For all that's been said about how 2014 couldn't compare to 2013 in terms of album releases, it was one incredible year for music.
Of course, that makes year-end lists a brutal undertaking, because it seems there is no right answer when it comes to the "best albums." We did our best though.
As in previous years, we accepted reader feedback before ultimately narrowing down a list of 277 album picks between public and staff selections. We feel the final list of 50 is a reflection of the best this year had to offer, although it could have certainly been much longer.
Our 2014 year-end coverage will continue through the month of December with Artists of the Year, Best Songs of the Year and more, to be announced.
50 /// AB-SOUL - THESE DAYS…
The rapper proves he has the chops to play in the big leagues, although he seems to relish being an underdog. Nonetheless, this complex, nervy record solidifies his standing as a rising star.
49 /// THE ACID - LIMINAL
It’s easily one of the most captivating albums of the year. While mostly sleek and polished, it also delves into dark corners with fizzy soundscapes and raw emotion, which makes for an album that deserves multiple listens.
48 /// BETTY WHO - TAKE ME WHEN YOU GO
The Australian singer lived up to the hype in this glossy debut set. While not flawless in its articulation, the album exceeded expectations in many ways.
47 /// COMMON - NOBODY'S SMILING
It might not be his best work to date, but it comes off as an album he needed to make for himself, authentic and true. He intertwines very personal details with the troubles of Chicago, delivering some of the greatest storytelling of his career.
46 /// TINK - WINTER'S DIARY 2: FOREVER YOURS
The Chicago hip-hop songstress allowed herself to showcase her skills beyond rapping on this latest effort, which she self-released. If there was any doubt she’s one to watch, this record quashed such thoughts.
45 /// RYAN HEMSWORTH - ALONE FOR THE FIRST TIME
The Canadian producer didn’t waste much time after last year’s debut to release his next LP, but this one is something truly special. Wistful yet pleasant, a series of collaborations enhance the record without outshining its star. Ultimately, it leaves listeners craving more.
44 /// KIMBRA - THE GOLDEN ECHO
Coming off a GRAMMY win with one of the biggest songs of the digital age, Kimbra could have easily created a bunch of sugary Pop-Tarts hoping to please the masses. Instead, she looked inward and challenged herself, experimenting and retooling her sound, ultimately conceiving an unshakeable body of work.
43 /// S. CAREY - RANGE OF LIGHT
The Bon Iver drummer proved with this second solo project that he still has much more to offer, breaking beyond his past work and paving an entirely new road to follow. His sophomore set is a delectable piece that shines a spotlight on tiny details, allowing otherwise unnoticeable fragments to be front and center.
42 /// CHET FAKER - BUILT ON GLASS
The Australian electro-soul musician is said to have cut numerous songs over the years, hoping to refine what would ultimately become his debut album. The wait was clearly worth it, as this enchanting project more than justifies his quick international rise.
41 /// AZEALIA BANKS - BROKE WITH EXPENSIVE TASTE
Thanks to logistics and behind-the-scenes scuffles, this one arrived much later than expected. But the brassy singer delivered. With little notice, she finally dropped her debut album on her own terms and gave fans and critics alike a feast of delicious material that demands listeners’ attention.
40 /// LYKKE LI - I NEVER LEARN
The album was likely aiming for stratosphere, but even if it didn’t quite achieve such grand heights, it was in fact a bold and ambitious record. The Swedish songstress remained true to herself while exploring new emotional territory and finding new levels of confidence in the process.
39 /// HUNDRED WATERS - THE MOON RANG LIKE A BELL
The Florida outfit delivered shimmering melodies and blissful-yet-unpredictable layers on this record, experimenting with new sounds and carving out a larger space for themselves in the so-called “digital folk” world.
38 /// BLACK MILK - IF THERE'S A HELL BELOW
On this well-executed record, Curtis Cross (aka Black Milk) showcases stronger lyricism and more confident MC skills from his previous material. The Detroit rapper clearly paid attention to the smallest details and produced a truly satisfying LP.
37 /// JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW - POST TROPICAL
The Irish singer-songwriter took a left turn this time around, reshaping his folksy sound and taking a lot of sonic risks. But it paid off tremendously, marrying his haunting falsetto with lush production and lyricism that read like scripture.
36 /// DEPTFORD GOTH - SONGS
Daniel Woolhouse (aka Deptford Goth) showcases measureless talent in his second full-length, a profound and honest record. His stunning vocals reside warmly in minimized—and sometimes cold—production, a beautiful combination that validates his standing among the best.
35 /// JESSIE WARE - TOUGH LOVE
The singer embraced choruses and carefully-crafted hooks, but it never seemed counterfeit. Leaning on her shiny vocals and the savvy co-writing and production of Benny Blanco, it’s safe to say she’s still aiming for higher. And with this record, she achieved that.
34 /// NICK MULVEY - FIRST MIND
The British singer-songwriter’s solo debut is less of an album and more of an experience. At first glance, the record is simplistic, but there’s plenty of fire here. He’s earned the buzz he’s built and this LP cements that fact.
