2014 is groaning under the amount of music released this year, and now it’s time to reflect on it.
An unexpected Mercury Prize winner, an unsettling allegiance between McFly and Busted, and a few albums better left in this time zone (that’s the last time I listen to a new Blondie album) gave us things to argue about in 2014. Now however, it’s time to remember the best noises I heard this year. Despite its faults, 2014 has served up some really cracking albums.
5. Shamir – Northtown EP
It’s quite true that this opening salvo from Las Vegas teen Shamir is not an album. However, since I’m not submitting this as a dissertation, I do not have to say anything more to justify its selection than this: “Northtown EP” was a selection of songs both fresh and undeniably retro in equal measure, and is one of the most exciting debuts in a while. The unstoppable “If It Wasn’t True” is still rattling around in people’s heads after hearing it for the first time this summer.
The maturity of the electronics, coming from someone who’d apparently never experimented with them until now, is quite unbelievable. Meanwhile, Shamir’s voice softly slips into your brain, with an untrained, androgynous sound that is starting to make a comeback. With a new single out, and having been placed on the BBC Sound of 2015 longlist, the name Shamir is likely to become a lot more familiar next year.
4. Warpaint – Warpaint
Released right back in mid-January, this album made the breakthrough for LA-based, all female band Warpaint. There are a lot of brooding, echo-laden indie records around, but “Warpaint”‘s ingenuity and haunting quality means it leads the way here.
Everything feels right here, from the occasionally minimal, fog-like accompaniment to the simplistic backing vocals. This musical environment is present throughout, yet the album still travels a great distance in style. At their liveliest, they produce runaway hit “Love Is To Die” and growing track “Keep It Healthy”, while at their emotional low is the soaring “Son”. Consistently interesting, always beautiful.
“Jumping from one soundworld to another, there’s something to cling onto here, whatever your musical background.”
3. Tom Hickox – War, Peace and Diplomacy
Out of all the musicians I’ve been given the chance to interview this year, Tom Hickox was by far the most intimidating – not by means of making the conservation uncomfortable, but just due to his sheer intellect. This intelligence shines in a debut album that, despite receiving a 10 out of 10 review from The Guardian, went slightly under the radar for most.
Hickox is what so many artists aspire to be – a proper songwriter. Each song is crafted to precision, and characters are written into the spine of every track, from the words to the grand orchestration. The hidden pain written into “The Pretty Pride of Russia” gives the song yet more layers on top of its beautiful melody and subtle orchestration. Jumping from warmth to heartbreak, and quickly again to unease, this is as assured and rounded a debut as you are likely to see.
2. Adult Jazz – Gist Is
The summer of 2014 was a long one, with this music lover chasing that elusive thrill: something new. Trawling through albums by Alvvays (“provides many a good moment, even if it’s a moment you’ve already experienced”) and Manic Street Preachers (“the Manics have still got it, and still aren’t sure of where they’re going with it”) was by no means unpleasant, but nothing was unexpected either.
With debut album “Gist Is”, Leeds-based avant garde experimentalists Adult Jazz sped up and took over a summer that was threatening to go to sleep. Jumping from one soundworld to another, there’s something to cling onto here, whatever your musical background. During “Gist Is”, you might hear funk, orchestral, indie, electronic influences and yes, maybe even some jazz. In “Hum”, the band open the album with hymn of sorts, that quickly evolves into something very different. It’s opened up an exciting future for the band, and I personally cannot wait to hear what they produce next.
1. Alt J – This Is All Yours
Not many artists have had a tougher follow-up album to deliver on. That being said, not many artists are like Alt J. Not only does “This Is All Yours” hold up strongly against Mercury Award winning debut “An Awesome Wave”, but after multiple listens, it eclipses it. The approach appears quite simple – there are many similarities to “An Awesome Wave” in terms of structure, so it would be easy to assume Alt J stuck to a winning formula – but the reality is so much more intricate.
The interludes return, baffling and beautiful as before; the “hits”, meanwhile, are pitched just right, with “Hunger Of The Pine” perfectly crafted, with that little bit of madness in the form of the sampled Miley Cyrus hook. A carefully structured, carefully written album is an unfortunate rarity these days, with the Spotify and Vevo generation choosing singles over patience. On a much anticipated return, Alt J have provided a patient masterpiece.