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.

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.

Eric Church, The Outsiders

Eric Church, ‘The Outsiders’

In an era teeming with bro-country, Church made a great record by following his rock & roll rebel heart. Prog riffs, bourbon-drawl raps and stoner funk sit straight-faced next to radio-friendly takes on NASCAR good times and broken hearts – styles and subjects that connect because Church obviously loves every one of them.

Sharon Van Etten, Are We There

Sharon Van Etten, ‘Are We There’

On her fourth album, the New Jersey-native singer-songwriter took the heartbreak she'd explored on past records and blew it up to massive scale. Bringing chilly synth beats into her mix for the first time, Van Etten gives songs like "Your Love Is Killing Me" a morbid grandness, all the better to complement her passionate vocals.

Jackson Browne Standing in the Breach

Jackson Browne, ‘Standing in the Breach’

Browne confirmed his place as an essential voice in the wilds of the 21st century with this powerful set of songs about love and progressive ideals – forces that a corrupt world can never truly defeat. Songs like "The Long Way Around" are the most eloquent protests against apathy you'll hear this year.

Sturgill Simpson Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Sturgill Simpson, ‘Metamodern Sounds in Country Music’

"Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, DMT, they all changed the way I see/But love's the only thing that ever saved my life," sings Simpson. The Kentucky-born singer-songwriter's breakthrough album features plenty more folk wisdom, delivered in a singular barrel-aged baritone.

Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis, ‘The Voyager’

It took the ex-Rilo Kiley frontwoman six years, but Lewis finally returned to the studio to make the kind of sweetly biting solo record that earned her a permanent place in the indie canon. Blending Laurel Canyon sensibilities with modern wit, The Voyager shows she's stronger and wiser – and can still draw blood.​


FKA Twigs, ‘LP1’

For many, there was no sexier pop listen in 2014 than FKA Twigs' full-length debut. It's a feminist take on the Weeknd's druggy avant-R&B, with self-loathing and sleaze replaced by self-possession and hunger. The haunting mix of pop and EDM weirdness takes a while to kick in – which only makes it more delicious when it does.

Against Me Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Against Me!, ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’

Transgender frontwoman Laura Jane Grace poured all of her own deep pain and hard-won pride into a bold new start for one of America's greatest punk-rock bands. It's a roiling attack with a fragile, beating heart – few albums this year were as relentlessly heavy and fiercely melodic.

Weezer Everything Will Be Alright In The End

Weezer, ‘Everything Will Be Alright in the End’

After a few hit-or-miss records, Weezer fans needed some reassurance from Rivers Cuomo. He delivered big-time on the band's cheeky, ambitious ninth LP – rediscovering the art of the three-minute girl jam ("Lonely Girl") but stretching out in fruitful new ways, too.

Ought More Than Any Other Day

Ought, ‘More Than Any Other Day’

"I feel a habit forming," sings frontman Tim Beeler, and so did we. On the year's most irrefutable rock debut, you can hear Talking Heads in the vocals and Voidoids in the guitars. But this Montreal crew's post-punk panic attacks have a doomed optimism that feels utterly of the moment.

Foo Fighters Sonic Highways

Foo Fighters, ‘Sonic Highways’

This multifaceted travelogue is the most ambitious album Foo Fighters have made in their 20-year career. Whether they're celebrating Buddy Guy in Chicago or getting in touch with their punk-rock roots in D.C., the bedrock force remains their anthemic guitar charge. By now, that's a classic American sound in its own right.

Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus, ‘You’re Dead!’

"Step inside of my mind and you'll find/Curiosity, animosity, high philosophy." It's a guest rap from Kendrick Lamar, but it could also be a mission statement for Flying Lotus. The tripped-out producer's latest is an LP about mortality that explodes with life – jazz that respects no dogma, and pop that reveals more with each listen.

Taylor Swift 1989

Taylor Swift, ‘1989’

America's sweetheart has been writing perfect pop tunes since the day she hit Nashville. Yet it's still a delectable shock to hear her ditch the banjos for an album of expert Top 40 gloss – like Dylan going electric, except with more songs about Harry Styles. She sounds right at home over these Max Martin beats, sick and otherwise.

Mac DeMarco Salad Days

Mac DeMarco, ‘Salad Days’

The 24-year-old Canadian singer-guitarist's second album – a warm, polished set of sun-drenched folk-rock jams – feels like it could have been a lost used-vinyl-bin treasure from the Seventies. DeMarco channels Harry Nilsson, the Beach Boys, Steely Dan and the Beatles, but the offbeat stoner vibes are all him.

Run The Jewels 2

Run the Jewels, ‘Run the Jewels 2’

El-P and Killer Mike made 2014's greatest hip-hop record. Guest shots flare in the avant-noise darkness: Zack de la Rocha riffs on Philip K. Dick; Gangsta Boo flips a porn-rap script. But it's the chemistry between Mike's on-the-ground Dirty South flow and El's big-picture indictments that lights this up like a Brooklyn bridge.

Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence

Lana Del Rey, ‘Ultraviolence’

Del Rey silenced her detractors with an intoxicating collection of indie-noir anthems. With more live instrumentation in her smoky glam grooves, she plays enough characters to fill a Raymond Chandler novel: On "Sad Girl," she's a sultry mistress; on "Brooklyn Baby," she's a snarky kid. Most of all, she's a pop voice like no other.

Charli XCX Sucker

Charli XCX, ‘SUCKER’

Charli XCX is the pop star 2014 was waiting for: a badass songwriting savant who's the most fun girl in any room she steps into. The 22-year-old Brit came into her own with SUCKER, a middle-finger-waving teenage riot packed into 13 punky gems. It's a dance party, a mosh pit and a feminist rally – Charli's definitely in charge.

Miranda Lambert Platinum

Miranda Lambert, ‘Platinum’

Lambert began as a mainstream-country bad girl. This year, she became an institution. Platinum smoothly balances solo-act introspection with A-list ring grabs, co-starring the likes of Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town. Notably absent, though, is superstar hubby Blake Shelton – sister's doin' it for herself.

St. Vincent

St. Vincent, ‘St. Vincent’

After her string of increasingly excellent records, indie guitar heroine Annie Clark's fourth solo album felt like a coronation: a masterful set of skewed but sticky pop hooks, subtly sexy electro-funk grooves and Dada poetry that aches for real. And her fiery guitar solos are sharper and more surprising than ever. Bow down.

The Black Keys Turn Blue

The Black Keys, ‘Turn Blue’

The Keys and Danger Mouse spool out everything from Seventies funk to disco throb to drive-time guitar grind, making music that could evoke lonely late nights or burnt-rubber desert highways, jittery paranoia and boundless possibility. It's the sound of America's most innovative arena rockers in full command.

Bruce Springsteen High Hopes

Bruce Springsteen, ‘High Hopes’

This new peak in Springsteen's 21st-century hot streak is his most gloriously loose, vibrant album in years. In the past, Springsteen would never have allowed himself to release an album that includes two covers and reworked versions of his own older tunes, let alone give Tom Morello license to splatter virtuoso wah-wah'ed madness over much of it – but Springsteen was so much older then. Now he's more unpredictable than ever, and it's working: Despite the varied origins of the songs, High Hopes hangs together with striking sonic and thematic consistency, finding fresh angles on his central concern: the fault lines in the American dream. Springsteen worked on much of the album during his year-and-a-half-long Wrecking Ball world tour, and the expansiveness of that tour's 19-piece incarnation of the E Street Band – featuring a horn section, backup singers and a percussionist – carries over to the big, bold arrangements of tracks like "High Hopes" (first recorded in the early 1990s by an obscure L.A. punk crew called the Havalinas), the bar-band romp "Frankie Fell in Love" and the gangster's portrait "Harry's Place." The revamped version of "American Skin (41 Shots)" – a song about police shooting a young black man, originally echoing the killing of Amadou Diallo in 1999 – proved to be a tragically prescient choice for the year of Ferguson. But the album's high point is the Morello-Springsteen duet on "The Ghost of Tom Joad," where Morello's rage-filled, celestial solo is a song in itself. The whole thing runs together like a marathon gig, united by a hard eye on the national condition and the fire in Springsteen's voice.

U2 Songs of Innocence

U2, ‘Songs of Innocence’

There was no bigger album of 2014 – in terms of surprise, generosity and controversy. Songs of Innocence is also the rebirth of the year. Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. put their lives on the line: giving away 11 songs of guitar rapture and frank, emotional tales of how they became a band out of the rough streets and spiritual ferment of Seventies Dublin. This is personal history with details. In the furiously brooding "Cedarwood Road," named after Bono's home address as a boy, he recalls the fear and rage that drove him to punk rock. "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" is a glam-stomp homage to the misfit voice that inspired Bono to sing. And that's his mother, who died when Bono was 14, still guiding and comforting him in the chorus of "Iris (Hold Me Close)."

This is a record full of the band's stories and triumph, memory and confession detonated with adventure and poise. In its range of sounds, there may be no more complete U2 album: The band bonded its founding post-punk values with dance momentum in "Volcano" and the raw, jagged "Raised by Wolves," and humanized the digital pathos of "Every Breaking Wave" and the harrowing "Sleep Like a Baby Tonight" with the vocal folk-soul warmth of The Joshua Tree. "I have a will for survival," Bono sings in the closing track, "The Troubles." Songs of Innocence is the proof – and the emotionally raw rock album of the year, at any price.

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