The 35 Best Albums of 2014

We hope you’re enjoying our Best Of lists for 2014.

Let’s refresh what we’ve posted so far:

— The 20 Best Sad Bastard Songs of 2014 

— The 150 Best Songs of 2014

Today, we’re excited to reveal another list: The 35 Best Albums of 2014. What this really means is that these were our favorites (ie, we didn’t listen to everything). We fully realize there are many, many more worthy ones out there. But our hope is that you’ll find one or two new albums below.

Happy Holidays!

–Speakers in Code

35. Grace Weber, The Refinery

Grace Weber could sing the phone book on the streets of Brooklyn and make a profit. “Till I Hurt You” remains one of our favorite songs of 2014, and The Refinery is the work of a budding artist. Jason Gonulsen

34. Michael Cera, true that

Real-life goofball Michael Cera released a great record of lo-fi goodies earlier this year and I promise it isn’t what you expect. Much of the album is comprised of understated solo piano tracks, but Cera sprinkles in a few covers and original songs with vocals occasionally to liven things up. It’s surprisingly moving stuff, and one of the least pretentious, most affecting things I’ve heard all year. Dylan Newcity

33. Old 97s, Most Messed Up

Rhett Miller drops the f-bomb upwards of 50 times on the 97s’ most recent studio album, and every single one of them makes me giggle and grin like a 12 year old boy. They also put on one of the best, if not the best set I saw this year, playing to a tiny and raucous crowd in the desert of West Texas, tearing through most of this record and proving that Rhett Miller dropping f-bombs in person is greater than Rhett Miller dropping f-bombs in the studio. And in record opener “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive”, the band gives one of the most astute commentaries on the life of a musician: we’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive / 20 good years of about 25. The 97s will never be an arena band, and I wouldn’t want them to be; Most Messed Up just shows how great clubs have been and will still be for what they want to do. Agatha Donkar

32. Blondfire, Young Heart

A feel-good pop/rock album that never stumbles mainly because Blondfire is led by Eris Driscoll, who has charisma and can sing. If you ever get to see this band live, don’t hesitate. Jason Gonulsen

31. Aphex Twin, Syro

After some cryptic promotion and lots of speculation, Aphex Twin’s first studio album in thirteen years, Syro, did not disappoint. Replete with the squelchy TB-303 bass tones and frenetic drumming, it’s everything you’ve always loved about Aphex Twin, but slightly updated for 2014. Dylan Newcity

30. Kate Tucker & the Sons of Sweden, The Shape the Color the Feel

The songs glimmer and sparkle, and we love how it ends with “Blue Hotel,” “The State I’m In,” and “Island of the Misfit.” Kate Tucker deserves your immediate attention. Jason Gonulsen

29. Birdy, Fire Within

Fire Within was released in Europe in 2013, but didn’t see its U.S. release until this year, so we’re including it here. You might know her cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” but she’ll be a superstar because of songs like “Wings” and “Words As Weapons.” Birdy is a special talent. Jason Gonulsen

28. Alexz Johnson, Let ‘Em Eat Cake

Sexy, smoky, and smooth — that’s how Alexz Johnson sings, and we simply cannot get enough. Let ‘Em Eat Cake is an infectious pop record with standouts like “Heart Like That,” “Cologne,” “I Will Fall In Love,” and the terrific title track. Hear this woman sing and you’ll be hooked. Jason Gonulsen

27. Delta Spirit, Into The Wide

This is a deep album, lyrically and musically, from the opening “Push It” to the cathartic “The Wreck.” “For My Enemy” remains my favorite track, especially when I’m on the highway, my mind is free, and the music is loud. Jason Gonulsen

26. Ex Hex, Rips

The only bands I saw more than twice in 2014 were Caleb Caudle and Ex Hex, who are about as far apart as can be, musically, and that didn’t matter to me. Rips, the Merge Records debut from the latest project from grown-up Riot Grrrl Mary Timony, is short and to the point, but it ain’t sweet: it rips and roars and screams and shreds guitars and bass and drums as hard as it can. It’s awesome. 10 pts. Agatha Donkar

25. Charli XCX, SUCKER

You know her because she co-wrote “Fancy” and “I Love It,” but you should know her because of SUCKER and songs like “Boom Clap” and “Break the Rules.” And she’s brash: the opening title track exclaims, “Fuck you, sucker!” Jason Gonulsen

