2014’s Best Rock Albums
“Rock is dead they say.” It’s been forty years since Pete Townshend’s poignant words first grabbed the rock ‘n roll spotlight. Since then, there have been constant refrains repeating the age-old perspective, and in the last few years, those chants are getting ominously louder. I’ve never believed that and I still don’t today. But, I am starting to have serious consternation over the future of the rock album as the key medium for the music.
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These days, it’s just tougher and tougher to have albums funded, and then damn near impossible to have all but a few become profitable; yet at the same time, it’s easier than ever to release a single. It seems a foregone conclusion that albums will experience at least some decline in use, but as you’ll see in the next few minutes, there are still a slew of fantastic rock releases.
Before you dig in, let me just share that this list is pretty damn schizophrenic. You’ll see alt-rock, indie rock, pop rock and hard rock. In other words, depending on your preferred genre, there will probably be a few that don’t fit your tastes, but trust me, every one of these offerings is excellent in it’s own right. Now, here are the Top 25 rock albums of 2014, according to ME! You can click on the album title to grab your own copy via iTunes.
As a warm-up, see what a few of these artists felt were the year’s top albums here, and feel free to check out our prior year lists.
2013 Albums of the Year | 2012 Albums of the Year | 2011 Albums of the Year
25, The Endless River – Pink Floyd – Truthfully, probably not the 25th best album of the year, but it’s another good offering from an incredibly consistent band. These tracks are primarily Division Bell era instrumentals. Despite the continued absence of Roger Water, the group still puts out pristine headphone worthy rock, which is definitely a dying art.
24. Strange Desire – Bleachers – Jack Antonoff shows what happens when he offers a glimpse inside his brain and throws these evocative thoughts into grandiose John Waters-esque productions. It’s a fun., optimistic album packed with a handful of intriguing, big tracks that are guaranteed to have you flashing back to the best of the eighties, as well as the best of vintage fun., circa 2013. (Our full review)
23. Be Impressive – The Griswolds – We discovered a tremendous amount of new music from Down Under this year, and the Aussies we listened to had a penchant for bouncy, enjoyable pop rock. That’s the perfect description of the debut from Griswolds. Their “Beware The Dog” was one of the songs of the year, but this group is far from a one hit wonder. (Our full review)
22. St. Vincent – St. Vincent – The first time I heard this album, I really wasn’t that enthralled. It was interesting, creative and different, a little classic progressive rock, a bit of jazz and a touch of new age, but I wasn’t sure it was special. Then, I took it for a subsequent spin or two, and it has really grown on me. Not sure how to classify the genre, but guitarist/vocalist Annie Clark is undeniably special.
21. Redeemer of Souls – Judas Priest – AC/DC’s 2014 release seemed to get all of the attention from classic metal fans, but this album is so much better. Rob Halford still sounds great, the generous guitar solos are crisp and energetic, and the songwriting continues to show growth. There’s a nice mix of straight ahead rockers and more deftly arranged offerings.
20. High Noon – Arkells – This Ontario quintet has never really exploded in the US, and probably because they don’t have any tracks with huge hit potential, but their albums, like High Noon, are packed with a non-stop supply of nicely arranged music spotlighted with poignant lyrics. There’s not a bad song on the album, and it is oh so easy to listen to.
19. Pure Adulterated Joy – Morning Parade – Fresh on the unexpected heels of being dropped by their label, this UK quintet responds with an optimistic, energetic release, that I feel is their best yet. From my album review: “The result: Pure Adulterated Joy, a damn good album that finds the band veering ever so slightly away from their pop roots and moving deeper into rock ‘n roll.” And, it works well. (Our full review)
18. Choking On Halos – Leanne Kingwell – This paragraph from my review sums the album up perfectly: “Kingwell is an Aussie chanteuse just dripping with potential. Her self-released new album is a breath of fresh air on the music landscape and boasts a handful of songs worthy of significant radio play on an album that offers non-stop diverse creative rock tracks.” If you like catchy pop rock, you need to check this out. (Our full review)
17. Lost in the Dream – The War on Drugs – This one is the antithesis of Choking On Halos. It’s a darker journey through the mind of Adam Granduciel. The music from these talented Philadelphians is captivating and has not suffered at all since the departure of Kurt Vile. The complex arrangements are wonderfully distinctive, and every song is an adventure worth taking.
16. Stuck In a Dream – Bike Thief – At times their music reminds me of two excellent Alt-rock artists in Arcade Fire and The Decemberists; it’s creative, robust rock with a distinctive theatrical flair. For any old-timers reading along, I also felt a Renaissance or very early Genesis kind of vibe as many of the songs are adeptly dotted with precisely placed intricate riffs, runs and accents. Check out my review for more insight. (Our full review)
15. Turn Blue – The Black Keys – I love the Black Keys, but just like the Foo Fighters (who did not make the list), I felt the new release was not at the same level as previous works. For Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach, it’s still a strong effort, just not as compelling as their previous albums. I like them as stripped down as possible, but there’s no denying that they’ve created a few fantastic songs on an album that still boasts a fresh, yet classically weathered spin on rock ‘n roll.
14. Isolate and Medicate – Seether – Dirty sludgy rock one track and then mainstream pop rock the next; it’s a nice diverse hard rock album with a handful of great songs. A robust, cohesive offering, with a tremendous amount of rock pouring through the speakers, especially considering the band is but a trio. The album features powerful drums, nice guitar riffs and top notch vocals from Shaun Morgan, while his lyrics are at their introspective best. It’s an active rock album with no weak songs that’s strong from start to finish, and is an absolute blast to listen to loud.
13. World On Fire (feat. Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators) – Slash – An hour and 15 minutes of sharp guitar rock is always nice, and when you throw in Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge) dishing out his pristine vocals, this album is a can’t miss hard rock offering. The 17 songs are diverse, some bluesy, a few acoustic, but all guitar-driven rockers. The backing band, The Conspirators, are sharp throughout and the music passion from the players pours through.
12. Cry Is for the Flies (feat. Shirley Manson & Henry Rollins) – Le Butcherettes – The album features Teri Gender Bender (maybe not her birthname), a Mexican punk rocker with an eclectic approach to rock music. From Broken Birdie’s review, this sums it up perfectly: “It’s not for everyone but it is definitely within reach for most people if you simply have the fortitude to keep listening. A+ and I’m really looking forward to Le Butcherettes cruising through town so that I can catch what I can only imagine is a fantastic live show as well.” (Our full review)
11. Hope – Manchester Orchestra – This is a first for me – two albums from the same artist on my annual list, and even more unusual, the same exact song titles. Andy Hull and crew went back to the studio and totally re-imagined the Cope album. These versions are stripped down and generally unrecognizable, and consistently they sound tremendous. It was a brave shot at repositioning the songs, and a few of the new versions are absolutely better than those on Cope. (Our full review)
10. The Black Market – Rise Against – Another album that grew on me the more I listened to it. On this, the seventh release from these socially conscious Chicago rockers, we still hear much of the hard-driving sound their fervent fans have come to enjoy, but on this album, they’ve mixed in a few new twists, primarily to a more mainstream sound. Listening to the lyrics, there’s also a more prominent focus on relationships, with fewer songs about social and political issues. (Our full review)
9. Alveron – Wolf Gang – I’ve anxiously waited to hear the follow-on to Suego Faults, the band’s excellent 2011 debut release, and it was worth the wait. Although this offering doesn’t boast the obvious Top 40 hits of its predecessor, the album is packed with soaring rock anthems. Produced by Flood, the arrangements are impeccable, and the band shows obvious maturity. The songs revolve around the challenges of twenty-somethings dealing with relationships and life, and the musical talent on display is impressive throughout. (Our full review)
8. Manhattan – SKATERS – One of the best debut albums I heard this year, the album is packed with snappy rock offerings interestingly arranged around little vignettes of life in the city. Lots of poppy, punk-infused music that’s just catchy as hell. The band shows their flexibility with a broad spectrum of rock sounds, on an album that feels like today’s ode to New York City; it’s not the Strokes, nor The Ramones, but it sure could be the 2014 equivalent from a cultural standpoint. (Our full review)
7. Brill Bruisers – The New Pornographers – This All-star Vancouver lineup continuously delivers fresh, meaningful rock music, and great albums. Brill Brothers, their first release in four years continues that trend. The title track is a soaring, majestic rocker, and beautifully, there’s nothing else like it on the album. Like the proverbial box of chocolates, you don’t know what to expect from song to song on Brill Bruisers, but somehow all of the diverse offerings mesh together perfectly in the end, and provide a great musical expedition.
