How we made the listTo pull together the Best of 2014 list, we did a sweep of sources including the BBC, NME, The Guardian, Pitchfork, Q, Rock Sound, The Observer, The Independent, Resident Advisor, The Telegraph and Drowned in Sound.
After scouring ratings and reviews for hundreds of releases we came out of a small room with this list - our top 50 picks of the most acclaimed albums of the year...so far.
Best of 2013Best of 2013 feature.
Best of 2012Best of 2012 feature.
Best of 2011Best of 2011 feature.
Our top 50 of the most acclaimed albums of 2014 so far, as published on July 21, 2014.
|1. Morning Phase Beck|
|Released in February 2014, Beck’s twelfth album immediately drew comparisons to his critically acclaimed and commercially successful 2002 LP Sea Change (Rolling Stone’s album of that year) encouraged by Beck who described Morning Phase as a sequel. Indeed many of the musicians Beck worked with on Sea Change returned to appear on Morning Phase, including his father, composer David Campbell, who contributed orchestral arrangements. The Independent on Sunday describes the album as "an often gorgeous sequel to Sea Change, but it’s also more than that: it’s cheering proof that Beck isn’t ready to start repeating himself just yet" while Drowned in Sound highlights Beck’s journey from despair in Sea Change to reflection in Morning Phase, "It might share some sonic similarities [to Sea Change], but it's an altogether brighter beast".|
|• "The result is a set that feels like an instant folk-rock classic." Rolling Stone, "Morning Phase never sounds anything less than opulent." Pretty Much Amazing|
|• CD ( £9.27) | Vinyl ( £20.65) | MP3 ( £5.99) | More from Beck|
|2. Lost In The Dream War on Drugs|
|Far from being a “difficult” third album, The War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream has far exceeded its own lofty expectations following the critical acclaim for its predecessor, 2011’s Slave Ambient. As Pitchfork describe, it is bandleader Adam Granduciel’s “most lustrous, intricately detailed and beautifully rendered record to date”, influenced by various touch points from 70s and 80s rock, from Tom Petty to Fleetwood Mac, but still sounding timeless, drenched in its own ethereal haze.|
|• “With Lost In The Dream Adam Granduciel seems to be heading for things far bigger than anyone could ever have expected” 9/10 NME, “An immaculately assembled portrait of a man falling apart” 8.8 Pitchfork|
|• CD ( £9.73) | Vinyl ( £16.98) | MP3 ( £7.49) | More from The War on Drugs|
|3. Everyday Robots Damon Albarn|
|Damon Albarn is clearly not a man to sit still. From Blur to Africa Express, Gorillaz to The Good, The Bad and The Queen, it’s a wonder it’s taken him over 20 years to release his first “proper” solo record. Thankfully, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Everyday Robots was worth the wait, finding Albarn at his most reflective, poignant best. Despite the man’s energy for music, much of the album’s charm comes from its pervasive fragility, as seen on the title track, “If You’re Lonely, Press Play” and several other tracks that are framed simply by piano and glitchy trip-hop-esque beats. Critics have variously compared the album to Low-era Bowie, Bon Iver and more, but whatever the comparison, Everyday Robots is Albarn’s most personal contribution to date, and no matter how sad it sounds, it’s one with which he should be very happy.|
|• “Beautiful, but subtle, cloudy and elusive… Whoever Damon Albarn is, he's extremely good at what he does” 4/5 Guardian, “An intimate, introspective album that takes tentative steps to reveal the soul behind the star” 4/5 The Independent|
|• CD ( £6.40) | Vinyl ( £18.98) | MP3 ( £4.99) | More from Damon Albarn|
|4. Love Letters Metronomy|
|After the electro pop success of their third album The English Riviera, Metronomy seek out more of a soul rock sound for Love Letters. Featuring catchy singles including the title track – named Zane Lowe’s “Hottest Record in the World" - and “I’m Aquarius” the album hit the UK album chart top ten in March. Metronomy founder and frontman Joseph Mount has become known for his love of experimentation having fronted two previous diverse groups and remixed or produced for a whole host of musicians as well as his numerous EPs, albums and tracks with Metronomy. As All Music highlights “Given the critical and commercial success of The English Riviera, Metronomy could have easily spent another album or two expanding on its polished, erudite pop. However, they're too mercurial a band to do the obvious thing.” We can’t wait to see what they bring us next!|
|• “It’s Metronomy’s best work to date." The Independent, “Mount's intoxicating amalgam of past and present is the real thing.” Q Magazine|
|• CD ( £9.95) | Vinyl ( £19.03) | MP3 ( £3.99) | More from Metronomy|
|5. Caustic Love Paolo Nutini|
|Coming from a distinctly more mature footing than 2009’s Sunny Side Up, Caustic Love is a testament to Paolo Nutini’s songwriting ability. Debut single “Scream (Funk My Life Up)” bursts from the speakers with loud, upbeat horns to kick the album off and is accompanied by a number of feel-good summertime tunes but this is only one side to the album. Retaining the groove but slipping into a more heartfelt and tender moment are tracks such as “Diana” and the powerful “Iron Sky”. The album pays homage to the classic days of soul and Motown with its suggestive lyrics and regular nods to love and libido and shows the singer’s diversity. From his pop and ska infused debut These Streets via folk, indie, rock and funk the singer has come upon soul with the wisdom of man twice his age.|
