2014 Best of the Year

2014 Albums of the Year: Part Two - 5 through 1

Following on from yesterday's part one post, here is the concluding part of my albums of the year list. Don't forget to check out my list of the of 2014 best songs, which starts with Part One.

 

5. What Is This Heart? - How To Dress Well

What Is This Heart? - How To Dress Well

Unashamedly emotional, What Is This Heart? managed to deliver on something conceptual, intelligent and populist all at once. One of the indie R&B's most fully realised albums yet - grand in scale and feeling.

Amazon [affilate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

4. Benji - Sun Kil Moon

Benji - Sun Kil Moon

Listening to Sun Kil Moon's Benji felt less like playing an album and more like sitting next to a bruised old school friend as he pours out his guts over a beer and a guitar. I'm a sucker for honesty, and they didn't get much more honest than this.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

3. Our Love - Caribou

Our Love - Caribou

Caribou's most 2014 album was the first to not change the formula - instead it fleshed out the style introduced on Swim. What we have is a little more refined and a whole lot more personal, and nothing else in recent memory has sounded quite as much like what I feel inside.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

2. Built on Glass - Chet Faker

Built On Glass - Chet Faker

Effortlessly funky and irresistibly sexy, Faker's beardy R&B does something wonderful to me. There is a variety through Built On Glass that betrays the talent that exists here, whether it is on the slinky, clipped beats and wandering sax of Talk Is Cheap, the sharp bumping synths of 1998 or the circular bluesy vocals of Cigarettes & Loneliness.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

1. Lost In The Dream - The War On Drugs

Lost In The Dream - The War On Drugs

Compared to Slave Ambient, Lost In The Dream felt a little restrained - the mix more balanced, the krautrock influence softened, the electronics turned down. Yet surprisingly all this gloss made it feel all the more real. It's dad rock, but it's fucking dad rock for listening to whilst you ride a rainbow comet through the clouds of the Milky Way.

Lost In The Dream asks for a moment of patience: a listen to hear, one to notice and one more to know. Every time I play Red Eyes or Burning or An Ocean Between Waves I feel like I hear them better, like a fuzzy AM signal that gradually gets polished to an original studio recording. These songs give you back every moment you give them and not a second poured into Lost In The Dream's hour duration feels wasted.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

2014 Albums of the Year: Part One - 10 through 6

Following on from my list of the of 2014 best songs, which starts with Part One here, here is the first of two parts covering the best albums of the year. It has to be said, 2014 felt like a better year for songs than for albums - lots of interesting emerging artists released EPs, but there were less breakthrough albums that really lived up to the hype. In comparison to an individual track or an EP, creating a compelling album is incredibly hard. In my view, these were the best.

You can check out the concluding part, which includes my album of the year, here.

 

10. Liminal - The Acid

Liminal - The Acid

The debut album from Adam Freeland's new band was something of a surprise... Down-tempo, soulful and full of angst. There are hints of inspiration - take the vulnerable mumbling of Thom Yorke, the sub-bass from Burial - but the whole thing feels distinct. An organic, distinctly human snapshot that seemingly came out of nowhere.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

9. I Never Learn - Lykke Li

I Never Learn - Lykke Li

Lykke Li's boldest album yet, I Never Learn turned up on your doorstep with tears in its eyes and hair that has been dragged through a hedge backwards. Such intensely personal music would be difficult to listen to if it wasn't for such compelling song-writing. Even when it is belting out power ballads, as on Never Gonna Love Again, I Never Learn was always uniquely Lykke Li's.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

8. You’re Dead! - Flying Lotus

You're Dead! - Flying Lotus

It almost always feels too easy for Flying Lotus these days, his experiments boldly carving out new approaches to sound like they were always the most obvious thing in the world. You're Dead! is FlyLo's most overtly jazz influenced album yet, and it is impossible to shake the sense that if some of the experimental jazz pioneers of the 50s and 60s were warped to today, this might be exactly what they would sound like... And that's a massive achievement.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

7. LP1 - FKA Twigs

LP1 - FKA Twigs

2014 was FKA Twig's year more than any other musicians. The most impressive thing about LP1 is that prior to 2014 very few had even heard of her - by now she is undoubtedly one of the most revered stars in R&B. LP1 has moments of confused, electrified brilliance, but I can't help but feel like the best is yet to come.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

 

6. Reality Testing - Lone

Reality Testing - Lone

Full of moments of experimental brilliance, Lone made one of the most interesting albums of beats I've heard in years. Reality Testing combined every genre Lone could get his hands on, but rather than the candy cane explosion of someone like Rustie this felt like a pleasant trip through the mind of a friend with an enormous record collection.

