As usual, we asked Knox Road writers to provide their Top Albums of 2014. We’re excited to provide you with the results just in time for the new year! We’ve got some great lists and even better blurbs. Have a happy new year.
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In 2013, albums from Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, Kanye West, Chance The Rapper and Haim topped a ton of year-end lists. Albums not just filled with ambition, but also with an abundance of hooks. In 2014, the most critically acclaimed records are very different, coming from artists like FKA Twigs, Aphex Twin, Caribou, and Grouper. After giving each of them a try, I’ve had one consistent thought: “What am I missing?” I get it—they’re technically impressive, with unique and futuristic sounds. But to me, so many of these albums are emotionally cold. My #1 album of the year is the very opposite. Beatenberg’s music is driven by a relentless warmth: A lead singer with personal, delicate emotion; guitars with the sunny, positive spirit of Graceland; rhythms representing Afro-pop at its finest. The band comes from South Africa, and while they’ve yet to gain popularity in the states, it takes just one listen of The Hanging Gardens of Beatenberg to know that these guys can be the next big thing. Some tracks are slow and melancholy, others are upbeat and funny—all of them share a remarkable emotional intelligence, and a knack for beautiful melodies. It’s not on Spotify yet, but it’s worth dusting off an old iTunes gift card for this one.
1. Beatenberg – The Hanging Gardens of Beatenberg
2. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
3. The Griswolds – Be Impressive
4. Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In The End
5. Fanfarlo – Let’s Go Extinct
6. Future Islands – Singles
7. Bleachers – Bleachers
8. Allo Darlin – We Come From The Same Place
9. La Roux – Trouble In Paradise
10. Real Estate – Atlas
Honorable Mentions: Beck, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, TV On The Radio, Frankie Cosmos, Run The Jewels, Tune Yards, The War On Drugs, Jon Bellion, alt-J
2014. While it was a hectic year mostly spent getting my ass settled in a new city, I still managed to scoop up at least 10 new LPs worth their salt. My picks represent both dazzling newbies and the seasoned veterans who I can (mostly) count on as far as new releases are concerned. The stand-outs of the stand-outs, however, are both new to me this year and have remained dead even as far as spins in Abbytown are concerned. Tied at number one I give you Canada’s Alvvays and Philadelphia’s Literature, both of which tickled my jinglejangle, indiepop roots from the getgo. All the rest can fall wherever the wind blows them into slots 3-10. Happy holidays. Buy physical music, people…and don’t forget to tip your bartender.
Alvvays, Alvvays (Polyvinyl)*
Literature, Chorus (Slumberland)
East India Youth, Total Strife Forever (Stolen)*
Mogwai, Rave Tapes (Rock Action)*
Sun Kil Moon, Benji (Caldo Verde)
Mac Demarco, Salad Days (Captured Tracks)*
Horsebeach, Horsebeach (Alone Together)
The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Revelation (A)
Perfume Genius, Too Bright (Matador)*
Caribou, Our Love (City Slang/Merge)
BONUS!! Favorite 7” release of 2014:
PERU, “Sent To Saltcoats” / “Time On The Clock” (Archdeacon of Pop)*
*Seen live in 2014 and highly recommended to all. Cheers!
as always, i’m compiling my list of albums of the year not based on my favorite new releases, but the albums i listened to the most this last calendar year. some came out this year, some came out in the 70s, some i’ve listened to previously a million times. all were important to me this year, and i hope you give them a listen.
king tuff — was dead 
this is one of the most important albums i’ve ever heard. i was driving to new york, on a whim, with a guy who became my boyfriend, and the song “dancing on you” came on. and i realized i was in love. we were somewhere in the behemoth that is new jersey and he played this song, and the weight of everything just hit me. the song, the spontaneity, the promise of adventures to come. it still reigns as one of my very favorite moments, and one of my very favorite albums.
lcd soundsystem — sound of silver , this is happening 
lcd soundsystem is the perfect soundtrack for falling in love. i can’t separate “all my friends” from the happiness of life, and the lightness of love. i can’t separate “new york, i love you” from the first time i heard it driving across the plains of texas at sunset during a road trip that ended up taking months. nor can i separate the song from the memory of singing it, drunkenly, poorly, to my half-asleep and also drunk boyfriend in bed while falling asleep. “get innocuous” was whiskey shots and car bombs, “dance yrself clean” was the anticipation before an adventure, “i can change” was our first fight, “tribulations” was the feeling of unraveling.
