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 Ten Albums of 2013

It’s hard to believe, but it’s time for my Top Ten Albums list for 2013 already. With only two weeks left of the year (edit: geeze it’s taken me nearly two weeks to write this post), the next notable album releases (at least on my agenda) aren’t until next year, and with a longlist of over forty albums, which took two attempts to cut down to just ten, I think it’s safe to say 2013 was a great year for music.

As usual I’ll post a song clip for each album, but most of these albums need to be heard from start to finish to be fully appreciated. And also as usual the styles of music here do jump around a little, but I’d like to think there’s at least one album on this list that each of you would like.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Enjoy!

josh-pyke-the-beginning-and-the-end-of-everything-201310. Josh Pyke – The Beginning And The End Of Everything

Josh Pyke has been one of my favourite Australian singer/songwriters for quite a few years now, and as much as I hate to use this phrase it is true that this, his fourth album, is a return to his roots. It’s easily his most upbeat album since his debut and the eleven songs throughout contain his usual mix of thoughtful lyrics, beautiful and increasingly harmonised vocals and deeply layered and colourful music. I don’t know many people who play an instrument and don’t look up to Pyke as a gifted songwriter and musician. Give his music a go, you won’t regret it.

eskimojoe_wastelands9. Eskimo Joe – Wastelands

Aussie band (I know it’s been all Aussies so far, I promise there’s bands from the rest of the world very soon) Eskimo Joe have always been ones to reinvent themselves which each new album. On their sixth album though, they seem to shift genres entirely from the indie rock/alternative rock they are known for to…I don’t really know what to call it. A little bit retro and 80s, a little bit funky, a little bit dancey and electronic…and yet still definitely Eskimo Joe. Although I must admit on my first listen I thought I’d bought the wrong thing somehow, after a couple of listens through the whole album I found myself thoroughly addicted to their new, upbeat sound. A bold move, and one that I hope pays off.

David Bowie's The Next Day8. David Bowie – The Next Day

I’m not enough of a hardcore Bowie fan to place this much higher on my list, but I think a lot of ‘Top albums of 2013’ lists will include this surprise hit of an album. At the age of 66, this was Bowie’s first album of new material in over a decade, and the recording of it was kept secret for a long time before he announced the impending release on his birthday. Upon its release, it went number one in 20 countries, number two in a handful more countries, and it made its way into the digital charts in over 60 countries – the critical reception was mostly positive as well. More of a rock album, it’s quite easy to get into while still as quirky as one would expect a Bowie album to be. Seems there’s plenty of life in him yet! Just a note regarding this film clip – the song doesn’t actually start until two minutes into the clip!

Riverside Shrine Of New Generation Slaves7. Riverside – Shrine Of New Generation Slaves

As long time readers of my blog will know, I have been drawn to the darker, thought provoking sounds of prog rock music for some time now. My curiosity in this genre inevitably led me to Riverside, a brilliant band from Poland (I think) who earlier this year released their fifth album. It manages to keep a great balance between emotions such as anger and melancholy, while being intelligent in thematically and lyrically and producing highly evocative music to capture all of this. I also love the singer’s voice, which adds to the depth of the music. A great album, even if it’s not necessarily one to make me smile.

Jake-Bugg-Shangri-La6. Jake Bugg – Shangri La

Jake Bugg has just recently released this, his second album, barely a year after his debut, which is quite impressive for a 19 year old. I didn’t mind his first album, but it did sound like he was still trying to find his feet musically and only half of the songs on the album were particularly memorable or notable. But this second record works much more holistically and Bugg sounds more in command of his music. While the obvious influences, such as Bob Dylan, are still there, he is also starting to push out into new territory as well. The music is naive and nothing ground breaking, but it’s a lot of fun and full of energy. Bugg’s reputation is growing rapidly, and he’s definitely a name to look out for in future years.

Iron-and-Wine-Ghost-on-Ghost5. Iron & Wine – Ghost On Ghost

Although Iron & Wine (which is just a stage name for Sam Beam) began his musical life as a folk artist, in recent years he has moved into increasingly diverse territory. While the last album was dipping its toes in the water of other genres such as jazz, in this album he has just dived straight into the lake with no boundaries. The result? One of the bravest and most exciting releases all year. Sure, it might alienate some listeners who love only his old stuff. But really, he couldn’t have made five albums of the same thing over and over, and the shift has been coming for several albums now. I for one love this, and consider it his finest work so far. If you don’t at least try it, you are missing out. It’s that simple.

Volcano-Choir-Repave4. Volcano Choir – Repave

Volcano Choir are a band which, to be honest, I only noticed at all because I knew Justin Vernon (the creative force and frontman of Bon Iver) was among the band members. There is a certain similarity to Bon Iver, and perhaps to the bands of the other members, but on this second album they are definitely striking out with their own unique sound. And, as much as I’m surprising myself by saying this, I prefer this album to anything by Bon Iver so far (and I love both Bon Iver albums). Can I describe what the music sounds like? Erm. Not really. Thoughtful, complex and deeply layered. When you listen to this album, don’t do things while you listen – just lie down and soak in the music. It’s one of those albums. The song I’ve included doesn’t have a video clip to go with it, but it is my favourite song on the album, Acetate.

The-Cat-Empire-Steal-the-Light3. The Cat Empire – Steal The Light

The Cat Empire are an Aussie jazz/ska/latin/indie/whoknowswhatelse band who have been wowing Australian audiences for over a decade now. Though I’ve always loved them, their last album from a couple of years ago was the first time I felt a little disappointed. So it was a nice surprise to find this year they really returned to form, releasing their most solid, upbeat, danceable album since their debut all those years ago. This is just an amazing album that perfectly captures everything the band is about, and as a result serves as a pretty good introduction to them if you’ve never heard them before.

The Raven That Refused To Sing2. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)

Steven Wilson’s second solo album took the top spot in my 2011 Top Ten Albums list (which was on another website which is sadly no longer with us), and his collaboration with Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt, under the name of Storm Corrosion, took the top spot in my 2012 list (which can be found on this blog). So it comes as no surprise really that his third solo album would rank so high this year, as well. In fact, so far as I’m concerned, this album is the best thing the prog-rock genius has ever made. Containing six songs, three around the ten minute mark and three a bit shorter, each song tells its own story as Wilson’s arrangements pull us through more genres of music than we can count, but most notably a strong fusion of jazz and prog-rock – this is easily the jazziest record he has ever made. It was on rotation in my car for several months earlier this year, and the song The Watchmaker is probably my favourite song of the year. Listen to it from start to finish and you’ll see why.

Once I Was An Eagle1. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

At the age of 23, Laura Marling has released her fourth (yes, fourth) album, and blown the competition clean out of the water. Not only is this album much deeper and more mature than her previous works lyrically, but musically as well. The album begins with an incredible four song suite that sets the tone for the remaining twelve tracks on the album, as she darts around ferociously with that deep, almost growling voice to the backing of a complete melting pot of instruments, from eastern music to celtic sounding moments to a whole host of seventies influences. The album does tell a running story, which is interesting in itself as well, but it really is the music that pulls you in on this album. Just watch When Brave Bird Saved – a short film backed by the opening song suite of the album, and you’ll hopefully see why this album just had to be at the number one spot this year.

What are your thoughts on this list?

Did you enjoy any of these albums this year?

What would you add to the list?