The Best Albums of 2014

  • Publish Date: December 29, 2014
  • Comments: ↓ 1 user comment

D'Angelo has the best-reviewed major album of 2014

Image
2014 95 Black Messiah
by D'Angelo and the Vanguard
2013 92 Sunbather
by Deafheaven
2012 92 Channel Orange
by Frank Ocean
2011 88 Bad As Me
by Tom Waits
High Scoring Albums by Year
(Minimum 15 Reviews)
2010 94 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
by Kanye West

Up until a few weeks ago, it looked like either St. Vincent or Run the Jewels would capture the title of 2014's best-reviewed album, and it looked like we'd have our first year without a 90+ release since 2011. But none of those things came to pass.

Instead, out of nowhere, D'Angelo dropped his first studio album in 14 years. The R&B artist had been hinting for years—many, many years—about a follow-up to 2000's acclaimed Voodoo, but recent events in the aftermath of police shootings in Ferguson and New York prompted him to greatly accelerate his schedule. Black Messiah arrived, Beyoncé-style, on December 15th with no advance promotion and just a few hours of warning. The result is our highest-scoring album since the release of Brian Wilson's SMiLE in 2004.

The past year saw the release of many excellent albums in addition to D'Angelo's last-minute stunner. Of the 817 new studio albums released in 2014 that received at least 7 reviews from professional critics, over 13% (or 109 albums, to be exact) received universal acclaim (with a Metascore of 81 or greater). That's better than 2013's percentage, which was already well ahead of the prior year's numbers.

Below is this year's ranking of the best albums (in Metacritic's database) released during the past calendar year as determined by their Metascores—an average of all reviews by professional critics at the time of each album's original release. Note that live albums, reissues, compilations, and the like are excluded from this chart, though they are listed separately a bit further down this page.

The 25 best-reviewed albums of 2014 (min. 15 reviews)

Album cover#1
D'Angelo and the Vanguard
95 Black Messiah (RCA)

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Though its very late release meant that it could not be included on most critics' year-end top 10 lists (many of which had already been published prior to the album's arrival), D'Angelo's first album since 2000 impressed reviewers like nothing else this year. Of the 24 reviews collected so far, none is scored lower than 80, and most are 90 or higher.

"Rife with the kind of sublimely loose grooves achievable only through instrumental precision, Black Messiah is as vital as it is sublime."

Los Angeles Times More reviews...

Album cover#2
St. Vincent
89 St. Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic)

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Produced by John Congleton, Annie Clark's fourth and best-reviewed solo album to date follows her stellar 2011 effort Strange Mercy and a one-off collaboration with David Byrne.

"Her biggest fans may prefer less direct writing, but it makes St. Vincent her most widely appealing album to date, an infectious work that doesn’t ever feel like a compromise."

Consequence of Sound More reviews...

Album cover#3
Run the Jewels
89 Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal)

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The second highly acclaimed collaboration between emcee/producer El-P and rapper Killer Mike (or third, if you include Mike's recent El-P-produced solo album), RTJ2 is 2014's best-reviewed hip-hop album. Unfortunately, the all-cat remake didn't surface in time to be eligible for the 2014 list.

"RTJ2 is the rare sequel that bests the beloved original in almost every facet."

Slant More reviews...

Album cover#4
Swans
88 To Be Kind (Young God)

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This John Congleton-produced double album is the third studio set from Swans since Michael Gira re-formed the experimental post-punk act four years ago. St. Vincent and Cold Specks are among the guests on the two-hour, 10-song LP.

"To Be Kind is a loving ode to chaos, full of deranged, mutant energy and even more brilliant for it."

Pretty Much Amazing More reviews...

Album cover#5
Pallbearer
88 Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore)

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The Little Rock, Arkansas doom metal outfit followed their acclaimed 2012 debut Sorrow and Extinction with this even better sophomore set.

"The dolorous gloom of Foundations of Burden should be oppressive, but Pallbearer turns pain into beauty."

Austin Chronicle More reviews...

