40 Albums to Watch for in 2014

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Records, Vancouver Sleep Clinic & Dan Culver

Editor's Note: This story appeared in its original format in the Winter 2014 issue of Variance. Click here for the full version.

As we move past the GRAMMYs, next year's possible contenders are already making for a shiny new year.

While a Beyoncé-like surprise album may or may not be in the forecast this year, there are plenty of other records on the schedule. From newcomers like Sam Smith, SZA and Vancouver Sleep Clinic, to The Black Keys and Frank Ocean’s much-teased new sets, it will be a busy year. And we’re running down some of the most-anticipated new releases, which include Kanye West, Foo Fighters, Solange, St. Vincent, Grimes, Wye Oak and so many more.

Take a look below at some of the voices we're expecting big things from in 2014.


Following the release of her London EP, the Los Angeles singer-songwriter keeps us hanging on for more. Based on the handful of lustrous tracks she’s already released, she’s poised to make an enormous splash when she finally releases her debut album.

Sam Smith
He’s got arguably one of the brightest voices in music in years, and with consistent guest features on Disclosure and Naughty Boy tracks, the powerhouse vocalist and BRIT Awards Critics Choice winner is on course to have an amazing year.

The Black Keys
First, Dan Auerbach teased a new album would drop in spring 2013. Although that didn’t happen, the band has spent the last few weeks racking up headlining festival spots for 2014, suggesting new music is on the horizon.

Not much is yet known about the younger Knowles sister’s upcoming studio set, but after years of struggling to find her lane in the musical landscape, the 27-year-old neo-soul singer proved she’s only getting started with 2012’s extended play True.

Frank Ocean
While he briefly hinted that he might not release another album, the channel ORANGE crooner has been hard at work on his next record. He said early last year that he already had more than 10 tracks down. His appearances on new albums from Beyoncé, JAY Z and John Mayer confirm he’s been busy in the studio. And he’s mentioned that a new album could arrive in the summer.

ScHoolboy Q
Following the release of fellow Top Dawg Entertainment signee Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, the bar is certainly high. But Q’s forthcoming Oxymoron is shaping up to be one of the most-anticipated hip-hop sets of 2014. Fellow rapper Mac Miller has already heard the record and declared, “It’s better than Kendrick’s album."

St. Vincent
There are few others releasing incredible pop music like the multi-talented Annie Clark, known to fans as St. Vincent. Following a year of touring, she’s finally releasing new material in the form of a self-titled album on Feb. 25. Clark has referred to the set as “a party record you could play at a funeral."

Cloud Nothings
Frontman Dylan Baldi has previously hinted that the new record would be noisier than the band’s other three offerings. The album is already finished, although only a few fans have heard it, but it’s expected to arrive in the spring.

Modest Mouse
Following years of consistent touring, the band had left a new album on the back burner. However, they cancelled tour dates last summer in favor of finishing up a full-length. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic recorded on the new set and says it’s “pretty edgy.”

Fleet Foxes
Despite drummer Josh Tillman’s solo success with his Father John Misty project, new updates on social media suggest the band is ready to come back from its well-documented hiatus. Frontman Robin Pecknold’s October appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to pay tribute to Pearl Jam further built up anticipation for new material.

Chance the Rapper
The Chicago MC put his peers on notice with last year’s Acid Rap mixtape, which was arguably better than some of the full-fledged albums released. In addition to collaborations with the likes of Childish Gambino and Action Bronson, his “Life Round Here” remix with James Blake quickly turned heads. Now the two are expected to be living together and recording tons of new music.

Lily Allen
After years of silence, the British pop songstress made a boisterous return in November with new single “Hard Out Here,” in which she pretty much called out her contemporaries and gave a scathing commentary on pop culture, specifically regarding sexism. We’re watching for the full album sometime in the warmer months, and we expect it to be hot, hot, hot.

X Ambassadors
Having worked with producer Alex Da Kid and singer Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons (also groomed by Alex), songs like “Unconsolable” and “Love Songs Drug Songs” have demanded our attention. And the full-length debut from this New York outfit, whenever it does release, should be on your radar.

Ed Sheeran
Having covered the globe touring, including a massive trek with buddy Taylor Swift, the British singer-songwriter recently wrapped his sophomore album with power-producer Rick Rubin. He’s noted that he intends to add another song, but with a tour starting in October, he’s also promised the album will arrive before then.

Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl revealed last August that the new album was already written, vowing that it would be done "in a way that no one’s ever done before.” Of course, Beyoncé swept through shortly after that, raising the bar for album releases. Nonetheless, expect nothing short of extraordinary from this record.

Death Cab for Cutie
Shortly after his Postal Service reunion tour, Ben Gibbard assured fans that next up was new material from Death Cab. Through a series of Instagram updates, it’s clear the band has been holed up in the studio since October.

Kendrick Lamar
Just before his tour with Kanye West wrapped, Lamar said that he was heading back in the studio, where he’s been since the beginning of the year. Top Dawg is expected to release as many as six albums this year, one of which reportedly belongs to Lamar.

The California experimental pop duo comprised of vocalist Liz Nistico and producer-multi-instrumentalist Louie Diller began floating under the radar last year with tracks like “Happy with Me.” They’re expected to take things up a notch in March for SXSW, with a full-length—or at the least, an EP—sure to follow. Either way, these two are sure to skyrocket.

