Noisey's Top 25 Albums of 2014: 25 to 11
Noisey's staff rounds up the 25 best albums of the year.
Below are the 25 best albums of 2014 as chosen by the Noisey staff: Kim Kelly, Kyle Kramer, Drew Millard, Kayla Monetta, Dan Ozzi, Fred Pessaro, Eric Sundermann, and Kim Taylor Bennett. For Noisey's top 25 songs of the year, go here.
25. Run the Jewels –
In a year of social upheaval with protests flaring up around the country as a reaction to the murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of the police, so many artists with large, high profile platforms have been embarrassingly silent, sitting on their hands while the world burns around them. Run the Jewels, the interracial hip-hop duo composed of Killer Mike and El-P, has picked up more than enough slack for them. Following the release of their acclaimed 2013 debut, the duo returned with an even more acclaimed follow-up, Run the Jewels 2. They were relentlessly passionate about publicly opposing the injustices—from their tearful and explosive St. Louis performance the night a grand jury’s decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson to Killer Mike’s outspoken CNN appearances. Even if Run the Jewels 2 somehow does not stand the test of time (which is unlikely given its status as a pioneering rap album), the work Killer Mike and El-P have done to raise public awareness of racial inequality won’t soon be overlooked. History does not forget those who stand up when everyone else is sitting down.
24. Sharon Van Etten –
If you want to talk about honesty in songwriting, there isn’t a more honest record that came out in 2014 than Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There. Perhaps, with lines like “break my legs so I can’t run to you,” one might argue it’s too honest. But what makes it work is the element of fearlessness in that nature of writing—just completely, wholly not giving a fuck and putting it all out there. Some people will criticize, sure, and maybe it’s not the coolest thing to cry into your guitar strings, but these beautiful songs are tracks that people connect with on a basic, human level. It really sucks having your heartbroken. We all know this. Are We There feels like that friend you get a beer with shortly after a breakup, who’s there to just listen to you bitch and moan and complain and wallow in your own bullshit. Is there a better friend than that?
23. D’Angelo and The Vanguard –
When a much-anticipated record drops, it’s tempting to coronate it prematurely. Certainly, including Black Messiah on our list of the best albums of the year less than a week after its release is nothing if not a kneejerk reaction—our perception of it will undoubtedly change over time. But Black Messiah defies conventional notions of temporality. We’re talking about an album that took over a decade to create, only to drop unexpectedly like bird shit at what felt like the perfect moment. In an interview with the New York Times, D’Angelo’s co-manager Kevin Liles recalled the singer calling him in a rage following the decision not to indict Darren Wilson following his fatal shooting of an unarmed Michael Brown. Shortly thereafter, the Times reported, he said to his tour manager Alan Leeds, “The one way I do speak out is through music. I want to speak out.” Much like classic funk and soul protest albums such as Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and pretty much everything Curtis Mayfield ever made, Black Messiah’s message isn’t always explicit. Though there are plenty of lyrics addressing the myriad problems facing young black men in America, Black Messiah is a political album simply because of its sheer existence. It’s a jazz album masquerading as an R&B record, meandering and knotty, slowly revealing its pleasures throughout repeated listens. No note is out of place: it’s easy to believe that this is the exact record that lived in D’s head, one that he nearly died making.
22. White Lung –
That White Lung’s third album would be high-energy and frenetic and full of guitars that rip everything to shreds was a given. That Mish Way would growl and scream and grind words up into a fleshy pulp was a given. That those words would be visceral explorations of everything from floundering in druggy states of unhappiness to supporting rape survivors was probably a given and certainly welcome. But despite the band’s ascendant reputation, nobody was coming into the year counting on White Lung—or really any band—to make a popularly accessible feminist punk record. That’s exactly what Deep Fantasy is, though, with a mix that sounds clean enough for people who listen to rock radio and smoldering songwriting that matches any delicate piano ballad even as it gets in your face (watch the acoustic version of “Wrong Star” for proof). This is an album you can give to someone who would never use words like “feminism” or “punk” (but maybe they like Nirvana or whatever) and say “this is pretty much what’s up” and they would get it. And that’s the punkest thing of all.
