This is the third instalment of my Top 50 Albums of 2014 list, I know its been a long while since my last of this series, its just going back to Uni these take a lot longer than they used to. Nevertheless, here continues my countdown of some of the best acts that 2014 had to offer…
30. George Ezra – Wanted on Voyage
To say George Ezra had a big 2014 would be an understatement!!! Following this Hartford born, 21 year old’s inclusion in the BBC Sound of 2014 poll at the start of last year, the rise for George Ezra was meteoric, largely down to hit single Budapest, which has since garnered over 100 million listens on streaming service Spotify (and even played in clubs!?!). Subsequent singles Blame it On Me and Listen to the Man has only helped to propel him into the Nation’s consciousness, as he sits just as comfortably on the playlist for Heart FM as he does on that of XFM, further showing his appeal to people of all ages (even my Mum loves him!). One of the many singer-songwriter’s that enjoyed success in 2014 (think the likes of Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran), George Ezra is far superior to his other counterparts with influences coming from the likes of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. Whilst his lyrics are nothing too special it has to be said, it is his the uniqueness of his bass-baritone voice which really stand outs on tracks such as Budapest, giving it a real blues tinged quality that really stand outs. I’m sure there are still many big things to come from this man, who has managed to conquer the UK charts at the age of just 21!
Best Track: Budapest
29. Nick Mulvey – First Mind
Moving onto another singer-songwriter, who may not be quite as well known as George Ezra, but just as (if not more) talented! This can be reflected by Nick Mulvey’s inclusion in the Mercury Prize nominees in 2014, along with the likes of Damon Albarn and Royal Blood. Mulvey was also nominated for the BBC Sound of 2014 poll and made many festival appearances across the year, including slots at Glastonbury and Latitude. First Mind received great critical acclaim, and Mulvey’s studying of music in Havana really shines through in the beautifully layered melodies of tracks such as Cucurucu and Fever to the Form. His guitar playing is truly spectacular as well, he switched from playing the hang (type of steel pan drum) in Jazz act Portico Quartet, as he adopts a distinctive style of rhythmic strumming. Lyrically this is a strong album, with people citing comparisons such as Paul Simon in the way he constructs his narratives. His skill as a musician is best exemplified on Juramidam as he plucks catchy hooks over an interesting electric beat. A great musician and an underrated album, deserved of a place in my list!
Best Track: Cucurucu
28. Brody Dalle – Diploid Love
The spouse of the legend that is Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and ex-frontwoman of punk band The Distillers, 2014 saw Brody Dalle embark on her own solo career. With collaborations with some of the big names in the rock music industry (Garbage’s Shirley Manson, The Strokes’ Nick Valensi, Michael Shuman of Queens of the Stone Age and Emily Kokal of Warpaint), Diploid Love is a definite triumph. I think that is also refreshing to see a solo, female rock act producing quality rock songs, in a music world crowded by women who perform over produced pop shite (which they don’t even write themselves…) and over-sexualise themselves in order to appeal (Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus I’m looking at you…)!!! It is acts such as Brody Dalle that are there to remind us of the vast of talent of women in the music industry, something that I feel is grossly under appreciated and over shadowed by the pop princesses with little talent and are merely there to try and sell their looks.. However, don’t let that debate take away from Brody Dalle’s amazing album, which has a glossy and slightly futuristic feel whilst at the time channelling the punk spirit, full of grit and angst! Tracks such as Don’t Mess With Me and Meet the Foetus/ Oh the Joy particularly stand out on a riotous yet personal album which was a definite highlight of 2014!
Best Track: Don’t Mess With Me
27. Happyness – Weird Little Birthday
Happyness were a band I knew literally nothing about until I was really impressed with their set when they performed in support of The Family Rain back at Dingwalls back in the summer of last year! A lo-fi college rock sound that sounds as if they should have grown up in Los Angeles rather than Bermondsey. With influences such as Weezer, Happyness sound is very much of the 90s slacker rock style and their album is a low-key triumph. As can be seen from the album’s title, Weird Little Birthday, Happyness’ lyrics are quite bizarre! Surrealist lyrics such as “remember when we broke into the park and you got laid and I watched and you said that was fine” pretty much some up their dry and pretty weird sense of humour. Happyness are also able to switch between fuzzy garage rock songs such as Refrigerate Her ( a song about keeping a head in fridge) and slacker ballads like Naked Patients (makes light at the face of death in hospital beds). An album of hidden qualities Weird Little Birthday is full of dry humour and attentive social observations, as well as great melodies. One of the most under-appreciated bands of 2014!! Give them a listen…
Best Track: Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste the Same
26. Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Balcony
2014 was a huge year for Welsh newcomers Catfish and the Bottlemen, which saw them transition from indie obscurity (only supporting the likes of The Family Rain when they played Heaven in 2013) to the mainstream (now regularly appearing in the BBC Radio 1 playlists). The band’s huge rise to fame can be further seen from their recently announced show at Brixton’s O2 Academy (a venue that has recently been headlined by huge bands including the likes of Kasabian and Kaiser Chiefs) and their winning of the BBC Introducing Award at the BBC Music awards in December of 2014. Catfish also drew fans from their extensive touring throughout the years, taking in the likes of latitude and Reading & Leeds over the summer, with frontman Van McCann proving his skills as a frontman with an ability to command the crowd. Early singles such as; Homesick and Rango were the particular stand out tracks for me on the album and show the band at their uplifting, indie rock best. However, I felt the subsequent singles such as Cocoon and Fallout saw them desert their indie roots in favour of a more polished, pop rock vibe, which to their credit has seen them secure huge commercial success and become one of 2014’s stand out new bands, but also in some ways not live up to their full potential. It is for that reason that they only come in at 26th position in my rankings, however The Balcony does contain some very good songs worth listening too…
