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We invited you to vote for your top 10 albums of 2014 and vote you did (thanks). The long-list was varied, as is the top 10, albeit with a distinctly Irish flavour towards the head of the leader board. There may be albums on this list that leave you cold but will be loved by others for the rest of their lives and therein lies the beauty of art. Enjoy the list. Roll on the deadly music of 2015.
10. Future Islands – Singles
Singles, the latest album from Baltimore based synth-pop band Future Islands, makes it into the HeadStuff Top Ten list by a nose (I would like to state right now that Singles was one of my favourite albums of 2014, in fact in my mind it was pole position material). Yet bringing up the rear is nothing to be ashamed of when you look at the artists who made it in ahead of them.
I have a habit of taking a new album for a test drive when I get it first, and yes, by that I mean that I pop it into the car CD player and I just drive. For some reason I find it easier to listen to music when I’m driving. And what a spin I had with Singles; I ended up listening to it almost four times on the trot, driving that little bit further to hear more or hear it all over again. My initial opinion of their sound (Singles is their fourth album by the way, I had never heard of them before Paul McLoone gave them a spin on Today FM) was that of a strange fusion of The Pet Shop Boys, Billy Corgan’s vocals from The Smashing Pumpkins, Roxy Music and a little bit of Joe Cocker (let’s face it, a little Joe Cocker is always better than no Joe Cocker at all). If any or all of those artists tickle your fancy then Singles is an album you should get into. The standout tracks are the pop-tastic ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ (which was criminally underplayed on Irish radio), the poetic ‘Song For Our Grandfathers’, the Corgan-esque ‘Fall From Grace’ and the beautiful ‘A Dream of You and Me’.
In fact, the whole album is magic. For me Future Islands, with Singles, has created the album that Elbow has strived to make for years and never fully succeeded. That is not an insult to Elbow, I love them too but Future Islands are the band that I always wanted Elbow to be. A chilled and assured piece of music making, Singles is all about melody and emotion. What else is there really?
By Graham Connors
9. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
Flying Lotus aka Stephen Ellison has extended his already widely audible musical influences on You’re Dead! from electronica to hip hop and jazz. Ellison deals with themes of death in a surprisingly upbeat and irreverent way, perfectly described elsewhere as closer to a wake than a funeral in terms of atmosphere.
You’re Dead! is Ellison’s most varied and free-flowing album to date, its longest track being 3:10 in length. When thinking of composers who address the reality of mortality, innovative producers don’t exactly spring to mind. Ellison comes from talented stock, his aunt Alice Coltraine was a jazz pioneer. The experimentation on this record suggests that Ellison’s only limiting factor is death itself.
By Rachel Heavey
8. Caribou – Our Love
Our Love is an exciting and beautiful album. It is warped, strange and ambiguous. Caribou has continued with the psychedelic sounds of Our Love‘s predecessor, Swim on this record. Our Love is cleverly written, soft-focused laptop dance. It can sound deceptively simple at times, such is the smooth nature of its sonic landscapes until you remember that someone actually had to put all these sounds together.
Caribou aka Dan Snaith holds a PhD in maths from Imperial College London and it’s no surprise that Our Love is written by a numbers whizz. A musical ear and an appreciation for mathematical patterns is a killer combo for an electronic musician.
Snaith’s delicate vocals add a very obviously human presence and tenderness to the album. Our Love is delightfully easy on the ears and essential listening for anyone interested in composing and producing their own work.
By Rachel Heavey
7. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
Yeah I’m frustrated that select ‘self-elected gatekeepers’ call the shots with majority of music distribution. And yeah I’m delighted someone like Yorke can time and again try alternatives to a broken model. At the time of release, if you were to heed (most) reviews, the dialogue created regarding how Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes came into this world was the most interesting thing about it.
The method is and was important, but the tunes here have transcended beyond the fact and become a high point in 2014’s music.
And he didn’t even force it on us.
Brain in a bottle sounds like a weird sexy party happening right next door. You’re so fucking curious and have your ear pressed right to the wall. You can’t get in, but you are there. The vocal melodies throughout are strong and in many cases playful; a trend apparent since In Rainbows to these ears, where it’s clear a looseness has set in. Thom is having fun. And so should you.
Albeit with a healthy dose of post-millennial angst and fears for our children, of course.