33 /// ST. VINCENT - ST. VINCENT
Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) may not yet be for the Saturday Night Live crowd, but this record demonstrated the musician’s widest appeal to date. Grittier and more imaginative, the album was also her most exciting.
32 /// SCHOOLBOY Q - OXYMORON
The rapper delivered a confident, precised record, largely driven by his own incredible craftsmanship. While he alludes to aiming for the “throne” in rap, this record seems to be more about proving he deserves to be in the game at all—which he does. And for the most part, he achieves his goal without gimmicks.
31 /// SOHN - TREMORS
British producer-songwriter Toph Taylor (aka SOHN) showed in his first full-length that he’s no James Blake or The Weeknd clone simply because he can produce and belt out a towering falsetto. From his haunting vocals to his flickering synths, he gave an outstanding opening argument.
30 /// TINASHE - AQUARIUS
The Los Angeles songstress proved she could perform earlier this year during her SXSW debut. But with her first full-length, she proved she could create an impeccable body of work.
29 /// FUTURE - HONEST
Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn (aka Future) stocked his major label debut with features from the likes of Pusha T, Pharrell and Kanye West. And it was perhaps the album’s greatest weakness, that the rapper allowed himself to be overshadowed at times. But when he takes the spotlight, he owns it. Fortunately, those moments outweigh the rest.
28 /// BEN HOWARD - I FORGET WHERE WE WERE
The British singer-songwriter followed up his Mercury Prize-nominated debut with a tonal shift and genuinely more astute record. No one would have blamed him for hanging on to remnants of his first LP, but instead he pushed himself outside of the box he previously made for himself.
27 /// GENERATIONALS - ALIX
New Orleans duo Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer (aka Generationals) didn’t make a perfect album, but it’s their most ambitious to date and the result is a sonic wonderland that thrusts the pair to new heights.
26 /// ROYAL BLOOD - ROYAL BLOOD
One of the best rock albums of the year, the self-titled debut serves as a muscular introduction for the British duo. A very lean album, it finds a way to bridge pop and rock without sacrificing gusto.
25 /// DELTA SPIRIT - INTO THE WIDE
The Brooklyn-based outfit shifted gears and produced one of the purest records of the year. It begs to be heard by a wider audience, but the core of the band’s sound remains in tact. Underneath pain and desperation, there is also clarity, making for the band’s organic progression.
24 /// PORTER ROBINSON - WORLDS
His debut full-length proved to challenge the standards set by his arena-filling peers, instead opting for fantasy and visions of electronic music that isn’t reliant on cut-and-paste formulas or hook-singing starlets. It isn’t perfect, but for a first album, it makes quite the impression.
23 /// PAOLO NUTINI - CAUSTIC LOVE
Nutini’s latest effort is the perfect example of what modern soul can be, having created an absolutely golden work of art. He could have easily dumbed himself down and chased a pop record, but this one fits like a glove.
22 /// JENNY LEWIS - THE VOYAGER
The former Rilo Kiley singer returned with her first solo album since 2008, showcasing honest storytelling embedded in wonderful, country-tinged melodies. Lewis’ songwriting is as great as ever and having production from Ryan Adams only allows that shine so much more.
21 /// RYAN ADAMS - RYAN ADAMS
This is the singer’s strongest album in years. Brimming with heartache and grit, the new material exudes a new level of confidence that is much-appreciated. It’s truly one outstanding set, from beginning to end.
20 /// GLASS ANIMALS - ZABA
The British quartet’s mesmerising debut was a dark horse this year, stocked with fuzzy, trippy sounds and equally intoxicating lyricism. This record proved to be art at its finest, a record that deserves to be heard from start to finish.
19 /// HOZIER - HOZIER
Led by breakout single “Take Me to Church,” Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne (aka Hozier) put out not only one of the year’s strongest debuts but strongest records—period. On the album’s other 12 tracks, he proves his success is no fluke, as his artistry gleams far beyond any hype. At only 24 years old, this should only be the beginning.
18 /// TENNIS - RITUAL IN REPEAT
In just a few short years, husband-and-wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley have evolved into one of indie music’s strongest outfits. Reuniting with The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney and adding production from Spoon’s Jim Eno and The Shins’ Richard Swift, the band has found its footing with a sparkling, self-confident LP that strikes just the perfect amount of risk.
17 /// CARIBOU - OUR LOVE
Dan Snaith (aka Caribou) waltzed into 2014 and released one of the year’s most vibrant records, lush with hypnotizing production and ambiguity. The record is bold, ambitious and quite personal, compared to Snaith’s previous work. It’s an album that easily plays over and over with new life in each listen.
16 /// BECK - MORNING PHASE
Described as a “companion piece” to Beck’s 12-year-old record, Sea Change, this album found a healthy balance of the familiar with a refreshing dose of newness. His lyrics are stronger, his confidence seems more stabile and there’s an aura of optimism not seen on the aforementioned record, for better or for worse. Nonetheless, this is a return to form in the best way possible.