24. Gemma Hayes, Bones + Longing

Gemma Hayes is one of my favorite songwriters of the last few years, and Bones + Longing doesn’t disappoint. The opening one-two punch of “Laughter” and “Dreamt You Were Fine” will lure you in and convince you to stay on the ride. Jason Gonulsen

23. Thom Yorke, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes

Thom Yorke is always up to something interesting. This time he released a solo album via BitTorrent completely unannounced as an “experiment to see if the mechanics of the system (BitTorrent) are something that the general public can get its head around.” That description is exciting because it hints at the release of more music, but it belittles how beautiful this album is. All sorts of textural atmospherics underlie Thom’s signature yowl and excite the senses in ways that his most recent project, Atoms For Peace, never has. It’s great to hear the development of a fantastic solo artist, but this also raises my anticipation for the new Radiohead album to monumental heights. Dylan Newcity

22. Spoon

“Do you run when it’s just getting good?” Britt Daniel sings on “Do You,” They Want My Soul’s standout track. Spoon isn’t running away, and it’s already pretty damn good. Jason Gonulsen

21. Cold War Kids, Hold My Home

Nathan Willett’s voice remains Cold War Kids’ finest weapon, especially on the opening “All This Could Be Yours.” This is a consistently spectacular album that rocks. Jason Gonulsen

20. Taylor Swift, 1989

Okay, don’t close the tab just because you hit this entry. This is a glorious, complete pop record, and sometimes, you guys, we just need glorious complete pop records. There’s always going to be blowback against Tay Tay and the music she’s making and the life she’s living, but most of it is going to come from people who didn’t listen to her albums. 1989 makes me happy to be alive, and sometimes that’s all you want from a glorious, complete pop record. Agatha Donkar

19. Banks, Goddess

There is something dark and mysterious surrounding the songs on Goddess. There’s also superb songwriting (“Beggin For Thread,” “Goddess,” “Alibi,” “This is What it Feels Like”) that make it rise above from being just another dose of alternative pop. Banks is for real. Jason Gonulsen

18. Collin Herring, Some Knives

This explodes out of the gate with “Psychopaths” and doesn’t let up with the title track and “Covered Up.” “I mean this, you can’t keep showing your face around here,” Herring sings on the latter. But we’ll be happy around these parts if Herring keeps showing up on our Best Of lists. Jason Gonulsen

17. Caroline Rose, I Will Not Be Afraid

When you combine Caroline Rose’s songwriting talent and work ethic, what you get is an album like I Will Not Be Afraid, which suggests that she is something undeniably special. Jason Gonulsen

16. Strand of Oaks, HEAL

“I don’t wanna start all over again,” Timothy Showalter sings on the opening “Goshen ’97.” It’s a shot of whiskey and espresso all in one, jump starting an album that never quits. I still can’t get enough of “Shut In,” “JM,” and “Pymouth.” Jason Gonulsen

15. Tweedy, Sukierae

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco formed a duo with his son, Spencer, on drums. The result? A terrific collection of songs that can’t be stuffed into one genre. Still in awe of “Nobody Dies Anymore.” Read our interview with Jeff Tweedy hereJason Gonulsen

14. Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams

Everyone has their favorite Ryan Adams album: Heartbreaker, Gold, Cold Roses, Love is Hell, Easy Tiger — there are so many from which to choose. And here’s another, which rocks from the opening “Gimme Something Good.” Jason Gonulsen

13. Matthew Ryan, Boxers

For Boxers, Matthew Ryan decided to plug in and fuzz up his sound with the help of Gaslight Anthem guitarist Brian Fallon. We’re rewarded with songs like “Then She Threw Me Like A Hand Grenade,” “We Are Libertines,” and the title track, which asks, “how do you say goodbye to a dream that just won’t die?” Jason Gonulsen

12. The War on Drugs, Lost in a Dream

Take this one on your next road trip, and don’t skip or shuffle. There’s a reason why “Red Eyes” is second and “In Reverse” is last. Jason Gonulsen


