Young Turks

The 25 Best Albums of 2014
The 25 Best Albums of 2014


Mac DeMarco, Salad Days

On the surface, Mac DeMarco’s music sounds like consummately crafted beach pop and little more, lightly strummed and frivolously conceived, with hooks so airy they seem in danger of instantly floating away. But repeated listens reveal deeper concerns, and while DeMarco rarely lapses out of his usual sleepy tone, the low-key approach to intelligent pop befits the Canadian singer-songwriter, whose third effort boasts layers of intricacy and skill only hinted at on 2012’s 2. Hopping from genre to genre across the album’s 11 tracks, he demonstrates an instinctive ability to communicate a broad swath of emotions without ever raising his voice. Cataldo

The 25 Best Albums of 2014


The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream

The War on Drugs has a clear root in what might be the most mainline brand of American rock. It’s a strain of sleek, swaggering blues refined by the Stones and Springsteen and hordes of less talented adherents, all drawn to the romance of the road and its attendant sorrows, crafting tales of roughly handled dreams whose charging 4/4 thrust is undercut by an essential sense of melancholy. It’s a mode that’s by now largely ceded to parody and creative decay, but an album like Lost in the Dream again shows that influence doesn’t have to be oppressive. It’s energizing to hear the Philadelphia band drain any lingering bravado out of this mythos, locating some essential element of exhaustion and stripping things down to the basic, inherent sadness of the form, on long songs that stretch out helplessly toward some uncertain conclusion. Cataldo

The 25 Best Albums of 2014


Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence

Suburban provocateur Lana Del Rey’s second LP, Ultraviolence, is a kind of millennial noir, all gauzy damsels, bruised cheekbones, and Chevy Malibus. Pop has rarely been this sultry, or masochistic, for that matter. Del Rey, with her melodramatic, sneeringly false narratives, courts both loathing and desire, oscillating between demands for “money, power, and glory” and displays of naked vulnerability. After all, Del Rey reminds us, she’s “pretty when [she cries].” Neither the coolness of her vocal timbre nor the malaise of her delivery can quite disguise the fact that she’s a pop singer almost without peer in her generation, assisted by producer Dan Auerbach’s dreamy minimalism and the ghosts of jazz and ’70s pop. Del Rey chronicles the failure of a kind of American dream that only persists in sepia-toned commercials and Death of a Salesman productions. “I’m a bad girl/I’m a sad girl,” she swoons on “Sad Girl,” with all the self-conscious tragedy of Jay Gatsby staring across the bay at the green light on the end of Daisy’s dock. Our nostalgia might be for a betrayal that never happened, but it still hurts. Caldwell

The 25 Best Albums of 2014


Spoon, They Want My Soul

If Spoon’s previous albums cast them as experimentalists rooted firmly in the rock milieu, They Want My Soul is where they twist their classicist and post-punk influences into something stranger and headier. Britt Daniel strikes his “sensitive tough guy” poses, alternately trying to incite street brawls (“Let’s go get out in the street/Somebody’s gotta”) or falling desperately in love (“And if you say ’run,’ I may run with you/I’ve got nothing else, I’ve got nowhere else”) over Spoon’s expanded textural vocabulary. Every noise is lovingly curated, whether it’s the screeching string figures that lend tension to “Knock, Knock, Knock” or the uncharacteristically wooly keyboards of “Inside Out” and “Outliers.” They Want My Soul is as complete a statement as Spoon has made, a testament to Britt Daniel’s ability to compose Beatles-esque melodies while his band casts them in thrillingly unfamiliar soundscapes. Rainis

The 25 Best Albums of 2014


St. Vincent, St. Vincent

On her fifth album, Annie Clark trains her focus on contemporary media culture, critiquing the vapid, self-indulgent aspects of social networking and the alienation and boredom that it produces. Whether singing about selfies or death, Clark probes the existential convergence between humans and their digital devices, as when she laments, “I’m entombed in a shrine of zeroes and ones.” The gorgeously laconic torch song “Prince Johnny” finds Clark imploring, over layered backing vocals and a discretely funky guitar lick, for someone “to make me a real girl,” another nod toward the blurred lines between humans, animals, and machines that she explores throughout the album. Despite its thematic weight, St. Vincent wears its politics lightly, as Clark makes space for her trademark experiments with guitar effects and playful lines like “I prefer your love to Jesus.” She’s an auteur perfectly suited for the age we’re living in: a heretic with her own sense of ethics, an eccentric with a conscience. Galvin