6. Cope – Manchester Orchestra – I loved the re-imagined version of this album, Hope, but the original was just a bit better. This one sounds like the Manchester Orchestra that we have grown to love, and boasts a handful of killer tracks. This version of the band is deeper, darker and more powerful, as immediately evidenced by the first track, “Top Notch,” where the drums are bigger, the guitars more forceful and vocals a little grittier than past efforts, and it makes for compelling rock.
5. Stuck – Adelitas Way – A few of my peers will scoff at this rating, but hey, it’s my list, deal with it. The truth is, this is a killer album packed with excellent rock songs. It’s stadium rock, done as well as we’ve heard in years, and it boasts a fresh engaging sound. There’s not an album I’ve listened to more frequently in 2014; it’s one of those rare albums that defines a band and jettisons them into the rock ‘n roll stratosphere. It’s Adelitas Way’s equivalent of Metallica’s Master Of Puppets or the Scorpions’ Love At First Bite. (Our full review)
4. Royal Blood – Royal Blood – Yet another duo serving up powerful rock music. It’s amazing how this UK duo deliver the robust, powerful music that punctuates the album with just a bass and drums. They put forth freight-train powered rock ‘n roll, highlighted by Mike Kerr’s soulful vocals and catchy, intricate bass riffs. But it’s not all balls to the wall rock ‘n roll, as the more tender offerings truly complete the album. It’s one hell of a debut and jolt of energy to the rock music landscape.
3. Calm Down, Everything Is Fine – Mike Mains & The Branches – When I heard the first single, the addictive “Noises,” I was anticipating an album filled with similar pop-punk ditties. What I heard, though, was so much more. The songs are all over the rock music map but consistently fun to listen to, and they come together perfectly to shape a memorable rock ‘n roll journey. Mains puts his immense young talent on display in an album that spotlights a unique and versatile voice and a talented song-writer just dripping with potential. (Our full review)
2. Lazaretto – Jack White – I wasn’t always positive, but I’ve come to realize that Mr. White is a musical genius. He has the reputation of being a bit of a prick, and that may have clouded my views, but his music continues to impress. As we see on Lazaretto, his sound has evolved from the early White Stripe days to what we now hear as a much more, full, complex and elaborate production. The music is better than ever, but it still boasts pure raw rock ‘n roll. It’s hard to pull off, but as we see on this album, it’s magical when everything comes together. Listen to it, and if you’ve listened before, pick it up again, as it gets better with every listen.
1. Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me! – From the moment I first heard this album in January, I knew that we had a special album on our hands. It’s stood up all year, and it’s my clear choice as the album of the year. A funny thing happened on the way to the studio, as frontman Tom Gabel, became Laura Jane Grace and started writing amazingly riveting music. The album still boasts the rugged guitar rock that has defined the band for the past decade, but the lyrics are more poignant than ever. The key, though, is that the music is urgently passionate. Every song a story worth telling, and a journey meticulously crafted. (Our full review)
So, that’s it for 2014. Lots of great stuff from every genre of rock music, and proof that the killer rock album still survives. What did I miss, what did I nail? I’d love to hear your thoughts either below or on our Facebook page.
“Long live rock, be it dead or alive.”
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