D'Angelo has the best-reviewed major album of 2014
|2014||95 Black Messiah
by D'Angelo and the Vanguard
|2012||92 Channel Orange
by Frank Ocean
|2011||88 Bad As Me
by Tom Waits
|2010||94 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
by Kanye West
Up until a few weeks ago, it looked like either St. Vincent or Run the Jewels would capture the title of 2014's best-reviewed album, and it looked like we'd have our first year without a 90+ release since 2011. But none of those things came to pass.
Instead, out of nowhere, D'Angelo dropped his first studio album in 14 years. The R&B artist had been hinting for years—many, many years—about a follow-up to 2000's acclaimed Voodoo, but recent events in the aftermath of police shootings in Ferguson and New York prompted him to greatly accelerate his schedule. Black Messiah arrived, Beyoncé-style, on December 15th with no advance promotion and just a few hours of warning. The result is our highest-scoring album since the release of Brian Wilson's SMiLE in 2004.
The past year saw the release of many excellent albums in addition to D'Angelo's last-minute stunner. Of the 817 new studio albums released in 2014 that received at least 7 reviews from professional critics, over 13% (or 109 albums, to be exact) received universal acclaim (with a Metascore of 81 or greater). That's better than 2013's percentage, which was already well ahead of the prior year's numbers.
Below is this year's ranking of the best albums (in Metacritic's database) released during the past calendar year as determined by their Metascores—an average of all reviews by professional critics at the time of each album's original release. Note that live albums, reissues, compilations, and the like are excluded from this chart, though they are listed separately a bit further down this page.
The 25 best-reviewed albums of 2014 (min. 15 reviews)
D'Angelo and the Vanguard
95 Black Messiah (RCA)
Though its very late release meant that it could not be included on most critics' year-end top 10 lists (many of which had already been published prior to the album's arrival), D'Angelo's first album since 2000 impressed reviewers like nothing else this year. Of the 24 reviews collected so far, none is scored lower than 80, and most are 90 or higher.
"Rife with the kind of sublimely loose grooves achievable only through instrumental precision, Black Messiah is as vital as it is sublime."
—Los Angeles Times More reviews...
89 St. Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic)
"Her biggest fans may prefer less direct writing, but it makes St. Vincent her most widely appealing album to date, an infectious work that doesn’t ever feel like a compromise."
—Consequence of Sound More reviews...
Run the Jewels
89 Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal)
The second highly acclaimed collaboration between emcee/producer El-P and rapper Killer Mike (or third, if you include Mike's recent El-P-produced solo album), RTJ2 is 2014's best-reviewed hip-hop album. Unfortunately, the all-cat remake didn't surface in time to be eligible for the 2014 list.
"RTJ2 is the rare sequel that bests the beloved original in almost every facet."
—Slant More reviews...
88 To Be Kind (Young God)
This John Congleton-produced double album is the third studio set from Swans since Michael Gira re-formed the experimental post-punk act four years ago. St. Vincent and Cold Specks are among the guests on the two-hour, 10-song LP.
"To Be Kind is a loving ode to chaos, full of deranged, mutant energy and even more brilliant for it."
—Pretty Much Amazing More reviews...
88 Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore)
The Little Rock, Arkansas doom metal outfit followed their acclaimed 2012 debut Sorrow and Extinction with this even better sophomore set.
"The dolorous gloom of Foundations of Burden should be oppressive, but Pallbearer turns pain into beauty."
—Austin Chronicle More reviews...
88 You're Dead (Warp)
Originally beginning life as a jazz album before morphing into a grab-bag of styles united by a loose theme of mortality, FlyLo's 5th studio album is one of 2014's most original works. Guests include Kendrick Lamar, Herbie Hancock, Snoop Dogg, and Angel Deradoorian (formerly of Dirty Projectors).
"This record is a wholly singular work; not only does it defy expectations of what a Flying Lotus album should sound like, it totally obliterates any preconceptions about what can be released by a remotely popular contemporary musician."
—The 405 More reviews...
87 The River & The Thread (Blue Note)
The singer-songwriter's 13th studio album and first LP of original compositions in eight years finds her once again working with longtime producer John Leventhal. It's 2014's best-reviewed country album.
"It’s among her finest work in a 35-year career, assured and at ease, and one of 2014’s first great albums."
