Yes yes yes, the highlight of the social calendar for most of you I know, just please try to contain your excitement and attempt to avoid any social faux pas such as soiling yourself in joy/disgust. Before any of you hideous pedants (you know who you are) start complaining the famous ‘Palmers’ cover the period from 1st December 2013 to the 30th November 2014. Have any complaints about that album you love not being here? That’s because it’s shit mate, I mean really fucking awful. Sorry. It’s actually top eighty five this year, which is patently so ridiculous you should actually be so offended now you refuse to read any further…
Ok let’s go:
Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. This is just… awful… An absolutely horrible sounding experiment by The Strokes singer, his previous melodic tendencies forces me to speculate that perhaps there are some songs buried under the hideous fuzz pedal dirge that growls across the record. I actually applaud Casablancas’ thirst to at least attempt something so radically different to the kind of music he’s usually associated with, perhaps this turd of an album’s aggressive unlistenability is something of a success, but let’s just move on now and pretend this never happened, Ok?
What is the point of this? I mean really? No right thinking person would turn their noses up at one of the greatest and most influential rock bands of all time having large lumps of cash thrown at them touring their impeccable back catalogue in every venue that’d have them until the sun explodes, but why bother releasing this drudgen and depressingly uninspited acompanyment? It sounds like the kind of shite Weezer wouldn’t see fit to release as b-sides and muddies the perfection of their previously stainless back catalogue like some especially grievous dirty protest. The title track’s Ok I suppose, but as a whole it’s barely worth the effort to reach for the ‘play’ button.
A clear winner for the year’s worst name, I can’t think of a band name being as big a turn off since Rick Witter went solo and decided to name his backing singers ‘Necrophiliac Sodomy’. The Leeds group create a gentle and frequently overlong shimmer that is at best diverting and at worst simply a meandering distraction from whatever task you decide to put yourself to while attempting to listen to it.
The opener Spiderland promises a decent and entertaining listen, a promise the record quickly and shamefully renegades on by descending into dull indie-rock by numbers. It very rarely rises above forgettable and frequently tumbles into the sheer horrid. The bizarre introduction of saxophones simply underlines the record’s general ugliness.
81 Benjamin Booker: Benjamin Booker
Absolutely the album of 2014 least concerned about the time it was released, you’d have to dig through your dead grandma’s loft to find a record less modern sounding. Benjamin Booker probably fashioned his guitar himself from wood broken off his old Mama’s loom, taught himself how to pluck the strings while working the salt mines down in ol’ Tennessee. Diverting enough blues pastiche that Jack White predictably loves.
Ah shut up, there are some pretty decent tunes amongst the rather too frequent bilge. It’s hard to think of a song suiting Paloma less than Can’t Rely On You but close your eyes and imagine it’s being sung by someone far cooler and it all kind of works. Honest…
Metronomy are a strange band, they almost attempt to sabotage their music through the sheer brute force of their own ennui, it can be a hard mustering much enthusiasm over a band so clearly bored with the process themselves. There are several highlights on ‘Love Letters’ and the album’s general quality can distract you from the fact the music sounds as dated as mid 90s indie-dance at best and all the way back to Buggles at its worst
78 Jungle: Jungle
Jungle are that person walking around their own house party with a plastic cup of vodka and coke constantly asking people “ARE YOU HAVING A GOOD TIIIIIIIME!?!? ARE YOU READY TO PAAAAAARTYYYYY?!?!” and telling everyone who’ll listen that this is definitely the coolest party anyone’s thrown this year. The ‘Jungle’ album pretty much comes packed with a free zoot suit Sigh, I don’t know, it’s fine I suppose, although it all gets deathly dull pretty quickly.
Really? This is the coolest album to like this year? This? You won’t have witnessed a bigger and more embarrassing tribute to Mark Knopfler since your uncle tied his tie around his head and air guitared to Money For Nothing on the dance floor at your sister’s wedding. Ok, fine, it’s pretty good in places, but the fact that this kind of music used to not long ago be marked out as the absolute naffest on Earth makes me worry about living to see a handful of James Blunt copyists be fêted in 20 years time. I can only, as always, hope for the sweet embrace of death,
Ok this is pretty shameless. If you are one of the many people who chide the fact that My Bloody Valentine no longer sound like they did in 1992 then the Cheatahs (I’m going to let that terrible pun of a name pass by unmentioned, but I hope the band are aware that I am nonetheless very disappointed. Not angry, they understand, just very disappointed) are the band for you, as they sound very much like My Bloody Valentine in 1992. Perhaps that’s a bit unfair- they occasionally rip off Hüsker Dü, or even Swervedriver, but it’s clear that for Cheatahs the musical revolution happened some time in 1993, between the invention of the fuzz pedal and Ride’s third LP. It is impossibly fun in parts though, and hard not to be swept up in it all, it’d probably be top ten if I weren’t so ashamed for loving it. So if you’re taking notes, it’s fine to rip off music if the band you’re ripping off is very cool, Ok?
Phew, thank goodness Royal Blood have come to save rock music, it was getting pretty nervous back there for a minute wasn’t it? If this album really is the ‘saviour of rock’ then it seems that rock was saved by H&M wanting to soundtrack their winter collection but not being able to secure the rights to the White Stripes’ music. The ‘Royal Blood’ album is sprinkled liberally with great riffs, but the Brighton band fail to really sell the music past them being some of the best Guitar Hero players on the south coast. They obviously got effects pedals last Christmas and were dying to show them off.
74 Simone Felice: Strangers
Ah shit, I really can’t think of what to write for this, maybe the year’s most difficult record to transcribe some sort of opinion on. Just close your eyes and picture a ‘singer-songwriter’. Got it? Ok, now imagine the music that singer-songwriter would make. Yep, that’s Simone Felice. The ocasional brilliance is enough to win over the general boredom that hangs over the record.
73 Thom Yorke: Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
Music’s least phonetically spelled musician (apart from Paughl Smyfth of course, the drummer with Northern Uproar) returns with an album I think was released by being fired out of a t-shirt cannon at a Seattle Sounders game or some shit, I don’t know. Yorke is still capable of crafting some amazing sounds, but ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’ pales next to even his debut solo LP and last year’s patchy Atoms of Peace release. There’s nothing to really grasp on to here and it sounds worryingly like an artist stuck in a rut and appropriately enough resembles Radiohead throw-outs. The song titles too- A Brain In a Bottle, There Is No Ice (For My Drink)– suggest a man dangerously close to sliding into self-parody. With this out of his system, the optimist would hope it suggests a clean slate for the next Radiohead album.
72 Prince: Art Official Age
After all the hype and playing 7’865 shows to 50 people at the Wapping Community Centre, even releasing a song to Youtube for goodness/Purpleness sake, Prince’s first solo album after his resurgence falls worryingly and disappointingly back on the worst excesses of his lowest 90s ebb- wet r’n’b and soul ballads that treat R Kelly rather than James Brown or Jimi Hendrix or just never before heard weirdness as the ideal destination. However, seemingly out of nowhere the end of the album is bookended by the Affirmation I, II & Affirmation III suites and suddenly turns into something excellent– Way Back Home especially deserves at least a table by the toilets as one of Prince’s best. Rescued at the end and promising much for other releases…
71 Fenster: The Pink Caves
Occasionally challenging, as it it occasionally challenges you not to keel over and die of boredom as it releases another dirge into the atmosphere like a slow and stinky quiet fart gusted onto the wind. I feel I may have started this a little more negative than I had intended: ‘The Pink Caves’ is frequently great and possesses a detached etheral quality that is often bewitching. Basically, if I told you Fenster were German you could probably picture a highly stereotypical and offensive yet completely accurate representation of the kind of cool minimalism on show here.
The best thing you can say about Glass Animals is that they’re what Simply Red probably think they sound like. The absolute worst thing you can say is that they’re what Simply Red probably think they sound like. It’s certainly the soundtrack to the coolest dinner party you’ll never be invited to, so smoooooooooooooooth English cricketer bowlers would be throwing dirt on it furiously*. You could possibly argue that it’s slightly too self-consciously ‘hip’, but even through listening to it now I’ve become roughly 13% more cool so to be fair I don’t really care what you lame nerds think
*That’s maybe the most out of date reference anyone’s made this calendar year, where’s my prize?
Ah c’mon, you know the drill by now: every year The Men release an album that’s very good if not great and it’ll be nestled somewhere near this side of my end of year list. No great changes here of course, there’s the odd accordion thrown in to shake things up a bit but it’s essentially as you were. It used to be that a band playing this kind of 70s good time rock would be huge, but nostalgia these days just isn’t as good as it was when I was a kid. See you here again next year.
Essentially ‘After the Disco’ is the wonderful Holding On for Life and ten other tracks that don’t quite match up to its brilliance, even if they’re often close. A very good record that only occasionally drifts off into slightly listless areas, and despite the smattering of synth sounds you’d generally hope for slightly more eclecticism from any group featuring Brian Burton/Danger Mouse.
Whether Flying Lotus is one of the most influential artists working today is debatable, but he’s certainly the one artist you should say you’re influenced by if you want any cred. Saying that you’re new record is ‘heavily influenced by Flying Lotus’ is the 2014 equivalent of saying that ‘there’s always been a dance element to our music’. You’re either cool enough that he’s your favourite artist or so much of a saddo that you’ve never even heard of him. Pffff! Go back to your John Cougar Mellencamp granddad! ‘You’re Dead’ actually comes free with a neatly trimmed beard and a Frank Turner tattoo. ‘You’re Dead’ is so cool that it actually spends much of its time explaining to people how much it actually hates Zooey Deschanel. ‘You’re Dead’ has a haircut you’ve never even heard of. ‘You’re Dead’ has the thickest rimmed glasses you’re ever likely to see’
Did I say if it was good or not? I can’t remember.
What’s with that extra ‘o’ in Zooey Deschanel’s name? How have we allowed that to happen?
66 Eno•Hyde: Someday World
Seemingly something of a throwaway enterprise for Brian Eno, yet still utterly enchanting in places with its slightly off-centre ‘pop’ sensibilities and rattling rhythms. Yet it sounds oddly aimless for an Eno project, and Karl Hyde’s voice- while perfect for Underworld– sounds flat and out of place on this record. The record starts brilliantly with the pulsating Satellites but unfortunately peters out slightly towards the end.
Seen a photo of Andrew Hozier-Byrne? Yeah he might say how this album was ‘heavily influenced by Flying Lotus’. Very, very good debut, which may sometimes sound like it merely exists as a showcase for the voice, but what a voice it is! The constant ham-fisted emotion poured out of every track can grate slightly over 54 minutes, and it can seem a little too convinced of its own importance, but a definite good start. And no matter how many times you’ve heard Take Me To Church (a marvellously good opener that the rest of the album fails to match) or seen its devastating video it never fails to excite.
64 Cats on Trees: Cats on Trees
Already a massive hit in France about 16 years ago *research needed*, and it sounds very French in the sense you can imagine it being directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet- it’s occasionally sickly sweet and even the picture on the record’s cover captures the type of people who would definitely take photos of a fucking gnome on holiday in a horrifically syrupy way- the chorus of Full Colours is about turning into a rainbow or some shit, I mean come on. Yet even with its slight lack of defining characteristics you can’t help but like an album that sounds this good and often brushes against sheer beauty. A little more unashamed oddness like the brilliant Tikkiboy would be much appreciated.
Album number… erm… No idea what number album it is, there’s really no way of knowing, but it must be, like, number a million or something for AYWKUBTTOD (Christ, even when you spell it out in letters the name’s still far too long) who about a decade ago were absolutely the coolest band to say you liked, but have since dropped off the radar despite still frequently releasing records. ‘IX’ decides that perhaps it was a mistake to try out slightly different styles on their last two albums and instead run back with their tail between their legs to what they do best- a punky kind of pop that’s not quite new-wave that they show on the album they still master rather simply. There are a little too many lurches into U2 arena rock- all echoes, vein-popping emotion and Edge-like guitars. A solid 7.7/10
Following James Blake’s success at creating such critically and somewhat commercially acclaimed angular r’n’b/electronica are we now going to see lots of albums like this? Christopher Taylor’s music is so heavily influenced by James Blake I’d advise James to look in his cupboard right now to check if Taylor isn’t there with hole already drilled into the wall so he can better watch Blake shower. Remember that rabbit I bought you for Christmas James? Yeah, might want to check to see if Sir Foo Foo is still there. ‘Tremors’ is reguarly brilliant, though it lacks direction somewhat and can never truly sound like it isn’t merely a pastiche. Perhaps Sohn’s music is better suited to sound tracking particularly stressful Hollyoaks moments or demonstrating the sounsystem in the new Bose album.
61 Jack White: Lazaretto
Jack White has the ability to be absolutely amazing, as he has proved with each and every one of the wonderful White Stripes albums, but instead he has a strange obsession with proving how much of an authentic bluesman he is- his worrying fascination with delta blues is so strong and all-encompassing I can only assume there’s a disgustingly fetishistic sexual element to it, the dirty perve. The fabulous title track and lead single proves how brilliant he can be if he cuts the chords slightly and cares little about how weird he sounds (second single Would You Fight For My Love is similarly unconcerned with conventions), but far too often he’s so inclined to ape blues rock that with a full band he sounds more like a 21st century Eric Clapton rather than Robert Johnson reincarnated. Was it the shackles put upon The White Stripes music or Meg herself who previously kept these compulsions in check? Either way it seems that White is now far more concerned with looking backwards than moving forwards.
60 Bruce Springsteen: High Hopes
Essentially a stopgap throwaway that combines studio recordings of old live favourites such as the brilliant American Skin (41 Shots) with extremely decent covers of songs such as Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream. As such make-do projects go it’s not bad at all, even if if includes a version of the previously classic Ghost of Tom Joad with extra Tom Morello fret-wanking ejaculated over the top that if it were a cover of another artist’s song you’d accuse Bruce of misunderstanding it shockingly but since it’s his own song you can only put the whole horrific exercise down to early onset dementia.
Ah Mark Lanegan, the guy whose voice provides some much appreciated recognition of the benefits of smoking (it seems to get such bad press in other areas, so it’s nice to have some balance). ‘Phantom Radio’ is more of a straight ahead rock album than a lot of his more recent releases, and it’s actually more when Lanegan actually attempts to widen the vocabulary such as The Killing Season– Mark Lanegan discovers trip-hop??- that it loses its way slightly. Too few genuine highlights to be considered one of the best in a very impressive career, but extremely good in places.
Sinéad O’Connor is unarguably a very good thing, unless perhaps you’re looking to her for advice on the best tattoos to get. The brilliant title of ‘I’m Not Bossy I’m the Boss’ (if this list were based solely on such things you could expect this to be much higher) reflects an absolute confidence in herself, there’s nothing apologetic here and her distinctive voice is layered so it can ocassionally sound like you’re confronted with an entire choir of Sinéads, which is certainly no bad thing. There’s also frequent bursts of humour (Kisses Like Mine‘s brilliantly cheeky chorus of ‘I’m special forces/ They call me in after divorces/ To lift you up’ a particular highlight) that you might not have previously associated with her, and the record is just generally shot through with a great sense of a woman happy in herself. There are certainly songs you’ll want to skip, and the second half of the album is markedly the stronger side, but it’s still a generally brilliant collection of songs.
57 tUnE-yArDs- Nikki Nack
One of the great enemies of ease of typing- I mean look at the state of that fucking name- return with another example of brilliantly inventive and unashamedky odd music. TUnE-yArDs’s (does that first ‘t’ need to be capitalised after a full-stop? This is a fucking nightmare) music however remains strangely distant and easier to appreciate than fully love, perhaps its slightly too self-conciously concerned with sounding ‘weird’.
56 Fucked Up: Glass Boys
Yes yes, if you’ve never heard one of the World’s least firewall-friendly bands (there’s much worse coming up, stay strapped in) you’ve already seen that name and quickly and definitely decided that the music is most certainly not for you. Give it a listen though and I guarantee you’ll be surprised how much you’ll love it, it’s almost like Fucked Up have chosen their explicitly profane name after becoming scared of being possibly considered (spit) mainstream- their commercialism is actually a closely guarded secret. It’s only Damian Abraham’s rasping metal shriek that stops Fucked Up sounding about as mainstream rock as the Foo Fighters. These songs really should become kareoke standards.
Welsh is always wonderful sounding to sing in, even though I do admit the language barrier could mean that Lisa Jen Brown could actually be singing beautifully sounding missives complaining about the influx of immigrants on the country and how she now feels like a foreigner in her own country wot wiv all dese darkies about and I’d be none the wiser. With her fantastic voice acting as further and extremely potent musical instrument ‘Tincian’ is essentially a collection of exquisite sounding mood pieces. Extraordinarily listenable
54 Say Anything: Hebrews
Well any album that starts with a song called John McClane is never going to be that bad is it? Brilliant and catchy pop punk that doesn’t mind being a little unusual, so unconcerned in fact that the album’s sound can ocassionaly verge off into the extremely irritating but no way near often enough to really hurt the record. The way that guitars have been generally thrown out shows how confident the band are that the song’s sheer quality is good enough to work without most standard rock tricks, a belief that’s almost always proved to be correct. Perhaps I only like it so much because the lyrics to 666 speak to me somehow (‘I lost my virginity to myself/I’m just sparks and meat/I believe in love but I’m gassy, dark and hollow/I’d rather drink, smoke, die young, be reborn and repeat’)
Demarco’s third album may be the most difficult record of 2014 to truly dislike, even if the title track’s ruminations on the difficulties of aging (‘As I’m getting older, chip upon my shoulder/Rolling through life, to roll over and die’) can be slightly annoying coming from the mouth of a 23 year old. Dude, let’s all just chill out, yeah? Too much effort can be, like, totally offensive bro. It can be difficult to truly love an album quite so weightless, even though it must take a shitload of work to sound this effortless.
I know, I really thought this would be much higher too, this list is full of twists and turns and it’s me writing the fucking thing. Asgeir’s wondeful second has already sold about a million copies in his native Iceland, which when you consider the population means about 242% of all Icelanders own a copy. Professional polymath John Grant translated the lyrics into English for Ásgeir Trausti’s attemp at the Western markets, so sre we to blame Grant for lyrics that occasionally sound far too World-weary and downbeaten for a 19 year old? The one real complaint about ‘In the Silence’ is that it can very ocasionally be weighed down by it’s overwheling ‘niceness’ but it is nonetheless an absolute delight.
My goodness, just listening to this album now has increased my general mood 564%, I love everybody and every thing, there really isn’t enough people in the World to hug is there? Admittedly that could be the MDMA I’ve just taken, but I only did that because I knew I was going to be listening to the wondeful ‘Heart Murmours’ so it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. A wonderful collection of well- crafted pop songs that really deserve to become new standards- I for one would love to see Fleur East singing the equally wonderfully named I Want to Be Yout One Night Stand on next week’s X Factor, though I accept that may be more for personal reasons. Sure, nothing here is going to shake the World’s very core, but it’s still a wonderful collection.
50 Nick Mulvey: First Mind
Nick Mulvey’s debut is a wonderfully skew-wiff attempt at singer-songwriting. Mulvey shows he can easily master the form in its most standard definition yet also brightens up the album by taking the songs off onto countless unexpected and delightful turns- Nitrous is already a wonderful song so when it morphs into a short burst of Olive’s 1997 number one You’re Not Alone the fantastic strangeness of the decision only adds to the joy. Plus the fact that it’s actually about buying laughing gas only adds the general leftfield air, plus posits the album as being one that’s very ‘now’, only the really cool kids can properly appreciate it. ‘First Mind’ promises much more brilliance in the future.
It’s practically impossible to think of a rapper more respected by both critics and his peers than Common, but despite the universal appreciation already guaranteed the Chicagan’s (Chicagian? Chigagunian?) tenth (!) album doesn’t see him resting on his lawrels. The title is almost a satirical take on what you’re likely to expect from Common’s ultra-serious brand of hip-hop- you won’t be finding your party bangers about sweat dripping from your balls here- but it seems to be presented with lack of irony. But of course why would anyone be smiling?? Any naive ideas about the election of an African American president (‘And to think, me and the president we from the same place’) making life for a black person in America any easier have been disproved time and time again, and the situation in Ferguson this year shows that relations between races are far from 21st century ideals. ‘Nobody’s Smiling’ manages to never quite collapse under the weight of its own self-importance, although the songs themselves aren’t quite as marvellous as Common’s best, it’s still an uncompromisingly brilliant effort.
I’m willing to forgive Evan Ingersoll’s sloppy spelling as this is his debut and I think it’s only around the 3/4th album that you’re really allowed to pull people up over their spelling of the motherland. And of course despite Chuck coming from the US, England still is the motherland, as I refuse to recognise the 1776 declaration of independance, much like 76% Americans in a poll I conducted/completely made up. Come on USA, you’ve had your little teenage strop, come back now, you’ve made your point. ‘Convertables’ is a brilliantly assured record that, while it contains next to nothing you’ve not heard before, contains fantastic hip hop songs built on killer rhythms. Anti-amputee anthem Legs especially sounds like a particularly brilliant Big Boi cut.
47 Neneh Cherry: Blank Project
There have been few less expected aural pleasures this year than Cherry’s fourth (fourth?! Lazy cow…) solo record and first since way back in 1996. Neneh Cherry’s an often overlooked influence on modern pop, not just the assured mashing of genres in her music, but her whole ‘B-girl goes to art school’ astethic that can be seen these days all over modern female pop stars from Iggy Azalea to Lorde to Robyn (who guests here on possible album highlight Out of the Black). It seems these days that everyone wants to be like Neneh Cherry. Well, everyone apart from Cherry herself, who instead releases an album of brilliantly abbrasive and deeply challenging minimalist electronica. As Cherry’s voice simply falls into feral cries of ecstacy in album closer Everything it’s almost as if the achievement of creating such a brilliant work has pushed Cherry into orgasmic joy.
46 Perfect Pussy: Say Yes to Love
Ha! And you thought Fucked Up were difficult to Google! Try searching for this band on your work’s computer! Actually, don’t- I searched for their Twitter account and… saw… things… ‘Say Yes to Love’ is a fantastically abrasive and wonderfully succinct album (8 tracks, 23 minutes, do records really need to be any longer?) that sounds like the most insane chaos you can imagine yet it’s expertly controlled. It seems almost like every instrument is each a playing a different song and trying its absolute hardest to make the case for their’s being the central theme. Meredith Graves lyrics are so overwhelmed by the racous noise the band are making that they’re often inellegible, ocasionally on songs like Interference Fits they break through and you can better appreciate their snide and caustic brilliance (‘And then my friends began to fall in love/First with themselves and then with each other/I met my despair at midday light/And it was amazing, and I almost cried’). Wonderful.
When I first mentioned to my editor that I was going to include what is essentially a live album in this year’s list he threw a bit of a shit-fit, he was passionately against the idea and said it was a shameful disregard for the rules. It actually got pretty nasty quite quickly and I had to beat him to death with his own Filofax. Horrific scenes. Nick Cave would have appreciated it actually. So here it is, and it truly is magnificant. ‘Push the Sky Away’ was perhaps Nick Cave’s most subtle work and stilll now near 22 months after its release its full power is still being slowly picked over and appreciated. Perhaps some of the songs work even better in the claustrophobic setting of the KCRW (which of course stands for Kicking Children Rules, What?) studio. Cave’s underrated and perhaps unexpected sense of humour is often present, and the fact that the Bad Seeds have consistently been the greatest live band of the last decade is always a majestic achievement worth presenting.
Ok, let the hated commence. Lana Del Rey is subjected to a ridiculous amount of bilious animosity for reasons I can’t quite fathom. The ridiculous softy liberal in me wonders if she’d be the victim of such loathing if she weren’t an attractive woman- girls can’t be talented, probably only where she is because she shagged the right people (an idea satirised by Del Rey herself in Fucked My Way to the Top), Billy Corgan’s probably writing the songs, all about ethics in video game journalism etc etc. People’s main complaint about Lana is that she has the shocking temerity to not be exactly the same as she portrays herself in her songs. This is an affront to music’s longheld authenticity- Nick Cave really did kill Kylie Minogue with a rock, Prince of course really does do 23 positions in a one night stand, and of course Johnny Cash really did shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die.* Can’t we instead applaud Del Rey’s commitment to a character? Isn’t that wonderful artifice part of what makes pop music so brilliant? Rather than avoiding obvious self-parody, Lana instead revels in her lyrical standards and throws herself completely into the conceit- every other second, there’s a bourbon or a bad boy or a gun, she’s continually taking little red dresses off or putting them on. ‘Ultraviolence’ is a wonderfully lush sounding record more uniformally better and certainly more consistant than her debut, though the highs aren’t quite as high.
*thanks to Alexis Petradis for that Cash analogy, I couldn’t better it
This album is so gorgeous that I’m currently following it down the street calling it a stuck-up bitch for not responding to my catcalls. ‘Familiars’ is simply deeply enbued with a beuatiful and rich river of wonderful music that sounds like the most especially delightful parts of Spritualized’s ‘Let It Come Down’. The songs themselves are not particularly sad per se, instead merely undercut with a pronounced feeling of sadness, much like James Corden. Although unlike Corden- whose sadness is horrifically cutting and eating away at his very insides- ‘Familiars’ finds wonderful beauty in its own melancholy. It certainly has a BIG sound without ever feeling overwrought, though perhaps it’s an album best enjoyed in small bursts to avoid all of its crescendos and repeated tricks possibly becoming too much to take on. I didn’t even mention how good Darby Cicci’s voice is did I?
As far as I can remember, Beck invented irony back in the 90s and he has since spent the latter part of his career deeply ashamed of it all and releasing meloncholic acoustic album after melancholic acoustic album furiously overcompensating for what he believes to be his past transgressions. ‘Morning Phase’ is frequently absolutely gorgeous, a release that desperately treats ‘Sea Change’ as a career highlight that he must always attempt to furiously replicate, but you can’t help but yearn for the times when he would regularly confront conventions and break down walls between genres, each release not just challenging himself but challenging people’s ideas and expectations of what pop/indie music could be. Sure, he obviously regrets the ‘With the plastic eyeballs/Spray-paint the vegetables/Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose’ nonsense lyrics of his earlier career, but does replacing it with the kind of oblique vagueness scattered across ‘Morning Phase’ really invest his music with any more of a sense of legitimacy?
Ah, Azealia Banks, remember her? Course you do! She had that brilliant and brilliantly profane song 212, remember? Think that was some time in the 90s, pretty sure I remember her playing it on TFI Friday. Banks is a brilliant example of how not to best seize your moment- if she had actually released this debut closer to when the emergence of 212 (which is here and still sounds absolutely brilliant despite how many times you’ve heard it) briefly made her the hottest new artist on the scene then this really might have been something. As it is Azealia got sidetracked somewhat through arguing with her record company, arguing with other celebrities on twitter, arguing with her management, arguing with her bin men for no longer collecting every Wednesday, arguing with the Royal Mail for so not knocking on the door before they left that card. Rarely outside Cargill and Smithfield Foods has quite so much beef been produced from one source- hell if I release this into the stratosphere she’ll be coming after me. Standing back from it though, Azealia Banks could have never really become that big- her music’s far too weird and fragmentary to ever really be mass-market, there’s nothing here you can honestly imagine being a hit, and I mean that in absolutely the best way possible. The fact that some of these tracks date from as far back as 1923 means the album’s predictably a bit all over the place and lacks real cohesion, and Azealia makes far too many dips into strangely prosaic electro pop which suits her about as well as a Christian hymn dedicated to chastity. If she concentrates on the kind of out of the box weirdness that influenced her decision to include a bonkers cover of Ariel Pink’s Nude Beach A Go-Go then she will become a great yet.
Lykke Li’s third takes quite a lengthy time to really fully appreciate- for the first 5 or 10 or 1000 listens it sounds drab and uninspired, with Li merely moping around in a sad mood after a massive relationship breakup. Eventually though- like the very best parasitic worms- it burrows under your skin and you start to appreciate just what an exeplarary example the album is of the sheer sumptious beauty of the pain of heartbreak. Nom nom nom, yes let me feed on your misery! Li’s talent for incorporating such dense and sumptous soundscapes finds a perfect home here, and while it probably still is her weakest album, considering the quality of her first two releases there’s absolutely no shame in that. Points lost for the remix of No Rest for Wicked containing A$AP Rocky’s assertion that Lykke Li is a ‘Pretty motherfucker from the North Pole’- first of all Li’s from Sweden, second she’s not simply ‘pretty’ she’s absolutely divine– how dare you!
39 TV On the Radio: Seeds
TV On the Radio have gone through some difficult times since releasing the stone cold classic (and winner of the 2008 Palmers of course) ‘Dear Science’- they split from their long time label Interscope and the release of the brilliant follow up ‘Nine Types of Light’ was somewhat overshadowed by bassist Gerard Smith dying days later. It’s perhaps unsurprising that ‘Seeds’ doesn’t find TOTR in an especially inventive and experimental mood- it’s like right now they’re simply desiring simplicity, a deep need for things to just be a bit more boringly, wonderfully normal again. So this is Tv On the Radio merely trying their best to sound like Tv On the Radio, which though of course means you might miss some of their usual boundary-pushing ambition, TVOTR operating in maybe 2nd gear is still a beast capable of some wonderful music.
38 Eno • Hyde: High Life
Aha! Now this is more like it! Brian Eno and Karl Hyde didn’t really feel they got their first collaboration quite right, but everyone was nice enough to give them another shot at it mere months later. They straight away noticed the principle problem with ‘Someday World’ and smacked away Hyde’s hand with a cane when he tried to reach for the microphone again- naughty boy!- Eno’s voice rather predictably suits his music far better, and the previous album’s slightly jaded aimlessness is barked back into being ship shape again. ‘High Life’ consists of six wonderfully looooooooooong songs (taking up 45 minutes in total) that despite their length never outstay their welcome and even sound rather succinct. Opener Return (I see what they did there) is what U2 sound like in some bizarre and frightening parallel universe where they’re actually as good as they believed themselves to be, while Time to Waste It- with it’s heavily treated vocal samples and Afro-beat rhythm- might be the most ‘Brian Eno’ song Brian Eno’s ever done.
37 The Roots: …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin
The Roots’ eleventh album has been criticised in some corners for it’s lack of content, with some complaining that it’s 34 minutes and maybe 8/9 true songs constitutes something of a cop-out. It seems that hip hop artists can’t win- produce a 28 track behemoth including no less that 12 skits about your voyage to Burton’s to cheekily change back the trousers you soiled yourself in the night before and we complain about the ridiculous excesses of the art form and ask why can they not simply be a little more harsh with their editing (track 18 Attikus Funk Be-Donk-A-Donk ft. The Wheezy & Sickly Geoffrey should really go for a start) yet when the brilliantly succinct and wonderfully named ‘…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin’ arrives we complain that it should be longer. What a World. The album is certainly not perfect (try not to cringe when The Roots go off on one of their trademark toe-curlingly self-important sermons in The Devil, go on I dare you) but the highlights are so high that it can’t fail to be one of the year’s best listens.
36 Death Vessel: Island Intervals
Originally from Rhode Island, band leader/pretty much only constant member Joel Thibodeau obviously felt he needed to record the band’s third in the new capital of music, so off he flew to Reykjavik. The idea of Iceland certainly comes to mind more when you listen to ‘Island Intervals’ chilled and blustery glacial rhythms, or perhaps it’s simply the album’s massive similarities to a slightly more folksy Sigur Ross. Simply read the lyrics to the songs and you will quickly decide that you absolutely hate the band- I’m surprised such sickening Tolkeinesque whimsy wasn’t recorded in Elven and I can’t be sure but I swear I heard a ‘hey nonny-noo’ somewhere- this is music seemingly designed to be played by wandering minstrels as they fiddle from town to town, and its ridiculous descriptions of rustic nature frequently renders the whole exercise simply silly sounding. Just listen to the music however, and it’s absolutely glorious, reaching an apex with the absolutely stunning Loom.
35 Röyksopp & Robyn: Do It Again
Hmmm, say how good the album is, or just a massive spiel about how much I love Robyn? Let’s see if we can combine the two: ‘Do It Again’ is technically an EP, but it works brilliantly well as a long player and if this team up ever decide to continue onto a full record it’s hard to imagine them bettering these 5 tracks and 34 minutes. If there’s one tiny gripe it’s that the record never quite repeats the majesty of opening track Monument, but there’s certainly no shame in that as the song is an absolute knock-down-slap-face-kick-my-balls classic. Even if the set only existed to act as a presentation of how masterfully Robyn can underplay a vocal then it would be massively worthwhile, the fact that the album is such a wonderful collection is just an added bonus akin to realising the restaurant forgot to charge you for that seventh bottle of wine that last time you went out for a meal by yourself (an appointment you made with the express intention to simply weep miserably into the gazpacho starter). Perhaps it’s less interesting when it seems to be playing exclusively to Robyn’s strengths, but that doesn’t make something like Say It any less enjoyable. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off out to have it large listening to the title track. Now where did I put my whistle? And that MDMA I had?
Timothy Showalter has created 2014’s best album about being a teenager. The fact that he’s in fact 32 makes him all the more qualified to do so- the last people you should talk to about being a teenager are teenagers themselves, they’re absolute idiots so in thrall to their hormones that they’d either be Earth-shatteringly depressed by the request or attempt to somehow have sex with it depending on what time of day it was. Everyone below the age of, say, 29.5 is an entirely useless human being and their opinions should be aggressively discounted. ‘Heal’ looks back on Showalter’s teenage years and reflects on how much he is ashamed of himself, yet still mourns the fact that such shame and sadness has continued into his adulthood rather than ebbed away like he’d always hoped it would. Yet still the album reflects on how music got him through these difficult times, perhaps in the hope that it becomes some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy and some lonely Pennsylvania (other places are available. I think) teen will pick up ‘Heal’ and experience similar epiphanies. The music itself harks back to 80s pop and grunge, echoing the contentious nostalgia of the lyrics. A superior achievement. Maybe should be higher…
33 Wye Oak: Shriek Listening to ‘Shriek’ it’s difficult to comprehend how Wye Oak were right up until this release a pretty standard guitar band. The sheer wall of sound created by the synths on this album suits the band’s sound so perfectly that it’s almost unimaginable that they ever managed to do things differently. A fair comparison would be how Tegan and Sara tried a similar jump to electronic sounds last year and instead sounded rather forced and artificial. Here Jenn Wasner’s voice glides within the electronic sounds so perfectly that rarely since ‘Superman 3’ have we seen a woman so exquisitely intertwined with a machine, only this time obviously it’s less likely to be so horrific it completely traumatises your childhood and mean that more than twenty years later you still can’t bring yourself to kiss a robot. If I were to describe the album in five words it would be lush, lush, lush, lush, lush, lush. Wait, how many words was that…?
Aaaaaaah bollocks, I really wanted to hate this, really. Damon Albarn has transformed into such a critics’ darling that if ‘Everyday Robots’ consisted of nothing else but a 25 minutes recording of the singer rhythmically slapping his buttocks while occasionally shouting ‘PEANUTS!’ it would still be acclaimed as a work of artistic genius and absolutely every review would include some snide comparison to Beady Eye (though Albarn has still to release a solo song as fun as The Roller). Annoyingly though ‘Everyday Robots’ is very good. Albarn now wishes he were as old as, say, Leonard Cohen so that maybe his tired and brow-beaten persona might fit better. The whole concept of technology begatting isolation and loneliness seems an extremely tired idea now, but Albarn explores it nicely nonetheless. And besides when he tries to go off message he ends up writing a jumpy ditty about a fucking baby elephant called Mr Tembo which is laughably out of place here and couldn’t have sparked more controversy if it tweeted a photo of a white van man’s England flag, and yet it’s still agonizingly brilliant.
31 Rustie: Green Language
‘Green Language’ starts so wonderfully. After about 4/5 tracks you’re absolutely hooked, you’ve heard the awesome collage of sounds Russel Whyte throws at you, you hear musical stabs that really shouldn’t work piercing areas that have no business existing, you laugh at the little trick he plays at the start of A Glimpse when he throws a guitar solo in and kids you into thinking for a second that the album’s going to morph into some sub-Pendulum dance rock. You’re converted. This is the best dance album of the year. No, the best dance album ever. No, the best thing ever. You take your clothes off, and throooooooow them in the lake. Yes! Yes! Give me more! Then… It stops… Or rather the album badly loses momentum around the time guest vocalists are invited and Whyte obviously become more concerned with making his big club hit- Danny Brown’s Attak is pretty Ok, but D Double E’s Up Down stalls the album badly, almost critically. The album slightly peters out with occasional highs and the whole experience ends up feeling like a blast on a laughing gas balloon- an initial blast of elated jubilation that dies off and quickly turns into a something close to confused embarrassment.
30 White Lung: Deep Fantasy
Phew… Jesus, just listened to the album and now I need a lie down before I start this…
‘Deep Fantasy’ is an awesomely abrasive album, a brilliant screech of anger of what it’s like to be female in 2014. And it’s very angry. Why wouldn’t it be though? The patriarchy has somehow convinced people that ‘feminism’ is a dirty word, in 2014 we don’t just reject the ridiculous calls for equality from women, we laugh at them. Ha! Feminists! Too ugly and fat to get a boyfriend so they try and take away my page 3! The fact that someone could still write a song about rape and conceivably call it I Believe You is a damning indictment of a hideous issue in today’s society- about one in 30 woman who accuses someone of rape can expect the accused to go to court- despite what ‘Gone Girl’ may put across do we really believe that 96.6% of women…? Actually that’s a bit of a spoiler isn’t it? It’s not all japes about sexual abuse- Mish Way’s lyrics, which should perhaps be taught in schools, cover subjects as broad as depression, body image and disparity of employment pay and generally stoke the feeling that perhaps she wouldn’t be Dapper Laughs’ biggest fan. I better stop now actually, starting to sound like a fucking fat lezzer feminist.
Goodness, this list has got rather political all of a sudden hasn’t it? There was a fellow singing about an elephant not long ago wasn’t there? I miss those days. Ghetts’ debut studio album would be an absolute classic if he took a few tips from The Roots and trimmed off the fat a bit, as it is the 17 (!) tracks here end up just sounding bloated and excessive. The album fires out of the traps viciously and so raging with anger that you imagine the lyrics were originally written in capitals and posted as a YouTube comment, a sense refined by the fact Ghetts has a wonderfully caustic rapping style that frequently threatens to boil over into feral screaming. If the more introspective 10th track What I’ve Done marked the album’s end you’d have a work of near perfect genius, yet unfortunately the album continues and as Ghetts lets us know how much he loves his beautiful girlfriend and starts eulogising about his kid and it all loses a lot of its righteous anger and therefore its main selling point. Still, only using Ghetts’ debut as a small example I can only assume the British hip hop scene is in rude health. Although obviously I’m now way near cool enough to really comment…
28 East India Youth: Total Strife Forever
Christ, as if two Eno albums already wasn’t enough, Bournemouth’s William Doyle debut as East India Youth marks him out as a very obvious heir apparent. Doyle left his former band Doyle & The Fourfathers (who in a desperate bid to retain his signature obviously incorporated his name into the band’s own, akin to Arsenal offering Fabregas the captaincy in the hope that the act would dissuade him from joining Barcelona) in frustration at their slightly more limited guitar sound wasn’t giving his music the setting and space it deserved. ‘Total Strife Forever’ is a brilliant vindication of his decision, a fantastic clash between moody synths, hard electronica and simple beautiful melodies you’d expect from your local acoustic-tugging singer-songwriter (Heaven How Long being perhaps the best example), an amalgamation simply not conceivably possibly through his old band’s methods. There have been a lot of victories for electronics over traditional instruments this year haven’t there? Face it puny humans, you lose, the machines have won. This album doesn’t really work in individual parts (none of the title track four part symphony will be turning up on ‘Now 89’) but instead deserves to be completely lost inside, like the World’s greatest multi-story car park.
