2014 is dead, and I’m probably the last person to put out my AOTY list, but here it goes. I’ll keep the reviews short and sweet, and remember: these are just my opinions.
20. Pianos Become The Teeth – Keep You
You can safely assume change when a Screamo band announces that there will be no screamed vocals on their next album, and that’s exactly what PBTT did ahead of their third album. Quite certainly a risk given that their previous albums, Old Pride & The Lack Long After, are so fraught with emotion, fear, and anxiety due to Kyle Durfey’s pained vocals, but thankfully Keep You has not proven to be a misstep. ‘Repine’ the first single released set the tone, and proved that they’re still undeniably the same band, but just in a new form, a form that has been honed and refined by Will ‘Everything he touches turns to gold’ Yip on this record. It’s an album that can be revisited time and again, but you should definitely allow some breathing space in between.
19. The Black Keys – Turn Blue
It’s no small coincidence that The Black Keys and Broken Bells are next to each other in this list, and it’s all down to Danger Mouse. Having taken up production duties since Attack & Release, the band has really gone from strength to strength, and when listening to Turn Blue it becomes clear that he channelled some of the disco vibes that he was working with earlier on in the year, as clearly heard on the infectiously catchy ‘Fever’. However the 70’s influences don’t stop there, the opening track of the album ‘Weight of Love’ is undeniably influenced by Pink Floyd’s ‘Breathe’, which is by no means a bad thing. Somewhat of a change from El Camino, but it’s every bit as good, just with fewer out and out hits.
18. Broken Bells – After The Disco
Broken Bells certainly made sure that Disco came back in a big way during 2014, and have produced an album that could both start and end a night of dancing. On their first album, Broken Bells, I always felt as if it was lacking something; the opening tracks were great, but I always drifted from it as the album wore on. Yet, second time around, they have definitely found their direction, and James Mercer and Danger Mouse work together well, the former’s smooth vocals over the latter’s watertight production producing some great results. The closing track ‘The Remains of Rock & Roll’ is a small misstep but the album has enough strong tracks, such as ‘Holding On For Life’, ‘Leave it Alone’, ‘Perfect World’ and ‘Control’ to make up for it.
17. Nothing – Guilty Of Everything
Shoegaze is a difficult genre, both for some fans to get into, and for bands to make their own name in. Inevitable comparisons to My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive can mar anybody’s efforts, but in a very short period of time, Nothing have really managed to carve out their own space, and Guilty Of Everything has captivated a wide audience. I myself heard about the album through a post on Randy Blythe’s (Lead singer of Lamb Of God) Instagram, to put it into some context. My first listen washed over me a little too much, and I was left wondering what all the all the fuss was about, but subsequent listens have solidified the hype. The closing track, ‘Guilty of Everything’ is a very personal track for lead singer Nicky Palermo, who served two years in prison, and whether he’s trying to repent, or just cleaning his conscious is not for me to say, but it makes for intense listening. ‘Get Well’ is a personal favourite, and the opening lyric is testament to why this album should be heard, simply because ‘It’s easier to miss.’
16. Future Islands – Singles
What a year 2014 has been for Future Islands. 8 years into their career as band, they first sign for 4AD (that in itself is no small feat) & then proceed to take over the world following their television debut on David Letterman’s Late Show. Frontman Samuel T. Herring, seemingly unassuming and reserved before the music began, burst into life and his passion, pained growls and inspired dance moves captured the public’s attention, and the fantastic Singles ensured that they weren’t ready to let us go after just one song. I can only guess that the album was called Singles because each of the ten tracks could be released and go on to become a hit. There’s a real romanticism woven throughout each track, and whether you want to call the music Synthpop, New Wave, or anything else, all I know is that it makes me incredibly happy, and even moves me dancing myself, which really takes some doing.
15. Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
Following on from Sound City, which was clearly a labour of love for Dave Grohl, it came as no surprise to me that the next Foo Fighters album would be produced alongside a documentary detailing the recording process. However, the means in which they were to record the album was the interesting news. Each of the 8 songs were recorded in a different studio in a different city across America. It’s was a bold move, and I personally admired the ambition and the scope of the project. The end results however, divided opinions. The album itself kicks into life with ‘Something For Nothing’ and ‘The Feast And The Famine’ which are arguably the best tracks on the record, but I believe the whole thing is best consumed hand in hand with the HBO documentary. This way you get a feel for the creative process behind each song, and the influences as well. One of the main criticisms I saw lobbied against Sonic Highways is that the influences from each city/studio/guest artists do not carry across enough, yet I believe that to be fairly redundant. ‘Outside’ is a sweeping number that screams of LA, ‘In The Clear’ has a goddamn brass band featured on it, were they supposed to travel across the US and make a glorified covers album? No, they were making a Foo Fighters album, and while it’s not their best ever, it’s another strong outing, and pays homage to many people and places, and I liked it.
14. The Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast
Do To The Beast is the first album from The Afghan Whigs for 16 years, and serves as my introduction to the band. I had heard of them countless times, but never actually committed the time to listen to any of their work. That was until I heard ‘Algiers’ performed live on Jools Holland, the only song of 2014 that springs to mind that utilises castanets. It sounded like the perfect soundtrack for a shootout in an old western, and that’s exactly the theme they went for in the video. The whole album just chugs along, building momentum and sounds unstoppable, right from the opening notes of ‘Parked Outside’, while a sinister undertone lies just beneath the surface. All in all, it’s an album that clearly carries weight and benefits from experience, but is still enjoyable and unpredictable. It also inspired me to venture further back in time, to see what lead until this point. After all, I hear a couple of people liked that Gentlemen album…
13. Jamie T – Carry On The Grudge
Five long years passed before new music surfaced from Jamie T and I wondered if there was still a place for him in today’s market - after all, 2009 was a very different time indeed. Thankfully, the first single ‘Don’t You Find’ is a perfect example of Jamie’s growth and maturation as a songwriter since he has been away. He’s come a long since the days of Panic Prevention; older, wiser, but still troubled. ‘Limits Lie’ sets the sombre tone of the album perfectly, ‘Peter’ is an interesting self-examination of a character hearing voices, while ‘Love Is Only A Heartbeat Away’ and ‘They Told Me It Rained’ close out the album on a quieter note, and prove that he’s still an old romantic at heart. Hand in hand with these tracks comes ‘Zombie’, Jamie’s most commercial sounding single yet, which was a heavy disappointment first listen, but a few months later, I find myself humming along to it, so it’s definitely done the intended job. All in all, it’s safe to say that Carry On The Grudge has done exactly what the title states, and that Jamie T remains a voice for the disillusioned and disparate youth.
12. Alt-J – This Is All Yours
There’s always a heavy sense of expectation on a band when they go to record the follow-up to a Mercury Award winning album, and for Alt-J, not only was their winning effort, An Awesome Wave, the band’s debut, but they also announced the departure of their bassist prior to recording, so it’s safe to say there was some pressure on them to succeed. However, as soon as I heard ‘Hunger Of The Pine’, all my fears ceased. In my opinion, it’s one of the singles of the year, which I never thought I’d say about a song with a Miley Cyrus sample. ‘Left Hand Free’ followed, and was unlike any other Alt-J song, and I was relieved to hear that the band members had quickly thrown it together as somewhat of a joke/rebuttal to their record label. ‘Every Other Freckle’ returned to form, and raised a few eyebrows with the sexual, but not necessarily seductive, lyrics. However the crowning glory of the album has to go the Nara trilogy (‘Arrival In Nara, ‘Nara’, and ‘Leaving Nara’) which is a beautiful movement that stands in support of the LGBTQ community in Russia, but can be applied anywhere. Lead singer Joe Newman declares, “Love is the warmest colour”, and it should stand as a lasting message to us all.
Once more the boys in Alt-J have produced an album that is so brilliantly difficult to categorise, and nor would I want to. It’s by no means perfect, there are a few duller songs that could be cut, but overall it’s a delight to listen to, and should be celebrated.
11. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
Ever since I first heard Esmerelda and the rest of the Burgh Island EP, I knew that I wanted Ben Howard to keep on that path. While I love Every Kingdom, the darker tone just drew me in and in that respect, I Forget Where We Were, does not disappoint. Having publically stated that he didn’t expect, or necessarily want, the level of fame that he had found, Ben has perhaps tried to dissuade the hordes of screaming teenage girls who populate his fanbase, by still making meaningful songs, but without the big sing along choruses. This time around, the album is moody, angsty, atmospheric, and all played along to some incredible guitar work, reaffirming my belief that Ben Howard is one of the best modern day troubadours. ‘Rivers In Your Mouth’ is the stand out track for me, and shows that things aren’t always easy, even when artists make it looks effortless.
10. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything
An offshoot of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra (SMZ) are a band that I hadn’t listened to until late 2014, despite being around since 1999, so I can only speak on behalf of this album, and not the rest of their storied history. A lot of my reading surrounding the album has informed me that Efrim Menuck, lead singer, and Jessica Moss, violinist, became parents in 2009, and this responsibility has clearly had a huge effect on the lyrics of this album. Menuck pleads “Lord let my son live long enough to see that mountain torn down”, later stating (in a track dedicated to Capital Steez, the ill-fated teenage rapper) “There's kids that are dead that ought to be living” and then finally lamenting “All our children gonna die”. The highlight of the record comes in the stunning 11 minute ‘What We Loved Was Not Enough’, a song so bleak and tragic, it could serve as an epitaph for us all. The closing line “The day has come when we no longer feel” sums up the bittersweet feeling, and proves that even when you’ve been numbed to all the atrocities in life, you can still find some beauty in the world. It’s a struggle to tell at times who the band is fighting, everybody else, or themselves. Should they enjoy their time while they still have it, or go down swinging? Without hearing these songs, it all sounds rather depressing, but the end result is a debate between guitars, violins and pianos that is urgent, and grand, and demands to be listened to.
I firmly believe this is an album that should be experienced first and foremost. That way you can decide whether or not you wish to join them in battle, or to turn away if the inevitability of it all is too much for you to face.
9. Seahaven – Reverie Lagoon: Music For Escapism Only
Considering that Seahaven’s debut album was called Winter Forever, they’ve certainly come a long way because their sophomore LP was one of the defining sounds to my summer. Kyle Soto has long been a crush for both teenage girls and post-hardcore guys alike, and with this release he undoubtedly captured even more hearts, and really created a unique sound for the band. As the name suggests, it acts as a remarkable vehicle to transport you somewhere far, far away – somewhere more tropical, but steeped in heartache. ‘On The Floor’ declares “Ain’t it something when everything falls apart?” while ‘Highway Blues’ announces ‘I won't be too far from Torrance, California’ which might give you some idea of the overall theme. The single ‘Flesh’ is the fiercest and closest sound to previous Seahaven outings, as many of the other tracks sound almost washed out, but in the best possible way. While the whole album is melancholic, it’s like an ex-girlfriend that I can only look back on with fondness, and for the 52 minute duration, I can almost feel the warmth of the sun on my skin.
8. Bane – Don’t Wait Up
The only hardcore album on the list comes in the form of Bane’s Don’t Wait Up, and sadly, they’ve announced it will be their final studio album. The consolation is that they’re left us with a record that can be savoured for years to come. From the first track to the last, it’s clear that the band aren’t messing about anymore. They’re making every second count, as they come to admit ‘The only thing that I can't buy more of is time’ and that sentence sets the tone for the entire album. Perhaps what appeals to me most with this album is just how honest and human it is. It’s not masquerading as anything apart from the truth, and Aaron Bedard’s lyrics are succinct and to the point, he makes no bones about the struggles he has faced, but makes sure to reinforce that things can and will get better. When ‘Final Backwards Glance’ rolls around, I’m sure many fans weren’t certain if they were ready to let go, so I can’t imagine how it felt for the band and when those immortal words ‘I’ve never been much good at saying goodbye’ it becomes blatantly obvious that this is the perfect farewell, and that while they are leaving us, they’ve given us their all before departing.
7. The Roots - …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin
The Roots are a perfect example that youth and cunning can never outsmart ‘old age’ and wisdom. I say old age in inverted commas because at 43, Questlove and Black Thought are no age at all, but because they’ve been making music for 27 of those years, they are stalwarts for the hip hop community. On the back of several brilliant conceptual albums, The Roots return with another concept album, but this time from the perspective of several different characters and focusing on the violence found both in hip hop, and America as a whole. ‘The Devil looks a lot like you and & I’ is a fitting lyric from Mary Lou Williams’ ‘The Devil’ which is placed amongst the new tracks that sums up the sentiment of the album. The organ driven ‘Understand’ is probably my favourite song, and ‘The Unraveling’ is a slow, dark track where one of the characters is finally freed from his sins, but only because he faces death. At just shy of 34 minutes, it’s a brief affair that can come and go time and again and leave you with different thoughts and feelings each time. It’s a realistic record, and by the time the closing song ‘Tomorrow’ rolls around, an upbeat piano driven track sung by Raheem DeVaughn, it seems at odds with the rest of the album. However it’s exactly what the album needs, and the subject matter reminds me of ‘Do You Realize??’ by The Flaming Lips. Yes we will all die, but there’s no point dwelling on it now, so go forth and do what you can to be a good person, enjoy yourself and make the most of what you have as there’s a lot to be positive about.
While it may not reach the heights of How I Got Over or Undun, the eleventh studio album from the band has plenty to say, and it’s soulful influences ensure that while the subject matter may prevent it from being a record you can listen to everyday, it’s another worthy album in a deep and varied career.
6. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
I really never thought a second Death From Above 1979 album would ever happen. I, like many, found them long after the dust had settled, and with their relationships in tatters, we all clung to You're a Woman, I'm a Machine and quietly wept. The tears of mourning were swapped for tears of joy when in 2011, the band reformed, and now three years and several tours later, the long awaited second album was released, and much to my relief, it’s really good. The formula certainly hasn’t changed, but the approach has slightly with more refined vocals. Tracks like ‘Right On Frankenstein’, ‘Virgins’ and ‘Nothing Left’ keep the urgency up, and the closing track ‘The Physical World’ finishes the album in style with a trademark bass solo. Sure some DFA elitists will scream bloody murder that that the album isn’t YAWIAM, but as an individual body of work, it’s more than worthwhile. And to top it all off, the new songs hold up amongst the old when played live too.
5. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
Arguably the most sonically diverse album on this list, Bombay Bicycle Club’s fourth LP is certainly their most ambitious effort yet. ‘Overdone’ opens the proceedings and immediately hints at the diverse range of sounds that lead singer Jack Steadman has brought to the table, inspired by his travels to countries such as India, Turkey and Japan. The Bollywood samples don’t stop on the first track though, and take the lead of ‘Feel’ an infectiously catchy number that is only topped by ‘Luna’ in terms of making me smile. ‘Carry Me’, my personal favourite, sounds more electro with a wonky beat, but somehow finds a home alongside everything else. The vocals of Rae Morris and Lucy Rose on the majority of tracks offer another subtle nuance to So Long, See You Tomorrow, delicately layered into the madness and pounding drums found throughout. Moments of calm are to be found, such as the piano ballad ‘Eyes Off You’, but even when things start quietly, they build and grow into huge soaring numbers.
It’s an album so full of ideas and sounds that in theory, it shouldn’t work, but it does, and it doesn’t just succeed, it excels, and pushes the band to an entirely new level.
4. James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
After the surprise success of Early In The Morning, James Vincent McMorrow faced somewhat of a dilemma. The album of folk music he recorded in isolation in Ireland, yet toured around the world, no longer meant much to him, and refusing to repeat what he’s already done, when he took to the studio second time around he vowed to make music that he would want to listen to, and that to me, is one of the best reasons for any musician to create music. Thankfully, the resulting body of work is something that I also love to listen to; a beautiful mix of soul, synths, hip hop beats, brass, drum machines and strings. Entirely different, but all together brilliant, the vocal performance throughout is immaculate and the singles ‘Cavalier’, ‘Red Dust’, and ‘Gold’ work perfectly to bring people to the party, whereas tracks like ‘Glacier’ help tie it off as an understated work of art. One of the first albums to come out in 2014, it remains one of the best.