Amazon [affiliate links]: CD LP MP3 / Spotify

2014 Songs of the Year: Part Six - 10 through 1

Just got here? Get up to speed with parts one, two, three, four and five.

Now that the full list is out check out the Spotify playlist, which includes every one of the full top 60 (plus the near misses) where they are available on Spotify. Click here or play via the embedded player below:

10. Ben's My Friend - Sun Kil Moon

Sun Kil Moon’s Benji was full of personal moments but none felt like they captured the maudlin sense of growing up and growing old in the same way as album closer Ben’s My Friend, complete with that lovely sax work. The way this song sets out the passing of time against Mark Kozelek’s friendship with Postal Service and Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard is both touching and frighteningly real… Anyone over-30 will likely be familiar with the work that goes into maintaining friendships and the complexity that gradually seeps into life as you age. What once seemed simple and obvious gradually becomes harder.

 

9. I Can Be Your Light - Hugh

I’ve championed Hugh and band-member Joshua Idehen’s other project Benin City for some time, but I Can Be Your Light from Hugh’s I Can’t Figure You Out EP marked their best moment yet. There’s only so much you can say about this song - it’s not complicated, it’s just beautiful. The openness and the generosity… No track this year came closer to bringing me closer to tears.

 

8. Bassically - Tei Shi

If there is one artist I’m excited for more than anyone else in 2015 it’s Tei Shi, who seems destined to pick up the hype train where FKA Twigs has got off. After a cover version of Beyoncé’s No Angel, Tei Shi ended up releasing Bassically - a track so fully realised it is incredible she doesn’t even have an album yet. Dark, brooding and incredibly sexy.

 

7. Brain - Banks

Banks’ momentum seemed to peter-out mid-way through 2014 but her album packs a whole slew of great tracks and Brain remains one of the most thrilling moments of pop music we heard this year, like something evil emerging from the blackness...

 

6. Putty Tart - Mouse On Mars & Junior Boys

Snuck onto Mouse On Mars’ celebratory collaborations project 21 Again was this glorious slice of electronic R&B, and it pretty much picks up where Junior Boys’ Banana Ripple left off. So much energy, so much sun, so much warmth. Love love love.

 

5. Two Weeks - FKA Twigs

Two Weeks felt like the realisation of all that FKA Twigs ambition… Taking the passion and creativity of those earlier tracks and applying it to the Twigs’ first real widescreen production… The music and video are both sexy as hell, and Twigs breathless delivery verges on sinister, particularly on that killer line: “I can fuck you better than her” she declared.

 

4. I See You - The Horrors

What a way to tease your forthcoming album… The first track taken from Luminous sounded like Simple Minds channeling Donna Summer, and I See You feels like a trip aboard the epic Saturn V once it kicks in. Sadly Luminous had showed it’s hand before it even came out - nothing else it contained came close… But you would struggle to find a more epic seven-and-a-half-minutes this year.

 

3. An Ocean Between Waves - The War On Drugs

Dad rock goes epic. The War On Drugs’ Lost In A Dream managed to take the template from Slave Ambient and make it feel more real and grounded, but the epic Krautrock sense of movement was all over it’s best track, An Ocean Between Waves. Adam Granduciel’s struggle to establish connection is almost tangible here in those closing lines: “I’m at the darkened hillside / And there’s a haze right between the trees / And I can barely see you / You’re like an ocean in between the waves”.

A touching moment that evolves into something even more epic as the song finally hits its stride in the closing minutes - you sense Granduciel maybe managed to mount one of those waves, and is surfing his way to a complete view of the ocean beneath him.

 

2. Words I Don't Remember - How To Dress Well

One of the most emotionally honest moments on How To Dress Well’s What Is This Heart. Words I Don’t Remember sounds like a lover struggling to piece back together the way they feel - hands slipping through the sensations and feelings… “Who knows if I love you baby, but you’re the one thing on my mind”. Much as with An Ocean Between Waves, Words I Don’t Remember launches out of that emotional insecurity into an epic instrumental closing third, and it’s a staggering moment.

 

1. Can't Do Without You - Caribou

On which Dan Snaith distills that very feeling of needing someone so bad it hurts… The obsession and neediness that turns love into something darker. Can’t Do Without You is both the most joyous, loved-up and celebratory thing I heard this year and the most desperately cloying. And if I take one thing from this song it is the human connection: we all feel this, for to love that hard is what it means to be human. And Snaith made it into the most addictively beautiful and optimistic sounding piece of sound created this year. Turn it up and forget about everything but the love you feel.

