Pleasant Surprises: Top 10 Albums of 2014

Last year’s top 10 was all about long-anticipated albums from bands I already loved. This year took me by surprise. Most of the albums on this list came from new bands, or bands I had never paid much attention to before. Almost all of them were discovered by recommendation or random browsing–my most eagerly-anticipated releases for the most part did not live up to my admittedly high expectations. These were the albums I enjoyed most this year–not necessarily those I felt were technically “the best,” but those I most deeply felt and played most often. I am anxious to hear Lauren’s response–I don’t think we have any Japandroids-level controversies here, but I know her list would look a lot different (Ariana Grande cough cough). Some of these decisions were painful, and I am sure that as soon as I hit publish I will want to rearrange the order, or even switch out a few albums. But for this exact moment in time, this is my best approximation of my 10 (okay, 11) favorite albums this year.

10-t. The Voyager, Jenny Lewis & St. Vincent, St. Vincent

I just couldn’t decide between these two fabulous ladies. I’m embarrassed there aren’t more women on this list, but these two are amazing enough to represent our fairer sex (along with Anais Mitchell). “Just One of the Guys” (Lewis) and “Digital Witness” (St. Vincent) were two of my favorite singles of the year, and I also saw St. Vincent put on a killer set at Pitchfork. She is a rock goddess.

9. Hozier, Hozier

If you haven’t heard “Take Me to Church” at least 10 times in the past month, you’re probably dead. I would love to sit here and be all “I started listening to him six months ago” AND IT WOULD BE TRUE but I don’t want to be that person and also it isn’t really that impressive, because he put out his first EP in 2013 so I was already six months behind. He’s already approaching the point of oversaturation, which is unfortunate, because he really is so talented, and this is a solid album.

8. Post Tropical, James Vincent McMorrow

So devastatingly beautiful. It’s a total departure in sound from his first album, which is a go-to for me, but I completely fell in love. It’s that voice! He also put on one of my favorite shows of the year, at Lincoln Hall, and, well, really all I can say is just listen…

7. Xoa, Anais Mitchell

I’ve been trying to sell people on Anais for a while now. I don’t know why you all don’t just LISTEN TO ME ALREADY, but this new album is a great place to start if you’re looking for some stellar singer-songwriter folk that is heavy on the “songwriter.” Seriously, her lyrics are beautiful and perfect. They make we want to write songs and also never try because they could never be as good as hers.

6. Lighght, Kishi Bashi

I think the best thing I can say about Kishi Bashi (and there are so many good things I could say!) is that he defies categorization. I have no clue how to describe what he does. But it is beautiful. Oh, so beautiful. And fun, and surprising. Which are three things music ought to be, if it possibly can.

5. Strange Desire, Bleachers

No one could be happier that pop music is making a comeback than me (well, maybe Lauren). I loved “Blank Space” as much as the next person, but I did not feel like 1989 as a whole really spoke to me. Strange Desire, on the other hand…this is a pop album I love from top to bottom. Power pop anthems?! YES THANK YOU MORE PLEASE!!

4. Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs

I didn’t fully appreciate this album until I listened to it on vinyl, at home. For a few months I had listened to it exclusively on Spotify, on pretty low volume, in my office at work, but I quickly discovered: this is an album that is meant to be played loud. You need to let it fill the air around you and wash over you. I have seen it on basically every year-end list I have read. It’s nearly unanimous: this album is a masterpiece.

3. Singles, Future Islands

Was there a better single this year than “Seasons (Waiting On You)”? That wasn’t recorded by Taylor Swift? It’s fun and weird and it feels like summer but a summer that can come with you and warm you up in the middle of February. I listened to this album SO many times this year, and I am not even close to sick of it.

2. Too Bright, Perfume Genius

I don’t think I had even heard of Perfume Genius before his third album came out this year, but I listened to it on recommendation from friends whose taste I trust and I was completely blown away by the uniqueness and unexpectedness of his sound. The word that comes to mind when I think of this album is “epic.” I feel like I should be descending dramatic staircases in slow motion while I listen to this music.

1. “What Is This Heart?”, How to Dress Well

This one REALLY snuck up on me. I listened to it probably a dozen times before I realized I really loved it, and after awhile it had become my go-to album. I listen to it nearly every day, and my favorite song off it has changed four times (so far). It’s perfectly executed lo-fi R&B that makes me want to dance and curl up on the couch in equal measures.

7 more albums I really enjoyed in 2014:

Black Messiah, D’Angelo (I think if I’d had more time with this one it would have cracked the top 10)

nikki nack, tUnE-yArDs

A Dotted Line, Nickel Creek

Sylvan Esso, Sylvan Esso

Brill Bruisers, The New Pornographers

Morning Phase, Beck

Lazaretto, Jack White

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