#40: Above and Beyond – Acoustic

For nearly two decades, Paavo Siljamäki, Tony McGuinness, and Jono Grant, better known as Above and Beyond, have been the masters of progressive and emotional trance music, but this year they removed the electronic elements from their songs to release Acoustic, and the world was left with the voice, the message, and a set of long-cherished melodies in their purest symphonic form. Dance music is known for bringing listeners together under one beat, with an emphasis on connection and shared human emotion, and this album does just that through the group’s classic tracks and a new song as well. Acoustic transcends genre and leaves listeners with a message of love and appreciation for the small moments that make up this crazy thing we call life. – Twila Grissom

Listen: “Satellite / Stealing Time

above and beyond acoustic

#39: Drenge – Drenge

It’s no surprise this young British duo made our top albums of the year list; their self-titled debut earned the brothers Loveless Best New Artist from NME and rave reviews from many, including yours truly. The music isn’t calculated or cautious — it’s reckless and effortlessly perfect. Eoin and Rory have a natural talent, and though it may sound crass, they don’t give a shit if you like it. This duo makes music because they love it and just so happen to be really fucking good at it. The LP is dark, aggressive, and, at times, downright malicious, but the lyrics and storylines are the album’s least important elements, playing almost like afterthoughts to the music, which somehow sounds like the product of 5-piece band despite being created by nothing more than the brothers’ electric guitar and drum set. – Angelica Corona

Listen: “Nothing

drenge album cover

#38: Ought – More Than Any Other Day

Montreal’s Constellation Records is best known for its roster of excellent post-rock bands from the region, so the appearance of a young, hungry post-punk band with a penchant for defiant and inspiring art-rock was a blast out of left field. Ought’s debut album was a perfectly sequenced and accomplished record, showcasing the band’s range and elasticity in switching between the slowed-down majesty of “Forgiveness” and the accelerated joy of the title track, which, like most of the album, oozes with the confidence of veterans while still glowing with the thrill of the new. “The Weather Song” was a flat-out indie-rock anthem, and as the band’s reputation grows, hopefully this album will be recognized as a minor classic in its own right. – Jay Chirinos

Listen: “The Weather Song

ought more than any other day

#37: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

Dave Grohl is an asshole. I just don’t get how he makes it look so easy, somehow raising the bar he himself sets with every new Foo Fighters release, but he’s done it again. After recording their last album all live to tape with a myriad of musicians and winning five GRAMMYs for their efforts, Grohl decided to not only record the band’s newest album in a completely different way, but to also release it in completely unique way.

The concept behind Sonic Highways sounds simple enough: tell the stories of eight American cities in various formats. Easy, right? Now let’s complicate things.

In addition to helming the new album, Grohl also directed an HBO series of the same name as the album to release alongside the audio record. Sonic Highways the documentary series follows the Foo Fighters’ travels to those eight cities, telling the story of the city’s musical roots and showing the band writing and recording each of the albums eight songs in interesting studios with their producer Butch Vig and the help of a local legend on each track.

The Foo Fighters also played a small venue show in each town represented on the album, included a set at The Roxy (not getting into that show was one of the saddest moments of the year for me). And on top of all this, the album rocks! Between the documentary series, the album itself, and the live shows, I count three different ways in which this album made itself heard in 2014. The Foo Fighters are the same rocking group they’ve always been, and yet they managed to again take everything to a whole other level with Sonic Highways. – Gerry Doot

Listen: “In The Clear

Foo Fighters Sonic Highways

#36: Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right

This post-punk band from Detroit kicks off their sophomore album with the lyrics “Shit goes up. Shit goes down,” and those lines perfectly sum up Under Color of Official Right’s modus operandi. This is an album whose lyrical content comes from guys living in a city whose discontent with the way society has treated its citizens is finally rearing its ugly head.

Surrounded by instrumental precision and damn-near post-punk perfection, that thematic discontent almost falls by the wayside, eclipsed by a band that just wants to make some great music. Short, electric song constructions fill this record with fantastic bass lines, sharp drumming, and Joe Casey’s secretly sinister vocal delivery to majorly satisfying effect. Under Color Of Official Right sprints through its short runtime and finishes in a heartbeat, but it’s so good that you’ll want to spin the record again the moment it’s finished just to keep that pulse going. – David Fisch

Listen: “Scum, Rise!

protomartyr under color of official right

#35: Cold War Kids – Hold My Home

Long Beach’s Cold War Kids, be it out of a pure surplus of inspiration or an insane work ethic, have released five full-length albums and three studio EPs in the past eight years. This steady production schedule may seem relatively normal for a typical pop band banking on a few singles to get them through to the next album cycle, but when every song is packed with rich story and deep sentiment, releasing even one such album in eight years is impressive.

