Editor’s picks: The albums of 2014
This isn’t the ‘magazine’ top ten, merely my personal picks for 2014. We like to reflect the writers’ individual tastes here. Anything generic, from a smallish team such as ours will only lead to the ‘lowest common denominator’ records. Mine contains something of a running theme, namely the welcoming back of some familiar and even old favourites.
The re-issue of the year goes to The Sound, Box Set, an essential purchase for anyone who was into that 80s post punk scene, (Bunnymen, Joy Division, The Chameleons, etc) – The Sound were the ones that got away really. This collection includes classic album From The Lions Mouth. Originals are all out of print. Loads of bonus tracks. Just get it.
The Sound Box narrowly edges Cherry Reds C86 re-issue. A shout out too for the recent McCarthy Complete Box Set and Eyeless In Gaza album set, both also by Cherry Red Records, but that’s what they do so no surprise there really! The other reissue of note is The Afghan Whigs Gentlemen at 21 (Mute) which is a fearsome recording, the bands breakthrough and my personal favourite Whigs studio outing.
As to my top albums of the year notable mentions must go out to Wild Beasts, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness (another welcome return but they have no idea of their best songs), Mogwai (who don’t really do albums, but do an album every year. Rave Tapes is one of their better efforts, Future Islands (patchy, but good when good) , Ormonde, She Sir, Dryft, Perverted By Language, Soup (treading a 35 mile tightrope between Merseybeat and Madchester) and Spotlight Kid. A new record just dropped from The Domino State, which is another welcome return, though too late to really give a good listen and potentially include here. All can consider themselves a bit unlucky not to make my ten. They’re bubbling under.
To the ten:
10. The Children – Ghost Lights
A welcome slice of indie-rock fused with dub reggae, the like of which I haven’t seen since the days of Public Image Ltd and Dif Juz. The latter’s Gary Bromley plays bass here, giving this record its signature Jamaican sound. Indeed it is more a dub record with indie leanings than the contrary. Tracks like ‘Turn yer head around’ evoke the halcyon days of King Tubby, Augustus Pablo and the high priest himself, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Ghost Lights could have been on Trojan, it’s that good.
9. The Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast.
Very gratifying to have the Whigs back, since it was [sic] Magazine who kick-started the whole ‘reunion’ idea (see interview) No Rick McCollum sadly but the steadying presence of John Curley on bass is like Daryl Dixon to Dulli’s Rick Grimes. Do To The Beast is a tighter, more muscular Whigs album more akin to Gutter Twins than 1965 or anything by Twilight Singers. With Gentlemen at 21, 2014 has really been the year of the Afghan Whigs.
8. Interpol El Pintor
The law of diminishing returns seemed to have set in for these boys. Yet El Pintor took just one track to adjust course and render the tired defeatism (and loss of Carlos Dengler) as things of the past. ‘All The Rage Back Home’ signalled the upturn. ‘My Blue Supreme’ and ‘Everything Is Wrong’ confirmed that everything is actually very right in the suited & booted ones world. A nice surprise.
7. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
The Kozelek renaissance rumbles on. This time around he develops further the themes he explored on Perils Of The Sea, particularly mortality. It’s an odd thing to say about a career melancholist such as Kozelek but Benji is a devastatingly sad listen. Makes Red House Painters seem almost innocent by comparison.
6. Repeater – Repeater
A surprising move, but a shockingly good pop record by Steve Krolikowski and co. I suspect he wanted to wrong foot writers and fans who may have thought they had the man pegged. Me, having once expressed how Repeater “frighten me, they’re that good”; now find the band as comforting as a bag of candy at a rom-com screening.
5. Grouper – Ruins
Liz Harris recorded most of Ruins in Portugal but I wouldn’t look for too much meaning in that. This, her ninth album is ambient to the point of inertia. Fleetingly ethereal and naggingly minimal, Harris evokes the likes of Harold Budd or even Satie in her compositions. Yet it is the fragility of each piece that stands out. I find myself holding my breath in fear of bringing the whole crystalline structure crashing down.
4. Black Swan Lane – A Moment Of Happiness
Previous album of the year winners BSL back doing what they do best – pretty, melancholic dreampop. There is a BSL formula, no doubt and they’re arguably treading water somewhat but hey, the water’s lovely. Come on in.
3. Shield Patterns – Contour Lines
The first ‘great’ recording of the year for me. The whole [sic] writer team were somewhat divided over it but it found the target with me. Was this slice of beautifully voiced trip hop the nudge Kate Bush needed to bring her out of her hiatus? Probably not, but we’ll claim it!
2. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
Kozelek’s ‘enemy’ band will feature in many lists this year. Why? Because Lost In The Dream is excellent and has a kind of universal appeal. Much like Future Islands, The War On Drugs standout tracks rank alongside the best songs of the year. Only with Lost In The Dream there isn’t the filler that blighted Singles. At times frontman Adam Granduciel veers a little too close to Bob Dylan, nasal whine for comfort. Somehow it doesn’t matter. At least he didn’t dance like a mugging loon on Letterman.
And so to my album of the year.
1. The Twilight Sad, – Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave.
The Twilight Sad, (who won my album of the year also in 2012) seem to somehow, impossibly, improve with each long player. I gather there were some tough times for the band between this release and No One Can Ever Know, possibly some dissatisfaction with the industry? If so, they should develop a thicker skin. The industry has never valued quality alone (see The Sound, The Chameleons, Go Betweens…. you name it) Yet in truth The Twilight Sad should be better known. They should have the status of a Radiohead or Joy Division. They are that good. I’ve stopped caring where they can possibly go from here. It’s redundant now. They’ve followed up every masterpiece with another. What seals the deal for me is their authenticity. This is intense, shattering material, yet in The Twilight Sad’s hands it is never less than utterly convincing. No play acting, no pretence or posturing. The Twilight Sad are the real deal.
1. The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants To be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave (Fat Cat)
2. The War On Drugs Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)
3. Shield Patterns – Contour Lines (Gizeh)
4. Black Swan Lane – A Moment of Happiness (Wanderland)
5. Grouper – Ruins (Kranky)
6. Sun Kil Moon – Benji (Caldo Verde)
7. Repeater – Repeater (A Diamond Heart Production)
8. Interpol – El Pintor (Matador)
9. The Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast (Sub Pop)
10. The Children – Ghost Lights (Division 68)
Re-issue of the year The Sound Box Set, Jeopardy, From The Lions Mouth,… & more.
Music from the top ten: