OWES’ Top 25 Albums Of 2014

I’m posting this a little later than I planned to, I found this list pretty tough to put together and while I was compiling all the albums it became apparent that there have been a great deal of LP’s I never got round to listening to. After I had my 25, putting them in order felt like another mammoth task.

It’s a bit of a long read so grab a brew and get comfy, or if you prefer just check out the playlist I made of all the standout tracks at the bottom.

25. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags

A few of my friends are big fans of Stephen Malkmus’ old band Pavement and don’t get me wrong I like them too, but aside from Crooked Rain Crooked Rain and Terror Twilight I haven’t really given them enough of my time. It was the single ‘Lariat’ that made me want to check out this album, Wig Out At Jagbags has moments of genius, it’s fun, insanely catchy at times and it wouldn’t be Stephen Malkmus if it wasn’t a bit mad as well.

Standout Tracks: Lariat, Houston Hades, J Smoov

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24. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

If I had done this list a few months back Benji would have been a lot further up the rankings. It’s an album I listened to a great deal when it first came out but after a bit of time away, I went back and it wasn’t as good as I remembered. I don’t think the whole slanging match with The War On Drugs helped (more on them later). Saying that, it is a fine album, Mark Kozelek’s filterless ramblings tumble along an acoustic backdrop to beautiful affect.

Standout Tracks: Carissa, I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love, Pray For Newtown 

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23. The Coral – The Curse Of Love

To say I miss The Coral would be an understatement, since the ragtag band of scallys exploded onto the scene in 2002 I have pretty much loved everything they have done. So, you can imagine my excitement when they announced that they were releasing an album they had recorded and shelved somewhere between 2005 and 2007. Impressively, The Curse Of Love was recorded on a Tascam 8 track, when the band were without guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones and for the most part the LP is minimal instrumentally, but that only shows off how good the songs are. Psychedelia in its most stripped back form.

Standout Tracks: Wrapped In Blue, The Watcher in The Distance, Willow Song

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22. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Burn Your Fire For No Witness is Angel Olsen’s sophomore LP, this being the first thing I’ve ever heard from the American songwriter it’s safe to say that I’m mightily impressed. AO showcases her brand of rough and ready indie electric fuzz but shines most during her Leonard Cohen-esque delicate ballads. Her voice is haunting and her lyrics are often heartbreaking, an album that grips you from start to finish.

Standout Tracks: Forgiven/Forgotten, Lights Out, Stars

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21. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

Damon Albarn’s first dive into the world of a solo artist has been a very successful one. The Mercury Music Prize nominated Everyday Robots is an achingly autobiographical LP, bursting with bittersweet and beautiful melodies, from a man who after a 25 year career you have come to expect nothing but great work from. It was the title track that lead me to giving this album a whirl, growing up I wasn’t much of a Blur fan but now, after delving into Mr Albarn’s back catalogue I realise what I have been missing out on. Although I would avoid the album’s weak song, the quite annoying ‘Mr Tembo’.

Standout Tracks: Everyday Robots, Lonely Press Play, Parakeet

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20: Spoon – They Want My Soul

Where have I been throughout Spoon’s 20 year career? They’re the kind of band that when you mention them to someone they say “You’ve never heard of Spoon!”. Well, up until I heard the earworm ‘Do You’, the first single to be taken from this album the band had never crossed my path. They Want My Soul is a rip roaring ride of indie guitar rock, unforgettable melodies and is a masterfully produced LP.

Standout Tracks: Inside Out, Do You, They Want My Soul

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19: Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

There’s no mistaking Conor Oberst’s quivering voice as soon as you hear it, it’s always a welcome sound to my ears. Although I’m a big fan of Oberst’s band Bright Eyes I have haven’t really heard a great deal of Conor’s solo stuff. I think the reason I like Upside Down Mountain so much is because it could easily be a Bright Eyes record, country tinged songs laden with stories of escape, death and the passing of time. For me, it’s a great return to form from one of my favourite songwriters.

