Albums of the Year 2014

A breath is exhaled. A tear lands and spreads across laptop keys. A shattered copy of Junglepussy’s Satisfaction Guaranteed lies on the floor near our feet, a metaphor for broken spirits, shattered friendships, decisions made that cannot be unmade.Yep, selecting our 100 definitive albums of 2014 was as sedate and democratic a process as ever. Democratic in the sense that nobody’s really happy, but we’ll get by. Oh yeah, and the Christmas party got cancelled. But wounds heal, and we’re now ready to proudly declare these to be our Top 100 Albums of 2014. Enjoy.




Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse
Def Jam

Three years in the making, Carey's 13th album was a luxurious opus. Pillowy pop ballads, wistful odes to nostalgia and lyrics about angels' tears mingle with smoochy Miguel collabs, Mike WiLL Made-It-penned club tracks and brazenly liberal uses of photoshop. It radiates offhand fabulousness and a heroic self-belief that is defiantly, self-indulgently Mariah – just like that title. AT



Black Silk

Du-rag-clad caucasian sensation Spooky Black demanded attention this year with this slippery mixtape. Released quietly on Bandcamp by the then 15-year-old, Spooks' combination of killer turtlenecks, lovelorn vocals and mercurial mystique were undeniably perplexing at first, applying serious talent to the Sad Boy aesthetic. Sweeping guitars and RnB carried his mournful, woozy and arrestingly mature James Blake-esque croons. For all its visual excess, it was an exercise in restraint, and we're in love. AT



Erased Tapes

The debut album from BAFTA-winning Icelandic composer Ôlafur Arnalds and electro-pop Faroe Islander Janus Rasmussen, Kiasmos was an album of pensive tranquility, soaring builds and subtly menacing structures. Clicking, static percussion underpinned a record that will provide a shamelessly emotive soundtrack to many an impending winter walk in the snow. AG



Diploid Love
Queen Of Hearts / Caroline

Half a decade out of the spotlight, a full decade on from The Distillers’ seminal Coral Fang, and fresh from the nourishing, if hugely trying, experience of motherhood – as a musician, Diploid Love proved the passage of time had served Brody Dalle well. A more holistic worldview replaced the gnarled angst of old, resulting in a truly emancipatory solo debut; a digital sheen could barely contain the brawny, powerful rock songs at its core. A string of high-profile collaborators never drew focus from the chiselled, powerful woman stood front-and-centre. RM



A Records

14 albums in and The Brian Jonestown Massacre are still sitting pretty on their much deserved throne; these are the true kings of the psychedelic revival. Sure, Revelation wasn’t the best thing they've ever released, but neither is it a million miles away from their mid-90s peak. We might even have pushed it up a few places if Anton Newcombe had just managed to hold back on the fucking lute solos… JTB



Rivers Of The Red Planet

Graef has carved out a space in the spectrum of critic-friendly deep house, but on his take on the full-length format he experimented with contemporary house/hip-hop montages based on some seriously esoteric jazz and early electronic music. It was an exposition in Graef’s style – dusty samples, analogue synths, 60s era sci-fi bleeps – and an extremely impressive debut from a young artist who’s clearly listened to a hell of a lot of music. RB



Lex Records

Madlib, Danger Mouse, Thom Yorke, Ghostface Killah, Flying Lotus – there’s always been a queue of high-profile visionaries eager to work with DOOM. The latest chapter in his career? A collaborative full length with the barely established, 19-year-old rapper Bishop Nehru. Always a true eccentric, it’s hard to figure out what’s been motivating DOOM all these years. But judging by NehruvianDOOM, the masked icon’s hunger for witty wordplay, dextrous rhymes and mutated jazz samples still remains. DR



Picture You Staring

Like the aural equivalent of an electric candle-lit dinner on a warm summer night, TOPS make glossy, heartwarming pop that relishes its own trashiness. On Picture You Staring, the Montreal foursome blended disco, soft rock and Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac to create an album that glowed with an irresistible charm. JH



Ninja Tune

This wasn’t a jungle record. It was a record inspired by Bannon’s past and informed by his present, where the jungle and drum & bass that soundtracked his youth rubbed against the dusted hip-hop that made him and the droning vistas that currently surround him. If you step back and take in his discography as a whole, it’s clear Bannon is a producer that doesn’t want to be pigeonholed by one record, sound or genre. And despite Alternate/ Endings at times blurring together into an amorphous whole, there were enough ideas on display to prove that Bannon can go exactly where he wants, and make it his own when he gets there. SD



Niggas On The Moon
Harvest / Third Worlds

It’s difficult to separate Death Grips from their place within the industry, simultaneously shunning, goading, yet playing the music game with consummate glee. It's either one big, self-aware, extended marketing ploy, or an immaculately played out art project. Yet taken in isolation, the first half of the band’s final album The Powers That B, stands up. Masters of in-your-face bombast and twisted sonic recycling, they’ve never before plumbed the depths seen on Niggas On The Moon. Industrial and structureless, even the moments where a certain swing emerges felt curiously joyless. MC Ride, who has made an art of confrontation, sounded hopeless, even desperate, while Björk’s vocals were muddled and mangled into infinity, captive in the dense, harrowing realm. It was a bad vibe ridden and escalated; a profoundly negative experience, and a profoundly effective one. GHD



El Pintor

A successful reemergence from a relative creative slump, El Pintor was unmistakably Interpol. Banks’ unrelenting vocals dominated throughout while Kessler’s guitar shimmered and shone in his distinctive style, and All the Rage Back Home’s neverending crescendo became an instant canonical classic. The blueprint remains, but fuller, tougher, more steeled. In fact, it was only the sheer solidity of the record, maybe only let down by an effect too many here and a small hint of predictability, that held it away from the very highest echelons. TF



Red Tide Opal In The Loose End Womb
Howling Owl

The opulent crimson of the cover and the elaborate title hinted at it, and within the opening two minutes of opener On This Morning it was clear: Wilde had taken the kitchen sink approach to confronting second album stutter. Expectation was sky-high following last year’s sublime debut A Brief Introduction To Un-natural Light Years, and the unassuming record store clerk turned lo-fi indie darling addressed that expectation with a fuller, grander sophomore. Built around smothering riffs, claustrophobic poetry and pining crepuscular churn, the glacial timbral shifts, lust for experimentation and paradoxically intimate/ultimate humanity of these songs marked a considerable step forward for the artist at the helm. GHD



After The End

Thumbs in belt loops everyone, it's the latest album from that Floridan hardcore punk band. Yeah, we were confused at first too but let's face it: the double-denim-and-proud, dusty-road radio rock of After The End is the perfect antidote to all that postmodern Swedish rap and East London, art school bred hyper pop you've been pretending to enjoy over the last 12 months. MS



Psychic 9-5 Club
Ghostly International

A HTRK album without the deceased, founding member Sean Stewart has a certain structure: Jonnine Standish’s breathy vocals, and Nigel Yang’s down-tempo, electronic soundscapes. Yet the sound is still sultry, impersonal and distant. Taken as a follow up to Work, Work, Work, HTRK once again took the day job ideal and applied an alluring and impenetrable marriage of sex and degradation, chills and tenderness. GT



The Silver Album

Marketed as the ‘first Russian dance album’, Philipp Gorbachev’s debut LP was a cacophonous riot of stomping post-EBM rhythms slung under poetic but indecipherable Russian gibberish and whining, skyward synthesis. It’s a record that managed to successfully coalesce contributions from members of Butthole Surfers, Battles and Ostgut Ton into a concise musical (and subtly political) statement while still managing to be shitloads of fun. SD




Futurology is the Manics' 14th album and, as quickly transpired on its July release, their best of the millennium. The album came steeped, musically and thematically, in a powerful sense of identity; not as glamorous outsiders, not as Welsh, or as leftist intellectuals – but as European. A timely and conscientious document of a blossoming, stumbling, seemingly disparate yet intrinsically linked, ever-fluctuating European state, with this conceptual focus in mind Nicky Wire produced his most complete set of lyrics ever. It’s an album about identity, humanity, currency and architecture; an album about future hope and future fears, European sons, European love. GHD



