Although Frank Ocean captured the headlines and topped the critics' lists, for yours truly what stands out in pop music this year is the discovery of a consensus acoustic sound that is not rock, for better or worse, and yet is shared by the likes of relatively new bands Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, the Avett Brothers, The Lumineers, and Lord Huron, among countless, countless others.
Anthemic folk-rock, as Jon Pareles said. With a dash of sarcasm, he voiced the thoughts of a young fan newly converted to this "roots" music: “Wow, I’m cool. I heard a banjo. I’m different. And I’m going to tell all my friends how much hearing an actual banjo as opposed to a synthesizer moved me.”
Yes, but...stand-out tracks include I Will Wait, Stubborn Love, and the instant classic Winter in My Heart (though it's a yearning ballad, not an anthem). My fav band is everyone else's too, Mumford & Sons, the most exciting, although Fleet Foxes still have the best harmonies, and the Avett Brothers make me ache the most.
Most visual is surely Lord Huron:
...who seems to offer in their visual work a destination, a virtual home in the lonesome wilderness.