21. Taylor Swift –
Taylor Swift is one of the biggest stars in pop music. In a year or two, most fans won't even remember that she started out as a country girl, strumming an acoustic guitar and daydreaming about Tim McGraw on her parents' Christmas tree farm in Bumfuck, Pennsylvania. She left the steel guitar and virginal image in the dust when she sped off to the big city; now she's all about the 80s, baby, and she's trying to party. Swift’s slow slide from pop country sweetheart to pop icon-in-the-making played out exactly as she'd planned, from the first careful stirrings on Fearless, to her fading twang on the up-tempo Speak Now, to the more blatantly pop-centric transitional album Red. Now, with 1989, Pop Taylor has truly arrived, greeting her legions of fans like the bona fide celebrity she is. She hauled ass outta Nashville and bypassed Hollywood entirely to land smack dab in the middle of the Big Apple—a big, clamoring, dog-eat-dog maze of a place that seems to suit her and her new sound just fine. Named for her birth year and positively steeped in late 80s kitsch, the album revels in Taylor's newfound maturity; her voice is richer, her perpetual victimhood abandoned in favor of feminist, independent woman chic. This Taylor is older, wiser, and leagues above the high school pettiness she used to dip into; now, she's the one kicking that asshole to the curb before roaring home in her souped-up Ferrari to catch up on Jezebel and page through her little black book. The cold electronic backbone supporting 1989 is a far cry from the warm acoustic chords of her first couple albums, instead relying on synthesizers, booming bass, busy instrumentals, and mammoth pop choruses. 1989, the only album to go platinum in 2014, nabbed Taylor her first #1 single; she’d sold out stadiums and shifted millions of units before now, but it took singles like “Shake It Off” and “Blank Space” conquering the Billboard chart to see her enshrined within the upper echelons of pop stardom. Her enthusiasm for the material is contagious, creeping into the shiny electro-pop snap of songs like "Blank Space" and sassy cheerleader vibe of divisive megahit "Shake It Off." Her voice crackles with energy, bouncing above the beats and swooping in to deliver the kill shot—those brilliant pearls of biting everywoman wisdom that have become her hallmark. It's clear that we're not done gossiping about her just yet… and she's sure as hell not done throwing curveballs.
20. YG –
In a year that was proclaimed to be a bad year for rap by most Smart Critical Voices™, there were actually some pretty dope projects, one of which is YG’s kickass record, My Krazy Life. On it, YG displays his elegant mic skills—yes, we’re calling his extremely hard and fierce spitting elegant—and shows why he’s one of the game’s best rappers. It’s banger after banger after banger. “My Nigga.” “Bompton.” “I Just Wanna Party.” “Who Do You Love.” My Krazy Life unfortunately didn’t have the legs it maybe deserved, so do yourself a favor and put on “Left, Right.” How do you not feel like the boolest motherfucker in the world?
19. Morbus Chron –
It's been a banner year for weird death metal, and Swedish upstarts Morbus Chron definitely led the charge with their incredibly warped sophomore album. Sweven is a serpentine beast, rife with unexpected twists and turns that drop you into a psychedelic nightmare as often as they coast along a wave of canny melodic death or murky vintage morbidity. Their earlier works were solid slabs of old-school death, but this… this is fucking great.
18. Mortuary Drape –
This year marked the return of the true masters of Italian horror. Mortuary Drape released Spiritual Independence, the band's first new full-length in ten years, and promptly shat all over the competition with its masterfully eerie black metal intonations. Of course a band formed back in 1986 isn't going to change its sound overmuch; you can't teach an old thrasher new licks, and by now, Mortuary Drape have got their formula nailed to the fucking cross. For the first time in years, founding member and driving force Wildness Perversion hopped back behind the kit to steer the course, leaving the heavy lifting to his most recent colleagues. It paid off; Spiritual Independence is the best record they've made since the 90s. Here's to many more years of necromancy!