Rough Trade

Forget the oft-venerated pretty-all-girl-group-do-post-punk shtick, that’s just ingratiating bullshit. What’s far cooler and more interesting about Warpaint is their studied understanding of subtlety and its merits, where the LA quartet conjure saccharine melodies that percolate so languorously, they could slowly make your teeth rot. Or, when they segue – totally undetected – into those protracted percussive codas borrowed from tribal séances; you know, the ones that gently spook you out of your own daydreams. The thing is, when guitarists/vocalists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman sing, “don’t you battle, we’ll kill you, rip you up and tear you in two” on their self-titled second LP, it’s this canny sleight of hand that holds testament to Warpaint’s ability to remain cool. And interesting. JN



After Forever

One of the year's most anticipated dance debuts, After Forever followed the New York narrative that the former house dancer has been lumped in with over the past few years; deep, dusty and wildly unpredictable. It also cemented the New Jersey producer as creator of some of the most hypnotic and fulfilling sounds committed to record this year. Doing a lot with very little, Anderson transformed off-kilter production into meditative moments on this narcotic misfit. AT



Deep Fantasy

White Lung’s 2012 release Sorry was a thoroughly enjoyable record, and the hotly anticipated following Deep Fantasy was essentially more of the same, ramped up manyfold through experience and increasing ownership of identity. Vocalist Mish Way may have been the focal point, but Kenneth William’s guitar work again proved itself the band’s main draw, melding thick low-end riffing and frenetic, mathy leads. Throw in Anne-Marie Vassilio’s drumming, solid but necessarily un-flashy given the relentless melodic blitzkrieg overhead, and Deep Fantasy was at points laughably satisfying. Proving that the unexpectedly frequent comparisons to classic-era AFI are actually pretty spot-on, Deep Fantasy occupied a sonic space far more indebted to late-90s Cali punk and crunchy hardcore than the post-Grrrl femme punk it was inevitably compared to. TH



Rave Tapes
Rock Action

No band can conjure imagery without words quite as eloquently as Mogwai. They’re masters of their craft; groundbreaking, enduring. They helped shape post-rock and post-post-rock and have crafted some of its finest moment. Rave Tapes was no exception. For a band who absolutely must exercise restraint in order to progress, this delicate entry into a mostly untainted back-catalogue was pitched to perfection. Experimental yet still entirely Mogwai, with synth flourishes and gargled voices evidence of an increasingly developing sound palette, nearly 20 years after forming these are still the leaders of the pack. Accept no imitations. MS



Full Time Freaks
Metal Postcard

"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." - Confucius, circa 500 BC "Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts." - Soren Kierkegaard, 1843 "I got so drunk, I forgot my name." - White Fang, 2014. BB



Blank Project
Smalltown Supersound

A stark and immediate statement, Blank Project saw the evergreen Cherry move away from the wildly experimental jazz wanderings of 2011’s collaboration The Cherry Thing to working with Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, who oversaw proceedings along with instrumentation from London-based duo RocketNumberNine. With up-front production creating a tunnelling, paranoid and propulsive feel, and a sharp tongued Cherry on a typically confrontational tip, it sounded unlike anything else released in 2014. JN




Wolves in The Throne Room have never really been a black metal band, yet somehow found themselves being stalked by that all too ambiguous tag. Celestite was probably their most genre-dismissive work to date; they eschewed drums and vocals in favour of rumbling, low frequency dark ambience and grim, humming pastoral folk, all created on synthesisers and down-tuned guitars to provide five lengthy tracks of theatrical meandering.  Intense and arcane, nearly New Age; this was an absorbing exercise in pensive, doomy synth-led ambience. BB



Welcome To Fazoland

After Chief Keef’s rally cry Bang became a viral hit back in 2011, the subsequent wave of Chicago drill seemed so nihilistic, so austere that it was hard to imagine where the movement could go from there. But Lil Herb belongs to a second generation of even younger drill rappers who’ve applied a more lyrical approach to the genre’s darkly dramatic, high-octane beats. And with Herb’s wise-beyond-his-years perspective, emotional depth and agile style, Welcome To Fazoland was this year’s most affecting reflection of Chicago’s troubles. DR



Snakes & Ladders
Big Dada

By turns a confusing and reassuring record, Snakes & Ladders finds Wiley’s flow and wit firmly in place. The endless same-syllable-hop-scotch, bizarre non-sequiturs and solid life advice are all here. It’s the context in which he presents himself that occasionally fails to keep up. The trap influences were inevitable, and for the most part they fit snugly into the grime template Wiley built. The prog-trance-bits we’re not so sure on. But as far as returns to form go, this is a lot better than it could have been. Wiley, finally, back on a level. SD




Beneath all the next-hype production clientele, the PVC heavy photo shoots and the lunch dates with Björk, Venezuelan closed book Arca put out an LP that had depth, serious sonic ambition and clear vision, without quite boasting a wealth of full-formed songs. From the mainframe disorder of Thievery to the hysterical faux-euphoria chords of the title track, Arca explored the cosmos of Xen and created one of the year’s most attention-grabbing, if not quite -sustaining, debuts. The next step will be the most intriguing. DH



Dude, Incredible
Touch and Go

As pale imitations of noise rock and ‘angular’ post-punk continue to borrow their tropes wholesale and peddle them to innocent bystanders, it was pretty vital to receive one of those one-or-twice-a-decade reminders of the status quo from Steve Albini and his gnarled cohorts. It’s difficult to go far wrong when the core of your band is the bitter spirit of punk rock malevolence incarnate; the beacon of independent pig-headedness; the unyielding totem, the peerless icon of an anti-movement. Stripped back to its composite parts, Dude, Incredible was pure impact: sneering sarcasm, portentous vocal intonations, the metallic grunt of Albini’s strings and Bob Weston’s bass descending down, down, down into crisp, propulsive dissonance. GHD



Total Strife Forever
Stolen Recordings

Propelled by a veritable blitzkrieg of hype came William Doyle’s first full-length as East India Youth. Sonically pristine stuff, Total Strife Forever was at its most satisfying when Doyle ditched the earnest gospel grandeur and yearning vocals in favour of hi-def, glittering synth workouts peppered with technoid and kosmiche inflections, and spectral waves of headily ambient oscillatory noise. It was a resonant opening statement and the unveiling of a nascent and hugely capable auteur. TH



Gay Dog Food

“You can choose to call me a gay rapper, you can choose to not even call me a rapper if you want to, it doesn't matter, I'm a punk, a creative punk and I'm going to continue to create and entertain without boundaries,” Mykki Blanco declared prior to Gay Dog Food’s release. And he meant it. Distorted snarls, confrontational rhymes and hilarious spoken-word voices – including that of Riot Grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna – clashed against crunchy, lo-fi electro beats. And what shines through every second of Gay Dog Food is Blanco’s exhilarating refusal to give the slightest fuck about attitudes that want to suppress his expression. DR



St Vincent
Loma Vista/Republic

Persistently resisting convention with a swell of capricious albums, St. Vincent’s career has been anything but predictable. Often flirting with ambiguity, Annie Clark’s flighty approach to album creation is like observing a tentative toddler choosing which toy to play with next, recklessly grasping and tasting every building block in sight. Her self-titled fifth album was another escapade, veering from tradition into whimsical disarray. Swooping, carefree, between the esoteric and the populist, the densely complex and the instantly memorable, this offering saw a dauntless St. Vincent grasping and tasting her greatest selection of building blocks yet. A significant statement in what will undoubtedly stand tall as a landmark year for this idiosyncratic talent.  ALW




Real Estate’s third saw the band’s sad-slacker pop chime and chirrup as charmingly as ever, with Matt Mondanile’s synaesthetically-seafoam-green guitar lines underpinning the structure of the whole record. That Atlas didn’t chart a huge progression from 2011’s Best-Of-The-Decade-Contender Days is no bad thing; yes there’s another surf-y instrumental, yes bassist Alex Bleeker once again takes the lead on a country-ish downtempo number, no the lyrical content hasn’t really moved on from boys being sad about ex girlfriends. But none of those ‘faults’ matter: Atlas is another wonderful record. JB