Album cover#6
Flying Lotus
88 You're Dead (Warp)

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Originally beginning life as a jazz album before morphing into a grab-bag of styles united by a loose theme of mortality, FlyLo's 5th studio album is one of 2014's most original works. Guests include Kendrick Lamar, Herbie Hancock, Snoop Dogg, and Angel Deradoorian (formerly of Dirty Projectors).

"This record is a wholly singular work; not only does it defy expectations of what a Flying Lotus album should sound like, it totally obliterates any preconceptions about what can be released by a remotely popular contemporary musician."

The 405 More reviews...

Album cover#7
Rosanne Cash
87 The River & The Thread (Blue Note)

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The singer-songwriter's 13th studio album and first LP of original compositions in eight years finds her once again working with longtime producer John Leventhal. It's 2014's best-reviewed country album.

"It’s among her finest work in a 35-year career, assured and at ease, and one of 2014’s first great albums."

Boston Globe More reviews...

Album cover#8
Perfume Genius
87 Too Bright (Matador)

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Seattle-based solo artist Mike Hadreas extended his perfect streak of 81+ albums to three with Too Bright, which ditched the spare, fragile style of previous releases for something bolder, bigger, and angrier, produced by Portishead's Adrian Utley.

"It's a record full of beauty and heartache, confidence and fear, and these ends pull at each other for one of the most captivating records to come out this year."

Absolute Punk More reviews...

Album cover#9
Sharon Van Etten
86 Are We There (Jagjaguwar)

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The Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter's self-produced fourth album is her best-reviewed release to date. (Given that her average Metascore is 83, that's quite an accomplishment.)

"One of the most vivid, involving, troubling albums about the trials of love in recent memory."

Drowned in Sound More reviews...

Album cover#10
Aphex Twin
86 Syro (Warp)

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After the release of Drukqs in 2001, the once-prolific Richard James went 13 years without another studio album until the arrival of Syro this fall with little advance warning. The new set immediately became one of the electronic music legend's best-reviewed releases to date.

"Even if Syro isn’t a radical departure, it’s still a swaggering return, a reminder of just how many varieties of warped sound remain at James’ command--and just how few of his acolytes can touch that versatility."

A.V. Club More reviews...

Album cover#11
FKA twigs
86 LP1 (XL Recordings)

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English trip-hop artist Tahliah Debrett Barnett scored the best-reviewed debut album of 2014 with this Mercury Prize-nominated full-length that followed a pair of acclaimed EPs.

"In its menacing incandescence, LP1 sounds like nothing else in the world right now."

Spin More reviews...

Album cover#12
Wild Beasts
86 Present Tense (Domino)

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One of just a few albums on this list inexplicably ignored by critics on their year-end top 10 lists, this fourth and highest-scoring album from the English art-rockers was recorded over the course of a full year with new producers Leo Abrahams and Lexxx, and found the group inspired by electronic music of the 1980s and '90s.

"It is an album by a band at the very peak of their powers--one that will make you want to throw your hands up and surrender to its magnificent beauty."

musicOMH More reviews...

Album cover#13
Leonard Cohen
86 Popular Problems (Columbia)

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The legendary singer-songwriter released this 13th studio album just two days after his 80th birthday. Critics gave him the gift of terrific reviews.

"It's surprising, deeply moving and occasionally stunning."

Exclaim More reviews...

Album cover#14
The War on Drugs
86 Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)

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Two years in the making, this third LP from the Adam Granduciel-led indie rock outfit The War on Drugs (a band co-founded by Kurt Vile, who left early on to become a solo artist) is dominating critics' year-end top 10 lists.

"It's a near flawless collection of dreamy vibes, shifting moods, and movement, and stands easily as Granduciel's finest hour so far."

All Music Guide More reviews...

Album cover#15
Steve Gunn
86 Way Out Weather (Paradise Of Bachelors)

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Formerly a guitarist for Kurt Vile's backing band, The Violators, Steve Gunn is also a prolific solo artist, and this latest release finds him backed by a larger band, leading to a more accessible (though still exceedingly eclectic) sound.

"The eight songs are all beautifully crafted, integrating elements of folk, blues and country/rock. ... A new American classic."

