the only kind of steady i believe in: last year’s records, 2014;

Despite releases this year by the men whose works are tattooed on my heart (or wrist, in the case of Ryan Adams; and back, for The Hold Steady), practically all of my favourite albums have been by women. Whether Laura Jane Grace’s no-bullshit, this-is-who-I-am fire on Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues; EMA or St Vincent, finding their places in the digital age; Ex Hex’s 21 gun salute to punk rock power-pop; Taylor Swift as so-you-want-crazy-I’ll-give-you-crazy in the video accompanying “Blank Space”, it’s been the women that have rocked my heart the hardest this year – well, them and the decidedly boyish ginger kitty purring away at my elbow as I begin to pull together my 2014 music writings.

According to my list of such things, I’ve heard 195 albums this year – although narrowing them down to a top 50 was less difficult than you’d expect. While this year has been a killer one for songs (and I’d still love to know your favourite, as I don’t have enough to pull together the crowd-sourced mix tape I want to create for you all yet) I’m not convinced that those albums outside of my top 20 or so will be ones I’ll end up revisiting as complete units – but hey, I’ve been proved wrong before.

Anyway, sit back, click through, pick yourself up something new – and don’t forget to send me your favourite songs of the year!

50. The Second Hand Marching Band: A Hurricane, A Thunderstorm buy
49. Warpaint: Warpaint buy
48. PAWS: Youth Culture Forever buy
47. Mark McCabe: A Good Way to Bury Bad News buy
46. Peggy Sue: Choir of Echoes buy
45. Fanfarlo: Let’s Go Extinct review | buy
44. Wallis Bird: Architect review | buy
43. The Gaslight Anthem: Get Hurt review | buy
42. Hurray for the Riff Raff: Small Town Heroes buy
41. Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines review | live review | buy

40. Matthew Ryan: Boxers buy
39. Machines in Heaven: bordersbreakdown interview | buy
38. Dum Dum Girls: Too True buy
37. She Keeps Bees: Eight Houses buy
36. Jessie Ware: Tough Love review | buy
35. Beerjacket: Darling Darkness buy
34. The Phantom Band: Strange Friend buy
33. J Mascis: Tied to a Star review | buy
32. Virgin of the Birds: Winter Seeds buy
31. Broken Records: Weights and Pulleys buy

30. Myriam Gendron: Not So Deep as a Well buy
29. Chris Devotion & the Expectations: Break Out buy
28. Kevin Drew: Darlings buy
27. Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence buy
26. Withered Hand: New Gods buy
25. Sun Kil Moon: Benji buy
24. King Creosote: From Scotland With Love buy
23. Joan As Police Woman: The Classic buy
22. Loki with Becci Wallace: G.I.M.P. (Government Issue Music Protest) buy
21. Howling Bells: Heartstrings review | interview | buy

20. Meursault: The Organ Grinder’s Monkey
What would turn out to be the final release from one of Scotland’s finest underground bands of the last decade turned out to be a crowdfunded, crowd-chosen compilation of Meursault songs or covers intended to fund a US tour, which should really disqualify it from inclusion on a best-albums-of-the-year list – until you heard the new recordings. Full band renditions of “A Kind of Cure” and “One Day This Will All Be Fields”, plus covers of songs by the Mountain Goats, Wreckless Eric and Willard Grant Conspiracy, were worth the price of entry, even if none of my selections made it through to the final tracklisting. Perhaps Neil Pennycook’s new project, SUPERMOON, will take on a Miley Cyrus cover one day. buy

19. Old 97s: Most Messed Up
“It’s no spoiler to note that much of what gets you through those nights is alcohol; love songs to which (‘Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On’, ‘This Is The Ballad’, ‘Wheels Off’) feature prominently across the album. It’s hard to tell how much of [Rhett] Miller’s songwriting is autobiographical: his candid and often witty lyrics have enough of a ring of truth to them to invest the listener emotionally, but as a lifestyle it’s a killer.” review | buy

18. Stanley Odd: A Thing Brand New
“The subject matter might be heavy – austerity (‘The Walking Dead’), war (‘Knock Knock’), young parenthood (‘Put Your Roots Down’), antisocial youth (‘Will the Last One Out Please Turn Off the Lights’) – but emcee Dave ‘Solareye’ Hook comes across as someone who is having the time of his life at the same time as being spitting angry.” (from December live review, not online) | buy