Nothing Important
Weird World

Our memories – those constant revisions of our past – are more disjointed, distorted and fluid than we’d probably like to admit. On Nothing Important, Newcastle’s Richard Dawson took us on an exploration of the deep recesses of his psyche, scratching at emotional wounds to revisit childhood games of football, a formative experiment with alcohol during a school trip and the loss of an infant sibling. With his chaotic, undisciplined guitar playing, Dawson unleashed the kind of feelings we’ve all tried to keep inside. A beautiful, complicated mess. JH




Following the trend set within the electronic murmurs of 2012’s WIXIW and amplifying it tenfold, Mess saw one of modern alternative music’s most enduringly creative acts plumbing the depths of their experimentalism and riffing on a gothic, mechanised structure which stood tall against this year's fervent crop of industrial upstarts. Liars have always fed off a sort of frenetic, percussive heaviness and so, even though it’s difficult to believe this is the same band who produced so much peerless post-art-punk over a decade ago, this increasing foray into post-industrial EBM and techno territory feels wholly apt. BB



Yellow Memories
Eglo Records

After making her name contributing to other producers' tracks, Fatima's debut LP was a triumphant realisation of her potential, with her honeyed voice traversing Floating Points-penned RnB and soul. Simple and classy, this one gave more and more with every listen, seeped in a depth of colour befitting the Eglo Records vocalist. AT



Lost In The Dream
Secretly Canadian

As albums openings go, Under Pressure and Red Eyes revelled in the kind of swagger, euphoria and pomp that left fans of The War On Drugs’ first two albums drooling. When the low-pitched, brass aided, rhythm guitar line swept in to beef up the whole of the former before the whole thing meandered into wonderful American summer haze, it was one of the moments of the year. Similarly, the metronomic drumming and sheer addictiveness of the guitar lick on the latter could continue for roughly half an hour and still have you dancing like your parents in 1978. While, for us, the effect simply couldn’t be sustained across the album’s 10 tracks, on the whole the positivity and the wonder present on this record conjured the roads, the dreams and the magic of this modern take on a classic American sound. TF



Nabuma Rubberband
Because Music

For a band who’d attracted a huge fanbase with tastefully textured but addictive hooks, releasing a long-awaited album full of slow-burners was a risky move. But from the very first listen of Nabuma Rubberband, the sound of Yukimi Nagano gliding over phased-out synths with her honey-coloured voice was enough to convince you that it’s worth digging a little deeper this time to uncover Little Dragon’s gorgeous melodies. JH



See You When You Get There
Delusions Of Grandeur

Affable marijuana enthusiasts Hauke Freer and Matthias Reiling have been producing classy, disco-flecked deep house as Session Victim for a few years now, but their sophomore represents a genuine evolution and progression in their sound, drawing on a range of samples and sounds from EBM to hip-hop, building and decaying over a series of peaks and troughs. RB



Top Dawg Entertainment

With an unpredictable flow, bizarre hooks and ultra explicit, no-holds-barred lyricism, Schoolboy Q juggled grief-stricken introspection and cold-hearted street anecdotes on the intense, morally-conflicted album that is Oxymoron. Drug-addled party Q was also present on the addictive, should-be-awful single Man Of The Year – a Chromatics-sampling party banger tailored to specifically to be a hit with wasted college students. Oxymoron was TDE’s highpoint of 2014. DR



You're Dead!

Since first emerging as the figurehead for a loosely defined new era in electronic music in a flurry of syncopated, psychedelic sunbeams and bass emissions, Flying Lotus has since continued to push ever-further into the realm of the transcendental, and rhythmically ever closer to the experimental jazz aesthetics of his family past. With his fifth LP You’re Dead we finally experienced pure, unadulterated Flying Lotus. From the astonishing cover design courtesy of Japanese artist Shintaro Kago to the thorough exploration of the album’s central theme (death, the afterlife and the ambiguity in between, ideas familiar from his previous two long players), this was a 38-minute soundtrack to meeting your maker. AC



The Hum
Weird World

Combine the aggressive audacity of hardcore with the psychologically uplifting qualities of psychedelia, and you’ve got a formula that’s guaranteed to make everyone lose their shit. With second album The Hum, Hookworms sharpened their studio skills, proving that their reverb-drenched, krautrock-inspired punk could function beautifully during a headphones listen as well as in the UK’s darkest, sweatiest venues. DR



Love Letters
Because Music

From the acoustic strums and syrupy guitar solo of tender opener The Upsetter through the love-struck Motown backing vocals of the title-track, to The Most Immaculate Haircut – which is essentially an ode to Forever Changes – the finest moments on Love Letters came with an overtly 60s feel. But rather than slip into contrived retrogression, Joe Mount maintained both his own studio prowess and Metronomy’s seaside tweeness. If you came expecting a Radio Ladio, a Heartbreaker or an Everything Goes My Way then there’s a chance you’d have been disappointed on first listen, but it’s thanks to Mount’s refusal to stay still that Metronomy have outlived their late noughties peers. DR



Salad Days
Captured Tracks

With a character so personable, a live act so memorable and a face so lovable, it can be easy for the cult of personality around Mac DeMarco to overshadow the music. Riding high on the crest of 2012’s breakout album 2, Salad Days saw the slacker surf formula fleshed out with woozy synths, while lyrical refrains often sat at odds with the optimistic guitar jangles underpinning them, at turns self-reflective and emotionally bereft. All in all, Salad Days was a frequently fascinating character study – and what a character to study. JTB



If Anything
Carpark Records

A handful of guys raging out of the Toronto underground unleashing adrenalised noise-punk that’ll leave you in a quivering frazzled heap, Greys’ debut album spanned the atonal gnarl of The Jesus Lizard, through to the kind of mid-paced post-hardcore swagger that Froberg and Reis would sweat through with glee. If Anything was a thrilling introduction to a band who don’t so much wear their influences on their sleeves as holler them from the rooftops. GHD




With Flatland, Objekt expanded upon the twitchy IDM codas that populated the spaces between the cataclysmic subbass and mind-bending arrangements of his previous singles, diving feet-first into freezing cold, hi-res sound-worlds previously only occupied by the upper echelons of electronic music. “Mr Hertz, you have done well. Join us.” SD



Seek Warmer Climes

Seek Warmer Climes was, and always will be, a defining moment for Lower. A debut album, a crystallising of their obvious talents, this was the point where the Copenhagen foursome were no longer lunkheaded teenagers, but a formidable post-punk band. Death rock, jangly lo-fi, intelligence and scathing; intense personal experiences permeated the poetic lyricism that lay beneath a calculated, reflective, hyperrealist aesthetic. Each track tangled with tension; relationships gone awry, African travelogues gone awry and, well, life gone awry. BB



Annabel Dream Reader

"Which witch is the best witch?" That’s what we once found ourselves asking The Wytches in a momentary lapse of journalistic integrity. "Sabrina, obviously" they told us. It could have gone either way. Fortunately, though, the Brighton trio have a sense of humour under all that doom drenched, psychedelic melancholy. It's a sense of fun that bled through Annabel Dream Reader, making it one of the most compelling, original and brilliant British guitar records of the year. BB



Moshi Moshi Records

Filled with portentous warnings and damning judgements condensed into punchy lines played on repeat, Tom Vek’s third shot at perfection was an understated victory; choppy synths, squelchy riffs and vocal work that exercised his affinity for mantra-inducing melodies. Minimal yet totally immersive, Luck was a stream of consciousness against a hypnotic backdrop of polychrome, and arguably Tom Vek’s finest offering yet. SM



ESP Institute

Amsterdam's Young Marco sat comfortably connecting the dots between Balearic, retro Italo disco and shimmering new age streaks, with the album format giving him space to spread out this velveteen touch. Biology's deep, tumbling melodies and intricate percussion ploughed the twinkling, delicate musicality and oddball mentality of Marco's best work. AT



