1. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
I’ve been on the Lana Del Rey bandwagon ever since I heard “Dark Paradise” (we’re all just pretending that her second album, Paradise, never happened, right?). Lana delivers all of the slow-burn goodness found in Born to Die and that fans expect from a follow up. She kicks things up a notch with tracks like “Money Power Glory” “Florida Kilos” and “Fucked My Way Up To the Top” but keeps her dreamy California cool reputation with songs like “West Coast,” “Cruel World” and “Shades of Cool.” It’s the perfect combination of what we loved about Lana, but matured and honed to perfection.
2. Tennis – Ritual in Repeat
In 2013, Tennis released an EP called Small Sounds, which was so good that I couldn’t wait until they released the next full album. In September, they finally obliged, and it was worth the wait. In the last few years, the band has taken themselves from a fun, 80’s girl vibe heard in Cape Dory and honed Alaina Moore’s voice to make an even bigger impression, first on Young and Old and now in Ritual in Repeat. They’ve only gotten better over time, and Ritual in Repeat is the most enjoyable album yet. The catchy and upbeat “Never Work for Free” and “Viv Without the N” pair perfectly with the hopeful “Bad Girls” and “Solar on the Rise” to form a complete, solid album.
3. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
Bombay Bicycle Club has always been a fun rock band, but So Long, See You Tomorrow cemented them as seriously fun (and seriously good) alternative rockers. The standout track is “Home By Now,” which pairs Lucy Rose and lead singer Jack Steadman for a R&B duet, closely followed by “It’s Alright Now,” “Carry Me” “Whenever, Wherever,” and “Luna.” It’s difficult to even pick out a non-catchy track among the listing—a well-rounded, enjoyable collection.
4. Mothxr – Various singles
OK, so this isn’t actually an album. But in interviews, the band has said they don’t plan on releasing an album, but rather release singles whenever they feel like it and I’m obsessed with the four they’ve given us this year so they belong on this list. I fell in love with them during a CMJ 2014 performance and can’t stop talking about them now. Frontman Penn Badgley (yes from Gossip Girl) leads a funky, jazzy, sexy soulful band. During their live shows, Penn grooves along to the music, and it’s hard not to do the same when listening.
5. Lykke Li – I Never Learn
An embarrassing confession: I first heard of Lykke Li from the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack. But thank goodness I did because even though that franchise was a disaster, I was introduced to such a great musician. It had been nearly four years since Lykke gave us Wounded Rhymes, and she didn’t disappoint with a follow up in I Never Learn. The album is definitely an extension of her signature haunting croon, and even feels a bit darker and more melancholy than her previous work. Even though it was released in May, I recently discovered it’s a great album to listen to on dreary winter commutes into the city.
6. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Are there more depressing song titles than “Your Love is Killing Me,” “I Love You But I’m Lost” or “Nothing Will Change”? I doubt it. But Sharon Van Etten makes the depression feel so good—probably because most of us can relate in some way to the mournfulness she projects. And her voice itself doesn’t hurt. A full, sometimes breathy voice gets into our heads and refuses to leave. Luckily, we don’t want it to.
7. Banoffee – EP
While not a full-length album, the EP itself has me excited enough for whenever they’ll make their debut. I sadly missed their CMJ performances in October, but I’ll catch them another year because I’m sure Aussie Martha Brown is going to be killing it for a while. The synthetic beats on the tracks combine with R&B melodies and her dreamy vocals to create a fun, funky jam.
8. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
I first saw Sylvan Esso when they opened for Volcano Choir in 2013. While they performed, I realized that they sounded good, but I was a bit thrown off that a group so focused on synth loops would be paired with Volcano Choir. Given more time to reflect, it makes sense to me now. Their debut album has been topping the charts for best of 2014 lists, and it’s clear to see why. Those synth loops are catchy, as are Amelia Meath’s sweet vocals.
9. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
It’s not surprising the St. Vincent turned out a stellar album this year—Annie Clark has been making them for a while now. I admit to being a little wary of “Birth in Reverse” when it first premiered, but I’ve since come around, and enjoy it just as much as the rest of the album. It’s guitar heavy and sounds like futuristic robots should be performing it. I mean that in the best way.
10. The Antlers – Familiars
The Antlers came back this year bringing their signature moaning vocals and smooth, swelling beats. The Antlers has always been one of my favorite artists to belt out while driving at night, and I’ll probably test that out with this album next time I get the chance. Peter Silberman’s voice is a kind of lonely moaning that is best projected when you’re by yourself.