Album Analysis 2014 End-of-Year List

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Sure-fire soloists, socially conscious hip-hoppers and ‘60s-scavenging rockers dominated music in 2014.

Prominent acts like Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend and Kanye West released headlining projects last year, making 2013 one of the best periods since the turn of the century as far as quality albums go. However, 2014’s slate featured a slew of lesser-known musicians deserving of recognition.

Here are the Album Analyzer’s top 20 albums of the last 12 months:


20: “To be Kind” by Swans

If Swans’ 13th LP ensues on frantic note with its opener, “Screen Shot,” track two, “Just a Little Boy (For Chester Burnett),” slows the pace down without detracting from the album’s edginess. Clocking in at 121 minutes, “To Be Kind” slithers down listeners’ ear canals with its slow, consistent instrumentals. Standout Track: “A Little God in My Hands”

19: “Dark Comedy” by Open Mike Eagle

Like a stand-up comedian balancing sidesplitting punch lines and the demons from past disappointments, this album’s funnier lyrics induce laughter until Open Mike Eagle plays the real joke. He raps snippets of anguish that contrast from “Dark Comedy’s” more humorous parts to make the collection multi-dimensional. Standout Track: “Jon Lovitz (Fantasy Booking Yarn)” 

18: “I Never Learn” by Lykki Li

Swedish Songstress Li meshes ‘70s soft rock sounds with high-octane choruses on her third studio album. “I Never Learn” contains consistency — allowing listeners to guess at each song’s major stylistic turns — but even though Li’s work features predictability, organic noises in the background make each listen much more interesting than most indie pop. Standout Track: “No Rest for the Wicked”

17: “…And Star Power” by Foxygen

Searching for motifs throughout Foxygen’s latest effort? Don’t bother. Track one, “Star Power Airlines,” indicates a “Helter Skelter”-esque quality will push “…And Star Power” forward. However, “How Can You Really,” the album’s first single, busts down the intro’s pace until lead singer Sam France’s vocals saunter with spastic pianos and horns. Standout Track: “I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate”

16: “These Days…” by Ab-Soul

Ab-Soul’s paranoid effort on “These Days…” brings out the tenseness in everyone — even guest artists. Danny Brown normally deploys fun in his raps; on track 14, “Ride Slow,” though, his syllables slither like fog over an early morning crime scene, showing how effectively Ab-Soul creates strong themes in the structure of his albums. Standout Track: “Dub Sac”

15: “Black Metal” by Dean Blunt

Blunt has a penchant for incorporating stereotypical hip-hop lyrics over his alternative-inspired beats. Take “50 CENT,” where he croons, “Five-0 coming, and they know my name.” Unlike the song’s namesake, Blunt doesn’t recite said lyrics with swagger — instead muttering to the point listeners grasp the tinge of hesitancy that makes “Black Metal” strange. Standout Track: “MOLLY & AQUAFINA”

14: “Burn Your Fire for No Witness” by Angel Olsen

On her fourth studio album, Olsen’s vocals smolder like dry brush on a lake’s bank — slowly. Similar to Foxygen, she belts cheeky lyrics (each stanza could represent some lost inside joke) and lets charred instrumentals create clouds of despondency around her short but vivid tracks. Standout Track: “White Fire”

13: “Sunbathing Animal” by Parquet Courts

Arguably indie rock’s busiest band dropped its third LP in summer, and Parquet Courts fuel the entire collection with Pavement-like ridiculousness and a drop of western motifs. However, “Instant Disassembly,” track 11, and its ballad qualities contrast from much of the album’s frantic strings and drum kicks — exhibiting a willingness to step from garage rock’s confines. Standout Track: “Sunbathing Animal”

12: “You’re Dead!” by Flying Lotus

Kendrick Lamar didn’t grace us with another project in 2014, but his lyrical madness on Flying Lotus’ “Never Catch Me” showcases more prowess on one song than most MCs show on an entire album. A stellar cameo isn’t the only aspect of note here, though, as Flying Lotus’ jazz-infused instrumentals make “You’re Dead!” impact listeners long after the final horns fade. Standout Track: “Dead Man’s Tetris”

11: “Lost in the Dream” by The War on Drugs

The album’s heavy themes and instrumentals never go too far despite oftentimes pained verses. The difference between a suspenseful horror flick and an overindulgent slasher is comparative to this collection’s balance. The band compromises depression for solace throughout the album, providing an in-depth scope that details how people cope with tragedy. Standout Track: “Red Eyes”

