So, after much head scratching, here’s my Top Ten of 2014. The hardest choice was between one and two. I thought about equal 1st, but decided that was a cop out. More after the list.
1. Royal Blood – Royal Blood
2. Lost In The Dream – The War On Drugs
3. Sunbathing Animal/Light Up Gold (2013) – Parquet Courts
4. Augustines – Augustines
5. Liminal – The Acid
6. Total Strife Forever – East India Youth
7. Are We There? – Sharon Van Etten
8. Art Official Age/PlectrumElectrum – Prince/3rd Eye Girl
9. Songs Of Innocence – U2
10. I Forget where We Were – Ben Howard
Yeah, it was a hard call to pick No 1. There were three contenders really. Parquet Courts are the best New York new wave band I’ve heard since The Strokes first burst on the scene. I didn’t hear their 2013 album “Light Up Gold” until this year. I immediately fell in love with the opening two tracks, which go together: “Master Of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time”. Amazing punk rock’n’roll. And then there was the epic “Stoned and Starving”. The guitar is something else. 2014’s “Sunbathing Animals” was good, if not as good. Still worth 3rd place though. The War On Drugs “Lost In The Dream” is a wonderfully moving mix of Americana and electronica, with echoes of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. It’s a break up album, the story of frontman Adam Granduciel. It’s heartbreaking, utterly beautiful and quite grandiose, as the guitars and sax launch into magnificent solos. Live, at Latitude, I was completely bowled over.
So how didn’t the War On Drugs make No1? Because Royal Blood came along and made the most enjoyable hard rocking album for years. On one level hugely retro, with echoes of Led Zep and the White Stripes’ blues rock; on the other, a totally modern take on the genre. I got into them seeing the impact they had at Glastonbury and Reading/Leeds festivals. Just the two of them – Mike Kerr on bass (sounding like guitar) and Ben Thatcher on drums. A truly awesome noise, which I found completely inspiring. To continue they’ll have to evolve, probably build up the band. But for now, this was visceral, hugely enjoyable rock’n’roll. It wouldn’t have been honest for me to put anything else at No 1.
At no 4, Augustines continued what sounds to me like their Bruce-inspired rock’n’roll journey. You might have read my review of their recent concert at the Roundhouse, which was so good. They are one of the great live bands. The energy is extraordinary. Singer and guitarist Billy McCarthy really wears his heart on his sleeve. You need to listen to the album a few times before it reveals its treasures, but it is worth it.
The Acid at No 5 you may not know. I heard them for the first time at Latitude. It’s seriously good electro pop. A techno Depeche Mode. Quite a sinister sound at times. Great tunes, with some strikingly bass heavy grooves. This should be massive.
At no 6, I’ve got another artist I saw at Latitude, East India Youth. The album, title a pun on Foal’s second album, is a glorious mixture of pop, electronica and techno. Another grower. Live, William Doyle – who is EIY – leaps around from keyboard to keyboard and plays the bass and just makes an awesome sound. It can only get better.
Sharon Van Etten at 7, is very confessional. “Are We There?’ is a deep album, which works as a whole piece. The previous album, “Tramp” was more country/Americana; this one enters torch song territory. I’m hearing a bit of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey in there too. This is a good thing! One to wallow in.
Prince has been tearing things up live for the last few years. I saw him at the Roundhouse this year, with 3rd Eye Girl giving him some heavy-rocking backing, and he was quite astounding. So many absolute classics, but some good new stuff too. He marked that by releasing two albums together. “Art Official Age”is a great soul funk piece that really grows on you. “PlectrumElectrum” is mostly seventies retro rock, which comes to life on the stage. Together they are immense.
U2 were reviled by some by releasing their new album, “Songs Of Innocence” on iTunes, in collaboration with Apple. You got it even if you didn’t want it – sort of. You had to get it off the Cloud. But onto the music…. it’s not in my U2 top 5, but it is still a really good rock/pop album. Give it a chance!
Finally, in the ten, Ben Howard, with his follow up album to the hugely successful “Every Kingdom”. I’ve got my son, Kieran, to thank for putting me on to the man. We saw him at Latitude in 2012 and he was superb, one of the best that year, and really popular with the youth. An excellent guitarist, focusing at that time on the acoustic. On “I Forget Where We Were” he’s switched to electric, with plenty of echo and is creating a similar atmosphere to another contemporary band, Daughter. Most of all though, I’m reminded of the late great John Martyn, and some of his classic seventies pieces like “Solid Air” and “One World”. That is a recommendation and a half!
So that’s the Ten. For those of you with access to Spotify, you can hear a selection of tracks from the albums at the link below. I’ve added four other artists to that playlist because they each meant a lot to me in 2014.
Nils Frahm is a brilliant electro-classical keyboardist. He, again, was at Latitude and was astoundingly good. I’ve included his track “Says”, from 2013 album “Spaces”. I had to include an Emily Barker track from her wonderful 2013 album “Dear River” and I’ve chosen the heart-rending “In The Winter I Returned”, which is musical poetry. I saw Swedish folkies First Aid Kit at Latitude and enjoyed them without getting too excited. But I kept on hearing tracks on BBC 6 Music from 2013’s “Stay Gold” and thinking, I really like this. So I bought the album and I now love it! The title track is on my selection.
And finally, in honour of the wonderful Don Letts-inspired reggae dance-athon into the early hours on the last night of Latitude, I give you Bob Marley’s “Is This Love”. When this came on and everyone was skanking, it was one of those truly magical moments. On a muddy slope in a damp wood, we grooved to the sunshine sounds of Jamaica.
Yeah, this is love!