The 50 Best Albums of 2014

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Three hundred and six different albums. That’s what you get when you poll 35 Paste music writers about the best albums of 2014. We asked our staff and writers for their 25 favorites from the year, and the answers were as varied as you’d expect. In fact, we had 26 different albums get first-place votes and none show up on more than half of the ballots. That’s all to say that you probably won’t like every album on this list and that your own list will of course be very different. But the purpose of this, our first of many “Best of 2014” lists, is to hopefully turn you on to some music you haven’t heard or maybe dismissed prematurely. We’ve now had up to a year to live with most of these records, and these are the 50 that endured. There’s traditional Americana and experimental hip hop; quiet singer/songwriters and noisy post-hardcore; long-time favorites and exciting debuts. Here are the 50 Best Albums of 2014:

50. Hospitality – Trouble

For the record, Hospitality never sounded that much like Belle & Sebastian. Their sweet-eyed sensibility may conjure up the same impressions as those masters of twee, but from the start, their sound was their own. Their debut was declarative in its sensitivity and sensitive with its declarations. From the sound of it, the band has decided if it means something to them, they’ve got to say what they have to say a little bit louder now. Trouble sounds like Hospitality showing how the addition of a little more edge and disparity to their sound makes them no less inhospitable. Their debut’s songs were polo-shirted and bespectacled, and so are these ones, but now they’re sheltering themselves against the cold with Doc Martens and faux-leather jackets.—Mack Hayden

49. La Dispute – Rooms of the House

Hailing from Grand Rapids, Mich., this five-piece has long been praised by those in the know, but ignored by many of the usual taste-making suspects. The reason is likely the tendency to label their music screamo, though it is more accurate to call it post-hardcore, a genre that has long been accepted into the canon, be it Fugazi or Refused or At the Drive-In. This emotionally captivating album makes a case for more “screamo,” or whatever this is, because it is both affecting and challenging. Concept albums can easily drift into self-indulgence or overwrought inflexibility. But Rooms of the House is simpler, connecting the events that happen in a place to the people who currently inhabit that space. It’s all heavy stuff and not for everyone, but the emotions evoked are life-affirming. La Dispute picked a perfect time to make a classic album in the post-hardcore spectrum that might be considered a classic outside of genre, too.—Philip Cosores

48. Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers

Nashville-based Americana pioneer Justin Townes Earle followed a meandering route of reinvention from classic honky tonk through country, rockabilly and soul to get to 2012’s near perfect Memphis Horns-inspired Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now. And yet, in some ways, Single Mothers feels like a continuation of its predecessor. The mournful pedal steel and smooth production link the two records. But Single Mothers represents a renewal of self for Earle as his first as a sober man and a married man. It’s not an overtly happy record, though, instead illustrating a shift in perspective in how Earle reconciles with his past—from his famous father’s abandonment to his own parallel substance abuse. But Earle also digs back to his youth of listening to Billie Holiday, telling her story in his own heartbroken way on lead single “White Gardenias.” Most surprisingly, Earle seems to transform parts of his past into positive, up-tempo fun on “My Baby Drives.” While the familiar ache still haunts Single Mothers, Earle treats it with new wisdom, choosing instead to ramble forward, rather than perseverate and drift waywardly back.—Hilary Saunders

47. Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else

Up until recently, Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings always had enough space for its brand of batshit pop-punk to flash its fangs without much regard for hype or expectation. But with Attack On Memory making the band a breakthrough act, the band now faces its truest test yet: the much-anticipated follow-up. Recorded in just a week’s time and produced by John Congleton, Here And Nowhere Else marks the first time the band has recorded together as a three-piece. But hearing Here And Nowhere Else, you’d never know anything had been altered since their last outing. The entirety of the album is spent in the fast lane—perhaps a reflection of Baldi writing the songs while touring relentlessly for a year and a half, penning each song in a different city. The result is a fast-paced, convulsive collection that has all the intensity of its predecessor but with an elevated dose of urgency. In the uphill battle of balancing success, artistic vision and mounting pressures, the trio could’ve fallen flat with a follow-up to a critically acclaimed masterwork—but they didn’t. Instead, with Here And Nowhere Else, they’ve thrown the first punch, and it hits you square in the jaw.—Michael Danaher

