Crazy as it may sound, 2014 is now more than half over. We had hoped to see a U2 album by this point, and we've given up on Dr. Dre, Lauryn Hill and D'Angelo, but there's still been plenty of amazing releases. Click through your 10 favorites, but please note that a few fan bases stuffed the ballot boxes, forcing us to toss out their votes in the name of fairness.
Tom Petty's 13th album doesn't hit shelves until later this month, but five songs have already been released and apparently RS readers are willing to bet the other six aren't complete turkeys. The whole thing is somewhat a throwback to Petty's earliest albums. "I knew I wanted to do a rock & roll record," he told Rolling Stone earlier this year. "We hadn't made a straight hard-rockin' record, from beginning to end, in a long time … This band just grows and grows, and that's an incredible gift. I can't see us calling it off. They're still the guys I want to play with – and the guys who understand my songs the best."
In the build-up to Phish's Halloween concert in Atlantic City, rumors were flying. Many phans were convinced that the band was about to perform Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as their "musical costume," while others thought this was the year for Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Few people predicted they were going to debut a new album of their own, but ticketholders were handed a program for a new musical work called Wingsuit, which turned out to be an early version of Fuego, an LP that arrived late last month. The album was overseen by Pink Floyd/Alice Cooper producer Bob Ezrin, who had never seen a Phish concert when he took the job. "They travel at the same speed I do," the producer told Rolling Stone. "Anything I or they could think of, they could play it instantly."
It's been a very good year for St. Vincent. Not only did she get the chance to front Nirvana at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but she also released her fourth solo album to rapturous reviews. A former member of the the Polyphonic Spree, St. Vincent (born Annie Clark) creates music that sounds like what Kate Bush would have made if she had grown up in Texas in the late 1980s. "I find [her songs] accessible, but if you look closely, they're pretty strange," says David Byrne, who recorded a collaborative album LP with the singer in 2012. "There is a nice push and pull, some energizing tension going on there. It takes some skill to keep that balance."
The Atlanta metal four piece began crafting their 6th LP while on tour last summer with Rob Zombie and Five Finger Death Punch. "It's gonna be massive and insane, lots of epic greatness," Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor told Rolling Stone midway through the process. "There will be lots of huge riffs and new directions. It's real weird, real math-y, real straightforward. It's up, down and all around…It's a culmination of everything for the band. The snowball keeps rolling and collecting snow." Produced by Nick Raskulinecz, the LP hit stores on June 24th and was widely hailed as the best metal LP of the year.
After the huge response to her 2012 Born To Die, Lana Del Rey could have easily teamed up with the likes of Max Martin or Dr. Luke to craft an album destined to play all year on Top 40 radio. Instead, she headed down to Nashville and cut Ultraviolence with Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach. "Dan was really a stranger to me," she recently said. "I didn't know anything about him, but he was really casual and spontaneous. So even though going off to Nashville doesn't sound like a really exotic thing to do, for me it felt adventurous. I guess I didn't know what we were going to get." The gambit worked, and Ultraviolence debuted at Number One on the Hot 100.
Until the release of Morning Phase earlier this year, Beck fans were starting to get a little impatient. There hadn't been a new album since 2008's Modern Guilt, and the songwriter seemed fixated on other projects, like re-recording classic albums by Leonard Cohen and INXS and the 2012 sheet music work Song Reader. "I didn't have a label anymore," he told Rolling Stone last year. "I wasn't sure if I was going to put out a record – or if I should put out a record. It felt like I was standing still, while everything else was in such flux." After shelving a few in-progress albums, he returned to a series of songs he cut in Nashville back in 2005, essentially jump-starting his creative process and leading to the material on Morning Phase. The songs are all set in the early morning hours. "It's not heavy-handed, but it's in there," Beck said. "There's this feeling of tumult and uncertainty, getting through that long, dark night of the soul – whatever you want to call it. These songs were about coming out of that – how things do get better."
This was a pivotal year for America's real-life war on drugs, as Colorado and Washington finally legalized recreational marijuana, hopefully setting the stage for similar actions all across the nation. It was also a pivotal year for the Philadelphia indie rock band War on Drugs, who saw their third LP, Lost in the Dream, land in stores to the best reviews of their career. "I wanted to write songs people could connect with on another level," frontman Adam Granduciel told Rolling Stone. "Instead of just the sonic landscape stuff of earlier albums, I wanted them to hear songs that they heard a part of themselves in or felt was a natural progression." Lost in the Dream is a 1980s throwback record that's been compared to everything from Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA to Fleetwood Mac's Mirage, but don't expect them to repeat the formula next time out. "I’d really love to make a record like [Neil Young's] Tonight’s the Night," Granduciel said. "Find a sweet old house, put [in] some pinballs and pool tables, party all day, and then at night, record from 11 to 4. It should be fun to do this."
The Black Keys have been crafting music with Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton for years, but on Turn Blue he essentially became a third member of the group, producing and co-writing much of the material in addition to playing keyboards. Some of the blues rock tracks will remind listeners of the earliest Black Keys records, while others are almost danceable. "At this point," said Dan Auerbach, "there are absolutely no rules."
Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda knew the music he wrote for The Hunting Party was unlikely to be embraced by radio, but he didn't care. "It needed to be visceral," he said. "We need to weed out a lot of the soft, emo kind of approach to our music, and we need to weed out anything that feels aggressive for aggressive's sake. We're not 18-year-old kids making a loud record – we're 37-year-old adults making a loud record. And what makes a 37-year-old angry is different than what made us angry back in the day." Many of the songs stemmed from Shinoda's dissatisfaction with indie rock. "I was trying to find something to listen to one day, and it wasn't there," he said. "And it kind of pissed me off. I like indie music. I like indie pop. But at a certain point, I feel like that box had been checked and checked again." The album connected with fans, debuting at Number Three on the Hot 100 last month.
When recording A Letter Home, Neil Young may have entered and exited Jack White's studio in the time it takes most people to go out for dinner, but on White's own LP, the former White Stripes frontman took his time, slowly assembling the songs over a year and a half. "I did a lot of things we hadn't done before, like, we'd record three live versions of a song and move on — 'I'll figure it out later,'" he told Rolling Stone. "I thought, 'How about the challenge of working on something for a long time?'" Many of the lyrics were taken from recently discovered notebooks White used when he was 19. "Some of it's garbage, and I sort of laughed while I was reading it," he said. "I was going to throw away a bunch of it, but I was just coming up with new styles of attacking songwriting for the album." The album sold 138,000 copies its first week out, and an astounding 40,000 of those were on vinyl.