Sunday, 14 December 2014

Albums of the Year 2014 - the top 20

As is compulsory for music bloggers (and music fans generally) I've spent the past couple of weeks pulling together the list of what I think are the best albums of this year. It's been tough to get this into any sort of static order, as I think there's been a lot of good stuff around this year, but there comes a time when you just have to press stop and see how they fall. Drum roll please...

1. 'Everyday Robots' by Damon Albarn

Featuring undoubtedly the best, most consistent writing of Albarn's career, this is a heartfelt, confessional album that shows Damon to be at peace with himself and middle age. Produced by Richard Russell, featuring contributions from Brian Eno and Natasha Khan, and with song subjects ranging from drug use to baby elephants, it shows that he needs neither cartoons or real bandmates any more to create brilliant material. Moving and ultimately uplifting. Full review here.

2. 'St. Vincent' by St. Vincent

Whether it was working with David Byrne, or whether she's just 'found herself', this is the sound of the real St. Vincent, free to be herself and say what she wants. Musically it's powerful and spiky, with punchy electronics and roaring guitars, while lyrically it's one of the most subversive records you'll hear all year. This is probably in my all-time top 5 albums by female artists - that's how good it is. And don't get me started on how good her live show is or we'll be here all night.

3. 'Dead' by Young Fathers

First mentioned on this blog back in March 2013, Young Fathers have continued to garner critical acclaim culminating in their Mercury Prize win for 'Dead'. It's hip-hop like you've never heard it before - not surprising as they're the only Scottish /Nigerian / Liberian act I can think of. The music is a melting pot of influences, the lyrics are powerful, and the whole thing is imbued with an amazing energy. Plus they're absolutely incredible live. Full review here.

4. 'Liminal' by The Acid

Atmospheric and moody, with brilliant production and some speaker-rumbling bass, this is the closest thing you'll find to 21st century trip-hop. The trio of Ry X, Steve Nalepa and Adam Freeland have created a real late-night burner of a record. It's sparse but not bleak, fragile but not broken, electronic but not cold, and I absolutely love it. If you've never heard of them I urge you to check it out.

5. 'Our Love' by Caribou
Maybe not quite as great as I was expecting, but a good Caribou album is still well worth having. There are some tracks on here that are gonna sound immense live ('Our Love' and 'Mars' for example), not to mention my favourite track of the year, 'Can't Do Without You'. If only I didn't dislike 'Julia Brightly' so much this would probably have been even higher up the list. There have already been some killer remixes off here and I'm sure there's more to come. You'll be hearing this throughout the festival season next year.

6. 'Shaker Notes' by Paul White

Like Albarn's album, this is a very personal affair from Paul White. He's ditched his previous sample-heavy material and instead plays all the instruments on here and even sings on a few tracks. The music is an eclectic mix, part hip-hop, part film soundtrack, part swamp-blues, but it always retains a sense of intimacy. On top of that the red vinyl copy I've got looks great as it spins on my turntable. Full review here.

7. 'You're Dead' by Flying Lotus

By no means an easy listen, this is surely FlyLo's masterpiece and the record that he's been working towards for all of his career. It's committed, unflinching, uncommercial and the product of a highly creative mind really setting himself free. The guest spot from Kendrick Lamar is a highlight, but there's so much good stuff in here that you could spend a week talking about it. The lavish boxset was beautifully put together too. Full review here.

8. 'Run The Jewels 2' by Run The Jewels
The plaudits for this album are coming in so fast it's hard to keep up with them. It's a rabble-rousing call for social equality masquerading as a knockabout hip-hop record. Hard beats, hard rhymes, maybe one too many vagina references, but overall a fucking powerful record. The fact that I met them on my trip to New York just before they went stratospheric was the icing on the cake. Full review here.

9. 'Close To The Glass' by The Notwist

As far as I'm concerned this is The Notwist's debut album. I know they've had 5 out before but a) this was the first one I've heard and b) it's so chock-full of ideas and energy it's got the same vibe as the 1st album put out by a bunch of 20 year olds. If you're partial to an electronic-indie hybrid with the odd bit of lo-fi acousticness thrown in then give this a spin. The sound of people doing whatt hey do really wellFull review here.

10. 'Total Strife Forever' by East India Youth

This was actually the first album I bought this year, way back at the start of January. It's a great mix of wistful pop songs, euphoric dance moments and atmospheric instrumentals that all combine to show the breadth of Will Doyle's talents. Beautifully crafted and full of class, this is one to savour. Full review here.

11. 'Morning Phase' by Beck. A masterclass in how to make a grown-up, mature record. Hard to believe he once made a track called 'MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack'

12. 'Lazaretto' by Jack White. The perfect summation of all the preceeding part's of White's career, all wrapped up in one (ridiculously over-engineered) piece of vinyl.

13. 'The Light Brigade' by Daedelus. Like the soundtrack to a film that doesn't exist, The only album this year inspired by the 1853-56 Crimean War (!). Full review here.

14. 'LP1' by FKA Twigs. A powerfully strong album from this independent-minded girl. The sort of role model our daughters need.

15. 'New Gods' by Withered Hand. Classic heart-on-your-sleeve singer-songwriting from one of Scotland's finest. Full review here.

16. 'Whelm' by Douglas Dare. Sweeping melodies, a fantastic voice, soaring emotions and moments of calm. Full review here.

17. 'The Take Off and Landing Of Everything' by Elbow. A real return to form for the lads, featuring some of Garvey's best lyrics for years and some really hummable tunes.

18. 'Mean Love' by Sinkane. A brilliantly stylish album that switches effortlessly from Afrobeat to funk to soul and back again. Full review here.

19. 'Black Hours' by Hamilton Leithauser. Like a record that's slipped through a musical wormhole from the late '50s or early '60s. Full review here.

20. 'Built On Glass' by Chet Faker. There seems to have been a lot of what I call 'white boy soul' records out this year. This is by far the best.

Honourable mention: 'The Long Goodbye' by LCD Soundsystem. a lovingly crafted boxset that was a fitting way to mark the end of one of my favourite ever bands.

Ten that nearly made it (in no particular order):

'Familiars' by The Antlers
'Ghosts of Then and Now' by Illum Sphere
'Frozen By Sight' by Paul Smith & Peter Brewis
'The Inevitable End' by Royksopp
'Stateless' by Dirty Beaches
'Annabel Dream Reader' by The Wytches
'Wonder Where We Land' by SBTRKT
'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes' by Thom Yorke
'Lese Majesty' by Shabazz Palaces
'Divine Ecstacy' by Supreme Cuts

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