FreshAir's 30 Favourite Albums of 2014

1 Caribou - Our Love Since the release of Swim in 2010, Dan Snaith had been channeling all of his energy into his techno guise, Daphni, releasing Jiaolong in 2012. Despite the adoration that Jiaolong deservedly received, though, another Caribou album is what we were really waiting for. Two years later - four on from Swim - we were gifted with Our Love. Reflecting its artwork, every song blends beautifully in to the next, with each shining bright individually as Snaith explores love in all of its conceptions. Indeed it may sound corny, perhaps even horrifically clichéd, but Our Love is a thing of beauty. Charles Thomas Lang

2 Run The Jewels - RTJ2 Bringing home number two on the list comes the boldest hip-hop sound to come out of 2014. Brought together by the Creative Director of Adult Swim back in 2012, the collaborative project of Run The Jewels has blossomed one of the greatest friendships in the industry. Throughout the album Killer Mike and El-P play off each other seamlessly, traversing from the hilariously vulgar (‘Love Again’) to the exhilaratingly hyper-aware (‘Crown’) all the while maintaining the most pristine of flows and beats. Zanesh Amin

3 Sun Kil Moon – Benji There is a pretty good chance that Benji is the saddest album you will listen to this year. As a lucid meditation on death, aging, and the staggering, sometimes hilarious inadequacies of human attempts to construct meaning in the face of mortality, the album is searingly intimate. Listening to the album is a little like getting stuck in the corner of a party with a drunk stranger: Mark Kozelek gets a hold of you and digs deep. ‘Ben’s My Friend’ sees Kozelek playing the lonely, fat, middle-aged guy at his friend (and Postal Service vocalist) Ben Gibbard’s concert. Gibbard’s mainstream stardom is described with no small amount of ambivalence and jealousy. On ‘Dogs’ he describes losing his virginity in an eery hush. The fragility of Kozolek’s masculinity and sexuality, and his nostalgia for youth, are typical of the album. Yet, ‘Dogs’ also depicts the two things that make him happy: the process of creating music, and emotional connections with his loved ones. There aren’t really any conclusions on Benji, which is appropriate for an album that so clearly aims to portray the strangeness and incomprehensibility of living and dying. Kozelek’s reticence stems from his profound appreciation of the physical condition and experiences of being. Simply put, Benji is the saddest, most beautiful record I’ve listened to in a really long time. Hallam Tuck

4 Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence From the opener, ‘Cruel World’, Lana drapes her tracks in a nostalgic tone. ‘West Coast’ bookmarks the half way point with an almost day dreamed depiction of love. Starting the second half of the album with ‘Fucked My Way Up To The Top’ suggests a bitter sweet feel. Ultraviolence demonstrates that Del Rey’s voice still sounds as beautiful and intriguing as always. This album demonstrates a darker side to Lana Del Rey and to pop records in general found in 2014. Rianne Thompson

5 Mac DeMarco - Salad Days Singer-songwriter is a very abstract term when applied to Mac DeMarco, the hazy psychedelic feel to his music is what gives its unique attraction, with a likening to bands such as Tame Impala. The tracks on his 2nd LP Salad Days weave a subtle blend of melodic guitar, life lessons and as much chorus as you will ever need. A well-produced and effortlessly accessible follow up to 2012’s debut 2, Salad Days glides slickly from track to track in a way which can only be compared to sitting on a rooftop watching the sun going down with your mates. Andrew Malcolm

6 FKA Twigs - LP1 FKA Twigs has come a long way from dancing in the background of Jessie J’s videos. This Mercury Prize-nominated LP1 is as bold and confident as the title. The sound is weighty with Twigs’ whisper flowing in and out of the whirr of production from the likes of Arca, Paul Epworth and Dev Hynes. This range of influence has led to comparisons being drawn from James Blake to Aaliyah. It is a sort of ethereal RnB record with the celestial quality which could easily set the soundtrack to a haunted Bronte novel or a night out featured on Skins. The lead single from the record was ‘Two Weeks’, a track entirely to do with sex. Although Twigs has denied this, the album is very sexy. But not without the thought and intrigue that makes it so much more than most of the music out on the RnB scene at the moment. FKA twigs’ name is a reference to how she was formerly known, but she is surely known now, with this killer record and incredible visuals that have accompanied her unique style all the way. Elizabeth Clarke

