With the beginning of December comes the inevitable refection on the past year of music, and this year, the LA Music Blogcast crew may have assembled our most eclectic “Best of” list yet. With so many independent and lesser-known artists putting out music worthy of being considered amongst the best of the year, our writers’ individual lists ending up comprising over 170 albums. Consensus on a Top 50 wasn’t easy to come by in 2014, but like Michael Scott himself, somehow we managed.

Read on to find out which 50 albums made the cut, and as always, let us know in the comments which albums you were happy to see on the list and which omissions you thought deserved a spot.

#50: Kiven – Kiven

The story of Kiven goes like this: none of us know where we first heard this band. It just happened one day, like an otherworldly intervention. Music fans all began listening to and talking about the group’s self-titled album, Kiven, in unison. From New York to Los Angeles, they burrowed in that little space in our hearts, the same space reserved for unexpected romances and open possibilities.

With thick guitars and a hypnotic sound, Kiven continues the legacy of their rock forefathers, but with a refreshingly modern and unique spirit. The hometown group has captivated Los Angeles for the majority of the year, with their single “In the Fire” hitting #1 on KROQ’s Locals Only. We here at LA Music Blog have also grown rather attached to these guys — we’ve  presented a couple of their shows and hosted them on our LA Music Blogcasttwice. When we love a band as much as we love Kiven, we don’t dick around. – Christine Perez

Listen: “In the Fire

Kiven

#49: SKATERS – Manhattan

NY-based quartet SKATERS’ debut album, Manhattan, was hardly their musical introduction to the world. The members needed a little time to find each other, but that time was only spent honing their craft in separate projects. Eventually things lined up to result in the punk-rock perfection that is SKATERS.

While they may sound light-hearted and quirky initially, the songs’ storylines are incredibly well thought out, and the compositions are a breath of fresh air in the already-inflated market of garage rock; beyond the unforgettable guitar riffs, bass lines, and drum beats, the band touches on the weight of the superficiality, vanity, and narcissism they’ve witnessed firsthand in everyday NY life. – Angelica Corona

Listen: “This Much I Care

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#48: Grouper – Ruins

Grouper’s Liz Harris makes music that is almost completely abstract. For the most part, I treat it as musical art — heavy with meaning, even if I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean– which is why Ruins surprised me. Harris rarely creates bright, positive atmospheres, but Ruins finds the artist upfront about her despair. Her voice comes in clearer than it ever has before, and the core songs of the album feature relatively simple piano melodies and the devastation of her words laid bare.

Grouper’s trademark murky layers still blanket the tracks, but the sounds that ring clear seem so much more important. The sounds of frogs croaking, for example, make “Lighthouse” all the more heady. Harris has said that the album is a document of her time “living in the remains of love,” and in listening to the record, you definitely feel that with stunning clarity. – Winnie Fan

Listen: “Clearing

Grouper ruins

#47: Warpaint – Warpaint

Los Angeles’ Warpaint is the band for fans of hazy, psychedelic-ish alternative rock. On the group’s self-titled sophomore album, melodic vocal tracks are laid bare over slowed, hazy rock riffs, and the guitar grooves are long and trippy. The vocals slip between moments of assonance and dissonance over moody instrumentation like a band from the turn of the 2000s. In the case of “Biggy,” everything is modulated and pitched out. The melody smoothly accelerates into a steady crescendo and then a hypnotic instrumental break. This is probably not an album you want to play if you need to be somewhere soon, which might just be the best thing about Warpaint. – Marcus Slater

Listen: “Disco//Very

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#46: Ben Frost – AURORA

Interesting fact: The brilliantly named drummer Thor Harris appears on two of our top fifty albums, both as full-time drummer for Swans and as a recurring guest on Ben Frost’s stunning hybrid of electronica and live instrumentation.

