Somehow, against all odds, the horrible, no-good, very bad year that was 2014 is behind us and we’ve managed to turn the page over to January once again. 2014 did give us one great thing, however, and that is the birth of BGS. We like GIFs, we like sportball, and we obviously like self-aggrandizement. We also like music, and so we, like everyone else on the internet, will be looking at our top 10 albums of the year that was. Unlike everyone else on the ‘net, these are our personal favorites, and not some self-important curation of what was “important” or “good” or “mattered.” Full disclosure: Brandon thought about submitting his top 10, but it was just 1989 over and over again.
Stephen Ray Brown:
1. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music – Sturgill Simpson
There’s just not enough I can say about this album. The rarely perfect combo of doing tribute to the classics while still sounding completely fresh. I was crazy about Simpson’s first album, and I love what he’s done with this follow up. I hope he continues to produce quality like this.
2. Dereconstructed – Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires
If the ranking was to be based solely on number of times listening to the album, this probably would have been number one. Purely southern without the rebel flags. I’d kill to see these guys live.
3. Runs the Jewels 2 – Run the Jewels
Love Again is stupid, and I don’t like a single track as much as Sea Legs or the title track from their first album, but this album is enough for me to say that Run the Jewels is my favorite thing in rap right now besides K Dot. El P and Killer Mike can go bar for bar with each other and the beats are an endless stream of *100 emoji*
4. HEAL – Strand of Oaks
Goshen ’97 opens this album so strongly and it’s nothing but quality from there on out.
5. Most Messed Up – Old 97’s
I’m ashamed that I hadn’t started listening to these guys before this year, but I’ve busted my tail to make up for last time since then. Solid album.
6. Lazaretto – Jack White
If you know me, you know I absolutely love everything Jack White does. This is no exception.
7. Shallow Graves For Toys – EARTHGANG
Seriously, how has this album not gotten more talk? No Peace, Machete, Bill Campbell’s Soup, and The F Bomb are my favorite tracks. I played this over and over and over again while I was doing work in Arizona. Love the beats, good flow, and some solid lyrics thrown in.
8. 2014 Forest Hills Drive – J Cole
One review of this album said Cole is one “classic album away from greatness”, and I agree 100 percent. I really like this album and love the direction Cole went with it. Wet Dreamz to No Role Modelz is a great set of seven tracks to build an album around.
9. The Gold Mine – Kelsey Waldon
The girls are owning country music for the last couple years. There, I said it.
10. Tie: Cadillactica – Big K.R.I.T. and Rip This – Bass Drum of Death
Yes, I realize this is a cop out, but I honestly couldn’t bring myself to cut either of these two albums. Deal with it; they’re both good.
1. Circa Survive – Descensus
This album is what I thought we were getting in 2012 with Violent Waves. That album started so incredibly strong with “Birth of an Economic Hit Man” and “Sharp Practice,” and Descensus takes all of Anthony’s raw energy and dispenses it straight up for 10 solid tracks. He’s also sober for the first time in a decade, and the result is some of Circa’s strongest work since On Letting Go.
2. Charli XCX – Sucker
I’m not gonna lie, I’m all in on the CHARLI XCX experience. Sucker is such a stark contrast to the other pop albums that dropped this year. It’s not heartbreak and bubble gum pop like a certain 1989, and unlike some of the other new faces in pop who are perpetually giving the world the finger behind a persona of edginess, I legitimately believe she means it, and it shows in the unapologetic fun that is Sucker.
3. Chiodos – Devil
I waited for this album for 4 years, more or less. Devil marks the studio return of Derrick Frost and more noticeably Craig Owens after Illuminaudio and the Brandon Bolmer experience were short lived. I always enjoyed the raw insanity of All’s Well or Bone Palace, but the soundscapes were thicker, deeper, and fatter on Illuminaudio, and the song structure much more defined, and a lot of that has transferred over into Devil, but with Craig’s ridiculous vocals and slightly off-kilter perspective that shows up in his writing.
