This year, I had to cull this top forty from 108 albums I bought. Can you imagine how fucking painful that was? I had to leave out a lot of music that found a place in my heart. So, anything, everything you see below is worthy of owning, doesn’t matter if it’s number 40 or number 1. The bandnames link through to Last.fm so please do give them a listen if you have time, they are all immensely talented artists.
2014, it’s been a fucking riot! OH MY EARS!
EDIT – thanks to Robbie for spotifying the list! HERE YOU GO!
40. Hauschka – Abandoned City
Wherein abandoned cities are each given varying prepared piano homages. Some work better than others (Pripyat is the most moving for me) but they’re all perfect in their own, tiny ways.
39. Homeboy Sandman – Hallways
Delightfully meandering and IDGAF hip hop from HS. A crucial antagonist.
38. D. Tiffany – S/T
The almighty net has given me fuck-all background about D. Tiffany apart from this techno opus came out on cassette. It certainly sounds like this was dubbed from one. But that just adds to the charm.
37. La Dispute – Rooms Of The House
Call them tradcore, call them neoscreamo or whatevercore, this is a damn fine album of shouty angst. Very hooky!
36. Clark – Clark
All you really need to know is that is some fucking beautiful electronic noise going on here. If that has ever meant anything to you, get this record. Is this a Clark pop record??
35. Termanology – Mas Goya
Beautiful, jazzy breaks that hark back to prime Tribe seems to be a thing this year. But Mas Goya couples that with actual lyrics. You know, like Tribe had.
34. Tycho – Awake
One of my top emowalking albums of this year. Insanely addictive flowing, thrumming electronic landscapes.
33. Leon Vynehall – Music For The Uninvited
A far more ‘hands in the air’ proposition than Tycho but behind the beats is a sense of whimsy and nostalgia that echoes the best of Music Has The Right To Children.
32. The Tops – Picture You Staring
When I first heard Tops’ Blind Faze, I thought I was hearing a previously un-released Fleetwood Mac demo, circa Lies. Yes, it’s that poppy.
31. Integral – Sercosa
This album is too disconcerting to be classed as ambient, to troubling to be new age. Yes, there are washes and pleasing melodic elements but behind these are always tiny creatures stridulating and waiting to claw your flesh.
30. Eternal Summers – The Drop Beneath
Just a huge slab of ’80s-influenced indie, the most poppy track being Gouge which has a definite touch of the Bob Smith about it.
29. Thee Oh Sees – Drop
Well, they never put a fucking foot wrong, do they? Another mad, psyched-up, stupid, lovely record.
28. Dag Savage – E&J
Exile on the beats, Johaz on the mic and also on some horribly intense lyrics. This isn’t party hip hop but listen on a train journey and your world will be different after.
27. Let’s Wrestle – Let’s Wrestle
Pull Through For You is perfect Let’s Wrestle ~ wry, sarcastic, doomed, misanthropic indiepop. Lovely.
26. CYNE – All My Angles Are Right
I’ve loved CYNE for a while now and this was ten dollars well-spent on Bandcamp. It’s that knife-edge balance between beats and rhyme that they always, always get right. The lyrics… man. Oh and CYNE, angles… geddit?
25. Cymbals – The Age Of Fracture
A joyful, innocent indie record that kind of reminds me of very early XTC in its geeky jumpiness.
24. Broken Bells – After The Disco
I really am unsure why Mercer and DM aren’t hogging the radio with their pop tunes. This is just a supremely catchy album. At least use it for beds, lazy TV people! C’MON!
23. Fatima – Yellow Memories
A beautiful soul record. Intimate and also universal with a few wiggy fusiony excursions. Mmm…
22. Objekt – Flatland
Minimal, shimmering, dreamy with the occasional muttering glitches or vast creatures sloshing around in the background. Quite, quite yummy!
21. People Under The Stairs – 12 Step Program
This is unassailable, unmissable. Like they always deliver. Another band that should be a household name and not in the lesser-known bin.
20. Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita
Deerhoof were weirdly absent from my 2013 list because they didn’t record an album. Yes, they are that consistent. They’re consistently mental. THANKS, ‘HOOF!
