Any “best of” list is prone to disappoint. This principle is perhaps most relevant in conversations surrounding music, a medium so expansive, ranging and subjective that it’s nearly impossible to please everyone — especially with a narrow number like fourteen. Truthfully, our list misses key moments from the past twelve months: Jack White and Thom Yorke both dove deeper into their respective solo careers; Prince came out with two albums (Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum) on the same day; Future Islands, godfathers to the genre of indie-rock, finally made big with Singles and the hit track “Seasons”; even Lana del Ray, with some direction from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, released a very solid album (don’t hold it against us for saying so). But calling to light these honorable mentions is not to downplay our own selections. Below you’ll find some of the most moving, most impressive, and most carefully arranged compositions from 2014. These are the 14 albums we keep coming back to, and whose influence, we suspect, should survive the trial of years to come.

Salad Days

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Mac DeMarco | Key Tracks: “Let Her Go”, “Salad Days”
Clocking in at just 34 minutes, Salad Days is short and semi-sweet, as if caught in a pleasant, if unusual dream sequence. The album shows a maturing side to the Canadian rockster, known for his “funny-guy” stage persona, with emotionally driven lyrics that explore the dark corners of distant relationships and DeMarco’s own coming of age. $9



Black Messiah


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D’Angelo and The Vanguard | Key Tracks: “Ain’t That Easy”, “Sugah Daddy”
D’Angelo’s first studio release since 2000’s Voodoo, his much-anticipated third album finally arrives to widespread critical acclaim. General consensus: Black Messiah was worth the wait. $10



St. Vincent


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St. Vincent | Key Tracks: “Rattlesnake”, “Digital Witness”
Exploratory and self-assured, St. Vincent’s self-titled fourth album adds a psychedelic film gloss over the genre of pop, resulting in distorted, sprawling guitar riffs alongside upbeat dance tempos and faithful moments of blissful vocal melodies. $9



Morning Phase


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Beck | Key Tracks: “Blue Moon”, “Say Goodbye”
Best seen as a sibling album to 2002’s Sea Change, this year’s sole release from the multi-genre artist finds Beck returning to singer-songwriter status with heavy dependence on acoustic guitars, echoing, layered vocals, and backing orchestral arrangement led by his father David Campbell. $9



Manipulator


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Ty Segall | Key Tracks: “Susie Thumb”, “Tall Man Skinny Lady”
Sometimes called a musician’s musician, Ty Segall, known for genre-bending and a consistent musical output, finds his spiritual origin in the West Coast garage scene. Manipulator is an incredibly tight record with hints of Bowie and T. Rex in his glam-rock inspired choruses. (The album isn’t yet on Spotify, so our playlist below are instead some of Segall’s other great songs.) $9



You’re Dead!


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Flying Lotus | Key Tracks: “Never Catch Me”, “Moment of Hesitation”
Spawned from the passing of many of Steven Ellis’s (a.k.a. Flying Lotus, a.k.a FlyLo) closest, You’re Dead! strikes semblance with Davis’s Bitches Brew for a fresh take on electronic, free jazz fusion with some hip-hop thrown into the mix. The album also features appearances from Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and keyboarding titan Herbie Hancock. $9



Run The Jewels 2


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Run The Jewels | Key Tracks: “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”
The second album from the unlikely duo of Killer Mike and the underground’s own El-P is an aggressive sequel that made nearly every critics’ shortlist as one of best rap albums of the year. RTJ2 results in a natural chemistry that is abrasive, bold and indelibly received by general audiences. $8



Our Love


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Caribou | Key Tracks: “Can’t Do Without You”, “Our Love”
The fourth album released by Caribou (otherwise known as Dan Snaith) and his first in four years, Our Love feels most comfortable on the dance floor with textured electronics and a more confident vocal performance than seen on his previous triumph Swim. $9



Lost in the Dream


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The War on Drugs | Key Tracks: “Red Eyes”, “Under The Pressure”
Led by frontman Adam Granduciel, Lost In the Dream is a very sad, very personal record exploring Granduciel’s own depression and insecurities of adjusting to domestic life after a prolonged period of touring. Characteristic of his musical style, the record features ambient guitars that sprawl and open up the tracks’ tonal landscapes. $5



Piñata


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Freddie Gibbs & Madlib | Key Tracks: “Robes”, “High”
Top form hip-hop sharing the sharp lyricism of Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s underlying samples, production on the record spans three years of accumulation and refinement. Additional appearances by Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, and Raekwon among others. $9



Inherent Vice Soundtrack


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Johnny Greenwood and Various Artists | Key Tracks: “Spooks” by Radiohead, “Simba” by Les Baxter
It was a sublime year for soundtracks (including Interstellar and Under the Skin). The year’s late Inherent Vice blends half original orchestration by Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood (his third collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson), this time with a new song by Radiohead, interplayed with tracks by Neil Young, Chuck Jackson and the legendary Les Baxter. $11



Sun Ra and his Akestra: In the Orbit of Ra


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Sun Ra | Key Tracks: “Plutonian Nights”, “Island in the Sun”
One of the year’s best musical reissues, Sun Ra and his Akestra: In the Orbit of Ra encapsulates a slice of Sun Ra’s wildly expansive musical breadth into an accessible introduction for those unfamiliar with the experimental jazz pioneer. The release, presented by Akestra member and current leader Marshall Allen, celebrates what would have been Sun Ra’s 100th birthday this year. $14



…And Star Power


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Foxygen | Key Tracks: “Cosmic Vibrations”, “I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate”
Throughout their 24-track-long second album, Foxygen sound like a young band trying to impress that get away with it (because they are impressive). …And Star Power is as ranging as it is long, pushing listeners through a nightmarishly fun musical achievement. $5



To Be Kind


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Swans | Key Tracks: “A Little God In My Hands”, “Oxygen”
Michael Gira is the creative force behind the ever-experimental band Swans, whose new album, To Be Kind, is the third to come from the group since their reunion in 2010. The image of a crying baby on its cover is the first indicator to suggest a nervous energy runs throughout this two hour, 10-track tonal crusade. $14