Tied To A Star
Sub Pop

The greatest joy of Tied To The Star, an almost entirely acoustic offering, came in allowing a figure often praised more for his guitar wrangling tones than the wonderful songwriting beneath, to express the other side of his work; one focused on taking a six-string and building melody, rather than exploring kinds of bone-crushing effects to utilise next. Trickling out at the back end of a long and languid summer, it was a blissful respite, and a pure showcase of a timeless songwriting talent. JG




Brooklynites The Antlers have made a habit of chanelling a distinctive form of pining grandiosity, reaching a zenith on 2011’s classic offering Burst Apart. While this fifth full-length couldn’t quite match those heights, more than ever before Familiars employed a horn section to evoke a sense of rousing melancholy in its compositions, much in the same way artists like Beirut or Patrick Watson have done in the past. There was an impressive depth to the instrumentation on offer, with flurries of piano, currents of sitar, and interjections of string on hand to remind you just how dense each recording really is, while third track Hotel treated us to perhaps the year’s most delicately moving indie rock moment. AG




Basking in the wake of a distraction-free listen through Syro, what was immediately evident was that not only was it Aphex Twin’s most tangible album; it was also his least challenging. Arriving fully 13 years on from his last, what exactly was its function? Its end goal? Was it to nuzzle into the UK’s top 10 albums? To be played by Seth Troxler at the Warehouse Project? To reactivate a never-dormant, adoring cult? Because away from the masterfully unfolding PR campaign and the initial shock factor, Syro’s impact felt anything but subversive. That’s not just because by now Richard D. James’s approach to sound has been consumed and regurgitated beyond recognition like London water, but it’s because this album was inherently approachable. It was the album you’d point someone towards if they want to know where to start with Aphex Twin without being scared off. But also, as that statement implies, Syro was an extremely good record. GHD




No one does it like Moodymann, and he outdid himself on this year’s self-titled ode to everything Moody. Among his classic concoction of jazz chords, rich, layered soul and roller-rink jams, Kenny Dixon Jr. put his character at the forefront with his crooned croaks and deep, intimate slurs more prominent than ever. Between tongue-in-cheek interludes and heavy references to Detroit, he's at points a troubled lover, the next a 70s gangster, or the snarling figure on the cover, bottle in hand, draped in a bikini-clad harem; always a ladies’ man. Featuring a smattering of old material, (which, it turns out, is common practise for Dixon Jr.) it was a rich montage of the character he's created as producer as some of the finest, and weirdest, house music out there. AT



Our Love
City Slang

Caribou’s summer-munching, soaraway single Can’t Do Without You finally alerted the mainstream to Dan Snaith’s phenomenal talent. Admittedly, since 2010’s Swim sketched out a whole new realm of serotonin soaked pop-melancholia for the dancefloor, Caribou has hardly been a whispered underground secret. But the attention (and commercial success) that Can’t Do Without You received was bait for the inevitable backlash. Is it time to start waving the “I liked him before he was massive” flag? Either way, as he attempts to skirt the none-more narrow tightrope between alternative acceptance and mainstream acclaim, Our Love came steeped in romance and drenched in the melodic alchemy that Snaith has all but perfected. AC




Tinashe's debut album proper throws the listener back to late 90s coming-of-age RnB, yet it’s an approach she had always succeeded in making her own. Quickly discarding the DIY mentality that propelled her previous work into the spotlight, she became a pop chameleon with big names like Mike WiLL Made-It, Clams Casino, ASAP Rocky et al behind the scenes, but resisted allowing their individual styles to overshadow this new chapter. Aquarius takes its name from her star sign, and on her debut album, as always, Tinashe calls the shots. IO



Say Yes To Love
Captured Tracks

March saw the release of Say Yes To Love, Syracuse-based punk band Perfect Pussy’s first just-about-full-length on the hugely prolific and tastemaking Captured Tracks. With the exception of the juddering static of VII, the album picked up pretty directly where last year’s 12 minute blast I have lost all desire for feeling left off; seven more tracks of emotive clatter and chiming sturm und drang, a consistent whine of feedback grounding the din whenever frontwoman Meredith Graves paused for breath. And again, it was a fucking classic. TH



Submit X
Murder Capital

Not much information has surfaced about the enigmatic Gesloten Cirkel since his arrival in 2009. The cult techno producer is supposedly based in Russia, yet his sound is rooted in The Hague, honing his decidedly singular, finely twisted electro flavoured techno on mostly Dutch labels, including this debut album on I-F's Murder Capital label. Excelling in his undeniably fierce take on paranoid electro, breakneck techno and vintage darkwave, Submit X's wall to wall slammers were ferocious yet funky, and seeped in character and style that's difficult to overstate. AT



Sacred Bones

Performance enhancing drugs, Italian spoken-word monologues, allusions to the lycra clad thighs of Olympic cyclists; as far as techno-pop records go, Lust For Youth's International managed to tick every box we didn't know needed ticking until now. Each track is stone cold, glassy and endlessly emotive. Nightclub awkwardness, loathing on dancefloors, sexual tension; none of these things ever sounded so good until we heard Denmark's slickest at their sleazy best. BB



Through Force Of Will
Not Not Fun

If you had to describe the work of Luke Wyatt in one word, enigmatic wouldn’t be the worst one to choose. Through Torn Hawk, his most visible and expansive pseudonym, he’s released a barrage of material that explores the dualistic concerns of ironic sincerity and emotional manliness. Through Force Of Will is the result of a four-month writing spree in which Wyatt fully embraced the “smudge-zone” – layers of guitar and drums rubbed up and smeared across one another until they become the degraded soundtrack to a canned film from the 80s about life, love, loss, determination, and success against all odds. Torn Hawk is odd, and this album is success. SD



Sub Pop

The continued debate around the oblique curtain of forced enigma Goat unwaveringly push in the press and the live arena cannot detract or distract from their musical output. Commune’s spine still contains the elements that seduced us so effectively on 2012’s World Music – psychedelic guitar sounds with African instrumentation that sound like Tinariwen descending into a hallucinogenic haze. On the first three songs of Commune you have three of their best ever in Talk To God, Words and The Light Within. They’re determined for you to entertain the fictionalised backstory that they are some ancient tribe. We’d rather just embrace Commune as an utterly compelling collection of music. TF




The latest offering from the Iceland based noise maven was not an album to make friends with; no surprise, given that previous releases have sounded like a slow-motion, dystopian, robotic mugging. This is a man, lest we forget, who last year composed an opera based on Iain Banks’ seminal celebration of darkness and debasement The Wasp Factory. But Ben Frost is respected by the best in the business: Brian Eno has anointed him, the Boomkat oddballs adore him, he’s contributed on contemporary classics like Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972 and Swans’ The Seer. And with the brutalist yet euphoric aesthetic of A U R O R A, he may have made his most definitive document yet. If you’ve not yet let Ben Frost into your life, you should – because this is rich and rewarding electronic shamanism. AC




Documenting invisible rituals with wit and grace, Fatima Al Qadiri became one of underground electronic music’s most intriguing stories of 2014. Her debut album Asiatisch exhibited a catalogue of othering of China. Taking inspiration from the vilifying Western lens, the record explores Hollywood’s ham-fisted representation, Wu-Tang Clan’s Kung Fu philosophy, and the icy oriental sounds of micro-genre sino grime – a strain of ‘Asian’ sounds in early grime identified post-production by Kode9. Its an album comprised of cultural misrepresentation and sonic assimilation, yet by crafting her own enchanting faux-oriental world, Asiatisch was Al Qadiri’s most insatiable statement to date. AT



Caldo Verde

Despite the old-man-shouting-at-a-cloud style beef that came after it, Benji was truly out on its own in 2014. At the heart of the album was a stunning breed of open-book lyricism, mundanities like Postal Service reunion shows or ordering crab cakes appear in the same libretto as death by accident fire and first sexual experiences. All these chronicles exist against Mark Kozelek’s backdrop of keeping guitars and sprawling instrumentation. Simultaneously one of the year’s most gut-wrenching and and most liberating LPs, a candid triumph in downbeat intimacy. DH



