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?

Top Albums of 2014 Part One: #20 – #11

For the first time ever, I am doing a double blog post about the best music of this year because there is simply too much to limit myself to just 10 albums (and any more than that in one post is just overkill). My long-list of favourite albums this year was around 120, my short-list numbering 45. To say it has been an amazing year for music would be an understatement. Of course, there is more to it than that. Having moved from Australia, where music streaming services are still slowly taking off and CDs are still a main source of music listening, to Sweden where CDs basically don’t exist and almost the whole country uses Spotify now, my ways of searching out new music have broadened and improved significantly.

So, without further ado, I give you #20 to #11 on my list today and the Top 10 will go online in the next couple of days. This is by far the most difficult list I have written in a long time, but it is a good mix of different genres as well as debut artists and older artists (I think the age range is from about 20 to 70). All of them will have a song, but some of the songs may be live clips if the studio recording isn’t available on Youtube to embed. I hope you all find something on this list you will enjoy!

Horse_Thief_Fear_in_bliss20 – Horse Thief – Fear In Bliss

Earlier this year, I went hunting for a lot of new folk bands that I had not yet discovered, using the “related artists” function on Spotify. This band came up a lot, related to other folky artists with animals in their names like Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses but with other obvious influences such as Neil Young. The album feels like a slightly psychedelic and slightly rock flavoured folk sound but catchy enough in the style of songwriting to ensure it remains crisp in sound and isn’t drowned out too much by swirling guitars, instead using the melodies and soft vocals to drive the music. A great new discovery for me!

French For Rabbits Spirits19 – French For Rabbits – Spirits

French For Rabbits are a dream-pop duo who hail from New Zealand, which is suggested in their music which sounds like a warmth amidst the cold of the sea and the mountains. The delicate vocals of Brooke Singer (perfect name for her job) are balanced perfectly against the warm guitars and instrumentation from John Fitzgerald and other band members to create something altogether ethereal and beautiful. They themselves name similar artists as Mazzy Star, Laura Marling and Daughter, to give you some clues as to whether you may like this amazing debut album.

Snowbird_-_Moon18 – Snowbird – Moon

Snowbird primarily comprises of British keys player Simon Raymonde (perhaps best known for Cocteau Twins back in the 1980s-1990s) and the American singer-songwriter Stephanie Dosen. While older Snowbird songs seemed sweet but simple acoustic songs, this debut album is a deeply layered and beautifully textured work of art. Dosen sings in a manner simultaneously delicate and lush that glides gently over Raymonde’s haunting piano for most of the album, but with enough surreal instrumentation to make this a perfect album evocative of winter and places of mystic and wonder.

Augie March Havens Dumb17 – Augie March – Havens Dumb

The Aussie band Augie March have had a strange history. Difficult to put into a single genre (and often put in the alternative and folk groups, although they defy conventions of both), they never strived for any kind of popularity. Then in 2006 their third album yielded the song One Crowded Hour which shot them to huge levels of fame nationally, and this led to an album in 2008 that was out of sorts and fairly unpopular. They took a long hiatus but this year returned with Havens Dumb – an album they have been working on for 3 years and which in my eyes is a return to form. The elegant but witty songwriting is back in full force and while the music is quirky and layered as ever, there is real beauty to be found in the instrumentation and especially the vocal harmonies. I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

Vashti Bunyan Heartleap16 – Vashti Bunyan – Heartleap

Bunyan has said that this, her third album, will be her last. Her second album was released some 9 years ago in 2005, but her first album was released a whopping 44 years ago, in 1970. She gained huge popularity at the turn of the century when her sole album was re-released and she gained a sudden cult following among fans of the freak-folk movement that featured the likes of Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective (on whose records she has since featured). Despite these enormous lapses between albums, her style has remained similar between all three and this album is an absolute masterpiece. Her vocals are often described as being closer to whispering, shimmering over music that is both intense and hushed. A reminder that subtle is not the same as simple.

Jamie Cullum Interlude15 – Jamie Cullum – Interlude

I have been listening to Jamie Cullum for a long time, since I was a teenager and he was mostly doing jazz covers of famous songs. Then he started writing more and more of his albums, producing my two favourite albums of his in 2005’s Catching Tales and 2009’s The Pursuit, both daring, funky and bold pop-jazz albums in their own way. Last year, his album Momentum totally failed to grab me. This year, he recorded what he himself refers to as his first pure jazz record. Each track here was recorded completely and organically with a single take and he has focused on lesser known jazz songs that mean something to him more personally. A clear highlight is “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” which sees him collaborate vocally with Gregory Porter. Definitely my favourite of his covers focused albums.

Hozier Hozier14 – Hozier – Hozier

If you haven’t heard of Hozier or at least his most popular single “Take Me To Church” chances are you’ve been living under a rock. The Irish singer-songwriter has released a stunning album that seems a blend of blues, soul, rock and jazz, but trying to categorise the album is ultimately pointless. His voice is always the centre of his music as he showcases an enormous range from dark growling depths to soaring howls. He sounds far too mature for someone only 24 years of age, but it’s all part of the charm. This is an album that demands your attention from start to finish. Amazing debut.

Wanted_on_Voyage13 – George Ezra – Wanted On Voyage

George Ezra is another young singer, this time a 21 year old from England, who also possesses a deep and dark voice way beyond his years as his strongest musical weapon. His album is surprisingly easy to listen to overall, with some fairly average songs and some amazing sounding songs. But if you go underneath the surface you will find a darker side lurking behind most of his lyrics which add a haunting feel to his broody vocals. From daydreams of killing someone in the song Drawing Board to the intentionally misleading Cassy O which turns out to be about a clock and time itself and not a girl, he shows himself to be a songwriter of impressive depth which may just be the key to his longevity in this era of acoustic near-overkill. Of course, that voice will help as well! Also, you might want to watch this clip – Ian McKellen appears and is very funny!

There-There-Megan-Washington12 – Megan Washington – There There

Megan Washington broke into the Australian music scene in 2008 with her beautiful sweeping vocals, sometimes brutally honest song-writing and some playfulness in the way she told narratives with each song. After the mostly upbeat first album “I Believe You Liar” and the darker “Insomnia” long EP to follow up, her second album finds her at her absolute best. Half upbeat, half melancholy and slow, this album is filled with the sounds, tones and synths of a lot of 80s music without feeling like she is just copying it – she makes that sound new and current, urgent and very catchy. This album is quirky, clever, beautiful and masterful.

Ray LaMontagne Supernova11 – Ray LaMontagne – Supernova

I’ve spent the better part of the last decade listening to Ray LaMontagne’s seventies-inspired melancholy crooning, his husky and emotive voice warming many the cold, wintry night. But for his latest album, he has teamed up with producer Dan Auerbach (also one half of mega rock band The Black Keys) to come up with an album positively bursting with sun-drenched melodies reminiscent of the sixties. There’s still a cosiness to these songs but more of a beach than a campfire cosiness. At times the bright and loud music threatens to drown out his voice, but overall this is a triumphant shift in sound for this bearded singer that was certainly part of my summer soundtrack.

That’s it for now! The remaining ten albums will appear in part two of this blog which I will write and post in the next couple of days. If you have listened to any of these albums I would love to hear from you – what did you think of them?