Standout Tracks: Zigzagging Towards The Light, Hundreds Of Ways, Enola Gay

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18. Jamie T – Carry On The Grudge

It’d been a long 5 years since we last heard anything from the Wimbledon Troubadour and it feels good to have him back. Carry On The Grudge is a more grown-up album then it’s predecessor’s, it’s brooding and emotive, less reliant on the pacey in your face tracks that brought JT into the spotlight in the first place. There’s clever word play scattered throughout and with melodies stronger than ever. Aside from ‘Peter’ which is the one track that lets this LP down, Jamie T’s return couldn’t have gone any better.

Standout Tracks: Don’t You Find, Rabbit Hole, Love Is Only A Heartbeat Away

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17. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow

The thing I like about Bombay Bicycle Club is that they never rest on their laurels, since they came to prominence in 2009 with their debut LP I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose they have re-invented themselves with every record. With So Long, See You Tomorrow it is quite apparent that world music is a key influence and with that Jack Steadman and Co. have created a record that gets better with each listen. For me, it includes their best song to date, the wonderful ‘Luna’.

Standout Tracks: Carry Me, Luna, Feel

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16. The Barr Brothers – Sleeping Operator

After becoming obsessed with The Barr Brothers’ wistful single ‘Love Ain’t Enough’ I had high hopes before listening to Sleeping Operator, and although the rest of the LP doesn’t quite grab me in the same way it by no means disappoints. A collection of dream-like American folk which takes you on a journey and features some obviously talented musicians experimenting with some not so obvious instruments to great affect. Excellent stuff.

Standout Tracks: Love Ain’t Enough, Even the Darkness Has Arms, Come In The Water

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15. Real Estate – Atlas

It’s Real Estate’s sound I like more than their songs, that’s not saying they haven’t got great songs because they certainly do, but it’s that laid back, breezy and uncomplicated surf-pop shimmer that really appeals to me. Atlas, the band’s third LP doesn’t veer from the formula that made it’s predecessor, the excellent Days such a great listen, but this time round the band have nailed down their sound even better.

Standout Tracks: Talking Backwards, Crime, Horizon

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14. Avi Buffalo – At Best Cuckold

An artist new to me in 2014, Avi Buffalo brings a sack full of sun tinged Californian indie-pop to the table. It was the track ‘Overwhelmed With Pride’ that first caught my attention, it reminds me of Illinois era Sufjan Stevens. The band was put together by singer/songwriter and guitarist Avi Zahner-Isenberg and musically At Best Cuckold is a sublime west coast influenced LP, though those candy coated guitar lines are counter balanced by Avi’s dark lyrics. This LP also features one of my favourite album closers, the cascading acoustic ballad ‘Won’t Be Around No More’.

Standout Tracks: Memories Of You, Overwhelmed With Pride, Won’t Be Around No More

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13. Interpol – El Pintor 

Prior to the release of El Pintor I was really hoping the LP was going to be a return to form for the New York band, as I’ve said in previous posts their 2010 self titled album was a big disappointment for me. First single ‘All The Rage Back Home’ was like a bolt out the blue and proved the band that weren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. On first listen El Pintor left me deflated, I felt that although the album was sonically quite brilliant the songs were quite forgettable. For a long while Interpol were up there with my favourite bands so I wasn’t going to give up on the album that easily, and after repeated listens it began to grow on me until I felt like it was the comeback I was hoping for all along. Interpol will never reach the dizzy heights of their debut album Turn On The Bright Lights but El Pintor has made me grateful that they are still making music.

Standout Tracks: All The Rage Back Home, Same Town, New Story, My Blue Supreme

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12. Woods – With Light And With Love

Brooklyn band Woods were a new arrival to my ears this year, the group have been around since 2006 and have 7 albums under their belt. Woods are possibly my favourite discovery of 2014 and With Light And With Love is a great introduction to them, a band that sound like they’ve come straight out the 60’s. Along with their pop sensibilities the group remind me of Arthur Lee’s Love in places with their tendency to break into long jams. Although I’m not the best at describing genres I guess this would fall into the psych-folk category, it’s focused yet not constrained.