Guess Again! shuffles in like a offcut from The Eraser, and The Mother Lode is the centrepiece of this short record, that leaves the laptop behind and places itself in the cannon as possibly one of the best things he has done, just like Cymbal Rush.
Interference is one of those understated skeletal pieces in the vein of Codex or 2004’s I Want None Of This.
A criticism levelled at Yorke was how this album has not sonically progressed himself or indeed the rest of us, such are the unfeasible expectations on him and the Radioheads.
Thom is in his comfort zone and its not a bad thing. A true original, he’s honing and working without having the burden of reinventing the wheel or figuring out what we’re gonna do when the oil runs out. At least musically.
By Jim O’Donoghue Martin
6. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
St. Vincent was by a million miles my favourite album of 2014. I could speak about it all day, I frequently do but I won’t. As the year progressed, attention on the album increased with Annie Clark deservedly earning many more fans along the way.
St. Vincent is an amazing record. As good as Strange Mercy (St. Vincent’s last solo album before Love This Giant with David Byrne) before it, yet atmospherically different. In St. Vincent, a light is shone on Clark’s more upbeat, humorous and primary-colour sounds as opposed to the darkness of its predecessor.
Much has been discussed about the confidence of the album, yet it’s the relaxed nature of it that screams out to me. St. Vincent sounds like the work of someone who is trusting of their abilities and genuinely enjoying the process of creation as opposed to fearing it. Many articles, reviews and interviews concerning St. Vincent have been written throughout the year, while some are more enlightening than others, the narrative has been strikingly similar. This speaks to the themes of the record and Clark’s ability to so successfully construct and present her current project to the world.
St. Vincent becomes a more complete and inspiring work of art when experienced live. I was fortunate enough to catch her Olympia show in February and then again at Electric Picnic. Big statement but they were two of the best if not the best two concerts I’ve ever been to. Thought-provoking, energetic, visually compelling, challenging and inspiring, the St. Vincent show probed at what it means to communicate and connect – and I was blown away. Leaving her Olympia concert I was buzzing, fully aware that I’d experienced something special.
It’s not every year that an album comes along and so wholly captures your imagination but St. Vincent did this for me. If you’ve yet to listen to it (or the rest of her back catalogue) treat yourself but most importantly, you have to see St. Vincent live to fully give this multi-faceted piece of work your best shot of embracing it. For me, what elevates St. Vincent to special status is the way in which St. Vincent’s entire creative output of 2014 has seen an artistic vision so beautifully realised. This is what makes St. Vincent endlessly inspiring.
By Rachel Heavey
5. Jack White – Lazaretto
Even though I only made it to the encore of Jack White’s gig in Royal Hospital Kilmainham during the summer, it was still probably my favourite gig of the year. Why? Because Jack White is goddamn incredible. As is his latest album, Lazaretto which I am delighted has made it into the Top Ten, so thank you to everyone who voted for it. Jack is the most prolific man in music (did no research on that), his output is beyond impressive, just add his two excellent solo albums to the exceptional White Stripes discography, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and a James Bond theme song. This album is rocky, it’s bluesy, it’s creative, it’s fun and it’s thought-provoking. I think it belongs in every collection, and if you haven’t listened to it go out and treat yourself. By ‘go out’, of course, I mean go to iTunes or Spotify or whatever the hell you use and listen to it.
The Delorentos lads, what can I say? I gave Night Becomes Light a five star review in October. Does it still deserve five stars? Yes. Is it their best album? I don’t know because their previous album Little Sparks was also a five star collection of brilliance. Night Becomes Light is feckin’ great. It’s got thumping, party pop songs like Forget The Numbers, Everybody Else Gets Wets and Show Me Love and it also has stick-the-headphones-on-and-listen-intently-to-the-lyrics songs like Dublin Love Song and Valley Where The Rivers Run. The whole album works well together and you get the overwhelming sense that this is a band working well together, sharing the songwriting and singing duties and just enjoying how productive and excellent they are being. It’s a great time for Delorentos, I’m delighted they’re Irish and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
By Alan Bennett
4. Alt-J – This Is All Yours
An awesome second wave. Leeds University alumni Alt-J swiftly followed up their Mercury- winning debut with ‘This Is All Yours’. An expansive and brave sophomore effort; ideas fly in left right and centre. An eclectic and sometimes eccentric record, it includes a pastoral interlude called ‘Garden of England’, folky tendencies rendered by laptop technicians, birdsong and Miley Cyrus.
