Saturday, 13 December 2014

Top 20 Albums of 2014

Another year goes past and we all get a little older and more cynical. Well, typically anyway. Although I can't say I succeeded at every turn, I've made every effort to listen to records outside of my usual comfort zone in the last 12 months. This list doesn't entirely reflect that as many that I've tried have been older albums, and I've not turned my ear away from my old favourites, who still crop up in the 20 albums below.

All things said, I think we can all agree that 2014 has been a decent 12 months for new music with critically acclaimed and otherwise brilliant records coming from all corners. If you've not found plenty that you've loved this year you've not been looking hard enough. I've not been looking hard enough and I've found these twenty records that I think are ace!

20) Maxïmo Park - Too Much Information
Although sadly not the left turn that teaser single 'Brain Cells' hinted at, there was more than enough on the fifth album from these old favourites to stop them slipping into irrelevancy. The elegant sweep of 'Leave This Island' was the highlight, but elsewhere the snappy post-punk sound that Maxïmo Park have made their own over the last decade remains strong whilst nicely evolving alongside their masterful songcraft.

19) Teleman - Breakfast
The sublime return from three fifths of Pete & The Pirates. With motorik beats and the pop sensibility you'd expect with their pedigree Teleman allow their music to soar on spacey keyboards whilst remaining grounded. Minimalism has become cliché in recent years, but it's used here to make sure that not a note is out of place and so even the subtlest sounds delight.

18) Future Islands - Singles
Although 'Seasons (Waiting On You)' towers over this record it's far from all that Future Islands have to offer. That it's on my list as well as every other seems to indicate that I'm getting less contrary/softer as I get older. Alternatively you could see it as a singularly strong breakthrough record that features some of the best written songs that 2014 had to offer.

17) St. Vincent - St. Vincent
The album of the year almost everywhere, and it's not hard to see why. This is a defining musician at the top of her game releasing some of the smartest pop music of the year. From the spiky brilliance of 'Birth In Reverse' to the elegance of 'I Prefer Your Love' there was so much to keep coming back to that it made St. Vincent one of my most listened to albums of the end half of 2014. Although I remain unconvinced by 'Rattlesnake' as an opener, this is really as special as everyone says.

16) Eagulls - Eagulls
Yes! The fury and the anger that has been absent for many, many years finally seems to be coming back. Every song on Eagulls sounds pretty much the same, but it's driven by meaty bass riffs and pounding drums that allow the wailing guitars and vocals to do their job. Calling this album a shot in the arm doesn't really do it justice. It's only this low down on the list as I only got around to listening to it a week or so ago.

15) King Creosote -  From Scotland With Love
Sprawling across two LPs, From Scotland With Love was a timely and heartfelt tribute to the titular country, its people and its history that couldn't have been more different from much of the political rhetoric from either side of the debate. King Creosote's voice is as wonderful as ever but, to the album's immense credit, the instrumentals here are as evocative as the vocal-lead numbers. Like British Sea Power's soundtrack records it swells with optimism and encourages repeated listens.

14) Honeyblood - Honeyblood
A fantastic début album in a year where that's not a novelty; Honeyblood seemed to appear from nowhere to be one of everyone's favourites. That's more of an indication of how far away from the ground my ear has been this year, but any record that can sound like the best bits of Best Coast distilled down into something sharp and contemporary has my vote.

13) East India Youth - Total Strife Forever
Total Strife Forever is one of those albums that I investigated this year thanks to the fact it sounded like something a little outside of my comfort zone. On a record divided between leftfield electronic soundscapes and direct, emotive songs, East India Youth explores both music as an artform and pop as a method of mass communication to brilliant effect.

12) Allo Darlin' - We Come From The Same Place
A new album from everyone's favourite Anglo-Australian indie-popsters is always welcome and never disappoints. Masters of their craft Allo Darlin' simply delivery hit after hit and We Come From The Same Place is no exception. There's no 'Capricornia'-level stand-out but there's plenty else that that really doesn't matter. An album to return to again and again.

11) Perfect Pussy - Say Yes To Love
At under 25 minutes, Say Yes To Love is a slab of punk that feels absolutely essential to music in 2014. Sexism in on the rise and this is the fight back. Perfect Pussy exist to make a noise. But this isn't a worthy 'you're obliged to listen to' record, this is a snappy exhilarating rock record of the type that doesn't come my way often enough.