Standout Tracks: With Light And With Love, Moving To The Left, Leaves Like Glass

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11. Jack White – Lazeretto

It’s safe to say that Jack White doesn’t really make bad records, like all LP’s the quality fluctuates but I’m yet to here anything from him that I wouldn’t happily recommend to people. JW has been around for a good while now, with 6 studio albums as part of The White Stripes, 2 LP’s with The Raconteurs, 2 LP’s under The Dead Weather moniker and now this, his second outing as a solo artist. So he’s had plenty of chance to drop the ball. The title track of this album blew my socks off, from the fuzzy bass riff to White’s rap-like lyrical wizardry, violin solos and those futuristic synth stabs; one of the strongest singles of 2014. The rest of the album isn’t far behind either, from the cockily delivered ‘Three Women’ to the folk duet with Lillie Mae Rische ‘Temporary Ground’. Easily my favourite out of JW’s solo records.

Standout Tracks: Lazeretto, Temporary Ground, Would You Fight For My Love?

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10. Mac Demarco – Salad Days

Mac Demarco’s sophomore record was probably my favourite LP of 2012, so I eagerly awaited it’s follow up only to feel initially disappointed by it. It’s only after you scratch under the surface of Salad Days that it becomes a really rewarding listen, revealing a more mature Mac Demarco than two years ago. The Canadian singer/songwriter’s melancholy approach to this LP may come as a shock to fans expecting the same cheeky chappy that brought you 2, but I suppose two years of constant touring can do that to a man. I have too much of a fondness for MD’s to say I like Salad Days more but I do feel that it could be a near-perfect follow up to that record, it’s more refined, lyrically simplistic and quietly confident. It’s good to have old Macky back.

Standout Tracks: Let Her Go, Passing Out The Pieces, Chamber Of Reflection 

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9. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Days Of Abandon

It’s no secret how much I like The Pains, their debut album is one of my favourite records, I wear an official t-shirt signed by singer Kip Berman religiously and I’ve been to see them twice this year. Days Of Abandon is the band’s most direct record, unashamedly poppy and cleanly produced. It’s easy to see that singer/songwriter Berman has definitely got an ear for writing catchy tunes and ear worm hooks ‘cos this LP is loaded with them. Although on its release the album received favourable reviews I don’t feel it it got the plaudits it deserved. According to my Last.fm stats The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart were my most listened to band of 2014 and the song ‘Kelly’ topped my tracks of the year.

Standout Tracks: Kelly, Beautiful You, Until The Sun Explodes

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8. St Vincent – St Vincent

This album was another ‘grower’ for me, at the time of its release it was receiving very high praise from the critics and I was wondering what I was missing. The album that came before this one, 2011’s boundary pushing Strange Mercy is a real favourite of mine and it was immediately obvious that Annie Clark wanted to push those boundaries even further with this release. It’s a meticulously planned album, from the songs to the creation of a kind of overlord alter-ego, through to her eccentric live performances. Strange Mercy is still my favourite St Vincent LP but her hard work on this LP has most definitely not gone unnoticed with me.

Standout Tracks: Prince Johnny, Digital Witness, Regret

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7. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There 

This album was the first thing I’d ever heard from Sharon Van Etten and I would not have expected it to be this far up this list by the end of the year. A friend of mine is a big fan of SVE and after seeing her brilliant performance on Jools Holland earlier this year, it gave me more than enough reason to check out Are We There. The self produced LP is focussed on Etten’s lyrics and vocals more than it is on the music, not to take anything away from the musical side of the album, its minimalism compliments SVE’s performance perfectly. To quote the film Aladdin this LP really is a “Diamond in the Rough” and deserves not to be overlooked.

Standout Tracks: Your Love Is Killing, I Love You But I’m Lost, Every Time The Sun Comes Up

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6. Gruff Rhys – American Interior

I haven’t really kept up with Gruff Rhys’ solo work following the demise of Super Furry Animals but this LP really caught my attention. The album is based on a story of an 18th century explorer named John Evans, and how he traveled across America to find a fabled Welsh speaking Tribe. It’s a story that really caught my imagination and it has spawned a book, an app and a power point-like presentation tour. I caught said tour when Gruff Rhys stopped off at Llangollen Fringe Festival in July, and it really was one of the most interestingly different and humorous shows I have ever been to. American Interior has rekindled the fondness I once had for Gruff Rhys’ songwriting. A fantastic LP.

