Top 14 albums of 2014.

My Insider content from the last few days:
* The Jimmy Rollins trade
* The Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon trades
* The Matt Kemp trade
* The Rick Porcello/Yoenis Cespedes trade
* The Wade Miley trade
* The Howie Kendrick/Andrew Heaney trade and Brandon McCarthy signing
* The Dee Gordon trade
* The Jon Lester signing
* The Francisco Liriano re-signing
* The Miguel Montero trade
* The Jeff Samardzija trade (and David Robertson signing) and Oakland’s return
* The Jason Hammel signing
* The Brandon Moss trade

My review of the boardgame Concordia is up at Paste, and I did an interview about baseball and metal with Decibel.

My ranking of the top 14 albums of the year is below, and reflects my own personal preferences, with a balance between albums that have a few standout songs and ones that worked better as cohesive units. You can see last year’s top 13 albums list for a comparison and to see if something you expected to see here actually made last year’s list (e.g., CHVRCHES, Arctic Monkeys). I heard a lot more than I ranked here, but getting to fourteen albums I truly liked and would recommend wasn’t even easy.

Linked album titles go to full reviews. My ranking of the top 100 songs of the year will follow in a few days.

14. The Kooks – Listen. Goofy British pop-rock songs that didn’t work so well as a collection, especially with a few tracks worth skipping, but featured a number of very strong singles, including “Bad Habit,” “Down,” and “Forgive and Forget.”

13. Animals as Leaders – The Joy of Motion. (amazoniTunes) An all-instrumental technical/progressive metal-fusion record … or something like that. If you love guitarwork, including jazz-inspired soloing, with unconventional song structures, featuring numerous musicians operating at the far right end of what is possible with their instruments, you’ll love this album. Otherwise, maybe just move on to #12.

12. To Kill a King – Exit, Pursued by a Bear. (amazoniTunes) It’s an EP, which is kind of cheating since I hadn’t included EP releases on previous lists, but 1) this is my list so I get to make up the rules 2) I love the title and 3) it’s a really fucking good EP. They remind me in particular of Animals that Swim, a British band from the 1990s and early 2000s that made folk-rock songs that often sounded like great drinking songs and made great use of horns as well as guitars. To Kill a King aren’t afraid to work the horns, the acoustic and electric guitar, the piano, unconventional percussion sounds, and backup harmonies that range from the typical to the borderline-annoying. Wikipedia’s entry compares them to The National, but To Kill a King’s lead singer actually sings rather than mumbling his lyrics. Opener “Oh My Love” plays like a dirge with a nod to Andrew Marvell; “Love is Coal” seems like a straight middle finger to Mumford & Sons and all of their clones, saying “this is how you do the slow-fast-slow thing, posers.”

11. Insomnium – Shadows of a Dying Sun. The best metal album of the year for me comes from this Finnish melodic death-metal act previously known for primarily downbeat and often soporific music that wasn’t saved by the technical prowess of its guitarists. Shadows brings them much more firmly into the melodic camp, with the occasional clean vocal, far more ornate song structures (with actual movements in some tracks), and somewhat less dreary lyrics. There aren’t many bands operating in this demilitarized zone between classic thrash, classical metal, and straight-up death metal, but it’s a sweet spot for my particular tastes.

As an aside, my top metal albums of the year: Insomnium, Animals as Leaders, Pallbearer’s Foundations of Burden, Horrendous’ Ecdysis, and At the Gates’ At War With Reality.

10. Band of Skulls – Himalayan. I like to rock, or more specifically, I like to listen to bands that rock, preferably without apology or relent. (I do like to rock a little, though.) Band of Skulls draws deeply on genres from 1970s classic rock to the more commercial part of 1990s grunge, and most of this album is driven by huge guitar riffs, blues shuffles, and bass-heavy grooves. This is music for people who just love hard rock that isn’t metal and still boasts great melodies, from the title track, “Asleep at the Wheel,” “Toreador,” and the psycheledic “Nightmares.”

9. Ex Hex – Rips. It’s good to have Mary Timony, formerly of noise-rock icons Helium and the all-female Wild Flag (with Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, whose 2015 album should appear on my list next year), back with a new band. Ex Hex is punk-pop more than anything else, hook-filled with a slew of short, punchy, fast-paced songs that are a little light lyrically but incredibly fun to listen to, including “Beast,” “Don’t Wanna Lose,” and “New Kid.”