15 /// SHARON VAN ETTEN - ARE WE THERE
Her latest full-length was one we’d been anticipating almost as soon as 2012’s Tramp arrived. Literally minutes into the record and until its breathtaking finish, it was so quietly compelling and truly profound. Somehow underneath the angst and heartache, there is real beauty.
14 /// SIA - 1000 FORMS OF FEAR
This was one of the most satisfying records of the year. Complete with creamy pop music, fiery vocals and bittersweet honesty, this record shines like a beacon amidst a sometimes murky musical landscape. It’s a shame Sia doesn’t like the spotlight, because she sure has a knack for creating songs built for stadiums.
13 /// APHEX TWIN - SYRO
Richard D. James returned to his Aphex Twin moniker after more than a decade and put out one glorious ensemble of sounds and nuances. Compiled like a series of codes and mysteries, the album unfolds in different ways after multiple listens, revealing different layers of James’ humor and genius throughout.
12 /// BANKS - GODDESS
If music was measured in Fahrenheit, this record would be 200º—not quite boiling but still so wonderfully sultry that it melts you in the best possible way. In what was one of the most astonishing debuts of the year, Jillian Banks (aka BANKS) proved she most certainly is a goddess. And one with staying power.
11 /// TAYLOR SWIFT - 1989
In a way, this album served as the pop star’s coming-of-age record. And there’s simply no denying, she’s as savvy a songwriter as there is right now in music. In terms of pure pop music, this is the crown jewel of 2014. Sorry, Nashville.
10 /// JACK WHITE - LAZARETTO
The former White Stripes packed anger and dark emotion into what is actually a rather fun breakup record. It’s brash and sincere, while proudly showcasing his Nashville influences. He certainly delivers the expected guitar riffs and plenty of grit, but he also makes clear he still has something to prove.
09 /// WEEZER - EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT IN THE END
This was finally the record Weezer fans had been hoping for, as even frontman Rivers Cuomo acknowledged past errors by making blatant attempts to win back longtime listeners who had perhaps given up on the band. It’s no Pinkerton, but maybe that’s a good thing. Writing about his various relationships (including that with his father), Cuomo expresses new optimism through some familiar, fuzzy rock sounds.
08 /// PERFUME GENIUS - TOO BRIGHT
Mike Hadreas (aka Perfume Genius) brilliantly balances moments of darkness and light from his own life on this record, confidently sharing some of his personal struggles while embracing his triumphs if not flaunting them. The end result is such a captivating experience.
07 /// FUTURE ISLANDS - SINGLES
On the band’s fourth album, the Samuel T. Herring-led Baltimore outfit make their case for festival main stages and national television appearances with their most daring effort. It’s perhaps strange that a band with decade-old origins is finally finding themselves, but with such determination, energy and theatrics, this one was worth the wait.
06 /// SAM SMITH - IN THE LONELY HOUR
While he’s since acknowledged he’s not as lonely as he was during the writing of this album, his pain and unrequited love is documented in such a vulnerable way that it makes the record so relatable. Supported by the singer’s soaring falsetto and sincere lyricism, it doesn’t flow as a cohesive story with a beginning, middle and end, but rather glimpses into his journal, revealing secrets while holding on to others.
05 /// LANA DEL REY - ULTRAVIOLENCE
In this second chapter of her career, the singer is clearly in the middle of an evolution. She’s not quite where she could be, but with the assistance of producer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, she thrives in some darker material about lost love and physically abusive relationships. Instead of running from her flaws and critics, she gladly lets the world peer through her windows and see her imperfections.
04 /// FLYING LOTUS - YOU'RE DEAD!
It was one of our most-anticipated albums of 2014 and Stephen Ellison (aka Flying Lotus) did not disappoint, dropping one of the most consistent records of the year while putting his talent on a full display with such confidence and precision. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have assistance from Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg, but Ellison’s work can and does stand on its own.
03 /// THE WAR ON DRUGS - LOST IN THE DREAM
It’s a spellbinding body of work that flows effortlessly, showcasing not only excellent rock music but such authentic lyricism. Adam Granduciel and Co. released a pretty much perfect album with this third studio effort, which tackles some of Granduciel’s own emotional struggles and heartache in a way that feels personal without overwhelming listeners.
02 /// FKA TWIGS - LP1
Tahliah Barnett (aka FKA twigs) has seamlessly transitioned from nameless dancer to commanding the spotlight with her moody, 10-track debut, which showcases her alluring vocal abilities wrapped in throbbing production. Although the record is stocked with shiny pop elements, it confidently follows a path of its own. And that’s what makes it stand out. From start to finish, it’s like a massive dose of pop from the future.
01 /// RUN THE JEWELS - RUN THE JEWELS 2
Sophomore albums can sometimes be tough, but Run the Jewels hardly flinched this time around. Instead, the duo created a stellar combination of grit, humor and passion, highlighted by some gripping, personal moments. Killer Mike and El-P truly outdid themselves with this one, standing justly above the competition. Delivering one punch after another with nothing else like it out in 2014, RTJ2 is easily one of the most powerful albums of the year—and not just in hip-hop.