Alex S (barrysarll) wrote,
Alex S

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Albums of the Year: 2014

Yeah, it's late. But not by much, and just when I was starting to pull it together I saw a brilliant piece by Ian Watson about the perils of doing an Albums of the Year list before the year is done. And after today, I'm quite glad to have a chance to look back to 2014, which often seemed like a pig of a year at the time, but now comes across as almost innocent.

20. Margaret - Jason Webley and Friends
A scrapbook found in a skip inspires a collaborative album celebrating the life of a doomed poetess and heiress. The sort of project which would never have travelled much past its home town before the Internet, and so a timely reminder that the modern world ain't all bad.

19. Puppet Loosely Strung - The Correspondents
Jazz that interests me in the least stopped being made decades ago. But every now and again a band comes along - The Real Tuesday Weld are another - who know that the good stuff is still ripe for a plunder. This itchy pair are another example of that.

18. Popular Problems - Leonard Cohen
Dear Heather was a trial, but the records since then have achieved something astonishing - they almost make old age sound worthwhile.

17. The Bunjies Test - Philip Jeays
Having made worrying hints of retirement, Britain's Jacques Brel made a welcome return in 2014. The ballads were always excellent, but now I even like the political songs; I'm not sure whether he's got a little less polemical, the situation has got more desperate, or most likely both.

16. Urge for Offal - Half Man Half Biscuit
I once tried to explain HMHB to a young American, before rapidly realising the effort was doomed. Long may these contrary bastards thrive, reminding those with ears to hear that the Wirral was always the cool side of the Mersey.

15. The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett - Eels
Not a happy album as such, but E sounds like he's come to some sort of terms with the world, and it makes me glad.

14. The Tyburn Tree - John Harle & Marc Almond
Marc Almond keeps plugging away, generally making albums I vaguely like rather than love, too often drawing on the same somewhat stale signifiers. Whoever Harle is, he's dragged Almond out of that rut, and instead given us a lunatic nursery rhyme of London's dark past. Should be played very quietly in the rooms of the plutocrats devouring the city whenever they try to sleep.

13. Angels & Devils - The Bug
Another London album, this time capturing the sound of the city's present. Which is to say it's tense, claustrophobic, on edge and liable to lash out. I'm not sure I even enjoy listening to it, but it doesnt half capture a mood and a moment.

12. City Air - The Soft Close-Ups
Ultimately I still prefer them in their synth/guitar duo and acoustic modes, but their full band album still has much to delight, not least the tiny, universal tragedy of Housman setting 'Your Likely Years'.

12. Love Letters - Metronomy
These past few years, I've tried to crack down on the inclusion of 'like the last one, but not quite as good' albums. And OK, this isn't quite as good as The English Riviera, but that was one of my favourite albums of recent years. And this is no mere facsimile - where that was precise this is woozy. It's a little later in the evening, and things are getting sloppy.

11. Worse Things - Penny Orchids
Generally, when I see bands with a klezmer or Tom Waits influence, I enjoy them at first and then gradually lose all patience. Early on, Penny Orchids were often a bit too loud for the songs to breathe, but with time they've really got the balance sorted and now they've produced this - largely a rise-and-fall concept album, it's punky and wry and regretful all at once.

10. Return to Bohemia - Cleaners from Venus
Martin Newell is still going, a Dickensian figure who veers between sixties-tinged pop and the sound of Essex meadows as summer fades. Sadly this album also includes one track of his satirical poetry, but hey, it's not like he only releases on cassette anymore so it's easily skipped.

9. Run The Jewels 2
I have more or less entirely lost track of hip hop, bar the odd Nicki Minaj video, and it was seldom a genre which produced consistently good albums even when I liked it most. But these guys are exceptional in so very many ways. As urgent in its filth and silliness as its protest songs, because life isn't neat.

8. Ruled By Dreams - Andrew Montgomery
Andrew Montgomery used to sing in Geneva, who were amazing but hampered by post-Britpop production on their first album and post-post-Britpop dance crossover production on their second. Somehow, his voice has lost none of its purity in the intervening decades (nor does he seem to have aged in any other way), and he's now his own boss, and has made something which feels at once sacred and playful.

7. Floral Tributes - John Moore
The best former Mary Chain drummer in music returns, with all the joie de vivre we'd come to expect from him, ie, none. Music for drinking alone.

6. Company - The Drink
I've known some of The Drink for years, and enjoyed their previous bands, but they were generally variations on the theme of white boy indie. And then they found the quite remarkable voice of Dearbhla Minogue and now they make stuff that sounds like highlife and Krautrock and I don't even know what else, and you can almost see the 'levelled up' graphic flashing.

5. St. Vincent
I'd never disliked Annie Clark, but nor had I quite clicked with her before this. I need to go back to the early stuff, check out whether she was always so twitchy and iconic, like the midpoint of Davids Byrne and Bowie. Kept sneaking its way up the list on account of my forgetting that the rest of it isn't *quite* as good as 'Digital Witness'.

4. LP1 - FKA Twigs
An unusually high placing for a broadsheet darling. I can understand why she gets pissed off at being called 'alt-R&B' - this spooked, sensual stew sounds far more like someone turned the peaks of Zola Jesus into an injectable form.

3. To Be Kind - Swans
Debatable whether this should even be here; I've only been able to listen to the whole album once because it's terrifying. Also incredibly long. Its inclusion here feels a bit like dropping a mass grave in to an architecture awards shortlist, but fuck me, it's some kind of achievement and it needs to be recognised. I've not really listened to Swans since I used to take the piss out of them for songs like 'Raping A Slave' and 'Time Is Money (Bastard)', but I suspect they're finally making the music they always thought they were.

2. The Winter of 88 - Seafieldroad
Wide-open piano songs about Scotland, islands, freedom and cold. It's not a religious album, but it always makes me think of little stone churches on clifftops. I am only slightly biased in its favour on account of it mentioning my name in the title track (the marvels of crowdfunding - I'm not sure I've ever been namechecked on a studio recording before).

1. Blood & Brambles - Mikey Georgeson
I had written "this would be even higher if it had only included 'Moth In The Flame'", and then it went and ended up on top anyhow. Formerly known as Mr Solo, the Vessel and (by the confused) David Devant, I always knew he'd do something under his own name one day, but not that it would be quite so wise and wistful and generally lovely.
Tags: albums of the year
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