I'm always a little behind the calendar on this list, but here are my top picks. A lot of this year's albums were particularly reflective or more lyrically interesting than musically novel. Not sure what that says about me, but I try to stay pretty true to my listening habits. Lots of introspecetion this year I guess. Let me know if you think I may have missed something I would have liked.
1. The War on Drugs / Lost in the Dream
This is definitely my favorite album this year. It's immediately catchy, melodic and an easy listen but then it sneaks up on you and you realize how intimate and cathartic this album can be. This is the album to remember from 2014.
2. Jenny Lewis / The Voyager
From what I can tell, Jenny Lewis has toyed with celebrity since she was about 10. With the possible exception of backing vocals for the Postal Service, this is the best thing she's done in those 20+ years and it also appears to be the most heartfelt and sincere. It's great.
3. Future Islands
This guy has such a weird (albeit great) voice that barks away against a set of effortlessly executed pop tunes. It's a surprising contrast that really works even more than usual on this album of tunes which carry enough familiarity to justify the album's deceptive name ("Singles" is just a studio album, not a collection of anything).
4. Sun Kil Moon / Benji
Took a while for me to understand this album. It is the lyrics that make it great. Mark Kozelek appears to write music with the same ease that he sings it and his catalogue can blend together. This will blend unless you take the time to hear what he's saying. He's grumpy but somehow that makes this collection of personal and tragic digressions even more heroic. This is a man finding meaning on the downhill side of life.
5. Taylor Swift / 1989
You've heard this album (even if you think you haven't) and probably liked it a lot more than you want to admit. Enough said. Taylor Swift is just the right amount of everything to everyone, whether you like it or not.
6. FKA Twigs / LP1
I would love to snub this album because it's everyone's darling. It's just strange enough to be hipster and just accessible enough to be mainstream. Sadly, it's also really great music and I can't get sick of it.
7. Sharon Van Etten / Are We There
This is Sharon Van Etten's best album so far. It's heart wrenching and unfiltered and sometimes so personal that you'll turn it off and then on again.
8. Beck / Morning Phase
Where most of this year's picks are emotional and personal, Morning Phase is aloof and almost formulaic. Beck's genius isn't his ability to connect with his art, it's his complete command of album making as a craft. He's a producer that can sing. The result is an album that is hard to put down, an audio morphine drip that is always pleasant in all the right ways.
9. Real Estate / Atlas
This album tackles the challenge of that lonely place between your future and your past: "I cannot come back to this neighborhood/without feeling my own age." This year I bought a house in my hometown and then sold it again before we could move. These guys get me.
10. First Aid Kit / Stay Gold
"I'd rather be moving that static" is not a complex idea nor is that a particularly poetic way to express it, but that thought captures the momentum of this album both musically and lyrically I like it. That line is from "Shattered & Hollow" and that's the best song on the album and you can see it live here.
Luluc is an Australian folk duo signed with Sub Pop and their album probably should be in my top ten, I'm just not sure who to kick out. It is sweet, relaxing and beatiful. It's a perfect folk album for 2014 that conjures folk favorites from Nick Drake to Hem. Their fantastic KEXP studio performance is definitely worth a background listen.
Sylvan Esso had a great debut with a unique sound but it fell off the list because the songs wore out for me pretty quickly.
Pom Pom by Ariel Pink isn't consistently great and his rise through the indie charts doesn't always seem warranted to me, but... this album has some great moments (if you can look past the gimmickry).
Ryan Adams released an album that, for some reason, he chose as his eponymous entry into his catalogue. I'm a huge fan of that guy, and this album, while very similar to basically everything he's ever made, is really good. Critics point out his inability evolve. I don't care. I liked this one (and all of the others).