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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Albums of 2014 So Far

Phish’s ‘Fuego,’ Jack White’s ‘Lazaretto’ and your other favorites at the year’s halfway point

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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. 

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5. Beck – ‘Morning Phase’

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."

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4. The War on Drugs – ‘Lost in the Dream’

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."

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3. The Black Keys – ‘Turn Blue’

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." 

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2. Linkin Park – ‘The Hunting Party’

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. 

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1. Jack White – ‘Lazaretto’

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. 

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