AURORA is brilliantly organized chaos, an album that requires a strong stomach and a little patience, but one that also hits some remarkable peaks and actively reaches for new sounds and feelings in a way that makes it sound like nothing else. At times AURORA displays an unorthodox beauty, and at others it is heavy enough to turn bones to dust, but this is music that teeters on the edge of a precipice in a way that feels slightly dangerous and completely alive. – Jay Chirinos

Listen: “Venter

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#45: Bass Drum of Death – Rip This

It’s very possible Rip This was my favorite album of the year; the only reason that I can’t say for sure is that my discovery of Bass Drum of Death is so recent. How the hell I missed their self-titled album and its predecessor, GB City, is beyond me, but Rip This is insanely infectious and an excellent introduction to the band nonetheless. The musical brilliance that is John Barrett and Len Clark has not only bulked up Innovative Leisure’s already-impressive artist roster, but it also marks one of the best things to come from Mississippi. “Electric,” “For Blood,” “Black Don’t Glow,” you name it — any song you pull from the tracklist is an explosive force, sure to inspire fans upon first listen, just as it did those of us here at LA Music Blog. – Angelica Corona

Listen: “Black Don’t Glow

bass drum of death rip this

#44: Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso

No debut album this year captivated me quite as much as Sylvan Esso’s eponymous LP. Jay prepared us for the duo of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn with his 2014 newcomers playlist in late-2013, and then followed that up in May by including Sylvan Esso on his list of the top five albums listeners may have missed this year, but the group still seemed to fly under the radar of most music fans. That’s a shame. The duo’s electro-pop debut is sparse but often chill-inducing, with Meath’s jazzy vocals fitting in perfectly with Sanborn’s sometimes grimy, sometimes crisp production, and I predict their next effort won’t be as easy to ignore. – Kristin Houser

Listen: “Play It Right

sylvan esso album cover

#43: The Black Lips – Underneath the Rainbow

Even if you think you don’t know the Black Lips, chances are you’ve heard them. While their live performances and music videos may be for mature eyes only, their music is incredibly film-friendly and has soundtracked some of your favorite national commercials. The band is no newcomer to the music world; Underneath the Rainbow marks their seventh full-length release and is a pleasant continuation of the rowdy rock diehard fans have grown to know and love. David called the album an “undeniably generous dose of good times” in his review, and I couldn’t agree more. From “Dorner Party” to “Dandelion Dust,” the album features a blissful range of tones, from quick-paced chaos to darker, more malevolent moods. – Angelica Corona

Listen: “Boys In The Wood

Black Lips Underneath The Rainbow Cover Art

#42: Thievery Corporation – Saudade

Throughout their impressive nine-album career, the members of Thievery Corporation have made a habit of changing things up regularly, but their return to the bossa nova-infused melodies that kick-started their career for their latest release, Saudade, still managed to be an unexpected and welcome surprise for me. The seductive “Claridad” is made doubly so thanks to its Spanish lyrics and Natalia Clavier’s voice, and Lou Lou Ghelichkhani shines on the delightfully dreamy “Firelight,” but I’m decidedly most attached to “Depth Of My Soul.” There’s something about that arpeggio, those strings, and Shana Halligan’s sultry vocals that is achingly irresistible. And if you think that’s magical, prepare to have your socks knocked off if ever you have the pleasure of seeing them perform the track live. – Lesley Park

Listen: “Depth Of My Soul

thievery corporation saudade

#41: The Orwells – Disgraceland

The Orwells fall into the same category as acts like Mac Demarco when it comes to exhibiting a riotous, flagrant stage presence, but that’s fitting given the title of their sophomore release, Disgraceland. The raucous garage rockers got the Letterman seal of approval when they performed the album’s first single, “Who Needs You,” on his show this past January, and frontman Mario Cuomo didn’t tone down his outrageous antics for the television audience one bit.

The album is packed with hurried guitar riffs and brash vocals that create catchy, headbang-worthy hooks, and the brazen energy of the band speaks to the post-teen angst of punk rockers everywhere. The members of The Orwells are, after all, barely out of high school, but it’s refreshing nonetheless to see a group embrace their youth and opt for garage-heavy pop tunes about partying and suburban dread rather than writing about subjects they’re too naïve to do justice.

The band’s influences clearly range from the discordant haziness of The Jesus and Mary Chain (see “The Righteous One”) to the punk-rock aggressiveness of Thee Oh Sees, which makes their sound fresh amongst other bands of the genre. Their songs may not be grandiose metaphors for love or life, but the group happily embraces its strengths and has an obscene amount of fun making music. – Jillian Goldfluss

Listen: “Let it Burn

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