|• "Caustic Love may be the best UK R&B album since the 1970s…" The Independent, "Caustic Love is a truly excellent modern soul record." The Telegraph|
|• CD (from £8.00) | Vinyl ( £15.24) | MP3 ( £6.99) | More from Paolo Nutini|
|6. Shriek Wye Oak|
|Formed in 2006, Wye Oak from Balitmore in Maryland curate, in Shriek, an indie rock collection of tunes with an folk twist, and more than a little hint of R&B flavour. With multiple instruments each (Andy on drums, keyboards and backing vocals, and Jenn as vocalist, guitarist and bassist) the duo released Shriek, their fourth studio album, early in 2014 as a follow up to Civilian which with tracks featuring in TV title sequences saw a turning point for the pair. "Departures rarely sound this confident--it helps that Shriek builds off of the major songwriting strides made by Civilian" claims The A.V Club as Wye Oak hand over the guitar, move in the synths and let Jenn's vocals take centre stage.|
|• "Wye Oak just turned in one of the year's most satisfying and seductive records." Magnet, "Shriek is a sustained act of seduction, a deftly conjoined conjuring of song, rhythm and mood." Uncut|
|• CD ( £13.03) | Vinyl ( £18.86) | MP3 ( £7.99) | More from Wye Oak|
|7. Lazaretto Jack White|
|Jack is back, and somewhat predictably, this enigmatic blues-rock powerhouse has done it yet again. Right from the off, White fuses his trademark riffs, dirty production and irrepressible groove into an R'n'B stomper (that's rhythm and blues in the truest sense) that drives forward and just barely hangs together. That controlled disorder and unruly tightness has always been his calling card, and is exactly what makes his records get the listener onto the edge of their seat, and Lazaretto is no different. But that doesn't mean Lazaretto is a one dimensional affair, which White amply demonstrates on the more countrified tracks like "Temporary Ground", fusing honky-tonk piano, western fiddle, pedal-steel and mournful vocal harmonies to really show off his musicianship and versatility, not to mention the deeply personal subject matter. Jack White is back, and at his dramatic, uncompromising best.|
|• "He has channelled his demons in Lazaretto to create one of the great break-up albums of recent years" The Telegraph, "While Lazaretto may sometimes appear to be a more nakedly emotional collection of songs than we've come to expect from its creator, the contents also rate among his wittiest and his wildest efforts to date" Uncut|
|• CD ( £9.00) | Vinyl ( £23.99) | MP3 ( £7.49) | More from Jack White|
|8. To Be Kind Swans|
|To Be Kind is the thirteenth album in total from Michael Gira’s experimental rock band, and the third since reforming in 2010. But far from the usual cash-driven comeback, as Pitchfork note, “they are the rare band of their vintage who seem less concerned with living up to or building upon a past legacy than establishing a completely different one”. Intense, long, loud and certainly not for the fainthearted, there is no doubt this is as ambitious and challenging an album as its predecessor The Seer (2012), but that’s no more than should be expected from a band at the top of their artistic game. As Drowned in Sound say in their perfect 10 review, this is an album that “emphasises rather than establishes Swans' reconfirmed position at the top of the experimental rock tree”.|
|• "A mesmerizing spectacle of an omnipotent band whose sound continues to expand in scope" 9.2 Pitchfork, "Swans are, and perhaps always have been, the greatest rock group on the face of the planet" 10/10 Drowned in Sound|
|• CD ( £10.28) | Vinyl ( £26.87) | MP3 ( £11.99) | More from Swans|
|9. Honest Future|
|Featuring a who's who of guest emcees, Honest not only sees Future share the mic with Kanye West, Wiz Khalifa, Drake and Andre 3000 (amongst others), but the album's production is also fronted by man of the moment and fellow Atlanta native Mike WILL Made It (if its a crossover trap banger, he's probably responsible). The album is dark, dirty and trippy as hell while the unfussy, atmospheric production gives Future and his meticulously selected crew the space to do what it is they do best; throw down some serious hooks.|
|• "An early contender for this year’s big summer rap album, we won’t be surprised if we are still hearing about Honest when the winter cold returns." Clash Magazine, "no one in hip-hop is as fascinating as Future right now" Spin|
|• CD ( £12.37) | MP3 ( £8.59) | More from Future|
|10. Present Tense Wild Beasts|
|One thing that has remained consistent over Wild Beasts’ four albums is that they absolutely don’t sound like anyone else. Despite this being the band’s first without producer Richard Formby, that’s one thing that’s certainly not changed on their latest critically-acclaimed record, Present Tense. The Line of Best Fit call it “possibly the most intelligent, involving and profound record since OK Computer”, and it certainly shows progression from 2011’s Smother, toning down the disco and electronica, instead taking contemporary music’s ubiquitous R&B influences and filtering via synth pop to create something entirely their own, as the 9/10 NME review states, “Present Tense roams a landscape which couldn’t have been charted by anyone else”.|
|• "Another remarkable achievement from this wonderful group" 9/10 The Quietus "such exquisite attention to detail, you can’t help but submit to their advances" 9/10 Uncut|
|• CD ( £9.99) | Vinyl ( £16.07) | MP3 ( £5.79) |More from Wild Beasts|
More of the Best of 2014
Check out the rest of the top 50 of the year so far: 11-50