums of the year, it’s one of the best rock albums of the last 10 years.
How to describe The Acid? It’s like Thom Yorke on, well, acid – combined with a skeletal version of Alt-J. The sounds are meticulously crafted and hard hitting, which almost distracts you from the minimal nature of the composition. The vocals and guitars (when used) are very melody focused, which juxtaposes well with the electro foundations. They don’t always move to a crescendo, sometimes choosing to focus on building sonic landscapes, but when they do they take their time and don’t leave the listener disappointed. The band didn’t invent a sound on Liminal, but to many ears in 2014 it will seem as if they did, as it’s that singular.
This year Adams released his most satisfying and cohesive record since 2005’s triptych of ‘Cold Roses,’ ‘Jacksonville City Nights’ and ’29.’ The man sounds confident in comparison to 2011’s fragile ‘Ashes and Fire’ with songs that range from Tom Petty-esque rocking to heart-breaking acoustic numbers that wouldn’t be out of place of ‘Heartbreaker.’ There’s even some elements of the dark and atmospheric rock of ‘Love is Hell.’ This self-titled album found a perfect balance between the light and the dark, the heavy and the acoustic. As a fun bonus and much different side of Adams, check out his ‘1984’ EP for 2 minute blasts of punkish fury.
While it may not be quite as satisfying as ‘Blunderbuss,’ ‘Lazaretto’ is still a home run. This year Jack White continued to prove why he’s one of the most unique and exciting voices in rock with instrumental lead single “High Ball Stepper” and the rip-roaring title track, boasting easily the best guitar solo of the year. This album also took some interesting chances, with “Would You Fight For My Love?” having operatic backing vocals and “Black Bat Licorice” where White is borderline rapping in what is easily the catchiest non-single cut on the record. These songs especially shine in concert too, as Jack White and his incredible band toured the world putting on an incredible show wherever they went.
After the blast of internationally acclaimed pop on ‘Born to Die,’ Lana took a sharp left turn on her second record. The album was produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach with most songs allegedly happening in one take with Lana singing live with a seven piece band. The album is much slower and darker, with most songs’ tempo barely rising above a slow waltz, with Dan and Lana calling it “narco swing.” It’s the sort of album you could listen to late at night on headphones or hazily floating in a pool in the dead of summer, drifting away on the sweet melodies of glamorized tragedy. This will be the album people point to later as the defining moment when she really grabbed a hold of a direction in her sound and stopped being compared to pop ladies like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, and instead to the likes of Billie Holiday.
When ‘I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead’ came out it was obvious how brilliant it was. When he teamed up with Killer Mike (perhaps most famously known for his guest verse on Outkast’s “The Whole World”) for the first ‘Run The Jewels’ record, you could sense that El-P had found a great creative partner that pushed him ever further, creating a fantastic hip hop record that still gets regular play. It’s rare that a sequel or second album by a group compares to the first, but this time the two knocked it out of the park. This, my friends, is the hip hop album of the year. Nothing else compares. The rhyming is impeccable and El-P produces some of the best beats of his career. Plus, anyone who can get Zack del la Rocha out of hiding to spit a killer verse and chorus deserves your utmost respect.
It’s difficult to sum up or restate what’s already in my review and do a better job, so let’s just defer to that: ‘Chemical Plant’ as a whole is a rewarding journey through the emotional spectrum with a morose pop filter. It’s the perfect late night/early morning album for those frosty car rides to work or after the party dies down when you’re left alone with your glass of whiskey, staring into emptiness of the night, reflecting on the things that keep you up at night. This is the sound of Robert Ellis hitting his stride as a songwriter, crafting a cohesive and fluid piece of work that nods to its influences but lives in a unique space all its own.
Jorge A. López Mendicuti | Senior Writer | @jlopezmendicuti
Son of physicist Hugh Everet III, EELS leader Mark Oliver Everett decided to name his eleventh studio album after himself. Exorcising demons and opening his up on his life and heart even further (something he does on every single effort), The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett opens up with the instrumental track Where I’m At and, from then on, comes and goes through heartbreaks, longings, regrets, hopes and fears with Lockdown Hurricane, Agatha Chang an upbeat Where I’m From before closing up with a couple of hopeful verses in Where I’m Going: “I can’t say if the flowers will keep on growing, but I’ve got a good feeling about where I’m going”. This might be one of his most personal works yet, but it feels as if the best might still be yet to come.
