2014 was a particularly amazing year for the music I like, discovering a lot of new music and being open to suggestion for new ideas too. Usually I try to keep lists to a top 10 and last year was an exception by going higher. This year I had to stop at 25 and even then there’s some amazing albums on the cutting room floor. To be included, the release had to be an album so no EP’s, nothing under 30 minutes and no individual tracks. I’ve been deliberating this for ages so *gulp* here goes!
25 – Dva – Nipomo
Dva’s originality comes from the duo’s use of strange instruments, unusual song structures and childlike singing that often goes out of control. Nipomo feels like something Dva have been working towards as it’s delightfully happy whilst being miserable lyrically and yet despite feeling difficult on purpose, there’s some really beautiful moments in it.
24 – Qntal – VII
Perhaps lower than it would end up if it wasn’t released on 11th December. Qntal’s usual gothic electronica took a more groovier turn for their seventh album and everything had a certain sheen to it. It’s self-assured, confident, striding and epic all at once and you can easily loose yourself in the soundscapes that Qntal have created. It’s their most dancey album to date.
23 – Blaudzun – Promises of No Man’s Land
A new band I discovered late in the year, there’s a cinematic quality to the acoustic rock vibe they bring. The vocalist has such urgency and stress to his voice, that even when he is singing a relatively happy song, it sounds manic and intense. It’s a dark, angry and at times spooky album that keeps things constantly moving, evolving and very dramatic throughout.
22 – Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell
I liked their début album but found it quite uneven but this follow-up improved on everything. There’s more sound behind the amazing Cocteau Twin styled vocals and far more melody too. Each song actually feels like it has something to say and isn’t a vocal gymnastic affair. This is a spiritual album in many ways, because it sounds so heavenly.
21 – Erutan – Court of Leaves
Erutan’s instrumental Celtic and Medieval album is a joy to behold. Her ethereal voice may be missing but taking so many century’s into consideration and recording them so crystal clearly and beautifully, you are transported back to world’s gone past. This is olde music done properly. No music videos were produced but the album preview gives you all you need:
20 – Sea Wolf – Song Spells No.1
Finding out about an artist through their b-sides and unreleased collection album is a bit backwards granted, but it showed the class of Sea Wolf’s acoustic guitar writing. Simple songs on the surface that are given the haunting and sad treatment, everything feels perfectly formed for that folk rock vibe that makes you down a pint in the corner. I’ve went on to buy almost all his other works since and this album is very representative of the rest of his work.
19 – Birdmask – I’m Fine (and Other Lies) / Claws
Birdmask released two albums in 2014 and both are pretty damn amazing so they both rank together. The thing with Birdmask is he is genre agnostic. There’s some beautiful piano and vocal tracks, really rough round the edges rock and some industrial beats. Then he’ll swing in a crazy pop track with a mini rap and then be back with string synth arrangement. It always has a home-made feel which adds to its depth and you really feel you’ve discovered a true musician.
18 – Rob Cantor – Not A Trampoline
People may now know him for the Shia Lebeouf track he’s just released and shot him to fame, but before all that, Not a Trampoline was released as a fanfare to classic stadium rock. There’s still some tongue in cheek moments and comedy inside the tracks but never at the expense of the melody or song itself. Infact there’s more heart and soul than most musicians can ever muster. I prefer that to his comedy tracks but I’ll take either.
17 – Zola Jesus – Taiga
Taiga felt a bit empty because of the opening couple of tracks. It feels like the new direction of uplifting indie pop didn’t really suit her voice. It’s when those couple singles are over (and they are good – just not the highlight) that she returns to her angry brooding ways and that’s where it shines. Her voice will always divide opinion but she can write dark and twisted songs to a T.
16 – Oh Land – Earth Sick
Danish pop diva had me covered for my adult pop needs in 2014. There are times she channels a top 10 hit like “Head Up High” and then she’ll do something more artsy like “Flags” or “Earth Sick” where she expresses things more uniquely. It’s the combo of the two that I really enjoy because being different and catchy together is something not many do well.
15 – GoGo Penguin – V2.0
The instrumental trio – drums, bass and that damn piano – got all my feels in the spectacular V2.0. There’s sadness, euphoria, craziness and for the love of God there’s some Jazzy elements I actually loved! Anyone that pushed me through that brink deserves a medal. Seriously though – these guys have so much talent in buckets, this is one of the best follow-up albums from a band that expands and perfects everything they produced before.
14 – Syd Arthur – Sound Mirror
Psydadelic rock is the name here as we travel back to the 70’s with a modern twist. The guitars, voice and keyboards work perfectly in a swish blend where as the percussion effortlessly blends from one set to another. The album itself feels like a mini festival complete with a smash-up the instruments jam and lighter/mobile waving moments. So intricate too – the craftsmanship astounds me each listen.
13 – iamamiwhoami – Blue
Audio/Visual team headed by singer/songwriter Jo Lee returns for a third album Blue and it’s the most cohesive effort to date – which didn’t seem to please a very loud section of her fanbase. However, looking passed the trolls, there is so much going on in the rhythms and synths and each song is very catchy in this lighter more embracing tone. It seems every singer/songwriter does that happier album that “fans” will bitch about and this will be it for iamamiwhoami. However even if you can’t always catch her lyrics, you’ll be there in spirit and mood.