If we were going to make a list of British music’s most underrated and undervalued artists, or simply to list down the ones that have simply and consistently been amongst the best then surely Gruff Rhys would be… I dunno… top 243? I’m not really into making lists, but you get the idea. It’s almost as if Rhys enjoys being quietly and secretly brilliant, quite happy with people simply writing him off as a bit of an oddball and getting on with releasing more fantastic albums while hiding behind the facade of being strange. Gruff’s fourth solo outing quite easily deserves to be lined up beside the very best of an extremely consistent back-catalogue. The Whether (Or Not) may be the 21st century’s finest clap-a-long song, and Rhys’s voice is as similarly underrated as other facets of his ability but just try listening to the wordless chorus of Lost Tribes and not melting. A concept album of sorts built around the story of John Evans, who traversed the USA in search of mythical fellow Welsh speakers and ended up plotting the Missouri River, all of which I of course worked out on my own…
There is certainly no artist working in 2014 less concerned with being cool than Norwegian Terje Olsen. In fact there are moments on Todd Terje’s debut that seemed designed to sound especially naff, almost wary of anyone ever having the temerity to consider this music somehow ‘hip’ or ‘groovy’ or ‘with it’ or ‘diddly-pop’ or ‘Mr Tembo’ or ‘that is one exemplary beat daddio’ (what is it the kids say these days?). Listeners of ‘It’s Album Time’ (even the title itself seems a knowing reference to some abhorrent cheap copied CD sold out of the boot of some lounge singer’s Volvo in the pub car park latest) of a certain age will think of nothing else but the Vegas levels of Sonic the Hedgehog. Terje wants this though, he wants music that’s as inclusive and desires that every listener possible enjoys this album so has attempted to be as widely likeable as possible, and true to his intention you can’t imagine anyone not loving ‘It’s Album Time’. Brian Ferry’s appearance on the Robert Palmer (naturally) cover Johnny and Mary really comes out of left field, but even though it stands out like a sore Martini it’s still a lovely addition.
Here we go again- technology breeds isolation, are we really happy in this new digital age? We’re just everyday robots on our phones aren’t we? I’ll forgive EMA (which as I’m sure you know stands for Every Mousketeer Attacks) for replaying over these slightly tired old subjects because Erika M Anderson’s third album is simply so good- juggling the genres of punk and electronica while at the same time making classics in either genre or simply both. Plus it’s not always an ‘ain’t technology a STINKER!?’ sermon, and when it is the lyrics are only occasionally embarrassing. Plus there’s no song here about a fucking baby elephant. There may not be an album released in 2014 as wonderfully and skilfully diverse as ‘The Future’s Void’, capable of convulsing your bones with bangers like So Blonde or poking your soul holes with lilting beauty like When She Comes, without the record ever lacking cohesion. Anderson’s voice too is a thing of beauty- wonderfully evocative yet bare and untreated with it’s cracked flaws perfectly presenting the songs as deeply affecting naked emotion.
24 Taylor Swift: 1989
I imagine Taylor Swift and Erika M Anderson hang out a lot, probably bestest friends. The only artist on this list who receives anything close to the amount of hatred weighed upon Taylor Swift is Lana Del Rey, there’s surely some link there but I’ll be damned if I can see it. Most people’s gripe about Taylor Swift is that she dates people and then writes songs about them, and I suppose that’s a fair complaint seeing as she completely created that idea and nobody has ever written about their boy or girlfriends before. Ah shit- think I just broke my computer’s sarcasm filter… All this hate is more than counteracted by just how impossibly big she is, so big that when the record company accidentally released six seconds of static onto iTunes under the Taylor Swift banner it actually went to number 1 in Canada (that’s not a joke). It all makes Damon Albarn’s 20 minute buttock slapping record look like very small beans in comparison. I honestly feel sorry for all the remaining people who have to expend so much effort into pretending they don’t like Swift, as they’re missing out on some absolutely masterful pop, especially now she’s thrown off any ridiculous pretensions that she’s a fucking country artist. Swift recently knocked her own Shake It Off (a serious contender for the year’s best single) off the top of the US charts with follow up Blank Space (a brilliant example of Taylor’s smart and witty way of deconstructing her own public image and showcasing her almost inhuman self-awareness. If only her detractors were quite as clever and as talented at tearing her apart) but you could honestly imagine Swift repeating the trick with each of these 13 tracks, they all sound like potential hits. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…
23 Ed Harcourt: Time of Dust
Yes, another EP, but so what? This list isn’t a simple measure of how many minutes a record passes you know? And anyway as we all know it’s not how long it is but what you do with it that counts and a woman’s G-spot is only two inches inside her vagina (ah crumbs, I think I took that analogy a step too far). In fact the brilliant ‘Time of Dust becomes even shorter when you do the right thing and skip the drab and aimless first track Come Into My Dreamland. The remaining five tracks though are a near-enough perfect collection, a thrilling combination of Nick Cave and Jeff Buckley that’s darkly Gothic in parts but nearly always crescendos into grandiose wonderfulness. There’s also BIG brilliant choruses and hooks so pronounced Dustin Hoffman is portraying them in a 1991 film. Also on the 100th anniversary of first World War the fabulous We All Went Down With the Ship couldn’t be more timely.
22 Prince & 3rdyegirl: Plectrumelectrum
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. No this. Is what. I’m talking. About. Prince’s solo 2014 release ‘Art Official Age’ was pretty much a damp squib, suggesting and threatening that Prince was going to fuck up this opportunity to get back in the game presented by the increased media attention. His record with his new band however is an almost unqualified (almost– there’s certainly one or two duff tracks) success, his best and most consistently excellent record since 2006’s brilliant ‘3121’ and perhaps his best album with a band since way back to 1991’s ‘Diamonds and Pearls’. In fact the stripped down nature of ‘Plectrumelectrum’ (maybe 2014’s most fun album title to say out loud- it simply dry humps the tongue it passes up from your voice box, go on try it) makes it almost unique in Prince’s behemoth back-catalogue- just bass, two guitars and drums, why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?– and you can only assume 3rdeyegirl (Princehasdevelopedadeephatredofthespacebar) have become some much needed muse (‘A girl with a guitar is twelve times better/Than another crazy band of boys’ Why ‘twelve’ specifically?). Even the tracks where one of 3rdeye take the mic- Whitecaps a particular highlight- work wonderfully. Believe the hype- this Prince fellow’s aaaaaaaaaaaaaalright.
Nobody likes the Wild Beasts, they don’t care. Actually that’s a ridiculous exaggeration, many people are now coming round to how Kendal’s Beasts are actually one of the country’s greatest bands and in a perfect World they’d be receiving the kind of adulation that far lesser bands like Kasabian bizarrely receive. There are little moments of frustration at Wild Beast’s position in the rock hierarchy on the band’s fourth, from Wanderlust‘s brilliant ‘Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck/In your mother tongue what’s the verb ‘to suck’?’ to Nature Boy‘s assertion that country bumpkins Wild Beasts can teach the girlfriends of these city boys a thing or two (and yes, the title is a Rick Flair reference and the inclusion of the Jack ‘The Snake’ catchphrase ‘A little fun for me and none for you’ shows that the band don’t demand to always be taken completely seriously). From their beginnings as a type of sub-Coral bonkers indie-rockers Wild Beasts have since entered that sweet spot where their r’n’b meets funk meets 80s indie sound means they sound like nobody apart from themselves. Perhaps they’re actually Kate Bush’s closest modern aural relative, or perhaps I’m just saying that because it’s a rather timely reference. You know me- a good pop culture reference is worth far more than any decent content. Vaping! True Detective! Guardians of the Galaxy! Can I still get away with Miley Cyrus…?
Death, death, death, death, death, if George RR Martin picked up a guitar he would be more than likely to produce an album like ‘Benji’, where Mark Kozalek introduces and deeply maps out intriguing and likeable characters before killing them off about 3 minutes in. Usually by an exploding spray paint can strangely enough, this whole album is almost a PSA announcement on the safety of pressurised gas cannisters. ‘Benji’ is definitely the record to go for if you really fancy a good hour of facing up to your own mortality and how life is essentially so dispensable and easily removable. If these tales are true, while being meaningless to the record’s essential power, it’s hard to think of any recent record so doused in personal tragedy other than Eels’ ‘Electro-Shock Blues’ Oh yeah, and it’s very, very good too. Brilliant in fact. Despite the record’s general moroseness it’s also frequently hilarious, almost counter-intuitively life-affirming and the fact that it’s almost 60 minutes of unstopped lyrics means there’s no other album this year that will possibly reward repeated listens. Sadly there’s nothing here that can quite match War On Drugs: Suck My Cock.
19 CEO: Wonderland
On his debut Eric Bergland referred to himself as ‘ceo’ but now on this sophomore effort he feels confident enough to use to name ‘CEO’. If someone has such a shockingly casual disregard for the standard use of capitalisation you can only imagine what kind of crazy music he’s capable of. ‘Wonderland’ does not disappoint thankfully, painting with musical ribbons that often sound like you’ve violently thrown a packet of Crayolas hard into the face of the craziest guy at the asylum and angrily barked the instruction that you need a picture drawn of a clown riding a stegosaurus. Only, you know, in a good way. You’ll even forgive him naming a song OMG when the results are quite so fantastic and I can state with some confidence that there has been no song this year quite as well suited to whoop-whoop-a-whooping along to as Harikari. The only real problem with listening to Bergland’s second is that any record you listen to after it is going to sound ridiculously slight and undercooked in comparison- every wonderful song here (and they all are wonderful) is a gloriously bonkers kaleidoscope of sounds that frequently introduce noises you’d never previously known existed never mind not considered them songworthy. Well that’s not the only problem- I suppose I can imagine extended listens could possibly send you insane, but Jesus Christ what kind of nanny state is this?
