There’s been much heated debate at GIITTV towers over the last few months, has 2014 been a good year for music releases? Is the album a dying art form? Do we, as listeners, now focus on single tracks over full length records? Is the advance in technology making our attention span shorter and thus the album is starting to be boiled down to EP length? While there may be validity in some of these questions, the truth was when we got down to voting the consensus was clear,2014 has been one of the most exciting and varied years for music we have borne witness to in our time as a site. As the following fifty albums will testify to, if you are willing to investigate and able to invest your time in seeking out records, at its zenith, the album has still got plenty of life left in it as an art form yet and furthermore there were many albums of all genres, that didn’t make our list that are just as worthy of your listening time. Which is why we have included an extended 2014 playlist for your listening pleasure at the end of this piece.
In the meantime thanks for reading this year, here’s part one of our countdown of our favourite albums of 2014 as voted for by our writers.
25 Run the Jewels – RJ2(Mass Appeal)
“Run the Jewels (aka El-P and Killer Mike) have done the unthinkable. Not only did they released one flawless album, but they’ve released two. RtJ came out last June and just sixteen months later it’s follow up RtJ2 was released. RtJ2 is full of the same airtight production and thousand-mile-a-minute-vocals that have gave this duo one of the standout albums of the year.
What makes RtJ2 special is that it eclipses their debut. Not an easy feat, but the answer is simple. El-P and Killer Mike are at the top of their game, and they know it. El-P’s production is gritty and claustrophobic, but like good jazz, there are elements of space and movement. This space is filled with Killer Mike’s Atlantan drawl. The world they describe is full of social inequality, wrestling references, male (and female) posturing and hilarious profanity. Add to that some excellent guest appearances (Gangsta Boo being the standout one) and you have an album, that not only exceeds their debut, but is the Hip-Hop album of the year. So some again next year lads, right?” (Nick Roseblade)
“All other Albarn projects have featured bandmates, collaborators and special guests, making the superb ‘Everyday Robots’ the British icon’s first proper solo record. Again, he gives us something slightly different. When Damon first revealed he was making a solo album in 2011, he initially claimed that it revolved around a concept of “empty club music”, and later in 2013 revealed that it had a “folk-soul” sound. With the album complete and hitting the shops this week, it proves itself to be an introspective delight, with each song rooted in Albarn’s real-life experiences: “lyrically it took me a long time. I wanted it to be about my life, in a way, and I went right back to… it sort of starts in 1976.”
The instrumentation throughout is often minimal and beautifully organic, with subtle and cleverly placed touches of electronics that emphasise a human vs machine theme. With a wistfully poetic thread running through it, ‘Everyday Robots’ is a wonderfully profound piece of work that and another record that Albarn can add to his catalogue of greats. At last he has let us into his own world, and judging by this evidence, we can only be thankful for that.”(Ben P Scott) Read More
27 Flying Lotus – Your’re Dead
“LA based FlyLo has managed to evolve from a relatively unknown to one of the most talked about multi-genre artists. Collaborating with Thom Yorke, Erykah Badu, Earl Sweatshirt and more recently Kendrick Lamar and Snoop, FlyLo has cultivated a sound that sees hip hop, electronica and jazz merge to create a sound so distinctively out of this world.His latest release You’re Dead – a psychedelic mind screw packed from start to finish with his trademark trippy style.”(Taytula Burke)
28 Martha – Courting Strong(Fortuna Pop)
“Martha are as close as you can get to being a true ‘cult’ band at a time where you can access music from across the globe at the click of a button. Their music is both political and extremely fun, something that is much more rare than it should be. They create shouty lo-fi pop-punk that questions gender, sexuality and the stereotypes that arise from such phenomenon, and ‘Courting Strong’ possesses the same boundless energy as their unmissable live shows.” (Jordan Dowling)
29 Esben and the Witch – A New Nature
