There was experimental jazz, sludge, and soul; there were fresh takes on punk and new renderings of jazz classics. There was the wistful darkwave of winter, the synth-pop sing-alongs of spring, the crunchy hip-hop beats of summer, and the bright, straight-ahead barre chords of fall. Replay the year in D.C. music with the local albums, tapes, and EPs our critics listened to this year. —Christina Cauterucci

The 1978ers People of Today Mello Music Group

Rap is too insular: No longer does it celebrate blackness—it wants you to worship material things. On People of Today, the debut album from The 1978ers, yU and SlimKat78 dissected moral decay with attentive flows and emotive instrumentals. While it scans as hip-hop, People of Today is some of the best soul music you’ll hear. —Marcus J. Moore

Anthony Pirog Palo Colorado Dream Cuneiform Records

Anthony Pirog had multiple agendas in mind when he was making Palo Colorado Dream; not among them was a record that could be easily pigeonholed into one style or another. The guitarist’s Cuneiform debut can’t even be pigeonholed into one instrument or another—he makes it sound decidedly non-guitaristic and sometimes otherworldly. No matter what you call it, though, it’s a brilliant statement. —Michael J. West

Art Sorority for Girls Older Boys Self-released

Art Sorority for Girls is the brainchild of Daoud Tyler-Ameen, and his record mixes wry, clear vocals with confident indie-pop polish. Even aside from the single “Man with a Van,” arguably the year’s catchiest local tune, each track is both intimate and sonically rich. —Alan Zilberman

Big Hush Wholes DZ Tapes Though Big Hush presents the veneer of shoegaze—barely distinguishable guitars, fuzz—that’s a deceptive impression. The guitars twang more like Dinosaur Jr. than My Bloody Valentine, and there’s little indulgence in shoegaze’s noisy excesses. Big Hush’s songs are mostly three-minute concentrations of moody, solid indie-pop songwriting, with melodic dueling vocals and harmonies that poke out above the hiss of tape and distorted guitars. —Maxwell Tani

Black Clouds Dreamcation Collect Records

It’s hard to nail Black Clouds into one genre. On one level, they’re gothic metal, full of thunderous bass, aching synths, and muscular percussion. They’re also “post-rock,” a genre that’s defined primarily by its absence of lyrics. Either way, their 2014 release Dreamcation is brutal in the most cathartic sense. —Alan Zilberman

Brett Brett Cascine

Back in 2011, D.C. pop-rock group the Dance Party decided to ditch its sound and name, opting to dish out hazy, synth-led grooves as Brett. All shimmering keys and glossy electronic beats, Brett’s self-titled full-length debut is what electro-pop dreams are made of—especially if those dreams include lots of lyrics about love. The album’s tracks effortlessly alternate between ambient interludes and full-on falsetto hooks, offering a modern take on classic ‘80s synth-pop. —Carey Hodges

The Caribbean Moon Sickness Hometapes

Like every album by the D.C. art-poppers of the Caribbean, Moon Sickness feels like story hour from the band’s hidden pocket universe. But beneath frontman Michael Kentoff’s tales of secrets and villains and “Jobsworth and his jewel-encrusted cufflinks,” the Caribbean is filling in its sound with new colors. The album can be ruminative and spacey, like a brown-acid comedown, and it can be shimmery and welcoming, with pleasure-pushing flourishes of electric piano. The band’s inclinations are suddenly a bit more ’70s West Coast, but the Caribbean still knows how to entice you into its own universe. —Jonathan L. Fischer

Chelsey Green & The Green Project The Green Room Self-released

Violinist Chelsey Green followed her 2012 EP with The Green Room, a multifaceted jazz and R&B offering, covering familiar tunes like “My Favorite Things” and “People Make the World Go ‘Round” with her trusty strings. That spoke to Green’s agility as a composer: She can convey deep resonance with very few words. —Marcus J. Moore

Deleted Scenes Lithium Burn Park The Van/Nevado

Deleted Scenes is one of D.C.’s most consistently interesting bands, and with Lithium Burn, a record that oscillates between spazzy art-rock (the ultra-paranoid “Stutter”) and moody ballads (the piano-laden “Landfall”), they’ve maybe put out their most self-assured batch of songs yet. —Dean Essner

Diamond District March on Washington Mello Music Group

Diamond District leader Oddisee didn’t think you’d like March on Washington, the group’s highly anticipated follow-up to In the Ruff. For one, it’s not as upbeat as its classic predecessor. Still, March was a mature outing for Odd, XO, and yU; they’re no longer the combative upstarts, but accomplished adults with nothing left to prove. —Marcus J. Moore

Ex Hex Rips Merge Records

What’s classic about power-pop trio Ex Hex is a commitment to higher fidelity. No need to wade through liberally applied distortion or heavy reverb—on Rips, barre chords ring out clear, punctured neatly by tight riffs or squeals of distortion from frontwoman Mary Timony’s guitar. It reminds listeners that skilled pop songwriters can still get great mileage on palm-muted power-chords, sing-along choruses, and well-executed guitar solos. —Maxwell Tani

