10. Bam Spacey – 1998

9. East India Youth – Total Strife Forever

8. Alex G – DSU

7. Gidge | Autumn Bells

6. Julie Byrne – Rooms With Walls and Windows

5. Young Fathers – Dead

4. The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave

3. Gem Club – In Roses

2. Small Wonder – Wendy

1. Ricky Eat Acid – Three Love Songs

Albums Of The Year

~ Top 10 ~

Check out Part One | 40 – 11 | here

After last weeks introduction and initial unveiling (link above), there’s little else to do than present to you our ten favourite albums of 2014. It’s been a resoundingly impressive year of music, so much variety, so many established bands delivering and so, so, so many lesser known acts unveiling pieces of music that moved us in a whole number of ways, from the dance-floor to our melodramatic chests.

Check out the list below (click on the record label link to listen/buy each record) and we really hope you enjoy what you find.

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10. Gidge | Autumn Bells

Atomnation

Autumn Bells is a secret shelter away from the banal, a place of solitude and nostalgic yearning. Meticulously crafted over a number of years, Gidge’s debut LP is a clarion call to the ancestral forest which adorns the album cover. Ambient soundscapes are wrapped in expansive splendor, piano melodies trickle through the frost mantled undergrowth and synth sketches rise above the hinterland.

The organic production of “Autumn Bells” is striking in its precision. Bird calls, eerie creaking of wood and the rhythmic patter of raindrops engender the lore of the forest in which the Swedish duo spent their youth. Concurrently, the mechanical kick and bass combinations wouldn’t feel out of place on pulsing nightclub speakers; reflecting Atomnation’s Berlin locality.

In particular, it is the crisp percussion that stands out. Field recordings from the woods have been warped into various clicks and beats, elevating the significance of the forest from influence to instrument. The snapping of birch twigs and the crunch of pine cones are transformed into a riot of industrial bleeps and snares; encapsulating the impact of the rural and the urban in Gidge’s imagination.

“Fauna pt I” unhurriedly opens the record with a cascade of samples and choral melodies; unraveling primeval secrets draped in mist. Single “You” sees a dry, mechanized voice juxtaposed by dancing arpeggios, before more pronounced pitched vocals cry out over a heavy bass line and trembling drums. The record closes with a whirl of dense horns on the exquisite “Norrland”. Wistful vocal cuts and the chirp of cranes heighten the dual celebration of youth and nature present throughout the record, before a final piano line eases the listener out of the wilderness and back into the real world.

Norrland was written five years ago, and many of the samples found on “Autumn Bells” were recorded long before that. For Gidge, this album will be intrinsically connected to their past: to a specific time, place and feeling. For the listener, it exists without spatial or temporal boundaries; but a myriad of pathways, hidden beneath the pines, waiting exploration. [George Cloke]

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9. Let’s Buy Happiness | Chants For Friends

Self-released

The difference between a band ‘making it’ or simply disappearing in to ether is so infinitesimal as to be almost cruel. Let’s Buy Happiness were on the periphery of such a break-through for most of their career and yet all we’re left with is a self-recorded, self-released record that eventually arrived after the Newcastle five-piece had decided to call it a day after the initial buzz surrounding them drifted off somewhere else. Looking back, they did everything right – they had the singles, the look, the interest, the fan base and yet still the cards didn’t turn their way.

Thankfully music, as it is, outlives its creator(s) and what Let’s Buy Happiness leave behind is a majestic record which more  justifies every second they spent playing this strange little game.

Chants For Friends‘ is an indie-pop record of the most heartening variety. Where glacial walls of guitars meet Sarah Hall’s relentlessly breathtaking vocal – the kind of voice that was always destined for music of this ilk. Such is the skill with which she delivers her out-pourings you sometimes overlook the instrumentation that lies behind it, but in that respect, also, the band simply flourish. Whether administering sweeping post-rock tides or indelibly pretty moments of elegance, Let’s Buy Happiness sound like a band completely comfortable in their own skin, just as happy to let it all go as they are to reign it in.

