blog: Best of 2014

Instead of writing some boring guff about why I’m writing this boring guff about eight months too late that nobody will read anyway, I’m going to go ahead and list my ten favourite albums of 2014 with a few meaningless words on why these albums are my ten favourite albums of 2014. Hope you have a whale of a time reading, lads.

10. Sky Ferreira – ‘Night Time, My Time’

I know it came out in America in 2013 but us straddlers here in the UK had to wait all the way until March for the best crossover pop album of America’s yesteryear, and we never even got a solo tour. Cameron’s Britain.

9. Taylor Swift – ‘1989’

Simply perfect pop music and if you think otherwise you are almost certainly wrong.

8. Frankie Cosmos – ‘Zentropy’

To be pretty honest with you, if you haven’t already listened to this based on the strength of the cover alone, you’re doing life wrong anyway and nothing I can say will ever change that, so I’ll just leave a little note here instead: RIP, Joe Joe.

7. Perfume Genius – ‘Too Bright’

The inverted machismo, the swaggering lyrics, the deranged synths and the angelic-cum-sluggishly-androgynous backing vocals of Queen, the submerged Lynchian gender performativity of I’m a Mother. A brilliantly transgressive album from a brilliantly transgressive artist.

6. Cheatahs – ‘Cheatahs’

Unpacking the many influences behind Cheatahs’ debut, right down to the 90s-indebted aesthetic of the splurging haziness of the artwork, was one of the main reasons why I began to wholly embrace and endeavour beyond the surface of shoegaze, now comfortably the genre I listen to and get lost in most, last year. You’re all right by me, lads.

5. Honeyblood – ‘Honeyblood’

I love Honeyblood, and the first time I saw them was supporting Courtney Barnett and the Courtney Barnetts way back in early 2013, with singer Stina sipping whiskey in between singing very good, stinging songs about scumbags. Said songs probably sound even better on record, though don’t quite sting as hard: whilst unable to wholly match up to the acidic crunch of the live version of, say, All Dragged Up or Super Rat, the album (and former drummer Shona) brings a measured sense of melodic serenity and polish, ensuring they remain the best things to come out of Glasgow since Stiliyan Petrov moved to the Villa.

4. The Crookes – ‘Soapbox’

I really like this gobbet that I said about this really great album back when I wrote about it in April, so I’m just going to leave it here: ‘it’s allusively American, but Northern Soul at heart.’ Not one to blow my own trumpet, but one word: woof.

3. The Heartbreals – ‘We May Yet Stand a Chance’

The chorus to Absolved, undoubtedly the album’s apex and the most Heartbreaks moment in The Heartbreaks catalogue, is an absolute belter, with gloriously kitsch, Spectoresque production, and the rest on offer ain’t too bad either, with the band adding punch, politics and strings to their eccentric but always essential Orange Juice-meets-Northern Soul sensibilities. God bless the band.

2. St. Vincent – ‘St. Vincent’

Annie Clark is Better Than David Bowie, pass it on.

1. Alvvays – ‘Alvvays’

Confession time: in a further reckless violation of list-making etiquette, I hadn’t actually listened to this album in its entirety back in 2014, my only exposure to Alvvays being the occasional and very welcome nourishment of Archie, Marry Me, a small slice of wistful, c86-inspired pop majesty, either through headphones walking through the bluster and beauty of the streets of Sheffield, or blaring on speakers, alone in the dark of my bedroom, sandwiched between the endless shuffling of a Spotify playlist to pass the time. Entering the worst, most enduringly terrifying period of my life in around January, though, I stuck the album on out of something, probably boredom, trying to find meaning in something, anything, as you do, to make sense of yourself, as you do, and I genuinely haven’t stopped listening since, with its inch-perfect tales of tragedy and torment, of young love and bittersweet optimism, of despair but above all a defining sense of hopefulness, basically keeping me alive on a nightly basis. I’ve come out of that time a different person, more rounded, more knowing of myself, and above all else, alive, and I honestly owe a huge debt to this album, and indeed this band, for that reality. They helped me realise I wasn’t okay, and I would need support that music and films and literature could only partially provide, even in the simplest of metaphors like the quietly devastating opening to the second verse of Party Police, the album’s lush centrepiece and, to these unlearned ears at least, the most gorgeously melancholic and most profound song I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing: ‘Fighting through the fog, I can’t believe it rained all Summer long / When everyday’s a hurricane, you know there’s something wrong’. Delivered with Molly Rankin’s consistently ethereal, evocative, lusciously slipping and dipping, rising and tightening vocals, it gives me goosebumps just writing those words. So, thanks Alvvays for, y’know, saving my life.



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single: Circa Waves – ‘Stuck in My Teeth’

The Beatles, Echo and the Bunnymen, The La’s, The Coral: whichever way you look at it, Liverpool is a proud, densely rich musical landscape in the wider pantheon of British guitar-pop music, providing each generation with a defining band the locals will boast about, and probably claim tenuous links to, without fail. Newer acts, both playing up to and subverting the artistry of such ancestors – as reconciled in the psychedelic folk-trappings of Stealing Sheep and the synth-dabbling art-pop of Outfit – carry the potential to be future flag-bearers for the former city of culture’s musical diversity, though long festering in the depths of the River Mersey there lurks a presence threatening to usurp their claims. Rearing its ugly head again: twiddly indie guitar pop that is so blandly inoffensive, it’s actually offensive.