—Boston Globe More reviews...
87 Too Bright (Matador)
Seattle-based solo artist Mike Hadreas extended his perfect streak of 81+ albums to three with Too Bright, which ditched the spare, fragile style of previous releases for something bolder, bigger, and angrier, produced by Portishead's Adrian Utley.
"It's a record full of beauty and heartache, confidence and fear, and these ends pull at each other for one of the most captivating records to come out this year."
—Absolute Punk More reviews...
Sharon Van Etten
86 Are We There (Jagjaguwar)
The Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter's self-produced fourth album is her best-reviewed release to date. (Given that her average Metascore is 83, that's quite an accomplishment.)
"One of the most vivid, involving, troubling albums about the trials of love in recent memory."
—Drowned in Sound More reviews...
86 Syro (Warp)
After the release of Drukqs in 2001, the once-prolific Richard James went 13 years without another studio album until the arrival of Syro this fall with little advance warning. The new set immediately became one of the electronic music legend's best-reviewed releases to date.
"Even if Syro isn’t a radical departure, it’s still a swaggering return, a reminder of just how many varieties of warped sound remain at James’ command--and just how few of his acolytes can touch that versatility."
—A.V. Club More reviews...
86 LP1 (XL Recordings)
English trip-hop artist Tahliah Debrett Barnett scored the best-reviewed debut album of 2014 with this Mercury Prize-nominated full-length that followed a pair of acclaimed EPs.
"In its menacing incandescence, LP1 sounds like nothing else in the world right now."
—Spin More reviews...
86 Present Tense (Domino)
One of just a few albums on this list inexplicably ignored by critics on their year-end top 10 lists, this fourth and highest-scoring album from the English art-rockers was recorded over the course of a full year with new producers Leo Abrahams and Lexxx, and found the group inspired by electronic music of the 1980s and '90s.
"It is an album by a band at the very peak of their powers--one that will make you want to throw your hands up and surrender to its magnificent beauty."
—musicOMH More reviews...
86 Popular Problems (Columbia)
The legendary singer-songwriter released this 13th studio album just two days after his 80th birthday. Critics gave him the gift of terrific reviews.
"It's surprising, deeply moving and occasionally stunning."
—Exclaim More reviews...
The War on Drugs
86 Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)
Two years in the making, this third LP from the Adam Granduciel-led indie rock outfit The War on Drugs (a band co-founded by Kurt Vile, who left early on to become a solo artist) is dominating critics' year-end top 10 lists.
"It's a near flawless collection of dreamy vibes, shifting moods, and movement, and stands easily as Granduciel's finest hour so far."
—All Music Guide More reviews...
86 Way Out Weather (Paradise Of Bachelors)
Formerly a guitarist for Kurt Vile's backing band, The Violators, Steve Gunn is also a prolific solo artist, and this latest release finds him backed by a larger band, leading to a more accessible (though still exceedingly eclectic) sound.
"The eight songs are all beautifully crafted, integrating elements of folk, blues and country/rock. ... A new American classic."
—Magnet More reviews...
Sun Kil Moon
85 Benji (Caldo Verde)
The sixth and best release from Mark Kozelek's post-Red House Painters project Sun Kil Moon was released nearly a year ago but is still wowing critics today. (Of course, so is the latest album from Kozelek's arch-rival The War on Drugs.)
"Kozelek, it seems, has nothing left to hide, or lose: the effect is utterly riveting."
—The Observer More reviews...
84 Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar)
The John Congleton-produced second LP from the singer-songwriter is her first album recorded with a full band. The result is more varied—and less dependent on her voice—than her debut, but is no less compelling, provided you don't mind a bit of gloom.
"Burn Your Fire for No Witness conjures the past without ever imitating it, swirling its influences into something intimate, impressionistic and new."
—Pitchfork More reviews...
84 Rips (Merge)
The latest project from the prolific Mary Timony (who is a member of Helium, Autoclave, and Wild Flag in addition to recording as a solo artist) is a new pop-punk band named after one of her solo albums. This Mitch Easter-produced, hook-filled debut album was recorded in just two weeks.
"Rips is a feel-good gut-punch of a debut album, working a sound that dates back to the Runaways, but also can hold its own right up against current practitioners like Dum Dum Girls."