The years most captivating indie-rock record and a farewell they should be truly proud of. Thanks for your time, LBH.

~

8. East India Youth | Total Strife Forever

Stolen Recordings

When The Quietus began heralding East India Youth as the future of pop back in 2012, few listened. It was the kind of grandiose claim made so often in the blogosphere, like ‘make way for cloud rap’ or ‘2014 was the year of power ambient’. But who could blame them? They had already heard Total Strife Forever.

Then in the first weeks of 2014 it finally surfaced. Sure, it didn’t scream accessible – seven tracks out of eleven were instrumentals, the title was a Foals pun and lyrics about ‘Valerian awakenings’ navigated an erudite sonic palette of taut motorik and chilly synth textures. This was never going to break the Billboard 100, but at the same time you got the strong impression listening that in a very close parallel universe William Doyle really could be a modern Bowie. The aesthetic was so resonantly whole: agonising heartbreak in a mythologised London docklands, late ’70s Berlin pouring through a split in the space-time continuum, along with a digitalised pastoral psychedelia made up of head-spinning crescendos, swelling arpeggios and cavernous choral harmonies. And above all it just had so much heart – on record, and especially live, Doyle’s authenticity was utterly convincing. ‘Looking For Someone’ and ‘Heaven, How Long’ in particular managed to trace a path along your spine by way of both bristling synths and melodic, gut-wrenching melancholia – and one that weathered repeat listens.

A year and a Mercury nomination later and it’s hard to say whether Doyle will make good on The Quietus’ prophecy or not. But Total Strife Forever will always seem like a road not taken for pop, a deeply personal supernova of a record embedded in the hearts of a totally hooked few. [Callum McLean]

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7. Bam Spacey | 1998

Ceremony/Luxury

I’ve moved cities quite a lot over the past few years and there always seems to be one record that sticks when first discovering your new surroundings. Perhaps its the cinematic quality to Bam Spacey’s music that lends itself so well to exploration, but  from the first time I heard 1998 it became the soundtrack to both my new city and the encroaching wintry months.

Laced in Scandinavian enchantment, the record has a number of touch-points, from The Knife at their most refined to the glacial beauty of Sigur Ros/Mew et al, but what makes it such a resoundingly successful collection is how perfectly formed it feels. A uniquely distinct piece of work, it’s the kind of record that completely wraps you inside the world it’s created and then gently drops you back in to the light of day when the album finally departs.

‘1998’ feels decidedly epic in totality but further visits unveil the secluded nuances that instill such a feeling of attachment and infinity. Scintillating, deeply visceral pop songs sit within consummately crafted electronic panoramas and in the emanating haze sits one of 2014’s undiscovered gems.

~

6. Alex G | DSU

Orchid Tapes / Lucky Number

Alex G’s breakthrough this year has perhaps been the most heartening of all. For no other reason than it goes some way to restoring faith that the little man can succeed. Which isn’t supposed to be at all disparaging to the artist, but the music he makes – scruffy, raw bedroom-pop – is often left to exist only within the realms of the spaces it was produced. College dorms, dive bars, whatever…I don’t know, I’m not American, but it’s those environments that run through my mind when listening to his records. And there’s been a lot. DSU might well be most peoples first meeting with Alex G but there are a whole scattering of ideas across his Bandcamp page, dating back to 2010.

So, what changed? Well, Orchid Tapes for one. The label had a golden year and their backing undoubtedly raised the profile somewhat. Aside from this, it helped that the songs on DSU were the strongest he’d ever penned. There were other factors too, of course, such as the strong fan-base he’d cultivated thanks to those aforementioned foundations, but it usually always comes back to the songs. Glitchy, unassuming nonchalance simply never sounded so thrilling, so endlessly captivating. Small town agitations not spilling out in to the world like they often do, but instead hovering in place, a underlying tension that forced you to examine it.