4. Sam Hunt – Montevallo
If you haven’t heard “Leave the Night On,” you are likely living in the wilderness jamming your old vinyls, but whatever. The lead single from Montevallo is on of my least favorite on the record, which is less an indictment of the song and more an indicator of the strength of this record from top to bottom. You’ll recognize “Cop Car” as a Keith Urban jam from 2013’s Fuse, but it was Hunt who penned that gem.
5. Jack White – Lazaretto
I’m not going to pretend to understand what Jack White is doing, or saying, or thinking, but the dude is unbelievably talented. Lazaretto doesn’t break any new ground in the Jack White Experience, but once again it’s incredibly smart blues based rock, perfectly complimented by production values that are just short of polished. “Entitlement” is my personal favorite from this one. I think it’s unusually melodic for White, who I tend to like more for the zanier elements of his music.
6. Dierks Bentley – RISER
Mainstream country that isn’t pure bro country is still good. “Drunk on a Plane” is fun, though it’s a cheap thrill. I’ll forgive RISER for that one, as the rest of the album is great, especially the other huge single, “I Hold On.” It’s nostalgic and not overly modern in its composition, but it drives hard and fits right into the contemporary landscape.
7. NEEDTOBREATHE – Rivers in the Wasteland
We’re getting into the part of the list where I was let down, but 2014 was such an abysmal year for music that even disappointments stand out. I keep expecting NEEDTOBREATHE to become more than good again. I was let down by The Reckoning, which was still solid, and the same can be said of Rivers. Bear and Bo are still bringing it, but the results have been a mellower experience than I would like out of them.
8. Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
I don’t think anything they do will ever meet the success they had up through 2005’s In Your Honor. While there are moments Grohl unleashes his patented sing/scream deal on Sonic Highways, they continue to be less anthemic and “mainstream” in their song writing, though they more than make up for it with creativity and a more introspective angle in their writing. I enjoyed this a lot more than either Wasting Light or 2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace (added Oxford comma mine, not theirs).
9. The Roots – …and then you shoot your cousin
It’s so easy to forget how immensely talented Questlove and The Roots are when they’re out on Fallon making us laugh and taking it easy. Let this album be a reminder. I also forget how dark some of they’re stuff can be, but man it’s so so so good.
I couldn’t pick a 10th. I’m literally out of music I thought was worth while in 2014. You could go RTJ2, but no single track from Run the Jewels latest is as good as anything from El-P and Killer Mike’s original LP. Taylor Swift had something special, as she was essentially taking a female approach to the Keith Urban route of taking killer pop tunes, stripping them of their synthesized largesse, and dressing it up as country music. 1989 takes away the very thing that made her special in my opinion, and if not for a very established, very loyal fan base, I don’t think that album moves the needle. I don’t know why people are losing they’re minds over the new D’Angelo album. Is it because he waits 3 years to release new material? If that album was released in April, it wouldn’t be in the conversation for Best of 2014.
1. Old 97’s – Most Messed Up
Honky tonk troubadoring at its finest. Most Messed Up is hilarious, contemplative, mean, drunk, high, sober, and downright fun to listen to. The Old 97’s aren’t for everybody, but if you like smart music that feels dirty, give this a shot. They’ve been doing it longer than you’ve been alive, and they’ve gotten quite good at it.
2. Bob Dylan and The Band – The Basement Tapes Sampler: The Bootleg Series, Vol. II
This is a long album title. I’m not even sure it’s an album. It is just a bunch of supremely talented guys messing around in the basement of an ugly, rural house. And yet, I couldn’t stop listening to it for weeks.This release is as raw as it gets, and in that is a newly exposed facet of Dylan’s genius. Add in the often underrated (By youngsters) The Band, and you’ve got music platinum.
3. Ben Harper and Ellen Harper – Childhood Home
Ben Harper collaborated with his ma and made an album. That alone should be enough to make you smile and put that thing on repeat. If you do, though, you’ll be met with a host of new reasons to keep it playing. This is one of the finest examples of modern folk music I’ve ever heard. Themes familiar to folk singers get their modern updates without simply performing an audio face lift. Ma Harper sings a song about Monsanto reminiscent of depression era pieces. There’s a ballad of beautiful harmonies about single moms or moms with workaholic husbands. It’s really a remarkable work that I’m not sure got its due.
4. Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems
It’s Leonard Cohen. It’s Leonard always aging into the wise old man. Leonard looming phrases out of beliefs he doesn’t have to hold. Leonard the wordy, the mumbler, the crooner, the poet. It’s Leonard Cohen with just enough music behind him to slide your mind into a dark and stormy paradise. It’s good.
5. The Roots – …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin
With ?uestlove bringing the laughs and pop knowledge on late night TV and every musically-oriented documentary you can find, it is easy to forget about the less fun, more serious roots of the…The Roots. And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is not the best work by Black Thought and his gang of cultural examiners. It is smart enough to make you want to examine the leaders and examine yourself in light of them. It’s also funky enough to keep that examination enjoyable.
6. D’Angelo – Black Messiah
Listen, this is probably as good a time as any to tell you guys I don’t listen to a lot of music. It was hard for me to come up with 10 new albums I listened to this year. I read, watch movies, and listen to audiobooks or NPR. I did not know who D’Angelo was before this year. I did enjoy listening to this album, though. It’s got some deep groove to it and explores harmonies I’m not used to. It made me uncomfortable musically, but in a good way. It isn’t as insightful as it thinks it is, but it can’t be called vapid. Worth a listen, probably not worth the hype it has gotten.
7. U2 – Songs of Innocence
I know it’s not cool to like U2 anymore. And the way they released this album made me throw out my shoulder doing the biggest, most sarcastic wanking motion imaginable. Yet, I liked it. I think it was creative and intelligent music. Bono and Edge are getting old and they’re settling into that slowly and with much resistance. But they are both uniquely talented individuals whose music still sounds good. At least to me.
8. Hans Zimmer – Interstellar Soundtrack
Now we get to the best evidence that I’m not a real music reviewer. I don’t think this counts as an album. I have listened to it a whole lot of times, though. And it has moved me. It moved me in the movie theatre and it stands alone as its own beautiful work. It made me think of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. It is an emotional piece of music which flows together and tells its own story. I know it is a movie soundtrack, but that is what the great composers of old would be making had they lived in this age. So, maybe we should give it more credit.
9. Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
I just enjoyed this one. It sounds good to me.
10. Thievery Corporation – Saudade
Thievery Corporation have made a career out of being all over the place musically. They’re world music, techno, house, etc., etc.. With this album and its non-english lady vocals, they decided to go with the sexy as hell genre.
So, I didn’t take this seriously at all. I’m not the guy you want to talk with about music. If you think my sports takes are bad, well then you are stupid, and I hate you. Also, my music takes are much worse than my sports takes. Anyway, I listened to a lot of Kanye and Kendrick and not a lot of music that actually came out this year.
1. Taylor Swift – 1989
I like Taylor Swift. Some people don’t. That’s just the way she goes, I guess.
2. Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron
Schoolboy Q is really good. Have you listened to Collard Greens, yet? It is a very good song imo.
3. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
I echo Stephen’s comments. RTJ is awesome!
4. Family and Friends – Love You Mean It
This is very good band that is starting to gain popularity. I listen to this album all the time. Also, I know some of the people in the band; they are cool.
The rest of this list is Bennett’s list re-ordered. I get most of my music recommendations from him. He is a pretty cool dude.
5. Jack White – Lazaretto
6. Hozier – Hozier
7. Dotan – 7 Layers
8. Magic Man – Before the Waves
9. The Roots – …and then you shoot your cousin
10. NEEDTOBREATHE – Rivers in the Wasteland
Also, my very close friend Jon Harkey has an album out called Black and White. I like it. He is getting married soon and could use the extra cash, so buy it or listen to it on Spotify. Well that’s all I have to say about music in 2014.
1. Jack White – Lazaretto
I love everything Jack White touches, and Lazaretto just feels like something special. I love the folksy and blues undertones that get thrown in the mix on this record. Just a fantastic album all around that doesn’t seem to have a weak point.
2. Hozier – Hozier
Undoubtedly one of the notable breakout performers of the year, Hozier has a fantastic sound that is far more than just what you get from his hit, “Take Me to Church.” This is another great addition to a year of music that seemed to be all about the blues. I love it.
