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Best albums of 2014

Who knew the future would sound so familiar?

In 2014, artists mined the past to create great work. Of course, Taylor Swift went back to the '80s for her "1989" album, but Miranda Lambert turned to classic country, and Sam Smith looked to old-school soul, as did 63-year-old Lee Fields. There was an emo comeback of sorts led, not by Taking Back Sunday who have a strong rock album of their own, but by a new generation including Modern Baseball and The Hotelier.

Here's a look at the best of the year.

25. BEN WATT, "Hendra" and more

For his first solo album in 31 years,
Photo Credit: Edward Bishop

For his first solo album in 31 years, Ben Watt travels even further back for "Hendra" -- to the singer-songwriter '70s -- for the influences on the acoustic beauties "Spring" and "Golden Ratio," even signing on Pink Floyd's David Gilmour to play guitar on the wrenching "The Levels." (Released April 29 on Unmade Road)


With a career spanning five decades, soul man
Photo Credit: AP / Invision, John Davisson

With a career spanning five decades, soul man Lee Fields may be reaching his peak with "Emma Jean," as his bluesy voice powers through gorgeously wrenching songs like "Don't Leave Me This Way" and "Just Can't Win." (Released June 3 on Truth & Soul)

23. HOW TO DRESS WELL, "What Is This Heart?"

Tom Krell (aka How to Dress Well) has
Photo Credit: Weird World Record Co.

Tom Krell (aka How to Dress Well) has a voice like Justin Timberlake, a love of James Blake-like electronic simplicity and open-ended song structure, and lyrics on "What Is This Heart?" seemingly informed by both Miguel and his philosophy doctoral studies in nihilism at DePaul University. (Released June 24 on Weird World)

22. MODERN BASEBALL, "You're Gonna Miss It All"

Modern Baseball singer Brendan Lukens is not just
Photo Credit: Modern Baseball via YouTube

Modern Baseball singer Brendan Lukens is not just a Drexel University student, but also a student of early-Aughts indie rock, mixing bits of Taking Back Sunday, Weezer and The Hold Steady on his album "You're Gonna Miss It All," to carry on emo traditions well with "Rock Bottom" and "Fine, Great." (Released Feb. 11 on Run for Cover)

21. SHAKIRA, "Shakira"

From the review:
Photo Credit: AP

From the review: "She starts with the megawatt duet with Rihanna, "Can't Remember to Forget You," that simply screams smash and follows with one clever pop twist after another on her self-titled album." (Released March 25 on RCA)

20. TAKING BACK SUNDAY, "Happiness Is ... "

Photo Credit: Camille Nolan

"Flicker, Fade" sounds like classic Taking Back Sunday, but more excitement comes with the upbeat single "Stood a Chance" and the beat-driven "All the Way" on "Happiness Is ... " (Released March 18 on Hopeless)

19. FOO FIGHTERS, “Sonic Highways”

From the review:
Photo Credit: AP

From the review: "Foo Fighters' frontman Dave Grohl calls the album a 'love letter to American music,' and all that love shows... "Sonic Highways" is wildly ambitious -- an impressively difficult musical trick, as well as a way to keep things fresh for the band's eighth album, as the Foos celebrate their 20th anniversary." (Released Nov. 11 on Roswell/RCA)

18. SAM SMITH, "In the Lonely Hour"

From the review:
Photo Credit: AP

From the review: "Sam Smith is going to be a superstar. The 22-year-old Brit's voice is just too special to be denied -- bluesy one minute, soulful the next, moving effortlessly from fluttering falsetto to commanding pop." (Released June 17 on Capitol)

17. MARIAH CAREY, "Me. I Am Mariah ... The Elusive Chanteuse"

From the review:
Photo Credit: Def Jam Recording

From the review: "After several high-profile delays and changes of direction, Carey heads back to her musical sweet spot on 'Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse,' big R&B ballads that show off her powerful voice and its stunning range. While Carey, in recent years, has been concerned with sounding timely, on 'Chanteuse,' she goes for timeless, with grand results." (May 27 on Def Jam)


From the review:
Photo Credit: Asylum / Atlantic Records

From the review: "The Pharrell-produced 'Sing,' with its Justin Timberlake-influenced falsettos and unshakeable groove, is a musical shock from Sheeran. But he makes it work because, at his core, Young Ed is a storyteller and 'Sing' is a great story." (Released June 24 on Atlantic)

15. RYAN STAR, "Angels + Animals"

From the review:

From the review: "It's like Ryan Star commandeered adult pop radio to tell his story, with 'We Were Kings' as dramatic as Imagine Dragons, 'My Life' as emotional as Passenger and the single 'Impossible' using catchy rhythms and subtle guitar to build an inspirational sing-along." (Released Jan. 14 on Ryan Star)

14. SPOON, "The Want My Soul"

From the review:
Photo Credit: AP

From the review: "Spoon's 'They Want My Soul,' with help from producers Dave Fridmann and Joe Chiccarelli, takes that well-crafted mastery to the next level, especially when they modernize the Rolling Stones vibe on 'Rent I Pay' or the Spencer Davis Group in 'Rainy Taxi.' " (Released Aug. 5 on Loma Vista)

