If there’s a staple to what Everything Ecstatic has done over the years, it’s undoubtedly the Best of the Year Albums List (since 2006!). For the last two years, it’s evolved into a daily featured album for 3 weeks, with the “Best of The Rest” post kicking it off. So here we are, with numbers 31 thru 21.
There are albums that didn’t make it on the final chopping block and there are hundreds of other ones that never even made the initial long list. But I can assure you, these are the 31 best records that marked the year in music across all genres. It’s scientifically proven (sorta.) There’ll be a spotify playlist of each album below the entry and after this post, all posts will focus squarely on ONE album per day until we arrive at the #1 Album of 2014.
31. Beck – Morning Phase
Man…Beck? Still got it. Morning Phase seemingly picks up where Sea Change left off. In fact, Beck himself calls it “a companion piece of sorts.” I turned to this record and it’s guitar-driven ballads and melancholy on slow moving afternoons.
30. Bear In Heaven – Time Is Over One Day Old
Bear in Heaven is a prolific rock band from Brooklyn that infuses tribal drums and electronics into their sound. This is their 4th LP and it’s the kind of album that wins you over twice. It finishes as strongly as it comes in and there’s more than a handful of memorable tracks on this one. Everything comes together on tracks like “Demon” and “If I Were To Lie”, led by singer Jon Philpot’s wonderful voice.
29. Souls Of Mischief – There Is Only Now
Oakland represent! 20 years after the release of the iconic 93 ’til Infinity, the East Bay kings of hip-hop put out their 6th studio album. There Is Only Now succeeds largely on the effort of producer Adrian Younge, who is flat out one of the best producers in the game. Part of me just wants to talk about how much I love Younge’s instrumentals of this record…Seriously, dude is like J-Dilla good and drops classic soul samples throughout. But A-Plus, Tajai, Opio and Phesto step to the mic with conscious rhymes, tackling relevant themes like police brutality and the justice system with multiple appearances from Busta Rhymes and Snoop Dogg. This is a money hip-hop release and on the real, def bump the deluxe version of the record with 2nd disc of instrumentals (linked below.)
28. Allah-Las – Worship The Sun
Every year, there’s a record that gets on my radar late in the game and I can’t stop listening to it before it works its way onto the list. Last year, it was Lucius’ Wildewoman and this year it’s LA-based retro-rockers Allah-Las. They accomplish what Foxygen did last year on the throwback tip, with a sound that’s reminiscent of The Byrds, The Animals and even The Doors. “Had It All” is sonic perfection and my favorite example of what this band is capable of.
27. Real Estate – Atlas
Admittedly, I struggled with including this album on the list, because from the get go, I just saw Atlas as not being too different from Days (our #6 album of 2011). But Matt Mondanile’s lyrics have evolved in the last 3 years and become a more personal reflection of themes like communication (on “Talking Backwards”) and a place he used to call home (on “Past Lives”). The former might be the sweetest, cuddliest song of the year with it’s hooky guitar and gentle lament.
26. Jungle – Jungle
There’s never been a funk/soul revival quite like this and perhaps that is what’s drawn so many people worldwide to Jungle’s sound. Their debut LP plays like the soundtrack to a backyard bbq that only your hippest friends showed up to. Smoothly high pitched vocals, with effects layered on top of groovy bass lines is their signature and the English band spares no details performing as a 7-piece band. The album’s opener, “The Heat” instantly grabs you and you never stop feeling funky as you uncontrollably bounce with every track. Also, their video for “Platoon” features a crazy mesmerizing 6-year old B-girl. She kicks ass.
25. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
There are multiple instances on Too Bright, when you stop to focus on the elaborately arranged synths, keys and strings; each track bears it’s own stunning effects sequence. But it’s Seattle-based Mike Hadreas’ forward lyrics, a scathing backlash at how out of place and misrepresented the world has made him feel that set this album apart. Hadreas is a somber, articulate and important voice for the LGBT community in establishing a narrative that describes the condition, struggle, awakening and beauty of who he is as a person. There’s no better take on the essence of Perfume Genius than Sasha Geffen’s piece on the band’s Letterman performance of “Queen,” one of my Top 5 tracks of the year.
24. Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else
Dylan Baldi is a kick-ass songwriter. Not the type of songwriter who sits on a barstool with an acoustic guitar singing about love. But one that writes power-pop guitar hooks with speedy drums and loud, gravelly vocals. I’m not sure there’s a band I like to rock out to as much as Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings. It’s insane to think about how this is Baldi’s 4th quality LP and he’s just 22! “Now Here In” opens the album with the kind of energy we’ve come to appreciate from this band and it’s maintained for all 8 tracks of Here And Nowhere Else. Happy head-banging.
23. Sinkane – Mean Love
James’ Murphy’s DFA Records label is more than just electro. Sinkane is an international talent. Of Sudanese descent, Sinkane’s Ahmed Gallab grew up listening to Pharoah Sanders, William Onyeabor, Fela Kuti and Miles Davis. Mean Love is a polished reflection of these influences and it’s Sinkane’s most realized work to date. “New Name” is a brilliant track and the rest of the album takes you on a journey through East and West African influences that converge across the ocean in America. This has been my go to early evening record and it’s a pleasure to let it’s keys, horns and Gallab’s soft voice resonate through the house.
22. Zola Jesus – Taiga
Admittedly, I wasn’t up on the Zola Jesus discography until this record. All I really knew about her was her feature on M83’s “Intro” from Hurry, Up We’re Dreaming. But the second I pressed play on the opening title track, I was entranced by the gripping soundscapes, Zola Jesus’s voice and thundering bass lines that gave me the chills (seriously). A week after I played the record non-stop, I saw her play live and it was a special type of crescendo in my relationship with the artist. There’s an elegance to her voice and she’s a stoically riveting performer. Songs on Taiga like “Dangerous Days” and “Long Way Down” present a powerful energy that make this record a unique electro-pop release and a well-deserved accomplishment for Zola on her 5th LP.
21. Wye Oak – Shriek
I was disappointed to hear that Wye Oak’s first album since 2011’s brilliant Civilian wouldn’t feature any guitars. Jenn Wasner is one of my favorite vocalists and frankly, I was more scared than disappointed. I didn’t want Wye Oak to stop sounding like Wye Oak. But in the end, Jenn is still Jenn and her beautiful velvety voice is still your spirit guide on the ambitious Shriek. The Baltimore-duo truly succeed in their endeavor to expand their musical palette on a squarely electronic release. Wasner’s lyrics are still introspective and she just has a can’t miss voice that makes your eyes water. One love.
Finally, check out our 6-10 and Top 5 music videos of the year if you haven’t already and here’s an archive of Best of Albums Lists from previous years.