#30: Twin Peaks – Wild Onion

The sound of Twin Peaks is one of the past, drawn from a time when rock was raw and wild and dirty. The quartet’s unpolished style is front-and-center on their latest album, Wild Onion, and now that they’ve thoroughly put their stamp on their hometown of Chicago, they’re bringing the sound of the city to anyone who will listen.

With all four members still below the legal drinking age, this band embodies the youthful, carefree spirit of adolescents growing up alongside the big kids, like Dave Grohl and Julian Casablancas. Their music speaks to the anxieties of young people and the nostalgia of the older generation (“older” being those in their late-20s and beyond). With their song “Fade Away,” they speak in a sort of wistful code to the youth, saying, “Rise above it. Get drunk in the daytime. I ride around my side of town, my hair in the breeze. Life for me is drinkin’ beer and smokin’ on weed.” The members of Twin Peaks have long musical lives ahead of them, but for now they’re happy being a bunch of dudes playing music in a basement, and we’re happy to listen to it. – Christine Perez

Listen: “Fade Away

twin-peaks wild-onion

#29: Simian Mobile Disco – Whorl

Whorl, James Ford and Jas Shaw’s much-anticipated follow-up to Unpatterns, is a composite of three “live” performances. Not exactly common for an electronic act. Written in just three days using analogue equipment and recorded in large parts in the Californian desert,Whorl emphasizes texture over dynamics and has a much more organic, unpredictable feel than its predecessor. After opening with an ambient sort of alien feel, the LP then moves into more progressive and danceable beats, but from beginning to end, Whorl recalls Simian Mobile Disco’s impressively analog roots and reminds us why we loved this duo so much in the first place. – Twila Grissom

Listen: “Hypnick Jerk

Simian mobile disco whorl

#28: Ty Segall – Manipulator

Ty Segall’s Manipulator is one of his most accessible albums to date, and the garage-psych rocker has released his fair share of material. Working tirelessly since 2008, the Bay Area rocker has explored every genre on the spectrum of rock music, from shoegaze to glam rock to punk, and his seventh solo studio album manages to fuse all of those influences into an ingenious 17-track LP that boasts inventive lyrics and fuzzed-out instrumentals.

Between churning out album after album, collaborating with other artists (e.g., Thee Oh Sees, Tim Presley of White Fence, Mikal Cronin, etc.), and working on his own side projects (e.g., the reverb-heavy band Fuzz), you would think Segall might have to sacrifice the integrity of his songs just to keep up, but with Manipulator, the San Fransisco rocker takes all of those years of genre exploration and carves out the best of the best. The title track is a jangly David Bowie-esque foot stomper, while the single “Tall Man, Skinny Lady” will leave you nostalgic for The British Invasion. While not every Ty Segall album has been a bona fide home run, he obviously devotes a relentless amount of attention to his craft and has hit the mark with Manipulator. – Jillian Goldfluss

Listen: “Tall Man, Skinny Lady

ty segall manipulator

#27: Jungle – Jungle

I predicted in January that Jungle would take over the world this year. I’m willing to admit that might have been a little overstated, but the UK freshmen did make a pretty serious splash in the music world with their self-titled debut.

Jungle’s down-beat, groove-based, multi-vocal approach to music mixes the sounds of Prince, P-Funk, Gorillaz, and Afrofunk into one delicious style, and the production on their self-titled debut album is ridiculous. The tones they are able to pull from such mundane things as glass bottles adds so much to an album that excels at seamlessly blending the simple with the complex.

Jungle’s approach to the live show is both modest and visually stunning. The lights are kept turned down low, highlighting no one member’s face and keeping focus on the music, while their videos, which feature dance sequences by normal-looking people mugging for the camera while laying it down, are impossible to turn away from. This year they went from headlining The Echo to El Rey in a matter of months, played multiple festivals all over the world, and have been nominated for the Mercury Prize. Jungle may not have taken over the world just yet, but they’re certainly on their way. – Gerry Doot

Listen: “Time

Jungle

#26: Chet Faker – Built on Glass

At the intersection of smooth electronica and wistful soul lies Australian newcomer Chet Faker. While it’s not unusual for great artists to struggle with defining their sound for their debut, he seems to have had no trouble in that department. Built on Glass may be understated, but it’s bursting with driven, confident conviction. The album demonstrates Faker’s knack for layering seductive, downtempo beats with poetically elegant verses in a way that may at first listen sound simplistic but proves to actually be rather well-thought out and deliberate. Chet Faker’s skill as a producer is present in everything from soulful ballads like “Talk Is Cheap” to the brighter grooves of my album favorite, “Gold.” While I’m certainly excited to see what’s on the horizon for him, I’ve got a good feeling I’ll still be jamming to Built on Glass long after album number two is released. It’s just that good. – Lesley Park

Listen: “Gold

Chet Faker Built on Glass

#25: Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Piñata

I’ve been saying it for years now, but Freddie Gibbs is heavily slept on. As a fan of mean-mugging, gangster rap, I took to Gibbs from the first listen, but it seems like while he has a devoted following, it’s just not as big as it should be. The same could be said about Madlib, but for completely different reasons, so when the two teamed up for Piñata, it was a head-scratcher. But then I heard the music they made.

