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Deck The Green: Best Albums of 2014

Check out our list of favorite albums from 2014

2014 was another good year for music but you had to dig a little bit more to get to the good stuff than last year. The top hits of the year were a little disappointing this time around but there was plenty of music out there that successfully gave us musical innovations as well as catchy hooks that stick in your head — which more than anything else tends to be my qualification of a great album. Surely my opinions will change over time but for now is a list of 20 albums I'll be coming back to time and time again in the coming months and years.   

20. Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

This year I spent a solid three months in Nashville, and as I typically despise pop country, Sturgill Simpson was a bright spot in the country music scene. He’s down-and-dirty country but adds in that masterful guitar work akin to an Americana riff from Creedence Clearwater Revival or The Allman Brothers. This is an album I’ll keep coming back to in 2015 as I continue to find meaning in the lyrics, even if at their core it’s all about drinking and “getting hazy.”

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19. Hozier - Hozier

This is a release I was surprised to see absent from the typical end of the year list. If you look past “Take Me To Church” and view it as the decent album opener it is, the rest of the album shines. The guitar work combines some great bluesy riffs into an Americana album that stays catchy and poppy throughout. “Jackie And Wilson” is certainly one of the best songs of the year.

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18. Black Keys - Turn Blue

The Black Keys are and will likely always remain one of my favorite bands of all time. I fell in love in high school and since then the duo have been cranking out slight variations on their core product. Turn Blue is a radical departure for them as it’s one of the group’s most personal albums and one where both Dan and Patrick have really opened up and allowed themselves to experiment and loosen up. Not only is this evident on this album but especially so at the band's live show which was easily one of the best shows I saw this year.

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17. Hiss Golden Messenger - Lateness Of Dancers

This is the fifth album from Hiss Golden Messenger but it’s the first one with the backing of Merge Records, which was able to provide a lot of polish to this record. Where previous albums were a little crude, Lateness Of Dancers really taps into the group’s potential to provide a hook-driven and insightful Americana album like no other.

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16. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold

One of the best country albums of the year came from a Swedish pop duo of all places. This is another group that provided the soundtrack to my stint in Nashville by crafting beautiful harmonies and songs that can only come from the minds of Swedish pop influenced by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt. If you’re not a country music fan, this is an album that sneaks up on you and turns you into one, so give it a try.

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15. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else

Where the band’s debut album Attack On Memory felt disjointed with noise rock and pop-punk songs interspersed throughout the record, Here And Nowhere Else combines those two elements beautifully. These Cleveland boys have really come into their own on this record and still hold true to those core principles: playing fast as hell and creating a frantic and hook driven energy. Just when you think the song has slipped too far into the field of noise rock, you’re brought right back in by the song’s refrain.

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14. Broken Bells - After The Disco

This album started as a dud for me but slowly but surely grew into one of my favorite albums of the year. This revelation probably came late at night while walking home from a party of sorts. This isn’t party music, it’s post dance music. It’s exactly what you need coming home from the disco when you’re questioning all the poor decisions you’ve probably just made or maybe the lack of action taken. Whatever you’re woe is at the early hours of the morning, this is the album to turn to.

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13. Hundred Waters - The Moon Rang Like A Bell

I’m by no means an electronic music aficionado (I’m working on it) but there’s something simply mesmerizing about this Hundred Waters album that so beautifully creates an atmosphere with which to live inside the music. Listen to “Down From The Rafters,” because no other tune this year will make you want to head bang to what amounts to a marimba solo over top of the taping of heels walking up a staircase. There’s a gripping energy to this album and simultaneously a low key atmospheric landscape to just float through. It’s one of the most original melding of genres this year.

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12. Twin Peaks - Wild Onion

2014 was a wonderful year for garage rock/ punk bands (Black Lips, The Orwells and Diarrhea Planet to name a few) but while Twin Peaks comes from that genre, Wild Onion is at its core a straight Rock ‘n’ Roll album. There are no bells and whistles here, it’s just a simplistic and straight to the point record that feels wholly refreshing and fun in ways that are hard to put into words. It’s the record I didn’t know I needed until I heard it and fell in love with its authenticity and catchy whimsy.

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11. TV On The Radio - Seeds

Many long time TV On The Radio fans have said this album doesn’t stack up to previous works, but for me this album was a real gateway to the group’s music. It’s certainly the poppiest album TVOTR has ever put out with fewer mid-song surprises that take the song in a completely different direction and more hooks. It’s also the group’s most personal album which makes it very relatable through themes of death and love lost.

