Best of 2014

Essential albums

It’s pretty straightforward, really: if it was out this year, an album, and totally brilliant, it was eligible. Discover our ultimate top 10 and the rest of the best, with long-players priced from as little as $4.99.

The Top 10

  • Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence (Explicit)Contains explicit content
    • 16-bit FLAC
    Despite undeniable glimmers of brilliance, Lana Del Rey’s genre-hopping debut often painted a picture of an artist trying too hard to be everything to everyone, all at once. Happily, quite the contrary is true of Ultraviolence. Swapping hip hop beats and a team of musical advisors for a seven-piece band, a string section and producer Dan Auerbach, Del Rey picks the perfect musical palette for her intoxicating tales of doomed romance, and succeeds in enveloping the listener in her dimly-lit world throughout.
  • Caribou - Our Love
    Our Love Caribou 07/10/2014
    Last seen indulging his techno urges as Daphni, Dan Snaith now returns to the day job for the follow-up to 2010’s universally-adored Swim. Spoiler alert: Our Love is arguably even better. Demonstrating a technical prowess and imaginative scope that eludes most producers, Snaith glides effortlessly between styles and moods, leaving a trail of soulful slow jams and rainbow-hued dance cuts in his wake. Ranging from the sultry R&B of ‘Second Chance’ to the floor-friendly dopamine rush of ‘Can’t Do Without You’, Our Love is likely the most deeply-human electronic album you’ll hear this year.
  • Mac Demarco - Salad Days
    Salad Days Mac Demarco 01/04/2014
    Mac DeMarco might goof about more often than most, but there’s no denying that he always delivers the goods sonically. His second LP-proper is another case in point: lurking underneath all those ever-so-slightly detuned, drunken guitars and drawling vocals, is a wealth of properly-timeless songwriting. Take your pick from the breezy surf-pop of ‘Let Her Go’, the slacker-blues of ‘Brother’ or the ramshackle psychedelia of ‘Passing Out Pieces’, with its ‘Strawberry Fields’-style organ. But, for our money, the real stand-out on Salad Days is sun-warped slow jam ‘Chamber Of Refection’, which finds Mac acting out his wildest Shuggie Otis fantasies amongst pitch-shifted synths.
  • Taylor Swift - 1989
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    Notable events in 1989: the Berlin Wall came down, Václav Havel became the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia, Denmark legalised civil partnerships for same-sex couples, and in a hospital in Reading, Pennsylvania, Andrea Swift gave birth to a baby girl named Taylor. Naturally, it’s the latter cultural landmark that’s celebrated here. Described by Swift as her “very first official, documented pop album”, this fifth opus was inspired by the “bold, risky” work that Madonna and Annie Lennox made in the late 80s. She’s taken no chances in regards to her commercial appeal, however, working with Max Martin, Ryan Tedder and fun.-guitarist Jack Antonoff, and creating world-beating pop hits like ‘Shake It Off’.
  • The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream
    Great as delayed-gratification can be, breaking through later in life is arguably more stressful than being successful from the outset. After the surprise success of last LP Slave Ambient, front man Adam Grandluciel suffered feelings of acute disorientation and isolation, and yet, admirably, he’s channelled that struggle into a tellingly-titled follow-up that’s imbued with a restless, widescreen beauty. Ranging from the driving, Springsteen-style rock 'n' roll of ‘Red Eyes’ to the Dylan-esque intimacy of ‘Eyes To The Wind’, Lost In The Dream is the kind of record that seeps deep under your skin.
  • Thanks to her eye-popping promo videos and magnetic live shows, dancer-turned-singer Tahliah “FKA Twigs” Barnett has rapidly established herself as one of the most impressive performers in the UK. The visual element to her work is so strong, in fact, we did worry how her feverish compositions would fair when finally divorced from any ocular context. We needn’t have. Offering a resolutely leftfield take on contemporary R&B, Barnett’s sensuous, sonically adventurous debut manages to exceed the promise shown on excellent early singles ‘Water Me’ and ‘Papi Pacify’. In short, we’ve never heard anything quite like it before.
  • Lykke Li - I Never Learn
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    Putting her sheer songwriting skill aside for a moment, the one thing that’s always differentiated Lykke Li from her Scandi-pop peers is the atmosphere of quiet menace permeating her work. We heard it in ‘Little Bit’ – its intrinsic prettiness juxtaposed with alarmingly-obsessive lyrics – and in the predatory swing of ‘Get Some’, from 2011’s Wounded Rhymes. That undercurrent of darkness has never been more prominent than here on her third LP. A deeply dolorous set of quite exquisite beauty, I Never Learn is a wonderful end to the trilogy, though the emotionally-fragile should probably approach with caution…
  • St. Vincent - St. Vincent (Explicit)Contains explicit content
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    Last seen working with David Byrne on Love This Giant, Annie Clark returns with a fourth solo album that’s an early contender for our Best of 2014. Swapping the S&M of Strange Mercy for tales of communing naked with rattlesnakes, hotel room hallucinations and our obsession with social media, St. Vincent’s every bit as lyrically-bonkers as you might expect. Sonically, it’s more surprising still, seeing Clark hit the sweet spot between leftfield experimentation and radio-friendly hooks.
  • Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Taste (Explicit)Contains explicit content
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    Hailed as the future of rap on the strength of 2011’s incendiary single ‘212’, Azealia Banks could scarcely have gotten off to a stronger start. In the ensuing years, things haven’t gone exactly to plan, with the Harlem-raised rapper becoming embroiled in numerous, ugly internet spats and very public fallings-out with her record label. With this long-overdue debut, Banks succeeds in firmly shifting the focus back onto the music. Ranging from bass-heavy club cuts produced by Boddika, Machinedrum and Pearson Sound, to a surf-pop curveball made in collaboration with Ariel Pink, Broke With Expensive Taste reaffirms what an incredible talent Banks is.
  • Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes
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    Arriving two years after hugely acclaimed last LP Wrecking Ball, The Boss’ 18th studio effort brings together a selection of rarities and covers that he’s billing his “best unreleased material from the past decade”. Being a compilation of sorts, High Hopes isn’t as focused lyrically as previous records, but what it lacks in thematic cohesion it more than makes up for in melodies. Interestingly, High Hopes also boasts backing from Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, and performances from much-missed E Street Band members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici.

The rest of the best...