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Featured on VH1’s “Best Albums Of 2014” Staff Picks

It goes without saying that the music gods were extremely kind to us in 2014. Heck, we got a new album from D’Angelo from goodness sake! In addition to new offerings from pop powerhouses like Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, and Ed Sheeran, the year saw thrilling new artists emerge onto the scene. Sam Smith, Tove Lo, Iggy Azalea and more staked their claim alongside the more seasoned chart vets, releasing albums that are destined to become (*ahem*) new classics. VH1 staffers weighed in on their choices for the best records of the year, so read on to see their picks!

There was a three-way tie for 2014 Staff Favorite, with Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour, Hozier‘s Hozier, and Jungle‘s Jungle all appearing on four lists. Other albums with a strong showing include:

D’Angelo, Black Messiah (3 votes)
Tove Lo, Queen Of The Clouds (3 votes)
Taylor Swift, 1989 (2 votes)
Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint (2 votes)
J. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2 votes)
Jhene Aiko, Souled Out (2 votes)
FKA Twigs, LP1 (2 votes)

But enough about the stats— Let’s get to the music!

VH1 STAFF PICKS FOR THE BEST ALBUM OF 2014

RAHSHEEDA ALI, Writer (@rah_li)flying_1

1. D’Angelo, Black Messiah
We’d given up on D’Angelo ever releasing another LP. Low and behold, he dropped Black Messiah at year’s end. The holiday season officially became funky as D mixed rock with soul. The album’s protest songs are also perfect for a new era of grassroots mobilization.

2. Thom Yorke, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
Without warning, Thom Yorke dropped a solo LP via BitTorrent in September. It didn’t get as much fanfare as say, Beyonce’s surprise album, but let’s remember that Radiohead eschewed traditional releases long before Bey. Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is more cohesive than Yorke’s first solo effort, The Eraser. His falsetto is as haunting as ever.

3. Flying Lotus, You’re Dead
Fans weren’t expecting Flying Lotus to go instrumental, but the producer excelled when departing from his signature electronic sound. We were also caught off-guard by his collab with Kendrick Lamar, “Never Catch Me.” You’re Dead was the year’s most pleasant surprise.

4. Little Dragon, Nabuma Rubberband
Swedish electro soul band Little Dragon pushed their sound beyond categorization on Nabuma Rubberband. Yukimi Nagano’s light vocals offset minimally layered tracks, evoking optimism in a dystopian wasteland. There are hints of old school R&B, with touches that could’ve been from Janet Jackson or Prince.

5. Les Sins, Michael
Toro Y Moi, who killed it in 2013 with Anything In Return, released an album under his Les Sins moniker. His last LP threw back to synth R&B, but this year, he borrowed from the late `80s hip house movement. His production bounces between slick engineering and mixtape quality beats. Together, it’s impressive.

SANDY ALOUETE, SVP Talent & Music Programming

1. Ed Sheeran, X
2. Tove Lo, Queen Of The Clouds
3. Bleachers, Strange Desire
4. Hozier, Hozier
5. Taylor Swift, 1989

ISAAC AYERS, Music Supervisor (@isaacayers)

1. Sam Smith, In The Lonely Hour
2. Paolo Nutini, Caustic Love
3. Jessie Ware, Tough Love
4. La Roux, Trouble In Paradise
5. Tove Lo, Queen of The Clouds
6. Kelis, Food
7. Lykke Li, I Never Learn
8. JUNGLE, Jungle
9. Damien Rice, My Favorite Faded Fantasy
10. Lo-Fang, Blue Film

TOM CALDERONE, President (@tomcalderone)jungle

1. The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
2. Alt J, This is All Yours
3. St Vincent, St Vincent
4. Royal Blood, Royal Blood
5. The Fat White Family, Champagne Holocast
6. Ingrid Michealson, Lights Out
7. Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker
8. Courtney Barnett, The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas
9. Jungle, Jungle
10. Warpaint, Warpaint
11. Spoon, They Want My Soul
12. Swans, To Be Kind
13. The Orwells, Disgraceland
14. The Foo Fighters, Sonic Highway

DIANE CHO, Writer (@dianecho)jcole_1

1. J. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive
2. Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint
3. YG, My Krazy Life
4. Logic, Under Pressure
5. Jhene Aiko, Souled Out

WARREN COHEN, Vice President (@wjcohen)

1. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal
I gorged on this angular staccaco gem so much that by summer, my Sonos just started playing it instantly when I logged in. I liked the pauses in their songs as much as the songs.