19. Copeland – Because I’m Worth It
An assured, powerful album that melds deliberately unsettling drones and ticks with catchier riffs and lyrics. Not hugely poppy but hugely moreish, weirdly. The city is yours…
18. Alvvays – Alvvays
AlWays? AlVays? ELVIS? This is the best Elvis album since Feral Pop Frenzy. Just lovely, summery, swirly indiepop. These are going to be all over quirky, indie romcoms, aren’t they?
17. Kishi Bashi – Lighght
This is one my mate Lozzer put my way and so it sounds like a thousand happy mice Rockettes putting on a loose musical based on old Bonzo Dog b-sides. In other words, AWESOME!
16. Withered Hand – New Gods
“Some of you guys should get with my god, he hates about everything” was my gateway lyric to this album. If the idea of crossing Springsteen anthems with Kinks-ian vignettes appeals to you, this is your album, mate.
15. Black Milk – If There’s A Hell Below
The interplay between BM’s beats and his frenetic, almost machined delivery is at a height here. And all the guest spots work too. Fucking hell.
14. The Hidden Cameras – Age
Whether it’s the cruel opera of Gay Goth Scene or the Gahan dancefloor drawl of Carpe Jugular, Joel and co. manage to surprise and destabilise and be poppy. This is a perfect electropop album. Somewhere, Martin Gore is weeping.
13. Manchester Orchestra – Cope
I’ve listened the shit out of this album, it’s so fucking addictive. With a fairly straight, guitar-band production, I should maybe get bored of it. But the riffs! And the lyrics! And Andy Hull’s voice! Shows how much you can do with rock, if you’re clever enough.
12. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags
Speaking of clever.. Hello, Malkmus! Look, you either love Pavement/Malkmus or you don’t. This album doesn’t push sonic cathedrelic boundaries but it does present some of his finest songs that make you cry when you recognise he’s talking about you. Yeah, you, in your Sonics shirt. You.
11. Main Flow – The Cincinnati Kid
Usually, I approach albums that are 71 minutes long with trepidation. Usually, they’re an exercise in never mind the quality feel the width, like a terrible buffet that costs a tenner. But with Main Flow (and assorted guests), that isn’t the case. Tracks like Boomtown just kick your door down and give you a mad, shiteating grin. How can you not like them?
10. Trap Them – Blissfucker
Look, they were always mental as fuck but adding Brad Fickeisen (ex-Red Chord, another of my faves) just seems to work a strange magic on Blissfucker. Whether it’s the full-blast freak outs or breakdowns, Trap Them have this majestic, arrogant edge. They swagger, they saunter, they don’t give a fuck about you. Raw and ragged, this is a perfect heavy record.
9. Akrobatik – Built To Last
It’s hard to believe I first heard AK in The Perceptionists, waaay back in ’05. He was a master then and it’s not like he’s been getting any worse. On Built, he switches and swerves, weaving the kind of magic lesser rappers will never cast. And he makes it all seem effortless. Which is some trick when you’re rapping next to Masta Ace. Add to that a soundscape that eschews hip hop cliche, that actually tries to do something fresh, something more than quotidian beats and you have a supreme album.
Every track has a hook, every track has a killer lyric.
8. Noisia – Purpose
I never listen to this when I’m driving because the stuttering beats and howling, grumbling synths would make me instantly ram any cars around me before climbing on the roofs and masturbating onto their fractured windscreens. So, I warned you.
7. Planningtorock – All Love’s Legal
I got this earlier in the year, liked it but didn’t love it. Then, I found myself going back to it. It wasn’t the politics although they’re obviously relevant to my interests. It’s the way Jam Rostron makes stupid, funky disco music and slips the tricky stuff in around the corners. The sheer subversive gall makes me smile. It’s the classic sugar-coated pill. These are pop songs that misogynists will dance to and, thus, find themselves singing along to lyrics calling for the dismantling of patriarchy. How beautiful is that?
6. Jack Jetson – Adventures Of Johnny Strange
Before I even knew anything about him, I thought, hold on, this accent sounds a bit familiar, innit? And it turns out Jack Jetson is a Notts lad emigrated to Brum. Whatever ~ I’m not a petty regionalist and his locality doesn’t usurp his mentality which is to deliver my fave hip hop album of 2014.
Of course, I’m a sucker for Leaf Dog’s production, too. There’s just this weird juxtaposition where LD takes something so soulful, so intrinsically American like the riff behind Blue Moon and converts it into this Midlands vibe. That sounds really wanky but it’s true: this is definitely and defiantly a British rap record and for that, we can all bow down. Because if hip hop is about anything, it’s about truth. Whether it’s grimy shit or paeans to the actual art of the rhyme, Jetson has it bashing out, his confidence perfectly matched by his ability. And when him and BVA get fucking going… maaaaate….
5. Kiasmos – Kiasmos
This album is a soundtrack waiting for a film. Sadly, Zimmer got Interstellar so it’s cruelly robbed of the herculean tides it demands to frame.
I’ve listened to this album emowalking. I’ve listened to it driving around at 4am, trying to see if there’s anything to keep me on this planet. I’ve listened to it falling asleep into another universe full of the colour and love that this one lacks.
Every time, I hear different things. And I’m caught by the contrast between the more classical, ambient side and the pulsing, electronic rhythmic side. It’s a beautiful contrast, one flows from the other gracefully, never feeling squashed or inappropriate. That contrast also helps the album in terms of growing on you because you mis-remember as being “ooh, floaty” or “ooh minimal tech house” and then you re-listen and realise the delicacy of its little chimeric beak. This is why it’s my favourite electronic album of 2014.
Sadly, I’m a shit filmmaker. Otherwise…
4. Gold-Bears – Dalliance
Earlier this year, I DJed at HDIF. And I’d just got this album so I did my normal thing: skipping through the tracks to find very poppy, immediate songs that I thought indiekids would love on first listening.
And there were too many.
Every song on this album is poppy. Even the very quiet I Hope They’re Right, you could play at the end of a night, a bittersweet closer. And the rest of them? ALL BANGERS, MATE!
If you have ever liked any form of guitar-based indie or alternative rock, you need this album in your life. Whether you’re a badly-ageing C86-er like me or some young, dapper whippersnapper cutting a rug, this is an album you must own.
3. Babymetal – Babymetal
You can blame my mate Matt for this entry being here at all. I was absolutely oblivious the the metalbabies until he introduced me to their fabulous collision of JPop and metal. I was instantly hooked by the melodies because, not being fluent in Japanese, the lyrics went over my head.
And it’s the melodies and the sheer metal awesomeness of Babymetal the album that makes it transcend novelty and lodge itself awkwardly into weird, like a fishbone harpooning your gum. This is basically the most expensive outsider music record ever made. If you’re open-minded enough to groove to Shooby Taylor non-ironically, then Babymetal are for you. If you dance to Abba ironically, this is not for you.
Where do I start? Every track is perfect, every track is mental. The track line! is one of the most schizoid, strange things I’ve heard in a pop record, it skips through genres like pop stars skip through worthy causes. Every person I’ve played it to has just done this face at me of WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? Kind of pisses on Venetian Snares and Igorrr in that regard.
Then take the absolutely beautiful Head Bangya!!, this is a chorus that is absurdly, insanely catchy. You will find yourself singing it as you do your shopping and, unless you actually are a teenage Japanese girl, that’s going to make you look pretty fucking weird. Gimme Chocolate transforms a simple sugary comestible request into a surreal hymn to THE ICHOR OF LORD THEOBROMOS. Why is it so catchy? I DON’T KNOW! Why am I singing it in Marks & Sparks till baby grebs give me evils? BECAUSE I HAVE TO!
What the hell are they going to do for their next album? They invented THIS, how do they follow that??
