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Tim Moss – Top 5 Albums of 2014

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And here it comes, the annual tradition of the journalists lamenting the downfall of the music industry. Whether its Silent Radio heralding the ‘silent’ year, or as the Guardian declared the year the worst time to become a pop star, it falls into tradition. I guess it’s the nature of a wilfully fragmenting yet saturating culture; many platforms little praise. It used to be fashionable to blame X Factor, or illegal downloads, or laziness. But either issue detracts from what the trend-setters and the taste-makers should be doing at this time of year: praising this year’s flux of amazing musicians to our ears.

We’ve had some excellent debuts from The Milk (Company), Richard Dawson (Nothing Important), Stephen Gunn (Way Out Weather) and Allah-Las (Worship The Sum) among others.

Even though these aren’t featured in my personal list, they are important and need to be heard. Here is my top five that shaped a year of 2014.

5. Mazes – Wooden Aquarium

There’s been a trend (probably thanks to Liam Fray) of bands from Greater Manchester not to allude to their region with the same civic pride people used to a few years ago. I couldn’t substantiate this, but back when bands like Elbow exploded into the Mercury winning beast they now are, things were different. Bands like Mazes show us how easy it is to talk about the sights you know without sounding like a recycled Ian Brown vinyl.

Aside from that, there’s much in this record that is missing in a lot of new music. From the heady adrenaline-soaked riffs and it’s polished compositions to the general attention to the flow of the album. It commands like a manifesto. A promising debut.

4. Jungle – Jungle

For the best part of the year Jungle seemed inescapable. Favourable performances up and down the country, press coverage everywhere and on everything. But after the album launch came the record and essentially, it’s somewhat a product of its enigmatic hype. Now far less inscrutable, it’s easy to find cracks in this somewhat formulaic album.

Essentially it’s a pop record, and there is a whiff of manufactured-ness (I mean, just how is it that a band can come from nowhere these days?). But the soulfulness of the album track-by-track harks back to some kind of fictional alternative past where Jazz came after Hip-Hop. From their live performances, you can see where the album is rooted. It will be regarded by many as  the record of the year, and with good reason. Personally, I can understand the hype.

3. Aphex Twin – Syro

Simply, its been too long. Any fan of Selected Ambient Works onwards has been impatiently waiting for D. James to throw us some new songs since his last release, nine years ago. This release is just glitch-tastic as ever.

The best and worst bit about the album is that it feels like he’s not even really trying. Nothing’s really changed since his Windowlicker days. It’s not helped by stories of losing a remix of The Lemonheads then submitted a disk with random beats on it, claiming he had used one note from the song and sped it up. Maybe it’s the legend overshadowing the music, but Aphex Twin seems inherently able to make the most complex of compositions sound effortless. At his most discordant, more frantic, it still seems like one day he will release a new album more mind-blowing than this. We mere mortals will probably have to wait till he dies before we get treated to an overwhelming catalogue full of every time he’s ever touched a synth. But until then, this will do.

2. Perfume Genius – Too Bright

There’s something uniquely, unmistakably heart-breaking about Mike Hadreas’ voice that sounds like it’s about to begin weeping at the start of each verse, and there’s plenty to weep about. His past battles with addiction and other experiences have left a scrap book to fill a discography with.

This album seems like a continuation of all the praise that could be offered to PG with Put Your Back N 2 It and Learning. Like those two, we have a haunting listen. In parts equally morose with equally dark and melancholic topics. But in others more confidently on the attack. His lambasting Queen, was heralded as the ‘gay anthem of the year’ by Slate, for its ironic assault on homophobic perceptions. The synth laden album often rescinds back to the piano driven misery that earned him his acclaim, but it’s just a diatribe. His imagery allows him to shed light on such dark topics while retaining something unrelentingly enjoyable.

1. Benji – Sun Kil Moon

Mark Kozelek’s own beef with War On Drugs, and his Christmas album, seemed to overshadow the simple beauty of this album towards the end of the year. But all it takes is a re-listen to remind us what makes the album worthy of the top spot. A lot of the album has a traditional country ethic to it, but its strength lies in the charismatic harmonies of Kozelek.

The lyrics have a simple storytelling quality that seems completely unbothered by anything else, including rhyming, yet they do. It’s this accidental quality that denotes the maturity of Kozelek.

Each track seems more like a short essay about an aspect of Kozelek’s life, such as Pray for Newtown (And I just left Safeway, when I walked through my doorway/ When a guy took a bullet to an island and shot up a bunch of little kids up in Norway) in which he opines upon his connections and views on the mass school shootings of the last few years.

But it isn’t necessarily just the lyrics, but more just the camp-fire vigour that really shines on in Kozelek. The melodic guitar patterns in the opener, Carissa, carries the dejected tale. The same can be said throughout the album. In a sea of bland singer-songwriters, Benji has a deeply personal quality that reminds us that lyrics have nothing to do with filling stadiums and everything to do with projecting the stories of you and those around you.

Honorary mentions

Wiccans and Beatlemancers – Radstewart

How often do you see EP’s of the year? Me neither, they usually turn into Albums of the year after when a LP finally surfaces. This band never seemed to get the attention I wished it would this year and with its witty lyrics about post-marxist thought, Native American headdresses and the woes of being a student. Stephen Fry once said that it’s easier to label something pretentious than to distinguish between the fraudulent and the authentic. For that reason the term ‘Hipster’ seems a problematic label. Because in amongst the parted sea of Dapper Laughs appearance nights and the tuition fee protests, their lyrical style seems to sum it all up with the witty intellectualism you no longer expect, but definitely want from a humanities graduate of any kind.

3 word reviews of other Albums worth a mention

DSU Alex G

Auspicious Pavement vibes

Francois and the Atlas Mountains – Piano Ombre

Genre Bending Folk

Sunbathing Animal or Content Nausea- Parquet Courts

Minute-madness franticness

David Thomas Broughton – Sliding the Same Way

Found-Sound Rhythms

Daniel Avery – Drone Logic

Meaty Beaty House.

Eagulls – Eagulls

Head-bangingly strong

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