Sky Ferreira was signed at 15 in the hope she could perhaps become the next teen pop sensation, general commercial failures and disputes with her record company together with the odd occasional run in with the law means that her debut finally arrives when she’s a grizzled and hideously disillusioned veteran of this scummy business at the practically pension age of 23. ‘Night Time My Time’ isn’t shy about laying out just quite how horrendous and difficult life as Sky Ferreira is, she leaves you in no doubt that she has pretty much has the worse life ever. It seems in every song she’s forever beating off or holding back ‘the hounds of hell‘, like one of the biggest draw back of her early record company support has been the constant interference of Cerberus. If you want an album to take the piss out of in 2014 (actually released way back in October 2013 in the US) then this is absolutely the one. The whole Sky Ferreira mystique is almost beyond parody. The music however is fucking brilliant. ‘Night Time My Time’ is absolute pop/punk-perfection, such a wonderful blast of bubblegum ridiculous that the whole persona simply works in as a package making the album a brilliant pop thing, regardless of how intentional the effect is. Ferreira’s deep disillusion with the business gives her a voice a wonderfully bored and jaded sound that underlays just how fantastic the pop songs are– Selena Gomez would kill for tracks this joyously good.
17 Ben Frost: A U R O R A
Ben Frost’s eleventh record is precisely the kind of challenging and uncompromisingly dark experience many people expected Aphex Twin’s (more on him later. Or maybe not. No spoilers here) record would be. ‘A U R O R A’ is an almost maliciously difficult listen, aggresively intense and the kind of record that would snap your neck for even suggesting in passing that it maybe crack a smile. It’s very possible that Frost was so uncomfortable with the general happy-go-lucky disposition of his native Australia that he simply had to decamp to Iceland to find surroundings that better suited his music’s wrought intensity. Jesus Christ- has there been any decent album recorded the past few years that hasn’t got some link to Iceland? I can only assume the entire country is just some floating Studio 54 that any musician worth their salt simply has to frequent. Ben Frost’s ideal location wouldn’t be Studio 54 of course- in his perfect World he’d be convulsing on the pavement outside the Viper Room, choking painfully to death on his own vomit. ‘A U R O R A’ demands to be listened to as a whole, and when I say ‘demands’ I mean you worry that if you were to break the record down at all it would actually leap from the speakers and throttle you to death with the extension cables. Perhaps the record’s deep sense of dramatic dread can get a little overwrought at times, but it’s such a threateningly wonderful experience that you dare not complain.
16 The Soft Pink Truth: Why Do the Heathen Rage?
When you’re told openly gay house musician Drew Daniel is releasing an album of electro covers of black metal standards (well, some of the tracks are ‘standards’ apparently, although I’m told that some of the tracks by such luminaries of scene as Venom, Darkthrone, Sarcofago and- oh yes- Impaled Northern Moonforest are slightly more ‘obscure’ cuts) you immediately assume it’s going to be some hilarious work of cutting satire, exposing the genre’s occasional (frequent??) brushes with gruesome homophobia, alongside its forays into sexism, racism and just good old fashioned hatred. In fact it’s almost the opposite- Drew Daniels has in fact long been a committed black metal fan and instead uses the record to try and highlight just how brilliant some of the music can be– ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ is actually an attempt to show that the genre doesn’t just deserve to be solely associated with Norwegian murders and church burning. While I can’t say the record has convinced me to rush off to Our Price and purchase a few choice efforts from the Hellhammer back-catalogue, the album is nevertheless a resounding success aurally- 10 brilliant songs that you approach first as a curiosity and soon grow to appreciate as work of uncommon genius. Ready To Fuck probably best encapsulates the record’s mission in every sense, while Satanic Black Devotion throwing in a sample of Snap’s The Power illustrates how the project never completely jettisons an underlying sense of humour, because really how could you approach such a thing completely straight faced??
So AN really did a song called Let There Be Ebola Frost?? Brilliant…
Are Elbow now a victim of their own continued brilliance? Of course ‘The Take Off and Landing of Everything’ is wonderful, but you just expect that don’t you? We don’t just believe and assume every Elbow release will be fantastic, it’s now such an anticipated event that we simply take for granted how fabulous it is. The album was released, received rave review, then was swiftly forgotten. Perhaps Elbow have simply settled into a groove now- content to forever release great music though never really challenging their sound. At least their latest release doesn’t contain a shameless One Day Like This ape akin to ‘Build a Rocket Boys’ Open Arms. As fabulous as the album is, you can’t help but dream that they’d let loose a bit more and throw off the self-imposed shackles of their sound a little more frequently, the absolutely fan-fucking-brillaintly-awesome-tastic Charge is a small hint of just how amazing Elbow can be when they think slightly more outside the box of their own conventions.
I think we can all agree that Kelis Rodgers is undoubtedly A Good Thing, reliably producing fantastic and fantastically cutting edge pop music for more than 15 years now. Yet there’s always been the strange and nagging feeling that she’s never been anyway near as successful as you’d think should be her absolute right- even her commercial peak 2003’s ‘Tasty’ never broke the album chart top ten and nobody even bothered releasing her 2001 second album ‘Wanderland’ in her native US. It seems with her fabulous sixth album she’s going all out in pursuit of the massive hit her talent and fame seems to demand. The only real gripe you can have with ‘Food’ is that it’s by far and away the most conventional and ‘normal’ release of her career, and a second may be that that her amazing voice can sometimes disappointingly sound like it’s pushed a little too low in the mix in thrall to the general tunes themselves. But when the tunes are this good it’s hard to muster up much in the way of complaint. ‘Food’ absolutely detonates out of the traps with an almost dangerously exhilarating opening five of Jerk Ribs, Breakfast, Forever Be, Floyd and Runnin and although the album then catches a small breath out of fear of any coronary risks it never truly lets up over 51 minutes and you can easily imagine any of its 13 tracks being number 1 for weeks. The results? A number 20 in the UK and the dizzy heights of 73 in America. Fuck ’em Kelis, they’re not good enough for you.
13 Future Islands: Singles
Yes, we’ve all seen their wonderful and wonderfully batty David Letterman performance, the stone cold classic pop ‘moment’ that introduced the World to both the showstopping voice and the- shall we say?- ‘eccentric’ performance style of front man Samuel T Herring. In fact, if you didn’t see the name ‘Future Islands’ and immediately burst out the impression that you’ve been working on for the last 9 months then you’re so dismally out of touch that I can only assume it’s a medical condition. Future Islands are easy to mock, but isn’t that a facet of a lot of great pop music? As good as the albums are, I’m willing to best you don’t have an Elbow or Sun Kil Moon ‘bit’ that you break out at parties (you can maybe manage a nice Parklife skit, your Gruff Rhys really needs a Power Rangers helmet to work, while your Ben Frost tribute actually involves you violently gutting half the people in the room and wailing as you smear their blood across your face) whereas Future Islands arrived (a classic four album/six year overnight success) with a style and persona so easy to ape and with their own World you so want to be trapped inside. And the actual music? The music is fabulous, 10 killer choruses, bewitching melodies and brilliant bass lines, not one duff track and some especially heavy highlights.
12 Aphex Twin: Syro
Before I start talking about this album, I’m actually legally obliged to present a Buzzfeed style list of all the things that weren’t invented the last time Aphex Twin released an album (2001’s ‘Druqs’) so here goes:
The Microsoft Zune!
Either Shampoo the band or shampoo the product this time, depending on what you first thought when you just read ‘shampoo’ there!
The concept of reconciliation!
The Spanish language!
Future Islands’ performance on Letterman!
Dirt! And with it of course the perception of cleanliness!
Can I stop now?
Yes it’s been a hilariously long time between albums (or at least solo disks, Richard D James has continuously released music under countless other guises) and since that last release was a probable career lowlight expectations weren’t sky high for ‘Syro’. It delivers and then some though, perhaps because it’s probably the most oddly traditional album James has ever done- it’s neither showy nor controversial for the sake of it and simply has enough confidence that the sheer quality of the music would shine through on its own terms. And what music- ‘Syro’ simply sounds wonderful, no album this year or even decade better rewards the use of headphones. While you may be initially disappointed that it doesn’t quite break boundaries and wank off conceptions of music in quite the same way you may by now be expecting from an Aphex Twin release- there’s nothing particularly new here- the wonderful arrangements and even fantastic (spit) melody makes the record one of the year’s best. About 12th best I’d say.
Aaaaaaaaaaah yes. Yes, yes, yes. Yes. Against Me’s sixth is the greatest and most thrilling blast of pop punk this year by an almost embarrassingly large distance (unless there’s actually a better one higher up, I dunno, in that case it’s the second. Or maybe third or fourth, like I say- I don’t know. Probably should have researched that statement before making it). If it is punk of course- there sparkling urgency and bursting chorus can frequently instead call to mind an especially fun and (importantly) less naff update of glam rock. The band have an obvious knack for great choruses, and every song has a hook so pronounced that Dustin Hoff… Hang on, I’ve done that one already haven’t I? Alright: the hooks are so pronounced that they’re… they’re… in a club’s cloakroom. Nah that’s shit isn’t it? Can’t I just do the Dustin Hoffman one again? If you’ve any idea about the band then you can probably guess that the lyrics mainly concern the difficulties and confusion faced by singer Thomas James as she underwent procedures to become Laura Jane, though I worry that the big story behind the record is in danger of overshadowing just what a fine and coherent example of furious, biting and diverse rock music it is. Closer Black Me Out is absolutely the best song of 2014 to picture yourself shouting at karaoke to- ‘Black me out/I wanna piss on the walls of your house/I wanna chop those brass rings/Off your fat fucking fingers/As if you were a king maker’.
Hey, I watched some films this year didn’t I? Now’s as good a time as any to list them, as in you’re unlikely to care any less about it than now:
5 Guardians of the Galaxy
Depending on your mood either the film that proved Marvel studios are currently on such a hot streak that they can take any old shit and craft from it a massively entertaining, enjoyable and frequently hilarious popcorn masterpiece, or just proof that Marvel can slap their logo on a 100 minute video of a pigeon corpse slowly decomposing and it’d still gross $900 million
4 The Wolf of Wall Street
Very confusing for some people, as the film never flashed up a subtitle on screen every 30 seconds explaining that Jordan Belfort’s actions are actually pretty objectionable- how on Earth are we supposed to make these judgements otherwise?
3 Inside Llewen Davis
Movies are about musicians either fall into two camps- the frustrating travails of the outstandingly talented yet tragically unappreciated or the humorous pratfalls of the hilariously terrible. ‘Inside Llewen Davis’ is the Coen’s brilliant snapshot of how life is as a musician who is simply ‘Ok’.
The difficulties and faced by the unlikelihood of being a generally decent priest. Brendan Gleeson is fast becoming the go-to actor when it comes to choosing reliably decent films to act in. He’s in Smurfs 2?? Right, that’s next on my list to watch…
1 Under the Skin
Stunning, disturbing, sexy, scary, beautiful, smart, daring, funny and generally wonderful. Yes, very much like myself.
Ok, sorry about that, back to normal business now:
Spoon have long been the coolest rock band to name-drop as your favourite- go on try it tonight at the office party when you’re talking to that nice-looking person who works in sales, if you say to them that this is your favourite album of the year they’re guaranteed to have sex with you. However conversely if somebody approaches you and tries to convince you that Spoon are their faves be very wary- they just want to have sex with you, they’ve never even heard of them. Go on, what’s your favourite Spoon song? My Girls?? That’s by Animal Collective for God’s sake! Go on, fuck off while this other person tells me how much they love Flying Lotus. Much as the critical soggy biscuit that has long been passed around over Spoon grates and you’d love to pick holes in their music, Spoon’s eighth is simply so fantastic that you can only bow down to its beauty. It kicks off with single of the year contender Rent I Pay and never really lets up- it’s an absolutely perfect encapsulation of how good indie music can be, and the production on it is so wonderfully crisp that it’s being advertised by Gary Lineker. Although to be honest even if it was a stinker the lyrics of Outlier alone (‘And I remember when you walked out of ‘Garden State’/’Cause you had taste, you had taste’) would be enough to secure it a place on this list.
Fucking hell, if I was getting paid per word (rather than not getting paid at all and performing this whole exercise as a ridiculously pointless vanity project) I could probably clock off for the weekend now after writing that title. If the length in some way intimidates you (ooh Matron. You know; ‘length’. Like a penis’s length? You see? Very funny) then perhaps ‘Fuck Off…’ is not the album for you, as it hardly considers brevity a virtue- three of its five tracks break the ten minute mark and the record is not afraid of sounding EPIC. It is an absolute fantastic noise though, frequently and thrillingly dancing with the possibility of becoming unlistenable but instead always remaining absolutely and violently exhilarating. It’s a breathtaking and perhaps radical theory of what a punk rock orchestra would sound like and the music wriggles through your skull and lays eggs in your brain that spawn and mutate for many hours after listening. I accept that perhaps it’s not for everyone, but there exist people who don’t like olives or drinking or oral sex or football- some people, and I can’t stress this enough, are fucking idiots.
8 Brody Dalle: Diploid Love
Ah shit, if you choose to categorise this as pop/punk you’ll render my previous statement about Against Me’s album being the year’s best by several furlongs rather nonsensical, but come on it’s only a fucking list, stop pretending you give a shit and lighten up a bit. It’s not pop/punk of course, it’s gloriously euphoric and combatively melodic rock music, simply nine collections of mind blowing choruses and hooks so pronounced that they’re each their own civil parish within the Hart district of northern Hampshire (yeah I really peaked far too early with that Dustin Hoffman film reference didn’t I? And that wasn’t that good in the first place). Dalle’s first solo sounds less like the brash punk of The Distillers and more akin to the abrasive and highly melodious rock of her husband’s band Queens of the Stone Age, though you’ll have to go a long way back to find a song Josh Homme’s wrote that’s quite as arresting as Dressed in Dreams or Rat Race (Ok, it was probably last year’s If I Had a Tail, but shut up I’m trying to make a point here). It also turns out writing about your children doesn’t have to be horrendously embarrassing if you use lyrical flushes like Dalle does in Meet the Foetus/Oh the Joy (‘You have sailed through the eye of my needle/A perfect parasite burgeoning Eden/You and I, in DNA, you’ll never get away’) and the appearance of Shirley Manson is always welcome, although I could live without the gurgling baby noises that I Don’t Need Your Love fades off into. Blood in Gutters is absolutely the best song of 2014 to picture yourself shouting at karaoke (Ok, I actually did say that about a different Against Me song didn’t I?)
FKA Twigs is one of the best things to happen to British music, or just all music in general, for absolute years. There, I said it. The artist Formally Known As Twigs (do you see what she did there?) is a giant, booming and hopefully deeply shaming laugh in the faces of people who still claim that it’s ‘all about the music’ as Twigs has created a whole universe around herself where the actual songs she might release- while definitely not being the smallest consideration- are merely further cogs in the FKA Twigs persona. Taliah Barnett’s assault on the sense includes a deep devotion to creating her wonderful look, her constantly gorgeous and challenging videos, her use of the stage act as close to individual performance art installations, if you scrape your nail across the speakers as ‘LP1’ (following ‘EP1’ and ‘EP2’- Twigs tends to take a more ‘Ronseal approach’ to naming her releases) plays it actually creates a scratch and sniff effect, and she smells wonderful. Twigs started out as a dancer (and such physical training is obvious every time you see how astonishingly she’s able to perform) in videos for artists such as Jessie J and Kylie Minogue, music she felt didn’t represent her at all and in Video Girl especially she attacks this false pretension (‘Is she the girls from the video?/Stop, stop lying to me… You liar, you liar, you lie ‘) yet it seems that once she’s given full reign to produce her own work instead of stripping it all down as a cack-handed presentation of the ‘real me’ she adds more and more artifice to better demonstrate the vast differentiation between the real person and whatever persona is presented to you as a pop culture artefact. What’s that? Is the music any good?? Oh it’s fucking fantastic, I thought you already knew that.
We should all really be thankful for Mogwai, over nearly 20 years they’ve released around 8 albums that merely centralise and more closely define their resolutely uncommercial breed of ultra-arty post-punk instrumentalism, never once even threatening to be huge or make that leap over into the mainstream (though their official t-shirts were once the must have fashion accesory), yet always selling quite enough copies and playing quite enough gigs for it never really being a threat that they might have to consider jacking it all in and getting a proper job. Their success has decent enough in fact for there now not even existing the requirement for Stuart Braithwaite to continue his summer job (a bit of data entry at the construction company his Dad works at, which he did until he was 37). However with every new release each 2/3 years there remained the nagging feeling that the band would never quite better or even truly match the sheer majesty of their 1997 debut ‘Young Team’. Whether ‘Rave Tapes’ is now their greatest release is up for debate, but it’s certainly and by some distance their most wonderful since that epoch-defining debut.
Which epoch did it define?
You said it was epoch-defining, which epoch did it define precisely?
The… Well it… Shut up! I’m trying to write here: The name ‘Rave Tapes’ is something of a red herring, this isn’t ‘Mogwai Do David Guetta’, although electronics are often used in areas such as the breakdown of the astonishing Remurdered to devastating effect. Over the album synth stabs are instead used sparingly to instead boost their already confident sound– the isn’t the sound of Mogwai revolutionising, but it may be the sound of them perfecting.
Released December 2013! Read the rules dickhead! Perhaps the fact that Beyoncé’s fifth still sounds as wonderful, ambitious, intoxicating and bewitching now as it did near 12 months ago- perhaps actually a lot more so- is your first hint of just quite what an extraordinary achievement it is. It’s so rare that you see an artist as big as Beyoncé- who could absolutely be argued to be the biggest singer in the World- using the extra space allowed by their sheer fame to experiment with and shape their sound, challenging their millions of guaranteed listeners with music from ever so left of field rather than force feeding them dozens of Single Ladies until the fans explode like Mr. Creosote in a messy blob of hip shaking and finger waves. There are no obvious hits on ‘Beyoncé’, yet neither does the record sound like anything but gloriously state of the art pop music, Beyoncé showing that challenging the accepted norms of the genre doesn’t mean you should ever have to resort to anything close to being unlistenable. Even though ‘Beyoncé’ is hardly Slint’s ‘Spiderland’ the fact that someone of her fame is releasing songs as wonderfully obtuse yet still outstandingly beautiful as Haunted (far more experimental and envelope-pushing than anything on the previous Mogwai album) is absolutely something to be celebrated. Beyoncé’s new found embrace of feminism is occasionally a little cack-handed- calling her solo tour ‘Mrs. Carter was a hideous error if you want to fly under the feminist banner, while Jay-Z’s allusion to Ike Turner’s wife-beating in his rap for Drunk in Love is a dumb mistake (merely an ill-thought out lyric rather than any real support for spousal abuse, I actually think the awfulness of the ‘Your bresteses are my breakfastes’ line deserves closer inspection)- yet at least they’re there and the inclusion of the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk sample in Flawless adds another layer of anger to an already thrilling song. ‘Beyoncé’ is an equally dark and deeply sexual album and by God it’s absolutely wonderful.
