Before I get into it, special 2014 pop single mentions go to Taylor Swift for the amazing Shake it Off, which is exactly the kind of cheery, infectious nonsense all pop music should be; Mark Ronson for ending the year with a number one that sounds like Prince doing Theme from Ghostbusters and to Charlie XCX for providing the good bits in between Iggy Azalea’s nasal, affected raps on Fancy.
1. Young Fathers – Dead
There is a certain vindication when a band you’ve been raving about for ages gets validated by something like a Mercury win. Dead continues the industrial/tribal/soulful alt-hip-hop that the Edinburgh trio laid out on Tape One and Tape Two but when the music is this different, this exciting, who cares if it’s more of the same? Personally, I don’t feel it’s as strong a record as those initial EPs/mini-albums, however the opening one-two punch of the intimidatingly fierce No Way and the oddly beautiful Low show a band of artists reaching for the mainstream without compromising what makes them such an exciting proposition in the first place.
2. The Juan Maclean – In a Dream
I’ve been a fan of The Juan Maclean ever since the 2003 DFA Records compilation and over the past eleven years I’ve yet to comprehend why prize berks like David Guetta play stadiums and headline festivals and Maclean doesn’t have his name in lights. Much like my number eight pick, this is very much a post-Drive OST synth fest, with lots of spacey electronics and disco vibes that never come across as camp. Also, most of the album’s vocals are provided by DFA stalwart and former LCD Soundsystem keyboardist, Nancy Whang, which is always a good thing.
3. Malcolm Middleton and David Shrigley – Music and Words
Number three with a bullet. I only listened to this collaboration between ‘My Favourite Singer-Songwriter©’ Malcolm Middleton and Turner Prize nominated artist David Shrigley a couple of days ago. Sonically, it’s not a million miles away from Malcolm’s krauty, post-rock electronica project Human Don’t Be Angry, with plenty of pleasant sounding beeps, bloops, ethereal guitars and folksy strumming. Somewhat jarringly, but brilliantly, all Shrigley’s lyrics are performed by various vocalists, in spoken word received pronunciation…and my goodness. THEY. ARE. RUDE.
Darkly comic and in the best possible kind of poor taste, this is work of sweary genius. Maybe not for everyone though.
4. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Aye, I know; this is in pretty much every end of year list across the board; topping many of them as well but...deservedly so. Her critics may argue that her white-haired, indie-darling image is as cynical as any contemporary pop act…but so what?
Much like Young Fathers's Dead, St. Vincent is an album that straddles the divide between pop and defiantly weird artistry brilliantly, which coupled with Annie Clark’s guitar-shredding abilities earned some not unjust comparisons to Prince, of all people, and her previous collaborator, David Byrne.
Creepy, sexy pop music that felt more contemporary than almost anything else in 2014.
5. Franz Ferdinand – Live Live Live Live 2014
Maybe not a favourite record of the year, but according to last.fm I’ve listened to this more than any other record in 2014. This may be down to its 20 track length but if any band wants a lesson in how to compose a setlist, this is it. Showcasing most of recent album Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action, but also including just about every FF single to date and album tracks from every record, this is a set that would delight both diehard and casual fans. An ace reintroduction to one of Scotland’s finest. Although, I’ll have you know last.fm, I much prefer LCD Soundsystem’s The Long Goodbye.
6. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
Albarn’s first truly solo effort is a mixed bag of plinky-plonky melancholia, the African-tinged, much maligned Mr. Tembo (I like it, so there), and some frankly beautiful music. The album’s highlight is the chant-laden Heavy Seas of Love, which features Brian Eno chanting and an infectious, singalong chorus. Lovely stuff.
7. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
I really expected to dislike Salad Days, thinking it would sound more or less exactly how you would expect a, like, totally rad, slacker dude called Mac DeMarco’s album to sound. It does, except, y’know, it’s not shit. Stoner pop with a tongue-in-cheek, psychedelic-era Beatles vibe.
8. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
There’s been thousands of electronic records made since 2011’s Drive soundtrack and it sometimes seems like nearly all of them have embraced glorious neon synths and slick production work. When everyone is doing the same thing it’s hard to make an impact. Todd Terje does, even if the Robert Palmer cover with Bryan Ferry is a bit naff.
Reliable, trusty, old Mogwai churn out yet another cracking album. That being said, this record is also tinged with disappointment as I had hoped the whole thing was going to be in a similar vein to lead track Remurdered, which managed to sound both like an electro-horror movie score and, well, Mogwai.
10. Against Me! –Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Contemporary US punk is a genre a normally to tend to distance myself from. But a heavy Springsteen influence, some incredibly solid songwriting and lyrics addressing frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s transgenderism make this not only an incredibly important record but a rousing, anthemic listen too. Not bad for a band who once had a song called Holy Shit!.