Former Girls front man, Christopher Owens left the band back in 2012 and experienced a solo awakening with 2013’s Lysandre. Now, with a gospel, country and southern inspired backing band, A New Testament tastes and feels like a revival Americana album. Drifting from dancing guitar driven tunes, to church inspired vocals, ballads and timeless recorded tracks, its hard think this was a 2014 album. It feels as if A New Testament was simply buried at a Nashville basement and a lucky treasure hunter rescued it for the public ear. Nothing More Than Everything To Me, A Heart Akin In The Wind, Overcoming Me and the deeply romantic I Just Can’t Live Without You (But I’m Still Alive) compensate the destruction of Girls, for this songs wouldn’t have worked any other way than through Owens’ new persona.
This fourth LP by the New Orleans born and raised duo is one of the most fun and overlooked records of 2014. From track one, Black Lemon, Alix already feels like summer during winter times. Gold Silver Diamond‘s piano and drum machine combo driven is a nice parallel to its sad lyrics. Reviver keeps the dancing going along with Welcome To The Fire and the rest of the album up to its closing track, Would You Want Me. Alix is guaranteed to make your feet tap the its beats and will keep you humming its tracks from the first listen.
The evolution from rock through folk and into electronic/dance showcased in Bombay Bicycle Club‘s first three albums finally collided this year. Produced by their band leader Jack Steadman, So Long, See You Tomorrow seems to take the best out of their multiple styles beginning with track one, Overdone. From It’s Alright Now and on, the experimentation with both new and odd beats and female vocals, organic and electronic instruments, the light and the shadow, is justified through every single song. Whenever, Wherever takes Steadman’s vocal skills to a brand new level, as your head shakes to the uprising beat of the track only to fall down to a longing jazzy fueled vocal. The same vocal praise could be given to the track Eyes Of You. The mixture of Indian sound legacy, reggae-ton beats, wind arrangements and catchy choruses make Feel an odd yet beautiful song. Of all the tracks inside this album, Luna stands out: both soft and hard, fun and serious, rock’ish and electronic, it’s certainly one of Bombay Bicycle Club‘s finest efforts to date.
It wasn’t a surprise that Jack White would again make history by putting out the best-selling vinyl to date after breaking Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy by 104,000 copies. What became a ground breaking display of experimentation by White and Ikey Owens swan song also went on to be a physical display of art in the shape of the Ultra LP: a vinyl with hidden songs, secret grooves, holograms and a wonderful marriage between music and design. Musically speaking, Lazaretto is one of White’s boldest efforts to date. It is funky, raw, intriguing, romantic, tongue-in-cheek rusty and with so many layers in between at the same time. It can all be summarized in the title track, Lazaretto, with vestiges of the many sides we’ve seen through White’s years, bands and albums: it is strange yet familiar. With a sense that his best work is yet to come.
Dylan Tracy | Contributor
I’ve spent hours and hours and HOURS trying to find the reasons that Swans’ To Be Kind still makes me want to cry. It’s probably one of the most relentless, if not the most insane album of 2014. Excruciating, desolate, immense, and ultimately perfect, Swans – of all of their ferocious, unforgettable music – have crafted their magnum opus. The depths this group of somewhat-normal people went to are massive in scope. To take Michael Gira’s ideas and turn them into bone-crushing, ear-splitting excursions that could be 6 or 34 minutes long is a feat that only these very gifted individuals could ever accomplish. After listening to this album, I get the feeling that Michael Gira can finally smile.
Steven Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus, a.k.a. Captain Murphy, is a true genius. Give him the keys to the city of Heaven when he makes it there, because there’s no one – and I mean, absolutely no one – who can make a jazz record hide in a hip-hop record and make each of the tracks literally feel like coming to terms with death. You’re Dead! travels through the spiritual aether, finding solace in the moments lost and dwelling on the what-could-be’s, positioning itself as one of the most heartfelt of the year, and doubly, the most ridiculous of the year. (“Dead Man’s Tetris” and “Descent Into Madness” especially prove the ridiculous claim.) However, it’s the most depressing moments of the album that sweep you away, especially “Coronus, The Terminator,” a song that has Flying Lotus stepping out from behind the DJ booth and taking center stage as a vocalist, without crediting his hip-hop moniker, Captain Murphy (who shows up twice, notably on the dreary “The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep”). [Let it be known that my top 2 exceed the others in every way possible. There’s a large gap between these two and those after, and for good reason, both made bonafide classics.]
