Best of 2014
From the dystopian-pop of St Vincent to the boundary-pushing electronica of Aphex Twin, we’ve selected the albums that have brought us the most joy in 2014. Discover our ultimate top 10 and best of the rest below.
The Top 10
- Last seen working with David Byrne on Love This Giant, Annie Clark returns with a fourth solo album that’s an early contender for our Best of 2014. Swapping the S&M of Strange Mercy for tales of communing naked with rattlesnakes, hotel room hallucinations and our obsession with social media, St. Vincent’s every bit as lyrically-bonkers as you might expect. Sonically, it’s more surprising still, seeing Clark hit the sweet spot between leftfield experimentation and radio-friendly hooks.
- On the strength of two excellent mixtapes, last year Edinburgh’s Young Fathers were touted as one of the most exciting hip hop acts in the UK. This debut album proper proves that’s only partially true, because to brand the trio “hip hop” does a huge disservice to the range and scope of styles explored. Bringing together the psychedelic weirdness of Earl Sweatshirt, the bubbling tension of early Massive Attack, and the crunchy samples and basic electronic instrumentation of rave and hardcore, DEAD posits Young Fathers as one of the most exciting acts in the UK, period.
- Thanks to her eye-popping promo videos and magnetic live shows, dancer-turned-singer Tahliah “FKA Twigs” Barnett has rapidly established herself as one of the most impressive performers in the UK. The visual element to her work is so strong, in fact, we did worry how her feverish compositions would fair when finally divorced from any ocular context. We needn’t have. Offering a resolutely leftfield take on contemporary R&B, Barnett’s sensuous, sonically adventurous debut manages to exceed the promise shown on excellent early singles ‘Water Me’ and ‘Papi Pacify’. In short, we’ve never heard anything quite like it before.
- Five years on from their split EP with Rival Consoles, Ólafur Arnalds and Janus Ramussen finally share their full-length debut as Kiasmos. It’s incredible how far their sound’s evolved since that first release: gone are the brutal beats and, instead of minimal techno, we’re given soulful, symphonic electronica that feels like the perfect cross-pollination of Arnalds’ ambient, piano-led compositions and the synth-heavy electro Ramussen makes with Bloodgroup . Simply brimming with slow-burning beauty, it’s an album that fans of Jon Hopkins and Moderat will fall hard for.
- Brought to the brink of suicide by bipolar disorder and alcoholism, Sia Furler shelved her solo career in 2010 and shifted her focus to penning material for others. Four years on, she’s one of the most in-demand songwriters in the industry, working regularly with Beyoncé, Britney and Katy Perry, and responsible for number ones for Rihanna and David Guetta. Incredibly, this sixth solo album suggests she’s actually been sneakily keeping all the best material back for herself. From the Diplo-assisted bounce of ‘Elastic Heart’ to the Strokes-y pop-rock of ‘Hostage’ – via the vaulting, emotional rollercoaster that is ‘Chandelier’ – every single track here has "SMASH HIT" scrawled all over it. This might well be the best pop album of 2014.
- If ‘Weird Science’ was real and you could design your ideal C86-inspired band, the results would probably sound something like Alvvays. Hearts and reference points stitched neatly on their satchels, the Toronto-based quintet marry the jangling chords of Teenage Fanclub and sun-drenched solos of Real Estate, with Camera Obscura-esque vocal cadences and the world-weary lyrical wit of Belle and Sebastian. In fact, there are so many influences in play, the only thing that prevents their debut feeling derivative is the calibre of songwriting. If you can prise yourself away from album standout 'Archie, Marry Me', you’ll find plenty more to fall for, and, like all the best crushes, it’s an infatuation that only deepens with time.
- Last seen indulging his techno urges as Daphni, Dan Snaith now returns to the day job for the follow-up to 2010’s universally-adored Swim. Spoiler alert: Our Love is arguably even better. Demonstrating a technical prowess and imaginative scope that eludes most producers, Snaith glides effortlessly between styles and moods, leaving a trail of soulful slow jams and rainbow-hued dance cuts in his wake. Ranging from the sultry R&B of ‘Second Chance’ to the floor-friendly dopamine rush of ‘Can’t Do Without You’, Our Love is likely the most deeply-human electronic album you’ll hear this year.
- Writ in the skies, buried in the deep web, the announcement of Richard D James’ return was more than clever marketing: it served as a metaphor for the career of an artist who has consistently reached further – and whose influence on contemporary music runs deeper – than any other electronic musician. Arriving over a decade on from Drukqs, Syro suggests James is still happiest operating without boundaries, offering up skewed, arrhythmic takes on techno, jungle and funk in the same breath as an ‘Avril 14th’-esque piano piece. Predictably, it makes for a thrillingly unpredictable listen.
- Being born in Sudan, raised in Ohio and based in Brooklyn, it’s perhaps inevitable that Ahmed Gallab’s distinct heritage bleeds into his musical compositions. What’s less predictable, however, is the skill with which he splices genres and switches-up styles to create a sound truly his own. Recorded in tandem to his duties as Musical Director on David Byrne’s William Onyeabor retrospective, third LP Mean Love is Gallab’s most diverse effort to date, incorporating everything from East and West African music, to funk, soul and country-rock. Do as we say and head straight for silky slow jam ‘Hold Tight’, which features some impressive Curtis Mayfield-esque falsetto.
- As the only guitar group nominated for the BBC’s Sound of 2014 prize, Royal Blood found themselves unwittingly elected the saviours of British rock back in January. Ultimate respect to them, then, for not buckling under the pressure, and for delivering an album that vindicates the hype. Marrying muscular riffs and punishing percussion with equally mammoth melodies, the Brighton duo hit the sweet spot between rock credibility and commercial appeal on every single track. If you’ve even a passing interest in Led Zeppelin, QOTSA, Rage Against The Machine or Muse, you’ll find Royal Blood a relentlessly rewarding listen.