3. Dotan – 7 Layers
Just recently started listening to this band, and I am in love. It’s like if Bon Iver had group vocals. It’s just a really brilliant mix that has a very mellow sound. There are several standout tracks on the album, such as “Let the River In” and “Hungry,” however the strength of this album is in the complete work. Listen to it all the straight through, and it is an amazing piece of work.
4. U.S. Royalty – Blue Sunshine
This is an example of a perfect follow up album to a fairly successful debut. “Monte Carlo” and “Equestrian” caught some attention in 2011, and there second effort is fantastic. They made big steps to build on their sound, and I am excited to see them gain more traction.
5. Magic Man – Before the Waves
This album is just tons of fun. I love this band, because everything just seems to come so naturally. Solid 5 song EP, followed up by two singles, and then a perfect 12 song sampling of their skills. Top it all off with the fact that they are fantastic performers, and you have a band that will be around for a while.
6. Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems
We go from the most fun album of the year to perhaps the least fun. The events that led Cohen to need to put out new material is pretty sad and messed up, but also I am kinda glad because his past two albums have been amazing. This is the epitome of blues and his soulful voice captures everything that the blues is supposed to be.
7. The Roots – …and then you shoot your cousin
The Roots are awesome. Their new album is just sexy.
8. Shakey Graves – And The War Came
Alejandro Rose-Garcia describes his sound as “hobo-folk.” And it feels like his songs are ripped out of another time completely. He is another young artist that made a very solid debut in 2014.
9. NEEDTOBREATHE – Rivers in the Wasteland
NEEDTOBREATHE doesn’t seem to acknowledge the existence of law of diminishing return. Every album, they tweak and improve. I haven’t gotten tired of them yet, and this album takes them back to their roots. It works really well.
10. No Mythologies to Follow – MØ
Karen Marie Ørsted’s solo debut has been long awaited, and she did not disappoint. The indie-pop sound sounds like it has been overdone, but she brings in unique and beautiful vocals that really sets her apart.
1. Taylor Swift – 1989
This album is good from beginning to end with numerous songs that could be number 1’s at some point. No matter what K says, this album sold as many as it did for a reason: it is quality.
2. Switchfoot – Fading West
Switchfoot has been my favorite band for a while and while their previous two albums have not been my favorite of their work, this one came out swinging. It was written as a soundtrack to the movie they made and it has a nice flowing feel to it. It is great to listen to and I highly recommend it. Give “Slipping Away” or “Lit it Out” a good listen.
3. Manchester Orchestra – Cope
Manchester Orchestra is such a weird band. The lead singer’s voice is different and they have a lot of “hard rock” elements. However, they do it in an incredibly listenable way that I absolutely love. BOnus points for making the same album again, but acoustic version: HOPE.
4. NEEDTOBREATHE – Rivers in the Wasteland
NEEDTOBREATHE has a sound all its own. Bluegrassy rock that grips you from the beginning. Their music builds and creates incredible “moments” within the songs. These songs truly bring out emotions and have significant substance while sounding incredible.
5. Foxes – Glorious
Foxes is a rising star, in my humble but accurate opinion. She is incredibly talented and released a beautiful album that is a lot of fun. Reminds me of Ellie Goulding. Helps that she’s super good-looking too.<
6. Coldplay – Ghost Stories
I really don’t know why this album doesn’t get talked about more. Coldplay just isn’t “cool” anymore I guess. I loved “A Sky Full of Stars” and if you haven’t heard “Ink” yet, you may want to change that.
7. WALK THE MOON – TALKING IS HARD
Shut up and dance.
8. Christina Perri – Head or Heart
Christina Perri has a beautiful voice and doesn’t follow the trajectory of most pop stars these days. Her music feels incredibly thoughtful and artistic. “Human” is the highlight of the album.
9. Rend Collective – The Art of Celebration
Rend Collective is changing the way people look at Christian music. It isn’t lame. It sounds good. All of this while being undeniably Christian music. They draw comparisons to Mumford and Sons, but they deserve more credit than to just call them a Mumford copy. They have a style all their own and they are great people as well. Well done, Rend.