Best Track: Homesick
25. Slash – World on Fire
The former Guns n’ Roses axeman is one of the few advocates of the ‘hard rock’ genre to make the list and in some ways showing the huge decline in hard rock music in the 21st century, with only the likes of Foo Fighters and Alter Bridge (Myles Kennedy the frontman performs vocals on World of Fire) really giving the genre any life! Whilst not a groundbreaking record by any means, you can’t argue with the sheer talent possessed by Slash! Slash’s riff driven hard rock is tailor made for fans of the genre and pulsating tracks such as World on Fire and Automatic Overdrive could have easily come straight out of an early Guns n’ Roses record or some of the Velvet Revolver material. Slash’s recruitment of Myles Kennedy was an effective decision with his vocals resonating the sound of Bruce Dickinson crossed with Axl Rose, suiting the records sound to a tee. Whilst his lyrics are not amazing, its not the lyrics that you buy a Slash album for, its to enjoysome thrilling hard rock riffs and reminisce back to a time when Nickelback weren’t the biggest hard rock band in the world…
Best Track: World on Fire
24. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
The war on Drugs were another of the victors of the year 2014, topping virtually all of the critic’s top albums polls with their brand of slow burn americana with hands of psychedelia. Lost in the Dream was the first time I got to properly hear The War on Drugs, mainly due to the huge critical buzz surrounding the album. You can clearly hear the influences of the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and 80s US rock, however there is a definite modern twist in their too! The depth of their sound is also something that really stand outs to me too, this can be seen in the opening two tracks Under the Pressure and Red Eyes with the synth and guitar layers. The songs in themselves are epics, with many running as long as 8 minutes and building up slowly, whilst also carefully reflect the state of mind of lead singer/ guitarist Adam Granduciel who at the time of recording was suffering from loneliness and depression. Lost in the Dream was huge for The War On Drugs and has seen them grow out of the shadow of former member Kurt Vile and have managed to sell out the Brixton Academy in February! One of my personal favourite tracks off of the album is Eyes to the Wind (especially the acoustic cover he performed at Glastonbury as part of the BBC coverage) which whilst has a dark message of loneliness at the same time is very uplifting, a feat The War on Drugs manage to pull off throughout the record. An album expertly crafted and one that will be looked back to as an amazing work many years from now!
Best Track: Red Eyes
23. Bass Drum of Death – Rip This
2014 also saw the fifth release for Mississippi garage rock band Bass Drum of Death! A pulsating lo-fi album spanning genres ranging form grunge to noise rock to garage rock, this was one of my favourite albums of the year. Rip This comes after Bass Drum of Death gained further popularity from their inclusion on the soundtrack to 2014’s Grand Theft Auto V video game (Vinewood Boulevard radio station for those who know the game)! The band’s fuzzy riffing fit in well with the other acts coming from the emerging US garage rock scene (The Orwells, Fidlar and Twin Peaks leading the charge) and would fit well to the festival circuit. With a rip roaring pace and spiky punk influenced attitude, Bass Drum of Death’s Rip This is as rebellious an album you would have seen in 2014 and one for the lover’s of high energy and a lot of distortion!
Best Track: Electric
22. Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes
The Boss! Any Bruce Springsteen record would probably make my top 50 albums of the year list, simply because he is a legend and arguably the best song-writer of all time (Born to Run being possibly my favourite album ever)! Bruce had a lot to live up to on this album however, following up 2012’s hugely successful Wrecking Ball which also saw him garner great critical acclaim. To record this album made up of covers, outages and reimagined versions of his songs, Bruce enlisted the help of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello as well as his usual cohorts E-Street Band! Unfortunately I don’t feel that this album quite lives up to the expectations set by Wrecking Ball, with it really sounding like he’s trying too hard to update his sound on tracks such as American Skin (41 Shots). However there is still enough quality to warrant its position at 21st place with the likes of Just Like Fire Would and title track High Hopes providing the type of triumphant, blue collar rock we are used to from Springsteen. As would be expected the lyrics and imagery in the storytelling is just as strong on this album as his previous albums! My stand out track however is Bruce’s collaboration with Tom Morello on the reimagined version of The Ghost of Tom Joad which takes the track to knew places especially with Morello’s guitar soloing towards the end of the track. A quality album that rightly earns its place amongst my top albums!
Best Track: The Ghost of Tom Joad
21. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
Ben Howard’s I Forget Where We Were seems to be probably the most underrated album of 2014, despite being one of those that garnered the most critical acclaim! This was a much darker album compared to his previous album Every Kingdom which spawned a huge hits including the likes of; Keep Your Head Up, The Wolves and Only Love. This album also sees Howard successfully utilise the electric guitar, into his indie folk sound, this can be seen on the likes of title track I Forget Where We Were. It seems clear that Ben Howard wanted to break away from his more radio friendly singles by his release of longer and more experimental tracks such as End of the Affair and Conrad. The mood across the album is more reflective and soul searching as seen through his melodies, much bleaker than those of Every Kingdom. End of the Affair, my favourite song off the album shows Ben Howard’s maturity as a song-writer as he sings of the pains of love which slowly builds culminating into an dramatic end section (where he utilises the electric guitar) which is reminiscent of Foals. On this album Ben Howard proves that he is not just a singer-songwriter but a gifted musician.
Best Track: End of the Affair