Rap, country and jangle pop: The best music of 2014

There are approximately 75,000 albums released in the U.S. every year, and I can’t say I got to know all what 2014 had to offer — you’ll have to forgive me. However, I still found a number of exceptional releases, and after struggling mightily to whittle them down to my absolute favorites, I present to you my 10 most beloved albums of the year.

  1. Tove Lo – “Queen of the Clouds”

It has been a marquee year for female-led alt-pop releases. However, Sweden’s Tove Lo may have conquered all challengers with her stellar debut, “Queen of the Clouds.” Expertly chronicling the euphoric rise and agonizing fall of a romantic relationship, Tove Lo combines raw, perceptive lyrics with Florence Welch-ian tendencies for massive choruses and crafts an album that proves she has more to offer than just a hit single.

  1. Azealia Banks – “Broke With Expensive Taste”

Azealia Banks’s long-awaited debut opens with a tuneless, percussion-driven track with a garbled hook called “Idle Delilah.” It’s an unexpected and jarring introduction to an album full of surprises, from a Latin jam to full-on diva pop and even surf rock. Azealia’s ambition occasionally gets the best of her, but despite the overabundance of ideas and eccentric genre-hopping, Azealia’s raw talent and energy win over, making “Broke” a listen that is exciting, dynamic and never, ever dull.

  1. Rosanne Cash – “The River & the Thread”

If you aren’t sure about whether “country music” is for you, check out this album’s penultimate track, “When the Master Calls the Roll.” It’s a spectacular and moving piece of music, juxtaposing a bright, lush melody with a beautifully written Civil War parable. Cash’s stories throughout the album are firmly rooted in the South — both its tumultuous history and its beauty — allowing Cash to paint a deep and vivid musical portrait of where country music calls home.

  1. Alt-J – “This Is All Yours”

Alt-J’s sophomore effort is the most flawed album on this list, but the flaws — two introductions, uninspiring interludes, a “secret” track (what is this, 2002?) — are symptoms of the band’s massive ambition. Luckily, this ambition pays incredible dividends with some of the year’s most complex and compelling indie-rock tracks, particularly the perfectly titled “Warm Foothills” and mini-epic “The Gospel of John Hurt.”

  1. The Juan MacLean – “In a Dream”

I’ve been telling fans of LCD Soundsystem that they will love this album, as its style of ‘80s-influenced indie-electronica and nu-disco owes a lot to the work of LCD. However, “In a Dream” has the benefit of Nancy Whang (who worked with LCD) behind the mic, and she elevates the music with her spunky delivery and fabulous vocal hooks.

  1. Liars – “Mess”

If you’re into grimy, apocalyptic dance music, followed by over 20 minutes of a delightfully creepy haunted-house soundtrack, “Mess” is the album for you.

  1. Future Islands – “Singles”

Future Islands played in Bozeman last April, and gave one of the most energized, bizarre and all-around mesmerizing performances I have ever seen. Lead man Samuel Herring wiggled with reckless abandon on stage, got on his knees and threw his fist into the air, and brought the audience to tears with stunning renditions of “Seasons (Waiting on You)” and “A Dream of You and Me.” This band kills it on stage — and fortunately, they kill it in the studio.

  1. Real Estate – “Atlas”

Real Estate’s songs (described on Wikipedia as “jangle pop”) are driven by crisp, confident guitar, and Martin Courtney’s dreamy vocals perfectly complement this shimmering guitar lead. The approach gives the music a certain timelessness that makes it appropriate for every season, from basking in the rejuvenating warmth of a sunny spring day to watching the snow fall gracefully from the comfort of home.

  1. Run The Jewels – “Run The Jewels 2”

Relentlessly punishing and viciously savage, any number of aggressive, perhaps hyperbolic phrases could be used to describe the massive production El-P brings to “RTJ2,” the “sequel” to last year’s collaboration between El and his brother-in-arms, Killer Mike. While the boisterous bravado is taken up to even more cleverly ostentatious heights, the duo finds room for pointed social commentary, like on stunner “Early,” which deals with racially driven police brutality and feels especially timely given recent events that have captivated the nation.

  1. The War On Drugs – “Lost in the Dream”

If you were to start spinning “Lost in the Dream” at a party, guests might assume you’ve put on a Bruce Springsteen rock opera or a lost Tom Petty album. But this is “classic rock” for the modern age — crisp guitar solos are punctuated by everything from haunting synthesizer flourishes to smooth saxophone solos, and the chill-inducing crescendos of tracks like “Eyes to the Wind” and “An Ocean In between the Waves” are pure sonic ecstasy. However, it is almost unfair to pluck individual songs from “Lost in the Dream” — this is a complete album that commands your attention from front to back. So just plug in your best pair of headphones, make yourself comfortable, and get swept up in the unparalleled magnificence of the best album of 2014.