7 Taylor Swift – 1989 Tay-Tay doesnt want you to listen to her art for free but you can buy ‘1989’ here Swift’s 4th album, 1989, is more than just an album. It is a total re-work of everything that anyone knew Taylor Swift to be. The fiddle player was left behind, and the pop masterpieces that had been brewing on Red came to the forefront and took us by storm. Taylor Swift has discovered the drum machine, and her female pop pre-decessors influence runs throughout. ‘Out Of The Woods’ is basically ‘Running Up That Hill’ if it were made in 2014 and Ellie Goulding was a featured artist. The stand-out tracks on the album are ‘Style’ and ‘Blank Space’. The latter, being a firm nod to the haters who are gonna hate hate hate on her past relationships, is Swift at her most self-aware. She laughs at the media’s portrayal of her as a psycho, serial dater and completely owns it for herself. Style, the ‘Harry Styles track’ is pure perfection, an infectious 80s-esque beat teamed with a tale of intense passionate lust. Unfortunately, Swift made the decision to make ‘New Romantics’ a bonus track on the deluxe version of the album. It is an empowering anthem with a rousing chorus. 1989 leaves the listener with the overall usage of ‘don’t let the bastards get you down’. This is dancing around your bedroom with your best friends, drinking cheap rosé wine, covered in glitter. This is everything Taylor Swift has been leading to and it is excellent. Rachel Earnshaw

8 St Vincent - St Vincent For anyone interested in music, St. Vincent perhaps needs no introduction. Annie Clark has already produced three stellar albums full of surreal pop masterpieces and a collaborative album with Talking Heads singer David Byrne. The fact that her latest album is gloriously weird art-pop perfection might come as no surprise to her fans but it is perhaps her best effort yet. Despite the album cover which presents Clark as an alien queen, the self titled album features her best balance between the pop sensibilites of Earth and the harsh experimental tones of some undiscovered planet. Patrick Cartlidge

9 MØ - No Mythologies to Follow After teasing everyone with various EPs released over the past few years, MØ finally released her debut album. On No Mythologies to Follow, MØ does what most popstars are attempting to do, with so much ease that it’s perfect. She perfectly blends classic pop with brass with hip hop with nods to soul and RnB, all whilst taking influence from the scandipop superstars that have come before her. The majority of the album is infectious synth pop, with particular highlights being ‘Walk This Way’ and Diplo-produced ‘XXX 88’. 2014 has been an incredible year for MØ, this album brought her well-deserved attention in not just pop but electro scenes, her collaboration with Iggy Azalea introduced her to the mainstream and the underrated track with Elliphant is one of the best pop tunes of the year. RE

10 PAWS - Youth Culture Forever

11 Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow When it comes to putting out huge records, Bombay Bicycle Club are no strangers. With the success of their previous releases record number 4 had a lot to live up to. Redefining their sound, once again, So Long, See You Tomorrow is a far cry from A Different Kind of Fix. A dance laden record with the drive of an elephant in tap shoes, bass heavy tracks, such as the passive aggressive ‘Carry Me’ pave the way for indie daydream ‘Luna’ and the sheer wave of groove that is ‘Feel’. The space between however is filled with a delicate mixture of piano ballads and catchy hooks with sentimental lyrics that pull the record together. A monumental experience from start to finish, So Long See You Tomorrow is a massive record and sets a high standard for other bands to follow. AM

12 Alt-J - This Is All Yours The Mercury Award winning An Awesome Wave was always going to be a tough act to follow, but two years later Alt-J have returned with the truly exceptional and explorational album This Is All Yours. Featuring the spunky southern hit ‘Left Hand Free’ and the sassy ‘Every Other Freckle’. the band manages to cleverly mix more mainstream tracks into the album in a blur of oriental flutes and sampled voices. It is a record full of stunning textures and unforgettable hooks, easily as seamlessly sublime to listen to in full as its predecessor. Ciara Grace Elwis

