That First Year of School, All Nervous...
IN THIS PHOTO: Beck (circa 2014)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
A Dozen Classic Albums Turning Five in 2019
I started this process yesterday...
IN THIS PHOTO: Perfume Genius (date unknown)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
and began by looking at albums celebrating fifteen years of life in 2019. It was good to uncover some great records that helped change music and make a giant impact. I am turning the clock forward and looking at albums released in 2014. It is good to uncover some great records that did really well that year but now, five years later, still sound brilliant and essential. It is always difficult to see which albums will last the test of time and whether it is worth marking their anniversary. In the case of these twelves albums, there is just cause to celebrate and get out some bunting. These are big albums that made their mark back in 2014 and are still being played/unpicked to this very day. You might be new to some of these albums whereas others will be pretty familiar and ingrained. I think you’ll agree these dozen albums are all magnificent, nuanced and filled with great moments! Make sure you take time to listen to them all and, when their anniversaries come out, mark them by spending some focused time investigating the songs. I look back at this magnificent year and am amazed by all the terrific albums that arrived. Familiarise yourself with these epic creations that made 2014...
IN THIS PHOTO: La Roux captured in 2014/PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Nodland for Billboard
A year to celebrate.
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Spotify
FKA Twigs – LP1
Release Date: 6th August, 2014
Label: Young Turks
“There aren't as many 4am jams on here of the 'Papi Pacify' ilk, which may bother some fans, but the album operates a little later into the hangover and is more impressive for it. It feels carefully crafted and yet somehow gloriously spontaneous and accidental.
Twigs seems destined for endless comparisons with Banks such is the similarities in their sound, and it will be interesting to see whether the American's debut album can live up to this when it drops in September, but Twigs has the edge at the moment in terms of originality and texture, the vocals being of a higher thread count, the melodies reaching that bit further out into the ether.
FKA Twigs emerges the high priestess of R&B's latest corruption, and the world will kneel at the altar” – The Independent
Standout Cut: Two Weeks
Download/Stream: Pendulum/Video Girl/Kicks
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Release Date: 24th October, 2014
Label: Mass Appeal
Producers: El-P/Little Shalimar/Boots/Wilder Zoby
“Paranoid androids like "Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1" benefit, as if Run-DMC embraced EL-P's compressed beatmaking and dropped the F-bomb whenever possible. "Early" is deadly serious with Killer Mikepleading "I apologize if it seems I got out of line sir, cuz I respect the badge and a gun/And I pray today ain't the day you drag me away right in front of my son," and that's right before things turn grave. "All Due Respect" with Travis Barker enters Death Grips' territory with punk, techno, and vicious rhymes all crawling up the spine, but this rebel music can still come with a smirk, as a stuttering Zach de la Rochaoffers the infectious and weird hook on the wonderfully titled highlight "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)." If the first album was the supernova, RTJ2 is the RTJ universe forming, proving that Mike and El-P's one-off can be a going, and ever growing, concern” – AllMusic
Standout Cut: Blockbuster Night, Pt. I
Download/Stream: Oh My Darling Don’t Cry/Lie, Cheat, Steal/Angel Duster
The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
Release Date: 18th March, 2014
Label: Secretly Canadian
Producer: Adam Granduciel
“Dream’s best song, “Burning,” finds Granduciel confidently driving across an emotional rift, while “Dancing In The Dark” synths hum underneath. Dreamy instrumental “The Haunting Idle” is the only weak track; since the record is already abstract, the song redundantly interrupts its momentum.