46. Rosanne Cash – The River & the Thread

With a voice like good claret or damp moss, Rosanne Cash singing is something to sink into. Surrender to the tones, mostly dark, but marked by the occasional glimmer of light, and let the emotions they contain seep inside. For Cash, the emotions on The River & The Thread are complex and tangled, especially the Grammy-winner’s own difficult relationship with the South, her roots and her own musical journey. What emerges, beyond a woman grappling with a legacy as much in the rich bottom land as her father Johnny’s iconic presence as the voice of America, is a knowing embrace of the conflicts in the things we love. The 11-song cycle is mostly a meditation on the textures and musical forms that emerged South of the Mason Dixon. Finding not just resolve, but acceptance is a gift. Cash, who’s sidestepped her heritage, and eschewed a career as a country star with 11 No. 1s, a marriage to a country writer/producer/artist Rodney Crowell and the city/industry where she found prominence, savored her wandering and the Manhattan life she built. With The River & The Thread, she comes home with the warmth reserved for knowing where we’re from. As powerful a witness for the region—Memphis, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas—as it is a lovely quilt of musicality, braiding blues, folk, Appalachia, rock and old-timey country, this is balm for lost souls, alienated creatures seeking their core truths and intellectuals who love the cool mist of vespers in the hearts of people they may never encounter.—Holly Gleason

45. Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy

Beyond the surface of his easy-rolling acoustic numbers, Irish songwriter Damien Rice has always presented a grittier take on gland-driven relationships, often slipped in tongue-in-cheek one-liners or easy-enough metaphors. Maybe wine-driven tales of the depths of love aren’t a new thing, but when you’ve got a pure voice and aim for theatrics like Rice, they’re still deeply affecting. My Favourite Faded Fantasy is the product of a near-decade away from music. In the interim he parted ways with Lisa Hannigan, joined with mega-producer Rick Rubin, found collaborators in Marketa Irglova and Alex Somers, and moved to Iceland. Led by winding guitars, the title track’s slow-churning six minutes guide us through fragile pianos, satisfying string arrangements and reversed guitars. While it’d be unfair to discount Rice’s sparse lyrics, My Favourite Faded Fantasy leans heavily on arrangements to deal an emotional blow—even early gut-punchers like “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man” and “The Greatest Bastard.” It’s a good look for Rice. These are rich songs, meant to be savored and taken in with repeated listens. Fortunately (or not) for long-term fans, his conflicts in love seem to remain fully intact. See: Tracks one through eight. And while eight years could’ve brought about a jarring change, Rice has returned with eight satisfying, hearty tracks.—Tyler Kane

44. Temples – Sun Structures

So often—maybe too often—contemporary psych music is of the garage variety, rough and chaotic and more indebted to punk rock than to the seminal psych bands of the ’60s. Like Australia’s Tame Impala, England’s Temples have managed to rise above the fray by offering a compelling, modern take on Sgt. Peppers-style psych rock. Their debut full-length, Sun Structures, is a delightful, deliciously British collection of psych-pop gems that has had icons like Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr singing their praises. The album’s most arresting track is its first, “Shelter Song,” a catchy, florid driver that landed them a slot on Jimmy Fallon in July. Add to that gigs opening for the Rolling Stones and The Vaccines, and it’s been about as successful of a year supporting their first LP as the quartet could ask for. With good reason. Standout tracks include “Shelter Song,” “Keep in the Dark” and “Mesmerise.”—Ryan Bort

43. Total Control – Typical System

Aussie five-piece Total Control play a hybrid of rock, New Wave and post-punk that would be a scatterbrained mess in the hands of a lesser band. Their second full-length Typical System is all over the map, to the point where at times you’re not even sure what they’re even going for, or where they’re taking you. Opener “Glass” pulls you in with its synth-y come-on before giving way to the jagged nihilism of “Expensive Dog.” “Systematic Fuck” sounds like a nod to their Aussie punk brethren The Saints. “Hunter” is far more divine than it has any business being, and “The Ferryman” rides a bass line into dark places. By the time you get to closer “Safety Net” you might still be asking yourself what the hell just happened. And so you listen again. And again. —Mark Lore

42. Dum Dum Girls – Too True

There’s a good chance that if Dum Dum Girls had continued on as lo-fi garage dwellers, we might not be talking about them right now. The fact that frontwoman Dee Dee has continued to futurize her ’60s girl-group proclivities has kept things from molding over. And when I say “futurize,” I mean to the year 1981. While Dum Dum Girls began polishing up the fuzz and drawing from other influences on 2011’s He Gets Me High EP, it’s nothing compared to the shimmer and sophistication of the band’s third full-length, Too True. It’s a spotless record production-wise, but it also takes Dee Dee’s songwriting another step forward. This is best represented on “Lost Boys and Girls Club,” which moves slowly and majestically through a wash of synth and processed guitars. It’s a mesmerizing three minutes. Of course, no matter how much reverb or how many layers of guitar threaten to swallow it up, Dee Dee’s voice is what stands out. It’s achingly emotive in its minimal range (not a slag, it’s perfect where it is), especially on songs like “Too True to Be Good” and “Rimbaud Eyes.”—Mark Lore