10. Punk Goes Pop Vol. 6 (does this count? this has to count)
These albums are my guilty pleasure. I love covers. It’s not the most artistic or beautifully crafted music, but it is a lot of fun to watch bands make their own renditions of famous pop songs. Avoid “Turn Down for What” though.
1. Magic Man – Before the Waves
What a year for synth-pop albums. Creative and entertaining songs from start to finish, “Before the Waves” takes you on a journey, and you’ll enjoy it every step of the way. What’s even more impressive is that they sound equally as good in concert. As stated in other albums on this list, there’s not a song I dislike.
Favorite songs: “Out of Mind” ; “Catherine” ; “Paris” ; “Texas”
2. Taylor Swift – 1989
This list would not be complete without TSwizzle present. The only album to go platinum in 2014, “1989” was Taylor Swift’s official coming out album from semi-country to straight-up pop. While “Red” was certainly heading in this direction, she left everything behind with this new album. From beginning to end, there’s not a song I disliked.
Favorite songs: “I Know Places” ; “Blank Space” ; “Style” ; “I Wish You Would”
3. Walk the Moon – Talking Is Hard
The word that immediately pops in my head when thinking of this album is simply “fun.” While it’s vocally very different from their previous album, “TALKING IS HARD” is happy from beginning to end, and it’s a joy to listen to. Super jazzed to be seeing them on tour with The Griswolds late this year.
Favorite songs: “Shut Up and Dance” ; “Work This Body” ; “Portugal”
4. Milky Chance – Sadnecessary
This was the alt-J album I was hoping would be released in 2014. This reminds me so much of alt-J’s “An Awesome Wave,” and I love it. What word would I use to describe it? Groovy. The bass groove is strong in this one, and the album runs smoothly from start to finish.
Favorite songs: “Down By The River” ; “Stolen Dance” ; “Stunner”
5. Bleachers – Strange Desire
Bleachers is so incredibly energetic. I just have a great time listening to them, and I regret missing their show in October when they were touring with Wild Cub. “Strange Desire” has a synth-pop 80s vibe, and they rock it. Each song is an anthem, and you’ll love finish the album with an upbeat step in your walk.
Favorite songs: “Rollercoaster” ; “I Wanna Get Better” ; “Like A River Runs”
6. The Griswolds – Be Impressive
It makes perfect sense that The Griswolds and Walk the Moon are touring together in 2015. They-re both fun and spunky, and they both belong in the 80s. “Be Impressive” has a self-fulfilling name, as the entire album is truly impressive. Smart synth-instrumentation and lyrics leave you in a great mood.
Favorite songs: “If You Wanna Stay” ; “Beware the Dog” ; “Right on Track”
7. This Will Destroy You – Another Language
Very few albums nowadays are fluid stories from the first to last tracks. While this is not my favorite of their albums, it certainly brought up many emotions, as post-hardcore music usually does. Very similar to Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You is a post-hardcore band that is even more impressive in concert than on album.
Favorite Songs: “Dustism” ; “New Topia”
8. Andrew Bird – Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…
If this is your first time hearing the name “Andrew Bird,” (and I would wager that this is true for 95% of our readers) you should give this man a listen. Each album is a unique listening experience, and this is no different. Always with the deep, transcendentalist lyrics, Bird brought me back to childhood with this album, and it’s unlike anything you’ve heard before.
Favorite Songs: “Cathedral in the Dell” ; “Don’t Be Scared” ; “Giant of Illinois”
9. Kimbra – The Golden Echo
This was just such a cool album. I’m not sure I’ve really heard anything like it. A few of my favorite songs (listed below) were some of my favorites of 2014. I didn’t really know much about Kimbra before this album, other than her collaboration with Gotye, but this album made me a believer.
Favorite songs: “Carolina” ; “90s Music”
10. alt-J – This Is All Yours
alt-J is always great at telling a story from beginning to end with their albums. “An Awesome Wave” has been my favorite album for the past two years, so I was expecting something big, but I was still disappointed. That being said, this had some of my favorite songs from 2014, and I really did enjoy “This Is All Yours.”
Favorite songs: “Every Other Freckle” ; “Intro” ; “Left Hand Free” ; “Hunger of the Pine”