It's the last day of the year and everywhere I turn people are doing end of year lists, so I thought I would jump on the bandwagon and use this as an opportunity to list my top 10 albums of 2014.
This year as been a strange one in terms of buying new music. Most of it has been spent saving what money I could for a house move, meaning I had to ban myself from buying as much records as I usually would. It was tough. Even so, I still picked up bits and pieces here and there, just not as much as I would have done previously. Although there are still many records from this year that I still need to check out or spend a bit more time with.
In alphabetical order these are the albums of 2014 that have brought the most joy and comfort to my tired ears:
Alvvays - Alvvays
Strong melodies, twanging, breezy reverb-saturated guitars. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed an indie-rock record as much as this. Just an utter pleasure from start to finish including a couple of stone-cold belters including Archie, Marry Me.
Beck - Morning Phase
I've always preferred the more downbeat, mellow Beck to the funky wannabe-Prince version and this album delivered that by the bucketful. With his Dad providing string arrangements and the Seachange-era band backing him, Beck put together an album that sounded hopeful while still shaded by a nagging sense of melancholy. Beautiful and my go to Sunday morning record.
Camera - Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide
Their first album has been one of my favourite records of recent years and even though this follow-up is slightly more 'out there' and experimental than that first LP and doesn't quite match their debut, Camera are still one of the better modern-day Kratrock bands, and Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide still had enough going on to warrant repeated listens.
East India Youth - Total Strife Forever
Gentle, home-brewed electronica that mixed both instrumental tracks and songs with vocals and felt like being wrapped up in bed under a warm duvet on a cold winter's morning.
Ex-Easter Island Head - Large Electric Ensemble
The beginning of 2014 went by in a blur due to a lot of work-based travelling that saw me taking long-haul flights to Japan (twice), South Korea and Hong Kong for the first three months of the year. It was exhausting and made me a bit ill and spaced-out, but during that time I had this record on my iPod and it felt like much-needed nourishment for my soul every time I put it on.
Future Islands - Singles
Yes, it was that Letterman performance that brought them to my attention. I didn't initially feel what this album was about, but after spending sometime with it, most notably on airplanes and in various departure lounges (this year's theme), something about being in those transient situations finally made this record click with me. There's much to explore within the emotional depths that this record reaches.
Hookworms - The Hum
I've seen this band graduate from the UK's underground music scene and start to make a noise on a wider national scale over the past four years, and their second album cemented their reputation as one of the country's greatest guitar bands.
Kogumaza - Kолокол LP
Another great UK guitar band and every time I listen to them I discover something else hidden in their music, a new texture or sound, like their songs are living, evolving organic entities. This album mixed speaker shuddering riffs, atmosphere, and volume to startling effect.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Pika Pika Fantajin
Not a J-Pop fan really but I was introduced to the strange, twisted world of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu on a work visit earlier in the year and haven't stopped listening to her or watching her gloriously oddball music videos - a place where she thrives. This album is unlike anything else I've heard this year, a full-on assault of pop that's slickly crafted and exists in its own world.
Mark Kozelek - Sings Christmas Carols
Sun Kil Moon's Benji has been winning the plaudits this year, but this is the Mark Kozelek record that I've enjoyed the most. It shouldn't work, but his straight-faced, stripped back covers of well known Christmas hits and standards is perfect festive listening. Will become a festive go-to album for years to come.
Neil Young - A Letter Home
Another album that on paper shouldn't work, yet it somehow transcends its basic ingredients. Recorded at Jack White's Third Man Studios direct to vinyl in an antique recording booth, the sound may be shaky and lo-fi, but the well-chosen covers and dedications to his mum make this a sentimental journey that isn't sickly and sweet, but full of romance and charm.
Sleaford Mods - Divide And Exit
An old fashioned tale of a band working hard for year before finally getting the break they deserve. A resolutely DIY outfit, from the record label through to recording and touring, Jason Williamson's barbed, spiked lyrics have clearly hit and nerve with a public desperate for someone to speak up and tell it how it is. Divide and Exit's gritty realism was just that.
Smashing Pumpkins - Monuments To An Elegy
The Smashing Pumpkins reunion has been patchy to say the least and even if it doesn't compare to past glories, Billy Corgan can still write a tune when he buckles down. Monuments To An Elegy is packed full of tunes that it came as a bit of a shock after the proggy, meandering Oceania. For Pumpkins standards, the 9 song MTAE was a concise, short shock of modern alt rock that tipped a hat to new wave of the early 80s. The tunes were back too.
Taylor Swift - 1989
It's easy to be sniffy about pop music, especially when the charts and radio stations are pumped full of flim-flam, but once in a while an album and artist will come along that transcends genres and becomes part of the cultural furniture. Think Madonna and Michael Jackson at their peak. Taylor Swift became a cultural icon with 1989, an album packed full of super smart songwriting, hooks and beats that even though it was released in 2014 it will be the sound of 2015 and beyond.
Ty Segal - Manipulator
A double LP of garage rock that struck the right balance between fuzzed-out guitars and melody showing that Ty Segal is a modern day songwriter of some magnitude.
The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream
I loved Slave Ambient so much that I was scared of listening to this new War On Drugs record in-case it ruined my opinion of the band. Fortunately, it built upon the sound of that last album and took the band even further down the spaced-out Tom Petty vibe road. A faultless mix of shimmering guitars and Americana.
While we are on the subject of end-of-year round ups, I put together this article for LeftLion called Top of the Notts 2014 - a run through 20 favourite Nottingham-related releases of the year.