8. Kaiser Chiefs – Education, Education, Education, and War. The big comeback album for the band best known for their 2004 hit “I Predict a Riot” was by far their most mature, measured, balanced effort ever, easing up on the overly clever lyrics just a bit and filling the album with compelling hooks and more nuanced songwriting. Lead single “Coming Home” found them almost serious and pensive, while “Cannons,” “Ruffians on Parade” and opener “The Factory Gates” brought the electricity you’d expect from the Chiefs along with newly thoughtful, sardonic lyrics. This album, with a title mocking a speech once given by Tony Blair, didn’t chart in the U.S., but hit #1 in the UK and went gold, their best showing since their second album came out in 2007.

7. Broods – Evergreen. (amazoniTunes) This New Zealand brother-and-sister duo first hit with their single “Bridges,” a top 10 song for me this year due to its stunning contrast from the sweet, piano-driven verse to the thumping chorus where singer Georgia Nutt shifts up to a falsetto that almost strains her range. Their full album has great contrasts throughout within that dream-pop/electronic framework, most with strong melodies, showing a lot of range for a very young pair of songwriters on their first album.

6. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – IX. With their ninth album (duh), the ol’ Trail of Dead are at their most melodic and textured, with tremendous percussion work by their tandem of drummers and hypnotic, swirling guitar lines, without losing the structural complexity that has marked nearly all of their work. It might not have received the insane acclaim of Source Tags and Codes, but it’s a more accessible and thoughtful album, led by “The Doomsday Book,” “Jaded Apostles,” “Lie Without a Liar,” and the closer “Sound of the Silk” that just left me on the floor gasping for air.

5. Spoon – They Want My Soul. Spoon has become, for me, the definitive American rock band, or perhaps rock-and-roll band, drawing as they do on influences from throughout rock history while incorporating folk, country, and more current electronic elements in their songs. They Want My Soul was a bounceback of sorts after a pair of less exciting albums, bringing more experimentation and a wider range of styles with barely any hiccups along the way (other than the single “Inside Out”). You’ve heard and probably liked the straightforward singles “Rent I Pay” and “Do You,” but when Spoon get nostalgic on the cover “You Just Don’t Understand” or start playing around with structure and synths on “Outlier” or “Knock Knock Knock” they manage to expand boundaries without losing their ability to craft compelling hooks.

4. HAERTS – Haerts. Three of the five best songs on here appeared on an EP late last year, but that’s not to say the remaining songs on the band’s full-length debut, produced by St. Lucia (who appeared on last year’s list with his own debut album), which all showcase singer Nini Fabi’s powerful, slightly smoky voice over masterfully crafted strata of keyboards and drum machines. “Giving Up” is the best new song and the only one on my top 100 this year, but “Wings,” “Hemiplegia,” and “All the Days” are standouts from their first EP.

3. alt-J – This is All Yours. It wasn’t as groundbreaking or mindblowing as their debut album, An Awesome Wave, my favorite album not just of 2012 but of the decade so far, so I could call This is All Yours a mild letdown … and yet it’s still a work of great imagination and continues the trio’s refusal to work within the conventions of modern music, even within what’s generally called “alternative” but isn’t quite as radical as the name might indicate. This is All Yours is uneven, with a few songs they could just as easily have omitted (“Choice Kingdom” and “Pusher” in particular), but they soar with the manic complexity of “Every Other Freckle,” the slow expansion of “The Gospel of John Hurt,” the four-vocalist gimmick that actually plays on “Warm Foothills,” and the so-bad-it’s good “Left Hand Free.” It’s not as cleanly produced as their debut, unfortunately, which cuts into the atmosphere it creates and stunts the beauty of tracks like “Warm Foothills” or “Hunger of the Pine.”

2. New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers. I don’t know how a collection of singers and songwriters this broad and diverse could push out an album this cohesive, but Brill Bruisers is an ebullient power-pop masterpiece; what it might lack in invention (compared to, say, Twin Cinema) it more than makes up for via its sheer pop brilliance. The title track is one of the best songs of the year, landing in my top 10, but “Dancehall Domine,” “Fantasy Fools,” and “War on the East Coast” all shimmer with gorgeous pop hooks and note-perfect performances across the board.

1. Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like a Bell. (amazoniTunes) I never reviewed this album because I didn’t quite get it when I first received it a review copy back in May; it was just too weird, too unconventional, almost the way I never quite got the Cocteau Twins. But I kept coming back to certain songs that stuck with me – “Xtalk,” “Innocent,” “Out Alee” – and realized the issue was that I had to get used to the production, which put singer Nicole Miglis’s voice so front and center that you can almost hear her thinking. This is cerebral music, but that doesn’t mean it requires more of the listener than an open mind; think of Hundred Waters’s songs as the pattern on a lake when hit by a raindrop or a skipped stone, with each track within a song rippling outward on its own to create a gorgeous, cohesive whole. I haven’t heard anything quite like it before, which is something I want to say about any album I’m calling the best of its year.