13. SZA, "Z"

Solana Rowe blends everything from Frank Ocean to
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Kevin Winter

Solana Rowe blends everything from Frank Ocean to Lana Del Ray, from Björk to Erykah Badu, to create something completely her own on "Z," hovering between hip-hop and neo-soul and EDM. When Kendrick Lamar drops by for "Babylon"? Well, that's just fire. (Released April 1 on Top Dawg)

12. JACK WHITE, "Lazaretto"

From the review:
Photo Credit: AP

From the review: "Maybe it's no surprise that the leader of The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather is eclectic, but it is a surprise how well-executed everything is on Jack White's 'Lazaretto.' " (Released June 10 on Third Man)


From the review:
Photo Credit: Lonely Astronauts Records / Real W

From the review: "With only acoustic guitars and piano to support him, Joseph Arthur captures Lou Reed's grit and innocence, his unflinching storytelling and earnest dreaming throughout his career in classics like 'Walk on the Wild Side' and "Heroin" and lesser-known gems like 'Magic and Loss' and 'Coney Island Baby.' " (Released May 13 on Vanguard)

10. KATE TEMPEST, “Everybody Down”

London artist Kate Tempest’s debut shows off her
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jean-Francois Monier

London artist Kate Tempest’s debut shows off her skills as a poet, crafting elaborate, poignant tales, and as a rapper who could challenge Eminem with her speed and dexterity. Throw in some social commentary and Tempest becomes one of the year’s most compelling newcomers. (Released May 20 on Big Dada)

9. TAYLOR SWIFT, "1989"

From the review:
Photo Credit: Taylor Swift via YouTube

From the review: "Yes, Taylor Swift is learning how to keep her private life more private. Luckily, her growing skills as a songwriter more than make up for any disappointment gossip-hunting fans may have." (Released Oct. 28 on Big Machine)

8. THE BLACK KEYS, "Turn Blue"

From the review:
Photo Credit: Nonesuch

From the review: "Everything here is tight and hard-hitting, still built on the solid bond between Auerbach's distinctive bluesy vocals and rock guitar and Carney's inventive, dynamic drumming." (Released May 13 on Nonesuch)

7. ROBERT PLANT, "Lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar"

From the review:
Photo Credit: AP

From the review: "Plant comes up with a collection of songs that may be the classic rock hero's first instant classic. All his musical interests are still well represented, but he seems to have absorbed them in a way that turns them into something uniquely his, similar to what Paul Simon did with 'Graceland.' " (Released Sept. 9 on Nonesuch)

6. BOB MOULD, "Beauty and Ruin"

From the review: “The Bob Mould Renaissance continues…
Photo Credit: Merge Records

From the review: “The Bob Mould Renaissance continues… Mould captures both hope and despair well here, raging like he did in his Hüsker Dü days in ‘Kid With Crooked Face’ and ‘Tomorrow Morning,’ picking up some Foo Fighters-styled streamlining on ‘Little Glass Pill’.” (Released June 3 on Merge)

5. TOM PETTY, "Hypnotic Eye"

From the review:
Photo Credit: Reprise Records

From the review: "Tom Petty's scathing remarks impressively never lose their momentum. He pairs his personal tale of escaping his burning home with bluesy guitar flourishes from Campbell in 'All You Can Carry' and turns it into a broader example for America." (Released July 29 on Warner Bros.)

4. CLOUD NOTHINGS, "Here and Nowhere Else"

From the review:
Photo Credit: Pooneh Ghana

From the review: "Cloud Nothings' 'Here and Nowhere Else' is so well-crafted that there's nothing to do but get swept up in the mosh-pit momentum.” (Released April 1 on Carpark)

3. MARY J. BLIGE, "The London Sessions"

From the review:
Photo Credit: Capitol

From the review: "It's a sign of the power of 'The London Sessions' that it opens with four ballads, including the stunning, esteem-building "Doubt," without losing momentum... However, it's the dance songs where Blige makes her great leap forward. (Released Dec. 2 on Capitol)

2. AFGHAN WHIGS, "Do to the Beast"

From the review: “This is a decidedly forward-looking
Photo Credit: Subpop Records

From the review: “This is a decidedly forward-looking album -- from the way a club beat drops in at the saddest point of 'Can Rova,' thumping away as Dulli declares, 'You don't need me,' to the industrial-tinged drums that drive 'Matamoros' into Nine Inch Nails territory.” (Released April 15 on Sub Pop)

1. MIRANDA LAMBERT, "Platinum"

From the review: “Lambert effortlessly bounces from the
Photo Credit: RCA Nashville

From the review: “Lambert effortlessly bounces from the Western swing style of 'All That's Left' with The Time Jumpers to the Def Leppard-style arena rock of 'Somethin' Bad' with Carrie Underwood. It's clear that 'Platinum' isn't about packaging Lambert as some sort of salable country star, which was an issue with her last album. This is about ripping away the packaging to let Miranda be Miranda.” (Released June 3 on RCA Nashville)


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