When it’s all set and done, who knows what type of legacy 2014 will hold in the history of rock albums. Anyhow, once again our staff writers narrowed down the list to our top 20 albums of the year along with a list of honorable mentions. We’re confident that this is a definitive list of 2014’s best album within the Glide realm. Burgeoning singer-songwriters like Angel Olsen, Hiss Golden Messenger, Israel Nash and the collaborative genius of the New Basement Tapes most grabbed our attention, while there was room for continual favorites like Spoon, Jack White and Tom Petty. And although there were some disappointments from some Glide favorites (Neil Young, Pixies, Gaslight Anthem), there’s always enough surprisingly solid new albums from unexpected artists to cover up the blemishes. Here are Glide’s choices for Top 20 of new albums of the year and our 25 honorable mentions.
Top 20 (In Alphabetical Order)
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
The most immediately recognizable difference between Angel Olsen’s debut album and the follow-up, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, is an exhilarating confidence woven through each song. It shows in her voice, Olsen’s essential instrument that cascades over rolling waves of guitar strums and AM radio fuzz. The self-assuredness of her new record is palpable in its words, with the midwest-singer constantly pursuing honesty in the situations of which she sings. The tremendous benefit of Olsen’s newfound poise is an inviting, personal album that encourages subsequent spins and features songs you want to explore.
Benjamin Booker- Benjamin Booker
The new alternative to Gary Clark Jr. is this New Orleans soon to be rockstar. On his first self titled release Benjamin Booker comes storming out of the gate with stripped down infectious rock and roll that you can feel in your bones and hips.. Booker sings in a raspy voice displaying a love for vintage harmonies and top notch musicianship. Singing about searching and trying to find himself with a penchant for groove seems to be a common theme, as does his healthy dose of New Orleans sweaty grime.
Broken Bells- After the Disco
If quality over quantity was the pure measurement, Broken Bells might be the greatest ever. On the stellar follow-up from their 2010 self titled debut, James Mercer and Danger Mouse rekindle their tight groove for a collection of cosmic folk and funk. Danger Mouse works wonders with his less is more approach allowing Mercer to work magic with his unique vocals that make for one of the best lead instruments around.
Caribou – Our Love
On Caribou’s sixth album, Dan Snaith latches on to what people dug most about his prior recordings to create Our Love: an album that is both conceptual and inviting. Our Love is similar to Caribou’s previous acclaimed album Swim, remaining beat focused and trance-like, but now it’s sprinkled with nuances more club inspired and retro-soulful. With the goal to create “something for everybody to listen to,” Caribou achieved this along with experimental tunes we can all dance to.
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lose
From the shoe-gazing influences of My Bloody Valentine to swirling, distorted guitars and orchestral back-drops, Cymbals Eat Guitars have staked themselves as versatile as the vast influences they incorporate. The heart on the sleeve emotionalism rings from the soaring a opener “Jackson” to the 8-minute epic “Laramie” as frontman Joe D’Agostino tackles expressive choruses and delivering themes that are something both personal and universal.
The Delines – Colfax
A super group like The Delines only comes around so often. A collaboration between vocalist Amy Boone, the Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee-Drizos, Minus 5’s Tucker Jackson, Sean Oldham, Freddy Trujillo, and beloved songwriter and novelist Willy Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine, their new record Colfax wipes a finger through the thick layer of dust settled on blue-collar stories of life’s banalities. Colfax isn’t just a fascinating folk record; it’s a literary masterpiece set to music. And the best part about it is, without a doubt, the sliver of optimism that resounds in “82nd St,” a song about holding out hope for change, it echoes the dreams for a better life ahead, reveling in something as simple as a new day.
Dum Dum Girls – Too True
Written on both coasts between touring, Too True finds the Dum Dum Girls pushing off almost all their garage rocking ways and in turn trying on some shimmering 80’s pop for size – it sure fits well. Front woman Dee Dee Penny talked about an overall aesthetic (and a new guitar pedal) that links things on the recording and for a band who puts out a lot of short burst EPs this LP is sonically connected. Take the best of Blondie, The Pretenders and the danceable festival rock of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and you get the latest from Dum Dum Girls – an undeniable catchy record.