41. Robert Ellis – The Lights from the Chemical Plant

Like Sam Shepard, Robert Ellis understands the tenderness beneath the untamed’s leathery exterior. Born and raised in Lake Jackson, Texas, recently relocated to nouveau hipster central Nashville, Tenn., Ellis broadens his musical reach beyond deadly accurate classic country to often austere arrangements that reflect his small etchings of real life without aggressive genre-coding. A splash of instruments, tones, textures, well-turned phrases and space, Plant is an architectural triumph for producer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Kings of Leon), who recognizes the power of the realizations captured in the moment. Whether the numbing downward mobility of escape-in-a-box “The TV Song,” the downy blanket of denial “Lies” or the creeping shuffle of temptation’s lure “Good Intentions,” which melts into an atmospheric breakdown that clouds the resolution, it’s real life with its ragged edges. Murky, gray areas and faltering points make Ellis a compelling writer. Even the beautiful drone of “Chemical Plant,” with its exhaled vocals and stark tableau, shimmers with Springsteen-like desire amongst the harshness: two young lovers’ hunger for each other transforms those lights into stars, their assignations a comfort and refuge in the bleakness, sustaining them as everything else breaks down.—Holly Gleason

40. Jack White – Lazaretto

If the 11 songs on his second solo album Lazaretto are any indication, it’s going to be a long time before White starts running out of steam and ideas. The sexually charged version of “Three Women” that opens the album puts the listener on notice that as far as Jack White’s concerned, no matter whatever else has changed in the world since Blind Willie McTell wrote the song in 1928, the dynamics between men and women haven’t shifted an inch. The howling grooves, sexual swagger and intemperate logic of the updated lyrics set the listener up for the 10 bitter rants that follow. Most of the lyrics on Lazaretto came from notes White wrote at the age of 19, half of his life ago, when he was beginning his career singing at coffee houses. It all makes sense when you listen to the album because—literary cleverness aside—the songs ring with the concerns of a young man, just out of adolescence and swelling with love and its discontents. They have a purity that is impossible to recapture once life has sent you around the block a few times and dulled the edges of the senses. The songs are exciting, effortlessly creative and full of risk-taking, but White taps into the vein of classic rock just enough to filter all of his weird extrapolations so that they’re comprehensible for his audience. Lazaretto is an album only Jack White could make.—Douglas Heselgrave

39. Strand of Oaks – HEAL

By definition, mopesters are raw, damaged goods, and Showalter’s first two albums, Leave Ruin and Pope Kildragon, had their share of woebegone, poetic odes to failed romance and general malaise and despair. HEAL, however, takes it up a notch, both thematically and sonically. Showalter experienced what may have been a nervous breakdown in the fall of 2013, and he and his wife were involved in a nearly fatal head-on car collision at the end of the year. Those traumatic events prompted a round of cathartic songwriting that finds its release on HEAL. The songs are even more agonized, and more transparently autobiographical. And the delivery is decidedly noisier and more raucous. This is an album that rocks in all kinds of unexpected ways. Surprisingly, given Showalter’s rather placid musical past, that’s the music’s strongest asset. “Goshen ’97,” the leadoff track and first single, starts off in impressively noisy fashion, with Showalter harkening back to his teenage years: a lonely, introspective kid finding solace in rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a shopworn theme, but the shredding, courtesy of Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis, transports the sentiments to something grand and majestic. Unfortunately, the rockers fare better than the ballads, usually Showalter’s strong suit.—Andy Whitman

38. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty

Consistently pushing the boundaries of hip-hop to new and cosmic heights, Seattle’s Palaceer Lazaro (aka Ishmael Butler) formally of Digable Planets hasn’t made anything overtly accessible since his radio hit “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” Lese Majesty is no exception. Butler is joined by instrumentalist and producer Tendai Maraire, who together prove listening to their experimental take on hip-hop will be rewarding, but not necessarily easy. Sonically convoluted and lyrically eccentric, Butler resists all notions of narrative, structure and convention to create a set of warped melodies that are at once difficult and brilliant. Named after the French phrase for violating royalty, otherwise known as treason, Lese Majesty is 18 very short tracks divided neatly into seven suites, but made to be digested all at once. Not unlike Shabazz Palaces’ Sub Pop debut Black Up, Lese Majesty deserves several listens and offers new pieces of intricate hip-hop wisdom with each one.—Alexa Carrasco

