By Joseph LiMandri
This year has been difficult to peg, thematically speaking. Where 2013 was the year of nudisco, with super acts Daft Punk, Arcade Fire and Justin Timberlake all releasing excellent dance albums, 2014 has not yet found its identity. Albums from all over the musical spectrum have been garnering heaps of critical praise and finding mass appeal. If you are feeling adventurous, I am about to offer you what I believe to be some of the best albums that the year has delivered so far. I have done my best to include a fairly diverse group of music below, so there should be something in here for everyone. Unfortunately, I have not been in love with any Rap/Hip Hop albums this year, so that genre is underrepresented on this list. Fear not, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar have impending releases that promise to be huge.
The War on Drugs- “Lost in the Dream”
It is rare to listen to an album and immediately recognize it as a classic, but The War on Drugs were able to accomplish just that when they released “Lost in the Dream” this February. It is a beautiful synth Americana rock album that echoes without imitating the likes of Springsteen and Dylan. If you have a long drive ahead of you, I implore you to roll your windows down and lose yourself in this hazy dream of a record.
Top Song: “Red Eyes”
How to Dress Well- “What Is This Heart?”
Blazing the trail for The Weeknd and Frank Ocean, Tom Krell is the singer-songwriter behind How to Dress Well, and is arguably responsible for the resurgence of R&B music in the last few years. His latest effort, “What is This Heart”, is a pop album at its core, but it does not eschew that ethereal spirit that has defined his previous works. With his fantastic falsetto guiding the album, this is one not to be missed. It also serves as a great entry point into his body of work.
Top Song: “Words I Can’t Remember”
Strand of Oaks- “HEAL”
This album came as a total surprise for me. Strand of Oaks used to be an electronic neo-folk band, but then “HEAL” exploded on the scene, bringing some significant changes to their sound. While they have not entirely abandoned their roots, “HEAL” is a rock album at its core and an awesome one at that. The heartfelt album is raw in its lyrics and style, and this synthesis has brought out their greatest work to date.
Top Song: “JM”
Future Islands- “Singles”
With their third studio effort, lead singer Samuel Herring and his band have crafted their best album yet and also my personal favorite on this list. After a viral performance on Letterman, Future Islands saw their aptly named pop album “Singles” slip into the mainstream ever so slightly. Herring puts all his energy and passion into every song, with his crooning and growling serving as the main instrument over the scaled back electronic production.
Top Song: “Fall From Grace”
Real Estate- “Atlas”
Real Estate builds on what has made them so successful in the past – breezy and laidback beach rock. But if you let yourself really dive into “Atlas” you will find a major evolution in what is essentially a profoundly sad record. Their sound has not changed too much, but the chilled-out album brings on a sense of loneliness, alienation and a wayward feeling of peace.
Top Song: “Primitive”
Eric Church- “The Outsiders”
Country music has fallen on hard times lately. The radio is dominated by watered-down pop country that would have the likes of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams rolling in their graves. When you have Taylor Swift heading the Top 40, you know you have a problem. That is where Eric Church steps in. “The Outsiders” is an album that defies expectations of a modern country star. It is loud, brash, earnest and just plain fun country rock. If you’ve grown bored of Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts, make sure you let loose with “The Outsiders”.
Top Song: “Give Me Back My Hometown”
The Horrors- “Luminous”
The Horrors have come a long way from their goth-punk origins, with many tweaks to their sound in the last four albums. Luscious synths and psychedelic currents contribute to what is their most approachable album yet. Their sound moves toward new wave dance style textures, calling back to ‘80s stalwarts Echo & the Bunnymen and the Psychedelic Furs. This is an album that you will find yourself getting lost in over and over again.
Top Song: “Change Your Mind”
Porter Robinson- “Worlds”
I’m not a huge fan of EDM, at least not in its current overcrowded state, but Porter Robinson diverts the formula just enough to make his sophomore effort “Worlds” feel fresh. Working in the vein of stadium acts like M83 and Passion Pit, Robinson challenges the modern conventions of EDM by foregoing the heavy bass and all too common “drop.” He shifts himself more into the pop scene with a lot of vocal work and catchy hooks. It’s not my favorite album of the year, but I feel like Robinson is doing his best to be interesting. That is much more than can be said for most of the other performers in the industry.
Top Song: “Sea of Love”