Future Islands – Singles
The Baltimore-based synth-poppers Future Islands undoubtedly had the television appearance of the year as the straight looking Samuel Herring beat his chest and spastically danced to the amusing eyes and ears of millions on Letterman. But this wasn’t some odd gimmick, as Singles, the gallant follow-up to 2011’s On the Waters, encompasses slinky synth keys, syncopated drum rhythms and indelible bass lines. The band ups the tempo and adds extra snap to the bass, allowing Herring to stretch his voice in flexible areas, as the band curates why intelligently communicated new-wave beats never gets old.
Hiss Golden Messenger- Lateness of Dancers
M.C. Taylor, better known as Hiss Golden Messenger, is one to watch. On his follow up to last year’s incredibly sparse and haunting Bad Debt, he’s lightened his load a bit to radiant results. Lateness of Dancers finds Taylor embracing a more sun-drenched country sound than we’re used to from him. Inspired by the works of a number of late greats in Southern literature, Dancers is truly heavenly, warm, inviting and smooth. His sound is timeless, with hints of pared down folk, burning rock and roll, and cool blues and soul, and he puts all those ingredients together in a way that’s unforgettable and impactful.
Israel Nash – Rain Plans
Rain Plans was produced by Nash, recorded and mixed by Grammy Award-winning engineer Ted Young (Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile) and inspired by Nash’s new home of Dripping Springs, TX which helped evolve the tone of his songwriting. There is a vivid sense of imagery permeating through Rain Plans. Simple, textured instrumentation compliments songs about traveling through life to find whatever it is you’re looking for. Between the omnipresent pedal steel guitar, flourishes of harmonica, and lush psychedelic arrangements, Rain Planscarries strong hints of Neil Young and Pink Floyd circa Meddle, yet would make the perfect soundtrack to a Western.
Jack White- Lazaretto
For a man whose career was defined by self imposed restrictions, Lazaretto is a wide open palette and throughout it feels as if White is painting with sounds, singing styles and instrumentation. He is constantly crafting/pairing lyrics from his past (some written when he was 19) with current sonic blasts provided by his expert backing bands. Inventiveness is the key recipe here as nothing stands in White’s way of dipping soulful organ into fuzzy guitars into howling vocals that is dense, manic and a “wtf” first listen. This is almost too obvious a pick, but someone as good as his craft as White only comes around once a lifetime so he’s nabbed yet another year end best of.
The New Basement Tapes- Lost on the River
When we heard in early 2014 that T Bone Burnett would be producing an album featuring the collective likes of Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James and Marcus Mumford, excitement ran high. Add that to the album consisting of a series of tracks based on recently uncovered lyrics handwritten by Bob Dylan in 1967 and it was double bonus time. New Basement Tapes lives up to its lofty expectations as theses famous names split the songwriting responsibilities, but they’re still working together as a band in making a close to perfect modern roots album.
Reigning Sound– Shattered
You won’t see Reigning Sound at Coachella and we’re fine with that. They sure don’t make em like they used to and these Memphis garage punkers make it all feel vintage rock in quite all the right place without any pretentiousness. The band’s principal songwriter/member is Greg Cartwright, who’s been leading the shifting cast of band mates since 2001, but doesn’t lose a step with this bold statement that is part 60’s Jagger, Whiskeytown Ryan Adams and the pop sensibilities of Alex Chilton. But its Reigning Sound’s true to form rock that makes each sound on Shattered a winner that is the epitome of roots-rock simplicity.
Royal Blood – Royal Blood
Jimmy Page recently praised Royal Blood for boosting the popularity of rock music and “taking the genre up a few serious notches” – a well deserved high five from the riff master himself. Quality and musically relevant rock has disappeared in favor of synths and less ballsy forms, but Royal Blood with agonizing vocals, catchy riffs, abstract lyrics ferocious drumming and bass from its two core members give this debut a big thumbs up. The future of rock has been questioned of late, but the sounds of Queens of the Stone Age and the golden riffs of Zeppelin that echo here might give Jack White a run for his six string as today’s prototype rocker.