This trio of young lads from Toronto craft delectable hip-hop/jazz instrumentals. Improvisation features heavily into their music and bolsters a sense of spontaneity and stylistic cohesion on the album. Since releasing III the group have put out a few rap collaboration tracks, and their future is looking promising as we head into 2015. Dylan Newcity

10. Cory Branan, The No-Hit Wonder

Branan’s second record for my beloved Bloodshot Records combines Branan’s signature tongue-in-cheek bitter-but-not-quite lyrics with a variety of sounds — mostly bigger, broader, more layered than his previous guitar-centric solo sound — that punch up his already sharp songwriting into musical pieces that are even more suited to that lyrical sharpness than ever before. They range from country rockers to New Orleans horn laced crooners, and the startling lovely and acoustically stark “The Meantime Blues” that comes near the end of the record shouldn’t work, but might be the highlight of the album. Branan tours pretty relentlessly, and I can’t wait to hear the songs from this one live next year. 15 pts Agatha Donkar

9. Lucinda Williams, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone

Lucinda Williams refuses to slow down, and this double-album flows effortlessly from one song to the next. “Compassion,” “Stand Right By Each Other,” and “When I Look At The World” are among some of the best songs she’s ever written. What a treasure. Jason Gonulsen

8. Ben Howard, I Forget Where We Were

Deep, dark, and thoughtful. Just the kind we like here at SiC. You’ve probably heard “I Forget Where We Were” and “End of the Affair,” but spend some time with “Conrad,” too. Jason Gonulsen

7. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager

“I never thought I would ever be here,” sings Jenny Lewis on “Head Underwater,” our song of the year at Speakers in Code. Lewis shines throughout with songs like “She’s Like Me,” “Just One of the Guys,” “Love U Forever,” and “Late Bloomer.” The Voyager just doesn’t get old. Jason Gonulsen

6. Sylvan Esso, Sylvan Esso

We are Sylvan Esso fanatics here at SiC and their debut album set the bar high when it came out early this year. The infectious synth-pop produced by Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn is potent stuff, and I warn that even a cursory listen could result in full blown Sylvan Esso addiction. Dylan Newcity

5. Brooke Fraser, Brutal Romantic

Perhaps no artist took a bigger chance with his or her sound as Brooke Fraser did with Brutal Romantic. While some of her fans were probably waiting for another “Arithmetic” or “Albertine,” Fraser switched courses and delivered a pop masterpiece filled with beats and hooks. There isn’t a bad song on here, but start with “Psychosocial,” “Start a War,” or “Kings and Queens.” If you liked Lorde’s debut album, you’ll love Brutal RomanticJason Gonulsen

4. Caleb Caudle, Paint Another Layer On My Heart

One of the simplest, most beautiful records of 2014, Winston-Salem’s Caudle absolutely knocked it out of the park with Paint Another Layer On My Heart. It’s full of heartbreakingly honest songs mostly about distance and love and long distance love, and “Trade All The Lights” and “How’d You Learn” are fighting for my favorite song of 2014. The single lyric, from early in album opener “How’d You Learn”, of home doesn’t share you with the places you’ve been made me cry so hard the first time I listened to Paint Another Layer that I ended up listening to nothing but the first minute of that song, over and over, for about the first 15 minutes of my experience with it. I finally listened to the rest of it, though, and it’s all just as brilliant as that line. 20 pts Agatha Donkar

3. Sharon Van Etten, Are We There

A perfect example of an artist not having to change her sound drastically to make a wave. “I need you to be afraid of nothing,” Sharon Van Etten sings on the opening song. Kudos to her for standing tall. “Tarifa” is a masterpiece. Jason Gonulsen

2. Damien Rice, My Favourite Faded Fantasy

It took eight freaking years to deliver, but I would wait eight more for another Damien Rice album like this. This was made to be played from start to finish, but listen closely to how it ends with “Trust and True” and “Long Long Way.” Jason Gonulsen

1. Noah Gundersen, Ledges

I want to learn how to love
Not just the feeling

Remember what Jim Valvano said? There are three things we should do every day: laugh, think, and cry. Noah Gundersen’s  Ledges hasn’t made me laugh, but I can’t tell you how many times it’s made me think and cry, and that’s why it’s our album of the year. “Once you had me, you don’t have me anymore,” Gundersen sings on “Cigarettes.” I still crave Ledges. Jason Gonulsen

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment