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Great music has come from just about every corner of the musical map this year, and on this list of our favorites of the year’s first half, there’s no real connecting thread. An ambitious all-over-the-place album from a big-money Nashville country mainstay is just as likely to rule as, say, a mixtape from a pair of Atlanta rap weirdos, or a Southern doom-metal trudge, or a sparkling and breezy piece of conceptual dance music, or a gut-ripping neo-folk record. But in our top three, you’ll find two heavy, sprawling slabs of death-obsessed darkness from songwriters who are decades into their careers but who are just hitting new strides now. If those made up our top two, we might be tempted to call this the Year of the Craggy Old Bastard. But right between them, there’s an effortlessly listenable album of lightly stoned ’80s radio-rock. So you figure it out. Nothing in music this year makes a lot of sense, but a lot of it is great anyway.

Comments (253)
  1. So these are my honorable mentions:

    Hannah Diamond & A. G. Cook – “Keri Baby”/“Attachment”/“Pink & Blue”
    Nmesh – Dream Sequins®
    Liars – Mess
    Kishi Bashi – Lighght
    PUP – PUP

    • My honorable mentions:

      Bob Mould – Beauty & Rain
      School Of Language – Old Fears
      Linda Perhacs – The Soul Of All Natural Things
      Crow Bait – Sliding Through The Halls Of Fate
      Tom Vek – Luck

    • Honorable mentions, Chris DeVille edition:

      Happyness – Weird Little Birthday
      Saintseneca – Dark Arc
      Young & Sick – Young & Sick
      Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else
      Tomas Barfod – Love Me
      Alex G – DSU

      And if EPs were eligible, I would give so much love to Nai Harvest’s Hold Open My Head.

    • My honorable mentions are:

      Wild Beasts – Present Tense
      The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits
      Young Widows – Easy Pain
      Nothing – Guilty Of Everything
      Tony Molina – Dissed And Dismissed
      The Horrors – Luminous
      Mark McGuire – Along The Way

      • Yes. Tomorrow’s Hits and Luminous are in my top 20

      • Mine:

        Pharrell – G I R L
        Wovenhand – Refractory Obdurate
        Vince Staples – Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2
        Lil Herb – Welcome To Fazoland
        Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso

      • “.. in our top three, you’ll find two heavy, sprawling slabs of death-obsessed darkness from songwriters who are decades into their careers but who are just hitting new strides..”

        Totally thought you pushed Triptykon into the top three hahaha
        Also, totally agree with The Men.

    • Can I join in here?

      I’d say at Sylvan Esso, The Horrors, and Bleeding Rainbow deserve honorable mentions as well.

      • Fuck! Thanks, Mick. You just reminded me that Bleeding Rainbow and Eagulls both deserve honorable mention too. They didn’t make the cut in our voting, but I blast both of them quite frequently.

      • Yeah, how is Sylvan Esso not on this list?! Such a good album and they put on a pretty sweet live show as well.

    • Didn’t contribute to this list but here’s my top 10 in some kind of order but not really:

      Small Wonder – Wendy
      Sharpless – The One i Wanted To Be
      Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire
      EMA – The Future’s Void
      Frankie Cosmos – Zentropy/Affirms Glinting
      Jawbreaker Reunion – Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club
      Quarterbacks – Quarterboy
      Bellows – Blue Breath
      Makthaverskan – II
      Antarctigo Vespucci – Soulmate Stuff

      Also s/o to Roof Doctor, Krill, Couples Counseling, Warpaint, the Orchid tape comp, other things I’m sure I forgot because I gave this two minutes of thought… it’s been a good year so far.

      • Same here, I’ll play too:

        The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
        Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
        EMA – The Future’s Void
        Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything
        Wye Oak – Shriek
        St. Vincent – St. Vincent
        Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
        Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours
        The Horrors – Luminous
        And then probably LDR’s Ultraviolence; haven’t spent as much time with it yet, but “West Coast” is easily one of my favorite songs of the year.

        And then honorable shout outs to Courtney Barnett’s re-release, Nothing’s Guilty of Everything, and I Break Horse’s Chiaroscuro, which also has another one of my favorites this year with “Ascension.”

      • My favorites, also in no particular order:

        The Antlers – Familiars
        Sun Kil Moon – Benji
        Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
        Ben Frost – A U R O R A
        Wovenhand – Refractory Obdurate
        A Silver Mt Zion – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (major omission on this list, imo)
        Wild Beasts – Present Tense (ditto)
        Ought – More Than Any Other Day
        The Afghan Whigs – Do to the Beast

        Honorable mentions to some albums I liked, but think are a step below:

        Warpaint – Warpaint
        Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams
        Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything
        Alcest – Shelter
        Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else (though I feel as if I need to spend more time with this one, it might grow on me yet)

    • my honorable mentions :

      lykke li – i never learn
      skaters – manhattan
      damon albarn – everyday robots
      leo welch – sabougla voices
      warpaint – warpaint
      flaming lips – 7 skies h3 (record store day edition)
      tycho – awake
      jack white – lazaretto
      sculpture – membrane pop
      first aid kit – stay gold
      woods – with light and love
      mark e – product of industry
      inventions – inventions
      temples – sun structures
      francis harris – minutes of sleep
      phantogram – voices
      stephen malkmus – wig out at jag bags
      avey tares slasher flicks
      tobacco – ultima ii massage

  2. Woo, I love mid-year list season! I think it’s been a great year for music so far even if nothing has blown me away. Great list Stereogum, nothing is conspicuously absent and great if obvious choice for #1. I’m sure debates will ensue regardless tho.

  3. My top 5 so far this year (for anyone interested):

    -St. Vincent, by St. Vincent
    -Lost in the Dream, by the War on Drugs
    -Pinata, by Freddie Gibbs/Madlib
    -Morning Phase, by Beck
    -Mess, by Liars

    Good year so far, albeit not quite as mind-blowingly overstuffed as 2013.

  4. Wild Beasts, Mac DeMarco, Schoolboy Q, Tokyo Police Club, Xiu Xiu

  5. salad says?

  6. Was going to check this out, until I saw your horrid “slider” design that required 50 clicks.

  7. Big misses:

    Salad Days – Mac DeMarco
    Present Tense – Wild Beasts

    • My kingdom for “Salad Days” and “Present Tense” to be on this list. Not just top 50, but top 10.

      Also Isaiah Rashad’s “Cilvia Demo” and, call me crazy, but I loved Manchester Orchestra’s “Cope.”

  8. I can’t see anything being better than Swans at this point. The Antlers would rank second, followed by Woods, and Cloud Nothings. After that it’s pretty much anyone’s game.

  9. Thee oh Sees, Drop.

  10. My honorables:

    The Horrors – Luminous
    Wild Beasts – Present Tense
    Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
    Dum Dum Girls – Too True
    Hospitality – Trouble

  11. Ought – More Than Any Other Day should be on this list. Otherwise pretty solid list

  12. Thanks for sharing this list. I’ll give Elbow’s Takeoff and Landing… and Bombay Bicycle Club’s So Long, See You Tomorrow a shout-out. The latter especially is vibrant and moving.

  13. tells me I have listened to the new Warpaint album 175 times. I’d be surprised if anything tops that.

  14. I love how much metal is on here. That Nux Vomica record rules.

  15. I hope this is the only best of list I ever see Ghost Stories on. Glad to see Alcest and Pure X on here though.

    • I wouldn’t worry about it too much, this is really the only site that takes Coldplay as seriously as they want to be taken anymore. I don’t think that record was positively received anywhere else, as in, really, anywhere.

  16. Woods?
    Mac Demarco?
    Hundred Waters?
    Perfect Poosy better than Beck?

    My picks (no order):

    Beck – Blue Moon
    Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like a Bell
    Mimicking Birds – Eons
    Morgan Delt – s/t
    Mac Demarco – Salad Days
    Pure X – Angel
    Real Estate – Atlas
    Snowbird – Moon
    Tune-yards – Nikki Nack
    Riff Raff – Neon Icon
    Woods – With Light and with Love

    • Hundred Waters! Their new album completely blindsided me, I wasn’t anticipating it at all, but now it’s easily the album I listen to the most. The ‘gum staff has been sleeping on them!

      • Yeah, it’s great. I liked the s/t a lot, but this is definitely a marked improvement, which took me a couple of spins to realize/appreciate. A super mature album from such a young group. There are so many great vocal melodies throughout, really tasteful arrangements/atmospherics and her voice is just beautiful. I hope their unlikely success continues and that they get to keep making more gorgeous art on an ever-grander scale.

    • this actually looks like it is in alphabetical order.

  17. This list should include:
    Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield
    Sleeper Agent – About Last Night
    Young The Giant – Mind Over Matter

  18. Trust – “Joyland”
    EMA – “The Future’s Void”
    St. Vincent – “St. Vincent”
    Damon Albarn – “Everyday Robots”
    Thee Silver Mt. Zion – “Fuck Off Get Free…”
    Mogwai – “Rave Tapes”

  19. With the grid view I thought for a moment that The War On Drugs was number one. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sun Kil Moon, but, my oh my, Lost in the Dream, what else can I say that wasn’t said before? It’s a masterpiece, no less.

    So my top 5 so far would be :
    - The War On Drugs
    - Swans
    - Tune-yards
    - Woods of Desolation
    - Against Me
    (with St Vincent and EMA not far behind)

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  21. I love these lists for discovering new music and playing my own little game of “Is it a Metal Band?”. I think I went 10 for 10 this time. Still got it…

    Also, what does “Art-damaged” mean?

  22. There are a lot of things here that I really enjoyed this past semester: The War on Drugs (my favorite record so far), Against Me!, Alcest and Parquet Courts come to mind.
    My honorables would include two of Tim Cohen’s latest efforts: Magic Trick’s River of Souls and The Fresh and Onlys’ House of Spirits. Tim is a talented songwriter and I think his songs are always reliable. These records will probably not be listed in many people’s best-of-the-year lists but I’m pretty sure they’re as good as anything Lana Del Rey will put out this year.

  23. No “Salad Days”?? Can’t take this list seriously

  24. Wow can’t believe how low St. Vincent is. Personally I think that album kicks the shit out of everything on this list outside of the top three.

    • Also shocked that Freddie Gibbs & Madlib didn’t make the cut while the Coldplay and Lana Del Rey albums both did (ahead of St. Vincent?!?!?!?). Ok, now that I got that off my chest I can stop being the asshole posting stupid comments about how wrong he thinks the list is.

      • No you’re totally right. But it’s been clear since their less-than-enthusiastic initial reception that the ‘Gum editors are just not feeling St. Vincent’s album. It’s strange to me since this site is all about toeing the line between pop and indie/experimental music, and IMO St. Vincent is doing that better than anyone right now. And yeah, opinions are opinions, but from an editorial perspective it does bother me that the writers are giving the hard push to artists like LDR, Paramore, and Coldplay while more or less sleeping on one of music’s most vibrant innovators. Not that there’s anything wrong with the previous trio, but I think the millions dumped into their marketing campaigns is plenty…

        • coldplay was included in this list for the sake of controversy/comments, gum loves to do this with pop records everyone knows suck come lists time, just ignore it

  25. Body Count – Manslaughter.

  26. My Top 5 (NPO):
    Mac Demarco
    War on Drugs
    Parquet Courts

    Runner up:
    Future Islands

    Currently listening to this new Lana Del Rey thing and it’s doing stuff to my feelings.

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  28. Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams
    Mac DeMarco – Salad Days (obv)
    Ought – More Than Any Other Day
    Each Other – Being Elastic
    Liars – Mess
    Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust

    • Yes to both Liars and CVG, who both stepped up their game on these albums. I’ll add Trust’s Joyland and Chromeo’s White Women and two more kick-ass Canadian entries that were overlooked!

  29. Wow, no Wild Beasts? Otherwise it’s a pretty good list, though I seem to be alone in not caring at all for Real Estate. I trust The Antlers will be there somewhere in the end-of-the-year round-up, since the album only officially came out today, it’s fantastic stuff.

  30. I loved Benji when it came out, but I can’t really listen to it much, it’s just too heavy. I like wallowing in my misery as much as anybody else, but god damn. Maybe when winter rolls around again.


    PUP- self-titled
    Tiger’s Jaw- Charmer
    Big Ups- Eighteen Hours of Static
    Kool A.D.- Word OK

    • Thank you for mentioning Work OK! That record has been slept on so much. Kool A.D. has had such a consistent output that seems to increase in quality every time he releases something new.

    • Totally agree about Benji. It’s so heavy and so dense with allusions and whatnot that it’s kind of a slog to listen to the whole thing. I know that’s an unfair criticism and at the end of the day its a great album but I can’t put it in my top for the year if it just isn’t listenable.

  31. I cannot get into the new Real Estate. I loved Days, but for some reason, Atlas just bores the hell out of me. Don’t understand all the love for that one.

    Also, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib and Ought are notable omissions, two of my favorites this year. I would also include the new Tobacco, Torn Hawk, and c l e a n e r s.

    Glad to see Protomartyr and Actress made the list.

  32. Parquet Courts was a disappointment, in my opinion. Too many shout-y songs, not enough melody or good riffs. All the songs on the debut either had great hooks (Master of my Craft, Caster of Worthless spells, Light up Gold, Yonder is Closer to the Heart, N Dakota, BORROWED TIME), or great riffs (STONED AND STARVING, Careers in Combat, Yr No Stoner), but this one has little of either, besides Instant Disassembly, which is awesome. But I still have to listen to it more.

    But Liars’ Mess should be here. Solid album.

  33. St Vincent outta be a bit higher but I’m pleased about EMA.

  34. Mac DeMarco
    Yellow Ostrich
    Doug Tuttle
    Broken Bells
    Future Islands
    War On Drugs

  35. Eric Church, lol.

  36. Ida put another vote in for Nothing – Guilty of Everything.

  37. Pixies-inspired cover of a list they’re nowhere near. You prankesters.

  38. St. Vincent is way too low!

    For me:

    01 St. Vincent – St. Vincent
    02 Swans – To Be Kind
    03 Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
    04 Future Islands – Singles
    05 Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like a Bell
    06 Owen Pallett – In Conflict
    07 Wye Oak – Shriek
    08 Lykke Li – I Never Learn
    09 Tune-yards – Nikki Nack
    10 Wild Beasts – Present Tense
    11 EMA – The Future’s Void
    12 Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
    13 Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
    14 Baths – Ocean Death EP
    15 Liars – Mess
    16 Royksopp and Robyn – Do It Again EP
    17 East India Youth – Total Loss Forever
    18 Warpaint – Warpaint
    19 The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
    20 Savages – Fuckers/Dream Baby Dream

    • Encountering another East India Youth fan fills me with happiness, even if you did get the album title wrong. :3 ‘Heaven How Long’ is one of the best songs I’ve heard all year.

      • Haha, busted! Maybe it’s all the HTDW I’ve been playing in anticipation of the new album (his last one was “Total Loss”).

        “Heaven” is a perfect song, I also have gotten great mileage out of “Dripping Down.”

  39. The new Bleeding Rainbow album is very good and should definitely be on here, but the fact that Eagulls were left off is downright shameful. That is a flawless album. It reminds me a lot of Idlewild at their rocking peak, like their 100 Broken Windows-era stuff. Albums like that don’t come around often, and Stereogum hyped Eagulls plenty leading up to the release, so what gives?

  40. Wolf shout out to: Woods, Tobacco, Sevendeaths, Torn Hawk, Tycho, Mark McGuire, Mas Ysa, Badbadnotgood, and Trust. OWWWOOOOOOOO!

  41. Related: what is everyone anticipating for Q3 and Q4?

    How to Dress Well
    Kanye West
    James Blake
    Jessie Ware
    Twin Shadow
    Frank Ocean

    I’ve heard whispers about new Beach House & Bat for Lashes too, that definitely interests me.

    • Pretty much identical to my anticipated list except swap out Grimes and Jessie Ware for Kendrick and Chance.

    • Shabazz Palaces & Run The Jewels 2

    • Goddamn it’s pretty much the same for me. I like how the second half of this year looks to be stylistically very different from the first half of this year (welcome back 2012!)… which is pretty refreshing.

      I’m cautiously optimistic about Kendrick & Chance, loved their last projects though.

      • Yep, a lot my 2K12 faves are up to bat, and it’s exciting because a lot of those artists have not only had great break-out records, but made good on the promise of those break-out records with great follow-ups. At this point, I count myself as a fan of those artists and am just excited to see where they go next; to me that’s a lot more exciting than just wondering if a newly hyped artist is going to make good on their buzz.

    • Where did you hear about Bat For Lashes? I’m up for that.

      I’m seriously looking forward to Frank’s new record; I played Channel Orange back a few times this week and damn it has aged well. I think in 4-5 years time it may just end up being in my top 10 favourite records ever.

      Your list is good, but it is missing Banks and FKA Twigs.

      I’ve heard rumours of a new Erykah Badu record in comments as well, but not found a source for it.

      • Turns out, my source for BfL was Stereogum; she’s #27 on their “most anticipated records of 2014″ list, nothing more concrete than that, though.

        Incidentally, I was jamming to Channel Orange in my car today. It’s still a beautiful record.

  42. I’m calling it: The Hotelier’s “Home, Like Noplace Is There” is going to be the most criminally overlooked/underappreciated album of 2014. You all should carve out 40 minutes of your time to listen to it. It will blow you away. Here it is in full:

    Other than that, I like a lot of these picks!

  43. Salad Days and Word OK have been the only albums I have consistently returned to this year. I figured at least Mac would make the cut.

  44. 1. War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
    2. The Woods – With Light and With Love
    3. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

    I don’t just listen to straight-forward rock music…but it seems like, maybe this year, I do.

  45. Wild Beasts really should have been on this list — massive oversight.

  46. With the exception of Benji and Glass Boys, that top 10 is radically different than mine. The list itself isn’t, as I do enjoy the records on this list that I’ve heard in varying degrees (except Ultraviolence, Honest, My Krazy Life, and Ghost Stories, none of which I enjoyed at all), but I would rearrange.

    But really, Benji is some next level shit and it’s the obvious number 1.

  47. I’m going to attempt a level-headed discussion on Sun Kil Moon’s placement. Moreso, it’ll be a conversation about “What qualities does a #1 album have?”

    Based on p4k’s 9.2 and Stereogum’s #1 ranking here at the half-way mark, it’s looking like “Benji” is the best album we’ve heard so far in 2014. I’d never listened to Sun Kil Moon before, but I heard “Benji” and can’t disagree with the high praise it has received. There is no other album this year, or in many years (aside from SKM himself) that has such vivid story telling. They’re so good, we feel Mark’s personal stories as though they were are own. That alone is enough to launch into the upper echelon of albums that have been released this year. But here comes the rub…

    It’s not versatile. You could make the same complaint toward Swans. They’re both POWERFUL works of music, but you can’t exactly toss a copy to your friend asking you, “What should I be listening to?” I’m not going to recommend Swans or Sun Kil Moon to one of my casual friends I meet outside of the Internet. I KNOW that they’re incredible albums, but they require the right setting and mood to properly understand. THAT aspect is what I want to discuss. How much should that matter when “ranking” albums? Should an album that you can throw a copy at ANYBODY (War on Drugs) be ranked higher than an album you need to wait until its dark and listen to alone (Swans)?

    I’m not dissing any of these choices. I think Swans, War on Drugs and Sun Kil Moon are all Top 5 Albums of 2014. But I’d put War on Drugs at #1 for its versatility alone. The fact I can toss a copy of “Lost In The Dream” to any of my friends, my family, some hobo on the street knowing that they will probably LOVE IT means more to ME when ranking albums. But that’s just my opinion, man.

    Let’s try to work out a consensus here. What matters to you? Is YOU loving an album the only thing that matters? Or does you AND everyone you know loving the album mean something more? Or is it objective, and a great album just is or isn’t?

    Step up to the plate people. Take a swing. What do you think?

    • I don’t follow your logic. Why is Pitchfork’s score so important? At Metacritic, Benji has an 85, which is a great average score, but there are at least a dozen albums with comparable or better scores. And Swans *also* got a 9,2 from Pitchfork, so if that’s the holy grail of music criticism as far as you’re concerned, it’s still a tie.

      But let me answer your questions: what does an AOTY have to have? To me one thing an AOTY should do is represent the year it is made in while having the potential to age well. That means it has to reflect (or at least react to) the current state of music while also not being a slave to trends. As solid as the songwriting and arrangements on “Benji” and “Lost in the Dream” are, I don’t feel that straight ahead folk-rock is where music is at right now and it’s just hard for me to say that those albums capture what is exciting about music in 2014. Now if someone disagrees with this “relevance” criteria, or simply thinks its less important than other criteria, then sure, those are fine choices for an AOTY.

      Now that is obviously not *sufficient* to be AOTY, but I do think it is necessary. Other things that matter to me are songwriting, ambition, novelty, uniqueness. I do think there should be some degree of consensus that the album is a great album, but there are dozens of albums released every year that get predominantly four and five star reviews,and I think any of those albums are reasonable choices even if they don’t get BNM’ed by Pitchfork.

      As far as I’m concerned St. Vincent has still made the year’s best album in terms of focused, consistent songwriting and forward-thinking production and arrangement. Every song is great or excellent. Swans gets my vote for the sprawling, visionary tour-de-force AOTY. The album is obviously much less easy to listen to and does as much as it can to subvert the idea of “songwriting” as we know it.

      • And again, not trying to hate on War on Drugs because I think they made a powerful rock album at a time when such albums are in short supply, but I also disagree that anyone you gave that album to would love it. To a lot of people, that kind of rock music just sounds dated and boring. I find that view sad and think those people are missing out, but hey, rock music is not at the center of popular music right now and everyone knows that. So I think you just have to presume we’re talking about open minded listeners who will not rule out an album just based on its genre or tone. The fact is, many more people will hear and enjoy Coldplay’s new album than the War on Drugs, and I think if you gave those albums out to people at random on the street, more people would like Coldplay because its just easier for people to digest. That should not count for Coldplay or against War on Drugs IMO, just as the fact that Swans made a difficult album should not count against them.

        • I have to say I was just as surprised as anyone that Benji made the number one spot. its not an album that I listen to a lot like someone said earlier, its more for those reserved moments with yourself or late night drives. I will say though that I’ve never felt more connected to a songwriter than within the lyrics of “I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same” especially when he mentions his impression of Bron-Yr-Aur. Also “Carissa” is just so hauntingly beautiful that anybody who enjoys traditional singer songwriter music will be pleased. But with all that being said do I think it deserves the best album of the year? No. To me the album of the year should be something I can listen to at anytime, is accessible to most listeners, and shows the most growth or promise in a band. I’d be happy with Lost In Dream as number one and Benji at two but to be completely honest this list is all jumbled for me. I found myself raising eyebrows to a lot of the albums that beat some of my favorite. Also Lost In Dream is worlds away the best War On Drugs album, they really nailed it this year.

      • So happy to see this conversation develop. Let me clarify a couple points and corral some of the great opinions pointed out so far.

        First off, I did not mean to give significant importance to p4k’s score. They don’t do a “Best of 2014 So Far” list so the best we can do is look at what are the highest scores they’ve given to albums to deduce what we think their #1 would be. So yeah, it would be either Swans or Sun Kil Moon. I’m DEFINITELY not calling their scores the holy grail. That’s a huge exaggeration. I was merely pointing out that two of the biggest music blogs (p4k & stereogum) seem to be at consensus that Sun Kil Moon and Swans are two of the best albums released this year. That’s it.

        Now to some choice quotes that have been made on what constitutes an AOTY:

        “To me one thing an AOTY should do is represent the year it is made in while having the potential to age well.” ~dansolo

        I think this is a great one. We’re looking for a timeless album that couldn’t have been made any other year. I think War on Drugs will stand the test of time (it is their best album to date) but it doesn’t really scream 2014.

        “To me the album of the year should be something I can listen to at anytime, is accessible to most listeners, and shows the most growth or promise in a band.” ~the loop digga

        I’ll go backwards. The showing growth in the particular band is very relevant. When was the last time a band’s debut album was AOTY? Well, if you’re NME then Bloc Party comes to mind. Point is it doesn’t happen often. We tend to want to acknowledge bands that have had great debuts and managed to make greater follow-ups. That’s harder to achieve and deserves extra praise. I think accessibility is important, but dansolo made a good point that if that was the case, Coldplay would be cracking the Top 10. I’m beginning to question that quality, but it is really nice when there is an album we like and so do our friends. Then the personal side of listening to it whenever. That’s important as it’s very special when an album can fit into whatever you’re doing, no matter the circumstances. I call those “default albums” as when I don’t know what else to listen to, I default back to whichever great album has my ear.

        “For me, AOTY tends to be more than anything a personal thing. It’s usually a mix of it being a great album that usually suits previous tastes, but also when the album drops, which kind of dictates how much time I’ll spend with the album. It’s really not an objective process.” ~world_on_a_string

        Timing is certainly a concern. An album being released at the onset of summer (Vampire Weekend last year) or at the end of winter can really help define that specific year and resonate for years to come. Plus, how many times have you thought that certain albums got AOTY just because they came out in October/November? I concur with personal taste too. If a certain album lands in your lap at just the right moment, who is to say that isn’t your AOTY? Going forward in life, if that album will define that year, then you can’t be wrong. And speaking of personal taste…

        “I believe that music is greatest when experienced intimately — when a deep emotional understanding is made between the artist and the listener, or when you’re laying in bed with a loved one where the only thing closer to your ears than the music are your partner’s breaths. These are albums of the year.” ~Wesley Morgan Paraham

        How can you argue that? THAT is why we listen to music. For those leveling emotional experiences. It truly is a personal experience, which supports world_on_a_string’s point that it is NOT an objective process. Also it’s reassuring that a huge “Benji” supporter can even admit this album isn’t for everybody, which makes me conclude that versatility shouldn’t be used to rank albums. See that? You guys changed my mind. Amazing what a level-headed conversation can do.


        • I think that it depends on who’s making the list. If the list just represents you than of course the top album should be the one that resonated most with you. But if you’re making a list to represent a group of writers (like Stereogum and Pitchfork) then I think the individual writers should be willing to compromise and pick an album that they all agree is amazing and is more “versatile” but that might not be their personal favourite. Lets take 2013 as an example year. A Yeezus or a Modern Vampires makes sense as the top pick for Stereogum and Pitchfork (since they are great, relatively accessible, and well known) while Virgins (great, inaccessible, not well known) does not. By that same token it makes perfect sense for Virgins to be top spot for Anthony Fantano since he’s just one dude.

          • It’s a necessary distinction to make. It’s why these comment threads will always be hot beds for opinions since it is everybody’s personal tastes versus a compromised list.

        • My thoughts:

          I ranked Savages ‘Silence Yourself’ as my #1 record of 2013, and Vampire Weekend’s ‘Modern Vampires…’ as #2. Thing is, my copy of ‘Silence Yourself’ is pretty pristine. I’ll throw it on occasionally, but such a loud, angry album needs a specific mood. It’s fucking supercharged when I play it, but my copy of ‘Modern Vampires’ has scratches from consistent rotation and the sleeve has creases from where I’ve taken it to friend’s houses to play it. For me, this is what I thought when you said ‘versatility’ – not so much that you could throw it at anybody and they might appreciate it, but the fact I can happily listen to a record over and over without needing a specific mood or setting which makes it almost synonymous with a certain period of time for me. Hence it becomes AoTY.

          In fact, I may actually reverse my ranking of those 2 albums. Sure, Silence Yourself leaves me awestruck. But ‘Modern Vampires’ is kind of synonymous with that period of my life now; I remember singing along to ‘Step’ in the middle of the wilderness, through a single earbud on an airplane, blasted through my own speakers at full volume, spinning in the background at a friend’s house… As such, I think it may only be possible to define the true AoTY once it has had time to sink in. It helps that ‘Modern Vampires’ was such a seminal record of course.

        • “When was the last time a band’s debut album was AOTY?”

          Fleet Foxes

    • For me, AOTY tends to be more than anything a personal thing. It’s usually a mix of it being a great album that usually suits previous tastes, but also when the album drops, which kind of dictates how much time I’ll spend with the album. It’s really not an objective process.

      This year when Lost in the Dream dropped, it was toward the tail-end of a truly miserable winter and I was spending too much time in the car. Between March and April I probably listened to it 2-3 times a day. Sort of a similar situation with Kurt Vile in 2013. I spent most of the spring, all summer, and much of the fall cooped up at work with my headphones on and would listen to WOAPD three times through before I realized I’d done so. Now, there are many other reasons why I love love love these two albums, but I’m really not sure they would have had the impact they have had if they didn’t fall into my lap at the time they did.

      • OK I just thought about something else that involves timing.

        What about albums that we don’t hear until after the year they were released? I’ll use Blood Orange’s “Cupid Deluxe” as an example.

        I listened to “Cupid Deluxe” when it came out in November of 2013, liked some songs, and then moved on. I started listening to it again this year in preparation of his Coachella set and started liking it more and more. Then I saw him live and realized that album was actually phenomenal. But now it’s 2014. Chances are at the end of this year, I’m going to look back and happily recall the time I spent with “Cupid Deluxe” even though I was a year late. But given what I’ve discovered this year, I have to consider “Cupid Deluxe” as one of the better albums of 2013, even though I have little to no memories of it in that year.