2. TV on The Radio, Seeds
America’s Radiohead’s first release after the death of their bassist maintained all of the band’s synthetic otherworldly charms.

3. The War on Drugs, Lost in The Dream
One of those records that feels found, like a relic. Contemplative in the best of ways.

4. Sharon Van Etten, Are We There
Chill and spartan with megadose of mystery.

5. Fucked Up, Glass Boys
Screamo meets power pop in a unique broad roar.

TAYLOR FERBER, Writer (@taylorferber)

In The Lonely Hour by Sam Smith

Can we talk about how Sam Smith’s album dropped in May this year, and he’s already blown up to be a global star? Six Grammy nominations, people. SIX. This album is off-the-charts amazing, every song honest and relaxing or catchy in its own way. His voice is perfection and he’s just all-around, goddamn adorable. Some may say his songs reflect his sadness and/or need to get laid, but I think they’re beautiful so step the f–k off.

CHRISTINA LEAKE, Social Media Manager (@_bobina)

1. Mø, No Mythologies To Follow
2. Cathedrals, Cathedrals EP
3. Misterwives, Reflections
4. VanLadyLove, Love Matter
5. Young Summer, Siren

GEORGETTE PIERRE, Writer (@georgettepierre)aiko

1. Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint
Wasn’t sure what to expect with this one but the vulnerability heard on this album plus the boom bap and raw lyricism just solidifies Nicki’s position in hip hop and music. We can dead that whole pop/hip hop debate. She’s an artist evolved and this album reflects that.

2. J. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive
I think this is his best album yet. He’s an artist that continues to get better with time.

3. Majid Jordan, A Place Like This EP
I anticipated their EP because I like what they did on Drake’s “Hold We’re Going Home.” This EP won me over.

4. Little Dragon, Nabuma Rubberband
This album was so addictive. It’s worth the listen from beginning to end on repeat.

5. Jhene Aiko, Souled Out
I’ve been following her since her mixtape Sailing Souls so this album was a long time coming. There’s a raw and authentic feel to her music, which makes it even better.

ALI READ, Production Assistant, Writer (@alixmarie11)

1. Walk The Moon, Talking Is Hard
This album barely made it into 2014. Walk The Moon definitely cut it close with this one. But with all the anticipation for this album, it was definitely worth it. The combination of instrumental techniques they used on this album and the catchy nature of the songs lead to a great final product. Yet, I’m still so confused by their choice for the last song on this album, “Aquaman.” It’s very ’80s, but I can’t not love it.

2. American Authors, Oh, What A Life
American Authors really surprised me. I didn’t expect to love their album as much as I do. There is just something about their pop-alt sound that leaves me wanting to hear more. Plus, “Best Day Of My Life” is a great track.

3. A Great Big World, Is Anybody Out There?
These guys are so quirky that you can’t help but love them and their music. Very upbeat and fun songs, this is an easy day listening kind of album.

4. Tove Lo, Queen Of The Clouds
Tove Lo definitely is the queen of something. This album feels very raw and honest. There are some great dance tracks, and of course her big single “Habits (Stay High).” But there is a journey that you actually take when you listen to this album.

5. Echosmith, Taking Dreams
This album feels so young, just like the band’s members. Each song is different, but they all come together cohesively to make this light and fun album. Great record to listen to in the middle of summer with the top down and your friends in the back seat.

JORDAN RUNTAGH, Editor, VH1 Music (@jordanruntagh)pompom

1. D’Angelo, Black Messiah
2. Sam Smith, In The Lonely Hour
3. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Give The People What They Want
4. St Vincent, St Vincent
5. The Black Keys, Turn Blue
6. Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
7. Jungle, Jungle
8. Ariel Pink, Pom Pom
9. The War On Drugs, Lost In The Dream
10. Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett, Cheek To Cheek (don’t start with me)

The Best:
First Aid Kit, Stay Gold
Alt/Country/Folk by way of Stockholm, Sweden. (Is there anything those Scandinavians can’t do??) Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg put out their third album this past June — a rangy, gorgeous collection of songs, rich in two-part harmonies and imbued with a longing and bittersweet heart. The most captivating musical surprise of 2014 for me.