Magnet More reviews...

Album cover#16
Sun Kil Moon
85 Benji (Caldo Verde)

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The sixth and best release from Mark Kozelek's post-Red House Painters project Sun Kil Moon was released nearly a year ago but is still wowing critics today. (Of course, so is the latest album from Kozelek's arch-rival The War on Drugs.)

"Kozelek, it seems, has nothing left to hide, or lose: the effect is utterly riveting."

The Observer More reviews...

Album cover#17
Angel Olsen
84 Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar)

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The John Congleton-produced second LP from the singer-songwriter is her first album recorded with a full band. The result is more varied—and less dependent on her voice—than her debut, but is no less compelling, provided you don't mind a bit of gloom.

"Burn Your Fire for No Witness conjures the past without ever imitating it, swirling its influences into something intimate, impressionistic and new."

Pitchfork More reviews...

Album cover#18
Ex Hex
84 Rips (Merge)

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The latest project from the prolific Mary Timony (who is a member of Helium, Autoclave, and Wild Flag in addition to recording as a solo artist) is a new pop-punk band named after one of her solo albums. This Mitch Easter-produced, hook-filled debut album was recorded in just two weeks.

"Rips is a feel-good gut-punch of a debut album, working a sound that dates back to the Runaways, but also can hold its own right up against current practitioners like Dum Dum Girls."

The New York Times More reviews...

Album cover#19
Caribou
84 Our Love (Merge)

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Following a solo detour in 2012 with techno side project Daphni, Dan Snaith returned to his main gig in 2014 with Caribou's first album since 2010's Swim. It's another winning combination of electronica and psychedelica, even if it doesn't break much new ground.

"This is rich, strange, endlessly fascinating music: a subtle, beautiful triumph."

The Guardian More reviews...

Album cover#20
Ben Frost
84 A U R O R A (Mute)

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The Australian (but Iceland-based) experimental composer, who has worked in both film and theater, headed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to record this, his first album in four years. The result is an instrumental blend of menacing industrial sounds and shoegaze.

"At its best, A U R O R A is an exhilarating work, propulsive and contemplative, able to allow for moments of searing volume and elegant beauty."

Dusted More reviews...

Album cover#21
Strand of Oaks
83 Heal (Dead Oceans)

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Strand of Oaks is the solo recording project for Philadelphia-based musician Timothy Showalter, who was recovering from injuries sustained in a car crash while putting the finishing touches on this fourth album. The result comes down heavily on the rock side of his usual folk-rock formula.

"Heal's molten flow of grandiloquent '70s rock and '80s electronica is unstoppable."

Mojo More reviews...

Album cover#22
The Bug
83 Angels & Devils (Ninja Tune)

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British producer Kevin Martin's first album as The Bug since 2008's critically acclaimed London Zoo was another winner. Split into two halves—one quietly ambient, the other noisy and jarring—Angels & Devils includes contributions from Death Grips, Grouper, Flowdan, and Gonjasufi.

"Angels & Devils dwarfs its acclaimed predecessor, as it does almost everything else released in the electronic music genre this year."

Exclaim More reviews...

Album cover#23
Marissa Nadler
83 July (Sacred Bones)

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The sixth LP (and Sacred Bones debut) from the Boston-based indie-folk artist is about as cheerful as you would expect a breakup album to be, though Randall Dunn's widely praised production adds minimalistic beauty to the proceedings.

"It’s very rare that an artist present a statement so definitive as July, but given who it’s coming from, this album’s transcendence is far from surprising."

PopMatters More reviews...

Album cover#24
Andy Stott
83 Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)

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Manchester, England techno producer Andy Stott followed 2012's terrific Luxury Problems with this fourth LP, and it's another winner. Faith in Strangers once again features vocals from Alison Skidmore, and while you can't exactly dance to it, the moody and distinctive result makes for one hell of a soundtrack. Call it the Future Sound of Manchester.

"The most fully formed and wholly unique record in his discography."

Resident Advisor More reviews...