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
The Sharon Van Etten we’ve gotten to know on her last two records Epic and Tramp, respectively, has made some major changes. Are We There is more lucid and much bigger, making waves with more pop-heavy melodies and a quicker pulse than we’re used to from her. “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”, like Are We There as a whole, is rich with harmonies, and Etten’s vocals are rougher and rawer, showing these amazing little imperfections. She sounds smoky and sultry when she sings, “I washed your dishes, but I shit in your bathroom,” and it’s clear not only that this is a standout cut, but that this record may be more personal than anything else she’s done.
Spoon – They Want My Soul
Throughout their twenty year run as a band Spoon has managed to never release a disappointing record. They have also maintained a healthy status as the quintessential hip indie rock band from Austin. The secret to this – if you want to call it a secret – is their ability to play around with slightly different elements on each record without ever sounding like anything other than Spoon. No matter what they do, at the core of Spoon you are always left with Britt Daniels’ defiant rasp, Jim Eno’s straightforward, incessant drumbeat, and simple guitar hooks that immediately draw you into each song. The opener “Rent I Pay” is instantly recognizable, carrying the group’s attitude and energy in that cool style and consistency that only Spoon feeds.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones- Half the City
The invigorating full-length debut from this Birmingham, Alabama-based sextet had already created a buzz before this debut release, mainly due to their roof-raising live shows. Led by the stout and bespectacled Paul Janeway, Half the City hones the in the pocket sound their home state and its Muscle Shoals sound is renowned for. Soul bands are defined first and foremost by the band leader and Janeway charismatically wins the race of next big retro soul outfit with this loud debut.
St. Vincent- St. Vincent
Annie Clark has always had a distinctive sound and style–her marriage of distortion, jagged riffs, and sweeping melodies is something of a byword in the alternative rock/pop scene–but St. Vincent leaps out at you from the first minute of lead-off track “Rattlesnake” with teeth bared and temper flaring. There is little that is hesitant or ambivalent about the record. Clark’s trademark, fleet-fingered guitar work is front and center as usual, fed through a series of filters and distortion pedals. She and perennial producer John Congleton squeeze as much dimension out of a guitar’s sound as possible: this riff sounds like buzzing bees; this one, a rattle sounding from the underbrush. The sonic trickery might fall flat in the hands of a less-able guitarist, but Clark has chops and then some.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers– Hypnotic Eye
The term “return to form” can be so underwhelming, but Tom Petty always had it. Hypnotic Eye is vintage Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers; In fact, it may rank as one of the two or three finest albums the veteran rockers have ever recorded. With artists like War on Drugs and Wampire reinventing the classic jukebox sound of Petty albums, nobody like the master himself continues to age but remain musically relevant. Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench lead the Heartbreakers through this consistent rock collection that includes some of the band’s most catchiest songs, sharpest riffs and focused compositions in years.
Ty Segall – Manipulator
When the prolific Ty Segall spends 14 months recording an album, it makes a statement. Manipulator is Segall’s seventh LP in seven years. Segall took more than a year crafting the album, experimenting with virtually every sound and theme he could think of incorporating into an album. The resulting release is the best of Segall’s career, a double-album that refines all of the talent he had shown in the past. Every trick Segall pulls out in Manipulator is one he has employed before. This time, however, there is a new emphasis on synergy. Each of the 17 tracks forms a cohesive collection. Though rife with soaring guitar solos, angry guitar riffing, unexpected string sections, and various musical idiosyncrasies, no one aspect of Segall’s music ever takes the focus away from the collection as a whole.
25 Honorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order)
The Afghan Whigs– Do To The Beast
Alt-J – This Is All Yours
Beck – Morning Phase
Caroline Rose– I will Not Be Afraid
Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
Drive by Truckers– English Oceans
The Felice Brothers– Favorite Waitress
FKA twigs – LP1
James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
Lydia Loveless– Somewhere Else
Mirah – Changing Light
Real Estate– Atlas
Robert Plant – Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar
S. Carey- Range of Light
Shakey Graves- And The War Came
Sturgill Simpson- Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
Temples– Sun Structures
Tori Amos – Unrepentant Geraldines
TV on the Radio– Seeds
Tweedy – Sukierae
Tycho – Awake
War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream