Personally, I think 2014 has been a pretty good year for music. Bands like Mastodon, Foo Fighters, Mogwai and even Tom Morello joining forces with Bruce Springsteen haven’t managed to make my list, showing what a strong year we’ve had.
I’ll admit to being a little surprised myself at quite how laid back some of my choices are here – but fear not, there’s still a fair smattering of shouting and distorted guitars!
10 – Honeyblood – Honeyblood
Imagine, if you will, an album based in the West End of Glasgow. It’s got the sweetest of vocals over lo-fi pop sensibilities reminiscent of the likes of Pavement and Sonic Youth. Don’t let the sweetness of the vocals fool you though. There’s a bite to the lyrical content here as well.
Stripped back to just guitar, vocals and drums, this is Glasgow duo, Honeyblood’s, debut album and it bodes extremely well for the future.
9 – Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL – PLECTRUMELECTRUM
It’s funny. Sometimes Prince can slip out an album and nobody, bar the diehard fans, really notices. Other times they can be released to great fanfare and hype. This was released simultaneously with Art Official Age, but I much prefer this. As far as Prince albums go, it’s simple. It’s 4 folk making pretty straightforward rock/funk and it works brilliantly. The likes of ‘WOW’ is great fun and, whilst it won’t go down as a Prince classic, it’s a worthy addition to his back catalogue. And that makes it pretty much light years ahead of so much of the music around today.
8 – Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy
The bloke-with-an-acoustic-guitar genre seems to have been done to death over the last 5-7 years. So much so, it can’t be tough to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, ever since his debut album, O, I’ve been a massive fan of Damien Rice. So much so that when I heard he had an album out this year, I cleared the number one spot on this list in anticipation. In that regard, I suppose My Favourite Faded Fantasy is a little bit of a disappointment. However, I find I’m enjoying its depths and its orchestration more with every listen. Well worth sticking with.
7 – Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
So, about 2 months ago, I had heard of Sharon van Etten, but had never listened to her. I got this album and by about 90 seconds into third track, ‘Your Love is Killing Me’ I was smitten. Probably my song of the year. The simplicity of ‘Our Love’ is magical as is the spine-tingling piano ballad ‘I Know’. It’s an album about the mundanity of life and of love, summed up perfectly by the line in album closer ‘Every Time the Sun Comes Up’ – “I washed your dishes, then I shit in your bathroom”.
6 – Slipknot .5 The Gray Chapter
Slipknot are back doing what they do. Album opener ‘XIX’ has a brooding undercurrent of malcontent and violence. Going into ‘Sarcastrophe’, the album really kicks off. ‘The Devil In I’ is up there as one of the best tunes the band has done. The only low point on the album is ‘Skeptic’. A nice idea to have a song that pays tribute to Paul Gray, but lyrically it is just awful. ‘The Negative One’ rivals ‘The Devil In I’ as the highlight of the album and is reminiscent of the likes of ‘Surfacing’ from the band’s 1999 self-titled album.
5 – Royal Blood – Royal Blood
Are they a marketing man’s dream? Are they a PR creation? I’ve heard some guff talked about Royal Blood since they spent the summer exploding at festivals here, there and everywhere.
Sometimes music isn’t meant to change the world. It’s just supposed to be fun, to rock your world and that’s exactly what the two-piece do here. Who needs guitar when you can get a dirty, distorted bass to sound this good? ‘Little Monster’, with its sleazy, bluesy riff is the standout.
4 – King Creosote – From Scotland With Love
I first heard this as the soundtrack to the TV programme of the same name. It worked beautifully as the sole soundtrack to footage of Scottish life over the years. Thankfully, once I got my hands on it, it works just as well as an album. Without wanting to sound twee, it wears its Scottishness on its sleeve, but at the same time transcends it with beautifully written and performed songs like ‘Miserable Strangers’ and the majestic ‘Pauper’s Dough’.
3 – Beck – Morning Phase
It’s been a long, long time since I felt moved by anything Beck has done. Really, since Odelay, I had felt that he had fallen into two categories – safe and a boring or unnecessarily experimental.
Morning Phase is a huge delight as it encapsulates everything that Beck is great at. Laid back tunes, delivered with such a warmth you can almost feel the sunshine emanating from ‘Morning’ onwards. It may not be Beck’s most exciting collection of songs, but it’s a beautifully crafted summer pop album.
2 – Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker
This was so close to my number 1. Definitely the most exciting album of the year, it’s a punk / blues / gospel / roots / soul / boogie / whatever. It’s loud, it’s in your face. It’s the Strokes or Dinosaur Jr if they were born and raised in New Orleans. Booker has a voice that can simultaneously tear strips off you and break your heart.
He’s both a throwback and the future rolled up in a furious, soulful, Jack White-endorsed package. I’m pretty sure that if John Lee Hooker was born in 1989 then this is the album he would have recorded. And the best thing? It gets better with every single listen.
1 – Pink Floyd – The Endless River
There was a lot of anticipation when this album was announced. The first Floyd record since 1994’s The Division Bell, the tracks here came from sessions around that time. Featuring keyboardist Richard Wright who passed away in 2008, along with Dave Gilmour and Nick Mason who took the recordings from 20 years ago, re-recorded and remastered them. They could have come up with a disjointed jumble of parts. Instead, they’ve crafted an album that, I think, surpasses its predecessor. It’s titled perfectly – it has a feeling of flow, of drifting down the titular river.
There are moments that have you looking to the past, for example, ‘Anisina’ which is extremely reminiscent of ‘Us & Them’ and Gilmour’s guitar sound never allows you to forget who you’re listening to. My judgment could be ever so slightly tinged with sentimentality, but the ears like what the ears like. It’s magnificent.
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