Album cover#25
Lucinda Williams
83 Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (Highway 20)

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The veteran artist's first new album in four years (and 11th overall) is a big one, with 20 tracks spread across two discs. Guests include Bill Frisell, Jakob Dylan, Ian McLagan (Faces), and Elvis Costello's rhythm section of Pete Thomas and Davey Faragaher.

"All told, it’s a magnificent, career-defining set, full of hard-won wisdom, assertive independence--and compassion in abundance."

The Independent More reviews...

... and a few more:
Album Buy It Listen Metascore
26 Under Color of Official Right by Protomartyr Amazon iTunes Spotify 83
27 Nikki Nack by tUnE-yArDs Amazon iTunes Spotify 83
28 Soused by Scott Walker and Sunn 0))) Amazon iTunes Spotify 83
29 Loom by Fear of Men Amazon iTunes Spotify 83
30 Futurology by Manic Street Preachers Amazon   83
31 Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! Amazon iTunes Spotify 82
32 Why Do the Heathen Rage? by The Soft Pink Truth Amazon iTunes Spotify 82
33 Shattered by Reigning Sound Amazon iTunes Spotify 82
34 In Conflict by Owen Pallett Amazon iTunes Spotify 82
35 Singles by Future Islands Amazon iTunes Spotify 82
36 Salad Days by Mac DeMarco Amazon iTunes Spotify 82
37 Field of Reeds by These New Puritans Amazon iTunes Spotify 82
38 Heartleap by Vashti Bunyan Amazon iTunes Spotify 82
39 Piñata by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib Amazon iTunes Spotify 82
40 Familiars by The Antlers Amazon iTunes Spotify 82

What about albums with fewer reviews?

Here is a look at the albums that received extremely positive reviews, but not enough of them to qualify for our list above. (In other words, consider them the year's best under-the-radar releases.) Albums on this list received 7-14 critic reviews. (Titles with fewer than 7 reviews are excluded from all year-end charts.)

  Album Label Buy It Listen
1 92 The Satanist
by Behemoth
Metal Blade Amazon iTunes Spotify
Behemoth's 10th LP is easily the best Polish death metal album of 2014.
2 91 Home, Like Noplace Is There
by The Hotelier
Tiny Engines Amazon iTunes Spotify
Home is the second release from the Massachusetts emo band.
3 88 Rooms of the House
by La Dispute
Vagrant Amazon iTunes Spotify
Continuing the house theme is this third album from Michigan post-hardcore outfit La Dispute.
4 88 Cadillactica
by Big K.R.I.T.
Def Jam Amazon iTunes Spotify
The rapper/producer followed 2012's strong Live from the Underground with this 2nd studio album that features Wiz Khalifa, Lupe Fiasco, E-40, and Raphael Saadiq.
5 87 Colfax
by The Delines
El Cortez Amazon iTunes Spotify
Colfax is the debut from the new project from novelist and Richmond Fontaine frontman Willy Vlautin.
6 86 Bécs
by Fennesz
Editions Mego Amazon iTunes Spotify

The first album in six years from Austrian guitarist and electronic composer Christian Fennesz is a conceptual follow-up to his 2001 release Endless Summer.

7 86 Platinum
by Miranda Lambert
RCA Amazon iTunes Spotify
The country star scored her fifth straight #1 debut with this first solo album in three years, which once again matched strong sales with stellar reviews.
8 86 From All Purity
by Indian
Relapse Amazon iTunes Spotify
Chicago doom metal band Indian impressed critics with this intense fifth album.
9 86 The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets
by Marmozets
Roadrunner Amazon iTunes Spotify
This is the first LP from the young, hard-rocking English five-piece Marmozets, whose members include two sets of siblings.
10 85 Unflesh
by Gazelle Twin
Last Gang Amazon iTunes Spotify
Gazelle Twin is British art-rocker/electronic composer Elizabeth Bernholz, and the unsettling Unflesh is her second album.

Albums released between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014 with 7 or more reviews (15 or more for the first chart) in Metacritic's database were eligible for inclusion. Reissues and other older material, EPs, live albums, holiday albums, greatest hits albums, multi-artist soundtracks, and other compilations are excluded from the above lists. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). Albums are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. All scores on this page are from December 28, 2014.

