2014 was an interesting year for music. Although it wasn’t my favourite in recent memory, there were some great albums for us to enjoy. Here are my ten favourites.
10. Pharrell Williams – Girl
Sometimes you just want to bob your head to some disco-funk and dance about while you Hoover. What, just me? Well, Pharrell’s Girl is just brilliant and the perfect pick-me-up when you’re in the need of being cheered up. It’s bright, vibrant and has enough funk-guitar to fill an oversized Vivienne Westwood hat.
This is one seriously funky album and I mean that in the truest sense of the word. It has a wonderful mix of authentic 70’s and modern-day funk, soulful vocals and the energy and warmth we’ve somehow came to expect from Pharrell. Naturally a doff of the oversized cap to ‘Happy’ which was the soundtrack to Despicable Me 2 and will forever bring a smile to my face. Quite simply it’s a great album for lifting you up, spinning you around the living room and slapping a smile on your face. Really enjoyable stuff.
9. Johnny Marr – ‘Playland’
I reviewed this album when it was released and, on revisiting, decided it made my cut for the Top 10. A lot of people were disappointed in Marr’s offering this time but I can’t see why. It has all you could want from a Marr album – well-thought over guitar pieces, tight backing band, a bit of attitude thrown in and plenty of hooks.
Title track ‘Playland’ was just brilliant and really stood out for me as the defining track on the album. It’s keys-heavy in place but comes close to what The Smiths would probably sounded like had they kept it together to still be around today.
8. Jack White – ‘Lazaretto’
Jack White is a musical genius. That, my lovelies, is a fact. This album is just damn marvellous – originality, character, depth, it has everything that anyone who enjoys music in any way can enjoy.
It is as quirky as you’d expect from Jack White and has a gorgeous production that makes it sound like it was recorded decades ago. On some tracks, the Blues-infused guitars, the pianos, the beautiful backing vocals make it sound like The Rolling Stones when they were starting out, it is brilliant. In other tracks it’s beautiful lyrics, fiddle solos or anything else he can seemingly get his hands on and tune.
It lacks a monster guitar riff which is the main thing that pushed it down my list. Lots of brilliant guitar work, verging on genius in places but just missed that killer riff that made me want to sling on my air guitar.
7. Jamie T – Carry On The Grudge
I wasn’t that bothered about Jamie T if I’m being totally honest. Then I saw he was playing the Glasgow Barrowland so I thought I’d give him a whirl. And what a surprise I got!
With tracks like ‘Limits Lie’ and ‘Turn On The Light’ it has some very clever lyrics that I really enjoyed. It’s edgy and yes, probably has one eye on the charts but it’s a damn fine record. I challenge you to not enjoy every second of ‘Zombie’, I really do. Some nice hip-hop influence, bits of The Enemy, buckets of pop and a few nods to Blur are all thrown in to create a brilliant mix that is all killer.
6. Wu Tang Clan – ‘A Better Tomorrow’
I’ve waited on this Wu Tang album since 2011 and it is a superb return that’s well worth the wait. I’m delighted that it didn’t disappoint and is, as I’d hoped, exactly what Wu Tang do best – political, social commentary presented in their typically edgy fashion with massive beats to back it.
Even without ODB, the Wu don’t feel a lesser unit on this album which shows the range of the talents on display. They deliver one the best albums of their career and one of my favourite tracks of the year ‘Preachers Daughter’ with a brilliantly used sample of ‘Son of a Preacher Man’. It’s dynamite from beginning to end. If you’ve never listened to them before or haven’t for a while, now’s the time to get (re)involved.
5. Royal Blood – Royal Blood
One of the most exciting bands of the year, the Brighton two-piece released this absolutely storming album in August this year and haven’t looked back. With heavy distortion, driving drums, great hooks, angst-filled vocals and plenty of attitude, Royal Blood is a great album.
There’s a lot of snobbery around two-piece bands with common complaints of “They’re just trying to be like The White Stripes” but this album shows that even with just two members, you can not only sound like you want but also sound as big as a four, five or nine-piece. Turn it up loud and brace yourself for balls-out rock and roll that, for me at least, never gets boring despite how many times it’s played through.
4. Young Fathers – Dead
If you haven’t heard this album yet, go away, listen to it, listen to it again, and again, then once more and come back. This, my friends is what it’s all about. Scottish hip-hop on the grand scheme of things gets very little attention but this group of Edinburgh-based gents show what can be done with the Scottish arm of the genre.
Atmospheric, political, challenging and emotional it ticks every box on what I’d hoped for and much, much more. It won plaudits when released and even won the band the Mercury Prize this year, not that they cared. Awards and plaudits mean little to the band, which is as refreshing as the music they make. Tracks like ‘War’ and ‘Get Up’ are just staggering and show off the impact the band can have on you. The album as a body of work is a masterpiece and made the Top 10 prioritisation very difficult.
3. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes To Love
Firstly, DO NOT search for this band at work. The Google image results will have you removed from the premises. The New York five-piece have been around since 2012 and I’d heard bits and pieces before on compilations and in the passing but this was the first album of theirs I’d listened to and my god, how excited I was to hear it for the first time. It is one of the few albums I’ve heard this year that say’s “this is us, weirdness and all”.
Perfect, chaotic punk rock is the order of most tracks. Big, bold and spitting right in your face, it’s a frenetic monolith from beginning to end. It sounds home-made and that’s what gives it so much authenticity and the general feeling of what hearing this live would feel like, I can’t wait to experience it.
2. YG – My Krazy Life
The closest I’ve heard to authentic G-Funk in over a decade, My Krazy Life is bliss from beginning to end. Bouncing, rumbling bass, that long-missed west-coast-keys whine and lyrical ability aplenty made this album a very easy choice for my Top 10.
With appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Tee Flii this will blow you away if you loved 90’s hip-hop and today’s offerings – it’s the best of both worlds. It’s not just a nostalgia tip either though, it’s still entirely relevant with the cutting, arrogant social observations you’d expect of today’s Hip Hop. It’s the album I’ve been waiting for since the majority of US Hip Hop at the moment is too club-focused and doesn’t have the magic of yesteryear – the art of the storyteller, but this restores my faith a good bit.
1. Ed Sheeran – X
Simply incredible. Heartfelt, passionate; elements of pop, hip-hop, and rap this album is just stunning. From start to finish it makes you laugh, smile, bob your head and get weepy, generally in that order.
It’s almost entirely a Rick Rubin album and this shines through with personality, humility and an artist that’s clearly been sat down and told to do what’s in his heart. It works beautifully and transfers into my top album of the year; a surprising choice, even to me but I just can’t get enough of it and can’t see me tiring of it anytime soon.