2014 was a fairly calm year for music. There weren’t any crazy events at the VMAs. There wasn’t any one artist that singlehandedly dominated the whole year. All in all, a lot of artists got to shine with a hit single or two, and there were no eruptions of outrage to distract anyone from what matters most: The music.
And while 2014 may not have been crazy, it did produce many superb albums. These impressive records came from all kinds of artists – new, fairly unknown bands and singers; seasoned veterans; well-known artists giving themselves a moniker makeover. Whether it was the singer’s debut album or the band’s 6th, we’ve enjoyed a good variety of sounds with a range of styles and themes.
Here are 10 of our favorite albums of 2014:
10. Maroon 5 – V
Maroon 5’s aptly titled 5th record blends the band’s two sides. After their first three albums, many fans complained that their 4th, Overexposed, marked a drastic change for a more pop style and labeled them sellouts. Despite that, the album saw renewed success for the group. Maroon 5 attempted to appeal to both sets of fans on V, combining their original soulful funk sound – best heard on their debut, Songs About Jane – with their slick, radio-friendly pop. They accomplished just that, and released a better album for it.
Highlights: “Maps,” “Unkiss Me,” “Sugar,” “My Heart Is Open”
9. Neon Trees – Pop Psychology
Back with their 3rd studio album, Neon Trees perfected their style and crafted a great album filled with 80s pop sensibility and groove. Despite making headlines when frontman Tyler Glenn came out as gay earlier this year, Pop Psychology may have gone a bit under the radar. It only takes a listen or two to confirm that this is Neon Trees’ best album yet.
Highlights: “Sleeping With A Friend,” “Unavoidable,” “Voices In The Hall,” “First Things First”
8. Temples – Sun Structures
Temples is a new band from England, and with their psychedelic, 60s throwback sound, they are a real breath of fresh air. Their debut album, Sun Structures, sounds like it could have been recorded 50 years ago, and their music videos and overall image keep that theme intact. If you liked the psychedelic music of the 1960s, but are open to hearing a modern twist on the sound, Temples may be the band for you. They deserve to get more recognition than they’ve gotten yet, but with this much talent, it’s sure to come in the next few years.
Highlights: “Keep In The Dark,” “Mesmerise,” “Sun Structures,” “A Question Isn’t Answered”
7. OK Go – Hungry Ghosts
The kings of viral videos in our YouTube age of music, OK Go is back with their 4th studio album. It was led with the nostalgic breakup anthem, “The Writing’s On The Wall,” and its eye-tricking video has already won a VMA. But in spite of being famous for their one-take videos, OK Go’s music is just as strong. They combine 80s influenced pop with modern layering of unexpected sounds and effects. You’ll need a few listens to catch everything. OK Go isn’t afraid to think outside of the box and craft an album of refreshing, novel songs, and Hungry Ghosts is a fine record from the innovative band.
Highlights: “The Writing’s On The Wall,” “Upside Down & Inside Out,” “Bright As Your Eyes,” “I Won’t Let You Down”
6. Charli XCX – Sucker
This rising star has been working her way up in the music world for a few years now, but 2014 has been Charli XCX’s biggest yet. First was her giant hit with Iggy Azalea, “Fancy.” Her own single “Boom Clap” has also gotten some good momentum, and has helped lead up to Sucker. This sophomore album is a perfect blending of rock and punk with straightforward pop. Charli has an assertive, tough girl image complemented by sugary hooks. Sucker has already gotten great reviews from critics and fans alike, and is sure to be a big hit in the new year.
Highlights: “Breaking Up,” “Need Ur Love,” “Sucker,” “Hanging Around,” “Caught In The Middle”
5. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Annie Clark’s self-titled 4th solo album is her best yet. St. Vincent has been acclaimed as one of the top albums of the year, and for good reason: It’s a perfect blending of glitchy pop hooks and noisy, funky grooves. With an alternative style of music – art rock, noise pop – St. Vincent isn’t something that’s very commercial or radio friendly. It pushes boundaries and encourages the listener to challenge the norms of music, but it ends up being an infectious record that you’ll need to listen to again and again.
Highlights: “Digital Witness,” “I Prefer Your Love,” “Regret,” “Birth In Reverse”
4. Periphery – Clear
Though it has only 7 songs, Periphery has stated that Clear should not be considered an EP… nor should it be classified as an album. It’s kind of in between, but for the sake of our Top 10 list here, we’ll count it as an album. Progressive metal band Periphery were getting ready to record their 3rd full album, Juggernaut (coming in January 2015), when they opted to put out this quick project. The band of 6 decided to make a record in which each member wrote one song. While the first track – “Overture” – was written by the band together, the following 6 tracks were each written by one band member, and thus show the different styles they each have. Clear is experimental, but impressively good, and shows how strong of a band Periphery is that each of them can write such amazing songs. They fit together perfectly, and Clear is their best collection of songs yet.
Highlights: “Feed The Ground,” “Parade Of Ashes,” “Pale Aura”
3. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
Lana Del Rey’s sophomore album is dark and cool, something both noir and smokey. She masterfully sets a scene and captures the exact feeling and emotion with her descriptive lyrics. Ultraviolence plays like a movie, with different characters struggling through difficult plots. Whether in California or Brooklyn, all of the songs fit together to paint a picture of a girl who’s troubled yet strong. It’s one of the most complete and cohesive albums of the year, and one that draws you into the stories even after the record has stopped playing.
Highlights: “Ultraviolence,” “Shades Of Cool,” “Brooklyn Baby,” “Black Beauty”
2. Banks – Goddess
Jillian Banks has been making a name for herself over the last couple of years. In 2013, the LA native quietly released some singles and EPs that caught a lot of attention. She hasn’t stopped releasing new songs since, and each new single has been even more impressive than the last. Goddess is only her debut full-length album, and it’s already clear that Banks will be successful for many years to come. Her album combines R&B with electronica, and uses sultry vocals to sing about rage and pain. The album is dark and personal, like the words were ripped from Banks’ diary, and the production gives the songs a cascading, enchanting sound. With a generous 18-song track list, Goddess is an album you can take your time really getting into.
Highlights: “Beggin’ For Thread,” “Waiting Game,” “This Is What It Feels Like,” “Drowning,” “Someone New,” “Under The Table”
1. Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness – Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
After releasing music as Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin, and just Andrew McMahon over the last 15 years, this is just Andrew’s latest moniker. And as happens with every change of name, this record feels fresher and truer than any he’s released in a long time. Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness feels like it picks up where 2005’s Everything In Transit left off. With songs referencing back to that era, to the months just before Andrew was diagnosed with leukemia, this new album has the youthful innocence and energy that Andrew was known for up until 2005. He won his battle with leukemia, but years of the aftermath pushed him to re-evaluate who he is. Andrew has been through a lot, and has included his fans in the process over the last decade. He made the music he needed to, and some of it was his best material to date. But Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness comes full circle, through the wilderness of coming to terms with his overcoming leukemia, getting married, and now being a father to a baby girl. After all of that, Andrew seems stronger and happier now, and his new album reflects just that.
Highlights: “High Dive,” “Black And White Movies,” “Halls,” “Rainy Girl”
And there you have it: The 10 best albums of 2014. What were your favorite albums of the year? Let us know in the comments!