Standout Tracks: 100 Unread Messages, The Last Conquistador, Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)

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5. TV On The Radio – Seeds

Out of all TV On The Radio’s albums Seeds is their most direct, some have seen this as a bad thing but not me. Having grown up in a house where no one was really that in to music (until later years) I had to find my own way, unashamedly I mainly listened to the pop charts and I feel they have always left its mark on me. So when a musically obscure band like TV On The Radio make an album like Seeds I celebrate it. I’m not saying TVOTR have completely lost their edge and dived into the world of pop music but songs like ‘Test Pilot’ and ‘Love Stained’ are most definitely their most mainstream. With Seeds you get the best of both worlds, so what’s not to like?

Standout Tracks: Happy Idiot, Test Pilot, Seeds

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4. Future Islands – Singles

Future Islands have had a whirlwind of a year, it all started with that incredible performance of ‘Season (Waiting On You)’ on the Letterman Show. They are very much a marmite kind of band, singer Samuel T. Herring erratic vocals and onstage dance moves certainly split opinions. I have nothing but good things to say about this band, they have served their time under the radar, have released 3 albums before this and now deserve their moment in the spotlight. The Baltimore trio’s synth pop stylings and STH’s wonderful vocal performances make Singles one of the most memorable LP’s of the year.

Standout Tracks: Seasons (Waiting On You), Back In The Tall Grass, A Song For Our Grandfathers

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3. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

Another band that have done amazingly well this year, The War On Drugs have received widespread acclaim for this album and you only have to give its one listen to see why. I tried to get into the LP that came before this, 2011’s Slave Ambient, but nothing really stuck. It was only after I was a guest on a local radio show that the DJ asked me if I’d heard TWOD’s new single ‘Red Eyes’, I was immediately impressed with it’s Americana/Springsteen-esque influenced driving rhythm and eagerly awaited the record. I have mentioned this before, but although lyrically the album’s main subject matter is that of loneliness and depression I find it an extremely uplifting body of work. A band I really want to catch live next time they make their way across the pond.

Standout Tracks: Red Eyes, Eyes To The Wind, Burning

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2. Wild Beasts – Present Tense

Wild Beasts went less guitar more synth on their 4th album to great affect. The Kendal Quartet have been one of my favourite bands ever since I saw their performance of ‘All The King’s Men’ on Jools Holland in 2009. The first single to be taken from Present Tense was the mesmerising ‘Wanderlust’ and I had a feeling that we were in for a treat once the album arrived. Lyrically the LP is just as provocative as ever, musically superior to 2011’s Smother and the partnership between the two frontmen Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming sets them apart from any another band around. I managed to catch Wild Beasts at Manchester’s Albert Hall in March, and it was easily my favourite gig of 2014.

Standout Tracks: Wanderlust, Mecca, A Simple And Beautiful Truth

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1. Beck – Morning Phase

I wrote half way through the year that it would take a truly great album to knock Morning Phase from my top spot. That album never arrived, and not because there has been a shortage of great music this year, it’s because Beck Hansen’s latest LP is maybe the only album I’ve heard in 2014 that I feel could go down as a classic. Billed as a companion piece for 2002’s Sea Change, Morning Phase is awash with finely crafted acoustic gems and beautiful harmonies. This stunning album is masterclass in songwriting and it has most definitely been my ‘go to’ album when I haven’t been able to decide what I wanted to listen to.

Standout Tracks: Heart Is A Drum, Blue Moon, Blackbird Chain

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Here’s all the aforementioned standout tracks:

 

 

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One response to “OWES’ Top 25 Albums Of 2014

  1. Such an awesome list. Morning Phase is one of my favorite albums ever, and way better than Sea Change (which is good). Morning Phase is probably even better than Odelay (though my opinion flip flops on that daily).

    Like

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