Each year critics scour the volumes of music to try and whittle all those sounds down to just ten albums that they consider to be the best of the year. We all know that’s ridiculous. No one can hear everything, and any serious music fan will tell you that their favorite music changes from day to day, mood to mood, setting to setting.
This is especially true considering music is more untethered than ever. Sounds come not just when we’re sitting in front of the computer with headphones on, or working out, or putting on a record and sitting down to listen to it. It nails us when we’re flipping channels, when we’re reading, when we’re running errands and scanning the dial.
Here are 100 great moments, records, performances, artists, events, ephemera and whatnot from 2014, as chosen by one opinionated human filter.
Best televised performance (rap): Kendrick Lamar, “i” on “Saturday Night Live”
Best televised live performance (rock): Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting on You)” on “The Late Show With David Letterman”
Best televised live performance (pop): FKA Twigs, “Two Weeks" on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon”
Best mainstream pop artist (non-Beyonce): Taylor Swift
Best unsung mainstream pop artist: Kimbra
Best long-delayed, potentially disappointing album that was surprisingly good: Azealia Banks, “Broke With Expensive Taste”
Best long-delayed, potentially disappointing album that was actually a masterpiece: D’Angelo, “Black Messiah”
Best music festival: Odd Future Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival 2014
Best party album: (tie) YG, “My Krazy Life”; the 2 Bears, “The Night Is Young”
Best track about a Maserati: Nicki Minaj, “Four Door Aventador”
Best rap album (outta Compton): DJ Quik,” The Midnight Life”
Best rap album (outta Los Angeles): Schoolboy Q, “Oxymoron”
Best new R&B artist: Tinashe
Best public flop (figurative): U2, “Songs of Innocence”
Best public flop (literal): Bono, U2
Best use of the word “surfboard”: Beyonce, “Drunk in Love”
Best infomercial: Foo Fighters, “Sonic Highways” (HBO series)
Best platform for music discovery: (tie) Bandcamp; Soundcloud
Best music-related autobiography: Viv Albertine, “Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Girls, Girls, Girls”
Best random cameo in a music-related autobiography: Vincent Gallo in Albertine’s “Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Girls, Girls, Girls”
Best opening act (comedy): Tig Notaro opening for Jenny Lewis at the Wiltern
Best usage of eerie classic country music in a science fiction novel: Michel Faber’s use of Patsy Cline piped over the speakers on some faraway planet, “The Book of Strange New Things”
Best left-field DJ set: Mr. One Hundred, High Tech Soca Mix
Best O.C. music festival: "Burger A-Go-Go,” Santa Ana
Best white Australian female rapper: Chelsea Jane (runner-up: Iggy Azalea)
Best tag-team Highland Park/Detroit collaboration: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, “Pinanta”
Best archival release by a Minnesotan: Bob Dylan, “The Basement Tapes Complete”
Best archival Native American release: Various artists, “Native North America: Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country, 1966-1985"
Best reissue campaign: Luaka Bop, for its William Onyeabor initiative
Best Beatles-related archival release (that wasn’t “The Beatles in Mono” box set): George Harrison, “The Apple Years.”
Best new rock songwriter: Courtney Barnett
Best festival performance: Bostich + Fussible at Supersonico
Best co-opting of Pitchfork’s admiration: Mark Kozelek, Sun Kil Moon
Best cultural messenger: Laura Jane Grace, Against Me!
Best busic biography: Holly George-Warren, “A Man Called Destruction: Alex Chilton”
Best breakout Los Angeles pop star: Becky G
Best archival country music release: Hank Williams, “The Garden Spot Programs, 1950"
Best female rap album: Ana Tijoux, “Vengo”
Best award ceremony upset: Young Fathers winning the Mercury Prize
Best James Brown-related archival release: The JB’s, “These Are the JBs”
Best archival use of a Maestro Rhythm King drum machine: Sly Stone, “Various Artists: I’m Just Like You: Sly Stone’s Flower, 1969-1970"
Best archival release: “Various Artists: The Paramount Records Story, Vol. 2"
Best beat in a pop song: Usher, “Good Kisser”
Best archival release (Los Angeles): Captain Beefheart, “Sun Zoom Spark: 1970-1972"
Best unsanctioned cameo in an animated TV show: Lorde on “South Park”
Best archival Brit-pop compilation: "Various Artists: C86"
Best streaming service: Spotify
Best coordinated campaign against Spotify: Taylor Swift & Scott Borchetta
Best coordinated campaign against high-profile Apple rollouts: U2 & Tim Cook, “Songs of Innocence"
Best book about record collectors: Amanda Petrusich, “Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest Records”
Best ambient techno album: Vladislav Delay, “Visa”
Best music blog: Wondering Sound (R.I.P.)
