1. White Fence, For the Recently Found Innocent Ace songwriter Tim Presley brings his latest batch of ’60s-inspired psych-pop into producer Ty Segall’s garage, and comes out the other end with his grittiest set yet. Sing it out: “Give my seat to Arrow Man!”
2. Innercity Ensemble, II From my 2014 new-discoveries file: seven Polish instrumentalists who gather for some fiery collective improv and emerge with dreamy jazzscapes so purposeful you’ll swear they were fully mapped out.
3. Ian William Craig, A Turn of Breath Craig, an operatic singer with an experimental spirit, pairs his voice with decaying tape loops for a singular, devastating experience that literally brought tears to my eyes this year.
4. Iceage, Plowing Into the Field of Love It’s risky when a favorite band ditches the sound that made us dig them (in this case, shambolic noise-punk)—and so rewarding when the new look (for these fast-evolving Danes, more song-focused fare) pays off.
5. Guided By Voices, Cool Planet The indie-rock vets’ unlikely reunion produced six albums, and this capper might be the best, thanks to the sledgehammer drumming of “new” man Kevin March and the eternally genius writing of leader Robert Pollard.
6. Lawrence English, Wilderness of Mirrors A career spent blurring the line between gorgeous ambience and frightening clamor climbs higher yet with this unrelenting glimpse into the Aussie master’s mind.
7. Carla Bozulich, Boy The avant-rock singer/composer crafts what she calls her “pop record,” most of which sounds nothing like any pop I’ve heard before, thankfully.
8. Aphex Twin, Syro It might not be Richard D. James’ best album ever, but considering his best stand among electronic music’s all-time pillars, Syro marks a heady, welcome return.
9. Morgan Delt, Morgan Delt This promising debut plays like a continuous swirl of hazy, hook-stuffed psych-pop, with the sum of the parts as its real payoff.
10. Rhyton, Kykeon This far-out trio journeys sonically from Middle Eastern to Spaghetti Western on a series of purposeful instrumental improv trips.
1. Todd Terje, It’s Album Time My 2014 scoresheet says the Norwegian producer’s disco/Balearic fantasia is my lone A+, while Spotify’s tabulations reveal it’s my most-streamed album. It’s unanimity time.
2. Joris Voorn, Nobody Knows If anything in the electronic/dance world surprised more than Terje’s breakout, it’s Dutch techno producer Voorn’s cerebral, affecting and immaculately envisioned long-player.
3. Perfume Genius, Too Bright Continuing the queer crooner tradition of Rufus Wainwright and Antony Hegarty, Mike Hadreas triggers the feels with his inimitable vocal—and musical—aesthetic.
4. St. Vincent, St. Vincent Annie Clark deftly corrals her many tools and muses—Talking Heads being the most obvious—delivering her most vital, most addictive and flat-out best record.
5. The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream Speaking of breakouts, Adam Granduciel seized the momentum of 2011’s excellent Slave Ambient and dreamed up a righteous rock album loaded with resonant escapism and restrained nostalgia.
6. Flying Lotus, You’re Dead! A jazz-infused, glitch-transcending, hip-hop-elevating rebound from 2012’s underwhelming Until the Quiet Comes that occupies its own genre.
7. Deadmau5, While (1-2) An artistic peak for the prog-house pugilist, whose contempt for commercial EDM thwarts neither his creativity nor his accessibility.
8. Spoon, They Want My Soul Consistency, thy name is Spoon, which nonetheless stretches its punchy, Stones-ian rhythm & blues for its sixth consecutive knockout.
9. Tycho, Awake A transportive merging of post-rock, Balearic house, Krautrock and ambient techno, Awake sees instrumentalist Scott Hansen at his most confident and euphonic.
10. Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues A powerful, proclamatory and hooks-runneth-over manifesto that not only improves upon each listen but announces the arrival of Laura Jane Grace, who levels the ignorant with stridency and coherence.
1. Beck, Morning Phase Sea Change only wished it could be as engaged and clear-eyed as Morning Phase, which found Beck and his band of collaborators combining honeyed folk, whirring psych-rock and glacial electronica with masterful precision.
2. Split Single, Fragmented World Bob Mould sideman Jason Narducy teams up with Spoon’s Britt Daniel for a collection of well-constructed power-pop with a shimmering indie-rock core.
3. Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams Anyone hoping for messy alt-country Ryan Adams will be disappointed; those enamored with his tangled guitar hurricanes, ’80s rock jags and impeccable songwriting will find much to like here.
4. Dum Dum Girls, Too True Perhaps one of the most underrated records of the year, Too True continues DDG’s fixation with gothy ’80s alt-rock—and adds in some equally dark electronic flourishes for good measure.
5. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness The Jack’s Mannequin/Something Corporate frontman subtly updates his piano-pop with retro touches and modern electro bursts.
6. Mean Creek, Local Losers This spring-loaded Boston quartet split the difference between throttling punk and fuzzy ’90s indie rock (think Dinosaur Jr., Blake Babies and others of their ilk) on this latest LP.
7. Taylor Swift, 1989 Call it Top 40 catnip, call it sleek modern pop or call it slick electro-pop, 1989 is the sound of Taylor Swift embracing the here and now—and loving every minute of it.
8. Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines Feminism was a popular buzzword this year, and no artist approached the topic with more nuance—or force—than Amos, whose latest never sugarcoated its piano-adorned ruminations on what it’s like being a woman in 2014.
9. The Faint, Doom Abuse After some fallow years, Omaha’s O.G. synth-punks leapt back into music in a big way, with tightly coiled riffs and fresh pogoing beats.
10. Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else Many alt-country women had breakout years—Nikki Lane and Angaleena Presley also come to mind—but Loveless’ homespun Midwestern grit stuck out the most.