I recently helped to compile the WOW247 list of the 25 best albums of 2014 based on the votes of the music writers, and just to prove it wasn’t (completely) skewed towards my personal preferences, it’s that time of year when I share my personal top 10 here.
Honourable mentions for albums that didn’t quite make the top 10: Aphex Twin, East India Youth, Sleaford Mods, Wild Beasts, Interpol, Honeyblood, Amazing Snakeheads, Gruff Rhys, Withered Hand, Run The Jewels, Hookworms, D’Angelo, Ex Hex, Rustie, Eno + Hyde, Bob Mould, Glass Animals, Jungle, Superfood.
10. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream
Nothing groundbreaking here. In fact, some of it is plainly derivative. But it’s just a really enjoyable, great-sounding American rock record.
9. La Roux – Trouble in Paradise
No-one knows about difficult second albums like Elly Jackson. Making a Platinum-selling, Grammy-winning LP at the age of 21 doesn’t guarantee the smooth escalator to future success you might imagine. Instead, a five-year gap ensued, in which time collaborator Ben Langmaid departed on seemingly less-than-happy terms, and Jackson found that the music industry had moved on: La Roux were no longer du jour in the pop business. Her response was defiant, and La Roux returned with an album that may not have set the charts alight, but did reassert Jackson as one of the most compelling stars of our times. Trouble in Paradise is a polished, confident collection, one that proves (once again) that pop doesn’t have to be facile.
8. Beck – Morning Phase
An addition to the pantheon of great Sunday albums, Morning Phase sees Beck all middle-aged and mellow, but at the apogee of his songwriting talents.
7. Caribou – Our Love
Dan Snaith is nothing if not prolific, having released seven albums since 2001 under three different aliases. But it’s his Caribou guise that has brought the multi-talented Canadian the most plaudits. It was Swim in 2010 that brought him to a global audience, and so expectations were high for the follow-up. Thankfully, Our Love is a thrilling reconstruction of dance music from the ground up, taking old rave tropes and mixing them with R&B and psychedelic colours to create something that feels oddly new. The repetitively brilliant ‘Can’t Do Without You’ also arrived just in time to soundtrack every party from Brooklyn to Bristol over the Summer.
6. Alt-J – This Is All Yours
Is there a more interesting band in British music than Alt-J? To be honest An Awesome Wave washed over me (sorry), but their second album worked its strange, polyphonic charms on me when I first heard it in the summer.
5. The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave
In an interview with WOW247 in October, The Twilight Sad’s James Graham admitted that the band felt a real sense of pressure to deliver the goods on their fourth album. It seemed like the critics were always going to use their stunning 2007 debut Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters as the benchmark against which all future releases would be found wanting, and even the band themselves were pondering whether they had run their course.
On Forget the Night Ahead (2009) and No One Can Ever Know (2012) the Kilsyth band, understandably wishing to move on from their celebrated breakthrough, had experimented with a darker, more muscular sound, which seemed to sacrifice some of their original dynamic range. But instead of trying to reinvent the wheel again, on Nobody Wants to Be Here they hold up a cracked mirror to their recording career and discover new glimmers amidst the pervading darkness.
Through Graham’s ever intriguing lyricism and the understated power of Andy MacFarlane’s guitar playing, this isn’t a radical departure or reinvention – instead, it’s a reflection of where they’ve come from, and the smallest hint of where they plan to go next.
4. Eagulls – Eagulls
‘Tough Luck’ was probably my song of the year, the highpoint on a blistering, vital debut album from Eagulls.
3. St Vincent – St Vincent
This one was the soundtrack to a weekend away in the north in Scotland back in March. It’s another astoundingly great pop album from the outrageously talented Annie Clark.
2. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
Ten years in the making, Norwegian producer Todd Terje finally delivered a full-length release with the self-consciously titled It’s Album Time. In doing so, he leapt beyond the confines of the dance fraternity and started turning the heads of the mainstream music press. Sure, the album might recycle older cuts like ‘Inspector Norse’ and ‘Strandbar’, but it also takes his production skills to the next level, reaching far beyond his signature disco sound into much wilder terrain. There’s even space for a cover of Robert Palmer’s ‘Johnny and Mary’ (sung by Bryan Ferry no less), but it’s in the retro madness of ‘Delorean Dynamite’ and ‘Alfonso Muskunder’ that Terje’s talents come to the fore.
1. Future Islands – Singles
Singles was one of those records that snuck up on me earlier this year. Sure, like the rest of the world I’d seen Future Islands‘ off-the-hook Letterman performance, but a casual first spin of the album didn’t do it for me. I listened to other things, it sulked at the bottom of my playlists, and we drifted apart. I can’t remember any dramatic reunion, but gradually it insinuated itself back into my listening habits, until the Baltimore band became the go-to soundtrack for Spring commutes and Summer road trips.
Putting the undeniably compelling showmanship of Herring to one side (I finally saw them in Glasgow last month and it definitely lived up to expectations), Singles, technically their fourth but undeniably their breakthrough record, is a superb collection, doing justice to the bold title. After the opening salvo of ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’, the record zips along, from the charged energy of ‘Spirit’ to the warm embrace of ‘Sun in the Morning’ before switching down the gears as Herring goes full-metal-growl on ‘Fall From Grace’.
It’s an extraordinarily versatile record, in which it feels like all the ingredients that go into Future Islands (Herring’s vocal range, dynamic songwriting, peppy basslines and ’80s synths) are coalescing into something original and brilliant. They’ve recently seduced Bono of all peaple (he called ‘Seasons’ a “miracle”), and he’s not the only one to have joined the Singles club in 2014.
And, for one last time in 2014, watch THIS:
What was your favourite album of the year? I’d be keen to hear more tips in the comments!