The first posse of note to emerge from this movement was, of course, The Wombats, a band that had bags under their eyes before they even began singing stupid songs about being better than Bridget Jones; a band you could feasibly imagine were engineered in some sort of sixth form laboratory, almost exclusively to soundtrack cuts in The Inbetweeners – something they did unsurprisingly amount to. Circa Waves are the latest to become entrenched in this unshakeable sludge of sound with the release of their pretty terrible new single, Stuck in My Teeth, following what was a perfectly alright debut in Get Away. Awash with a giddy riff that would be so unbelievably punchable if it had a face, basically like The Strokes circa-Angles if they’d had too many skittles at an underage disco, and exhausted, well worn themes of frolicking youths frolicking about, it’s a song that is, at the very best, quick and lively, like the aural equivalent of stubbing your toe, and isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. Where the aforementioned Liverpudlian bands at least attempt to craft an individual sound out of their influences, though, Circa Waves seem intent on mining the worst indie in 2006 had to offer, like a lackadaisical Spector without any of the intricately-coiffured appeal. It may only be their second single, but it’s so hard to look past such glaringly bland and soulless stuff, especially when it’s probably orchestrated by some studio executive, The Man, the Conservative-voting mukker down with the kids, essentially repackaging The Wombats, The Pigeon Detectives et al. – who were awful enough the first time around – with fresher faces and floppier hair to fit the fun world of record-high youthful unemployment we exist in. Because it’s just so fun, you see. And the kids should be well happy about it, dancing to this fun band. Go ahead and embrace that sweet, joyous fun, you sweet, joyous revellers in indie nostalgia. It’s beyond excessive, I know, but is there a better band to personify the apathy of Cameron’s Britain? Escapism is all good, but it should surely sound more, um, fun, than this.

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single: Sky Ferreira – ‘I Blame Myself’

Sky Ferreira is an interesting pop star, regardless of her current slot as the supporting act for the world’s most notorious subscriber to the weekly edition of How to Break Your Mullet-Monster Dad’s Achy Breaky Heart in Ten Easy Steps. Purveying a more natural edge for being leftfield than Miley stick-your-tongue-out-and-exploit-black-culture Cyrus, Ferreira’s pop manifesto has been a permanent fixture of intrigue since she released the bitingly ironic, glistening synth punches of One back in 2010. At once both a neat subversion of and sardonic conformation to modern pop soundscapes and textures, critiquing the current climate of pop homogeneity, it certainly wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows if One had justly reached radio airwaves, especially when considering its infectious potential and Chvrches’ recent success in finding a mainstream pedestal to orate from through the mouth of the totes-edgy Fearne Cotton, almost playing out like a more overtly bubblegum incarnation of the synth-loving Scots. Like Lauren Mayberry, Sky also has something worthwhile to tell us: attacking the cynicism behind the commerce, One revealed a talent willing to endeavour beyond the static, endlessly stretching graveyard of EDM. Above all else, though, it showed a level of personal consciousness and blunt sincerity virtually unheard of in the over-produced, overly-diplomatic veneer of the current musical landscape.

I Blame Myself, the latest single to be released from the excellent ‘Night Time, My Time’ here in the UK, largely continues this theme of openness and self-awareness. With a soft-edged dance beat and gently bouncing synths following the bullishly emotive pop song blueprint verbatim, Sky stridently dabbles in a sense of defiance, of facile preconceptions about her character mostly formed on the basis of her ethereal blonde grace and dead-eyed model stare that ubiquitously graced almost every magazine cover worth its salt a while back (‘Is it because you know my name? Or is it because you saw my face on the cover?’). Perhaps more pertinent, though, is the self-deprecation running through the song’s veins. Her vocals are brilliantly sharp and piercing, domineering even, refusing to let the controversy she’s found herself engulfed in at times from submerging: in the titular refrain, she frequently addresses and even empathises with her critics (‘Underneath it all / I know it’s not your fault / That you don’t understand / I blame myself’), making no attempt to hide who she is. She, after all, should know better than anybody else. It’s a deeply personal exploration of identity, of being misunderstood and alienated, of truly knowing yourself and only yourself, but it’s also an inherently universal experience, marking the explicitly impassioned vocal delivery in the final chorus a rallying cry for the outcast. This is lyrically complex stuff, especially when measured up against her unjustifiably bigger, brasher, boorish counterpart spewing generic, nonsensical guff that ‘we run things, things don’t run we.’ It’s an unjust world. But pop stars, love them or loathe them, exist to make that world go round. So why not listen to an original one who actively pushes herself, strays into unfamiliar territory, plummets her genre’s murky depths, and makes pretty fucking great songs for once?

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