3. Interpol – El Pintor
Album number five was always going to be critical for Interpol, ever since their eponymous fourth album failed to ignite audiences back in 2010. Yet as soon as ‘All The Rage Back Home’ was released as the first single, I knew that they were back to their best. As effortlessly stylish as ever, Paul Banks steps into Carlos Dengler’s huge shoes on the bass, and holds his own. The album oozes class, and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, it doesn’t have to. I get tired of journalists constantly harping back to Turn On The Bright Lights , and while it’s a brilliant album, the band has moved forward, and so should you. Antics was a fantastic album, Our Love To Admire was great, even Interpol wasn’t that bad, it just fell short of their own high standards. However, El Pintor stands shoulder to shoulder with their finest work, you only have to listen to ‘Tidal Wave’ and ‘My Desire’ to hear the brooding and seductive sound that Interpol do better than anybody else.
2. La Dispute – Rooms Of The House
Where to begin with Rooms Of The House? It’s honestly difficult to know which topic I should broach first, simply because there is so much going on. Jordan Dreyer has once more managed to create worlds within his songs that are so vivid, it’s difficult to tell which are real, and which he has fabricated. While Wildlife was a collection of short stories, strung together by monologues from a faltering author, this time around, we are taken through the trials and tribulations of a couple, and the surrounding family that spans decades. If it sounds like a lot comprehend, it’s because it is. The tales told involve storms, bridge collapses, miscarriages – everything is laid out, and it’s down to you to piece it all together. There’s an undeniable urgency on tracks like ‘Stay Happy There’, a slow creeping build on ‘35’, and also moments of calm that haven’t been on previous La Dispute albums, on the tracks ‘Woman (In Mirror)’ and ‘Woman (Reading)’, and to top it all off, Will Yip and the guys at Studio 4 help to take everything and polish it to perfection.
It’s a masterpiece, and a masterclass in storytelling, and while it won’t be for everybody, if you can invest some time in this album, it will you pay you back tenfold.
1. Run The Jewels – RTJ2
Run The Jewels are taking the world by storm. In 2013 Killer Mike and El-P blindsided everyone and released one of the best hip hop albums in recent years - for free. Not content with that, in 2014 they released Run The Jewels 2, once again for free. It’s a sequel that could be likened to Terminator 2, in that it’s almost universally agreed to be better than the original, and that in itself is remarkable. I could go on about all things Run The Jewels for ages, but for now, I’ll stick to the album at hand. As soon as the opening track begins, we’re greeted by the sound of Mike off mic shouting and getting ready to do his thing, and from that point onwards, it’s all go. ‘Jeopardy’ & ‘Oh My Darling Don’t Cry’ set a pace that many acts simply couldn’t follow up, and as soon as I hear the intro to ‘Blockbuster Night Part 1’ I get as excited as the first time I heard it. They enlist the help of the legendary and reclusive Zack de la Rocha on ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)’ who comes through with a solid verse, and also the hotly tipped Boots who helps with production duties on ‘Lie, Cheat, Steal’ and vocals on my favourite track ‘Early’, a damning indictment of the current state of American policing. Travis Barker comes to play too, and Gangsta Boo brings the smut on ‘Love Again’. The proceedings are drawn to a close on ‘Angel Duster’, a great track that finishes with a piano solo from Isaiah "Ikey" Owens, who tragically passed away just weeks before the release of this album. From start to finish, the lyricism is excellent and El-P and Little Shalimar have done a brilliant job with the production, everything sounds so tight and there’s not an ounce of fat in sight.
Regardless of what they’re trying to say, they do it in a way that’s bold, brash, and fun. I think the remarkable quality with Run the Jewels is that they aren’t pulling any punches, but they remain wholly likable as people. Nobody begrudges their success, they’ve earned it, and in a manner which many can only aspire to. It doesn't matter how long it has taken in their respective careers to reach the top, they’ve made it, and I can only hope they stay there for a lot longer.
Basically, go and listen to this album yourself. It’s free. You have no excuse.