Top Albums of 2014 Part Two: The Top Ten

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!

Ed Sheeran X10 – Ed Sheeran – X

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 Magnolia9 – The Pineapple Thief – Magnolia

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.

David Gray Mutineers8 – David Gray – Mutineers

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.

Print7 – Luluc – Passerby

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!

Neil Finn Dizzy Heights6 – Neil Finn – Dizzy Heights

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.

Lewis Watson The Morning5 – Lewis Watson – The Morning

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!

Damien Rice My Favourite Faded Fantasy4 – Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy

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.

First Aid Kit Stay Gold3 – First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

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.

sia-1000-forms-of-fear2 – Sia – 1000 Forms Of Fear

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.

Robert Plant lullaby and The Ceaseless Roar1 – Robert Plant – lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar

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?

8 thoughts on “Top Albums of 2014 Part Two: The Top Ten

  1. Ed – yes. Completely agree with his spot in the top ten. I’ve just added David Gray, Damien Rice and Lewis Watson to my list of albums to buy, so thanks for including them. Gray and Rice I’ve had fleeting love affairs with – their stuff is a bit hit and miss for me, but my music taste has changed a lot lately, so I think I should give them both another go. I love ‘Into The Wild’ by Watson – a really beautiful song and his voice is…peaceful. I think that’s the right word.

    Sia is probably deserving of her spot but I have to confess I got completely sick of hearing ‘Chandelier’, it was played that much. I really liked it at first but now whenever it comes on I just want to block my ears. As a result, I’ve not bothered with exploring the rest of the album, which is sad as I think she’s amazing. I really like some of her earlier solo stuff, but I LOVE hearing her in collaborations – particularly with David Guetta.

    I’ve not really ever listened to Robert Plant, but I’m listening to the video you posted right now and I’m actually really enjoying it. I’ve been guilty in the past of only really listening to music that gets lots of play on commercial radio, largely because it’s so accessible and always playing, but I’m branching out a bit at the moment, so I think these two posts of yours will be helpful in my musical education. And you should definitely give Nutini’s album a listen if you haven’t done so yet. He sounds a bit like George Ezra (or, actually Ezra sounds like him because Nutini’s been around longer) and it’s only his third album, but I think it’s his best of the three, although I loved the first one.

    • I think we talked about half of this on Twitter but oh well. Yeah, I couldn’t not add Ed Sheeran into the top 10. I’m glad you liked the albums you did go and buy – David Gray’s album especially really surprised me, I think it’s actually tied up as my favourite alongside Life in Slow Motion. It feels like it evokes similar emotions but a totally different atmosphere, which is a terrible explanation but you probably know what I mean. In both of those albums, I feel like there’s not one dud song, which is saying something.
      I know what you mean about Chandelier, but definitely listen to the rest of the album. It’s unlike anything she’s ever done, like I said it’s a very dark sound. The lyrics evoke her experiences battling her demons but so does the music in a lot of cases, especially the second half of the album. I do love her older stuff too, especially “Some People Have Real Problems” and “Colour The Small One” – those two albums were so good although so different to where she’s gone in her music lately. I do love her collaborations though and I love how many massive songs over the last few years she has written – she’s more of a powerhouse in the music industry than she gets credit for, I think.
      Robert Plant is amazing, especially for an old dude. What I like about him is that after a decade or two of cheesy stuff through the 80s and 90s, as he struggled to follow up his Led Zeppelin success and adjust to his aging voice (which he has now mastered, I feel), he got into this good habit of reinventing himself a little with each album. So his five albums since the turn of the century have easily been his five best albums, but change in style so much its amazing. His latest album just feels like this perfect culmination of his whole career – I think he intended it to be his last album all along but we’ll see. He did do some cool things in the 90s though – he got together with the LedZep guitarists and did acoustic versions of LedZep songs but recorded them all using a lot of Eastern instrumentation (which he has kept going back to ever since) – it’s one of the best acoustic albums I’ve heard because they genuinely reinterpret and change the old songs.
      Anyway, I am rambling, yet again. I think I’m itching to get some new blog posts done. Also itching for new music to come out, January is such a dead month for music.

      • Robert Plant will be next I think. I’ve bought so much new (but really old) music lately I’m suffering from overload. I’m really into Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding at the moment (I don’t know if I already said that somewhere), and I watched this great movie recently called Northern Soul which is about the soul movement in the north of England in the 70’s. The soundtrack they put together for that is amazing so I’ve had that on a lot lately too. Add David Gray and Lewis Watson and I’m nearly all musicked (pretty sure that’s not a word but it should be) out.

        • Ahhh nice, yeah I’ve wanted to watch that actually, I love 70s soul music. British music has had some awful moments but it’s had some great moments too! It’s pretty good right now it seems! Funnily enough though, I think I’m always feeling musicked (it totes should be a word) out, but then I keep going and get excited about something else anyway. Like I said though, my longlist for my favourite albums last year was like 120, 130 albums, which is just insane. They were MY FAVOURITES hahaha. I must have listened to 300 new albums at least. So it was nice over the new year to go back and relisten to albums that I didn’t listen to enough over the year, because not much comes out for a few weeks there. But I already have a bunch of upcoming releases lined up for the next month and a half (new albums by Laura Marling, Steven Wilson, Colin Hay and Jose Gonzalez). And I’m loving this Ronson album, took me a while to realise half the songs have the guy from Tame Impala too, hahaha, so obvious once I realised it. What a great group of collaborators.

  2. Okay, so I feel like I creeped your blog a bit in finding this post (but why is it here if not to be creeped, right? haha), but Ed Sheeran X. Oh man, I had that album on repeat for the entire second half of last year and it is still blowing my mind. I fell in love with quite a few albums last year, but that one really stands out for me.

    • Hahaha no no, creep away – especially on these two top album posts I wrote at the end of last year – they took FOREVER to write anyway with all the pictures and clips to find and embed, not to mention the sheer amount I wrote for each (I’m so glad I decided to split it into two posts) so it’s nice when people find it a while afterwards to be honest! 😀
      But yeah, a lot of people fell in love with X, that was a stunning album. I think it took a lot of people by surprise too because people weren’t expecting him to reinvent himself so much so fast. Makes you wonder what he’ll do next when he goes back into the studio.
      Last year was just an amazing year for music, but this year is already off to a killer start – my favourite albums list for 2015 is already at 20 albums….HOW?!?!

      • Oh wow, really?? I’ve only found one favorite album so far this year….and it was actually released in 2013! So I guess that wouldn’t really count, haha.

        • Bahaha. I actually have a playlist on my Spotify for artists or albums I’ve discovered that aren’t new, so that I don’t forget about them. I guess I sit down once a week and search out all the new releases and listen to them briefly…I’ve become pretty obsessed. I feel like I should start trying to earn money for this hahaha!

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