10: “Are We There” by Sharon Van Etten

Take a drive while listening to Van Etten’s fourth studio album; let “Are We There’s” opener, “Afraid of Nothing,” blare with the windows open and hear its lush strings collide with the crunches of tires over dead leaves. “Are We There” is all about places and the distances between them, and Van Etten’s haunting vocals only expand this quality. Standout Track: “Your Love is Killing Me”

9: “Pinata” by Freddie Gibbs

It’s fitting Gibbs’ “Pinata” would feature a guest verse by Danny Brown, whose album “Old” from 2013 included a hodgepodge that put in a collection somehow contained cohesiveness. “Pinata’s” sprawling 17 tracks detail the ails of working-class life and possible outlets for young people in difficult situations to overcome the direness of their situations. Standout Track: “High”

8: “Salad Days” by Mac Demarco

Listeners might turn Demarco’s “Salad Days” on, start tackling life’s mundane tasks, and find that the final track, “Johnny’s Odyssey” has arrived in what seemed like moments. Few 2014 LPs flow better than “Salad Days,” and although its daze-inducing instrumentals act as perfect background noise, the album’s lyrics shouldn’t be glazed over. Standout Track: “Passing Out Pieces”

7: “Benji” by Sun Kil Moon

Sun Kil Moon lead singer Mark Kozelek could craft a 12-minute, Bob Dylan-esque epic detailing a part-time used car salesman’s lunch break. Kozelek and his attention to detail push the album’s songs to greater and more meaningful levels than even exceptional songwriters can reach like on “Jim Wise.” Standout Track: “I Love My Dad”

6: “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” by Sturgill Simpson

Like Waylon, Willie and Merle before, Simpson embodies the good-timing qualities of outlaw country on his second studio album. However, outlaw country’s gods rarely mentioned LSD and cosmic voyages in their work, and this allows Simpson to draw influence from them but also incorporate his own personality and experience into this impressive collection. Standout Track: “Turtles All the Way Down”

5: “The Double Ep: A Sea of Split Peas” by Courtney Barnett

Naming a songwriter of the year seems like a daunting task, but in 2014, it’s not: That title easily goes to Barnett. “I noticed you stopped talking to me; now you’re talking to me all the time / Do you know you’re no good at listening, but you’re really good at saying everything on your mind,” Barnett utters in track one, “Out of the Woodwork,” the first of her well-worded lines. Standout Track: “Avant Gardener”

4: “Hot Dreams” by Timber Timbre

Timber Timbre’s fifth LP might impact you most effectively if you picture the most haunting scene in your mind before listening. Songs like “Curtains!?,” “Bring Me Simple Men” and “This Low Commotion” tackle scary themes with scarier sounds, and the album builds off a suspense factor more than any album in recent memory. Standout Track: “Grand Canyon” 

3: “Run the Jewels 2” by Run the Jewels

“Run the Jewels 2” dropped near one of 2014’s most complicated points — unrest in Ferguson, Missouri — and the duo’s stellar sophomore effort is just one of numerous ways Killer Mike and El-P inspired people to seek change. “RTJ2” would’ve garnered acclaim no matter when released, though, as the odd couple continues to develop a sound seasoned with bits of Southern trap music and East Coast conscious hip-hop. Standout Track: “Lie, Cheat, Steal”

2: “St. Vincent” by St. Vincent

Most artists title an initial album after themselves, but St. Vincent’s choice to do so with her fourth release hints at the confidence she holds in her current sound. Listeners hear snippets of Prince, Talking Heads and other notable ‘70s-‘80s acts throughout the 11-track “St. Vincent,” and lyrics like, “Digital witnesses, what’s the point of even sleeping / if I cant show it, if you can’t see me?” from “Digital Witness” highlight the songstress’s introspection. Standout Track: “Huey Newton”  

1: “pom pom” by Ariel Pink

Pink dropped 2014’s strongest album, and his big mouth almost still overshadowed it. Get past his questionable comments, however, and you’ll find the year’s most intriguing collection of songs. Arcade game-like chimes, ‘60s metal samples and tracks too strange to fall under any category round out “pom pom.” Arguably the album’s greatest quality is Pink’s ability to remain accessible to a wide audience despite the risks he takes in all facets of “pom pom.” Standout Track: “Exile on Frog Street”