17. The Hold Steady: Teeth Dreams
“[A]lthough The Hold Steady’s epic, communal live shows have always been the biggest part of the band’s attraction, producer Nick Raskulinecz – no stranger, you’d think, to the arena rock sound thanks to his work with the likes of Foo Fighters – has packed the recording full of subtle details (a hidden, melodic riff on ‘Spinners’, the sound of a match being struck and the smoulder of a cigarette on ‘Big Cigs’) almost as if to reward those who listen deeply. When combined with some of the finest character studies yet penned by Craig Finn, America’s urban poet laureate, Teeth Dreams becomes an embarrassment of riches unconvincingly disguised as big dumb rock songs.” review | live review | buy

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16. Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams
“But then, I’ve always liked the sad songs best and there are plenty here to choose from: ‘Kim’, with its autumnal melody and lyrics of – what else? – love and loss, sung like they’re being wrung straight from a battered heart; and the upbeat, pretty melodies backed in turn by hope and hopelessness of ‘Tired of Giving Up’ and ‘Let Go’. The gorgeous ‘My Wrecking Ball’, a song with all the restraint and the longing of ‘Avenues’ by Adams’ old band Whiskeytown and maybe a little – yes, let’s go there – Nebraska-era Springsteen.” review | buy

15. Randolph’s Leap: Clumsy Knot
Randolph’s Leap already have a stronger back catalogue than most thanks to a myriad of self-released cassettes, mini-albums, EPs, postcards and, um, mugs, so it feels a little like cheating to describe this full-length Lost Map release as their debut – but, technically, that’s exactly what it is! The band have lost none of their whimsical charm on their first full-length, and kaleyard poet Adam Ross remains one of Scotland’s best lyricists. buy

14. Jonnie Common: Trapped in Amber
“Jonnie is… well, he’s electro-pop, for want of a better term, because there are electronic elements in there and despite being unashamedly, defiantly weird these have all the catchiness of pop songs. The use of found sound and snippets of whatever takes his fancy makes Jonnie’s compositions sound much more natural and flowing than anything you’d expect of the genre, though it’s the cleverness and wit of his lyrics (listen, really listen, to the warped autobiography of ‘Crumbs’ and keep yourself from falling in love, I dare you) that is the reason I’ve been constantly revisiting these tracks this past few weeks.” buy

13. Fear of Men: Loom
“‘We didn’t want to make our first album until we were properly ready, and we knew what we wanted to say with it,’ Jess tells me, when I ask whether the band’s somewhat scattergun approach to releases was an intentional creative choice or just the way that things worked out. ‘We didn’t start out with any long-term plan and kind of learned things organically when we first started out as a band, and I think that approach was a nice way of showing that we were learning about songwriting and our instruments. I think you can hear our progression over what we’ve released. I don’t find it very appealing when things start out fully formed – the bands that I like are generally those that developed over their releases.'” interview | buy

12. Jenny Lewis: The Voyager
“Context is everything. It’s the difference between that ‘lady without a baby’ line that’s got everybody talking delivered straight up, and the knowing smile and cross-dressing Hollywood actresses that come with it in the song’s accompanying video. It’s why Jenny Lewis, child starlet turned indie rock frontwoman turned accomplished alt-country singer-songwriter, is that rare artist who has made not only the best album for herself at every stage of her career, but also the one that her fans needed to hear.” review | buy

11. Drive-By Truckers: English Oceans
“What probably helps here too is the band’s re-tooled, more streamlined lineup, encouraging a sound more in tune with their roots in countryfied soul than the bigger, more generic stadium rock they could have been accused of experimenting with in recent times. It’s obvious right from the drumstick tap and opening blast of ‘Shit Shots Count’, a Mike Cooley-penned party rocker that harks straight back to the Deep South dive bars of the band’s earlier work with its opening extortion to ‘put your cigarette out and put your hat back on, don’t mess up which is which’.” review | Mike Cooley interview | buy

