Exclaim!'s Best of 2014: Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part Two

4. Alvvays
(Royal Mountain Records)

By all measures but official release date, Alvvays isn't a 2014 record. The Toronto-via-Maritime retro-pop five-piece recorded the album with Chad VanGaalen back in March 2012 and spent two years shopping it around, unsuccessfully, to record labels. Given the disc has since earned worldwide acclaim and spent much of the past year atop college radio charts, those labels must now be kicking themselves.

Of course, it's easy to praise Alvvays' self-titled debut in hindsight, and it deserves the praise. The product of co-songwriters frontwoman Molly Rankin (a descendant of Celtic icons the Rankin Family) and guitarist Alec O'Hanley (formerly of PEI pop-rockers Two Hours Traffic), Alvvays' nine short tracks are an overflowing cup of infectious beach-pop hooks carved out by deadpan vocal melodies and jangling, reverb-drenched guitars. The lyrics are poignantly self-conscious, detailing the equally doleful and humorous awkwardness and anxiety of 20-something life in the city but, in a bout of subversive irony, the delivery is effortlessly cool.

Alvvays' sound may not be overly unique — steeped in C86-era nostalgia, they feel like a close cousin of Best Coast — but their mastery of the aesthetic is. Though Alvvays may not truly be a 2014 record, this was the year it finally got the recognition it deserved. (Luc Rinaldi)