So, it’s that time of year again, yeah, it’s favourite albums of the year time. Loads of great music this year, some old faces and plenty of new ones too but for those of you who care, here are my 25 albums of 2014. Enjoy!
25. Second Storey – ‘Double Divide’
24. Beach Day – ‘Native Echoes’
23. Globelamp – ‘Star Dust’
22. Sex Hands – ‘Pleh’
21. The #1s – ‘The #1s’
20. Attaque – ‘ON LY YOU’
19. Shit Robot – ‘We Got Love’
18. Mowbird – ‘Islander’
17. Oh Boland/Me & My Dog – ‘Delphi’
16. Jamie T – ‘Carry on the Grudge’
15. Pharoahe Monch – ‘PTSD’
Following on from his 2011’s W.A.R, comes fourth solo LP, PTSD (aka Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a loose-concept album which sees Pharoahe Monch speaking as a weary independent warrior against the industry machine and dealing with the struggle of the black male experience in America. It’s dense, raw and sometimes painfully raw, as he relives harrowing memories of his struggle with addiction, depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s all draped with his familiar top-notch storytelling, cavernous vocabulary, thought-provoking rhymes, precise delivery and thought-provoking metaphors, placing him right up top of the current hip-hop pile.
14. Malachai – ‘Beyond Ugly’
Malachai‘s Beyond Ugly serves as a closing chapter to the Bristol duo’s ‘Ugly’ triptych, an unplanned trilogy of albums and pre-dated by the excellent Ugly Side of Love (2010) and Return to the Ugly Side (2011). Beyond Ugly is an imaginative journey through controlled chaos which seamlessly flits between trip-hop, hip-hop, acoustic folk, ’60s psychedelia, dance-funk and XTRMNTR era Primal Scream doses of aggressive political anger, within the same breath. Expect to witness lavish sonic mayhem and delicate, thought-provoking moments on love, loss, life, politics and society. A fitting conclusion to this unlikely of trilogies, saying that, hopefully it isn’t the last we’ve heard from Malachai.
13. By The Sea – ‘Endless Days, Crystal Sky’
With their second LP we find By The Sea sounding bigger and fuller than ever before. They have expanded and refined their wistful yet driven psych-pop undulations. Endless Days, Crystal Sky is a magnificent collection of melodic guitar pop songs, illuminated by drifting, dreamlike atmospherics, jangling guitars and bubbly bass. This is an album which should sit proudly with many of the greatest records to emerge from the banks of the Mersey. While their influences are worm well, the understated and shimmering synth work adds a more modern veneer to this retro fitted piece of dreamy indie-pop. This scintillating dreamy indie-pop is sometimes propulsive while punctuated by world-weary vocals, imbued with an aching sense of melancholy, creating a great sense of both depth and warmth.
12. Hyde & Beast – ‘Keep Moving’
For their second album together Hyde & Beast, drummers Dave Hyde and Neil Bassett (of Futureheads and Golden Virgins respectively) have strutted back into view with a set of rootsy late-’60s/early-’70s inspired jams. Heavy on a retro vibe, it bears comparison with stellar names from those eras – The Faces, T-Rex, Wings & The Kinks to name but a few. Given that the pair have apparently endured a pretty rough time of late, you’d be forgiven for expecting album number two to be a maudlin affair on the back of bereavement and breakups. Yes the lyrical content is overwhelmingly tinged with sadness but it is strangely uplifting. At times heart swelling, blissful and almost psychedelic, ‘Like I’m Grass’, ‘Forever Your Own’ & ‘BA BA BA’ and at others harsh, gritty and rumbling, ‘Keep Moving’ & ‘Blue’, with bouts of gentle, classic pop ‘Open Your Heart’, ‘Blown Away’ & ‘A Dark Mistake’. An stunningly diverse collection which vastly surpasses it’s predecessor.
11. Gulp – ‘Season Sun’
SFA bassist Guto Pryce teamed up with Lindsay Leven for side-project Gulp and in doing so, delivered a bewitching debut LP. A wonderfully charming mix of interesting sounds and textures, the pair distil flashes of psychedelic sunshine, shimmering pastoral pop and breezy psych-folk. It is a rather unique sound that, while quite summery in essence but not quite say ‘happy’, such is unease in the fabric of the music. Leven’s sultry vocals take centre stage, floating over analogue synths, woozy guitars and fuzzed up bass guitars through the waltzing ‘Game of Love’ and ‘Grey Area’, and spaced-out dreamer ‘Hot Water’. And steering the LP away from a potential course toward the sickly sweet, are the hypnotic ‘Clean and Serene’ and the rumbling, rambling bassline, hypnotic rhythm and Django Django-eque stomp of ‘Vast Space’. Two inspired moments of sheer brilliance that like the rest of the LP, will grow and seep into your senses.
10. Hippies Vs Ghosts – ‘Mother Tongue’
Hippies Vs Ghosts, the side project from We Are Animal guitarist & vocalist, Owain Ginsberg, continues to prove rather fruitful with debut album Mother Tongue. A kaleidoscope of Morricone meets krautrock sounds harnessing the raw energy, experimental tenancies and ear for a serious groove of his day job. A fascinatingly imaginative and experimental exercise in free-flowing, slightly off-kilter natured, instrumental jams. ‘Name your price’ and Hippies Vs Ghosts‘ debut is yours from here.
09. Teleman – ‘Breakfast’
Teleman‘s debut is a charming yet bitter-sweet bundle of a indie-pop songs with a instantly loveable quality, which like all Saunders’ work (Tap Tap & Pete & The Pirates), has substance to match the immediacy. A master class in guitar pop, they eke out a sweet spot between pop and indie. From ‘Lady Low’, a limpid, loungey and airy number sporting a full on devilish saxophone solo, to the sparse and paranoid fuelled ’23 Floors Up’, with light, gentle almost floating melodies, accompanied by minimalist synth tones, this sublime standard never falters. Nor with ‘Mainline’, where colourful synths dance with ragged guitar riffs to stunning effect. Amid the beautiful sweeping guitar-pop, psych textures and Teleman’s splendid crystalline pop sensibilities, Sanders vocals are strikingly fantastic as ever. A dazzlingly debut.
08. The Lost Brothers – ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’
New Songs Of Dawn and Dust is Irish folk duo The Lost Brothers‘ fourth and finest album yet. Recorded in Liverpool with Bill Ryder-Jones, it sees the pair continue to do exactly what they do best; crafting timeless acoustic songs combining features the Irish duo’s distinct harmony vocals, sweet acoustic picking, and something of a Spanish flavour. As they softly croon in tandem, it is nigh on impossible to resist the sweet and beautiful harmonic pairing, as the gentle acoustic strums illuminate their tender song-writing, bound by an emotional weight and vividness. There is just something so pure, honest and downright brilliant to what they do, and once you open your heart to the pair, there’s no end to the rewards headed your way.
07. Coves – ‘Soft Friday’
There are plenty of bands of Coves‘ ilk about at the moment – boy-girl duo, spectral vocals, ’60s psychedelic influences, dreamy synths – but they are in a class of their own and their debut, Soft Friday, casts a chilling spell. Swirling psychedelia is met with sweeping grandeur, as Wood’s mellifluous cooing floats above as driving riffs mingle with propulsive electro beats, drones and flickers of electronics, in a gentle whirlpool of shimmering psychedelic and glacial atmospherics. Soft Friday is a fine debut. Atmospheric, distinctive and very enjoyable, and a worthy inclusion in any record collection.
06. The Horrors – ‘Luminous’
On their fourth LP, The Horrors continue to refine sophisticated and colourful sound. The synthesisers are more to the fore, and a noticeably greater influence from electronic and dance music but without ever quite adapting dance-music tempos. The darkness which marks much of their previous work seems to have abated, except for Faris Badwan recoginzable brooding croon, replaced by a late ’80s tingle of euphoria, mellow synth sounds and a bouncy back-beats to create pulsating, danceable psychedelia. The Horrors are light years ahead of anyone else of the ‘indie guitar music’ canon. Tune in, drift away in this bliss of colourful groove.
05. Gruff Rhys – ‘American Interior’
Inspired by a discovery that he’s a descendent of John Evans, an 18th-century explorer, who mapped the Missouri river in a vain search for a mythical, Welsh-speaking American tribe. Concept aside, it shares certain similarities with Gruff Rhys‘ previous work, cooking up lush pop songs with more immersive and introspective fare, beautiful orchestral moments and even a couple of more surreal, out-there moments. American Interior is an astonishingly brilliant LP that among other things, displays how captivating a storyteller Rhys is, who wistfully spins wonderful narratives of being carried through new worlds and visions, and only adds to the particular idiosyncratic charm that this Welshman personifies.
04. Run The Jewels – ‘RTJ2’
Run The Jewels, the super dynamic duo of El-P and Killer Mike, joined forces once again to follow up their RTJ debut with RTJ2 and in doing so, they delivered one of the most entertaining and lyrically sharp rap records of recent years. It’s charged with passion, politics and runs at a relentless pace. It’s gritty and aggressive as the two MCs take turns spitting sharp rhymes over devastatingly compelling production. It is the incredible chemistry at work between these two rappers is what makes this record shine, and my does it shine. An absolute masterclass.
03. The Bug – ‘Angles & Demons’
Six years on from The Bug’s last album London Zoo and the London producer makes a triumphant return with Angles & Demons. Boasting a rather large list of collaborators – including Liz Harris of Grouper, Death Grips, Flowdan, Warrior Queen, and Manga among others – it is completely engrossing from start to finish. Split into two distinct themes, exploring light and dark (‘Angles & Demons’), it slowly and meticulously develops, wading from the relative ethereal beginnings of ‘Void’, with menace and intent, drifting toward a cataclysmic cacophony grimy hip-hop and dancehall. Utterly gripping, utterly intoxicating and utterly brilliant!
02. Half Man Half Biscuit – ‘Urge For Offal’
Like any other fan of Half Man Half Biscuit, a new album from them is something to be celebrated. Since their formation nearly 30 years ago, HMHB have proved brilliant, unique and essential. Throughout these changing times they have released thirteen albums and a number of EPs, offering satirical, sardonic and sometimes surreal, observations, ramblings and creations from frontman Nigel Blackwell. Musically, Urge For Offal, picks up where 2011’s 90 Bisodol (Crimond) left us; generally rocky, brash and pretty loud. There are almost all of the ingredients expected of a HMHB LP; the irresistible wordplay, varying cultural and football references, surreal and improbable surreal tales, and the most quotable lyrics in the world. Where Urge For Offal fits into the pantheon of releases is unclear but if you’re a fan, you’ll love it. If not, this is as good as any to see what the fuss is about.
01. Sleaford Mods – ‘Divide & Exit’
Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods have been grunting through gritted teeth since ’08 but 2014 saw them shoot to prominence With Divide & Exit. A clever, often funny, foul mouthed and angry record, overloaded with attitude as their gripes and grievances are vehemently aired. Chief rabble-rouser, Jason Williamson is both scathing and sardonic, who airs his many gripes and grievances, with a combination of vitriolic anger and acerbic wit. An extremely clever wordsmith, his righteous and infectious rantings are as quotable as Half Man Half Biscuit. You could argue forever as to what line in the gold-standard song is the greatest. This extremely clever wordplay is strewn among grimey beats and wiry post-punk guitars from Andrew Fearn. While owing as much to hip-hop and grime as to post-punk, and could be seen to be the the modern inheritors of the brilliance of Mark E Smith, The Streets, Shaun Ryder and HMHB. While there are traces of those artists here, there is, and never has been anything quite like Sleaford Mods. Top fucking class.