When I listen to his music, and DSU in particular, I’m reminded of those weird, sad and lonely independent movies that trickle out of America every so often. Pieces of work that feel quintessentially American but, at the same time, so far removed from the Country as we, from afar, know of it. Mystical, mad, stony-faced but seeped in a solemnity that feels mystifyingly vague but, at the same time, alluringly beautiful.

I’ve spent months trying to condense my thoughts on Alex G down to something comprehensible, but I think that, right there, is it; it’s a beauty I don’t understand.

~

5. Julie Byrne | Rooms With Walls and Windows

Orindal Records

When I first heard Julie Byrne’s music I simply couldn’t place it. It wasn’t of this time, not always of this world. It sounded like music carried in the radio waves, and radio waves carried in the wind out of the window from a forgotten age straight in to this one. It sounded like a daydream. It often sounded like magic, the kind of which we can’t make sense of.

Seeped in a sorrow borne of love and its graceless fall-out, Rooms With Walls and Windows speaks sometimes in tongues but mostly openly, without defense or the want for it. Small moments, minute gestures, the constant examination of oneself.

A mist hovers over the record, stifling, foreboding, obscuring the parameters and what lies beyond, and within this eerie, unbalanced environment comes a voice so much a part of the dimmed landscapes that the two frequently feel inseparable. A fog formed of the voice, a voice formed by the fog, it can feel calmed and composed but then you look away for a second and its suddenly dejected, despondent, lost in a world that’s rushing by far too quickly.

As we said in our original review of the album, “what Julie Byrne has achieved on this record is simply astonishing. It’s a touching and heartfelt collection of songs, but more than that, it feels truly special. She feels truly special. Not just within the boundaries of 2014, but within music itself; both as an art form and as a document of what it might mean to be here and to be alive.

~

4. The Twilight Sad | Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave

Fatcat Records

Few could argue that The Twilight Sad had an incredibly special 2014. A host of shows performing their much-adored debut record set the wheels in motion for all that was to follow. Cementing their reputation as one of the most dependable, awe-inspiring live bands around they also released this, their fourth full-length record and quite possibly the most solid album in an already-impressive discography.

A perfectly-balanced weaving of the heavy guitars of their earlier work and the synth-led rock of their latter, the extravagantly-titled LP was a dark and dense masterpiece. In its brightest, loudest moments it was a truly exhilarating ride, a seamless blend of powerful rhythms and exuberant hooks. In the more refined moments it held a fixating stare, the kind of underlying tension that nobody has bettered since Interpol’s debut LP. Then there’s the harrowing closing track; a stark, piano-led moment of sobriety that hit like a sucker-punch to the gut.

Perilous and glaringly distinct, it was an important album for the band to ‘get right’ – that they did so with such an abundantly impressive set of songs simply cements their status as one of the most indispensable bands of their time.

~

3. Small Wonder | Wendy

Father/Daughter Records

I’ve written about Small Wonder on numerous different occasions throughout 2014 and I still don’t feel like I’ve even begun to scratch the surface of how special this record is. It’s true to say that no other record hit me, as myself, the person not the music lover, as hard, as quickly, or as resolutely as Wendy did when I first heard it, some time around midnight on January 21st, the day after it was released quietly, without aplomb on to his Bandcamp page.

I wrote a review there and then, a gushing, rabbit-in-the-headlights reflection of its affect but it was full of gushing sentiment and little else. Close to a year later, however, and that’s all I’m really still able to do. The songs are good. Really good, in fact. They’re pretty straight forward, mostly guitar, some piano and adorning vocals but within the limbs and lungs of Henry Crawford they simply come alive. In the same way that great writers can bring to life the most inanimate of objects, these songs simply, and majestically, soar.