2014 Songs of the Year: Part Five - 20 through 11

Just got here? Get up to speed with parts one, two, three and four. Click the Prev post button at the bottom of this post to get to Part Six once it is out.

20. Forgive - Pr0files

All I need to say is that you probably haven’t even heard of Pr0files, and yet here they created one of the year’s greatest pop records. Take one part Drive-inspired 80s noir and combine with power-pop vocal hooks dealing with broken hearts. Sure, the formula may be obvious, but being this great whilst executing it is spectacular.

19. Chandelier - Sia

Sure, the video has since become a meme that has overshadowed the actual song, and the album never quite managed to hit the same peaks. Yet one thing is clear: Chandelier proved Sia can deliver outstanding pop. Nothing else I heard this year felt so inherently ingrained in 2014 - it will age, sure, but if in years to come you ever want to remember what 2014 felt like then you can’t get much closer than Maddie Ziegler weird teeth brushing dance-routine paired with Sia’s brand of hyper-emotion.

18. Cigarettes & Loneliness - Chet Faker

Build On Glass was one of my favourite, durable listens of the year. Cigarettes & Loneliness is the most grown-up and self-reflective moment on that record, a song that curls itself up inside your foggy mind like the brutally crystal clear realisations of your failure that only truly hit with that unique combination of a hangover and personal shame at 9:15am on a Thursday morning. There really isn’t enough eight-minute beardy folk R&B in the world, and Nicholas James Murphy’s repeated refrain of "Breathe, this is love without love without love without love without love without love” reminds us that we aren’t alone in our imperfection.

17. No Angel - Beyoncé

Beyoncé’s self-titled album dropped out of the blue close enough to Christmas last year that a balanced view was difficult… When the past two years have been dominated by alternative R&B and young up and comers, Beyoncé showed she still knows how to blow them all away… Yet it’s best moment was defined by her willingness to hand over the reigns to the increasingly eccentric production efforts of Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek. The result is No Angel - both breathless and effortless.

16. If You Went Away - Daniel Wilson

Daniel Wilson’s Boy Who Cried Thunder has a handful of wonderful moments but none is as instantly heart-stopping as the dramatic If You Went Away. This is the kind of track that manages to be so in love that it is almost creepily intense, but the production is so sincere it is impossible not to empathise with Wilson’s pain.

15. Goshen ’97 - Strand of Oaks

Strand of Oaks’ Heal starts with a rambunctious bar band rock song of the like it never returns to… Perhaps because it nails the delivery to such a degree there is just no point. Where the rest of Heal uses electronics and increasingly complex production techniques, Goshen ’97 plays it straight, making it’s tail of growing up and growing old all the more poignant.

14. Ivory - Movement

Ivory is the moment where Movement went from being a diversion to one of 2014’s most exciting bands. In comparison to their earlier work Ivory felt darker and sexier, JUST THAT GUITAR.

13. Violence - Andy Stott

It seems like every time we hear from Andy Stott he gets more interesting. Violence was no different - incredibly dense and dark, it recalled Tricky at his most paranoid and is almost guaranteed to stop you in your tracks on your first listen. Play it LOUD.

12. Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone - Lykke Li

Lykke Li’s third album was packed full of emotion, but Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone represents her at her most exposed. It’s hard to listen and not want to do something to reassure, but that is the magic - Li manages to expose so much human emotion.

11. Is This How You Feel? - The Preatures

Technically Is This How You Feel? is a cheat - it came out in 2013… But I only discovered it this year, and it actually remains unreleased in Europe despite significant success in Australia. Is This How You Feel? is timeless, the kind of record that could have been released at any point in the past 35-years, and if you wished Haim would rock just a little bit harder then this is for you. And the video manages to be incredible without even really doing much - it turns out it is impossible to take your eyes off of Isabella Manfredi.

2014 Songs of the Year: Part Three - 40 through 31

Just got here? Get up to speed with Part One and Part Two.Click the Prev post button at the bottom of this post to get to Part One once it is out. Click the Prev post button at the bottom of this post to get to Part Four.

40. Girls - Slow Magic

 

39. Blue Veins - LSBV

 

38. All We Need - ODESZA feat. Shy Girls

 

37. Swim - Fickle Friends

 

36. Strange Feeling - Panama

 

35. Flame - Ronya

 

34. Never Catch Me - Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar

 

33. Break Free - Ariana Grande feat. Zedd

 

32. Fame - The Acid

 

31. Heaven, How Long - East India Youth