37. Reigning Sound – Shattered

As de facto ringleader since the band’s inception in 2001, Greg Cartwright has been surrounded by a veritable turnstile committee of agile musicians, cultivating varying muses based on the strengths afforded him. Shattered, Reigning Sound’s first album since 2009’s Love & Curses, is yet another bend in the road, positing soulful rockers, scrappy R&B ballads and rowdy pop numbers in brilliant balance. The album opens with the roadhouse rocker “North Cackalacky Girl,” with warm organs, a threading bass line and smidges of the garage-soul that permeates Cartwright’s songwriting sensibilities. With Cartwright as the one constant in Reigning Sound, despite its disparate output, Shattered is as good a representation of the band as any, showcasing lip-quivering sentimentality on tunes like the eerily bouncy tear-jerker “Never Coming Home,” which features thick textures of strings and rolling drums to Cartwright’s Memphisian drawl. It’s a boldly traditional, and fantastically well-rounded album of rock ‘n’ roll.—Ryan J. Prado

36. Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans

Life is always messy on Drive-By Truckers albums, populated by the endless cast of assorted lowlifes and down-and-outs that spring from the minds of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. On English Oceans, the songwriters fill their songs with evocative tales of dying ambitions, interpersonal discord, suffocating shame and in an astute pair of politically edged tunes, turn their sights to the cloying misdirection that dirty tricksters use to pave over all that familiar suffering. What distinguishes the Truckers’ 12th album from the rest of their excellent recent pack is two-fold: 1) The band came out firing hot, the batch of lean rock songs presented in their visceral, unadorned rawness, and 2) More than ever before, this is a Cooley album, with six of his compositions shaping the overall tone of the record. The same balance and seamlessness between songwriters that characterizes the entire album shows most vividly on “Til He’s Dead or Rises,” with Cooley taking lead vocals on Hood’s lyrics, a first for the Truckers after nearly 20 years of playing. English Oceans is a triumph for the Drive-By Truckers, one that capitalizes on Hood and Cooley’s strengths as songwriters and also gives them something to sing for that means more than all those colorful characters put together.—Eric Swedlund

35. FKA Twigs – LP1

FKA Twigs’ debut full-length LP1 is a blend of glitchy futuristic R&B we haven’t heard before. A music-video dancer turned singer, FKA Twigs experiments with sound and space, her beats stuttering and stoping like a modern dancer. Although it may not sound like it, FKA Twigs is essentially a singer/songwriter fearless in her approach to experimentation. Her vocal range forces a new take on desire, and puts her own personal signature on a theme we’ve heard before—sex. On LP1 we get all sides of Twigs: She sings to us digitized and Auto-Tuned from far off in space before whispering in our ear, intimate and bare. Beats drop in and out with no warning or obvious structure, and yet it’s catchy. Yes, these 10 disjointed anthems somehow manage to be catchy songs. FKA Twigs released a video for every song on the album, a testament to her clear vision for LP1, a truly unique and noteworthy debut.—Alexa Carrasco

34. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams’ 14th solo release is more of a rock ’n’ roll album than the rootsy, understated Ashes & Fire. While he includes a handful of the wrenching ballads he does so well, bold electric guitars hold sway on most of these 11 new songs. Adams deploys a distinctive guitar tone on his rock songs, dialing in a carefully calibrated mix of treble, grit and reverb that he has honed over the past dozen or so years. It’s in full force on the punchy riff that kicks off lead track “Gimme Something Good,” rings out like an alarm on “Stay With Me” and tumbles down in cascades on “Feels Like Fire,” a song that sets up brusque verses and then washes them away with a lush, sweeping hook on the chorus. He trades the electric for an acoustic guitar on another ballad, “My Wrecking Ball.” It’s one of those devastating quiet songs that sounds as though Adams is singing from inside the wreckage of a broken heart. Those gutbucket songs are still what Adams does best, though this self-titled album strikes the best balance that he’s found yet.—Eric R. Danton

33. Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right

Detroit’s Protomartyr seems to wedge itself into some sonic crevice of the Motor City’s storied musical past only by proximity; the band’s residency in a city quickly becoming a metaphor for grimy rebuilding, resilience, some lost relic of the American Dream is an unfortunate sidebar. On Under Color of Official Right, the foursome’s sophomore record, Protomartyr nonchalantly pulls out pretty much every stop available in an effort not to be easily hemmed in to any preconceived corner of the tempting urge to align them, even passingly, with your Stooges, your Dirtbombs, et al. In fact, this album essentially thumbs its nose at the perceived imprint of its predecessors. It emerges as a cunning powder keg of an album, at times so sparse and inviting, only to ignite in fits of fiery rebellion midway through a song with crunching, lush guitars and Casey’s cool-as-a-cucumber vocal delivery, approximating the feeling of the seminal punk of Hüsker Dü or, later, the literary austerity of more experimental post-punk efforts by Cursive. The harder it is to pinpoint its origins and the further you allow yourself to take off your critical monocle, the deeper its creative abandon draws you in.—Ryan J. Prado

32. Foxygen – ...And Star Power

Sam France and Jonathan Rado team up with Star Power, a sort-of-fictional LA rock ensemble, for the group’s proper third album ...And Star Power. The record is indulgent, unhinged, sprawling, funny and sometimes spookily great?all adjectives most observers ought not to be so surprised about. Foxygen’s albums are definitely growers. Much like the palatability required for the labored pace of a lot of the lazy rhythms that drive jangly lo-fi/pot-haze numbers like “I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate,” your patience is required to become fully illumined within their spell. Throughout the entirety of ...And Star Power, the omnipresence of tape hiss permeates the recordings, offering a very stark contrast to the lush, layered and more focused We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. It’s essentially a return to the grimey, DIY spirit of that first record, buffing the sheen away to expose some rusty, bumbling core. Songs are allowed to fall apart, tones are empowered to free themselves of any continuity song-to-song, revealing vignettes of sometimes profoundly earnest song tidbits, and sometimes simply random rummagings of sounds. The driving pulse of “Talk,” very near the end of this 24-track album, is about as primed an example of the band’s formidability, encroaching on psychedelic swells of jittery sonic explosions like protons fidgeting in an atomic bounce house.—Ryan J. Prado

31. Tweedy – Sukierae

Father-son bonding activities more typically involve things like camping trips or baseball games than recording an album, but Jeff Tweedy is not your typical father, and Spencer Tweedy is not your typical son. The elder Tweedy, of course, has fronted Wilco for the past 20 years, amassing a catalog of quietly gripping songs on eight studio LPs that have expanded from rootsy rock ’n’ roll into something more expansive and frequently more visceral along the way. The younger Tweedy is a preternaturally gifted drummer who has spent the past 11 years playing in Chicago band The Blisters. He also contributed to Mavis Staples’ 2013 album, One True Vine. It bears mentioning that Spencer is 18 and just graduated from high school. Together, the Tweedys are, well, Tweedy. With Spencer on drums and Jeff doing everything else, aside from a handful of keyboard parts and backing vocals, the pair spent much of 2013 making Sukierae, their 20-song debut. The album begins with noisy, lurching guitar and explosive drums then wends its way through buoyant pop songs, drowsy folk numbers and thorny experimental stretches that explore shifting rhythms and hypnotic drones. Depending on your own mood while listening, any one of them is capable of raising chills. The album takes its title from a nickname for Sue Miller Tweedy, Jeff’s wife and Spencer’s mom, who was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (her prognosis is good). During what has surely been an emotional time, it’s not a radical leap to see making an album together as a way for father and son to take solace in each other’s company while immersed in a medium they love, in tribute to someone central to both their lives. That’s a hell of a bonding experience. That it resulted in such a fine album is just a bonus.—Eric R. Danton

30. Phantogram – Voices

The upstate New York duo Phantogram was made for these times. “Bad dreams never affect me,” Sarah Barthel sings on the titular track. “I’m just a scene in a movie.” It’s a coy trick, this cool indifference, because the wounds of Barthel’s heart peek around nearly every corner on Voices, Phantogram’s major label debut. That duality is omnipresent in the production of nearly every song too: With the exception of a few slower, moodier tracks, Voices would hit just as hard in the club as it would in the bedroom of, say, a misunderstood teenager who gazes deeply at stars in a shroud of anger or melancholy. Voices conveys our era’s lingua franca, with its knowing postures and veiled identities, by puffing its chest first before it reveals any vulnerability. Behind every sly, surgical deadpan on Voices—or, in the passive aggressive, subtweeting world outside it—often lies a bit of hurt or jealousy or confusion. Like Drake or 808s-era Ye, Phantogram have discerned an acute way to emote in front of an increasingly large audience while also seeming like the coolest kids in the room. Voices is emotional, not emo.—Ryan Burleson

29. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Give The People What They Want

Give the People What They Want represents a modern depiction of R&B, soul and a little bit of funk. It highlights Jones’ cool, emotive vocals and the Dap-Kings’ exemplary musical complements. In fact, the band’s brass, notably the baritone horns in the pulsating “Stranger to My Happiness” and haughty “You’ll Be Lonely,” are a defining, filling element of the overall sound. But it’s Jones’ powerful, perfectly vibrato-laden voice that creates just the right of emotion for every break-up, hook-up, fed up and uplifting track on the barely 30-minute record. Even without the emotional backstory of Jones’ battle with cancer, Give the People What They Want is a record for fighters and for victors. It acknowledges hurt and weakness in all facets of life, but values optimism, strength and perseverance by hearkening to the most emotive genre and concept of all—soul.—Hilary Saunders

28. Ages & Ages – Divisionary

Ages and Ages’ debut LP, Alright You Restless, was an ambitious, conceptual piece of sing-along, clap-along, stomp-along pop rock that vaulted the band into elite company. That first record pontificated upon the throes of isolation as a form of revolution, elated choral melodies anchoring shimmery guitars and tight rhythmic interludes throughout. The Portland conglomerate’s second album, Divisionary, is a lot of that, too; there are plenty of goosebump-raising hooks and uplifting crescendos to write home about. Their thematic scope, however, involved the excavation of darker inspirations than they’d previously explored as a band. Forged during a flurry of personal hardships for several members of the band, Divisionary opts not to wallow in the woe, but to present an opportunity for the conceptual collective to disburse their common isolation to working out the painful moments via some of the most hard-wire catchy pop songs put to tape in years (and years). Tim Perry wields wonderfully colorful waves of emotion throughout each song, with church-choir vocals, a la Polyphonic Spree, buoying thoughtful musical terrain despite great tides of introspection. Ages and Ages have undergone lineup changes and lots of peripheral personal battles and have somehow managed to internalize and later deduce how to navigate the avenues of their own lives in triumphant—and insanely memorable—song. In the process, they’ve come out with one of this year’s best all-around albums.—Ryan J. Prado

27. Hurray For The Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes

Much has been made of the fact that Hurray for the Riff Raff leader Alynda Lee Segarra calls New Orleans home, but where she makes music is rather less interesting than when on her new album, Small Town Heroes. Though the Bronx native sings here and there about her adopted hometown, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s songs rarely feel rooted there. Rather, these 12 tracks encompass a broad swath of a timeless America, like old Carter Family tunes existing in the peaks and troughs of AM radio waves rolling endlessly over the miles. Segarra’s music is spare and elegant on songs built around her voice and acoustic guitar, and fleshed out with fiddle, piano, banjo, understated percussion and occasional glimmers of quiet electric guitar. For all their varying accompaniment, though, the songs take their tone from Segarra’s compelling vocals. The only location that matters on Small Town Heroes is the one in which you first encounter Hurray for the Riff Raff.—Eric R. Danton

26. Caribou – Our Love

As early as “Twins,” a track off 2003’s Up in Flames, Caribou hinted at the prospect of pristine pop music. Of course, about a decade back, he was recording as Manitoba. But there surely was an overriding eclecticism that assured listeners of a future that could be anything from synthetic dancehall hits to peaceful moments fit for supine wonderment. Caribou—government name, Dan Snaith—possesses a clear affinity for breakbeats and technological advancement, as evidenced on 2010’s Swim, but wheedles it down to the most exacting electronica of his career for Our Love; gone are the Pink Floyd touches that hued his 2007 Andorra all psychedelic. Instead, the producer extends electronic conceits expressed on 2010’s Swim and efforts like “Kaili,” shorning tunes of his singing, opting for samples and snippets, coming off just left of a Michael Jackson opening act from sometime between Off the Wall and Bad. Snaith’s latest disc further just distills the guy’s most synthetic interests and occasionally winds up sounding like something playing at a club while Tom Cruise, circa 1988, enters the room. Women would swoon—dudes, too—and he’d sidle up to the bar to order some fluorescent-colored drink. Not everyone will be pleased, but those hooked on Swim will be thrilled.—Dave Cantor

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