Albums of 2014: Dave

1. Philip Selway - Weatherhouse

Okay, to start with an admission, I am a bit of a Radiohead fanboy - something that should be evident if you look back through previous lists of mine - but despite many hours listening to the band themselves and the solo work of Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood, I had overlooked Philip Selway's solo work until earlier this year when I spotted that his new album, Weatherhouse, would be released soon. So, with some trepidation, I traded my credit card for the unknown and got a copy on release. I think it should be obvious by its placing in this chart (ahead of some of the best music I have heard in recent years, I will add) what my opinion is on this one… 

Where Yorke’s Tomorrows Modern Boxes feels a bit familiar and uninspiring, Weatherhouse is the exact opposite - creating a sound that constantly references the feel of Radiohead in its subtle touches, but being entirely new and moving off in a completely different direction. Where it starts with a pulsing synth it quickly opens out into  very delicate and sparse arrangements, layering simple pianos, electronics and background reverb into something beautifully haunting and peaceful. 

2. Devin Townsend Project -

I will claim that since I bought this as “” it counts as a single album, but in actual fact what we have here are two very distinct and entirely separate albums from the Devin Townsend Project.

Side one is Sky Blue - the more traditional of the two (if that description can ever be used when talking about Devin Townsend) and an album that somehow manages to combine a wall of sound containing some of the heaviest riffing this side of Machine Head, the operatic feel of power metal, and more hooks than all of the top 40 put together, into a sound completely unique and distinct. Not really something for the indie fans, but if you like the sound of metal a little more intelligent and thoughtful then most then I would heartily recommend giving it a listen.

Side two is Dark Matters - part two of Devin's ‘Ziltoid the Omniscient’ story about an alien coming to earth in search of coffee. If this sounds bizarre, well, that is pretty understandable, as your typical fantasy themed metal concept album this isn’t. It is a completely tongue-in-cheek piece aiming to inject some well needed humour into metal with an over the top storyline and campy voice acting and a fantastic soundtrack that ramps up the volume from Sky Blue.

3. Machine Head - Bloodstone and Diamonds

To write this review in two words - ‘utterly brutal’. To expand on that slightly, I would actually go as far as to say that with Bloodstones and Diamonds, Machine Head have created one of the best metal albums out there… They have crafted a sound that, to me, is an absolutely perfect combination of utter brutality and roaring guitars you feel in the pit of your stomach, without going overboard and venturing into the more extreme world of unintelligible grunting vocals and a fuzzy wall of indistinct guitar noise. This album instead hits you with everything Machine Head have to hand and leaves you reeling, yet coming straight back for more punishment.

4. Pretty Lights - A Color Map Of The Sun

Known for extensive use of old records and sampling, Pretty Lights decided to turn the process on its head for A Color Map Of The Sun. Rather than spending hours digging through old vinyl for the right sample, Derek Vincent Smith created everything from scratch - working with a whole varied array of session musicians to record the base tracks, which he then pressed and resampled himself as part of his more typical workflow. What has resulted is an album with a sound exactly as planned throughout, and while this may sound like an elaborate way of recording an album, it is one that has worked perfectly - an album of brilliant, laid back hip-hop spanning a huge variety of sounds.

A band that is a firm favourite of the Scottish music scene, and one back with yet another cracking album. Rave Tapes is a whirling journey through what makes Mogwai so endearing and long lasting, as their music grows and pulses, ebbing and flowing through the length of the album. One of those albums that for me manages not to rock the boat with too big a deviation from their previous work, yet one that still stands as distinct from Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will and definitely deserves a listen.

6. Blood Red Shoes - Blood Red Shoes

Another regular feature of my lists, and as always with good reason. With every album Blood Red Shoes have grown and expanded the limits of what can be done with a fuzzy guitar, a set of drums and a couple of singers, and created an album that keeps the distinct and unique sound that grabbed my attention in the first place, while creating something that moves a step further on from where they were last album. A whole new selection of cracking songs.

7. Aphex Twin - Syro

Despite a list of odd releases and tracks hidden behind various pseudonyms, Syro marks the first ‘proper’ release from Aphex Twin since 2001’s Drukqs, and I can happily say the wait has been worth it. While Aphex Twin’s music may not have quite the same shock factor that he had when he first appeared, it still retains that sense of bizarre rhythm and sounds that just shouldn’t work together, but build into something expansive and wonderful with an impeccable sense of rhythm and continuity throughout, that creates an album that you will really want to listen to from start to finish.

8. Maybeshewill - Fair Youth

If you have heard Maybeshewill’s previous work then you will probably be able to guess where this is going - grand-piano-and-guitar-led post-rock that takes a more considered and less furious approach than many of their contemporaries, and builds up into a beautiful orchestral sound that just works wonderfully. Fair Youth takes the sound of previous albums and then further refines and works with it to create the distinctive sound of Maybeshewill. My biggest problem was the fact they were on stage criminally early last time they were in Aberdeen, which led to me missing seeing any of this album live…

9. Mr Scruff - Friendly Bacteria

Cutesy artwork, a merch stand sale winner. 

10. Thom Yorke - Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes

I admitted back at album #1 that I am a something of a Radiohead fan, so this should come as no surprise to see Thom Yorke’s new solo album sitting on this list. A superb followup to The Eraser and AMOK, and pretty much exactly what I was expecting from Thom’s next outing - which is the reason it only made it to position ten and no higher. As superb as it is, it just isn’t as groundbreaking and unique as many of his previous releases, but still well worth a listen.