“Esben and the Witch are now presenting themselves bare: an abrasive collision between the crushing shifting loud-quiet-loud post-rock dynamics of Slint and Mogwai and the lacerating, urgency of those early P J Harvey albums. Visceral, caustic and almost animalistic songs like the furiously pummelling assaults of ‘No Dog’; the shifting schizophrenic textures of ‘Blood Teachings’; and the trembling menace of ‘Dig Your Fingers In’ that in particular depicts Rachel’s growth as a singer, you can now hear the experience, the attitude, the bite in every note. These songs reflect a new sound, a new mood, a new voice, a new side to Esben and the Witch, at times brutal but always with the heart and frankly it’s fucking unstoppable.” (Bill Cummings) Read More
30 Shellac – Dude Incredible
31 Cloud Nothings – Here & Nowhere Else(Wichita)
“Listening to Here & Nowhere Else for the first time is a jolt – like that first listen to Surfer Rosa, Nevermind or Is This It, the feeling that you’re hearing something potentially massive and game-changing. Terrific, hook-laden songs that frequently threaten to collapse in on themselves only to pull back thrillingly from the brink, as on standout track “Just See Fear”, delivered with intensity and total belief. My personal album of the year.”(Tim Russell) Read More
“Hailing from Denmark MØ’s debut album ‘No Mythologies To Follow’ depicted just how damn far this girl and her assorted cohorts had travelled since the release of her ‘Bikini Daze’ EP released last October. ‘No Mythologies To Follow’ is replete with songs like ‘Waste Of Time’ with that curious aching croon in the chorus, and her Diplo collaboration ‘XXX 88’. Songs which are as anthemic as they are hooky.” (Mike Hughes)
“In a year where relationship breakdown and the ensuing emotional fallout returned as strong artistic currencies, Adam Granduciel raised the bar to dizzying heights. Leading The War On Drugs into the recording sessions for their third album Lost In The Dream distraught, all alone and seemingly burned right out, he emerged on the other side with his heart and soul fully cleansed and a gloriously uplifting record that merges the vertiginous spiral of psychedelia with the more grounded impact of classic rock. Imagine Spacemen 3 conjoining with 70’s period Buckingham-Nicks and a blurred image of Lost In The Dream’s template will slowly begin to appear from Granduciel’s sonic darkroom.”(Simon Godley)
34 Owen Pallet – In Conflict
35 Sun Kill Moon- Benji
“After more than twenty years in the business it seems that Mark Kozelek is finally approaching some kind of musical acceptance beyond his adoring hardcore fanbase. This is in part thanks to his penchant for abusing other, more popular bands (well documented elsewhere) but hopefully what will be remembered about the great man’s 2014 is that he released one of the defining albums of his career – something that approached the brilliant melancholy of his earliest Red House Painters days in an entirely fresh way while being equally moving and savagely honest. An almost unbearably upsetting album with atmosphere and pin-point detail to spare it is without doubt one of the great feats of songwriting of the last few years. Get it now.”(Michael James Hall)
36 Lisa Gerrard – Twilight Kingdom
“Lisa Gerrard is probably best known to the man or woman in the street as the person behind the Gladiator soundtrack with Hans Zimmer, but that’s just one of many of the magical works she has produced over the course of a musical career lasting more than three decades.
‘Twilight Kingdom’ a staggeringly wonderful record. The track ‘Seven Seas’ gives you some idea of what to expect, but it’s the second track ‘Adrift’ that makes this album worth the price of admission alone. The first term I heard it I genuinely wanted to put my head in my hands and cry. I’ve played it several times since -and I really wonder how anyone could fail to be moved by music this wonderful. An album almost unclassifiable by genre that will almost certainly be one of the most amazing you will hear this year.” (Ed Jupp) Read More
“Good hip hop concept albums are thin on the ground. Slick Rick and Prince Paul pulled it off in the 80s and 90s, even Mike Skinner tried his hand at it in the 00s, but this somehow works better and seems fresh. This is down to Tempest’s effortless control of the English language. She has no problem mixing up classical English with the phonetics of a gutter snipe. But this is what we’ve come to expect from someone who spent as much of her youth at rap battles as she did spoken word nights.
‘Everybody Down’ has the right amount of commercial appeal to get the public behind it (a nod by this year’s Mercury Music Prize committee proves this), but it also has enough to warrant repeat listens mandatory. At 27, Kate Tempest is relatively at the start of her career, if this is anything to go by she will be one to watch grow and grow over the years.” (Nick Roseblade) Read More
38 Dragon Turtle – Distances
“American rockers, Rival Sons, released their explosive fourth LP, ‘Great Western Walkyrie’, back in June, and it seems to be the album that has launched them from being the gem of the underground rock scene, to genuine contenders to be the next stadium rock phenomena.