As with other War On Drugs records, every hook on Lost In The Dream attempts to organize emotional chaos into understanding. Or as Granduciel puts it on “Burning,” we’re all “wide awake to redefine the way you listen in the dark.” On Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs provides the darkness, and fans are just lucky enough to listen” – AV Music
Standout Cut: Under the Pressure
Download/Stream: Red Eyes/The Haunting Idle/Lost in the Dream
St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Release Date: 24th February, 2014
Labels: Loma Vista/Republic
Producer: John Congleton
“St Vincent's 40 minutes offer an embarrassment of fantastic songs: the electronic judder of Psychopath, the sumptuousness of I Prefer Your Love. It feels emotionally lighter than its predecessor – last time around there was a lot of sex, some of it a bit painful in every sense, whereas this time there's a lot more love – but Clark still comes up with some startling lyrics. Floating along on a kind of synthesised spectral chorus and blessed with the kind of tune you just want to wallow in, Prince Johnny is a fascinating puzzle: it's hard to work out whether the titular character is male or female, whether or not the song's narrator has slept with him or her, or how much their affection is tinged with contempt. In fact, the words are often ambiguous – Digital Witness isn't the only song about the disparity between public image and reality – but they're the only thing here that is: bold, poised, precise without sounding sterile, St Vincent seems to be a straightforward triumph” – The Guardian
Standout Cut: Digital Witness
Download/Stream: Birth in Reverse/Regret/Psychopath
Perfume Genius – Too Bright
Release Date: 23rd September, 2014
Producer: Adrian Utley
“Hadreas' sexuality is obviously a huge part of his work, but he's above all a human—one who's spoken about battling addiction and sickness and sadness, and one who possesses the ability to write about it in a way that feels universal. A huge part of what makes the work so strong is the generous human spirit that bleeds into it, and Too Bright is the best example to date of the lengths he goes to confront his fears and demons. These songs feel less like songs and more like treasures, ones that fill you with power and wisdom, and as a result, Too Bright seems capable of resonating with, comforting, and moving anyone who's ever felt alienated, discriminated against, or "other-ized," regardless of sexual orientation” – Pitchfork
Standout Cut: Queen
Download/Stream: Fool/My Body/Grid
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Release Date: 14th May, 2014
Producers: Sharon Van Etten/Stewart Lerman
“Both ‘Break Me’ and ‘Tarifa’ float along with the buoyancy of vintage soul, recalling the misleadingly upbeat dynamic of ‘Tracks of My Tears’ by The Miracles or The Temptations' ‘Just My Imagination’. ‘I Love You But I’m Lost’ and ‘I Know’, on the other hand, rely on just one or two instruments to get their point across.
Although there is the occasional overwrought lyric (such as “Stab my eyes so I can’t see” on ’Your Love Is Killing Me’), and nothing ground-breaking here in terms of song structure or instrumentation, the emotion in the delivery makes up for it. Van Etten tackles heartache with refreshing sharpness, distilling complex sentiments into something beautifully simple” – NME
Standout Cut: Taking Chances
Download/Stream: Your Love Is Killing Me/You Know Me So Well/Break Me
D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah
Release Date: 15th December, 2014
Producers: D’Angelo/Alan Leeds/Kevin Liles
“At the other end, there's "Another Life," a wailing, tugging ballad for the ages that sounds like a lost Chicago-Philly hybrid, sitar and all, with a mix that emphasizes the drums. Black Messiah clashes with mainstream R&B trends as much as Voodoo did in 2000. Unsurprisingly, the artist's label picked this album's tamest, most traditional segment -- the acoustic ballad "Really Love" -- as the first song serviced to commercial radio. It's the one closest to "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," the Voodoo cut that, due to its revealing video, made D'Angelo feel as if his image was getting across more than his music. In the following song, the strutting "Back to the Future (Part I)," D'Angelo gets wistful about a lost love and directly references that chapter: "So if you're wondering about the shape I'm in/I hope it ain't my abdomen that you're referring to." The mere existence of his third album evinces that, creatively, he's doing all right. That the album reaffirms the weakest-link status of his singular debut is something else” – AllMusic
Standout Cut: 1000 Deaths
Download/Stream: Really Love/Back to the Future (Part I)/Prayer
Beck – Morning Phase
Release Date: 21st February, 2014
“Beck remains a master of pastiche, and trainspotters can have a field day mapping reference points: “Blue Moon” shares a name with the Rodgers-Hart and Alex Chilton songs, but more closely resembles Bob Seger’s “Mainstreet” getting abstracted by Brian Eno in a Laurel Canyon time share. The strings from “Cycle” resurface in “Wave,” a lovely voice-and-orchestra meditation that could almost be a Björk cover. On “Country Down,” reminiscent of Harvest-era Neil Young, he sings about a man in a lifeboat while Greg Leisz’s pedal steel draws chem trails across the sky.
