50 Best Albums of 2014 – Rolling Stone
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50 Best Albums of 2014

U2 unleashed a brilliant surprise, Bruce Springsteen hit a new peak, St. Vincent made deliciously weird noise and more

Some of the 50 best albums of 2014

2014 was another phenomenal year for music, illuminating darkness when it often seemed that the only light was from buildings burning in Ferguson, Missouri. Veterans like U2, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and Leonard Cohen were showing the youngsters how it's done, but classic rock was being revived in more unlikely ways too: the Eighties impressionist guitar choogle of the War on Drugs, Ought's word-drunk post-punk, Perfume Genius' arty glam rock and Eric Church's country arena-rock.

The year was dominated on nearly every other front by young women: Charli XCX's reinvention of punk-pop, Miranda Lambert's Nashville platinum-blonde ambition, St. Vincent's indie-rock apotheosis, FKA Twigs' haunting avant-R&B and, above all, Taylor Swift's unstoppable pop juggernaut. The politically charged hip-hop of Public Enemy found a new-school parallel in Run the Jewels, the storytelling Los Angeles breeze of Dr. Dre found new life in YG and Flying Lotus took rhymes and beats into spectacularly abstract territory. Here's 50 albums that we wouldn't turn down.

Yob, Clearing the Path to Ascend

Yob, ‘Clearing the Path to Ascend’

With their seventh album – four sumptuous, sludgy tracks delivered across an hour – Yob staked their claim on doom metal's throne. Lumbering Sabbathian riffage and Neurosis' build-to-burn dynamics abound, but what sets the record apart are its gorgeous moments of peace and introspection, which shimmer like moonlight on a tar pit.

Tinariwen, Emmaar

Tinariwen, ‘Emmaar’

The veteran Saharan guitar mystics, in exile due to regional conflicts, relocate to another desert – the Mojave – to make electric music with American friends like Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It's a subtle shading of the band's magnificent sound, a hypnotic landscape of reverb, handclaps and Afro-Berber riffs circling like buzzards in the sun.


Coldplay, ‘Ghost Stories’

A major disruption in Chris Martin's personal life led to a fruitful change of direction in his creative one: with the ghost of Gwyneth haunting his soul, Martin led Coldplay through a set of stripped-back songs that blend the band's interest in EDM with aching melodies and truly raw emotions.

Gary Clark Jr. Live

Gary Clark Jr., ‘Gary Clark Jr. Live’

The future-of-the-blues hype that's followed Texas guitar prodigy Gary Clark Jr. is more than affirmed on this staggering live double album. Clark puts his stamp on decades of music with incisive covers of songs like the Delta standard "Catfish Blues," casually seething solos and lysergic-lava distortion that's so rich and bruising it would make Kurt Cobain smile. The sound of huge talent tilting towards defined brilliance.   

Tweedy, Sukierae

Tweedy, ‘Sukierae’

A great singer-songwriter goes deep: Wilco's Jeff Tweedy enlisted his teenage son Spencer on drums for a double album of gently psychedelic folk-rock reflections. Rolling through hope, sorrow, anger and humor over 20 songs, it was one of the year's most richly detailed inner-space trips, and a semi-solo album that stands up next to the best work Tweedy has done with his main gig as of late.

EMA, The Future's Void

EMA, ‘The Future’s Void’

Erika M. Anderson made the best Nineties album of 2014 (if any of us were worried about technology and surveillance taking over our lives 20 years ago). Her follow-up to 2011's awesome Past Life Martyred Saints pulses, clangs and simmers — it's unsettling one moment, soothing the next and always a smartly satisfying listen.

Interpol, El Pintor

Interpol, ‘El Pintor’

Interpol helped define the darkly glammy New York post-punk scene of the early '00s, and their first album in four years shows they still know how to bring the black-clad damage. Singer Paul Banks gives us a guided tour of his stylishly appointed pain cave as the guitars pierce and wail like bipolar hyenas amidst torrid drum swirls. 

Future, Honest

Future, ‘Honest’

Future's free-wheeling lothario sing-rap set the stage for Atlanta space cadets like Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan — but his much-anticipated second album blasted off into a universe all its own: Amadou and Mariam samples, trunk-melting bass and the year's most triumphant started-from-the-bottom hip-hop album closer.

Perfume Genius

Perfume Genius, ‘Too Bright’

On his third album, piano-playing art-gallery balladeer Mike Hadreas emerges as a potent glam rocker, with assistance from the Portishead and PJ Harvey camps. It's noisy, sexy, twisted and fierce; with Hadreas declaring, "No family is safe when I sashay."

Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin, ‘Syro’

Richard D. James has digested decades worth of electronic music trends and follows none. On this magnificent comeback there are flashes of soul-jazz fusion, stadium EDM, jungle, dubstep and a neo-classical piano coda delivered like a story in a mysterious tongue that still makes sense.   

Jack White

Jack White, ‘Lazaretto’

White's second solo album is a paranoid palace of earth-shaking blues riffs and weird vibes – the long, high howl of a lone wolf. Whether he's hulking out on the unstrung instrumental "High Ball Stepper" or laughing to himself on the honky-tonky lark "Alone in My Home," this is an album only one man could have made.

Caribou, Our Love

Caribou, ‘Our Love’

Dan Snaith's psychedelic dance grooves have always had a deep emotional core. This year, the Canadian producer super-sized both sides of his music: The beats on Our Love are his biggest, shiniest, rave-iest creations ever, backing a heady set of songs about the mind-expanding possibilities of long-term partnership.

Hurray For The Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes

Hurray for the Riff Raff, ‘Small Town Heroes’

Alynda Lee Segarra was raised on the New York punk scene before finding her folk-rock muse in New Orleans. Her band's breakthrough flips the script on woman-hating murder ballads and ponders the romance of dangerous behavior, over fingerpicking and fiddling. Somewhere, Pete Seeger is smiling.

