It’s finally here, the race to succeed Bill Callahan‘s stunning album Dream River as For The Rabbits Album of The Year starts now. An award so coveted within the music industry that at least one person, who’s in a band has asked us about it already! They’d have immediately been disqualified under conflict of interest rules, if they hadn’t already been disqualified for not releasing an album this year.
An initial sketch in an notebook suggested we’d covered at least 60 records that we liked this year, cutting that down to a mere 20 has been frankly damn near impossible! So apologies to those who just missed out…it doesn’t mean we don’t think your record is great, it’s just that it’s not quite great enough.
To the victors go the spoils…and hopefully to our readers music collections go some bloomin’ great records…. without further ado let’s get this thing started!
Stanley Brinks may still be best known as André Herman Dune, but leaving the band eight years ago has neither slowed nor reduced the quality of his output. In fact he’s become something of a wandering, lo-fi Indie-Folk minstrel, collaborating with anyone and everyone and being almost worryingly prolific. It’s a trait he shares with his most recent collaborators The Wave Pictures.
Gin is the second time Stanley’s collaborates with the trio, and based on the quality of the output here they’re a match made in heaven. David Tattersall‘s mind-blowing guitar solos and the bands oft forgotten brilliant rhythm sections are the perfect foil to Stanley’s unique and some might say slightly wonky, world view, and the results are brilliant, very odd and wryly hilarious!
On stand out tracks like the bass-driven, feedback coated No Goodbyes, the gently romantic Not To Kiss You, and the frankly bonkers Spinola Bay, sample lyric “There is only one question, really, Cheese or Peas? Me I put them together and take a big bite”, they show that you can make great music whilst also sounding like you’re having more fun than anyone else has ever had!
19. SCHOOL OF LANGUAGE – OLD FEARS (Memphis Industries)
The younger Brewis’ solo project, School Of Language, released second album Old Fears, and it was a seriously slinky affair. Dancing through the previously un-mined middle-ground of Prog and 80’s Disco it was a funky, sexy and brilliant album in it’s own right, and far more than a way to kill some time between Field Music records.
Dave casts off some of the layers of densley-packed prog that characterise Field Music’s output and get to the beating heart of the pop-songs within. The albums lead single, Between The Suburbs, was the perfect example of the new found hooks and also the lyrical themes of anxiety and not belonging that underpinned the album as a whole. Yet another splendid record for the Brewis Back Catalogue and the North-East in general.
18. MAKING MARKS – A THOUSAND HALF TRUTHS (Fika Recordings)
A Thousand Half Truths is technically Norwegian Indie-Poppers Making Marks debut album, although in their previous guise as My Little Pony they did release two albums, which might go some way to explaining how professional and delightful this album is!
Country-infused Indie-Pop that touches on the back catalogue of both Camera Obscura and fellow Scandinavian Jens Lekman. They certainly share Jens sense of humour, their grasp of wit in their non-native tongue is both impressive and a touch embarrassing for us useless English folk!
Their music goes from sprightly-catchy pop tracks like Ticket Machine and Bruises to slower more whistful songs such as Barcodes and Like Spinning, but best of all is the stunning closing track, Flying High Forever, a thrilling reminder of the power of gorgeous harmonies, jangling electric guitars and a tonne of melodies!
17. FLOWERS – DO WHAT YOU WANT TO, IT’S WHAT YOU SHOULD DO (Fortuna Pop)
In singer Rachel Kennedy’s voice Flowers possess one of the most potent musical weapons you’ll hear this or any year. Her clear, crisp soprano rings out across this record, recalling the likes of Elizabeth Fraser or Marissa Nadler, it is a truly beautiful thing. Which of course would count for nothing at all if Flowers didn’t have the songs to back it up, luckily for us based on this, their debut album, they certainly do.
Lyrically it’s a series of ruminations on youth, troubled relations and self-doubt, delivered with an acerbic wit that Morrissey himself would be proud of. Whilst musically they’re minimal sketches for guitar and drums, taking in elements of indie-pop, lo-fi and chamber pop and stitching out something unique and beautiful.
On the almost dub-step infused I Love You, Rachel sings “you make me want to cry overwhelmed by how much I love you” get this record in your life and you might just feel the same.
16. HONEYBLOOD – HONEYBLOOD (FatCat Records)
It’s been a rather dramatic year for our favourite all-female Scottish two-piece, they’ve been on something of a meteoric rise to fame ever since signing to FatCat Records and releasing their self titled debut album. Just when things seemed to be going almost too well, half the band, in the form of drummer Shona McVicar, left mid-way through a tour, so full credit then to singing guitarist Stina, who not only decided to carry on the band but had a new drummer up and running just a matter of days later, evidence of the old cliché, the show must go on!
And thank heavens for that, because that debut was unquestionably one of the most intriguing albums of the year. A stunning middle ground of beautifully harmonious vocals and angry barbed lyrics, of gorgeous melodies and crushing walls of noise. They recalled the honey dripped harmonies of 60’s girl bands, and the raw power of grunge. The bands name Honeyblood really couldn’t be more apt.
From the playground chanting of Super Rat, to the Idlewild recalling opening track Fall Forever, and the almost country-grunge of Bud (a song that’s much more appealing than country-grunge makes it sound!) they created a varied and excellent debut album, one that surely surpassed what even their most ardent fan could have imagined.