Furniteur Furniteur Prince George Records

D.C. has no shortage of up-and-coming synth-driven acts, but few have better hooks than Furniteur. The group’s debut EP is essentially a compact, well-executed survey of the contemporary EDM landscape, complete with dark minimal-wave tracks, electro house cuts, and wistful ‘80s pop ballads. For lesser bands, genre diversity makes for muddled records. For Furniteur, it’s a chance to test out a whole lot of different kinds of melodic hooks. —Maxwell Tani

Golden Looks Golden Looks Self-released

The catchy, sing-along choruses and studied, math-rock guitar lines of Golden Looks’ self-titled debut make this a must-listen add to today’s post-punk catalogue. Nestor Diaz and Julia Novakowski are perfect vocal matches, whether harmonizing, trading lines, or singing in parallel octaves, and a healthy helping of plucky ah-ahs, oh-ohs, and up-up-ups keep even the darker tracks fizzy. —Christina Cauterucci

GoldLink The God Complex Self-released

This debut mixtape from Virginia wunderkind GoldLink dropped jaws when it dropped in April. A creative curveball that challenged local rappers to reconsider their safe bets, The God Complex was the perfect D.C. summer bounce mix, with a house-infused, hyped-up flow and beats so delectably crunchy, you’d snack on them all day if you could. Equal credit for the album’s best tracks goes to Louie Lastic, whose smart, restrained production makes GoldLink’s rhymes sound sexy beyond his 21 years. —Christina Cauterucci

Heavy Lights Mad Minds Self-released

Rolling rhythms, bubbly guitars, and sunny harmonies make Mad Minds the sonic equivalent of a beach vacation. The debut album from Frederick, Md.-based quartet Heavy Lights milks its nostalgia-inducing elements, like hand claps and misty guitar licks, braiding in breezy uplifting vocals and the occasional slide guitar to cement its catchy surf-pop sound. —Carey Hodges

Jail Solidarity Pretty Good Privacy Accidental Guest Recordings

There was no shortage of smash-the-patriarchy music out of D.C. this year, but none packed as much of a punch as Jail Solidarity’s Pretty Good Privacy EP. Layers upon layers of heavy-as-fuck sludge and noise are stacked together into five drawn-out songs of calling out sociopolitical bullshit like the NSA, misogyny, and racism. Damn the man! —Matt Cohen

Laughing Man Be Black Baby Bad Friend Records

Laughing Man manages to make experimental music as graspable as it is radical. To lay a political veneer over a tight, complex album, the band’s September release takes its title from a scene in Hi Mom!, a 1970 Brian De Palma film (the titular segment depicts a group of black actors teaching white yuppies how to “be black” in an increasingly uncomfortable theater piece) and uses dialogue from the sequence to bridge the gaps between tracks. Laughing Man jumps from jazz chords and weird time signatures to punk guitars and drum machines, sometimes in the middle of a song or even a single line. It’s the opposite of a zone-out mix: a real listen-in album that gets deeper with every spin. —Christina Cauterucci

Logic Under Pressure Def Jam Recordings/Visionary Music Group

Fans aggravated by the wait for Logic’s debut album immediately forgave him upon hearing the thing in October. Largely autobiographical, Under Pressure is a multilayered examination of what shaped the Maryland rapper’s identity. From random pop-culture nuggets to his turbulent formative years in Gaithersburg, Logic covers the full spectrum of his influences in deft fashion. At year’s end, Under Pressure emerges as one of the year’s superior offerings on a national level, proving that his tale of unlikely success reverberates outside of the hub where it took place. —Julian Kimble

Louis Weeks shift/away Self-released

Louis Weeks’ triumphant debut LP shift/away may fall under the subhead of “bedroom pop,” but it is by no means confined and static. Rather, Weeks’ album—which melds folk and glitchy laptop music—is a triumph of space, a record that manages to feel both grandiose and exquisitely small at the same time. —Dean Essner

Mark Meadows Somethin’ Good Self-released

When Baltimorean pianist Mark Meadows started building his presence in D.C., his multiple talents set the scene abuzz. This guy could play, he could sing, and he could write. He can lead a band, too, and on Somethin’ Good he does it all with aplomb. It’s the writing that’s most impressive, with strong originals (“Once Upon A Purple Night,” “Less Catchy”) and transcendent arrangements (Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You”). —Michael J. West

Martyn The Air Between Words Ninja Tune

Martyn has seen the inner workings of the music industry, and he doesn’t like it. So for this year’s The Air Between Words, the NoVa producer retreated to an analog sound, which added a richness you just can’t get digitally. As a result, Air might be Martyn’s best album, one that made great use of silence and shadows. —Marcus J. Moore