10) Alvvays - Alvvays
The indiepop breakthrough of the year. It seems that everyone who has heard Alvvays has fallen in love with them, and it's not hard to understand why. Few if any songs this year have been as good as 'Archie, Marry Me' and the rest of the album doesn't disappoint. Often hazy, but with a dark undercurrent this is a masterful début album, but one I'm confident that the band will surpass with in the years to come.

09) Gerard Way - Hesitant Alien
Although it's Bowie that the former My Chemical Romance singer is channelling on the cover of his solo début it's his indie and britpop influences that sine through on vinyl. 'Drugstore Perfume' brings to mind Pulp's 'Something Changed' whilst elsewhere there's hints of Suede, Sleater-Kinney, Pixies and Supergrass. In short, Hesitant Alien is a record that it's easy to stick on repeat and not grow tired of.

08) Sky Ferreira - Night Time, My Time
A delayed UK release meant that everyone seems to have forgotten about Sky Ferreira this list season. Nonetheless it gets my vote as an eclectic and engaging début album from an intriguing young artist. '24 Hours' is better than (almost) anything released by any chart-bothering pop singer this year, whilst few 'alternative' artists have songs as simultaneously beautiful and claustrophobic as  'Omanko'.

07) Martha - Courting Strong
Fortuna POP! have a strong claim to being the best label going right now and Martha are the jewel in their 2014 crown. Courting Strong is yr classic punked up indiepop that will never go out of style and is delivered so excellently I can't help but wonder why it's absent from everyone else's lists. No other album in 2014 has so encouraged hapless flailing that passes for dancing as this one. That it addresses some important points - including the imposition of gender roles on children - shouldn't go unmentioned either.

06) Mastodon - Once More 'Round The Sun
A return to form from the best band in metal* after the largely forgettable The Hunter. Once More 'Round The Sun may not have followed the high concept method that provided Mastodon with their finest moments but with it's still an engaging and driven beast that stitches together elements from psychedelia, rock, metal and prog into a cohesive and unclassifiable whole.
*From an outsider's perspective at least

05) Johnny Foreigner - You Can Do Better
From the time I discovered Johnny Foreigner to when I made ..Vs Everything my Album of the Year in 2011 this band felt like such a lifeline. I'm in a better place now, but the high placing of You Can Do Better on this list indicates just how fucking great they actually are. Their first album as a four piece it sees JoFo at their most cohesive and straightforward - Johnny Foreigner the Rock Band - but is none the worse for it. 'To The Death' is the highlight, but there's so much to keep going back to.

04) Manic Street Preachers - Futurology
With it's pro-European focus Futurology could not have been more timely. But even if we weren't seeing the ugly rise of UKIP this would still be the Manics best album in a long time. It features Nicky Wire's lyrics at their most engaging and finely merges the rhetoric with musical influences. The dizzying 'Walk Me To The Bridge' shines brightest, but this album - this masterpiece - keeps drawing me back in. Genuinely inspiring.

03) Slow Club - Complete Surrender
Slow Club have come a long, long way since their days playing Sheffield folk nights and using a chair for percussion. With each successive record they've progressed leaps and bounds with Complete Surrender hitting truly remarkable highs, such as on 'The Pieces' and 'The Queen's Nose'. This is a really special record and one that's going to be hard to top for the band going forwards.

02) Kaiser Chiefs - Education, Education, Education And War
Until a few days before I wrote this up Education, Education, Education And War was sitting comfortably at the top spot that it'd held since it's March release. 'Return to form' doesn't quite cover what this album has done for Kaiser Chiefs. This is the sound of an unfairly maligned band with nothing to lose and everything to prove making the album of their careers (with a little help from Bill Nighy). Lyrically it takes to task a centuries old political establishment that subdues and uses its people through war and industry, and in combining imagery from different eras shows us how nothing ever really changes. An exhilarating, triumphant record.

01) Taylor Swift - 1989
No album or pop star have been written about this year as much as 1989 or Taylor Swift and I'm not capable or willing to add to it. Anyway, Kieron Gillen has already said it best and most simply:

Until next year....

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