15. LITERATURE – CHORUS (Slumberland Records)
Literature are a band steeped in the history of alternative-pop records, the Philadelphia four-piece borrow effortlessly from all your favourite records of the past without ever standing still long enough for you to question what they’ve pinched, you’ll be having far too much fun to care anyway!
They sound like all your favourite songs from the 80’s being played at the speed of The Ramones, it’s a thrilling barrage of jangling guitars, pounding drums, and fey vocals. There’s hints of Orange Juice, The Jam and of course The Smiths, but all delivered with a sense of fun that will leave even the coldest cynic, bouncing around the dancefloor without a care in the world.
Cramming in 11-songs in just 29 minutes, they’re a reminder that just because you can make a record last for hours doesn’t mean you should. The latest and greatest update to the Indie-Pop template, they could just be your new favourite band.
14. PAUL SMITH & PETER BREWIS – FROZEN BY SIGHT (Memphis Industries)
Let’s start by saying what an odd, and potentially woeful idea for a record this is! Paul Smith, he of Maximo Park, wearing hats and carrying a book around fame, set his travel diaries to music, that music being curated by chamber-prog provocateur and Field Musician, Peter Brewis. Imagine if you can Bill Bryson set to the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and you can see how bad this could have been.
The reality is thankfully not only better, but actually really good! Maximo Park’s decline from the mainstream seems to have been inversely proportional to the quality of their music, their recent output has been excellent, even if seemingly less and less people are listening, and here Paul as a lyricist has probably never been better. Each track is a sketch of a place he’s been, of a journey he’s been on from his base in the North-East. From Barcelona to Perth, Los Angeles to the Cornish seaside village of Trevone, he takes us with him on his travels and shows us his unique take on each one. In Budapest he tells us about the T-Mobile Tower but also of a “middle aged woman” who “licks her ice lolly stick to the last before descending into the unmarked subway.” Loose yourself into his words and you might just be able to almost feel you’re there with him!
Musically too it’s fantastic, Peter taking his usual complex-rhythms and dense arrangements and playing with the whole scope of the orchestra. So we get waves of strings, complex and rich percussion and some splendidly unhinged piano playing. It all adds up to an unexpected triumph, you may never hear another record quite like it.
13. HAMILTON LEITHAUSER – BLACK HOURS (Ribbon Music)
When The Walkmen announced their “extreme hiatus” at the back end of last year, we began to worry we might loose the talented New Yorkers forever. Luckily in 2014 they showed that whilst the band might not be going strong, the musicians within are still relentlessly creative and stunningly talented.
Of course the man with the most pressure on his shoulders was frontman Hamilton Leithauser. As the spokesman for the band he carried with him into his solo career a sense of expectation, and on Black Hours he did not disappoint. He pulled off the tough balancing act of remaining loyal to his established fan base and taking his music into new directions with aplomb! Fans of The Walkmen need look no further than I Don’t Know or closing track The Smallest Splinter.
Those of us who wanted to see what makes him stand out as a solo artist though, were arguably treated even better. Gorgeous crooned-piano ballads, like 5AM & St Mary’s Country were equal parts Frank Sinatra and Tom Waits. Dylanish-country stompers like I Retired and the frankly bonkers run-away mine train feel of lead single Alexander. It was an album that had so much to give already, and yet hinted that even better might be to come. The Walkmen are dead long live The Walkmen!
12. DIGNAN PORCH – OBSERVATORY (Faux Discx)
2014 was a funny old year in music, whilst other years seemed to be dominated by a particular sound, in 2014 it seemed you could do whatever you liked and you were just as likely to be accepted or rejected as anyone else. Still, the influence of the grungey lo-fi recordings of the early 90’s did seem to loom a little larger than in recent years, and with it came some thrilling records, not least Dignan Porch‘s brilliant album, Observatory.
We really can’t describe them any better than their own press release which described them as “a ramshackle group of perpetually laid-back sounding humans creating music that straddles the lines between psychedelia, folk, indie pop and grunge.” The band essentially write brilliant pop-songs, remove all the fuzz-reverb and feeling that they’ve been recorded upside down in a bath-tub, and you wouldn’t be a million miles off an early Beatles song!
Observatory is an album you find yourself going back to time and time again and discovering a new hidden gem. Forever Unobscured’s incessant drum-beat and squelching electronics, the Buddy Holly gone noise-pop charms of Deep Deep Problem, or the heartbreak ballad Dinner Tray. A thrilling, scuzzy, lo-fi gem of a pop album!
11. PETER MATTHEW BAUER – LIBERATION! (Mexican Summer)
Our second Walkman on the list, and if Hamilton Leithauser carried the expectation, Peter Matthew Bauer provided the unexpected highlight! Peter roped in a band of “dirtbag greasers” to help him make a thrilling step into the solo limelight, with a record that brought a huge variety of influences and experiences together into a coherent and timeless debut album.
Lyrically curious, it dealt openly with his experiences of religion, and in particular spirituality, all told with an open mind and the feeling of listening to someone with a great understanding of both the pros and cons.
Musically it was a thrilling ride through the best bits of the American music scene and infused them with some distinctly middle-eastern sounds. A record packed full of hooks, it slowly weaves it’s way into your brain and stays with you long after it’s finished, it’s a record we’ve gone back to time after time and it just gets better on every listen, a roaring success!