The album ends with another aching morning song, “Waking Light.” But the line that persists comes a few tracks earlier, on “Don’t Let It Go.” “In the crossfire, there’s a story,” Beck offers, “how it ends, we do not know.” With lyrical nods to Bob Dylan‘s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” and the crossfi rehurricane birth in the Stones‘ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the song is in effect about how musical storytelling helps us push through terrible times. Morning Phase aspires to no less” – Rolling Stone
Standout Cut: Waking Light
Download/Stream: Heart Is a Drum/Blue Moon/Wave
Azealia Banks – Broke with Expensive Taste
Release Date: 7th November, 2014
Labels: Azealia Banks/Prospect Park/Caroline
“Now she has shock-released Broke With Expensive Taste, her much delayed debut, herself, without label support, and it’s better than anyone might have reasonably expected. It’s an avant-garde hip-hop album that shows Banks has more in common with indie musicians such as fellow eccentric Ariel Pink, whose Sixties surf rock-style Nude Beach A Go-Go she covers, than with her fellow rappers.
Tales of New York life such as Gimme a Chance and BBD combine heavily rhythmic rapping with insouciance and sonic invention, while Miss Camaraderieis an eerily beautiful blend of house beats and synthesiser chords that’s imbued with a pervading sense of ennui. There are flutes, xylophones and tribal drums on Wallace, and reflections on Banks’s favourite soft drinks interlaced with soulfully related words of heartbreak on Soda. There are weak moments too, like the dated club track Heavy Metal and Reflective, but in the main this is a clever, far-reaching record, which proves Banks to be a far more thoughtful artist than her brattish persona suggests” – The Times
Standout Cut: Yung Rapunxel
Download/Stream: Heavy Metal and Reflective/Ice Princess/Chasing Time
Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
Release Date: 25th April, 2014
Labels: Parlophone/Warner Bros.
Producers: Damon Albarn/Richard Russell/Brian Eno
“On Lonely Press Play there’s a sedative quality to the musical repetitions as Albarn addresses “Arrhythmia/ Accepting that you live with uncertainty”. There’s a rare moment of domestic vulnerability on The Selfish Giant as Albarn sighs: “It’s hard to be a lover when the TV’s on.” Meantime, Photographs (You are Taking Now) directly addresses the tension in our need to experience and document our lives simultaneously.
But it’s not all bittersweet blues. The final song, Heavy Seas of Love (co-written with Albarn’s gym buddy Brian Eno), has him shake off the isolation to fall into the arms of the Leytonstone Pentecostal Mission Church Choir for the musical equivalent of a group hug” – The Telegraph
Standout Cut: Everyday Robots
Download/Stream: Lonely Press Play/Hollow Ponds/Photographs (You Are Taking Now)
alt-J – This Is All Yours
Release Date: 22nd September, 2014
Producer: Charlie Andrew
“After all, this is a band that proved with its debut that it can go from icy, distant, and often excruciatingly beautiful to downright feral at the crack of a snare drum (or pots and pans, as the group's humble, dorm room beginnings often required), and This Is All Yours does little to tarnish their reputation as choirboys with dark passengers. That penchant for edgy refinement, along with frontman Joe Newman's elastic voice, remains the band's most effective weapon, but it's hard to pinpoint where and when that magic occurs, as it's so effortlessly woven into the group's sound. It's somewhere in between the autumnal and apocalyptic, Miley Cyrus-sampling "Hunger of the Pine," the bucolic, recorder-led "Garden of England," and the oddly soulful, midnight-black posturing of "The Gospel of John Hurt," and it gets under your skin, where it somehow manages to both hurt and heal” – AllMusic
Standout Cut: Left Hand Free
Download/Stream: Nara/Every Other Freckle/Hunger of the Pine
La Roux – Trouble in Paradise
Release Date: 18th July, 2014
Producers: Elly Jackson/Ian Sherwin/Al Shux
“Conjuring up that weird, false sense of instant familiarity is one of the most potent and difficult tricks in pop music. It's what lies behind the mammoth success of both Daft Punk's Get Lucky and Pharrell Williams's Happy, and it happens over and over again on Trouble in Paradise, most arrestingly on the opening trio of songs: the single Uptight Downtown, the Abbaesque Kiss and Not Tell and Cruel Sexuality, which it seems fairly safe to say, is the most sublimely euphoric exploration in recent pop history of the pressures placed by society on the individual who declines to define themselves as either straight or gay.
In truth, the songwriting quality never really dips. Almost sickeningly overburdened with fantastic tunes, Trouble in Paradise may well be not just a triumph against the odds, but the best pop album we'll hear this year. Listening to it, it's hard not to feel that whatever agonies went into its creation were worth it” – The Guardian
Standout Cut: Kiss and Not Tell
Download/Stream: Uptight Downtown/Paradise Is You/Tropical Chancer