13 Ryan Hemsworth - Alone For The First Time While Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth has been very occupied this year - releasing several fantastic collaborations with Japanese producers, producing tracks for several underground hip-hop groups and curating a slew of songs on his new netlabel Secret Songs - he still found time to release one of the highlights of the year. Alone For The First Time is only Hemsworth’s second full-length release of original music and takes a more hushed and quieter approach than his previous album Guilt Trips. While Hemsworth’s production once again stuns his increased talent at songwriting cannot be understated. Songs such as ‘Walk Me Home’ and ‘Snow In Newark’ are some of the most achingly beautiful pieces of dream pop penned this year. It is an unashamedly emotional record about longing and loneliness, the gorgeously layered production underlining instead of overshadowing the murmured sentiments. PC

14 Adult Jazz - Gist Is The nine songs on Gist Is make for an extraordinarily well-developed and always honest take on experimental pop. Fans of Björk’s Vespertine, Animal Collective’s pre-MPP psych-folk period and David Byrne will find lots to love, from ‘Be A Girl’’s wittily abstracted challenge to notions of sexuality to vocalist Harry Burgess’ nine-minute dialogue with god on the glorious ‘Spook’. The record took three years to write and record and is independently distributed; instead of sounding at all laboured-over or as wilfully insular as their knowingly high-brow monicker would suggest, Adult Jazz are a band to love with a remarkable debut LP to celebrate and explore for at least another three years. Emmett Cruddas

15 Metronomy - Love Letters

16 Warpaint – Warpaint Warpaint’s second eponymous album brings a sense of unease and surprise to the ears. Ethereal in its vocalisations alongside stifled instrumentals create an eerie drowsiness to the listener while simultaneously intriguing with the unexpected directions tracks take. The directionless of the album seems to be deliberate, but often feels like it’s got lost along the way. It’s a worthy follow up to The Fool, but perhaps not that much of an improvement. Conor Matchett

17 Young Fathers - DEAD []( ] With DEAD, Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers dish out 11 genre-bending electronic compositions: songs which grind the analogue muscle of classic hip-hop against a wall of echoing falsettos, songs which marry dizzying synthesizers with intimate, straight-faced lyricism. From plaintive chants of ‘War’ to the howls and shrieks of ‘Paying’, Young Fathers outdo themselves on this record, the level of unadulterated and candid emotion easily clearing the bar set by their first two mix tapes. Will Robinson

18 Slow Club - Complete Surrender With each Slow Club album, we have seen a different incarnation of Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson. Complete Surrender is Slow Club at there most mature, the twee label firmly cast off into the past. This is a glorious nod to sixties girl groups and Northern Soul. The greatest element of the album is Taylor’s astonishing vocals. On the two previous albums, her vocal ability had been hinted at, but on Complete Surrender she really steps into the forefront and showcases her Dusty Springfield-esque voice. She has a voice of immense power, but is also able to convey emotional heartbreak. This, combined with Watson’s tender vocals works beautifully. ‘Suffering You, Suffering Me’ with its resemblance to The Pipettes’ ‘Pull Shapes’ is a 60s pop power song, a sharp ‘fuck you’ to any ex-lover. The aptly named ‘Fucking Feelings’ is a heart wrenching ballad performed by Taylor and is nearby impossible to get through without sobbing along with her. Complete Surrender is an entirely new direction for Slow Club, and every inch of it is perfect. RE

19 Kelis – Food One of music’s better chameleons, Kelis came storming back this year with Food. With plenty of mouth-watering track titles (‘Friday Fish Fry’, ‘Jerk Ribs’), and classy-as-ever production courtesy of David Sitek, this album is filled to the brim with little pop nuggets. Get it on next time you’re stuck cooking in the kitchen and dance around, it’s guaranteed to help things along! Richard Fitzpatrick

20 The War on Drugs - Lost in The Dream Like the love child of Pink Floyd and Arcade Fire, The War on Drugs’ new album Lost in The Dream, combines the best of both: the concise sincerity of Win Butler’s lyrics and the floating dreamy guitar of David Gilmour, to provide songs which don’t falter on their longevity. This is a album that demands engagement, yet it simply doesn’t have to even try. From the opening guitar and piano riffs of ‘Under The Pressure’ to the harmonics of ‘In Reverse’, each song is a enveloping chapter, a new discovery for the listener to continue on with, to get lost in. A superb album. Kit Bowen

