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All Songs Considered: The Year In Music 2014
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All Songs Considered: The Year In Music 2014

The Best Music Of 2014

All Songs Considered: The Year In Music 2014

All Songs Considered: The Year In Music 2014
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Top row: Weezer; Middle row: Run The Jewels, Beyonce; Bottom row: St. Vincent, FKA Twigs, Beck

Top row: Weezer; Middle row: Run The Jewels, Beyonce; Bottom row: St. Vincent, FKA Twigs, Beck Courtesy of the artists hide caption

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How will we remember the music of 2014? All Songs Considered starts off NPR Music's year-end coverage by discussing themes that surfaced again and again: new discoveries, best live shows, saddest records and missed gems. All Songs Considered hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton are joined by NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson to reflect on what made 2014 a standout year in music.

From established artists like Beck, St. Vincent and Weezer to new acts like FKA Twigs, Sturgill Simpson, Sylvan Esso and Luluc, 2014's releases were varied and surprising. Some, like the beautiful albums by Beck and Luluc, made an impression while keeping the volume low; others, including the sophomore album from the hip-hop duo Run The Jewels, made a noise that was impossible to turn down once it arrived like a buzzsaw in October. And then there are the pop juggernauts who bookended the year: Beyoncé, whose self-titled album came out late in 2013 but echoed through most of this year, and Taylor Swift, who wiped the floor (sales-wise, at least) with every other album released in 2014.

This is just the beginning of our year-end extravaganza. Next week NPR Music will share lists of our favorite albums and favorite songs, as well as individual lists from Bob, Robin, Stephen and Ann.

What defined your year in music? Let us know in our comment section below and vote for your favorite albums of the year in our listener poll.

The Year In Music 2014

Beyonce

Beyonce Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Beyoncé

  • Song: XO
  • from Beyonce

Though it was released right at the end of 2013, Beyoncé's self-titled album loomed large over this year. Discussing the album's longevity, Stephen Thompson says, "The Beyoncé record really stuck with people, and it certainly stuck with me. 'XO' is this perfectly soaring, romantic, beautiful, slightly fatalistic pop song of the variety that is like catnip to me."

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Cover for Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

Courtney Barnett

  • Song: History Eraser
  • from Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett's Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas was another exceptional 2013 record that made its way into conversation this year (thanks to a physical re-release in April). Bob Boilen eagerly anticipates Barnett's upcoming releases, insisting that "2015 is gonna be [her] year."

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Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
Album
Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
Artist
Courtney Barnett
Label
House Anxiety
Released
2013

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St. Vincent, St. Vincent
Courtesy of the artist

St. Vincent

  • Song: Birth in Reverse

All four hosts agree that St. Vincent's tour for her self-titled album was one of the best — if not the best — live performances of the year. It helps, Ann Powers says, that "she put on a show based around some of the absolute best music that came out this year. Many people feel [St. Vincent] is the album of the year."

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St. Vincent
Album
St. Vincent
Artist
St. Vincent
Label
Republic
Released
2014

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Cover for Sylvan Esso

Sylvan Esso

  • Song: Coffee

Stephen Thompson describes Sylvan Esso's music as "beautiful electropop with gorgeous lyrics." "Coffee," he says, is "the song that gets under everyone's skin."

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Sylvan Esso
Album
Sylvan Esso
Artist
Sylvan Esso
Label
Partisan Records
Released
2014

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Cover for Benji

Sun Kil Moon

  • Song: Carissa
  • from Benji

Sun Kil Moon's Benji is one of the most lyrically intriguing albums of the year (and one of the most depressing, too). As Robin Hilton puts it, "In just about every track on that album, someone dies. He spares no one — toddlers die, teenagers die, the elderly die. In 'Carissa,' it's the most unexpected way to go in what's otherwise the most mundane way possible."

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Benji
Album
Benji
Artist
Sun Kil Moon
Label
Caldo Verde Records
Released
2014

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Hurray For The Riff Raff

  • Song: The Body Electric
  • from Small Town Heroes

According to Ann Powers, Small Town Heroes is Hurray For The Riff Raff's most fully realized album yet. On the song "The Body Electric," Ann says vocalist Alynda Lee Segarra "takes on the entire history of the murder ballad and makes a feminist intervention, reclaiming it for women."

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Small Town Heroes
Album
Small Town Heroes
Artist
Hurray For The Riff Raff
Label
ATO
Released
2014

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Cover for Morning Phase

Beck

  • Song: Morning
  • from Morning Phase

Bob Boilen wonders whether or not Beck's Morning Phase would have been received differently had it come out closer to the end of the year. He says the album is "Surprisingly wonderful. A sleepy, beautiful record, though not very energetic."

