These albums may not have burned through your playlists in 2014, but at least one Rolling Stone editor or contributor thinks it should've.
There's no shame in being a Fab Four disciple — Electric Light Orchestra, Oasis and Squeeze made careers of it — and Spencer Albee is a 21st century master in the lost art of Beatlesesque hooks. Albee, the king of Portland, Maine's secretly vibrant music scene (who puts on an annual Beatles tribute show every Thanksgiving), channeled a rough personal period (a breakup, an eviction) into an emotional set of stacked, wall-of-sound harmonies and contagious, confessional hooks. Albee played all of the instruments himself, constructing keyboard-heavy soundscapes on songs like "One 2 Three" and the bouncy "I Don't Know," which sounds like psychedelic doo-wop. He often utilizes chimes and bells for a sound akin to Phil Spector's Christmas music, but the lyrics — bitter, tortured, accusatory — are anything but joyous. By Patrick Doyle
The Diplo of distortion, the Skrillex of scuzz, Rhode Island one-man acid bath Ren "Container" Schofield, actually wants to rock your party with this corroded four-song EP. While his blackened textures and squelching noise would seem at home at breaking subterranean avant-house labels like Brooklyn's L.I.E.S. and Berlin's PAN, his gnashing beats seem far more, well, funky — seemingly influenced by Southern hip-hop as much as Nineties techno. However Schofield is actually a former noise-rock expat, bringing the squealing, broken sound of bands like Wolf Eyes to these mercilessly weird, yet totally head-knocking tracks. By Christopher R. Weingarten
Through four righteous rants (which barely last five minutes total), the politically-minded Rhode Island punk crew Downtown Boys slam bullying hardcore guitars, X-Ray Spex-y horns and radical lyrical fury together into a moshpit utopia. Lead screamer Victoria Ruiz is the star — her bilingual howl is charismatic enough, you get the feeling she could start a real revolution given a big enough crowd. Listen to "Slumlord Sal" around the first of the month and you just might end up punching your landlord. By Simon Vozick-Levinson
The Empty Hearts are a new band with a ton of résumé: Blondie drummer Clem Burke, the Cars' lead guitarist Elliot Easton, singer-guitarist Wally Palmar of the Romantics and bassist Andy Babiuk of veteran garage revivalists the Chesterfield Kings. What you get with that New Wave and Nuggets-driven cred is top-notch pop with muscular go-go, bright with vintage AM-radio choruses ("50 Miles an Hour Down a Dead End Street," "Meet Me Round the Corner") but tough enough to pass the late-set-at-CBGB test. (Producer Ed Stasium worked on more than half a dozen Ramones albums.) At a recent New York show, the Empty Hearts played virtually the whole album along with some of their old bands' grenades (the Cars' "Just What I Needed," the Romantics' "What I Like About You"). It all sounded like greatest hits. By David Fricke
Mary Timony started out making what might be called "challenging" music with her band Helium — slightly off-kilter, drony, dark songs that sometimes resolved into satisfying Nineties chug, but more often than not didn't. In Wild Flag, she dueled with Carrie Brownstein on carefully constructed tunes that occasionally gave her space to stick in spiraling solos. But now Timony has ripped it all down and started from the scraps. Her new power trio's debut album, Rips, is a glorious exercise in stripped-down, straight-up rock & roll. It's a ladies' take on Cheap Trick-style rah-rah rock blended with jittery punk and Timony's brilliant, bluesy guitar solos. And it's 100 percent proof Timony's seemingly backwards sonic journey is right on target. By Caryn Ganz
The Peter Gabriel-led lineup of Genesis is so desperately missed by prog fanatics that guitarist Steve Hackett, who played in the group from 1971 to 1977, can effortlessly sell out venues as huge as the Royal Albert Hall by hiring five unknowns and playing the classics. A show like that could have easily come off like a sad tribute to days long past, but Hackett is an amazingly passionate player and his band treats the material with incredible respect. For this show, they're joined by Asia's John Wetton for "Firth of Fifth" and by largely-forgotten late Nineties Genesis frontman Ray Wilson on "Carpet Crawlers" and "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe.)" These are songs that Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel have absolutely zero interest in ever playing again — including a 26-minute run through "Supper's Ready" — meaning this is as close to the real thing as we're ever going to get. By Andy Greene
Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon, West Philadelphia protégés of the Roots and Jill Scott, friends and a couple married 16 years with six children, spend their fifth album struggling through hard times but celebrating being in it for the long haul. They do it with R&B grooves as warm and alive as any this year, unfashionably tapping Philly International disco, Barry White, Run-D.M.C., quiet storm, pop gospel and their spiritual antecedents Ashford and Simpson (whose Valerie Simpson contributes harmonies to the title cut) without ever suggesting retro is the point. There's even a minute-long chant from their kids about keeping up with household chores. And over a Marvin Gaye rhythm bed in lush centerpiece "Everybody's Hustling," Fatin and Aja weather the war on the poor — low credit scores, no health insurance, two jobs not paying enough. But they stay grounded and refuse despair, knowing sex and God will help them through. By Chuck Eddy
