END OF YEAR REVIEW:
2014'S TOP 10 ALBUMS
Welcome to this end of year music review.
Like the previous years, this Top 10 list is a personal and non-absolute appreciation. Work and social life got in the way of listening to every single release… so expect omissions.
Here are the rules:
1) The albums need to have been released this year.
2) Original Sountracks, EPs, Best-Of compilations or even live albums are not allowed, thereby explaining the absence of the David Bowie’s Nothing Has Changed Best Of or the fact that the Guardians of the Galaxy and Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt.1 soundtracks are nowhere to be found. These three are nonetheless excellent and deserve your attention.
3) Miss Sky Ferreira’s debut album does not make an appearance because she was included in last year’s Top 10 (link to Top 10 Albums of 2013). Some countries, including the UK, only got it this year for some reason… Go figure.
4) Skrillex does not make an appearance because it’s overrated crap.
5) Like last year, the suspense shall be preserved: we start the countdown from 10…
So, without further ado, let the countdown to the best album of 2014 begin.
10) MOGWAI - RAVE TAPES
Following their score for the brilliant French TV show Les Revenants (The Returned), the Glaswegian zero-gravity post-rock quintet delivered their eighth album this year.
Rave Tapes, despite sounding like it could be an album of floor-filling anthems, is actually composed of ethereal, melancholic and, strangely enough, menacingly catchy songs. It is synth-heavy, entrancingly electronic, sometimes noisily powerful and filled with cinematic orchestrations which could be at home in Dario Argento giallo films or even on a darker version of Tron.
While Mogwai have not reinvented themselves here, they have effectively made what sounds like their most assured and complete effort yet.
Key Track: ‘Heard About You Last Night’
9) THE SMASHING PUMPKINS -
MONUMENTS TO AN ELEGY
The Smashing Pumpkins are a hard band to keep up with. Over the last 15 years, the band has broken up, reformed, lost half of its original members, disbanded and resurrected once more.
Their previous line-up contributed to their surprisingly solid ninth studio effort, Oceania. However, only two years later, the Oceania line-up are nowhere to be seen, and puppet master Billy Corgan has brought in returning collaborator Jeff Schroeder and Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee for The Pumpkins’ tenth effort, Monuments to an Elegy.
If you don’t dwell on these ever-fluctuating band incarnations and that pretentious title, this album is unpredictably excellent. Surprisingly so. It sounds like Corgan has updated the sound and streamlined the proceedings, favouring quality over ear-bleeding length in this concise 33 minute gem. It’s an emotional album, one that favours synths but unlike its predecessor, puts the guitars on show and makes them soulfully and heavily riff once more.
Not since Machina / The Machines of God have The Pumpkins been this good. It’s not a perfect album but against all odds, this is the sound of a band worth getting excited about once more.
Key Track: ‘Drum + Fife’
8) ROYAL BLOOD - ROYAL BLOOD
Royal Blood is the eponymous debut album from a Brighton duo that only cares about delivering solid and muscular blues rock… and they’re good at what they care about. This raw LP is as head-bangingly exciting as it is surprisingly nuanced, with Queens of the Stone Age and The White Stripes being obvious but wholly appropriate reference points.
Often barebones, sometimes bombastic and always assured, this confident debut unapologetically and relentlessly delivers monster riffs and catchy melodies in spades. There’s no filler here; just an album that deserves to be listened to on repeat… and the louder, the better.
Whether or not they deserve the overhyped praise, Royal Blood’s debut remains one of 2014’s strongest.
Key Track: ‘Out Of The Black’
7) HONEYBLOOD - HONEYBLOOD
Having serendipitously discovered this Glaswegian duo at a festival this year and been enticed, their debut album did not disappoint.
Vocalist / guitarist Stina Tweeddale and drummer Shona McVicar (no names were made up during the writing of this review) delivered a catchy, turbulent and sassy debut that sounds like a 90s indie collection featuring The Breeders and early PJ Harvey. Their self-titled effort viscerally addresses heartbreak, failed relationships and sees the duo out for the blood of everyone who ever spurned them. As angsty as that may sound, it makes for a terrific listen.
A swaggering debut that should not be missed. A brilliant band that deserves an excitable audience.
Key Track: ‘Fall Forever’
6) TV ON THE RADIO - SEEDS
This former NYC rock resurgence act has always kept the listeners on their toes. This year’s release is no exception.
Following the death of their bassist Gerard Smith in 2011, TV On The Radio have been on a hiatus, grieving and recording this new venture, which has seen them cathartically honour their departed comrade by making Seeds their most pop-orientated effort yet.
While many will undoubtedly see this as a sign they’re selling out, TV On The Radio have in fact continued their experimentation into more anthemic territory. They have crucially not lowered their genre-defying boundaries but have instead merged their electronic indie rock / thoughtful R’n’B hip hop with catchy hooks, haunting melodies and Tunde Adebimpre’s ever-soulful vocals. The result isn’t as experimentally brilliant as Dear Science, for instance, but is a beautiful album that doesn’t reveal all its secrets after the first listen… making Seeds all the more fascinating.