        It happens too when year-end lists happen. You see some albums ranked high that you passed on during the year, listen, then realize you made a Gob Bluth huge mistake. I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this, but I feel like it’s something that’s happened to everybody here. I guess the oldest example I can remember is in January of 2005 looking at p4k’s top albums of 2004, looking at #1 and going, “Hmmm, I wonder what these Arcade Fires are all about…”

        • Yes! That happens too often. When it does, on one hand I’m glad that I’m ecstatic about a “new” piece of music, but on the other hand a little disappointed about either writing it off initially, or just missing out on some good, productive discourse while it was hot off the press. That happened with Cut Copy’s Zonoscope, and it wasn’t until summer 2012 that the album became my jam.

          Year end lists are great for that too, but then I feel every December I’m playing catch-up on stuff I missed and sometimes end up not giving due attention to some things that are really great, like Bill Callahan last year, or Chromatics the year before.

          Good point about live versions of songs, too. Sometimes the songs resonate more in a live setting and then the album makes a bit more sense listening afterward. White Denim did that for me once I finally had the chance to see them blow the roof off a venue back last October.

        • “What about albums that we don’t hear until after the year they were released? I’ll use Blood Orange’s “Cupid Deluxe” as an example.”

          Happened to me with Courtney Barnett. That album will prob sound like spring 2014 for me for quite some time, even though it apparently came out last year.

    • You’re so spot on about Benji. The only friends of mine I’ve recommended the album to are other melancholy bastards who enjoy listening to music that makes them sad. It’s not for a casual listener, or even a steadfast listener who isn’t emotional. But then again, I don’t think being versatile is a trait that an obvious contender for Album of the Year needs to have. I believe that music is greatest when experienced intimately — when a deep emotional understanding is made between the artist and the listener, or when you’re laying in bed with a loved one where the only thing closer to your ears than the music are your partner’s breaths. These are albums of the year. Usually the albums that perfectly match those situations are the ones that most of your friends are either going to be totally indifferent towards or just hate.

      Also, doesn’t matter if an Album of the Year represents where trends in music currently are, because trends are ultimately doomed. An AOTY honestly shouldn’t represent the best of a trend if necessary, because then that year would be defined by something fleeting. Benji will be powerful forever, and only a handful of records like that get released in a year, if any.

      So you know what? Fuck ‘em. If you want versatility, go listen to Coldplay, which apparently Stereogum writers think is great now.

      • When given the option of listening to Coldplay or not ranking albums based on versatility, I go with changing how I rank albums every time.

        • BTW just gotta say this was a really interesting discussion to read, I had to sit down and think about the points made. The OP should get the ‘Editor’s Choice’ of Shut Up Dude IMO.

    • I’m veering off topic a little bit here, but did am I the only one who prefers Among the Leaves to Benji?

      Among the Leaves was easily my album of the year 2 (?) years ago but, while I really like Benji, I don’t find myself listening to it on repeat like I did on that album. Maybe it’s because it was more diverse? I also connected with the lyrics a little more.

      • I’d go back further and say I really miss the sound from April or Ghosts of The Great Highway and prefer them over any of the newer records.

        • Yes April is definitely a contender for just as good or better although like I mentioned earlier on a personal level Benji hits all the emotional spots for me.

          This is a very philosophical inquiry on AOTY I love it! I agree with most of what everyone is saying and its clear that AOTY is different for everybody. In regards to the Coldplay argument; I don’t think its necessarily an accessible record just because its popular. I mean to any old Coldplay fan there’s a clear distinction in where they’re been the last few years and I don’t think every Coldplay fan enjoys it (Im speaking about myself of course haha). What I mean by accessible I guess is those albums where you listen to it the first time and every song just hits you and you just need to hear it again and again. The best example I can think of that demostrates this is Weezer’s first album. The album is jam packed with hits and doesn’t lose any momentum throughout the whole thing and its been nearly a decade of me listening to it and I still never tire of hearing all those songs.

          But then again Raptor Jesus made a very great point in saying that not all albums come to you right away. A lot of my favorite albums I didn’t get into until the third listen and even more don’t resonate with me until years later when I’m ready for it. So there’s a factor that you can’t really take into consideration until you’ve realized how good a record is and by then its too late. So maybe those should be reserved for best of the decade? I don’t really know.

          On the personal argument I totally agree that its a key part to an album being good. I feel that should be more reserved for your own year end list however. Again though I’m not really sure what I think after reading all these comments lol everyone makes solid arguments. I’ve just always looked for those albums that are bigger than life so to speak and to me thats what makes a record worthy of the best album of the year

    • I’m probably older than most of the readers on this site (late 30s), and spent the better part of my youth signing myself up to BMG and Columbia House using pseudonyms, and trading CDs at the local record shops because I knew of no other way to hear all the music I wanted to hear. Needless to say I’m overwhelmed by today’s access. But still, come gather ’round on my lawn, and read what I have to write.