—The New York Times More reviews...
84 Our Love (Merge)
Following a solo detour in 2012 with techno side project Daphni, Dan Snaith returned to his main gig in 2014 with Caribou's first album since 2010's Swim. It's another winning combination of electronica and psychedelica, even if it doesn't break much new ground.
"This is rich, strange, endlessly fascinating music: a subtle, beautiful triumph."
—The Guardian More reviews...
84 A U R O R A (Mute)
The Australian (but Iceland-based) experimental composer, who has worked in both film and theater, headed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to record this, his first album in four years. The result is an instrumental blend of menacing industrial sounds and shoegaze.
"At its best, A U R O R A is an exhilarating work, propulsive and contemplative, able to allow for moments of searing volume and elegant beauty."
—Dusted More reviews...
Strand of Oaks
83 Heal (Dead Oceans)
Strand of Oaks is the solo recording project for Philadelphia-based musician Timothy Showalter, who was recovering from injuries sustained in a car crash while putting the finishing touches on this fourth album. The result comes down heavily on the rock side of his usual folk-rock formula.
"Heal's molten flow of grandiloquent '70s rock and '80s electronica is unstoppable."
—Mojo More reviews...
83 Angels & Devils (Ninja Tune)
British producer Kevin Martin's first album as The Bug since 2008's critically acclaimed London Zoo was another winner. Split into two halves—one quietly ambient, the other noisy and jarring—Angels & Devils includes contributions from Death Grips, Grouper, Flowdan, and Gonjasufi.
"Angels & Devils dwarfs its acclaimed predecessor, as it does almost everything else released in the electronic music genre this year."
—Exclaim More reviews...
83 July (Sacred Bones)
The sixth LP (and Sacred Bones debut) from the Boston-based indie-folk artist is about as cheerful as you would expect a breakup album to be, though Randall Dunn's widely praised production adds minimalistic beauty to the proceedings.
"It’s very rare that an artist present a statement so definitive as July, but given who it’s coming from, this album’s transcendence is far from surprising."
—PopMatters More reviews...
83 Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)
Manchester, England techno producer Andy Stott followed 2012's terrific Luxury Problems with this fourth LP, and it's another winner. Faith in Strangers once again features vocals from Alison Skidmore, and while you can't exactly dance to it, the moody and distinctive result makes for one hell of a soundtrack. Call it the Future Sound of Manchester.
"The most fully formed and wholly unique record in his discography."
—Resident Advisor More reviews...
83 Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (Highway 20)
The veteran artist's first new album in four years (and 11th overall) is a big one, with 20 tracks spread across two discs. Guests include Bill Frisell, Jakob Dylan, Ian McLagan (Faces), and Elvis Costello's rhythm section of Pete Thomas and Davey Faragaher.
"All told, it’s a magnificent, career-defining set, full of hard-won wisdom, assertive independence--and compassion in abundance."
—The Independent More reviews...
|26||Under Color of Official Right by Protomartyr||83|
|27||Nikki Nack by tUnE-yArDs||83|
|28||Soused by Scott Walker and Sunn 0)))||83|
|29||Loom by Fear of Men||83|
|30||Futurology by Manic Street Preachers||83|
|31||Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me!||82|
|32||Why Do the Heathen Rage? by The Soft Pink Truth||82|
|33||Shattered by Reigning Sound||82|
|34||In Conflict by Owen Pallett||82|
|35||Singles by Future Islands||82|
|36||Salad Days by Mac DeMarco||82|
|37||Field of Reeds by These New Puritans||82|
|38||Heartleap by Vashti Bunyan||82|
|39||Piñata by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib||82|
|40||Familiars by The Antlers||82|
What about albums with fewer reviews?