21 Swans - To Be Kind Music abandoned critical commentary of the state of the planet in 2014. While many of 2014’s incredible albums were hyperreal, influenced by the divide between a computer generated fantasy and our digitally-augmented selves, Swans grounded us in the real with To Be Kind. Like an aural exposition of Cormac McCarthy, the reincarnation of Swans brought us a stark, intense work of indulgence and rumination on human vice, theatrically embellished over two glorious hours. You better listen up quick too, since now that the UK has introduced new laws on ‘sexual acts promoting violence’,To Be Kind’s primal, hedonistic energy may fall under the conservative hammer. The State may want to claim differently, but you’re just an animal. Eat. Fuck. Sleep. Never forget that. Ross Devlin

22 Jungle - Jungle

23 Trust Fund / Joanna Gruesome – Split Cardiff’s Joanna Gruesome released an unforgettable and captivating debut last year in Weird Sister, while their Bristolian neighbours Trust Fund are about to with ‘No one’s coming for us’. While this split for one of the UK’s most reliable and beloved indie labels might seem like a stopgap to get rid of some loosies before the albums proper, what we have here are 6 of the most perfect indie-pop songs of the year. Trust Fund’s three contributions are about as perfect a side of vinyl as you’ll ever find, from ‘Reading The Wrappers’’s devastating kitchen-sink-drama-as-Blur-B-side brilliance to ‘Scared’, all nervous energy and stunning backing vocals. Joanna Gruesome, meanwhile, put down a reliably furious 8 minutes, referencing David Gedge’s witty takedowns on ‘Jerome (Liar)’, beefing up last year’s showstopping ‘Satan’ and distilling everything great about UK DIY into one last ‘Coffee Implosion’. EC

24 The Twilight Sad - Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave

25 Martha - Courting Strong

[26 Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else] ( Cloud Nothings fourth album Here And Nowhere Else is another fantastic hook-filled noise-pop masterpiece. Whilst they are down one guitarist since 2012’s Attack On Memory - the first album recorded since Cloud Nothings transitioned into a full band - this album is perhaps even more intensely aggressive than the predecessor due the much louder and closer sound. The drums hit with force of gunshots, the guitars smother with distortion and at times it feels as if lead singer Dylan Baldi is screaming directly into your face. This production is all in service of the terrific songwriting featuring the whirlwind of chaos that is ‘Psychic Trauma’ and the anthemic ‘I’m Not Part Of Me’. This is easily one of the best rock records of the year and not many albums will be heard over it’s sheer racket. PC

27 Azealia Banks - Broke with Expensive Taste Three years after releasing her single, ‘212’, Azealia Banks is back with a whole new eclectic and demented album… and it’s just amazing and guaranteed to get stuck in your head for days. From bass-heavy ‘Wallace’, to 60s-inspired ‘Nude Beach A Go-Go’, Broke With Expensive Taste was a truly unexpected surprise. Kaitlyn Gulock

28 Ought - More Than Any Other Day Who put all of the white keys on the piano? Ought. Who invited Paul Simon? Ought. Whole or skimmed milk? I ought to have skimmed. Ought’s More Than Any Other Day is outlandish and reminiscent of Talking Heads in how confidently odd the four piece can be. This is an album based on the simplest concept of being confident and excited about the mundane so fittingly whilst it’s a standard indie record there is something special exuding from it. Brian Pokora

29 Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness Sublime and devastating, Angel Olsen’s fiery-tongued pop on Burn Your Fire For No Witness solidified her as a drab, jaded lover and loser. Parring magnificent songwriting with louder, fuller production – plus a little ember from the lo-fi bonfires she released in her Bathetic Records days, BYF… was an excellent major labor debut. Olsen has a powerful voice, but she often restrains it behind all the excitement and noise, intensifying the listening experience and bringing us into the stories she tells with as much intimacy as her more humbler work. RD

30 Withered Hand - New Gods Rounding off our list is Edinburgh local Dan Willson’s excellent second album. While he may have dialled down the lyrical nastiness since Good News, some extraordinary turns of phrase (‘Horseshoe’ and the title track specifically) coupled with uniformly stellar production touching on Elvis Costello’s acoustic records and Wilco’s Summerteeth, reinforce Withered Hand as one of our very greatest artists. EC

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