Key Track: ‘Happy Idiot’
5) THE BRONZE MEDAL - DARLINGS
This is a band that sadly didn’t get enough press this year…
The Bristol-based bunch released their debut album, Darlings, this year. Through the course of 9 tracks, they showcased raw emotion and anthemic tunes with quite brilliant lyrics.
Recorded in Iceland with producer / sound engineer Valgeir Sigurdsson (frequent collaborator of Sigur Ros and Damien Albarn), Darlings sounds amazing, with crisp guitars, warm pianos and a few cheeky horns complimenting the gently building choruses and the moody harmonies. From its terrific opener ‘Tunnel’ to the more sombre album closer ‘Largo’, via the perfect ‘High Fever’, there’s a lyrical maturity to these tracks, which are faintly reminiscent of The National and some of Iron and Wine’s best.
Sure, slow-burning indie-rock isn’t getting a lot of praise at the moment, but you’d do well to put all preconceived ideas aside and seek out this stunning album.
Key Track: ‘Life Plans’
4) ELBOW -
THE TAKE OFF AND LANDING OF EVERYTHING
This gorgeous album is the quintet’s sixth and as the title suggests, it’s about change, choices and crisis.
Guy Garvey and his lot make the intimate sound epic with beautifully rousing choruses, poetic imagery and incredibly satisfying lyricism. While there is talk of the “plummeting of crippled crows” and the pouring of oil “in double time upon the troubled rising tide inside”, the melancholia is always accompanied by hope, by the image of an “indigo dawn with the lovelorn and renegade”.
The Take Off and Landing of Everything proves that by delving into the human condition and the turmoil of everyday life, Elbow have truly surpassed themselves. It may not be their catchiest, their most immediate or even as energizing as The Seldom Seen Kid, but by God is it their most emotional and inexplicably enlivening.
Key Track: ‘My Sad Captains’
3) FKA TWIGS - LP1
Chances are you’ve heard of this sultry pixie this year…
British dancer-turned-singer Tahliah Barnett, aka FKA Twigs, released her debut album, LP1. It is many things: layered, otherworldly, centered on skittish and skeletal beats. Her breathy and sometimes operatically high falsetto sings of complicated tensions between sexual impulses and painful wounds resulting from failed relationships. It all makes LP1 is fascinating listen.
In ambitiously merging various styles and being uniquely experimental in ways few debutant artists manage to be, FKA Twigs has assured that her genre-defying album is intimately euphoric, sultry and yet confessional.
One of this year’s best albums and easily 2014’s breakthrough revelation.
Key Track: ‘Two Weeks’
2) THE WAR ON DRUGS -
LOST IN THE DREAM
This third album from Philadelphia-based The War On Drugs is a beautiful listen.
There. That’s said.
Lost in the Dream is an exquisite indie gem that, as the title suggests, feels dreamlike. Adam Granduciel and his partners in crime have created elegant collection of rock songs, which at times sound like Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams or even slightly Fleetwood Mac. Themes of loneliness permeate throughout this expansive album, but always in an uplifting way, via sonic Americana rock and subtle acoustics.
Missing out on this album should not be an option.
Key Track: ‘Red Eyes’
… And 2014’s best album goes to…
1) JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW -
While 2014 will be remembered as the year Bono and his motley crew monopolized the headlines with their iTunes release, the Emerald Isle’s James Vincent McMorrow is the artist truly worth remembering this year.
The Irish singer-songwriter followed his classy 2011 debut with this year’s Post Tropical. He took the melodic dexterity of his first album and pushed it in more multilayered and even sonic directions. By putting the folky guitars to one side and letting the pianos, harps, horns, atmospheric samples and the occasional cymbal crash have their day, he’s thrived… and his falsetto has never sounded more spine-tingling.
The album beautifully marries a sensual R’n’B melodies, gospel harmonies with electric textures throughout, adding a warmth to the singer’s crystalline pitches.
All in all, a stirring album that is nothing short of breathtaking and this year's best.
Key Track: ‘Gold’
In case you were wondering, those that nearly made the Top 10 include:
Taylor Swift’s 1989 - before you judge, read this: Taylor Swift - A Musical Confession (click and scroll);
Bloc Party frontman Kele’s second solo outing, Trick;
Hozier’s debut album, championed by its lead single ‘Take Me To Church’;
Damien Rice’s first album in 8 years, My Favourite Faded Fantasy;
Wild Beasts’ Present Tense, which while excellent feels like a comedown from their previous album, 2011’s Smother;
Sharon Van Etten’s nakedly honest Are We There;
Ben Howard’s haunting I Forget Where We Were, proving that his debut was no fluke.
Agree? Disagree? Feel there are unforgivable omissions? Upset La Roux was left out? Still crying over the fact alt-J nuked the fridge somewhat? Not over the fact Pink Floyd’s The Endless River is a crushing disappointment of leftover demos?
Let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for reading and hope your year was filled with music goodness.
- D - 16/12/14