Best beat producer/drone metal collaboration: The Bug vs. Earth, “Boa/Cold”
Best pop crooner/drone metal collaboration: Scott Walker & Sunn 0))), “Soused”
Best country mixtape: DJ George Constanza, “Country Rap Mix”
Best archival soft rock release: Lewis, “L’Amour”
Best Los Angeles post-punk album: Warpaint, “Warpaint."
Best archival electronic release: Craig Leon, “Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music, Vol. 1: ‘Nommos’ and ‘Visiting’"
Best birthday party: Billy Joe Shaver’s 75th at the Satellite
Best fusion album: Black Bananas, “Electric Brick Wall”
Best punk gig: White Lung at Los Globos
Best album to remind critics that the year doesn’t end until Dec. 31: (tie) Beyonce, “Beyonce”; D’Angelo, “Black Messiah”
Best rock grump: Joe Casey, Protomartyr (runner-up: Jack White)
Best meta-modern country album: Sturgill Simpson, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music”
Best commercial country album: Eric Church, “The Outsiders”
Best performance of a Neil Young song: Lee Ann Womack, “Out on the Weekend”
Best album to listen to while on a marijuana tour of Colorado and/or Washington: (tie) Grouper, “Ruins” and Woo, “When the Past Arrives”
Best song about feeling feisty in bed while your lover is focused on her smartphone: Tom Brosseau, “Cradle Your Device”
Best soliloquy: Killer Mike of Run the Jewels, after the St. Louis County Grand Jury announcement regarding the death of Michael Brown
Best protest song: J. Cole, “Be Free”
Best tribute album: Various artists: “Master Mix: Red, Hot + Arthur Russell"
Best album on Warp Records: Clark, “Clark” (second place: Brian Eno & Karl Hyde, “High Life”; third place: Aphex Twin, “Syro”).
Best release by a producer connected to Kanye West: Arca, “Xen (second place: Hudson Mohawke, “Chimes” EP)
Best Danish punk song: Iceage, “The Lord’s Favorite”
Best rock concert: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at Ace Hotel
Best live performance of a Beck song: Jarvis Cocker, “Eyes That Say I Love You” at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Best realization of early artistic promise: Perfume Genius
Best beef: (tie) Ariel Pink versus Grimes; Taylor Swift versus Katy Perry
Best film score: Mica Levi, “Under the Skin”
Best album about mortality: Flying Lotus, “You’re Dead!”
Best mainstream country song: Maddie & Tae, “Girl in a Country Song”
Best EDM return-to-form: Basement Jaxx, “Junto”
Best soft rock album: Beck, “Morning Phase”
Best traditional British folk album: Vashti Bunyan, “Heartleap”
Best rock album: Ty Segall, “Manipulator”
Best concept album: DJ Dodger Stadium, “Friend of Mine”
Best new Los Angeles band: Cherry Glazerr
Best debut album: FKA Twigs, “LP1"
Best Brazilian collection: Various artists, “Role: The New Sounds of Brazil”
Best father/son collaboration: Toumani & Sidiki Diabate, “Toumani & Sidiki”
Best response to dismissive haters: Lana Del Rey, “Ultraviolence”
Best album about harrowing, destructive love: Sharon Van Etten, “Are We There?”
Best rap lyricist: Open Mike Eagle
Best justification for drinking Scotch and listening to strange ambient music: Leyland Kirby, “We Drink to Forget the Coming Storm”
Best concert (rock): Swans at the Roxy
Best single (whispered): Lykki Li, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone”
Best song about the ticking biological clock: Jenny Lewis, “Just One of the Guys”
Best singer/producer collaboration: Bryan Ferry & Todd Terje, “Johnny and Mary”
Best piece of music criticism: Meredith Graves on musical authenticity, the Talkhouse
Future legend award: DJ Rashad (R.I.P.)
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