17. Wild Beasts – Present Tense
Where their 2008 debut, Limbo Panto, was practically obscene in its sonic maximalism, with every album and advancing year Wild Beasts have reassessed and refined, culling their more florid lyrical and vocal tendencies—although increasingly upping the synth quotient—until they arrived here, with a fourth album that’s elegant and rich. Their genre is ostensibly indie rock, but who are their peers? Wild Beasts have always stood somewhat austere, removed. Although they’ve pushed their parameters lyrically, looking outside of themselves in a state-of-things fashion on “Wanderlust” in particular, the songs that linger are still those that focus on the minutiae, on the liminal space between two people and the invisible threads that bind. Wild Beasts create art that manages to make the tangle of life beautiful.
—Kim Taylor Bennett
16. United Nations – The Next Four Years
There is such little ground in punk that has not already been covered. United Nations, the often enigmatic screamo project fronted by former Thursday singer Geoff Rickly, seems to recognize that and on The Next Four years (a play off of the Black Flag classic), they’ve taken a self-satirical examination of “how stupid and pointless they are,” according to Rickly. But despite its self-critical nature—or perhaps because of it—the album is crushing, taking on subjects like white privilege, the futility of spirituality, and the current lackluster state of punk. All from the inside out. If there truly is no untrodden ground left in punk and it’s just a fat, bloated corpse, at least UN are finding the humor in giving it the Weekend at Bernie’s treatment.
15. PUP –
In support of this flawless debut, PUP toured relentlessly. On one of their many New York stops, singer Stefan Babcock looked out into the mostly empty room and introduced the band by saying, “Hey, we’re called Pup… like a little dog.” That pretty much sums the Toronto band up—tiny, energetic, ferocious. The rooms have filled up considerably for PUP over the last year as word has quickly spread about how these Canadians not only have a perfectly crafted pop-punk-meets-Weezer sound, but also have an insane live show to boot. If this is what this little canine has come up with for its first bite, there’s no telling what will happen once it's unleashed.
14. Andy Stott –
The sexiest record of the year is an EDM album, and not the shitty kind with the bass drops that you were dancing to with that bikini girl that gave you the gonnorhea.
13. Blut Aus Nord –
Do you think the French have the best black metal bands because they are so sophisticated? Is there a direct correlation between proximity to Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée Saint-Georges Saint-Émilion and how well you can rip out a sick tremolo-picked chord progression? Or does it have to do with like, Camembert and all those sick triple-creme cheeses those French dudes have? Hard to say, but this is next level black metal brilliance.
12. Angel Olsen –
There’s no other way to put it: Angel Olsen is a great freaking songwriter. Burn Your Fire for No Witness is one of the sharpest, mot charming, and most enchanting records of 2014. The songs are powered by a fearlessness to just put yourself out there—or moreover, help the world deal with what’s out there. Tracks like “Unfucktheworld,” “Lights Out,” and “Stars” prove her bravery—like she’s writing for all of us. Earlier this year, she told us that she doesn’t “feel any tension performing these songs, because I don't feel like I'm reliving them. In fact, I'm not even sure some of them are personal.” Is it a coincidence her name is Angel?
11. Total Control –
Being a postpunk band in 2014 can easily amount to being a group of people who like wearing black and have a really good record collection. It’s easy to look cool and play precise music with just the right amount of clinical detachment. But that shit is boring—typical, even—which is why it’s 2014 and Morrissey is still sad. Total Control are refreshingly imprecise—not in the sense that they play poorly but rather in that they throw all kinds of sounds out and kind of see what sticks, whether it’s the fist-pumping guitar chug of “Expensive Dog,” the skittering dancefloor synths of “Glass,” or the sheets of feedback that turn “Black Spring” into an extended, fraying opus. Seamlessly blending minimalist dance music, careening guitars, and morose postpunk is the kind of thing that some people might consider a bold genre move, but, if we’re being real, is frankly the most human way to approach the album’s downcast, dystopian world. Plus, we asked a bunch of other smart people about this album recently and they all agreed it ruled, which is definitely proof that it does.