Here is a look at the albums that received extremely positive reviews, but not enough of them to qualify for our list above. (In other words, consider them the year's best under-the-radar releases.) Albums on this list received 7-14 critic reviews. (Titles with fewer than 7 reviews are excluded from all year-end charts.)
|1||92 The Satanist
|Behemoth's 10th LP is easily the best Polish death metal album of 2014.|
|2||91 Home, Like Noplace Is There
by The Hotelier
|Home is the second release from the Massachusetts emo band.|
|3||88 Rooms of the House
by La Dispute
|Continuing the house theme is this third album from Michigan post-hardcore outfit La Dispute.|
by Big K.R.I.T.
|The rapper/producer followed 2012's strong Live from the Underground with this 2nd studio album that features Wiz Khalifa, Lupe Fiasco, E-40, and Raphael Saadiq.|
by The Delines
|Colfax is the debut from the new project from novelist and Richmond Fontaine frontman Willy Vlautin.|
The first album in six years from Austrian guitarist and electronic composer Christian Fennesz is a conceptual follow-up to his 2001 release Endless Summer.
by Miranda Lambert
|The country star scored her fifth straight #1 debut with this first solo album in three years, which once again matched strong sales with stellar reviews.|
|8||86 From All Purity
|Chicago doom metal band Indian impressed critics with this intense fifth album.|
|9||86 The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets
|This is the first LP from the young, hard-rocking English five-piece Marmozets, whose members include two sets of siblings.|
by Gazelle Twin
|Gazelle Twin is British art-rocker/electronic composer Elizabeth Bernholz, and the unsettling Unflesh is her second album.|
More bests and worsts
Now that we've heard from the critics, what about Metacritic users? Here are the 2014 releases receiving the highest average user scores:
|Album/Artist||Buy It||Listen||User Score|
|1||79 All or Nothin' by Nikki Lane||9.3|
|2||82 Piñata by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib||8.8|
|3||78 In the Silence by Ásgeir||8.7|
|82 Salad Days by Mac DeMarco||8.7|
|80 Hot Dreams by Timber Timbre||8.7|
|80 Aquarius by Tinashe||8.7|
|86 Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs||8.7|
|8||78 Broke With Expensive Taste by Azealia Banks||8.6|
|61 Glorious by Foxes||8.6|
|76 No Mythologies to Follow by MØ||8.6|
|83 Under Color of Official Right by Protomartyr||8.6|
|89 Run the Jewels 2 by Run the Jewels||8.6|
|76 1000 Forms of Fear by Sia||8.6|
|89 St. Vincent by St. Vincent||8.6|
|88 To Be Kind by Swans||8.6|
If you read the fine print under our list of high-scoring albums above, you noticed that reissues, compilations, live sets, and other album types were excluded from our best-reviewed albums charts (which are intended to include only new full-length studio albums). Here are the highest-scoring "disqualified" albums of the year:
|1||Led Zeppelin IV deluxe reissue by Led Zeppelin||100|
|Doolittle 25 deluxe reissue by Pixies||100|
|3||Basement Tapes Complete: Bootleg Series Vol. 11 box set by Bob Dylan
|4||Spiderland deluxe reissue by Slint||99|
|5||The Velvet Underground deluxe reissue by The Velvet Underground||98|
|6||Led Zeppelin III deluxe reissue by Led Zeppelin||98|
|7||Houses of the Holy deluxe reissue by Led Zeppelin||98|
|8||Lucinda Williams deluxe reissue by Lucinda Williams||97|
|9||Led Zeppelin I deluxe reissue by Led Zeppelin||97|
|10||Led Zeppelin II deluxe reissue by Led Zeppelin||95|
Thousands of albums are released each year, and most of those don't even make their way to reviewers; as a result, the vast majority of the awful albums recorded each year do not show up on Metacritic. However, there are always some major releases this year that fail to impress critics, and we now share with you the 10 albums receiving the worst reviews in 2014:
|1||A.K.A. by Jennifer Lopez||Capitol||45||5.4|
|2||Louder by Lea Michele||Columbia||48||7.4|
|3||Paula by Robin Thicke||Interscope||49||1.5|
|4||Listen by David Guetta||Atlantic||51||3.6|
|5||Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire to Win by 50 Cent||G-Unit||53||5.8|
|6||Heaven & Earth by Yes||Frontiers||53||n/a|
|7||EP2 by Pixies||(self-released)||54||7.7|
|8||Blacc Hollywood by Wiz Khalifa||Atlantic||54||5.1|
|9||Old Boots, New Dirt by Jason Aldean||Broken Bow||54||1.4|
|10||Enclosure by John Frusciante||Record Collection||55||5.7|
What do you think?
What were your personal favorite and least favorite albums of 2014? Let us know in the comments section below, and don't forget to vote for your favorite albums, songs, and more in our Best of 2014 User Poll.