If you missed part one, in which I listed #20 to #11 of my Top 20 Albums this year (as well as explaining why I couldn’t limit it to a Top 10 this time), you can read that post here. Otherwise, I shall simply get on with revealing my Top 10 for this year. Again, I’ll feature a clip for a song from each album that will likely be an official video of a studio recording but if necessary may be a live recording or something similar. Enjoy!
Whether you like him or not, it’s been pretty hard not to notice Ed Sheeran this last year. He surely made some sort of record by having one of the nerdiest ever hit songs off a soundtrack to last year’s second part of The Hobbit films, in the form of “I See Fire” which currently has some 120 million views on Youtube and 170 million listens on Spotify. Then he released an album that has since yielded the songs “Sing”, “Don’t” and “Thinking Out Loud” that have become equally as popular. To say he is a mega-star is an understatement, but in this case the hype is actually worth it. I was curious to see how he would follow up his mostly calm and mellow first album, but he has come out with something that darts between genres, playing with funk and rap and everything in between while still keeping a few good slow songs to keep the original fans happy. A surprisingly good second album that has cemented his position in the music world – Ed Sheeran is here to stay, folks.
The Pineapple Thief have been around for a while now, starting as a slow burning progressive rock act in 1999. Over the last 15 years they have released 10 albums, each one improving from the last as they built up a bigger following and became acquainted with others in the prog rock scene such as Riverside and Steven Wilson (all of whom have shared record labels). 2012’s All The Wars marked a dramatic shift away from prog rock overall, featuring shorter and sharper songs and a 22-piece orchestra, but this latest album completes the transformation to a different kind of rock band, one that cannot be categorised so simply any longer. Soord’s songwriting is at its very best here as the album gracefully soars from hard hitting rockers to heart-breaking ballads, and again there is not one dud song on here. I am so impressed by this album. If you’re looking for a good rock act with a genuine sound of their own, this is a pretty good place to start.
It’s always fascinated me to think that David Gray intended on ending his career back in 1998 with the album White Ladder (the final song was intended as a farewell to the music industry). Little did he know that this album would become a phenomenon worldwide and that in 2014 he would still be releasing music. My favourite of his has long been 2005’s Life In Slow Motion, and although I have liked his albums since they have felt a little lacklustre in comparison. Mutineers, luckily, is one of the most daring albums he has ever done. It is quiet, eerily quiet, but not in a stripped back acoustic manner like his older music. He has chosen to work with quiet instrumentation so that his epic voice can shine, and the music makes me think of wide oceans, glaciers, winter – just one listen and you’ll know what I mean. A breathtakingly beautiful return to form.
Luluc are another of the many duos who have made it onto my list this year, this time from Australia. Like many of the other duos, they consist of a male and female combination with the female (Zoë Randell) doing the vocals. Vaguely considered part of the indie folk crowd, this second album has been released on the Sub Pop label which has come to be associated with folk music thanks to signings like Fleet Foxes. There is something very special about this duo though. While they have achieved moderate commercial success, critically they have garnered rave reviews with many reviewers claiming they cannot stop listening to this quietly timeless and beautiful set of songs. Another stunning album that is perfect for the long dark nights!
One of the first releases this year that truly blew me away, I could never have prepared myself for this album. Neil Finn is perhaps most famous as the frontman of much loved Aussie band Crowded House, a band which my generation grew up listening to on the radio with their sweet but simple beatlesque pop songs. Neil has since done other projects, with his brother as The Finn Brothers, with his wife in Pajama Club, and as a solo artist, to mention but a few. This, his third solo release, comes after a 13 year absence on the solo scene. But it might be the most daring album he has ever made, far removed from the simpler pop music of his hey day. His songs waver between experimental instrumentation and some of his best vocals yet (at one point pushing himself to sing most of a song in falsetto), yet with that same ability to hook the listener with his never-aging voice and catchy melodies. Intelligent, emotional and accessible. If you don’t listen to this, you’re missing out.
Another one of the young guns to release their debut album this year, I was very impressed with this 22 year old’s first full release. Last year he released 4 EPs of simple, melancholy folk music that along with extensive touring and a signing to Warner Bros helped him build a solid fan base. His album though is not just a rehash of old songs – the old songs are polished and recorded again, while there are newer songs added in as well. More importantly, he has added a lot of extra layers and instrumentation that bring the songs to life in a whole new way, adding greater emotional depth and downright broodiness to make this album something far more mature than one would expect. I also was lucky enough to see him live on a quick trip to Nottingham in England earlier this year – he is even better live! Listen to this album, then go see him live – you won’t regret it!
The beloved Irish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who won over hearts back in 2002 with songs like “The Blower’s Daughter” has finally returned this year with his third album and his first in eight years. In the intervening years he spent a lot of time collaborating with other artists, which perhaps is part of the reason he feels so refreshed on this album. The eight songs on here rank among his absolute best – every song is beautifully arranged with so many little details you’ll find something new in every listen of the album, and his voice soars to greater heights than he managed on his first two albums. If you’ve never heard him before, start with this album. If you loved his older stuff you will be blown away by his newer stuff.
Call me biased if you must, after my move to Sweden earlier this year, but this Swedish sister folk-duo released a stunning third album earlier this year that not only took Sweden by storm by also won quite a few fans abroad, going number 1 in Sweden and Norway, Top 10 in Australia, Finland and Denmark and Top 20 in UK. For a pair of girls who are only 24 and 21 years old, this album is a surprisingly mature and personal shift from their previous work in both lyrics and composition. Their earlier albums were written for a three-piece live band but they have now changed this with two extra permanent members and a 13-piece orchestra used on some of the songs here. They tap even further into the Americana sound they have already been developing, but with a sunnier disposition than before that makes this album shine as bright as it’s namesake.
For most of this year, I considered this album the top of my list (it was trumped at the last minute). After going through personal hell with anxiety issues that turned into alcohol and depression problems, Sia withdrew from the public world and spent time writing some huge hits for other artists. This year she returned with an album that makes it seem like she saved the best for herself. Her personal life simmers through this set of mostly dark songs, her voice cracked and pushed to its limit to bring out a full emotional depth. At the same time, she is such a master of songwriting that her songs remain catchy and enormously successful, Chandelier clocking up some 400 million views on Youtube. One of the best modern albums by one of the best modern songwriters and singers, hands down.
I must confess, I’m quite surprised to see this album at the top of my list this year. Robert Plant, once the singer of Led Zeppelin, has made an incredible solo career over the last few decades that seems to have peaked in his last few albums. “The Mighty Rearranger” was a stunning, rocking return to form in 2005, then in 2007 he released Raising Sand with Alison Krauss which went on to win the Album of the Year at the Grammys. His latest album might very well be his last according to Plant himself. If so, it’s a hell of an album to end his career on – a mixture of folk, rock, blues and soul with considerable use of Eastern instrumentation and even a very small amount of electronic music. It is a deeply personal album, many of the songs commenting on Plant’s feelings at this end of his career as well as his recent break up with Patty Griffin, and you can feel the intensity of his feelings through his aging, haunting but still powerful voice. After 45 years of singing and song writing, this could be the best release of what has already been an incredible career. My favourite album of the year was obvious from the moment I heard it.
Well, there we have it! My Top Twenty albums of 2014 are out in the open! So my question to you is this: What were your favourite albums of this year? Why did you like them so much? And have you liked any of my favourites?