  1. Did you ever listen to Nickel Creek’s Dotted Line? I know you had mentioned it just before it came out, but I don’t remember anything else on it.

    • Don’t think I did. It was something like $11 on amazon, so I never bought it and eventually forgot about it when it was on Spotify.

      Don’t like TVOTR’s slower stuff, unfortunately. Hated RTJ2. Boasting and swearing like a couple of 12 year olds who just learned the words. Cliched lyrics over boring beats. Hate.

  2. I’ve had a hard time getting into TOD’s IX, but will keep trying as they’ve earned it; seems like Reece’s vocals have been almost entirely phased out save for a song or two, and I’ve always appreciated the balance between his and Keeley’s on older albums.

    Also, read your earlier comment on TVOTR’s Seeds, and while I agree that it’s more “mid-tempo or slower”, that doesn’t make me enjoy it any less. Easily a top 3 of 2014 for me (along with Alt-J’s This is All Yours and Run the Jewels 2).

  3. Animals needs to be way higher. Tosin and the joy of motion is brilliant

  4. Richard Woolf

    st. Vincent is a glaring omission.

    • St. Vincent is terrible. Boring generic pretentious garbage.

    • Richard Woolf

      Generic? Your list includes Kaiser Chiefs and the Kooks… ’nuff said.

    • Great response, Richard. Go back outside for recess.

    • Richard Woolf

      Zing! By the way, here’s the response you were looking for: touché.

    • Touché applies when the rejoinder is accurate. As I don’t find the albums by Kaiser Chiefs or the Kooks to be generic, and this is my own list, your reply was inaccurate, and therefore was merely petty.

  5. Ever listen to Cloud Nothings? I would have thought you might enjoy them.

  6. Not sure why I feel compelled to ask, but any love for “Do to the Beast” from the Afghan Whigs?

  7. In case you care, typo: think of Hundred Waters’s songs as the pattern on a la[t]e when hit by a raindrop or a skipped stone.

    Thanks for sharing, as always.

  8. Hey Keith,
    You might want to check out the album Tremors from the artist Sohn. Some similarities to this Hundred Waters album.

  9. Thanks for introducing me to Hundred Waters, by the way. This album is wonderful. Loving “Broken Blue” in particular.

  10. Looks like they are playing Philly on March 2nd. Wanna go?

  11. Saw Broods in concert in Brisbane a few weeks ago. They’re amazing.

  12. Keith, what number would you put Royal Blood’s album? I’m loving their sound.

  13. Don’t care for The War on Drugs?

  14. Gaslight Anthem….that is all

  15. I don’t know whether you speak Spanish, but whether or not you do you should check out Vengo by Ana Tijoux. Incredible album. Chilean rapper who’s really come into her own — brilliant flow, great beats and melodies, sharp political lyrics. It’s the best revolutionary album I know of in years.

  16. Oh, and Benjamin Booker — that’s a name you’ll know soon, if you don’t know it yet. He’ll be the next Black Keys. The album isn’t anything special, but he’s phenomenal live.

  17. I bought Brill Bruisers on loverly colored vinyl and I’ve spun it once a week at least since then ;). I love “Champions of Red Wine”. Interestingly I think this album is a little less “poppy” than Together, which I think had more catchy hooks to it. Bruisers feels closer to (happily) Mass Romantic, much more “out there” lyrically. Not that the Pornographers can do any wrong in my eyes.

  18. Keith how close was DFA1979 from making this list? Might have been my facorite of the year.

    • @Chris: It wasn’t a consideration. I liked one or two songs from it, one of which is on the top 100, but that was it.

  19. Just curious if you listened to Sylvan Esso (outside of ‘Coffee,’ which I’m sure you heard plenty on the radio). It was one of my favorites of the year and they put on a great live show.

  20. Andres Alvarado

    Thank you for your list!! Great work. It was because of your lists that I got into alt-J and CHVRCHES in the past. Love the Royal Blood track as top song of the year.

    Was wondering how you felt about Julian Casablancas + The Voidz’ “Tyranny”? At first it was a weird listen, but this album has grown on me big time. I absolutely love “Nintendo Blood”, “Where no eagles fly” and “Human Sadness”.

    I think you might enjoy the album if you heard a few times over, but if you have already .. any thoughts on it?

    Gracias y Prospero Año Nuevo,



  1. […] with all of my music lists, like my top 14 albums of 2014 and my top 100 songs of 2013, this represents my personal preference. I thought 2013 was a little […]