High Life

Possibly the surprise package of the year. Hands up who expected Underworld’s Karl Hyde and Brian Eno to produce an album of such startling and charming quality – particularly after their first attempt, Someday World, proved so disappointing back in March? But take two, High Life, enamoured at every turn, from the simplicity of the elating opener Return, clocking in at nine minutes of beguiling simplicity and layering, to the compelling closing prayer of Cells and Bells. The fact Hyde’s guitar played such a prominent role tethered the whole thing, especially on the lifting and warming Lilac. In a year where bleakness reigned supreme, High Life was a multi-faceted beam of sunshine. TF



Drop The Vowels
Modern Love

Releasing under their collaborative female pseudonym since 2008, Andy Stott and Miles Whittaker’s string of production together had always been a place to abandon the austerity of their individual projects for hedonistic dancefloor constructions. Sitting somewhere between their darker, dub dappled sounds and something more visceral is Drop The Vowels. While it seems arbitrary to call this album a bit of ‘light hearted fun’, with its blistering breaks and patches of fizzling sound, it served as a perfect introduction to the pair’s dizzying, more gleeful vices. AT



Lucky Number

DSU was a record so full of pure, raw greatness that it’s hard to pin down the exact element that made it so great. One track, Promise, boasts one of the most OTT slap bass lines we’ve ever heard and yet, if we were feeling particularly fragile, could probably bring us to our knees. DSU was a vital indie record indebted as much to Alex G’s own inventiveness as it was to the 90s slacker aesthetic it fed off. Alex G’s music glows. It’s uplifting. It's real. BB



American Intelligence
Sound Signature

American Intelligence arrived among the inevitable furore surrounding its hefty price tag (£40 for triple vinyl and £30 for double CD) and a deserved degree of hype; this was, after all, the first album from the great since 2007. With a length of nearly two hours, American Intelligence was fine Theo Parrish; woozy, gritty and soulful in a way that he does best. Featuring the excellent Footwork single alongside luscious vocals, broken house workouts and deep jazz excursions – we defy you to not be floored by the instant classic Make No War – it’s always great to have some new Parrish in the world and this sprawling, seductive LP was no exception, with plenty to love for anyone willing to foot the bill. AT



My Krazy Life
CTE World/Def Jam

When Compton rapper YG dropped Toot It and Boot It four years ago, we shrugged, faced with another easily dismissible party rapper. It wasn’t until last year when You Broke – his collaboration with Nipsey Hustle – hit that it became apparent he had some serious potential. This year, the DJ Mustard cohort’s debut My Krazy Life – yes, that’s Krazy with a K – arrived. It was a record that not only left much of 2014's hip-hop in the dust, but actually stands up as one of most important entries into the gangsta rap canon of the last decade. BB



Da Mind of Traxman Vol.2
Planet Mu

With a history in Chicago ghetto house and juke that spans decades, it’d be fair to call Corky “Traxman” Strong an elder statesman among the city’s thriving footwork community. And so it’s no surprise that he’s equipped with scholarly understanding of the genre’s intricate drum patterns and a rich tapestry of inspiration to sample from. While a lot of the content among Teklife’s prolific Bandcamp output aims to be as frenetic as possible, Vol.2 is compromised of more restrained, spacious experiments. But don’t be fooled – for all its intriguing technical details, this is music for the soul, and a warm soundtrack for stoned, sun-soaked afternoons in the city. DR



Here And Nowhere Else
Carpark Records

Is that ‘difficult’ transition between adolescence and adulthood dragging on for longer than you’d expected? It’s OK dude, this year Dylan Baldi’s Cloud Nothings channelled the feelings of insecurity and enduring heartbreak with 32 minutes of grunge-pop perfection. It might make you feel better. Here, have another beer. DR



The Power and the Glory
Perc Trax

Perc doesn’t fuck about. If you’ve ever born witness to one of his over-the-top, brutalist DJ sets you’ll know exactly what we mean. The Power And The Glory was the distillation of all that rage and power and confrontation burnt to CD. It sounds like it’s been literally burnt on, too. Distortion is a trend that is finally running out of steam, but at the start of the year when this record surfaced, no-one had done it such conviction, and no-one has really managed since. You can throw politics at this album if you like, and it’s the abstraction prevalent in the music that allows most things to stick, but at the end of the day/year, it’s one of the most vital electronic albums of recent times built, burnt, and bellowed by one of its most vital operators. SD




“We wanted to take it to another step, to shoot for the stars if we could. We know we have the ability to write great songs, and for all the hard work we’ve put in, we felt we deserve a shot.” That’s what Future Islands frontman Sam Herring told us at the beginning of this year, prior to the release of Singles. And as such an underrated band who’d spent years crashing on sofas, it was a buzz to watch their dream unfold this year. Samuel T Herring’s lyrics have often carried the ache of the downtrodden romantic, but Singles’ flickers of sincere optimism suggested a deserved boost in self-esteem. We’ve always been rooting for these guys, and there are few better feelings than seeing the good guys win. JH



Madlib Invazion

Auto-tuned garbling, catch phrase-based club bangers, nonsensical “based” ramblings – much to the dismay of the hip-hop conservative, some of the most exciting rap in recent years has snubbed the traditional definition of ‘lyrical’ completely. But sometimes, all you want to to hear from a rap record is a rapper really rapping. To satisfy these cravings, Freddie Gibbs is your man. It’s no secret that Gibbs can dominate pretty much any beat with his heavy but flexible flow, and Pińata saw Cali legend Madlib set up an obstacle course of texturally intricate, sunshine-soaked instrumentals for him to stamp with his brand of no-frills, testosterone-fuelled gangsta lyricism. Solid. DR



Ninja Tune

Darren Cunningham doesn’t make things easy. Each of his previous records as Actress – the onomatopoeic Hazyville, the bubbling jerk of Splaszh, R.I.P’s pointillist take on Milton – took weeks, months, to reveal themselves fully to the listener, required them to attempt to enter the same headspace the producer inhabits. Ghettoville, billed as the end of the Actress persona, was no different. A defiantly ugly album. Cunningham’s skill was to take this ugliness – an aesthetic of abjection – and make us, as listeners, reframe it, recontextualise it, noticing the moments of a spectrally perverse beauty that emerge from sites of disarray. JB



That's Harakiri!
Tri Angle

Sd Laika burst on to the scene in 2012 with an abrasive EP for Visionist’s Lost Codes imprint, returning in 2014 with this schizophrenic statement. Named after the ritual procedure of suicide by disembowelment reserved for Japanese samurai, also known as ‘cutting the belly’, sharp, mutating percussion barreled down the album’s whole, tearing it apart as it warped at will into chaotic chars of grime, UK funky and brasher noise experiments; taking pre-set formula and fully dismembering it. Sd Laika’s popularity came at a time of increased interest in grime producers, while his own re-emergence in the period seemed to embody a renewed standard for the darkest, most twisted dwellings of the genre. At just over 30 minutes in length, That’s Harakiri’s brash testimonial was, much like the snarling toddler on the cover, gripping, garish and gracious in one. AT



The Satanist
Nuclear Blast

Nuclear Blast's 2014 output was unreservedly dense. NYHC’s Biohazard were welcomed back into the roster, Slayer and Nails inked a distribution deal, and Decapitated released Blood Mantra. But nothing, literally nothing, compared to the schismatic grandeur of Behemoth’s tenth studio album, The Satanist. Having spent the past five years on the fringes of demise, frontman Nergal leered at his festered leukaemia head-on and won. The result is this heretical incubus of hell. Not only is this the most polished Behemoth record to date but it’s the most delphic 45 minutes of their 20 year career in metal. From the nefarious opening of Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel to the church burning closing of O Father O Satan O Son!, Behemoth breathe the breath of Hades and chant to the ungodly tune of eternal damnation. It’s a wonder that Nergal survived such a malignant disease. The Satanist could be what saved him. TW



Divide and Exit
Harbinger Sound

As you’re leant against the wall on your fag break, mindlessly flicking through your Twitter feed on your phone, do ever get that nagging feeling that society is slowly crumbling beneath your feet? That’s because it is. There’s a network of neoliberal sociopaths in charge, and they’re dismantling the state with ease while most of us can no longer muster up a solitary fuck to give. And this is why Divide and Exit was so satisfying. With the backing of no-fi beats that sound like they’re made of crushed aluminium, Jason Williamson’s barked lyrics ranged from that razor-sharp commentary to venomous gibberish. The words provided no answers, no moral and no catchy picket sign slogans. But, of course, Sleaford Mods aren’t about clarity, they’re about unfiltered rage. And sometimes it feels good to acknowledge the seething feeling of discontent in the pit of your stomach. DR