2. Cheatahs – Cheatahs
Now I’m old, I see falsified, particular versions of history I’ve lived through. I’m disproportionately annoyed that every baby greb knows Nirvana because of 5SOS but none of them are wearing Mudhoney, Tad or Melvins shirts. Part of this revisionism is how Loveless is the MBV album talked about hyperbolically when, as everyone who was there at the time knows, it was Isn’t Anything that was the real shit. If you agree with me on that, you will probably love Cheatahs because they are unafraid to shoegaze. But there’s no loose, baggy dance rhythms here. It’s more about ferocious, flailing machine gun snare fills and sticking your head into a jet engine. Good.
Even on their slowies like Mission Creep, they echo lost shoegaze bands like The Boo Radley or the godlike Smashing Orange rather than later MBV. The thing is, you could write them off as being rockist curators if the damned songs weren’t so good. Over forty-six minutes, Cheatahs build a coherent, cohesive narrative. This, like Kiasmos, is soundtrack music. It’s been my album of choice when driving home from clubbing because it doesn’t feel like you’re listening to music, it just is. It has achieved that highest form of art in that it deceives you into thinking it has not been constructed.
So, I get in my car, press start and after the little intro, Geographic storms into the air around me, through the car and beyond. Midpointer The Swan starts with a Mouldy/Sugary riff that just kicks and twists and shimmers and oooh, look at that, the rear brakelights are flashing in time. When it finishes, you’re home. And you’re home.
There’s a lot of shit muttered about nugaze. I generally agree with it, partially because White Town ripped off Sonic Youth, MBV and Ride shamelessly when we first started as a guitar band and I’m jealous of other people’s success. But if you hear anyone, anyone talking shit about Cheatahs, just take a few minutes to point out that they have chewed-up the genre and spat out something perfect, which is something a lot of the bands who were original shoegazers failed to do.
1. Martha – Courting Strong
I had the privilege of seeing Martha rule the Main Stage at Indietracks last year so I know they are one the best live bands I have ever seen. Their frantic, often ragged punk polemics are as warm and funny as they are totally, completely serious. And I love their politics, I love their straight-edgeness, I love their stupidly posicore spirit. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can deliver a brilliant album. Will all that energy translate, will it captivate when we can’t see them jumping round like knobheads?
Courting Strong is the best album of 2014 because it is the complete, auteurist expression of intelligent, awesome people. Compromise, zero. Pandering, zero. Weird, fake American accents, zero. Heteronormative cliches, zero. Here, fucking finally, is an indiepop band, a punk band which remembers that those genres were founded on political bases. I see so many indiepop bands who ape the aesthetic or instrumentation of the C-86 era while conveniently ignoring everything political about those times. And, truly, who wants a bunch of Tory fucks in cardigans mewling about some imaginary girl who wouldn’t suck them off?
Take the last bit of Present Tense:
You lost your lucky purple lighter/On the Megabus to Brighton/But on the way you read a zine that made you think/You’d be a good Anarcho writer/But not even Voltairine de Cleyre/Could successfully get you there/Without a list of aspirations gushing out of your pen/As you stewed in that sticky chair/Regretting the choices that we made,
You’re wishing your life away/Or longing for bygone days/Oh would you give me a fucking break? Cause they won’t come back/
So give me something that lasts/You’re searching for answers in tough circumstances but I just need something that lasts/so give me something that lasts.
It’s hardly “boo hoo, some mean girl fucked someone who wasn’t me” is it?
Couple Martha’s lyrical prowess with a gazillion pop hooks that any living motherfucker would find irresistible and you have this rare thing, a niche record that is also a proper pop record. If Dust, Juice, Bones, Hair made it onto an advert or primetime Radio 1, it would be an instant hit. I have no doubt.
This is the pop music I love: I can sing along to it, I can dance to it and it makes me think. Most stuff I hear can manage two out of three at most. Chart pop, generally one, if that. But how often does pop music leave you musing for days after, trying to pick out what was being said or, more importantly, why?
Courting Strong is flicking vs at your mates, it’s rolling up your skirt at the waist as soon as you’re in school and your Mum can’t see, it’s oinking when you pass a copper, it’s telling the rest of the world to fuck off because this, right here, this is important. It’s as fundamentally British and Durham as it is Internationalist and intersectional. Buy it now, here.