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10. Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal

I was a Parquet Courts denier after the debut album of Light Up Gold, but something seemed to click this time around. Sunbathing Animal is one of the best rock albums of the year. It still has those punk themes but combines it with some great lyrical content, revolving around the dichotomy between the freedom of being a creative person and the entrapment that comes with it. The whole album is artfully done and overall just rocks.

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9. Wye Oak - Shriek

This album is everything electronic rock should be: great vocals and riffy guitar lines supplemented by the atmosphere-building electronics. It’s certainly filled with strange sounds that take you off guard, but remains grounded in a solid foundation of indie rock. Some people punish bands for taking such a radical departure as this one but in this case it has really paid off.

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8. Sun Kil Moon - Benji

This is quite possibly one of the most depressing albums ever but also one of the most eloquently crafted albums this year. Just about every song on Benji is about death, but what’s so striking about the storytelling is that there’s absolutely no simile or metaphor at play here. Mark Kozelek is telling us bluntly and honestly what’s going through his head with all this death that surrounds his life in the hope that at the end we might come up with some sort of answer or feeling about the meaning or even meaninglessness of life. Numerous conclusions can be drawn from these songs and take a different meaning at different times in our lives. This is one to come back to for years to come.

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7. Noah Gundersen - Ledges

This album came at a time when I was beginning to feel disheartened about the pop-folk era we still seem to be in, but Noah Gundersen revived my faith in that genre. It’s got all the elements you would expect from a modern folk album but with a certain level of authenticity that shines through on the record. What makes this album is the religious themes throughout. Gundersen is writing about his struggles with religion and finding his spirituality after leaving his parents home and dealing with a new found independence. He and his sister Abby make for an infectious combo that can’t be ignored.

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6. Sharon Van Etten - Are We There

After talking with Sharon Van Etten you wouldn’t know that she has this dark past she sings about because she seems so happy and fun-loving. Yet, Are We There is another downer, describing the heartbreak and abuse that ensued from a previous relationship. Her anguished voice provides the platform for this stunning album of personal storytelling and catchy tunes.

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5. St. Vincent - St. Vincent

It’s easy to love St. Vincent. In interviews she seems to be really down to earth, she’s a fantastic musician and she brings the whole performance to the stage with choreographed moves emulating her choppy, robotic style of playing. Above all Annie Clark might just be one of the best female guitarists ever and one of the best guitarists overall today. She uses the instrument as another sound machine and thinks beyond the typical uses of a guitar. It shows on this album.

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4. Tune-Yards - Nikki Nack

Afrobeat has never been as poppy as on Tune-Yard’s Nikki Nack. You never know where the beat is going to go in her songs and the whole style has been modernized to incorporate some fantastic electronic elements. With only a few bits of percussion some keys, voices and a bass, Merrill Garbus crafted one of the most complete, innovative and simultaneously catchy records of the year. The incorporation of non-western rhythms paired with these electronics opens a whole new realm of possibilities for anyone following her.

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3. Against Me - Transgender Dysphoria Blues

The opening chorus of the album couldn’t more perfectly sum up what this album is all about — “You want them to see you like they see every other girl. They just see a faggot.” Laura Jane Grace is writing about her experience coming out as transgender and her transition to living as a woman. The result is an album that puts you directly into the shoes of someone going through a difficult rediscovery process and provides a window into those struggles like no other medium is able to do. This is a time when we need this album most. It seems the world is in such disarray recently and this album just humbles you to accept people for who they are and this album expresses all the anger and happiness that can come with that process. The world could use more acceptance.

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2. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 2

Run The Jewels 2 couldn’t have come at a more perfect or important time. I and many people feel a certain level of frustration, anger and confusion surrounding Ferguson and race relations in the U.S. today, and Killer Mike and EL-P come along and provide a perfect mix of anger and understanding to the situation. This visceral outpouring of emotion and in-your-face statements is the quintessential outlet we needed to funnel that anger we may feel. Beyond that the beats here are gritty and hook driven with some bombastic bass to groove to. In a strange year for rap and hip-hop in general, Run The Jewels stood out as the best in its genre and one of the finest albums of the year.

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1. The War on Drugs - Lost In The Dream

This album appealed to the college demographic so well because of one factor — we’re all lost in the dream. We’re out there chasing our dreams blindly, searching to find our way and an album like this comes along and conveys all those fears, hopes, excitement and ambivalence in one fantastic record. This album is more about the feeling than it is the individual songs. I find it hard to not want to listen to it from beginning to end. Transitions between songs move fluidly invoking a sense of wonderment of what’s coming next before it explodes into another anthemic rock song. The beat always chugs along underneath the ever changing melodies and guitar work much like life itself. Live, the group conveys all of that and more for a mesmerizing performance like no other I experienced this year.

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