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Morning Phase
Album
Morning Phase
Artist
Beck
Label
Capitol Records
Released
2014

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Cover for Invisible Hour

Joe Henry

  • Song: Sparrow
  • from Invisible Hour

2014 was full of releases from mid- and late-career artists, from Robert Plant to TV on the Radio. Ann Powers calls Joe Henry's 13th album "A meditation on unmarriage, on life and death, on all the big issues. It's enriched by his incredible literary knowledge. There's a song that references Melville, a song that references Alice Munro. I can sink into this album for days and weeks on end."

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Invisible Hour
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Invisible Hour
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Joe Henry
Released
2014

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Cover for Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

Sturgill Simpson

  • Song: Life Of Sin
  • from Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

The multifaceted lyrics in Sturgill Simpson's Metamodern Sounds in Country Music continue to intrigue Robin Hilton. "That voice — I think, like a lot of fans and music reviewers who dissected this record, I was always searching for meanings. Some of these songs seem very metaphysical and very high concept. He said during his Tiny Desk Concert they're all really just about doing drugs and drinking — but he's enjoyed reading all the reviews."

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Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
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Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
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Sturgill Simpson
Label
High Top Mountain Records
Released
2014

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Cover for Familiars

The Antlers

  • Song: Palace
  • from Familiars

Bob Boilen was puzzled when he first heard Familiars, the new record by The Antlers, which came out in June. "It's not the guitar-based sound we're so used to from The Antlers," he says. After a few listens, though, he says, "Songs that seemed cheesy turned into absolute beauty. I fell in love with the record and listened to it all year long."

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Familiars
Album
Familiars
Artist
The Antlers
Label
Anti/Epitaph
Released
2014

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FKA Twigs, LP1

FKA Twigs, LP1 Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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FKA Twigs

  • Song: Two Weeks
  • from LP1

British electronic artist FKA Twigs made a huge impact with her debut album, LP1, which came out in August. "She makes this incredibly sultry, sexy, really erotic electronic music," Ann Powers says. "Her voice is seductive, but it's also completely conscious. There's a beautiful forthrightness which I believe is part of young women using electronic music to express something they haven't been able to in the past with pop music."

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Alvvays,  Alvvays
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Alvvays

  • Song: Archie, Marry Me

Stephen Thompson calls Alvvays' self-titled album "A fizzy, fun, beachy pop record." Ann Powers calls Alvvays the most "Stephen Thompson" band she's ever heard.

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Alvvays
Album
Alvvays
Artist
Alvvays
Label
Polyvinyl Records
Released
2014

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Cover for American Soft

Chris Staples

  • Song: Dark Side Of The Moon
  • from American Soft

"I cannot tell you how many times I have wept openly listening to this song," says Robin Hilton of Chris Staples' "Dark Side of the Moon," from the album American Soft. "Being a father, having a son — the lyrics are so crushingly beautiful to me. I've listened to this record a lot this year. It's been a close companion."

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American Soft
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American Soft
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Chris Staples
Label
Barsuk

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Cover for Passerby

Luluc

  • Song: Small Window
  • from Passerby

Bob Boilen calls Luluc's Passerby his favorite album of the year. "They make the most beautiful music. It's just gorgeous," he says.

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Passerby
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Luluc
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Sub Pop
Released
2014

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RTJ2

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Run the Jewels

  • Song: Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1
  • from RTJ2

"This album is all around great," says Ann Powers of the sequel to the 2013 collaboration between rappers Killer Mike and El-P. "It has battle rhymes, amazing production, fantastic individual lines, great storytelling — it's kind of spooky. You could just fall into this record for months, I think."

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Young Fathers, Soon Come Soon

Young Fathers

  • Song: Soon Come Soon
  • from Soon Come Soon

Bob Boilen enjoys Scottish experimental hip-hop group Young Fathers' inventive lyrics, calling the band's music "sonically and texturally rich."

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Taylor Swift 1989

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Taylor Swift

  • Song: Blank Space
  • from 1989

If you're judging simply on sales, Taylor Swift's 1989 was among the very biggest albums of the year, even though it didn't come out until the end of October. "It's the pop juggernaut of 2014. We're gonna be hearing about it endlessly," Stephen Thompson says. "Taylor Swift has undergone this pretty remarkable transformation: One of the biggest country stars in the world is now one of the biggest pop stars in the world."

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1989
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1989
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Taylor Swift
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Big Machine Records
Released
2014

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Weezer

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Weezer

  • Song: Cleopatra
  • from Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Weezer's Everything Will Be Alright in the End is Robin Hilton's album of the year. "They won some of their fans back," he says. "They hit the reset button and really found their voice on it. It's a record that's partly an apology to their fans, partly a kiss-off letter, and partially a remembrance of the way things were and the way things can be."

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Everything Will Be Alright in the End
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Everything Will Be Alright in the End
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Weezer
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Republic
Released
2014

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Featured Artist

Luluc Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Chris Staples Jenny Jimenez/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Sylvan Esso is comprised of Amelia Randall Meath and Nicholas Sanborn. DL Anderson/Courtesy Of The Artist hide caption

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