It’s the most wonderful time of year, which can only mean one thing – it’s time for us to look back over the last twelve months and choose our favourite albums of 2014. From long-awaited returns to barely-dry debuts, 2014 has seen more than its fair share of great records. We’ll be unveiling our ten Albums of the Year one by one for the rest of the year, starting with…
Woman’s Hour – Conversations
Perfectly distilling recent hits that deal in dreamy, melodic pop (Beach House, Jessie Ware, The xx etc.), Woman’s Hour landed one of our favourite albums of the year with their debut Conversations. It manages to be distinct from the albums it has taken its lead from: less dense than The xx’s debut, less euphoric than Beach House – Woman’s Hour shape their slinky, innocent and delicate pop into something very special indeed. Vocals from Fiona Burgess consistently provide the record’s equilibrium between the moody basslines and shimmering guitars. This isn’t an album that hits you over the head, it’s a subtle, seductive and beautifully judged collection which rewards repeated listens: we urge you to check it out if it’s not in your library already.
Chet Faker – Built On Glass
Australian producer, songwriter, and singer Nick Murphy, a.k.a. Chet Faker, first came to prominence on music blogs when he surfaced with a cover of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ back in 2011. His fusion of piano ballads, soulful belters and looped electronica serve up an inventive, multi-layered album. We’re huge fans of his take on R’n’B-meets electronic and also the risks this album takes – it’s eclectic but doesn’t lack focus. Parts-James Blake, parts-Van Morrison, Murphy’s skilful slide between genres and moods has given 2014 one of its most interesting debuts, and points to a bright and fascinating future for Chet Faker.
Jungle – Jungle
They were carried into 2014 on a whirlwind of hype and remained shrouded in mystery for its early months, but London electro-funk collective Jungle truly stepped out of the shadows in July with the release of their self-titled debut album. With their sultry brand of midnight funk and future soul providing the backdrop for the falsetto vocals of Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson, it’s a dimly-lit and intoxicating album – one that proved that there is far more to Jungle than a few expertly-choreographed videos.
La Roux – Trouble In Paradise
Returning six years after her debut, La Roux’s new album is a rare thing in pop – an album with little waste; no filler, all killer. Over the nine tracks, one thing becomes apparent, La Roux might not have spent the last half decade-plus reinventing herself, but there’s a sense of more accomplished, focused artist at work. This albums rips through, but even in the brevity there’s a lot to take in – the tropical pop of ‘Kiss and Not Tell’, the electro-balladry of ‘Let Me Down Gently’ and the glorious kitsch of ‘Tropical Chancer’. If this album isn’t in your life, you’re missing out on one of 2014’s most joyous moments.
The Gloaming – The Gloaming
A supergroup made up for the most part of feted traditional Irish musicians, The Gloaming‘s debut album is a thing of beauty. Connecting virtuoso Irish folk talents to the minimalist output of one of New York’s finest contemporary pianists, together they convincingly blur genre lines and push the elements of what we know as ‘trad’ into thrilling new directions. At times it sticks vehemently to its roots, other times it floats on the same musical plains as Sigur Rós or Keith Jarrett. A rare achievement and a debut to savour, this has been an album we’ve revisited on many occasions this year, and it still thrills, still amazes. Disregard any preconceptions of what genres this may be filed under and embrace a truly unique collection.
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
With their second album, Atlanta’s Killer Mike and Brooklyn’s El-P proved that their critically-acclaimed 2013 debut as Run The Jewels was anything but a fluke. Run The Jewels 2 finds the pair on electrifying form once again, picking up where RTJ left off and taking it up a notch. The lyrical volleys come thick and fast, with El and Mike almost tripping over each other as they unleash verse after verse, each one seemingly more imaginative than the last. El-P’s heavyweight production lends the album a menacing edge, which is only heightened by the sense of anti-establishment anger that bubbles beneath the surface, more than occasionally spilling over as they take aim at the police, religious leaders and plenty more. Separately Killer Mike and El-P are strong – but together they seem to be untouchable.
Kiasmos – Kiasmos
The debut album from Nordic duo Kiasmos is a rare thing indeed; not since Jon Hopkins’ 2013 Mercury Prize-nominated Immunity have we heard an electronic album that has this much warmth and intrinsic human emotion. That it’s such a special album shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – both Ólafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen have built up solid reputations in their own fields over the years – but it’s still difficult not to be taken aback by its beauty. This is a striking album, with undulating orchestral arrangements, pulsating synth lines, sparse piano melodies and electronic beats all intertwining beautifully.
Hozier – Hozier
Andrew Hozier-Byrne’s own personal brand of evangelical blues tempered by delicate and dark folk-rock is surely one of the most unexpected success stories of 2014. With the video for ‘Take Me To Church’ combining topical subject matter (homophobic attacks in Russia) and a brilliant song, it had the magic ingredients required to go viral in late 2013. The album that followed drips with quality: the lyrics draw spiritual, poetic swirls around hard riffs and sharp hooks. It’s a lesson in songwriting and composition, but also a joyous celebration of rock and blues that hasn’t been heard in such a convincing package for some time. From the stomping refrains of ‘From Eden’ to the gorgeous delicate folk of ‘In A Week’, Hozier’s debut is one to savour.
King Creosote – From Scotland With Love
We defy anybody to listen to King Creosote’s soundtrack to Virginia Heath’s film From Scotland With Love without feeling all fuzzy inside. It’s a gorgeous, heartfelt collection that finds Kenny Anderson embracing a widescreen and windswept sound, and in doing so coming up with one of his finest albums to date (and he’s had a fair few). He might not be the most well-known Scottish songwriters, but he has proven yet again that he is something of a national treasure. Understated but bursting with feeling, From Scotland With Love is one of the year’s most affecting albums.
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
Their previous albums showed plenty of promise and came with a handful of standout tracks, but it was in 2014 that Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs really came good with their third full-length, Lost In The Dream. A bleary-eyed blend of contemplative shoegaze and dusty blue-collar Americana, it was recorded and produced almost entirely by the group’s main man, Adam Granduciel. Darkness and isolation are recurring themes, themes that come from Granduciel’s mental instability during the recording of the album. But although it comes from a dark place, Lost In The Dream glows with a hazy analogue warmth, giving it a sense of quiet optimism. A stunning album.