More bests and worsts

Now that we've heard from the critics, what about Metacritic users? Here are the 2014 releases receiving the highest average user scores:

2014 Releases Most Liked by Metacritic Users (Min. 15 User Reviews)
Album/Artist Buy It Listen User Score
1 79 All or Nothin' by Nikki Lane Amazon iTunes Spotify 9.3
2 82 Piñata by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.8
3 78 In the Silence by Ásgeir Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.7
  82 Salad Days by Mac DeMarco Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.7
  80 Hot Dreams by Timber Timbre Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.7
  80 Aquarius by Tinashe Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.7
  86 Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.7
8 78 Broke With Expensive Taste by Azealia Banks Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.6
  61 Glorious by Foxes Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.6
  76 No Mythologies to Follow by Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.6
  83 Under Color of Official Right by Protomartyr Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.6
  89 Run the Jewels 2 by Run the Jewels Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.6
  76 1000 Forms of Fear by Sia Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.6
  89 St. Vincent by St. Vincent Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.6
  88 To Be Kind by Swans Amazon iTunes Spotify 8.6

User scores represent an average of scores assigned by Metacritic.com site visitors, from 0 (bad) to 10 (good).

If you read the fine print under our list of high-scoring albums above, you noticed that reissues, compilations, live sets, and other album types were excluded from our best-reviewed albums charts (which are intended to include only new full-length studio albums). Here are the highest-scoring "disqualified" albums of the year:

Best-Reviewed Reissues, Box Sets, and Compilations of 2014 (Min. 7 Reviews)
Album Buy It Metascore
1 Led Zeppelin IV deluxe reissue by Led Zeppelin Amazon iTunes 100
  Doolittle 25 deluxe reissue by Pixies Amazon iTunes 100
3 Basement Tapes Complete: Bootleg Series Vol. 11 box set by Bob Dylan
Amazon iTunes 99
4 Spiderland deluxe reissue by Slint Amazon iTunes 99
5 The Velvet Underground deluxe reissue by The Velvet Underground Amazon iTunes 98
6 Led Zeppelin III deluxe reissue by Led Zeppelin Amazon iTunes 98
7 Houses of the Holy deluxe reissue by Led Zeppelin Amazon iTunes 98
8 Lucinda Williams deluxe reissue by Lucinda Williams Amazon iTunes 97
9 Led Zeppelin I deluxe reissue by Led Zeppelin Amazon iTunes 97
10 Led Zeppelin II deluxe reissue by Led Zeppelin Amazon iTunes 95

Thousands of albums are released each year, and most of those don't even make their way to reviewers; as a result, the vast majority of the awful albums recorded each year do not show up on Metacritic. However, there are always some major releases this year that fail to impress critics, and we now share with you the 10 albums receiving the worst reviews in 2014:

The Lowest-Scoring Albums of 2014 (Min. 7 Reviews)
Album Label Metascore Users
1 A.K.A. by Jennifer Lopez Capitol 45 5.4
2 Louder by Lea Michele Columbia 48 7.4
3 Paula by Robin Thicke Interscope 49 1.5
4 Listen by David Guetta Atlantic 51 3.6
5 Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire to Win by 50 Cent G-Unit 53 5.8
6 Heaven & Earth by Yes Frontiers 53 n/a
7 EP2 by Pixies (self-released) 54 7.7
8 Blacc Hollywood by Wiz Khalifa Atlantic 54 5.1
9 Old Boots, New Dirt by Jason Aldean Broken Bow 54 1.4
10 Enclosure by John Frusciante Record Collection 55 5.7

What do you think?

What were your personal favorite and least favorite albums of 2014? Let us know in the comments section below, and don't forget to vote for your favorite albums, songs, and more in our Best of 2014 User Poll.

Comments (1)

  • FleshWorld  

    Can't disagree with Black Messiah, but this group of mainstream critics missed a couple of gems: Bella Novela's "Telemetry" and Fartbarf's "Dirty Power". There's a hive mind mentality among critic and award shows these days. The cream doesn't necessarily rise to the top....but what else is new?

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