In that first write-up I said that I felt like these songs were written only for me. Nonsense, of course, but they’re imbued with such magic that it still feels like that. Or at least its easy to pretend that they were. There are so many parallels to my own path, to my own vexations which are still rooted in that weird, perilous adaption to adulthood, a period of time I still loathe and miss in equal measure but still occasionally yearn to be back in, so to undo all that remains done. ‘Wendy’, more than much else I’ve encountered in the time since then, confronts these desires and their associated troubles and brings a clarity to them, a dusting of magic on someone who’d forgotten they could fly.

In the raw tenderness of the lyrics that act as Wendy’s most decorative beating heart, through the slow-burning sentiment of the narrative and all it entails, it remains a beautiful and searingly evocative creation. The kind of record that justifies this odd little relationship we have with music.

“i’m a weak young thing
but it’s this song i sing
that puts the strength back in my bones
puts the feathers on your wings

and it sleeps in your soul
in your heart of gold
it pulls the hymnals out of nowhere
crushes diamonds out of coal”

[Photograph by Daniel Dorsa]

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2. Gem Club | In Roses

Hardly Art

When we try and situate the most sorrowful music we often place it in the depths of the night. Elliott Smith, Sparklehorse, Grouper…their music seemingly belongs to that time, the night and all that it brings, a darkness surrounded by darkness.

The songs that Gem Club write are undeniably dejected, often harrowing, but there’s a lightness to them that pitches them not in the dark of the night but in the cold light of day. These aren’t buried vexations that creep up on you, they are the crippling quiet of an empty house, the stifling stillness of a day spent alone, the eeriness of deserted streets when the sun has risen before the people.

This semblance has been palpable on their previous recordings but it had never felt so monumentally stirring and poignant as it does on In Roses. Christopher Barnes vocal is perhaps more captivating than ever, left mostly unadorned it presents a desolate viewpoint, the discernible sound of plain sadness manifesting itself through song.

At this point you might be questioning why you would want to spend your time in the company of such melancholy but, as with any great artist that produces music of this ilk, Gem Club take this dejected outlook and shape it with beauty. Startling piano compositions and spellbinding strings weave together to create a record that sits somewhere between the modern-classical output of the Erased Tapes label, draped with one of the most haunting singing voices we’ve ever heard.

From the staunch delicacy of ‘Hypericum‘, to the numbing grandeur of closing-track ‘Polly‘, In Roses is a hypnotic and gripping achievement. A poignant and fascinating exploration of the bleak, from a truly special band.

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1. Ricky Eat Acid | Three Love Songs

Orchid Tapes

“I can hear you moving around down there…”

Isn’t there some fact regarding how we make up our minds about something within the first five seconds? I think it’s actually related to meeting new people but as someone who spends a lot of time listening to snippets of bands and songs I’ve never heard before I can certainly attest to it transferring to music consumption.

Within the first five-seconds of Three Love Songs I was captivated. That eerie spoken word sample that acts as the entry point is disparaging but wonderfully enticing. Notably a record of two extremities, the album grows from the dense, fractured undergrowth of the opening few tracks in to a place far more expansive. And the journey is undeniably worth it. Those opening few tracks, bleak and unremittingly sheltered, feel like observing something completely new, a gripping anomaly you can’t look away from. Dense landscapes where drone-y synths meet odd vocal samples and washes of white noise peppered with aberrations. Electronic rain falling on a metallic roof, dream-like patterns in the cold light of day.

And then something changes. A lightness seeps in and brings with it breathing space, noticeably explicit after all that had come from here. From this point the record unravels through gorgeous ambient vistas, sprawling flows of exquisite electronica,  growing in to something wholly monumental.

Despite the opaqueness of its initial display, there’s something confoundingly personal about Three Love Songs. While it derives much of its content from the surreal it cuts so deep because its so obviously humane. It’s the aching derived from the apathy of modernity, a finger relentlessly tracing a crack in the bedroom wall, a layer of dust obscuring the faces in a photo. As a soundtrack to this documentation of angst and mundanity its captivating and unflinching. As an artistic achievement, it’s ceaselessly astounding.

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To listen to more tracks from Three Love Songs and to read an exclusive new interview with Ricky Eat Acid – head here.

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