12 – Seeming – Madness and Extinction
Theatrical musician Seeming was a breakthrough artist for me this year. There is a Marc Almond quality to his voice and music and I am a fan of any synth rock that loves to smash as many tom drums as possible. The album itself is quite dark – like the final curtain call in the end of the world. It’s post apocalyptic and industrial – taut with emotion and fraught with emergency. I’m excited to see where Seeming goes next.
11 – Faun – Luna
Another band with a small vocal minority that will bitch about anything they do after being signed, Luna is in my humble opinion one of their strongest albums the band have ever done. It retains the Pagan Folk element that we all hold dear and pushes away the world music tropes that started to creep in last album. Their live shows continue to show off their abilities and are phenomenal – this album is too.
10 – tUnEyArDs – Nikki Nack
A move to a poptastic rather than rocktastic album left me loving and not loving Nikki Nack initially. The tracks felt a bit lazy and vehicles to show off how amazing Garbus’ voice is. Then I saw them live and everything changed. The sheer energy and power I experienced made it into my top 3 gigs of the last few years and when I went back to the album I could still hear all that energy and power. From there, songs just clicked and it went from a nice album to amazing in the space of 24 hours. I haven’t looked back…
09 – SOHN – Tremors
The joy of Amazon recommends bought me to SOHN. A man with a silky smooth voice and a penchant for interesting electronic synths. He isn’t afraid to make you wait for the payoff either and will spend time building up a track before it bursts into its full bloom right at the end. However each time there’s a great hook and each time to song feels markedly different.
08 – Charlotte Martin – Water Breaks Stone
An album of two halves, the first is pounding with drums, synths, pianos and Charlotte’s amazing vocal range as she merges a lot of her previous sounds into one pot to give us some classic piano rock tracks. The closing half is generally more subdued and ballad driven and allows Martin room to breath and turn from anger to sadness in a heartbeat. Had the privilege to watch her online concert from her house and that was up there in one of my all time favourite live musical moments as it was like we had all come to dinner.
07 – St Vincent – St Vincent
Annie’s need to tightly crunch her guitars and bass lines make her music sound only like her own. Similarly her need to go off on one for a solo that doesn’t really follow the song – but it’s that along with her bitter lyrics that mark some of the reasons why her fourth album is in many ways her best yet. It’s so tightly woven and still amazingly expressive – like she had to cram it all in within 45 minutes or she’d be sacked.
06 – My Brightest Diamond – This Is My Hand
Shara brought out everything for a military operation on This Is My Hand. It combines her huge rocking prowess and her love for strings and brass but instead of doing separate albums for it all, this album is a mixing pot for everything she’s done and then turn the rawk up a notch. Grab the Prismatic edition for five extra tracks as they are some of the best parts! Amazing live too – her version of Feeling Good whilst walking round the audience draping herself on people was stunning.
05 – Imogen Heap – Sparks
You’d be forgiven for thinking this album came out years ago because Imogen has been sending out singles for the last two years for it and then it finally came out summer time. Every bit as stunning as it is diverse, there’s truly imaginative arrangements from The Listening Chair chronicling each seven years of her life every minute, to the Eastern influences of Xixi She Knows and Minds Without Fear. There’s also two beautiful soundtrack styled tracks. Its been a long time coming I’d imagine a lot of people will forget to put it on their list but Imogen Heap’s studio works are among the finest being made in the UK and the world.
04 – Tori Amos – Unrepentant Geraldines
A return to the piano based album see’s tightly woven tracks and a very laid back feel for Tori Amos. The album goes right for the feels with Weatherman, Invisible Boy, Wedding Day and probably my track of the year Oysters. There’s still signs of the more experimental side but this felt like an album that needed to touch base home again before Tori goes off onto other ventures and it feels like an old shoe when you first listen to it.
03 – Kishi Bashi – Lighght
One violin, a lot of pedals and a beautiful voice, Kishi Bashi live is an absolute storm to behold. With Lighght he expands his echoing violin sound to include some amazingly catchy classical pop rock. It’s the way it’s effortlessly welded together and makes for a strangely cohesive album despite genre hopping that astounded me. Effortlessly shifting from an uptempo rock track like “Ha Ha” to making you want to cry with “In Fantastia” I have not been able to get the album out of my head and I still adore it. That’s a sign of an absolute classic.
02 – Linda Perhacs – The Soul of All Natural Things
Surely taking the record for longest gap between first and second albums (44 years?!) Linda Perhacs’ album is one of the warmest pieces of music I’ve had the fortune to listen to. It’s full of love and free spirit and embodies the hippy culture she grew up in. Her voice is so delicate and the album shines when she goes into her more psychedelic nature – it’s like she’s tapped into something so unworldly yet inviting. Truly an album of wisdom – I feel better having known it.
01 – Christopher Tin – The Drop That Contained The Sea
A masterpiece of an album that takes different cultures, languages, sounds and emotions and makes the classical album of the decade of it. I loved Calling All Dawns and this just about outdoes it for sheer scale, intricacy, emotion, arrangement and collaboration. Not one second of this album is filler and you can hear the hearts and souls of hundreds of musicians and singers being squeezed into every note and chord. A genuinely masterful performance from everyone – music rarely reaches such a high bar in quality. Amazing.