Benjamin Booker

Benjamin Booker, ‘Benjamin Booker’

This 25-year-old punk-blues guitar hero bowled over future tourmate Jack White, and you can see why. Booker's raw-throated boogie blues proves rock & roll can still function as crazy-ass party music – when he confesses to wasting time on "a five-year bender" in the midst of "Violent Shiver," you may be tempted to join him.


Alvvays, ‘Alvvays’

The lyrics on this Toronto band's accomplished debut read like a great short-story collection, full of wild romance, quarter-life confusion and sly humor. Set to exquisitely yearning melodies and pitch-perfect guitar jangle and fuzz, songs like "Party Police," "Next of Kin" and "Archie, Marry Me" are as catchy as they are clever.

Lenny Kravitz, Strut

Lenny Kravitz, ‘Strut’

He may keep homes in Paris and the Bahamas, but Kravitz has never stopped being a New Yorker. Strut looks back on the 1970s metropolis of his youth with funky after-hours grooves and soulful hooks. "New York City" is the best tune Mick Jagger didn't get around to writing in his Studio 54 days.

Prince, Art Official Age

Prince, ‘Art Official Age’

Prince proved himself as brilliant and confounding as ever in 2014, releasing this fantastic old-school funk record in tandem with a weird, flat album recorded with his new group, 3rdEyeGirl. Art Official Age recalls the plush swagger and pop mastery of his Eighties classics – all psychedelic pimp style and spectacular balladry.

Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, ‘Midnight Sun’

Sean Lennon finally found his own voice as a singer-songwriter in late-Sixties British psychedelia. His second full LP with partner Charlotte Kemp Muhl has disarming emotional intimacy (inherited from Lennon's parents) draped in the bright, surrealist magnetism of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd.

Damon Albarn

Damon Albarn, ‘Everyday Robots’

Modern British pop's most obsessive explorer turned his curiosity inward on this intimate solo triumph. There are hints of his bands Blur and Gorillaz and of his African forays in the hooks and rhythms. But Albarn mostly evokes Brian Eno and that Brit-pop ideal, the Kinks' Ray Davies, in Everyday Robots' stark grace.

Young Thug and Bloody Jay, Black Portland

Young Thug and Bloody Jay, ‘Black Portland’

Young Thug was 2014's most exciting new weirdo, an ATL star-child who stretches his Lil Wayne yelp like Silly Putty until you're hanging on every mangled syllable. This mixtape (with buddy Bloody Jay) is his finest hour: catchy, woozy, idea-stuffed songs about sex, gangs and not giving a damn whether what he says bothers you.

Thom Yorke, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

Thom Yorke, ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’

The Radiohead man's second proper solo album got oddly slept on, but these are his most intense songs since In Rainbows. Yorke puts on the chill in "Truth Ray" and "Nose Grows Some" – even when he sings about a dystopian future, the anxious yearning in his voice is all too immediate.


Spoon, ‘They Want My Soul’

Vintage ooh-las, art-brut rhythm guitar and head-crack drum beats fit together like idealized Ikea furniture on the latest jewel from Britt Daniel's crew; it's all clean lines and formal balance. And co-producer Dave Fridmann's discreet splashes of color and texture add new flavor to the minimalist feng shui.

Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal

Parquet Courts, ‘Sunbathing Animal’

These Brooklyn jokers stepped up their game something fierce, romping from the twin-guitar heroics of "She's Rolling" to the psychedelic love buzz of "Raw Milk." They make it all sound so easy, you wonder why there aren't a dozen bands this great in every town. But these guys are in a league of their own.


Alt-J, ‘This Is All Yours’

The English prog-folk rockers grew to arena scale without losing their weirdness – like the Incredible String Band via Kid A, Joe Newman's Bilbo Baggins warble wanders through monkish choirs, electronic squelches and woodland chirping, with a Miley Cyrus sample representing the world outside the band's cozy hideaway.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, ‘Hypnotic Eye’

Petty and Co. made their first Number One album by tightening their Sixties-punk clang and firing it through flinty songs about a nation on the ropes and Petty's determination not to take it lying down. "I got a dream," he sings in "American Dream Plan B." "I'm gonna fight till I get it right."

YG, My Crazy Life

YG, ‘My Krazy Life’

Most rap fans probably didn't expect the Cali guy behind 2010's goofy minor hit "Toot It and Boot It" to make a debut album this rich and ambitious. My Krazy Life is a detailed day-in-the-life tale of robbery and regrets, with YG's charming flow set against DJ Mustard's new-school bounce like a long-lost sequel to The Chronic.

Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems

Leonard Cohen, ‘Popular Problems’

What a year for footloose eightysomethings: Yoko Ono topped the club charts, Robert Morse stole Mad Men, and Cohen danced to the end of love. He whispers a dusky farewell on "Almost Like the Blues." Yet in the sensual sway of "Slow," he's got time for one more round: "A weekend on your lips/A lifetime in your eyes."

War on Drugs, Lost In The Dream

War on Drugs, ‘Lost in the Dream’

These Philly dudes broke through by tripping out on a classic-rock vibe, Eighties style: "Boys of Summer" melodies, Nebraska harmonica, Brothers in Arms guitar shimmer. But the album's pleasant aimlessness – as songs choogle past the five-minute mark and lead lines curlicue across the sky – says plenty about right now.

Skrillex, Recess

Skrillex, ‘Recess’

Skrillex's whirling neon knife-storm was the album of the year for modern EDM – a genre that can currently fill arenas without albums at all. After a four-year run of killer singles, the drop-aholic DJ made a surprisingly varied full-length packed with mind-blowing experiments with two-step, jungle, vintage techno and more.