Formed in the glorious sun ridden hallows of Long Beach, California, their heavy, bluesy rock sound is befitting of a booze fuelled jaunt in such a region of western America that has been the setting for many a rock n roll story in the past. Raw, energetic, smoky blues merged with classic and thunderous rock riffs all shadowed to a belting rock vocal that Robert Plant would be proud of, it’s hard not to fall instantly under Rival Sons’ spell as they haul the essence and magic of nostalgic rock into the modern era.
Although all the tracks are of a high quality, the standout ones are opener, Electric Man, which is a giant of a hit that oozes swagger. Secret is a pulsating track that wails from the most depraved places of lead singer, Jay Buchanan’s soul. the album’s lead track ‘Open Your Eyes’ again epitomises their barrage of gargantuan fuzzy distorted blues melodies coupled with roaring solos and screaming vocals that is the hallmark sound of Rival Sons.
Great Western Valkyrie ranks up there at the pinnacle of Rival Sons’ stellar work to date, which in truth has always remained at a remarkably high quality. I expect their name to be hot on everyone’s lips in the next twelve months, and I’m certain they’ll eventually go down in rock folklore.” (Nigel Cartner)
40 Let’s Wrestle – Let’s Wrestle
“The self-titled third album by London’s LET’S WRESTLE was released in February. More heartfelt and musically diverse than previous albums, Let’s Wrestle sees the band enter a new phase of maturity and sophistication giving frontman Wesley Patrick Gonzalez a forum to showcase his songwriting talents and love of classic pop.
Straddling the sounds of the psych pop pioneers of the 60s and the Laurel Canyon cowboys of the 70s, Gonzalez still manages to give the songs a quintessentially English twist. For the first time, strings and horns are brought in giving the album a bigger, fuller sound, drawing on inspiration from the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Judee Sill, Harry Nilsson, Fairport Convention and The Kinks.
The songs reveal an open account of Gonzalez’s life during the transition to adulthood, the band’s two previous albums, In the Court of the Wrestling Lets (2009) and Nursing Home (produced by Steve Albini in 2011), having been written when he was still in his teens.”
41 J. Mascis – Tied to a Star
“That this is an acoustic album should not for a second make you think that this isn’t one of the finest examples of guitar playing likely to be heard this year. It is, in fact, a master class, with a range of instruments and tones from big bodied Dreadnaughts, through Resonators, to the signature Jazzmaster electric appearing throughout.
Album highlight, ‘Wide Awake’ showcases this magnificently with arpeggiated finger-picking that can rival any epic guitar solo for sheer skill in craftsmanship. That the song comes complete with the most subtle of backing vocals by Chan Marshall of Cat Power to ramp up the beauty proves conclusively that this is an album about more than J, his past as a Rock guitar legend, and traditional notions of side projects. Instead, this is an album that showcases songwriting, production, musicianship, and a sense of composition beyond anything that could have been expected. While some Alt. rockers like Mark Lanegan have succeeded in reaching a broader audience as they age and their style progresses, J might not achieve that cult crossover appeal. That’d be a shame, because this is certainly not a laid back album for Rock fans looking for some time to chill. Instead, this is a wonderful acoustic album that knocks the socks off most anything else in its field. It’s a captivating listen, and one that may be a great evolutionary leap. J is certainly no dinosaur on this showing.” (Michael Mcdonald) Read More
42 James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
“The first time I heard the shimmering tones of James Vincent McMorrow’s haunting falsetto was after a night on the lash down in Brighton with my friend Leon. “Good, isn’t it?” he said, as the track came to an end. “Yeah,” I replied. “Very,” and promptly passed out. The following morning, however, we went up to the Lanes together, where I bought Post Tropical — the Irish singer-songwriter’s then just-released second album from which the track I’d heard (‘Cavalier’) was taken — and listened to it, on repeat, as I made the drive north later that day.