The Rest:
D’Angelo, Black Messiah
Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
FKA Twigs, LP1
Band of Skulls, Himalayan
Jungle, Jungle

BEN SMITH, Senior Writer (@bensmithNYC)

Tilts, Cuatro Hombres (Robotic Empire)
Sort of like if Marty McFly travelled back to the future with a stack of Van Halen and ZZ Top tapes to teach the children of the year 2112 how to rock.

Total Control, Typical System (Iron Lung Records)
Australians boil down a host of post-punk influences, both guitar and synth based, and create something sincere and powerful.

Lecherous Gaze, Zeta Reticuli Blues (Tee Pee Records)
Existing in the stoner crossroads of fucked up hard rock (MC5, pre-asshole Nuge) and fucked up punk rock (The Germs, bands that Keith Morris sang for) with a better guitarist than most.

Earth, Primitive And Deadly (Southern Lord)
Lush, stately doom rock from dudes that know a thing or two about being heavy.

Midnight, No Mercy For Mayhem (Hell Headbangers Records)
Harkening back to a time, say October 1983, when even the most extreme heavy metals bands still knew how to rock n’ roll.

Ty Segall, Manipulator (Drag City)
Great songwriting and great influences, from Buffalo Springfield to Black Sabbath. The kids are maybe gonna be alright.

LAUREN ELIZABETH THOMPSON, Producer, VH1 News (@lizbethlauren)temples

1. Sam Smith, In The Lonely Hour
A star is born. Almost every single track on Sam’s debut album is single worthy. He somehow is able to give melancholy bombast and make a one night stand gone sour into a tear inducing sing along (Stay With Me.) There are elements of 90′s dance here too but Sam’s main jams are somewhere between soul and adult contemporary and I’ve never been more into it. Easily the most listened to album for me his year as a whole. It’s an undeniable success and a real achievement for someone still so young. Watch your back, Adele.

2. Taylor Swift, 1989
Pop’s new princess is well deserving of the title on her debut album in the full fledged pop genre. Not a banjo in sight as Taylor dishes out songs that could easily be on a Lana Del Ray album “Wildest Dreams” or Pharrell one “Shake It Off.” She makes fun of her own reputation and still yearns for love without contradicting herself. It’s by far her strongest songwriting, somehow both universe and specific. “Out Of The Woods” should open a lot of people’s eyes to just how good she can be. They won’t even realize they are belting along to a song about Harry Styles.

3. Hozier, Hozier
“Take Me To Church” is only the tip of the iceberg for this singer-songwriter. The album itself is far less dramatic in sound then the single would have you believe. “Jackie and Wilson” is far more indicative of the overall sound and also is a perfect loved up road trip anthem. It will be exciting to see what direction he’ll go from here, because he seems to be the real deal.

4. One Direction, Four
Give this album a chance, I beg of you. One Direction is making stadium, Journey style rock and chill Fleetwood Mac style ballads in equal measure and are doing a tremendous job of it. Teens and dads alike should be blasting this album. They still have plenty of punchy, peppy pop songs here but it’s clear they are genuinely trying to offer more than is assumed they can give musically. Cowriting nearly every song on the album also is a good step for them too. 1D4ever!

5. Temples, Sun Structures
This little known British psychedelic rock band banged out a heady, magical throwback style debut album that you should definitely listen to. They aren’t brining anything insanely new to the table but they are doing a solid job keeping that dreamy, drippy 60′s thing alive. And it’s works beautifully as an cohesive album.

ALEXA TIETJEN, Writer (@hernameislex)lp1

1. Hozier, Hozier
“Take Me To Church” was one of the most played songs this year, but Hozier’s album is a goldmine of hits.

2. Lake Street Dive, Bad Self Portraits,
Rachel Price is my everything. This band has been gaining momentum all year, and I’m excited to see what happens with them in 2015.

3. Beyoncé, Beyoncé (Platinum Edition)
Is anyone actually over Beyonce’s 2013 album? “7/11” is my new weekend jam.

4. FKA Twigs, LP1
FKA Twigs is one of the most curious and innovative artists who emerged this year. Her album, aptly titled, is a mirror of her creativity.

5. Jessie J, Sweet Talker
“Bang Bang” is just one reason to love this album, and I’ll give you a couple more: “Seal Me With A Kiss” feat. De La Soul and “Said Too Much.”

LAUREN WEISSLER, Photo Editor (@laurenweissler)banks

1. Hozier, Hozier
2. BANKS, Goddess
3. Phantogram, Voices