A five-song suite from locally beloved Boston threepiece Krill, Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts Into Tears is ostensibly a concept record about a maybe-fictional twentysomething who asks the very-real Boston band Pile to jam with him before getting politely rebuffed. "If I could have made something good, I would have by now," sings frontman Jonah Furman, embodying the spirit of a laidback dude pretending he wasn't just totally crushed. The rest of the tracks are less conceptual, but all contain Furman's slightly unhinged lyrical self-deprecation — including a lengthy metaphor about viewing oneself as literal shit on "Turd" — and the band's darkly pretty grunge rock. By Cady Drell
"Nigga, ya drums too clean," barks masked Brooklyn rapper Leikeli47 to kick off this storming, never-not-intriguing mixtape, and that's just the first of many spitfire threats and challenges. In "C&C," over an even more rambunctious drum track, she requests that you fall back, since her friends have a razor and a taser waiting; later, she mentions that the devil's crashing at her place until he gets paid and she's not above slapping the dude upside his head. Lk-47 Pt. II is a scattershot blast, but it promises plenty. No surprise, then, that Leikeli recently dropped her finest volley yet: "Two Times a Charm," a spare, fingersnapping smackdown with a bizarre R&B interlude and a captivating video. By Charles Aaron
In the context of The Knick, director Steven Soderbergh's blood-drenched, cocaine-fueled hospital period piece, mood-master Cliff Martinez's flickering, whooshing electronic score makes the visuals all the more unsettling. As a standalone work, the soundtrack has a similar effect on everyday life. Over the past three decades, the composer has perfected mesmerizing atmospheres on the scores to Drive, Spring Breakers and Only God Forgives. The Knick ventures into uncharted realms: With a track list that could nauseate the most hard-nosed homicide detective ("Abscess," "Placental Repair," "New Standard Hernia Procedure"), the record's undulating synths, sparse acoustic guitar and wraithlike cristal baschet create an ominous, urgent, hypnotic feeling like shivers up your spine. By Kory Grow
Boredoms drummer Yoshimi P-We's chiming, screeching, banging, monkey-chanting seventh solo album both assaults and assuages listeners with a sneakily challenging blend of Indonesian gamelan and Japanese noise-pop. This 21st-century Remain in Light's vibe is psychedelic, its mode neo-primitive, and its overall effect stroboscopically ecstatic. Augmented by a pair of Javanese gamelan musicians on tuned metallophonic percussion, Yoshimi and her all-woman ensemble make thrilling music that embellishes a minimalist template with funky bass, blorting guitars, wordless sing-along chants, heady synths and powerful drumming. The resulting hour-long suite is a listener-friendly Frankenstein's monster of invigorating post-exotica. By Richard Gehr
A Kentucky singer with Sandy Denny timbre and a clarity of tone like Miles Davis' horn circa Kind of Blue. This captivating mini-album, with elegant guitar from folklorist Nathan Salsburg, is kinda folk, sorta slowcore and vaguely country, projecting a huge, resplendently pained serenity. By Will Hermes
Ben Watt has been making intimate, sophisticated pop music for three decades, most prominently with his wife Tracy Thorne in Everything But the Girl. Though he's primarily been a dance music DJ since EBTG ended in 2000, his first solo album since 1983 is all about subtle guitar elegance and detailed lyrical explorations. Watt collaborated with guitarist Bernard Butler of Suede and even got an unlikely hand from Pink Floyd's David Gilmour to create richly detailed songs that deal with muted revelation and shaky unburdenings. In "Young Man's Game" a 49-year-old comes to terms with feeling to old to go clubbing, and in "The Levels" a man converses with a wife who's no longer with him. The music can evoke anything from Stereolab to country to mellow Seventies rock and the lyrics can touch on subjects from gun control to Romantic poetry, always with a subtlety that matches the music's slanted beauty. By Jon Dolan
After releasing his breakthrough Superstar LP in 2011, Nigerian rapper Wizkid prepped its follow-up with three years of irresistible features and unstoppable club bangers. Arriving in September, Ayo placed the biggest of the latter alongside new tracks that grab slang from Jamaica and salute women with a "bum bum bigger than Bombay." Throughout, the 24-year-old uses deft, nimble flows to glide over complex beats and he writes hooks that will keep you humming for weeks. As British-Ghanaian rapper Fuse ODG says in the title of his debut LP, another excellent 2014 release, T.I.N.A: This is new Africa.
What happens when a former hardcore singer meets a heavy metal roadie? They form an industrial band, of course —but one with a punk-rock heart. Black Flag-inspired bass lines slither through mechanized Wax Trax! clatter; a pissed, pogoing riot grrrl spits boiling blood on chilly synths. Youth Code's 2013 debut full-length was a promising, if primitive, introduction; A Place to Stand, the coed duo's eight-track follow-up (four original songs, four remixes of older ones) sees the L.A. band beginning to harness its potential, reeling out both its most hardcore-infused tantrum (the floor-punching "To Burn Your World") and its most melodic cut yet (the glitchy, Crystal Castles-esque "For I Am Cursed"). "A Litany (A Place to Stand)," meanwhile, is Youth Code's manifesto, a spoken-word diatribe against discrimination, animal cruelty, hate and apathy set to a piston-pumping noisescape. The crash of collapsing new buildings rarely sounds so constructive. By Brandon Geist