14 Best Alternative Albums of 2014

2014 was an incredible year for music. Not only did many quality artists submit superb follow-up albums, but a lot of young and debuting artists rose to the challenge of releasing excellent first records.

Here’s the list of my favorite albums that released in 2014, ones I played repeatedly throughout the year.

Skip straight to the playlist and stream the albums on Spotify.

14 Best Alternative Albums of 2014

Broods

1. Broods – Evergreen

They’ve been on alternative and indie radar for a while, but the full album was worth the wait, like CHVRCHES mellowed out a little. Female lead vocals and male background complement each other delicately, inviting you to sit down a while and listen to their stories with tasteful electronic instrumentation setting the table for the conversation. Poppy and driving enough to keep you hooked, honest and deliberate enough to keep you intrigued. Top tracks are “Mother and Father” and “L.A.F.”

2. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were

Imagine Iron & Wine and John Mayer piling in a car to console Howard, a vagabond Brit burned by a bad breakup. MIle after mile, the two help Howard talk it out, down two-lane highways in middle America. Sad, angry, indignant, indifferent—it’s a commentary on relationships gone wrong, and it makes you feel it beneath all the words and music. Perfect for fall and winter evenings. Top tracks are “I Forget Where We Were” and “End of the Affair.”

Betty Who

3. Betty Who – Take Me When You Go

Everyone’s favorite non-guilty pop pleasure of the year. If fun could kill, this album is front to back serial. Katy Perry and Taylor Swift ought to make way for this Australian singer/songwriter. At 23, she’ll make you believe you’re young and in love again—or maybe it’s just sugary sweet infatuation. But who cares when her 80’s-nod synth and compressed back beats and spot-on lyrical bliss give you the feeling of eternal summer on her remarkably cohesive album. Top tracks are “High Society” and “Heartbreak Dream.”

4. Copeland – Ixora

A triumphant return after what most of us thought was the end of their career together—there was much rejoicing at the news of reuniting. The record of all 2014 that brings me back to simpler times of high school emotive songwriting, yet seasoned logic that knows how to work through one’s issues. The heart of the band that I originally grew so fond of, and the tight production that still has room to inhale and exhale with their moments of musical dabbling outside their tasteful, orchestrated emo rock. Top tracks are “Disjointed” and “I Can Make You Feel Young Again.”

5. Kye Kye – Fantasize

It’s a throwback to the glamorous yearning of 80s pop with a twist. Moody, minor progressions, dreamy female vocals, and ambient orchestrations create the golden combination for walking the city on a cold winter night, or staring out the window, and reflecting on what your life has been and what it can become. Check out my review of it: Why You Should Listen To Kye Kye’s Album “Fantasize.” Top tracks are “Honest Affection” and “Her.”

6. Banks – Goddess

Move over, Lorde; you’re not the only young prodigy with attitude. Searing emotions through a voice too world-weary for her age, though less whiny and therefore more palatable. Lots of vanity, lots of pop catchiness shines through the production, shrouded in dense electric layers. Atmospheric and ethereal crashing into rocky drum triggers. Top tracks are “Goddess” and “Beggin For Thread.”

The War On Drugs

7. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

Proof that Americana isn’t dead. This is the album you need to drive through the night, criss-crossing the country but remembering where you came from. Some feels like the Boss, some like Augustana—all of it like you want to have someone familiar tell you the things you already know, but in a little bit different way. Moody ambiance aplenty between plodding folk-hearted rock and roll. Top tracks are “Red Eyes” and “An Ocean Between the Waves.”

8. Thumpers – Galore

Experimental, passionate, knowingly energetic, this band is one with upward mobility. Think Fall Out Boy with less angst about teenage romance, jack-hammering Jimmy Hendrix licks in the bridge, Jack White’s nonchalant experimentation—all balled up in more positivity than Foster The People. This London-based duo took the Beatles’ melody-infused spirit and immersed it in modern alternative pop punk swagger. Gang vocals throughout, layered bright electronics and harmonies pulling together the stop-go of their percussive rollicking. Top tracks are “Unkinder (A Tougher Love)” and “Dancing’s Done.”

9. Dan Croll – Sweet Disarray

Unsuspecting like a regular patron of the coffee shop you visit on the weekends, Croll writes the songs to accompany your daily routine. There’s something appealing about the simple honesty of his songs on life and love, strung up with inviting piano and guitar centerpieces set to measured electronics and drums. Top tracks are “Maway” and “From Nowhere.”

10. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso

Syncopated programming meets vulnerable, yearning vocals. At once sad, confused, but resolved to get through it. Think straightforward 80s pop singer who finds a wealth of synth lines and programming stored away in a closet, then plugs away to the rhythm of blinking lights with her soulful, unabashed ways. Quirky, but welcoming. Top tracks are “Play It Right” and “Coffee.”

11. Colony House – When I Was Younger

This Franklin, Tennessee trio sounds like they’ve been playing together for a decade, tight and melodic. Straight up guitars, bass, and drums keep this pop rock album balanced with pure and youthful vocals, occasional keys incorporated to provide just enough flourish. They realize they’ve got a lot to learn, but that makes you cheer for them all the more. They even try to help us keep moving forward (because they’re trying to do the same thing). Top tracks are “Silhouettes” and “Caught Me By Surprise.”

12. Sam Smith – In The Lonely Hour

It seems like he came out of nowhere to instantaneously seize our attention. This is yesteryear level crooning with the modernity of solid producing and layers of diverse instrumentation. The vocals alone are worth listening to this album, but you’ll also get a kick out of the tempo variation and Smith’s ability to bring his singing A-game every time. An essential for any modern romantic’s collection. Top tracks are “Stay With Me” and “I’m Not The Only One.”

Brooke Fraser

13. Brooke Fraser – Brutal Romantic

She made us wait until November to hear what her evolution has wrought. But she deserves more credit than she’s given: this album is introspective, okay with being moody, no stranger to misunderstandings. Forsaking acoustic melodies on her previous work, not donning lots of computers, MIDI triggers, and FX, yet it suits her well. Her voice makes it all work. Top tracks are “Kings and Queens” and “Magical Machine.”

14. Alt-J – This Is All Yours

We still don’t know what they’re singing about, but we like it. Their previous album was a game-changer for obscure alternative music and this record is a step further. Such whiplash between songs that almost get stuck in your head, then dive-bombing into outdoor sounds or ill-placed flutes (what the?)—but even that doesn’t ruin the record as a whole. Lots of territory to immerse yourself in with their broad alternative progressive musical landscape. Top tracks are “Every Other Freckle” and “Hunger of the Pine.”

Runners Up

  • MØ – No Mythologies To Follow
  • James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
  • Dawn Golden – Still Life
  • Ghost Beach – Blonde
  • John Mark McMillan – Borderland
  • Bad Suns – Language and Perspectives
  • Lily & Madeleine – Fumes
  • Tove Lo – Queen of the Clouds
  • Bombay Motorcycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
  • Coldplay – Ghost Stories

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What were your favorite records of 2014?

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