Happiness Is Happening
Dial Records

Darmstadt don Roman Flügel is one of electronic music's most underrated innovators, a dynamic DJ who deserves to dominate big rooms the world over, a peerless producer who quietly goes about re-configuring his own sound every few years, remapping European house and techno in the process. His latest full length for Hamburg sadlads Dial was a gorgeously subtle affair. Album highlight Tense Times was one of 2014s deepest cuts, a nine-minute history of German music's obsession with merging ambient slop with brutalist rigidity. JB




As it glides over a permanently explosive onslaught of reverb-drenched power chords, George Mitchell’s voice seeps with a sense of corrosive contempt. Eagulls are the kind of band who love to embrace grim reality because they hate inauthenticity, and maybe that’s why there’s so much euphoria in these bitter anthems. This is a record that revels in Britain’s endlessly grey weather, painting a world of garishly-advertised off-license deals, graffiti-smothered play parks and the archaic architecture of outdated shopping arcades. And despite all its darkness, Eagulls makes it feel like a pretty exciting place to be. DR



Burn Your Fire For No Witness

It has been a big year for Angel Olsen. Having got her big break singing alongside Bonnie “Prince”’ Billy, the St. Louis songwriter turned heads with this stunning album that kindles a fierce, playful intensity between its starkly intimate ballads. Forgiven/Forgotten hit like a bullet, and the warbling jangle of Hi-Five got heads moving, but it was the chilling acoustic tracks that had us hooked. The disarming tenderness of her voice shifting from cavernous to brittle, twanging in the all the right places, it was an enchanting sound which made for a seductive and endlessly listenable album that we couldn't bear to part with. AT



Faith In Strangers
Modern Love

His second entry in this year's 100 (see #37), Faith In Strangers was the sound of Stott cutting loose. The lumbering sludge that characterised his previous work was jettisoned in favour of confident blasts of sound split by acres of loaded, vital space. Machines were worked to their limits, melodies pushed to the point of (heart)breaking. And above it all there was voice. Alison Skidmore’s vocals alternated between whisper and soar, but with all the more clarity compared to the chopped & submerged methods with which Stott approached them on Luxury Problems. Nothing scraped against everything, the resulting friction captured and arranged. There is a beauty to be found in ugliness, and Stott found it here. SD



Wildest Dreams
Smalltown Supersound

“Harvey, look at me man, god damn it!" But I was miles away. Somewhere in between this life and the next. Floating on the Mojave sun. Hell I could have been anywhere. When I came to the man in the blue suit had his .44 magnum pointed right at my face and all I could say was “Damn, friend, would you put that thing away?" He slung it back. "Harv man, I thought we'd lost you there!" he yelped. I told him to chill, just take it easy. He had this look in his eyes, something uneasy about him. That look that potheads and beach rats get a lot. Nerves. Almost got me thinking I should have ditched him back in Palmdale. But I’m damned if I was gonna lose me the best bass player I've ever met over a handgun. I walk outside, into the courtyard. The motel stinks. Putrified everything, even the ice was rotten. "That the same car we came in?" I ask him. "I don't remember it being so … vivid before." A 1964 Chevrolet convertible. “Harvey!" He grabs me. I'm still wide eyed, might as well be on Jupiter. "We're heading into the studio tonight. Sharpen up.” BB




Whilst Grouper’s magisterial Ruins was recognisably the work of the Oregon-based artist Liz Harris – all hushed melancholy and drifting sonic gossamer – it presented her suffocated, idiosyncratic iteration of buried pop in far sharper focus than her previous records. With the exception of the humid field recording of Made of Metal and the Way Their Crept-recalling drone of closer Made of Air – an early recording of Harris’s which showed just how singular her sound was from its inception – the Wurlitzer, guitars and reverb-saturation were dropped in favour of lilting piano figures (albeit with the sustain pedal kept firmly down) unobfuscated vocals, and a smattering of frog song and microwave bleeps. It was a triumph, both emotionally crushing and ecstatic in its clarity, and proof yet again that Harris is one of the most vital artists of her generation. TH



So It Goes

So It Goes isn’t revivalism, nor is it a futuristic portrayal of a tired idea. Ratking managed to pair self-proclaiming lyricism, experimental beat-making and unapologetic attitudes to convey exactly who they are while reminding us where they came from. Their New York city roots were realised through fluid, wavelike loops and the feral street-preaching of Wiki playing off Hak’s authoritative Harlem flow. The trio created further compelling manifestations of their city on tracks like Canal and Snow Beach, before exploding via Wavy Spice’s lyrical workout on Puerto Rican Judo. With youthful exuberance and a gritty perspective, Ratking created a new almanac for urban philosophising. So It Goes is a whirlwind joyride through their unidealised metropolis; they told a brand new story of New York and successfully crafted 2014’s most engrossing East Coast rap album. DH



Are We There

In reply to the album title’s open-ended enquiry, if the ‘there’ referred to is Van Etten’s affirmation as a composer of the most lusting, lavish and heartbusting songs, then the answer was a resounding yes. If her road has been tough, songs as confessional and bone-baring as Your Love Is Killing Me (seldom since EMA’s Past Martyred Saints has an album shared so freely) were evidence of the sheer catharsis which marks this fourth full-length. Despite the artist’s ability to structure and arrange songs at the very heights of technical competence, the swells on Are We There were never overcooked, rather pitched at that perfect level where Etten’s voice was allowed to burst forth from the piano and horn backdrop rather than wilt in the midst of the growing, sonorous mass. The subject of love worms its way into the fabric of most music; but love, its pitfalls, and its pain, weren’t tackled with such class by anyone else this year. RW



Black Light Spiral
Hemlock Recordings

Jack Dunning is nothing if not tireless in his pursuit of new thrills (as much for himself as for his audience). His debut album, Black Light Spiral was brain-melting in its intensity and all-encompassing destruction of conventional dance music tropes, piercing almost impenetrable walls of bass with modular rhythmic detritus and red-lined sample material and laying out the resulting mess into new, unknown shapes. Easily one of the most physical, forward-thinking and relentlessly danceable records of recent times, and (hopefully) a milestone for future explorations in club/body music. SD



Where We Come From

Popcaan's rise from Jamaican underdog to international superstar and the loveable face of the dancehall revival has been nothing short of astonishing. Not since the likes of Kevin Lyttle, Sean Paul and Wayne Wonder graced the charts has the genre seen such a surge in interest. Popcaan's break came with Clarks but he's since been sampled by Yeezus, name-checked by Drizzy and seen himself elevated to a level of mainstream acclaim that his former mentor Vybz Kartel couldn’t have dreamed of. The culmination of his efforts came this year in the form of Where We Come From. With the help of Brooklyn's slick Mixpak label and a hit list of uber-hype producers including Dubbel Dutch, Dre Skull and Anju Blaxx, it was a true crossover album, fusing the singer's 'poppy grooves' with cutting-edge electronic beats, a bass-heavy, hard edged bounce and sharp, addictive synth stabs. It was swathed in sunshine too and, let's face it, we could all use some of that right now. BB



Workshop 19

The eight year wait for this solo full length from the internationally celebrated producer was worth it. The album's eight tracks, so rich in detail, nail Mosse's well honed, concise aesthetic, showcasing some of his best, most emotive, work to date. Constantly evolving, its swirling abstract sonics revealed themselves over multiple listens, with melodies that glide like a thick mist in and out of percussion that refuses to sit still. Approaching the album on his own terms, there's little ecstatic release to be found here, as it seems undeniably geared toward home listening. Yet this unassuming and self-assuredly gripping selection of tracks were endlessly consuming. It was subtle, impressively consistent, and superbly executed content that made Workshop 19 a stand-out representation of one of the most endearing and idiosyncratic house and techno artists working today. AT