The variety on show exposes the seemingly restless creativity of the trio. ‘Hunger of the Pine’ is so brooding and impressive in its own right, even the Cyrus ‘I’m a female rebel’ vocal sample from ‘4×4’ seems incidental rather than integral.
‘Left Hand Free’ is a swampy stomp which might possibly be the finest example of Alt-Js brand of pop nous on the record.
Special mention must go to Joe Newman’s crooned “I’m going to bed Into you like a cat beds into a beanbag” and “turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet” on ‘Every Other Freckle’. Alright Dane Bowers.
It doesn’t quite hit the glorious heights of …‘Wave’s’ Tesselate’ or ‘Dissolve Me’, but there’s plenty here to suggest that Alt-j are fast becoming the 20 something Radiohead. All theirs for the taking.
By Jim O’Donoghue Martin
3. James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
James Vincent McMorrow hit us with Post Tropical at the start of 2014. Coming four years after his folk heavy debut, Early in the Morning, Post Tropical shows what McMorrow did with those four years and how he developed not only his sound but his range as well. Known for his aching falsetto and acoustic guitar work, Post Tropical gives us several different versions of James Vincent McMorrow – there’s an electric McMorrow, a soulful McMorrow and believe it or not, a little bit of a hip-hop McMorrow too.
While saying that Post Tropical gives us a plethora of different JVMcM vibes, it is also as chilled out and relaxing as you’d expect from the soft-spoken songsmith. In fact, it confidently steps along that very fine line of being completely new while not alienating fans of his previous work and sounds, a very hard thing to do. ‘Cavalier’, ‘Red Dust’ and ‘Glacier’ are three of the best tracks I have heard all year, really and truly and sit neatly alongside seven other tracks that could also have been contenders for song of the year.
McMorrow’s voice is a thing of beauty, vulnerable and warm – you get the feeling that he could convey all the emotion in his soul if he was just sighing and twisting his falsetto around the words blah, blah and blah. The man doesn’t need words – that’s how good he is.
If you want an album to lie down to, if you want an album to get lost in; if you want an album to surprise you then Post Tropical is that album and I’m delighted that you, the good readers of HeadStuff, saw fit to include this in your top ten, bringing Post Tropical in at number three. I feel like his mammy saying this, but you’ll always be number one to me Jimmy.
By Graham Connors
2. Hozier – Hozier
Andrew Hozier-Byrne has had a f**king whopper year. Having worked steadily on honing his craft, Hozier exploded into world music consciousness this year with his anthemic, Grammy-nominated ‘Take Me To Church’. Performing in places as weird and wonderful as Later … with Jools, The Ellen Show and the Victoria Secret fashion show, his eponymous album has gained him mass recognition.
Interweaving rich blues melodies with intelligent lyrics, Hozier is delivered by means of superbly controlled voice, varying dynamic textures from fragile to wildly powerful in an instant. Hozier is a beautiful example of what can be achieved if you make the choice to pursue the path you want and invest a ridiculous amount of hard work and energy into going in that direction. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing Hozier live or meeting him, you’ll know that he’s as lovely as he is talented – a combination that overwhelmingly suggests Hozier is the beginning of a long line of stellar records to come. Fair fucks.
By Rachel Heavey
1. Delorentos – Night Becomes Light
The Delorentos lads, what can I say? I gave Night Becomes Light a five star review in October. Does it still deserve five stars? Yes. Is it their best album? I don’t know because their previous album Little Sparks was also a five star collection of brilliance. Night Becomes Light is feckin’ great. It’s got thumping, party pop songs like ‘Forget The Numbers’, ‘Everybody Else Gets Wet’ and ‘Show Me Love’ and it also has stick-the-headphones-on-and-listen-intently-to-the-lyrics songs like ‘Dublin Love Song’ and ‘Valley Where The Rivers Run’.
The whole album works well together and you get the overwhelming sense that this is a band working well together, sharing the songwriting and singing duties and just enjoying how productive and excellent they are being. It’s a great time for Delorentos, I’m delighted they’re Irish and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
By Alan Bennett