      As I’ve aged, my lust for music hasn’t diminished at all; however, as you young kids will soon realize, your time is precious, and as you get older, you’re less likely to tolerate shitty music because it ranked high when you could be listening to something tried and true. You’ll find that you check your music blogs, but you don’t quite trust them as much because you know they’re only in business to sell ads (or concert tickets, ahem, Pitchfork), and the incumbent writers have learned to toe the company line when mortgage and family vie both for time and paycheck.

      I’ve said on these boards before, to some well deserved snarky replies, that I don’t feel music is as good as it used to be. I can’t tell if it’s because I’m older, or if, say I was 18 right now, I’d be just as bored with the current music. I can’t have generationally different parallel lives, so I’ll never have this questioned answered. But at least I recognize both possibilities.

      The conclusion I’ve come to is that critical acclaim, a high rating, or widespread accolation (spell check tells me I just made up that word) is worthless if you don’t agree. I can think of countless revered albums that I disagree with. I never got Pavement. Despite really liking Radiohead, I think they’re over rated, etc. But at the same time, Endtroducing… and Loveless are two of my favorite records. And if Britt Daniels is involved, I’ll pull out the wallet.

      The takeaway is that the best albums are always personal. Some resonate to a massive audience (Joshua Tree), some won’t ever resonate to anyone but you – and that’s ok. Music is a subjective map with fuzzy borders. Being familiar with those borders serves you as you discuss passionately about this stuff. In other words, it’s ok to admit to not liking the Beatles as long as you know why the Beatles were the Beatles. I might disagree, but if someone can validly serve up reasoning as to why the Kinks were the better band, they’ll be a friend for life.

      Now please pick up your trash when you leave.

      • I don’t think age plays as much into it as a lot of people think it does. Your late teens and early 20s are supposed to be the time when you find the music that really speaks to you and you listen to forever. For me that was the late 90s and early 00s which, IMO, was the worst time period ever for popular music. Grunge was dead and the indie blogosphere hadn’t taken off yet so I had no idea about bands like Neutral Milk Hotel or Pavement and everything on the radio was the blandest coffeehouse rock (matchbox 20, third eye blind…) or boy bands/pop punk/TRL fodder.

        Music from the last 10 years or so has been way more impactful and meaningful for me and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down as I get older.

    • Philip Cosores  |   Posted on Jun 18th, 2014 +1

      This is a great point. Personally, I think both my subjective idea of what objective quality is and my emotional/personal connection come into play when I rank. Like an X and Y axis. You want them to score highly on both axis, but if one doesn’t work on one level, it should make up on the other. So, for Sun Kil Moon to make number one despite being less accessible (which is a major factor on my quality scale), it has to really knock it out of the part in making a connection with me. Here are my faves.

      Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness
      Strand of Oaks – HEAL
      The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
      Sun Kil Moon – Benji
      Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
      La Dispute – Rooms of the House
      Lykke Li – I Never Learn
      Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
      Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
      St. Vincent – St. Vincent
      Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right
      The Antlers – Familiars
      Alvvays – Alvvays
      Frankie Cosmos – Zentropy
      The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits
      Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else
      Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Pinata
      Fucked Up – Glass Boys
      Neil Young – A Letter Home
      Owen Pallett – In Conflict
      Pup – Pup
      The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader
      Banks – Goddess
      Andrew Bird – Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of
      The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Days of Abandon
      Beck – Morning Phase
      Total Control – Typical System

    • I’m a little late to the party but here goes. An AOTY for me does or uses something new. For me last year that was dawn of midi. It wasn’t the use of minimalism that got me,. It was that simplicity of the melody and the scarcity of notes that lay the rhythm bare, and boy do those guys fucking murder it. As a musician, this happens to be what I’m into now. For me, it doesn’t have to be particularly relevant or modern, but it’s gotta be original. I should point out that I’ve had no major standouts in this regard (looking at this list and the comments, I’ve got some catchup to do). Maybe Todd Terje because I’ve been into Les Baxter for awhile now, and he takes that music to cool places.

  48. Miranda Lambert’s Platinum is easily the best record of the year so far if you judge on the basis of songs rather than cool points.

  49. Really digging the new Spanish Gold record “South of Nowhere”. Also was curious why there was no love for new Jack White or Phantogram records…

  50. This list is pretty poor. It contains a lot of the right albums, but the order is ridiculous. Coldplay and that garbage from Perfect Pussy ahead of St. Vincent? And did I miss Lazaretto and Wild Beasts, among others?

    • I don’t think Perfect Pussy fans exist IRL, does anyone actually like that record? and agreed the ordering is pretty nutty

      • Yeah, Perfect Pussy Zeitgeist seems totally manufactured by the music blogosphere. They have all the refinement of a band that started playing together last week and the music is that shitty brand of purposefully-offputting noise punk that has always and will always suck. But they put menstrual blood in their records, so I guess that makes them good.

      • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m convinced Perfect Pussy is some sort of practical joke. I’m all for lo-fi but it sounds like it was recorded with a 10 dollar cell phone.

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