River Tiber
Toronto singer-producer River Tiber's (aka Tommy Paxton-Beesley) The Star Falls EP was some of the best music of last year, and the title track earned placement in our Top 50 Songs of 2013. But it all leads up to a full-length record, due to release this year.

Kanye West
The rapper-designer confidently said at the end of 2013 that he was already working on a new album for this summer, although he pointed out that it would probably be limited to about eight tracks. He also hasn’t ruled out a sequel to his JAY Z collab Watch the Throne.

Vancouver Sleep Clinic
All the way from Brisbane, Australia, newcomer Vancouver Sleep Clinic (aka Tim Bettinson) swept us away with his Bon Iver-influenced new single, “Collapse.” Since then, he’s toured with London Grammar and has landed a spot at this year’s SXSW. At the very least, he will be releasing an extended play.

Sharon Van Etten
The singer-songwriter has blossomed into a powerful force, and 2012’s Tramp further positioned her into the spotlight. With upcoming performances at SXSW and other dates, it’s becoming likely she’ll reign again in 2014.

Little Dragon
After about three years of touring, the Swedish indie outfit revealed last fall that they were tying up the loose ends for their fourth album, which includes a string quartet on several songs. This will be the first time outside musicians contributed to the band’s material. At last report, the group was aiming for a spring release.

Pharrell Williams
The man behind two of 2013’s stratospheric hits, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” is gearing up for his own solo album. Expectations are definitely high for the record, which reportedly will be light on rap. Expect Williams’ omnipresent, Beats Music-approved “Happy” to lead the charge on radio as the new LP nears.

Festival appearances and remixes aside, Claire Boucher (aka Grimes) has kept fans waiting for her new record. It does appear the stars are finally lining up for a 2014 release. But one thing is clear: anticipation for more of her fizzy, glow-pop delicacies has not been higher than it is right now.

Rick Ross
Mastermind floated around Twitter as nothing more than a hashtag for most of 2013, but after delays and legal battles, Ricky Rozay has assured his loyal followers that this will finally be the year. On the upside, he was hardly quiet last year, giving us a handful of new tracks and remixes.

Bassist Adam Clayton confirmed last fall that the band was finishing up its new album. The rockers are expected to make an announcement during the Super Bowl regarding the new set, of which Danger Mouse largely produced. Of course, some fans won’t like the rumored involvement of will.i.am and David Guetta.

Wye Oak
For the next album, the band is ditching the guitars and switching things up, which will certainly make for an interesting finished product. 2011’s Civilian was such an incredible record, and it’s hard not to imagine the new one meeting—or beating—expectations.

Flying Lotus
Only two years after the incredible Until the Quiet Comes and with a slew of collaborations to his name, Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus) has confirmed on Twitter that a new album is in the works.

Charli XCX
With several standout singles and her international, mega-hit collaboration with Icona Pop, “I Love it,” all eyes are on SuperLove, the singer’s forthcoming sophomore album. It’s expected to release in time to soundtrack your summer, she’s previously suggested.

The Decemberists
Frontman Colin Meloy said last fall that he had been “writing new material” specifically for the new album, insinuating it would be ready in the very near future. A couple of songs have already been performed live, and it’s clear this one could be the band’s most important record to date.

With two blazing tracks, “Julia” and “Teen Spirit,” the buzz of the blogosphere, the TDE R&B songstress is looking to make a fiery debut this year on the label that turned Kendrick Lamar into a household name.

Anticipation for the electrofunk duo’s new album is building, and now that we know it will feature contributions from Toro Y Moi's Chaz Bundick, Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, Solange and others, White Women already sounds like a winner.

Jamie N Commons
A year after his Alex Da Kid-produced Rumble and Sway EP, the British blues singer has opened for Bruce Springsteen and collabed with Eminem for The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Now, it’s his turn to stun the world.

After bursting into the spotlight with unforgettable collaborations with Drake, SBTRKT and Jessie Ware, the Young Turks singer is expected to release a full-length album later this year. And he should plan to spend a lot more time outside of London as music lovers across the globe realize his vigor.

Rising electro-soul composer Matthew Hemerlein (aka Lo-Fang) is set to release his debut album, Blue Film, on 4AD in February. And it’s sure to be full of more of the stirring, sexy sounds that inspired breakout artist Lorde to invite him on her upcoming spring tour.

Azealia Banks
Ladies and gentlemen, it finally looks like we’ll be getting that long-promised debut album this year. Following its neverending delay, Banks had too much time to pick fights on Twitter. But she’s since revealed that it will arrive in March, hopefully making the music her mission this year.

Foster the People
After laying low for a few years, the former indie-cult favorite revealed last fall that it was finished with a new full-length that frontman Mark Foster calls a “brave record.” With a new sound, this new material should hit retailers in March.

Porter Robinson
From intimate venues to mammoth festival stages and a headlining tour, Variance FutureSounds alum Robinson isn’t sitting at the kids’ table anymore. And with a brand new record on the horizon, we’re watching for him to expand his prominence this year.

The British songbird and FutureSounds alumna is coming off a fantastic year after collaborations with Rudimental and Fall Out Boy. And then there was her top 10 hit “Clarity” with Zedd. Now it’s her time to shine, and she’s aiming to release her Glorious album in March, just weeks before her 25th birthday.