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The top albums of 2014 

CL's critics share their favorites

It's never easy to whittle down a year's worth of music to a list of just 10 albums. Oftentimes, writers will try to expand their lists, declare ties or just not put them in order. Then there's the fact that no two people will listen to exactly the same stacks of records, so rarely is there any overlap in lists. Think of this as a loose guide to last year's best albums. If you haven't heard one, check it out ­— you might be glad you did.


St. Vincent St. Vincent

It's an interesting dilemma. Do I think St. Vincent is my favorite album from 2014? Probably not. Do I think it's a landmark album? Definitely. It's a landmark for St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) as an incredible piece of artistry that truly showcases her talents. It's quirky and funky, full of indie rock, synths and hints of blues and soul that combine for a unique product that only St. Vincent could pull off. And her live show was the perfect companion piece for it. The rest of this list is comprised of the ones getting the most plays through my headphones and what I'd recommend checking out.

Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2

Jack White Lazaretto

You & Me Rose Ave.

Royal Blood Royal Blood

D'Angelo and the Vanguard Black Messiah

Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger Midnight Sun

Larkin Poe Kin

Ancient Cities Ancient Cities

Nothing More Nothing More

Honorable Mentions: Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas Secret Evil; Beck Morning Phase; Bless These Sounds Under the City Bless These Sounds Under the City; Sinners & Saints Love and Misery; Hozier Hozier; Matrimony Montibello Memories

— Jeff Hahne

Rodrigo y Gabriela 9 Dead Alive

With 9 Dead Alive, Mexican nylon-stringed guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela honor their inspirations — famed 19th century luthier Antonio de Torres, Underground Railroad activist Harriet Tubman and seven others — with nine scalpel-sharp rock instrumentals that suggest the movements of spirit animals: prowling jaguars and ravens wheeling overhead. Fusing Latin, jazz and heavy metal, Rodrigo reels out muscular melody lines that entwine with Gabriela's rapid-fire rhythms. (She transforms flamenco's golpes — the traditional tapping on the guitar top — into a percussive whirlwind.) Swaggering and sensual, this is rock that is both up to the minute and resonant of Link Wray's "Rumble."

Hurray for the Riff Raff Small Town Heroes

Case Conrad Leikko

Sean Rowe Madman

St. Vincent St. Vincent

Vashti Bunyan Heartleap

Shakey Graves And the War Came

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars Libation

Break of Reality Ten

Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas Secret Evil

Honorable Mentions: Amigo Amigo; Beck Morning Phase; Robyn Hitchcock The Man Upstairs; Spottiswoode & His Enemies English Dream; David Childers Serpents of Reformation; Grey Revell's Roman Candles The Happy Infinite Vol. 1-3; John Fullbright Songs; Willie Watson Folk Singer Vol. 1; The Alt The Alt

— Pat Moran

Twin Peaks Wild Onion

Beneath its exterior as a sloppy rock 'n' roll bacchanal, Wild Onion is a study in craftsmanship. On this sophomore effort, these Chicagoans evolve from teenage garage rockers into barely 20-somethings steeped in the cannon's history: Nuggets, Stooges, White Album Lennon, Beach Boys, Ramones, Velvets and Stones all serve as signposts here. But the LP's appeal comes from injecting these forms with life, not preservative; these kids are genuinely stoked to have discovered this treasure trove of awesome. In the process of sponging it up, they've refitted it as their own, then skipped the apprenticeship and graduated with the best rock guitar record in years.

Frazey Ford Indian Ocean

Timber Timbre Hot Dreams

Bry Webb Free Will

Woods With Light And With Love

Tony Molina Dissed and Dismissed

Beck Morning Phase

Field Guides Boo, Forever

The Loudermilks The Loudermilks

The Antlers Familiars

— John Schacht

Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2

I knew before this record was released that it would be album of the year. El-P and Killer Mike have yet to prove they can do any wrong when making music together. Add to their chemistry the rap-game-Tarantino swag of bringing dimming stars like Zack De La Rocha & Gangsta Boo into the studio to get their full shine on, and you easily have the year's best piece of work. But the poignancy of its timing exceeded expectations — mine and possibly even theirs. 2014 brought our nation to the boiling point of anger at injustice, and this album struck the pitch-perfect chord of our inner turmoil. It's not a political record, though topics like police brutality, mental torture endured by military veterans and prison riots all make powerful appearances here. It's a goosebump-inducing emotional record that has you throwing elbows one second and your eyes tearing up the next. It's empowering — you wish a mf'r would step to you with some drama while you're listening. It's also a record that sounds like absolutely no other — a genius innovation of the once-unthinkable marriage of experimental nerd rap and dirty South crunk shit. And it's on a level all its own.

Open Mike Eagle Dark Comedy

Andy the Doorbum The Fool

D'Angelo and the Vanguard Black Messiah

Tinariwen Emmaar

Shabazz Palaces Lese Majesty

Koshface Jackson Old Man Strength

Hail Mary Mallon Bestiary

PRhyme PRhyme

Jason Feathers De Oro

— Erin Tracy-Blackwood

Flying Lotus You're Dead!

Nearly a half-century later, Miles Davis' landmark Bitches Brew — a series of slippery, snaky jams razor-bladed together by Ted Macero into a series of long, liquid grooves — is still so forward-thinking that it retains its freshness and mystery a decade deep in the 21st century. Flying Lotus is this generation's Miles Davis, and You're Dead! is his Bitches Brew. Elegantly careening through myriad moods and modes, You're Dead! pushes jazz, R&B, rap and electronic music forward at once. A 38-minute listen intended to be heard in sequence, its rich rewards and tricky secrets are revealed slowly upon subsequent listens. Fifty years from now, we'll still be marveling at it.

Lee Bains III & Glory Fires Dereconstructed

Grouper Ruins

Steve Gunn Way Out Weather

Hiss Golden Messenger Lateness of Dancers

Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2

Sturgill Simpson Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Sun Kil Moon Benji

Swans To Be Kind

Tycho Awake

(Results in alphabetical order, and subject to change)

— Patrick Wall

D'Angelo and The Vanguard Black Messiah

Black Messiah embodies a number of contradictions. While it doesn't quite deliver the goods worth a 14-year wait, the fact that we were all still waiting after 14 years is a testament to the sheer impact D'Angelo is capable of having on us. It's a little more experimental yet inexplicably less funky than Voodoo, but D'Angelo's songs are again a panacea to the over-produced, over-everything state of mainstream R&B music. In fact, no digital plug-ins were used in the recording, according to the liner notes. All of the recording, effects and mixing was done using tape and mostly vintage equipment. The tracks "The Charade," "1000 Deaths" and "Till It's Done (Tutu)" form a spine of socio-political consciousness through the album, but it's D'Angelo's smoky, full, baritone-to-falsetto crooning that washes over this album in layers and leaves us satisfied but wanting more.

Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2

Logic Under Pressure

The 1978ers People of Today

Damani Nkosi Thoughtful King

PRhyme PRhyme

J. Cole 2014 Forest Hills Drive

Homeboy Sandman Hallways

Mary J. Blige The London Sessions

Statik Selektah What Goes Around

— Emiene Wright

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