courtney barnett — the double EP: a sea of split peas 
eagulls — eagulls 
i’m grouping these two together because i saw them both open for “yuck’ on a tipsy night in brooklyn; at that point, neither were big acts, neither had solo shows, and both kicked our collective asses. i had the distinct pleasure of seeing both of them, separately, headline shows since, and while they couldn’t be more different musically [barnett with her lou-reed-esque singing style, eagulls with their early punk vibe], they both played soundtrack to the last year of my life.
death — … for the whole world to see 
i had a brief dalliance with death a while back, however it wasn’t until this year that i really fell in love. blame it on the documentary “a band called death”, blame it on a resurgence of emotion into my life which allowed me to invest more fully into everything, whatever. their proto-punk style and too-short career is heartbreaking in the best way, and they’re so worth some of your time and attention.
x — los angeles 
this summer, i spent two and a half months in hawaii; and while everything was the dreamy, sun-drenched, mai-tai calm one would expect, i was anxious to get back to the urban grittiness of philadelphia. within a week of being home, stomping cigarette butts out on the street, i went to see X play the grungiest venue in the city of brotherly love — the trocadero. it was honestly one of the best shows of my life, replete with moshing and elbows and too many bodily fluids. i was concerned about the vocal survival of exene cervenka, given a life of [seemingly] hard living, but all was as much perfect chaos and discord as one could hope.
diarrhea planet — i’m rich beyond your wildest dreams 
when i was 22 and living in colorado, i [don’t judge me] kind of hated siouxsie and the banshees for a while, simply because of the way she spelled her name… i know, i know. it just seemed to me, in my infinite wisdom, that she was reaching too hard for something. two shots of whiskey and a jukebox later, i was hooked, and thank god for that. i regret to inform you of another — less drastic, but still — experience regarding completely foolhardy decision making. that is diarrhea planet. i even went to their show and wasn’t particularly impressed. fast forward a few months to the serendipitous marriage of skydiving in tennessee and the song “separations”, and the rest is history. “togano”, “hammer of the gods”, “lite dream” all became staples in my music queue, fueling long drives to coachella and toronto.
the orwells — disgraceland 
a few days before the orwells’s show, i ended up getting the best black eye of my life. and let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like being in the pit during “the righteous one” while sporting an amazing shiner. this album is the audial version of winston churchill’s famous quote, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.” when i feel i’m losing my nerve — or my edge — i crank this up and get some tuff back in my step.
kings of leon — aha shake heartbreak 
finally, the last and arguably most important album of this last year; the oldie, aha shake heartbreak. when i was 19 — living in california, fresh off a broken engagement, finding my feet — this album made me feel happy in ways i hadn’t felt happy for a while. a few weeks ago — visiting california, fresh off a broken relationship, finding my feet — i found this album again. i was driving to LAX to catch my flight back to philadelphia, and “the bucket” came on. it all seemed so perfect, and i find this album saving me all over again. it’s a reminder that i’ve experience heartbreak before, and i’m older and wiser and better now. that even this heartbreak is easier in some ways. that — even when you don’t think you are — you’re constantly building your foundation, and you’re stronger than you think.
10. Sinkane – Mean Love
Few artists have played with genres as well as Sinkane in 2014. Having grown up in London, Sudan and the U.S., the musician calls upon Sudanese pop, funk, electronica and even a touch of honky tonk for “Mean Love,” his best effort to date.
9. The Weather Station – What Am I Going to do With Everything I Know
It’s only an EP but the newest record from Canadian actress/musician Tamara Lindeman is worth a mention. The lack of punctuation in the title implies that there is no good answer – a concept that the beautiful, seemingly effortless music also echoes.
8. Azealia Banks – Broke with Expensive Taste
Banks hit it big with 2012’s ferocious “212,” but the rapper wisely expanded her approach to music (while getting out of the venomous grips of big label influence), finally releasing her head-spinning and quite impressive proper debut.
7. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Releasing an eponymous album late into a career can be a dangerous move for a musician, but Annie Clark’s self-titled record as St. Vincent proves to be the most powerful and coherent record in her near-prolific catalog.