Bestial Burden
Sacred Bones

Sometimes a year will throw you a curveball, and Bestial Burden was about as curved as they get. Margaret Chardiet’s second album under the Pharmakon moniker was a grizzly, introspective noise record that plumbed untold depths in its study of body horror and grim humanity. A contorting, gasping record of torturous, scraping climaxes and undulating, timely lulls, Bestial Burden was unsurprisingly born from trauma, a reaction to invasive surgery which left Margaret hyper-aware of the human body's fragility. The record's musical weight lay in Chardiet’s considered approach to rhythm and structure – that's what made this record, above all, relatable. She eschewed atypical time signatures in favour of distorted homemade snares and crashes that rested comfortably in 4/4 whilst her scenery bulged, imploded. With Bestial Burden we were thrown into the depths of a very real psychosis; a gut-trusting, visceral diary entry for an artist obsessed with the unfathomable nature of existence. BB



To Be Kind

Two years have passed since Swans released The Seer; a towering dystopia of vehemence. That record was a collected thrashing of sound and theatre. It endeavoured to explore not just how far Michael Gira could push playing the hostile ringleader of the group but also the notion of dramatic dynamics. It was aggressive and comprised multiple peaks in Gira’s songwriting career. And then they released To Be Kind. What this record proved, if nothing else, is that there are no peaks for Swans. They simply continue to form and reform. Here, material initially developed on acoustic was allowed to balloon throughout the band’s vigorous tour schedule. Oxygen, a track name familiar to Swans fans, became totally reanimated. Just a Little Boy travelled mirthlessly from slide guitar to spectral whining, Screen Shot grooved and grooved out of meaning, becoming some kind of audible confrontation. But amidst all of this rascally progression was the record’s expansive, definitive centrepiece. Spanning 34 minutes in length, Bring the Sun/ Toussaint L’Overture was a mnemonic masterpiece of musical stagecraft. Much like the album, its bull-like behaviour was controlled peerlessly by its maker. Listening, ingesting to To Be Kind was unequivocally one of the most rewarding experience of this year. TW



Run The Jewels 2
Mass Appeal

When El-P and Killer Mike united full time last year, they brewed a competitive chemistry that can drive them to rap with enough force to bulldoze a wall of cement. And yet, not in our wildest imagination did we think we’d be here swearing that their second album is a life-improving classic. With the prominence of the dismissive ‘conscious rap’ term and the profoundly unfashionable guest credits of Travis Barker and Zack de la Rocha, there were reasons for the close-minded to underestimate RTJ2’s importance. But the truth is, Run The Jewels are above all that shit, and they’ve bolstered the project into something you just can’t argue with. With El-P’s brutal and innovative productions being the worthy successor to Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad, the duo delivered a lyrical assault that flipped between absurd, comic-violent fantasies and uncensored reports of society’s rotten infrastructure. Fuckboys, you have been warned. DR



UMG Recordings

You might call Ultraviolence this year’s greatest coming of age record. From the widescreen self-development that weighed down Born To Die, Lana Del Rey immersed herself in the caricature she built and presented an LP that was rich in both self-deprecation and rediscovery. From the sedated falsetto of Shades Of Cool to the preconception-bating lyricism of Brooklyn Baby there’s a numbness to Ultraviolence which is as devastating as it is totally bewitching; green with envy of The Other Woman’s manicure and declaring she Fucked [Her] Way Up to the Top of the game. This is a self-made emancipation, an admission that “mimicking me’s a fucking bore”. These are ceremonious desert ballads that mark a pivotal moment in Lana’s post-Hollywood narrative. She heard the world calling her a Sad Girl, and remarkably came out with the money, the power and all the glory. DH



More Than Any Other Day
Constellation Records

It’s possible that 2014 was indie’s Altamont moment – the year the underground clocked the rising MRA count in Ariel Pink comment threads and online scandals and conceded that left-on hipster culture may, after all, have issues. If not already clear, it’s subsequently become a political statement to form an apolitical rock band, and it’s to Ought’s credit that they make a racket for our conflicted times. Their cult-making debut LP projected a friendly face onto the post-postmodern pursuit, with singer Tim Beeler pinballing between contradictory states: one moment “disgusted by life”, the next “in love with everything in sight”. High on exultant glee and counter-consumerist agitation, the Montreal four-piece ran fuck-it-all anthems like ‘More Than Any Other Day’ through the Albini model of righteous cynicism, generating unironic rock music so on-point you forget the form died 20 years ago. JM



It's Album Time
Olsen Records

Everyone's favourite moustachioed dance commander finally gave us the long form pleasure we've been praying for since the seminal Ragysh/Snooze 4 Love single dropped back in the day. It's Album Time was an irresistible perky, zingy, sun-suffused collection of lounge-inflected disco diamonds, a record precision engineered to counterpoint po-faced dancefloor culture. Even when dipping gleefully into easy listening territory, it was done with such reverence, such pinpoint devotion, that it circumvented the cynics with glee, and Terje's ear for timeless melody was hilariously apparent on future classics like Strandbar and Oh Joy. Oh, and it had Inspector Norse on it. Ditch that SAD lamp – it's album time. JB



Young Turks

Perhaps the definitive artist of the year, FKA twigs’ LP1 drew comparisons to Kate Bush and Björk, caught international gaze with its provocative videos and gender and genre explorations, and was eventually nominated for the Mercury Prize. twigs lost out to Young Fathers, of course, but it’s worth noting that LP1 had sold just under 7000 copies prior to the nomination, highlighting that online and word-of-mouth success doesn't necessarily equate to album sales. Not that she's fazed – the release preceded a sold out tour across Europe and North America. These were stand out performances; intense, skulking movements and mesmerising limb contortion formed a compelling, unapologetically sexual presence. It soon became all too easy to focus on twigs' personal identity – at first shrouded in mystery, the cracks became gaping holes. But it was LP1 that got her here, thrilling this generation with its ecstatically filthy, fully formed aesthetic. In mood and content, LP1 was a constant tease, an exploration of prolonged ecstasy that never offers full relief; weightless bombasts of lust, sex and power struggles for the lovesick kids of 2014. With LP1, twigs had cemented her canonical status, as if we ever doubted it. AT



Tha Tour Pt. 1
Cash Money

We’re living in an era when Atlanta is now the undisputed rap capital of the world, and since the digital erosion of the industry’s old structure, the genre now moves so fast that the most unique talent rises to the top before A&Rs get a chance to wrap their stereotype-moulding hands around it. But while the provocatively effeminate ATL star Young Thug’s slippery, infantile yelps have stretched the possibility of just how weird a rap hit can sound in 2014, his chaotic record deals were beginning to stunt his potential. So it was thanks to the Midas touch of Cash Money mastermind Birdman that Thug delivered this seminal mixtape with natural collaborator Rich Homie Quan. Weaving their voices together in a style that depleted distinctions between ‘rapping’ and ‘singing’, the duo oozed heart-tickling melody and raw emotion, amplifying feelings of lust, love, pride and sorrow with true originality. This is New Atlanta. DR




Perhaps it’s not inevitable, per se, that one of the year’s most heavily anticipated records was also one of its best, but fucking hell Soused was something else. Did anyone really expect anything different? Draining, elating, magisterial and utterly terrifying in equal parts, the pairing of Walker’s outsider vocal with O’Malley and Anderson’s groaning, pitch black bassweight, industrial pulses and wrought riffing resulted in a set of songs the word ‘singular’ could practically have been invented for. It was all pretty faultless, from the widescreen sheen that lulled the listener into Brando, through the grinding infanticidal merrymaking of Herod 2014 and Bull’s tapir-baiting mire. The highlight, still, was Lullaby, a vaudevillian descent into hell that was wholly unnerving, a genuine “this sounds like nothing else out there” moment in an album comprised of them. TH