Annie Clark’s fourth (seriously? Self-titled? Get a fucking grip- your debut is allowed to be self-titled, or perhaps your late career attempt to reverse a loss of form and fortune and recapture the days when you were relevant. But fourth?? It shows such a heinous lack of respect for the conventions that I couldn’t let it pass) is the sound of something absolutely marvellous: an artist’s growth into their own sound and style reaching completion and their feet finally filling their shoes perfectly and delightfully comfortably. You could argue whether or not it’s St Vincent’s best record (her third ‘Strange Mercy’ was at least as wonderful, and contained perhaps more moments of that could truly stun you silent with its sheer invention and idiosyncrasy) but it’s definitely Clark at her most delightfully comfortable with her sound. ‘St Vincent’ carries the feeling that it was written and recorded in one take, maybe a lazy Sunday afternoon after Clarke realised the local cinema wasn’t actually showing ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ until early evening and she suddenly had a few hours free. St Vincent (the artist, not the record. Do you see how confusing this becomes?) takes her cues from prog rock and jazz, never taking the obvious route to any song’s destination, and yet crafts it all together to create wonderful and wonderfully unlikely pop music- you’d never accuse the gorgeous Prince Johnny of allowing its experimentation to get in the way of it being perfect pop. She’s also an absolutely killer guitarist, yet like the equally talented Prince she rarely if ever pushed the skill to the forefront for cheap fret-wanking, only ever really utilising it when it best services the incredible songs. St Vincent is certainly a major player now. The open mouthed cheek slapping reaction to Birth in Reverse‘s opening lines (‘Oh what an ordinary day/Take out the garbage, masturbate’) when it was first released as a single in December last year shows that in 2014 (well, 2013 technically) there’s still nothing as shocking as a woman admitting to wanking. Unless of course everybody was just shocked that she took out her own rubbish- don’t these people have people for that sort of thing?
Wow… Just… Wow…
Sharon Van Etten’s fourth (obviously not self-titled- watch and learn Clark) is an absolutely devastating Sturm und Drag bulldozer of emotion, a sharp piercing blade of hopeless heartache that is as heartbreaking and moving as any movie you’ve seen since ‘Toy Story 3’. What makes ‘Are We There’ (the lack of a question mark in the album title is particularly significant) so especially moving is that it’s not about the big emotional turmoils in life, it’s not about that horrific break-up, not about the time fiancé Jeff shagged your sister, not about people close to you dying, not about that time you both sat down and watched the opening scene of ‘Up’ together (it seems I link large emotional feelings exclusively with Pixar movies. I’m Ok with that). Instead the album’s real power lies in its mortifying presentation of a relationship slowly crawling towards its end, the sad and slow death of a union that was once beautiful now just consists of two people silently hating each other yet staying together because they believe they for some reason should. Van Etten begins track eight by hoping ‘Maybe something will change’ but by the song’s end is clear where the relationship is now heading- ‘Nothing will change/Nothing will change/Nothing will change/Nothing will change’. The album is one 46 minute speculation over whether it’s all really worth it– why allow yourself to feel so close to someone when the massive possibility of it ending in this sort of sluggish despair exists? It’s unlikely this kind of slow surrender has ever been better caught musically, and Van Etten has abandoned the slow Americana that she was previously known for (apart from Taking Chances, the nearest the record has to a dud and a song that really halts the album’s flawless flow somewhat) and instead dressed the songs up in sumptuous music that acts as a much needed counterpoint to the lyrics’ occasional gloom. Thankfully just when you think you’ve been maybe clinically depressed ‘Are We There’ ends with the relatively sunny When the Sun Comes Up smirking slightly at the relationship’s collapse (‘I washed your dishes, but I shitted in your bathroom’) and the album concludes with Sharon giggling as she messes up a recording- maybe everything’s going to be alright. Shit, maybe this should be higher. Look, the top three are pretty much interchangeable to be honest, they’re all joint winners really, Ok?
Where do you start with Young Fathers’ debut? It’s an introduction into a World that’s at least as evocative and thrilling as the Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’, even if that debut was quite clearly a hip-hop release and to simply label this album under the same genre can’t help but feel like laziness- it’s kind of hip-hop but at the same time frequently something else entirely, constantly taking turns off I into weirder and weirder places without ever sounding strange. Young Fathers have a marvellous and intense (‘intense’ is apparently the one word that comes to mind when meeting the band) desire and ability to experiment and challenge their sound, while at the same time possessing an innate understanding of how to pull off an absolutely storming chorus and every song here is nailed down to a delicious melody that ensures no cattle’s ever too spooked by the record’s inherent craziness. While the band are based in Edinburgh, and the music at times has a wonderful ‘Edinburgh Tattoo hip-hop’ (Edip Tattop? Eugh that’s horrible, forget I said anything)approach,there are even splashes of digitised bagpipe sounds occasionally sprinkled over the songs, which somehow manages to sound brilliant and in no way as crap as you’d quite justifiably imagine, but ‘Dead’ is a very international sounding album, the results of how brilliant a melting pot of different cultures and styles can be. Of the band’s three members Kayus Bankole spent a lot of his formative years living in his parents’ homeland of Nigeria, while Alloysious Massaquoi (these names are requiring some furious copying and pasting) was born in Liberia and moved to Edinburgh aged 4 (G Hastings, born in Scotland to Scottish parents, much be rather self-conscious about being the ‘boring’ member) and their sound is a wonderful aural example of the kind of majesty possible with immigration, how the introduction of different cultures doesn’t in any way result in the ‘watering down’ of any one way of life, but rather introduces a thrilling third way that is like a wonderful amalgamation of what has gone before it. Right, now I just need to somehow manufacture a baby born to Kayus Bankole and Sharon van Etten (hang on, that’s eugenics isn’t it? Yeah, better scrap that idea). To be honest, I was seriously considering making this number one outright until the record became a gloriously surprising winner of the Mercury Prize (rarely has an album deserved the accolade more) and it all became a bit too obvious (like the winner isn’t obvious already). Like I say though, these top three are pretty much interchangeable, it’s all meaningless, get over it.
The next album wasn’t even nominated for the Mercury Prize! Bloody immigrants, coming over here, stealing our rewards…
“It still whets the appetite for next year’s promised Krautrock album (if only to see how terrible that could potentially be)”- 2013 Palmers
Ah come on, were you really expecting anything else? Tiger Woods was once asked whether he considered himself to be the greatest golfer of all time and replied that he only wanted to be involved in the conversation, similarly while the Manics’ 12th (twelfth! I need a lie down…) may not automatically be considered their best work, it at least deserves a seat at the table. In fact 1994’s ‘The Holy Bible’, 1996’s ‘Everything Must Go’ and this form a delightful triptych of the three stages of the Manics. This third stage actually opened up with last year’s underwhelming and rather wet ‘Rewind the Film’ (after stage two had closed off with the equally unremarkable ‘Postcards From a Young Man’) and it seemed like one of the generation’s most essential and exciting bands (in fact, fuck that, this is my list: the generation’s most essential and exciting bands) might be about to sadly drift off into middle-aged irrelevance, perhaps releasing one acoustic meandering every two or three years to the wider public’s collective shrug. ‘Futurology’ was previewed by Nicky Wire as always throwing out brilliant sound bites about how the new album was going to sound like Bowie, Kraftwerk, 80s Simple Minds and of course Krautrock, how it was going to encapsulate the band’s new Euro-influenced sound and was fittingly recorded in Berlin, the kind of brilliant trash-talking we’ve now come to expect to preview every release before we actually hear the record and it only sounds like more Manics. Then lead single Walk Me To the Bridge (which Nicky claims has nothing to do with Richey Edwards and is in fact all about his own uncertainty over the band, which is patently bollocks and surely Wire isn’t arrogant enough to refer to himself with the line ‘Still blinded by your intellect’) arrived and sounded brilliant– a thrilling combination of electro stabs and BIG melodic blasts based around a hook so massive you could hang Mussolini on it (yes! I knew I had one left in me!) and people started whispering about whether the Manics could somehow pull it off. When we first heard the second release- the gloriously bonkers Europa Geht Dirch Mich (German for ‘Europe gives dirt mice’) featuring a wonderful guest vocal by German actor Nina Hoss that sounds like nothing if not Goldfrapp’s Train fed through a meet grinder- the band’s wonderful new direction’s success began to become clear. Talking it had never been a problem but it seemed that they were actually going to walk it on the new album. And so it proved- ‘Futurology’ is a perfect 13 tracks and 48 minutes that manages to take on many new influences and perform new tricks while still sounding like nobody else like the Manics. And despite all these new influences ‘Futurology’ is a very ‘Manics’ album- no other band could happily stick such wonderful silliness as Sex, Power, Love and Money on such an ostensibly ‘serious’ album without batting an eyelid, no other band could sing a chorus of ‘I am the Sturm und Drag/I am the schadenfraude’ as they do here on Misguided Missile, no other band could express such self-awareness as the Manics do in Next Jet to Leave Moscow (‘So you played in Cuba did you like it brother?/I bet you felt proud you silly little fucker/And all the sixties dreamers called us English/Said we started something we couldn’t finish’- as always the best Manic Street Preachers songs are about the Manic Street Preachers). Even with the album sounding quite so ‘Manicsy’ it still fits in an unusually large number of guest appearances that are all uniformly brilliant, from the aforementioned Hoss to Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside turning up on the wonderful Between the Clock and the Bed to the absolutely gorgeous voice of Georgia Ruth on the absolutely gorgeous Divine Youth, it seems the Manics have created whole political party where anybody’s welcome and it all sounds like fantastic fun. When the band started writing the album they couldn’t have foreseen how when it would be released the concept of Europe and people being (un)invited would turn out to be such a hot button subject, yet when it was released ‘Futurology’ suddenly turned out to be the anti-UKIP album, a statement of how wonderful Europe is and how blessed we are to be a part of it, looking- as the title suggests- to a idealised future where more borders are torn down rather than Farage’s constant hankering for a past where more such things existed. In fact this album and the Young Fathers’ debut (plus that child of Sharon van Etten and Kayus Bankole I’m engineering) can both be seen as a wonderful riposte to the current popular ideas of cutting the country off from the outside World (two of Young Fathers’ three members would be deported under UKIP policies. As would Nigel Farage’s children but let’s just ignore that) and instead highlights the possibilities of what beauty could be created if we all pulled as one.
Ah shit, this is rapidly turning into some hippy bullshit, I’m off fox hunting.
The album’s great by the way.
We’re done! More than 18’000 words, do you see what can be achieved if you don’t have a job? See you next year, where I’m guessing Rhianna will be number one and The Men will be about 46.