“Probably the reason it’s a little hard to break away from the album format completely is, if you’re getting a band together in the studio, it makes financial sense to do more than one song at a time. And it makes more sense, if you’re going to all the effort of performing and doing whatever else, if there’s a kind of bundle.”
It’s a slightly depressing train of thought from Byrne, but it does potentially explain why 2014 has been a bit of a mixed bag when it’s come to albums. Maybe there are just a few too many bands approaching them in the way Byrne describes, or maybe it’s just been one of those years. I’m by no means heralding the death of ‘the LP’ but there have only been about a dozen albums released in 2014 that I have to listen to in their entirety every time I pop them on. It’s been a bit more of a pick and mix year for me.
As usual there were plenty of artists that released awesome tunes in 2014 but couldn’t quite fill up an entire album with brilliance (step forward Damon Albarn, Royal Blood, Pharoahe Monch, Liars, First Aid Kit, Chad VanGaalen and the usually peerless Stephen Malkmus amongst others), but the list below is notable for the absence of artists whose albums I thought would be brilliant but ended up unusually average – like Goat, Common, Thee Oh Seas, TV On The Radio, The Black Keys, The Underachievers and St Vincent (although I seem to be in the minority with a few on that list).
In a particularly poor year for hip hop albums (sorry for being a sour puss, I will cheer up I promise) the LP’s that did float my boat this year included, the ever flawless MF Doom and his latest team up with young New York rapper, Bishop Nehru, NehruvianDOOM. Shabazz Palaces’ Lese Majesty also provided a delightfully wonky alternative to all the (c)rap out there and Young Father’s Mercury Music Prize victory was a pleasant surprise (although their debut didn’t quite make this list). Flying Lotus’s album, You’re Dead! is an absolute treat and makes the list – high on crazy jazz and the glitch beats and oddness he revels in. My two favourite rap albums of the year though, were the second offering from Run The Jewels and the Freddie Gibbs and Madlib team up, Pinata. Both albums are high on a number of ‘end of year lists’ and for good reason. RTJ2 is brimming with attitude, wit, face slapping beats and a kaleidoscope of ideas – and Pinata is intelligent, brilliantly produced hood rap that’s easily the sum of its two excellent parts.
The stonking debut from Anton Newcombe produced, Swedish psychy-krautrockers, Les Big Byrd (They Worshipped Cats) makes Slacker Shack’s top twenty list below too – along with albums by Devonshire synthsters, Metronomy (Love Letters), Salford indie-rockers, Mazes (Wooden Aquarium), Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs’ spaced out take on classic Americana (Lost In The Dream), the eponymous debut from the lysergically dripping Californian psychonaut, Morgan Delt, Kettering retro-psych-rockers, Temples debut (Sun Structures), German indie-plinkerpoppers, The Notwist (Close To The Glass), the gently eccentric electro-pop of Zammuto (Anchor) and the long awaited return of Aphex Twin (Syco).
Afrobeat influences continued to pervade plenty of Indie rock acts this year and the consistently enthralling tUnE-yArDs’ latest album, Nikki Nack was a highlight. Commune from Swedish world music oddballs, Goat was a bit of a let-down, especially as I’d hoped it’d repeat the majesty of their 2012 album, World Music, but the debut from Ibibio Sound Machine almost made the list below. One act that really did excite me was Clap! Clap! I hadn’t heard anything by him until about 3 weeks ago but his debut album, Tayi Bebba is superb. The album mixes field recordings and found sounds with drum programming and pulls in afrobeat, house and hip hop to create the kind of LP perfect to get a party fizzing and interesting enough to play over and over again – a late inclusion and a cracking find.
Two riff laden ‘guitar albums’ make my top 20 too. There were plenty of blues rock influenced albums spinning around aimlessly in ‘indie world’ this year, but the genius that is Jack White came up with the goods once again with Lazaretto. Bearing in mind the amount of pies White wiggles his fingers in, it’s amazing that he’s so consistently great and his latest effort continues the brilliance. No-one’s got riffs like him (and there are plenty of pretenders out there). I absolutely love Ty Segall’s latest album, Manipulator too. Until this year I hadn’t really understood what all the fuss was about but Manipulator is cracking. It soaks up elements of folk, garage rock, fuzz pop and glam rock into one mammoth tour de force and I’m now a Segall convert.
Finally, two folk-rock (for want of a better term) albums also make the list. Firstly, the gently melancholic, Morning Phase from Beck (who I was lucky enough to see perform a mind-blowing set at this year’s Festival No.6) and secondly the brilliant Benji from Sun Kil Moon. The latter is my album of the year. It’s filled with tragic tales of death and loss but somehow it always leaves me with a warm heart and a gently sizzling brain.
Check out my top twenty list below and tell me what you think:
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Jack White – Lazaretto
Ty Segall – Manipulator
Aphex Twin – Syro
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
Metronomy – Love Letters
Les Big Byrd – They Worshipped Cats
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
Beck – Morning Phase
Clap! Clap! – Tayi Bebba
Morgan Delt – Morgan Delt
Mazes – Wooden Aquarium
tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack
Zammuto – Anchor
Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
Freddie Gibbs And Madlib – Pinata
The Notwist – Close To The Glass
Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
Temples – Sun Structures
NehruvianDOOM – NehruvianDOOM