10. EMA: The Future’s Void
“[W]here Annie Clark’s ‘Digital Witness’ buried its paranoia under layers of joyous horns, the artist better known as EMA titles her equivalent ‘Neuromancer’ and layers it with booming, apocalyptic drums and barely distinguishable, distorted vocals. Only the song’s central refrain – ‘they know … they know’ – stands out. It is, in its own way, as powerful a message as the latently feminist attack on the exploitative in the tuneful slacker grunge of ‘So Blonde’; or the surprisingly straightforward closing track ‘Dead Celebrity’.” review | buy

9. The Twilight Sad: Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave
Oh, just put this on and listen. No, louder than that. buy

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8. Sky Ferreira: Night Time, My Time
“I hope that there’s a new generation in their late teens and early 20s who will come across Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time stripped of the ponderous think-pieces about her drug bust and her nips on the cover and her friendship with fellow pop bad girl du jour Miley Cyrus and enjoy it as an honest, coherent pop album by a loud-mouthed, heart-on-sleeve, imperfect person. ‘I blame myself… for my reputation’ might be the lyric that stands out for those looking for the easy story on the album’s catchiest, most immediate track (and there are lots of memorable hooks here, so that’s not damning with faint praise) but it’s the preceding lines – ‘how could you know what it feels like to be outside yourself? you think you know me so well’ – that will hit home to those to whom this album will mean most.” review | buy

7. St Vincent: St Vincent
“Perhaps the most effective way to sum up St Vincent – the self-titled fourth album from the one-woman avant garde powerhouse known to her friends as Annie Clark – is that it’s the closest she has come on record to the visceral, engrossing experience that is seeing her live … [This] is an album that revels in its strangeness, interspersing some of its more curious stories with cobweb-blasting bursts of sheer joy.” review | buy

6. Honeyblood: Honeyblood
“It’s not always big and it’s certainly not always clever – new single ‘Super Rat’, for example, combines three minutes of likening a cheating ex-boyfriend to the titular rodent with a playground chant of “scumbag, sleaze, slimeball, grease” – but Honeyblood the album is frustratingly, inconsistently, halfway to fantastic.” review | buy

5. Sharon Van Etten: Are We There
“For her fourth album – a direct, unflinching portrait of a decade-long relationship that ultimately crumbled as her songwriting career blossomed – Van Etten chose to take production duties into her own hands. The result is something so intimate, and so honest, that it at once feels rude to listen to but at the same time impossible to tear yourself away from.” review | buy

4. Lydia Loveless: Somewhere Else
I hate myself a little for the fact that every introduction I’ve given to Lydia Loveless’ music this year has begun “and she’s only 24!”, as if that had anything to do with anything – but the fact remains that both this Ohio-born singer-songwriter’s damaged, slightly cynical outlook on love and her battle-scarred, bluesy voice belie her tender years. Her third full-length album, Somewhere Else, is an upfront, immediate collection of songs about lust, longing and getting it wrong, with the bruises practically audible but a wicked sense of humour intact. buy

3. Ex Hex: Rips
Rips is the onomatopoeia of rock records, because it does exactly that: 12 tracks, all but one of which are around or well below the three-minute sweet spot … [Ex Hex] sound as if they’ve been making music together since the 1970s and not merely the year since debut garage-pop single ‘Hot and Cold’ – given just enough of a polish on the album – appeared online. In fact, they sound as if they’re about to steal your lunch money and screech off into the sunset in an open-topped Camaro. review | buy

2. Taylor Swift: 1989
“[T]hose articles that list the romantic encounters claimed to have inspired every song Swift has written since 2010’s ‘Dear John’ onwards do her an incredible disservice: the gossip column inches are irrelevant. That Swift can use vivid images from her own life experiences to create songs so universal they are taken to heart across the generations is the sign of a skilled songwriter mature beyond her years. Besides, calling Track 3 ‘Style’ was a stroke of genius.” review | buy

1. Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues
“Although originally conceived as a concept album about a suicidal transgender prostitute, its difficult not to read autobiography into the opening track and its follow-up, the anthemic ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ – but Grace has always revelled in writing the sort of air-punching punk rock melodies that reflect the more universal aspects of being a misfit. I can describe ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ as anthemic, for example, because that’s exactly how it felt at the band’s twice-sold-out Glasgow show last month; and what woman hasn’t felt, in the face of society’s expectations, the weight of her ‘chipped nail polish and barbed wire dress’? If Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a political album, it’s political in the way that the personal always is when you don’t fit the mould.” review | buy