Gibbs, on his own, goes aggressively hard, and he doesn’t shed his street credibility as part of MadGibbs, but Madlib’s reflective beats seem to slow him down just enough. At points, gangster Gibbs even gets introspective, a rare occurrence on his solo tracks. Piñata also features a smoothness that complements Gibbs’ rapid-fire flow surprisingly well. To listen to the album is to understand that it’s a truly collaborative effort from two artists who are fiercely true to their own styles, and — to quote “Thuggin’” — “it feels so good, and it feels so right.” – Winnie Fan

Listen: “Thuggin’

freddie gibbs and madlip pinata

#24: Mac Demarco – Salad Days

Mac Demarco is a strange dude, known by many for his unconventional stage antics more so than his musical abilities. Still, he appears to be aware of this perception, and with his sophomore album, Salad Days, he delivered intimate, inspired lyrics and an expanded his vocal range, demonstrating that he possesses more depth than you might first think.

It was, in fact, partying too hard and drinking too heavily that left Demarco exhausted after his first tour and ready to take a different approach for his sophomore full-length. For round two, he focused on crafting more mellow, personal songs, such as “Let My Baby Stay” and “Blue Boy.” The former was essentially a heartfelt, rhetorical plea to prevent his Canadian long-term girlfriend from getting deported from America. On that track he belts, “Please don’t take my love away,” hitting deep notes and employing incredible range, proving to listeners that he takes his music way more seriously than his party-boy persona lets on.

Salad Days still has its quirky, offbeat moments, including the track “Chamber of Reflection,” which opens with a trippy, organ-heavy melody and maintains that mood throughout. However, none of the tracks are without meaning, and fans of Demarco should be pleased to see him deliver an introspective, fully realized album that offers something new with each listen. – Jillian Goldfluss

Listen: “Salad Days

mac demarco salad days

#23: Flight Facilities – Down to Earth

House music in general has had a great year, but Flight Facilities is really outstanding. The Australian duo has mastered the art of looking to the past for inspiration while creating forward-thinking music, and pigeonholing their sound as “disco” is missing it completely.

With their debut studio album, Flight Facilities is definitely shooting more for a specific energy than they are a particular genre. The sexy, nightclub atmosphere of “Heart Attack” is a good example. Another great one is “Clair De Lune,” which has a sparse and energetic arrangement, but pulses with hypnotic energy nonetheless. “Stand Still,” on the other hand, is an infectious cut of indie-rock joy, while “Two Bodies” captivated me with its effortless, patient, undeniable rhythms and enchanting vocals courtesy of Emma Louise. Down to Earth is like a Swiss Army knife of good vibes for different situations. Absolutely my favorite dance music record of the year. – Marcus Slater

Listen: “Two Bodies

Flight Facilities Down to Earth

#22: Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

Sia Furler’s sixth studio album rounds up the demons and angels she’s faced in life and then explores them over the course of twelve distinct and beautifully vulnerable tracks. Tracks on 1000 Forms of Fear focus on overcoming heartache, past substance abuse, and depression while flexing the amazing elasticity of Sia’s voice through her strong and thoughtful lyrics. Given its truly emotional and human display, it’s no wonder this album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. From heart-swelling choruses to moving odes to all-consuming love, 1000 Forms of Fear features the entire range of the emotional spectrum and is the ideal soundtrack for getting through whatever life throws your way. – Twila Grissom

Listen: “Eye of the Needle

Sia 1000 Forms of Fear

#21: Future Islands – Singles

Not to sound hipster or anything, but I knew Future Islands before they were Future Islands. The difference between me and a hipster is that I’m willing to fully accept the group’s new home in the ears of mass audiences because, with a release like Singles, Future Islands completely deserves to be heard by all. The Baltimore band’s brand of suggestive synth pop was delectable before, but appropriately, every track off their 2014 effort is worthy of being a single.

On their fourth studio LP, the band approaches their usually catchy melodies and thunderous, charismatic vocal performances from Sam Herring without reservation. It is the Future Islands album that fans have been waiting for and that new listeners have been in need of, a record created with aplomb and enough zeal to make even the most casual music listener keel over with joy. The band no longer needs to break the chains of independent houses or underground clubs — they are already beyond that, with “Seasons (Waiting On You)” and the rest of Singles’ wildly likable and emotive tunes as their official calling card. – David Fisch

Listen: “Seasons (Waiting On You)

Future-Islands-Singles