Ten months on, Post Tropical remains a fascinating record, one that showcases McMorrow’s startling-yet-soothing voice across ten tracks and sets it against a remarkably diverse musical backdrop that draws upon all manner of ideas, influences and instrumentation. Eschewing the usual folk approach for something more experimental, more expansive, McMorrow reportedly aimed to emulate the “feel and movement of hip-hop records” he loves. “Yeah, I did that,” he seems to be saying in reference to his previous work. “And I know y’all dug it. But here’s what I can really do…” Put simply, it’s the sound of an artist refusing to be shackled by the expectations placed on him after a hugely successful debut (2011’s Early in the Morning). Samples, strings, loops and keys are all employed to varying degrees of efficacy on Post Tropical, with McMorrow’s unforgettable voice providing both the backbone and soul to an album of irrefutable beauty and ambition.”(Matt Pucci)
43 Ex-Hex – Rips
44 SJ Esau- Exploding Views
“That Fujiya & Miyagi continue to be completely ignored by critics and punters alike is one of music’s most enduring and frustrating mysteries. It’s their loss, as the band’s blend of indie, synthpop, Krautrock and funk remains as sharp and beguiling as ever. Artificial Sweeteners is their best and most focused album since 2006’s Transparent Things, aimed squarely at the dancefloor, particularly the untypical acieeeed rush of “Tetrahydrofolic Acid”.(Tim Russell)
46 Swans- To Be Kind
“With 2012’s instant classic ‘The Seer’ Swans leader Michael Gira finally cemented his reputation as s bona fide legend of the musical underground. The glorious work-in-progress live album that followed – 2013’s ‘Not Here/Not Now’ hinted that the follow-up would be an equally intense sonic experience. ‘To Be Kind’ delivered certainly, but in a slightly different way than you might expect. While still dwelling on the edge of the musical abyss – repitition, threat, and atmosphere still key parts of Swans’ make-up – it’s a pent-up beast of a record that never truly explodes. It’s all tension and little release, which is, frankly, both rare and admirable. Never one to choose the easy path Gira has steered his band into even deeper, darker territory here – and this time with absolutely no respite from the relentless hypnosis his music conjures.”(Michael James Hall)
“Alvvays is one of those little miracles, superficially generic indie that gradually unfolds its pure pop genius with every listen. Achingly romantic, stuffed full of hook-laden tunes, and shot through with a vein of dark humour and Canadian reserve; and in Archie, Marry Me, the kind of instant classic that most bands spend their whole careers trying and failing to write. Greatness awaits.”(Tim Russell)
48 Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
“This new album does not sound like it has been ten years since the release of You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine; it feels like an inevitable and speedy sequel. ‘Crystal Ball’ has the stamina and danceability factor to chronologically follow on from the 2004 success, as does the single ‘Trainwreck 1979’, which has an electro-pop synth running consistently throughout to make it an accessible track, and perhaps a wider reaching album than their previous album. In fact, going from The Physical World, listening back to YAWIAM, it is almost impossible to tell which track is from which album alluding at least to their consistency, as a Canadian electro-punk dancing band.”(Keira Brown) Read More
“Sparse in vocals, typically murky when we do hear them, refined, yet thrashing guitar, discord, and conventions of a prog band piece together a record which most Moore buffs will agree is a must-listen album. Moore’s cavalcade of disciplines, which allude to his versatility and liberal mind, ranging from free improvisation to acoustic construction to the discordant noise, will keep any Moore followers interested, and curious as to his next move. I think I can speak for us all when I say that it’s disappointing to grasp that it may be another four years before we see anything more from this prolific artist again.” (Keira Brown) Read More
50 Sleeep Party People – Floating
“Brian Batz is Sleep Party People and that is the musical universe in which he has been orbiting since 2008. Floating is the third album in what has since become a two year recording cycle. It is a record that heralds a marked departure from the previous two and the hitherto SPP signature sound of omnipresent electronics and vocoded “bunny-vocal” effects.Aside from some parts featuring Lisa Light on violin, bass and vocals and additional guitar from Johnston, Batz plays every single instrument on the record. And for more than three quarters of Floating, he sings in what is his natural voice
After four relentless non-stop weeks, Batz headed back to his native Denmark with his new album safely ensconced on his hard-drive. He then spent four more months mixing what would become the finished product. And what he has presented us with here are nine sumptuous songs that create the most beautifully warm, rich and organic of sounds, one that distils a range of influences from 80’s synth-pop to krautrock from Nick Cave to New Order to fellow Scandinavian Stina Nordenstam.Brian Batz says that music is his life. On this evidence you can quite believe him as Floating is an all-consuming, all-embracing musical tour de force.”(Simon Godley) Read More
GIITTV’s Playlist of 2014