The Best Of 2014: The First Half

by Benjamin Ray

A quick overview of the best rock and pop releases of the year so far.

10. Real Estate, Atlas: A good, melancholy album for a thoughtful summer evening spent in the backyard by yourself with a beer and a grill, the Jersey band’s third effort gets a bit predictable in the music department but rises above lyrically, tackling relatable themes of growing older and looking backward with poise and strength. Download: “Had To Hear,” “Talking Backwards”

9. Future Islands, Singles: Uses new wave and pop as a basis, then infiltrates with modern electro-pop and ties it together with Samuel Herring’s stellar vocal work. Download: “Like The Moon”

8. Beck, Morning Phase:  Beck’s first disc in six years is a moody, introspective album that glistens with the weight of the world and the dawn of a new day, finding hope in the melancholy. Download: “Wave,” “Turn Away”

7. St. Vincent, St. Vincent: Smart, funny alt-pop with an edge and some great guitar work. Download: “Birth In Reverse,” “Regret”

6. The War On Drugs, Lost In The Dream: Full of dreamy yet weighty post-punk inspired musical sculptures, it is easy to get lost in this all-encompassing album. Download: “Under The Pressure”

5. Hold Steady, Teeth Dreams: New guitarist Steve Selvidge makes a huge mark on this band’s latest effort, turning it into a louder, smarter and more streamlined affair than before. Download: “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You,” “Oaks”

4. Afghan Whigs: Do To The Beast: Lost ‘90s band reunites with two original members (and sans the original guitar player) and turns in a dark, heavy groove-centric alt rock affair with only hints of the old sound. Download: “Parked Outside,” “Can Rova”

3. Black Keys, Turn Blue: Dan and Pat dispense with their usual gritty blues-rock grunge for a spacier, longer, more pensive album that still keeps one foot in the murk. Inspired by Neil Young and Pink Floyd, but possessing the same Keys musical spirit, identity and ambition that characterizes all their work.  Download: “Weight Of Love,” “Gotta Get Away,” “Turn Blue”

2. Pixies, Indie Cindy: The legendary alternative band, minus bassist/singer Kim Deal, cut two EPs this year and one last year; this album collects those 12 songs and shuffles the order into a logical playlist. Sounding somewhat like a follow-up to Trompe Le Monde and Teenager Of The Year but with 23 years of life and experience, this is easily one of the best albums of the year, no matter what Pixies fans stuck on Doolittle say. Download: “What Goes Boom,” “Magdalena 318,” “Blue-Eyed Hexe”

1. Foster The People, Supermodel: In an era where stripped-down indie rock is celebrated, it’s nice to see a band embrace lavish songwriting and production. This wouldn’t matter if it was in service of lousy music, but Supermodel is chock full of memorable melodies, great arrangements and an arena-ready sound. It wasn’t a critical favorite, but it should have been, because this is the best album of 2014 so far. Download: “Best Friend,” “Nevermind,” “Are You What You Want To Be?”

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