Dream pop needed this album so badly. Since Beach House’s Bloom, there has been a steady amount of dream pop albums that were missing a key ingredient. A Sunny Day In Glasgow found an element – chaos – and extrapolated it over the entire length of their finest achievement, Sea When Absent. There is no shortage of mind-blowingly impressive tunes, especially the first four. The highest peak, “In Love With Useless,” is quite likely this year’s most powerful song. Flurries of instrumentation flicker amongst themselves before a tense vocal melody screams through, cutting every layer of this gorgeous track in thirds. When the chorus hits, you have no clue where the song could even head afterwards. What A Sunny Day In Glasgow manage to accomplish in these few short minutes is nothing short of absolute brilliance. There are moments of pure, delicate beauty, but there are also very unsettling blasts of napalm. This album seems like an entire war of emotional, physical, and spiritual chaos. And that what makes it so damn good.
The year’s best shoegaze album came from a metal label (Relapse), but that matters infinitely little when Nothing breaks out of the mold of shoegaze and bends it to their will on their debut album, Guilty Of Everything, an album that fluidly contracts and expands with energetic hardcore punk, the aforementioned shoegaze, and post-punk. Throughout the album, crushing waves of thick, noisy riffs elevate the album into unforgettable territory, especially on “Dig,” a pivotal moment in the early stages of the album. As it ends, Guilty Of Everything floats you down and covers you up with a blanket, giving you the utmost feeling that everything will be just alright. You’ve made it home safe.
Her first solo record proves that the Marriages, Nocturnes, and Red Sparowes songwriter has blossomed into a fierce individual with a knack for swallowing you whole with her wrought, emotional dark folk tunes, especially with “Oh Sarah” and “Run Forever.” Her darkest and most distant effort is a collection of acoustic (sometimes expanded with a full band) songs that have the vocally serene artist giving 110% and the delicate tunes dazzle any listener. The album’s ultimate moment, “Living With The Black Dog,” has Rundle sharpening and stabbing her muddy guitar riff, the song’s only instrument, into a swirly soundscape that matches her vocal power, shining deeply within the void all of her songs come from. When it ends, there may be tears. Some Heavy Ocean is one of Sargent House’s best and most fully formed albums, and that’s saying a lot, considering Sargent House’s long list of exceptional talent.
Curtis Ford | Contributor
I mean, yes, it IS a country record, but it is so much more than that. The album should have just read “Modern Country Music”. It is like Sturgill Simpson just stepped into the modern music arena in the name of country and declared it credible again. But not in some new progressive manner, but by re-exploring the roots of his genre and finding something universal. You can show this record to anyone, not just a country music fan. It is truly a game changer for the genre.
Lazaretto jumps out of the speakers at you like a hand crafted bag of explosives. The story lines are honest slices of ideas from the mind of Jack White and lyrically it’s not a stretch to say that this set might be his best to date. The opening track plays and I see the torch of blues music being passed down the generation in a fresh combination of funk and sorrow.
This album from the starting note is a smooth build and break-down of songs with a palpable ambiance. It’s somehow contemporary and leans forward, but in a way artists from a generation ago would understand. There are constant comings and goings of layerd instruments that you may not catch after just one listen. Lead singer Adam Granduciel renders a voicing of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan from his religious albums. A great listening album with friends. Also an excellent driving album.
This record is thick. Everything is so up front and easy to hear regardless of the distortion. Maybe that just comes from great mixing, but Ty’s guitar playing is what sticks out most. He rips through the music like daggers and ninja stars. His voice floats around over the riffs – only coming down for a breathe once in awhile. It is the best indie-rock record of 2014.
Being released only a few days ago, this album grabs you as soon as you hear it. There’s a lot of reasons to like this record – one is the disorganized jazz break-downs that flow between D’Angelo’s howling voice backed with a chorus of harmony. His melody lines sounds very thought out and then beautifully sporadic at other times. The Vanguard absolutely crush this album along side D’Angelo. Fourteen years might have well been worth the wait.