Present Tense

If 2014 has been a year of future shock, thanks to artists like FKA twigs and Arca producing albums that sound almost aggressively on trend, then perhaps Present Tense was the future-soft. A wonderful record, hugely progressive without seeming forced, Wild Beasts’ new electronic palette managed to strike an elegant balance, neither sounding retro-futurist nor industrial – in fact, for an album the band profess to have ‘designed’ on computers, it sounded remarkably natural, resultant no doubt of their near familial work ethic. Lyrically the album came steeped in modern mythologies of sex and screens. Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots proved that in the wrong hands these subjects can fall into clumsy, hackneyed, ‘literally comparing people on their phones to robots’, territory. Yet Thorpe and Fleming lead with sensation, allowing the sacred moments between newsfeed trawls to take precedence. Thorpe sang of a “godless state where the real and the dream may consummate”, and it was exactly this universe Present Tense conjured. Wild Beasts have spent the last few years gestating on the periphery, yet with Present Tense they fully arrived in revelatory form. AH



Plowing Into The Field Of Love

When Iceage released New Brigade in 2011, it was immediately clear they were a cut above their peers; a stark counterpoint to the torrents of inoffensive musicians just waiting to bore you to death with yet more unimaginative, trite, beige-coloured indie-rock. While their stone-cold aesthetic was seductively sleek, it was their genuine callousness that really made them stand out as a band. In four teenagers from Copenhagen we had found, for first time in aeons, a real punk band. And in 2014, Iceage released their greatest album: Plowing Into The Field of Love. This time around they cleaned up, focused – where once a song used to rest beneath a racket, a racket now underpinned a song. Cymbals clattered, sharp guitars rattled and mandolins plinked in cacophonous harmony to nervously detracted beats. All the while frontman Elias Bender’s poetry become more plaintive and prevalent, the band flirted with new instrumentation, and morbid ballads were carved from the bleak brand of energy channelled as chaotic teenagers those few short years ago. What Plowing achieved, if nothing else, was a collection of songs that put a still-burgeoning career into context. In discussion of their music, Iceage have always preferred that the word ‘punk’ is left out, and you can understand why. The term can represent a musical, emotional or ideological dead-end. It can feel like a word that belongs to the past. But by channelling their ferocity towards the melodramatic, Iceage tore the cliché to shreds, and fewer songs this year resonated as deeply as those collected on Plowing Into The Field of LoveBB



Angels & Devils
Ninja Tune

The hypocrisy from central government permeates its way down the socioeconomic ladder. Bankers rob us blind, MPs in charge steal tens of thousands of pounds of expenses and yet the rhetoric from central government cripples and demonises those on benefits who are called out in the press day upon day in order for the government to make substantial cuts to welfare and avoid tackling those responsible for robbing Britain. We got fucking robbed. Me, you, we all got fucking robbed. Those cunts in power didn’t get robbed, but judging from Angels & Devils, Kevin Martin and the extended family of The Bug came home to find their TV stand empty and their rent raised by a good £200 a month. If previous album London Zoo was the sound of an impending nightmare, Angels & Devils brought the realisation of that dread careering into the foreground full throttle. London-born music can’t help but channel its environment, Burial’s studies in post-millennial paranoia the obvious case in point, and the first half of Angels & Devils rested neatly in this lineage. The ghostly Save Me, featuring the perfectly deployed Gonjasufi, was skeletally unnerving, while Mi Lost smiled at you with knife-wielding, schizophrenic desperation. The funeral organ which forms Pandi was the long, drawn-out, dystopian sound of damaged society; the food banks, the lack of direction, the abuse, the heightened cultural tension – the damage. Then the nastiness really began. What unfolded over the next six tracks was a gnarled exploration of some of the most lyrically raw and visceral themes ever committed to record. Fat Mac was expressed remorselessly with Flowdan’s distinctive spoken-word style, lines such as “skin graft/skin burned/I laugh/they learned” delivered cold. The Death Grips collaboration Fuck A Bitch was the match made in aggro heaven you hoped it would be, and Manga’s statement “I’m just trying to function” summed up the whole sorry state of affairs. Angels & Devils was a bassweight masterpiece done nastier, colder and with more style than anyone else in the genre by a country mile. More than that, it was a representation of the bleakness of modern day Britain. In crafting something that so succinctly funnels the dread of these dark days at the end of 2014, and not sounding in any way contrived in the process, Kevin Martin made the most essential sounding pin-drop to date of the mire we find ourselves swimming in. TF



Black Metal
Rough Trade

My album was under shipped.” “My album leaked.” “I made this album for myself.” “My label failed to properly promote my album to an urban demographic.” “My fans don’t want to hear me grow musically.” “My album will gradually sell more over time.” “My album was only sold by select retailers.” “My album wasn’t as good as the last one” “My fans aren’t supporting me at SoundScan.” “I don’t care about record sales.”   We reached out to Dean Blunt for a statement, however abstract – some kind of acknowledgment. Instead, we received this; an extract entitled Excuses When My Album Flops from the already-released text accompanying the release of Black Metal, the best album of 2014. Expertly swerving the plaudits, the press clamour, but Blunt cannot swerve this fact. The self-conscious listener still feels compelled to approach Dean Blunt’s post-Hype Williams output with a degree of caution. With the word ‘prankster’ repeated beyond meaning, you’re reticent to fully embrace the pure, unadulterated beauty of his work for fear of being on the blunt-end of some post-ironic joke. Well that point has now past. He’s no longer limited to slipping out THC-fuelled dub mutations and grainy video footage via Polly Jacobsen’s YouTube channel. Regardless of context, this music does something to your heart. But Blunt still remains an artist defined by dichotomy, even oxymoron. Urban pastoral. Gritty baroque. Black cocaine. On the surface, the balmy chamber rock flourishes which defined this album, recalling Tindersticks or Bill Callahan, clashed with the only definable factor in Blunt’s make-up: the enduring relevance of East London. Displaced via lilting Americana, or undulating English countryside, or red velvet festival halls – even down to unabashed sampling of The Pastels and Big Star – there’s no longer any ‘there’ there. The sense of place was lost. Or at least it should have been. But as with its orchestral predecessor The Redeemer, the spectre of Hackney lurked heavy throughout Black Metal. The descending strings and smoky aesthetics of the album’s first half still hummed as if ripped from a parallel world of pirate radio, passed through three laptops, samples handed over on a smudged CD marked ‘baroque’ in a surreptitious twilight exchange. Blunt actively rejects any distinction between solo output and otherwise – what, exactly, is the difference between a Hype Williams track and one from Dean Blunt feat. Inga Copeland? – but in this case, it would be unfair to label Joanne Robertson anything other than the second member of ‘Dean Blunt’. Her contribution was indelible, integral to Black Metal. Wandering, Liz Fraser-esque murmurs dominated the psychedelic, miasmic clump of industrial jazz excursion FOREVER, and offered the glinting counterpoint in the impeccable 100, or 50 CENT which, at this point in time are very difficult to dismiss as anything less than some of the most perfect constructions in recent music history. Throughout Black Metal, Blunt remained playful, fiercely intelligent, disarmingly funny. Stark cultural signifiers were key. As with his recent New Paintings exhibition at Hackney’s [space] gallery, which transposed Evisu jeans and their accompanying cultural baggage into stretched squares in place of canvas, Black Metal’s name and the names within didn’t so much toy with music categorisation as mock its existence. PUNK was, of course, an accidental dub track. And a perfect one, at that. COUNTRY, meanwhile, was the most abstract splatter on an album riddled with country flourishes, a gnarled metallic grunt, interspersed with the iconic, atonal blip of the Macbook volume button – crashing down to earth, human and technology, sheer bathos. That fucking prankster. As Blunt intoned “to all the niggers that knew me – sue me” on the shuffling, glorious HUSH, and Robertson again seeped the spirit of misspent evenings over the metallic sound design of closer GRADE, a sprawling, extraterrestrial apocalypse of sorts, it was hard to believe you’re listening to the same record as you were 45 minutes ago. But you were glad, you were breathless. In a troubling landscape, owe ourselves a record of such fundamental, human beauty. The only remaining issue is whether what we’re now privy to is Dean Blunt, or the Dean Blunt. It’s far easy to descend into an endless coil of deconstruction. But whichever way you chose to approach it, Black Metal stood alone as the most edifying, challenging, and utterly staggering piece of music released in this calendar year. An era-defining, and defying, masterpiece. GHD



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