From St Vincent's otherworldly electro to furious proto blues from Royal Blood, Alan Corr rounds up his albums of 2014.
St Vincent - St Vincent
On her fourth album, Texas-born Annie Erin Clark goes for broke or at least crude commercial success. Who can blame her? Having scored some of the best music reviews in recent history, she may have decided that the fringe benefits of being exalted on the fringe are all very well but these songs deserve to be heard by everyone . . .
The War on Drugs - Lost in The Dream
On their ambitious third album, The War on Drugs get lost in the big skies and endless vistas of heartland rock. The songs are dense and exploratory, just like a long day’s journey into night fuelled by turbulent but melodic guitar runs and Adam Granducei’s weathered and plaintive voice - one part hitch-hiking (not freewheeling) Dylan, one part crestfallen Springsteen . . .
La Roux - Trouble in Paradise
You can hardly blame Elly Jackson for her extended four-year absence. Synth pop’s androgynous ice maiden enjoyed whirlwind success with La Roux’s debut - a Grammy Award, a Mercury nomination, and two global hits with In for the Kill and Bulletproof. The title of Trouble in Paradise suggests turmoil behind the exotica . . .
Royal Blood - Royal Blood
Cooking up a seething cauldron of The White Stripes, Led Zep QOTSA and The Black Keys, Brighton duo Royal Blood were never going to win any prizes for bleeding edge originality. Their powerhouse debut confirms the on-going rock vogue for carefully rendered authenticity but for sheer abandon and sonic enjoyment it is one of the year’s strongest . . .
First Aid Kit - Stay Gold
Like a bitter-sweet echo of great lost 4AD band Tarnation, Swedish sisters Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg summon up images of dust bowl desolation on their magnificent third album. With voices woven from harmonic silk but tough enough to tell these tales of tough love, First Aid Kit made their breakthrough in 2014.
Beck - Morning Phase
Beck Hansen looks uncannily like a blissed-out Brian Jones at the height of his flower-powered pomp on the cover of his first album in six years but he sounds more like another sixties/seventies lost boy - Nick Drake. Billed as “a companion piece” to his quietly devastating break-up album Sea Change, Morning Phase is Beck at his best - not the shape-shifting, mask-swapping maverick but a brutally honest songwriter, hurt in love but buoyed by optimism . . .
Elbow - The Takeoff and Landing of Everthing
Just when you thought Guy Garvey's band of glad-eyed good blokes had sunken into the comfy chair of forty-something bliss, they produced this wondrous star burst of an album. Burnished, musically brave, and symphonic, this was Elbow as an awkward angle indeed. It even re-captured some of the complexity of their finest moment - their stunning debut Asleep at The Back.
Caribou - Our Love
Like a loner who seeks out the sadness at the heart of clubland euphoria, Dan Snaith can sound like the comedown king on Caribou's ultimately rapturous seventh album. With it's glacial electronica, half-snatched voices, and slo-mo beats this is the most atmospheric and immersive record of 2014. Mars is borne skyward on flutes and tribal beats, while the deceptively simple Silver sounds like it will soundtrack documentaries on particle acceleration for the rest of time - make sure Our Love soundtracks the rest of your life instead.
Afghan Whigs - Do the Beast
Greg Dulli was adamant he would never trade again as the Afghan Whigs but sometimes even the best of men break their word - and how lucky we are that Dulli did. The omens were good: lead single Algiers was chock full of cinematic cool and suggested a comeback where past glories weren't the driving force. Sure enough, quality control was as ruthless as ever on the subsequent album. As Lost in the Woods and Matamoros also proved, Dulli is an even better songwriter now than he was on the career-defining Gentleman 21 years ago. Do to the Beast will still have you in the mood for something in 2035. Harry Guerin
Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems
Even at a brief 36 minutes, Leonard Cohen manages to distil another oak-aged cask of laughs, tears, and hard-won wisdom on his 13th album. The archly-titled Popular Problems is the latest instalment in his extraordinary Third Act, a career revitalisation that has seen him undertake Dylan-like touring commitments and now release a new album a mere two years since his last one. Cohen has rarely been funnier or more deadly serious on this latest manual for failure. At a wise and kind 80, he remains one of the great voyagers and chroniclers of the heart . . .
Alan Corr @corralan