6. S. Carey – Range of Light
Light, playful and meticulously constructed, “Range of Light” picks up where Sufjan Stevens left off, helping the Bon Iver contributor become the new torch-bearer of intimate, instrumentally-focused indie.
5. War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
The Philadelphia-based band straddles the darkness and the light especially well on “Lost in the Dream,” an album that appropriately seems to echo back to rock anthems of the ’80s and ’90s, pulsing through the cheese of their forebears with raw sincerity.
4. Spoon – They Want My Soul
Spoon finally makes a proper follow-up to the incredible “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” with a mature record that quietly cements their place in the pantheon of 2000s-era indie rock gods.
3. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
The sharp, yet understated effort by Angel Olsen meanders through downtrodden folk and foot-stomping rock, offering the listener a powerful and intimate look into the life of the St. Louis singer-songwriter. It’s simplistically palatable, endlessly listenable and one of the best realized albums of the intimate indie movement of the 2014.
2. David Lang – Love Fail
Composer David Lang continues to impress with “Love Fail,” his richly layered and beautifully performed ode to those out of love. The record sounds more at home in a cathedral than a record store, which makes it all the more appealing.
1. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
Mike Hadreas is the master of his sound and at the top of his game. While artists like Lorde use quiet rhythm and big vocals for novelty, Hadreas uses them like a concert musician, crafting a bold and confident sound that draws us ever closer into his world.
Another year is coming to a close and as I look at what came out this year and what I listened to most I find I’m looking at two very different lists. There were a lot of quality releases this year, unfortunately so many of the really good releases were reissues. I’ve got mixed feelings about that, but that’s a discussion for another time. After cutting through the clutter of 2014 I settled on the following top ten…
10) Electric Wurms – Musik, Die Schwer Zu Twerk
This modern prog-rock effort, spearheaded by Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, was a pleasant surprise. Not crazy prog-rock, not too similar to the Flaming Lips stuff. It actually sounds fresh and different.
9) Guided By Voices – Motivational Jumpsuit
GBV hits their reunified groove in a big way on this album, just in time to break-up again. Oh well.
8) Flaming Lips – 7 Skies H3
This was the Flaming Lips 24-hour song edited down to fit on a single LP. For my money this is the best thing the band released since Embryonic. Nobody is actually going to listen to the whole 24 hours of this, so this edited version is essential.
7) NE-HI – S/T
Great band from Chicago that you need to hear. You’ll hear a lot more about them very soon, so grab their LP while you still can.
6) Tame Impala – Live Versions
This was a really great set of live stuff from Tame Impala. Nothing really earth shaking or new, but these songs are really powerful live and they sound amazing.
5) Wholewheat – Songs From My Parents Basement
I don’t remember how I heard this album but I’ve been kind of obsessed with it ever since. Straight outta Tom’s River NJ, Wholewheat is a songwriter in the vein of early Beck and The Halo Benders, and he has amazing reverence for the ’86 Mets. What’s not to love! Every song on the album is a winner, so don’t miss this one.
4) The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
This is a great record, plain and simple. You’ve been hearing about how brilliant it is all year, so I won’t retread what others have said.
3) Spoon – They Want My Soul
Another really solid effort from Spoon. I wasn’t a big fan of Transference, so this was a welcome return to form.
2) Beck – Morning Phase
If Beck never made another record I’d be disappointed but totally satisfied. This record is lush, hypnotic, perfectly crafted, and just beautiful to hear. This album feels like a bookend of sorts, so I’ll be interested to see what direction Beck takes next.
1) Strand of Oaks – Heal
There’s a lot to love on this record. Great guitar work, well constructed songs, and lyrics that manage to shine through, for me, in a way few other albums do, makes Heal my favorite record of the year. The track “JM” would certainly be my favorite song of the year.
Bedhead – reissue box set
Ryan Adams – S/T
Tweedy – Sukierae
Real Estate – Atlas
Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
From the albums of 2014 that I listened to, these were tops. As you know, my tastes tend to skew more toward accessible over experimental indie, and often more folksy fare.
The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream. The ultimate question for me came down to: how could this not be my favorite album this year?
How To Dress Well – “What Is This Heart?”
Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
Beck – Morning Phase
Spoon – They Want My Soul
Perfume Genius – Too Bright
Joseph – Native Dreamer Kin
The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Broods – Evergreen
Tennis – Ritual in Repeat
Bonus: Hannah Georgas – The Beat Stuff