Monument Bros Canoeing Self-released

Emo has the unfortunate reputation of being histrionically weepy, but Monument’s second album, Bros Canoeing, is just fun. It’s not just the jokey, self-referential titles, but the way a certain riff can make you feel like you’re flying down the highway in a convertible. The saddest thing is knowing this is Monument’s final album. —Leor Galil

Muhsinah M Self-released

With Muhsinah, there’s a feeling of isolation, that she’d rather be alone than deal with everyday trappings. M, recorded during a week of solitude in her home, was anything but aloof: Filled with bright electronic fervor, the summery EP was a welcomed birthday present to herself and a brief preview of her forthcoming album. —Marcus J. Moore

Outputmessage The Infinite Void Output Noise

Chances are you’ve never been to outer space. Local EDM producer Outputmessage gave the grand tour on The Infinite Void, his voyeuristic interpretation of the cosmos. Its sound was enormous and full of cataclysmic doom. It was music that moved you in places well beyond the dance floor. —Marcus J. Moore

Priests Bodies and Control and Money and Power Don Giovanni/Sister Polygon

Priests play with an unrivaled force that’s earned them the reputation as the best DIY punk outfit D.C. has produced in years. The band’s untamed, strangely funky minimal punk EP is great in part because the band making all the noise isn’t concerned with being the best—to borrow a line from frontwoman Katie Alice Greer, the band isn’t trying to be anything, which just about explains it. —Leor Galil

Protect-U Free USA Future Times

There’s oontz oontz oontz-style EDM, and then there’s Protect-U’s brand of oontz oontz oontz house-infused EDM, which sounds like it emerged from a futuristic underwater utopia. On the duo’s latest LP, Protect-U fuses disco grooves, old-school house vibes, and otherworldly soundscapes to make an electronic album that’s both inescapably dancey and intricately fascinating. —Matt Cohen

Puff Pieces 4 Song 7” Lovitt Records

Take two parts post-punk, one part krautrock, a whole clove of anxious dissonance and throw it in a stew: You’ll get the trio known as Puff Pieces. On their four-song debut 7-inch, the band captures the nervous energy and anxiety of longtime punks striving to adapt in a rapidly changing D.C. —Matt Cohen

Reginald Cyntje Elements of Life Self-released

Trombonist Reginald Cyntje’s third album is his finest, a meditation on nature and social justice that blends all of his musical influences into an insoluble whole. Factor in his tremendous band (saxophonist Brian Settles, steelpannist Victor Provost, pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Herman Burney, drummer Amin Gumbs) and the magnificent wordless vocals of Christie Dashiell, and you’ve got the year’s loveliest recording of any genre. —Michael J. West

Shy Glizzy Law 3 Self-released

On his best songs, Shy Glizzy has the commanding swagger of a person who holds the world in his hands and the casual playfulness of a kid relaxing at the pool. In a sense, everything is “Awwsome,” but even without that breakout hit, Law 3 retains a uniquely Glizzy nirvana. —Leor Galil

Two Inch Astronaut Foulbrood Exploding In Sound Records

With its second proper release in as many years, Silver Spring, Md., trio Two Inch Astronaut continued down the rabbit hole of angular post-hardcore indigenous to the region. But on Foulbrood, the band gives in to indulgence, composing barn-burners that are simultaneously poppier, weirder, and longer than anything it’s done before. —Matt Cohen

Typefighter The End of Everything Huge Witch Records

D.C. has a legacy of producing rock bands that consistently push the threshold of art and avant-garde, which isn’t a bad thing. But that legacy makes a band like Typefighter—who’s more concerned with perfecting the formula of a perfect pop song than finding the new weirdness—all the more exciting. The band’s debut LP, The End of Everything, is your turn-the-windows-down-and-crank-the-stereo-up album of the year.

Witch Coast Witch Coast for President Self-released

Metal doesn’t have a monopoly on praising the infernal Lord. Proof positive: this devilish lo-fi band. The four tracks on Witch Coast for President are short, dark, and very pleasing, though possibly recorded on the auditory equivalent of a potato. Hopefully, the band’s upcoming LP will expand on impressive tracks like “True East.” —Matt Ramos

Young Summer Siren Ready Set

With her debut LP, Siren, Bobbie Allen (aka Young Summer) has made one of the more refreshingly sincere pop records of 2014, an album that eschews mainstream music’s current obsession with irony and self-reference in favor of irresistible, hook-abundant songs about falling in love. —Dean Essner

Yung Gleesh Cleansides Finest 3 Self-Released

Something strange happened in 2014: Your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper became yours. Yung Gleesh had a career year, with festival performances, sold-out shows, and dance moves that got into a video game. He also dropped Cleansides Finest 3, his best project yet. Here, Gleesh is witty, energetic, and oddly melodic; he flows with go-go speed, pairing well with spacey beats and thundering production. Every shitbag has his day. —Daniel White