It’s just about time for Jools to get his mates round to help us say goodbye to 2014, so before we do that, here’s our top albums of 2014 to follow our tracks list. We’ve put together a list of 25 records that we feel are the crème de la crème of the past 12 months, featuring a couple of brilliant debuts, some seasoned campaigners with gentle reminders of just how important they are, and some bands cementing their own importance as well. As always, there’s a lovely little Spotify playlist for you. Get us followed, and a very Happy New Year!
1. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Benji is Mark Kozelek’s 6th LP under the Sun Kil Moon moniker, and is his most intimate and penetrating work yet. His gift for storytelling has been honed throughout a career spanning over a quarter of a century, ultimately amounting to a conception of morality that can be related to by anyone who has the privilege of listening to his musings. Kozelek delivers monologues that are outrageously candid with such an indulging vulnerability, and never has his work been so important. The trademark, tangled acoustic guitars, and alarmingly frank recollections, make for one of the most provoking and pertinent LPs this millennium, and a worthy winner of Reviewcaster’s Album of the Year.
2. Wild Beasts – Present Tense
February saw Wild Beasts add their 4th LP to a critically acclaimed back catalogue, with Present Tense marking a sharpened focus on the electronic side of their arsenal. The quality of their output shows no sign of regressing, with the layering and textures every bit as intricate and as precise as we’ve come to expect from the Kendal quartet. Hayden Thorpe’s anomalous vocals are as incongruous as ever, but the more electronically focused canvas means the backdrop is, if anything, even more conducive to Thorpe’s incisive vocals. Present Tense is a display of real innovation and unerring quality, and cements Wild Beasts’ place as one of the most accomplished and important British bands currently at work.
3. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
After working with David Byrne and releasing Love This Giant in 2012, Byrne dubbed Annie Clark as “fearless”. It’s easy to see where he was coming from when considered that her 4th solo LP sounds likes it been channeled from a futuristic age. Built from a nucleus that is unashamedly poppy, Clark offers up a world that conveys her idiosyncrasy through the discrete conduit system that is her songwriting, and the finished product is a piece of sensationally cultivated art. It offers up a challenge to its listeners that is both formidable and accessible, with leaps of boundless innovation and creativity demolishing any boundaries in its wake.
4. Sharon van Etten – Are We There
Whilst Are We There documents the end of a long-term relationship, to call it a break-up album would be doing it a huge disservice. Van Etten pores over the peaks and troughs of her ending relationship, scrutinising the more enjoyable times as well as the unbearable hurt, but delivered in retrospect the effect is that of aching anguish. Her voice quivers with emotion as she dissects chapter after chapter, with the album’s exquisite production allowing for the heartache to be felt as if it was your own. This is a record that is heartbreakingly alluring, and do press play with caution – Are We There is a beautiful but intense listen.
5. Glass Animals – ZABA
The sultry, delicate, labyrinthine slither that is ZABA is, in our opinion, the best debut LP of 2014. The fact that frontman Dave Bayley is a qualified doctor probably goes some way to explaining the complex, baroque aesthetics that distinguish ZABA, with rhythms and beats that are almost tropical tangling and tantalising each other with exquisite sophistication. The Oxford four-piece are meticulous when adding ingredients into their melting pot, with precise amounts of soul, trip-hop, and psychedelica swilled and swirled into a stiflingly seductive elixir. Overall, this is a record with rigorously explicit intricacy, and a sweltering composure to boot.
6. Beck – Morning Phase
It’s impossible to talk about Beck’s 12th LP (yes, twelfth!) without referring back to Sea Change – the record where he reined in his boundless innovation and instead focused everything on laying each fibre of hurt out for the world to see. Morning Phase is cut from the same cloth, with a much more concentrated focus than we’ve become accustomed to, but is without doubt more accommodating and hopeful than its twelve-year-old cousin. Beck has gone backwards to go forwards, and with the first track, he tentatively asks “Can we start it all over again?” before laying himself bare with an unequivocally beautiful chorus. The answer is most definitely a resounding yes.
7. Real Estate – Atlas
This is a grown-up Real Estate. Their 3rd LP continues to build on the foundations that its 2 older siblings have laid down, but every aspect of Atlas is a cut above them both. The wistfully whimsical gentle jangle that is Matt Mondanile’s trademark is more efficient and assured than we’ve heard before, and the production, although relatively uniform, is impeccable and executed to perfection. This is an album that is captivating and charming, and boasts a reassuring façade that makes the whole arrangement seem gloriously uncomplicated. Each guitar note is articulated with irrefutable eloquence, and each lyric is delivered with utmost candor. Their best work yet.
8. Caribou – Our Love
With Our Love, Dan Snaith has produced arguably his best work yet. It is an electronic record that is first and foremost emotionally evoking, and marks a further excursion from the technical origins associated with the Caribou moniker. Some of the more convoluted layering that we have come to expect from Snaith has been tethered to a shorter leash, allowing for more organic, soulful production that is hugely accessible. This isn’t to say that Our Love has been played safe by Snaith – it remains as experimental as it is accessible – but the experimentalism is methodically disciplined. This is a fantastic record that is moving, accessible and experimental in equal measure, and an absolute triumph.
9. Happyness – Weird Little Birthday
This is a London trio that doesn’t place urgency anywhere remotely high on their list of prerogatives. Their music is a highbrow, thoroughly British adaptation of a slacker rock motif generally associated with the college scene from the other side of the pond, cutely equipped with an exquisite wit and a sardonic smirk. The result? A sound indebted to the shoegazing of Siamese Dream, the playful grunge of Marcy Playground and the unstable frenetics and nonsensicals of Black Francis. One of only two debut albums that have made our top 10 this year, Weird Little Birthday is quietly intelligent and lyrically exceptional.
10. Warpaint – Warpaint
By the time Warpaint dropped this record in January this year, almost 4 years had passed since the release of their excellent debut LP, The Fool. In that time, the band’s sound has become notably more assured. Guitars are even more intricate than those found on their debut, weaving and swaying in and out of focus, tangling themselves in their own meanders. There’s a recurring motif throughout that is as sultry as it is ominous, with eerie, macabre howls vying with seductive grooves making for a racy, ghostly effect. This is a long-awaited follow-up that mesmerises and tantalises, with an arresting sense of foreboding.
And the rest of the top 25…
11. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
12. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
13. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
14. East India Youth – Total Strife Forever
15. FKA twigs – LP1
16. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
17. Jungle – Jungle
18. NehruvianDOOM – NehruvianDOOM
19. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
20. Cheatahs – Cheatahs
21. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
22. Alvvays – Alvvays
23. Jack White – Lazaretto
24. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
25. Greys – If Anything