Yet somehow Cold War Kids did it again with their latest album, Hold My Home. The group’s fifth full-length may not pack quite as powerful a gut punch as their first, Robbers and Cowards, with regards to story-telling, but it does feature the band’s signature haunting music and equally haunting lyrics. With “Hotel Anywhere,” Cold War Kids deliver a fun-loving ’80s beat repackaged in a warped, demented style all their own. Nathan Willett sings, “I am awake. I am awake. On the run. Hotel Anywhere USA” with such a bubbly cadence that it becomes alarming, untrustworthy, but that’s the beauty of Cold War Kids: they can never be pinned down, and we love them for it. – Christine Perez

Listen: “Hotel Anywhere

cold war kids hold my home

#34: Tune-Yards – Nikki Nack

Tune-Yards has received very high praise for Nikki Nack, one of the most interesting and unique albums of the year, but I’ll be the first to tell you this isn’t an album for everyone. Not only does Merrill Garbus’ sound need to be approached with an open mind, her lyrical content is often critical and confusing. That being said, Nikki Nack is fucking brilliant. The multitude of instruments utilized on this album range from synths and guitars to expertly layered vocals and strange clapping patterns. Even that explanation doesn’t do the album justice. Trust me, you have never heard anything like it.

Jay seemed impressed with Tune-Yard’s live performance back in May, but listening to the album, it’s hard to image how the recorded sound could be replicated live, though Tune-Yards did manage to pack The Fonda earlier this year, with a show at The Wiltern set for Dec. 10th. The influences on Nikki Nack range from Talking Heads to Dirty Projectors, while the tone of the album fluctuates between moments that feel sad and intimate and ones that come off as almost tribal and aggressive. With an open mind, this album will rock your world! – Gerry Doot

Listen: “Water Fountain

Tune-Yards-NikkiNack

#33: Beck – Morning Phase

The list of artists deserving of the title “musical genius” is, in my opinion, rather short, but if there’s anyone who has unequivocally earned it, it’s Beck. He’s dipped his toes into just about every musical genre in existence throughout his illustrious career, but his twelfth release, Morning Phase, is perhaps one of the most ambient and stripped-down efforts in his expansive repertoire.

Loaded with folky riffs and simple, understated instrumentation, Morning Phase is a mesmerizing journey of an album that’s more than capable of holding its own in the pantheon of Beck’s other releases (no small feat). You really can’t go wrong with any of the tracks here, but if you’re going to listen to one song and one alone, the dreamy “Blackbird Chain” should do nicely. – Lesley Park

Listen: “Blackbird Chain

Beck Morning Phase Album Cover

#32: Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty

Shabazz Palaces was an enigma when the project first emerged in 2011 with the mind-blowing experimental hip-hop album Black Up, and while the duo of Ishmael Butler (aka Palaceer Lazaro) and Tendai “Baba” Maraire might feel more comfortable revealing themselves following this year’s Lese Majesty, their music is just as daringly majestic and forward-thinking as ever.

Truth be told, Lese Majesty is a meticulously complex hip-hop record whose sonic textures and beats feel way ahead of their time to the point that the album might ultimately fall into the “most under-appreciated album of the year” category. Even though the album is broken into musical movements, its 45 minutes are overwhelming, which makes Lese Majesty an album that is best experienced when your guard is down and you can immerse yourself completely in its explorative palette and spacey elements. You’re not really sure where you end up once it’s over, but you know that you did experience something, which is just one reason Lese Majesty deserves repeat listens and further exploration. – David Fisch

Listen: “Forerunner Foray

Shabazz Palaces Lese Majesty

#31: Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

If you’re looking for an album to listen to while trying to avoid being productive, blast Cloud Nothing’s fourth studio effort, Here and Nowhere Else. It’s impossible to listen to this LP all the way through without getting swept up in its energy and punk prowess.

The shifting tempos and guitar thrashing make for a truly dynamic experience, and the album manages to be catchy and melodic underneath all the chaos. It is a serious departure from the group’s low-fi, reverb-heavy 2010 release, Turning On, which featured the fuzz favorite track “Hey Cool Kid.” Instead, listeners are confronted by a dissonant, hurried explosion of sonic sounds and frontman Dylan Baldi’s grisly vocals. It’s sloppy and discordant in a way that punk lovers will find deeply satisfying.

The no-nonsense lyrics are straightforward and unapologetic as demonstrated best by the song “Now Hear In” on which Baldi repeats the line “I can feel your pain and I feel alright about it” with increasing energy. The choruses crescendo to all-out, hair-swaying, jump-up-and-down-in-your-living-room levels, leaving the hooks in your head for days to come. – Jillian Goldfluss

Listen: “Now Here In

cloud nothings_here and nowhere else