I'll be sharing my Top 10 Albums of 2014 this Friday; in the meantime, I'd like to mention a few marvellous albums that, while not quite good enough to crack my Top 10 list, are still more than worthy of your attention.
I'll start with Mogwai's Rave Tapes, one of the first albums I bought this year and a fine addition to Mogwai's uniformly fine back catalogue. It's not a career best - it's neither as instantly gratifying as Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will nor as rewarding as earlier efforts like Come On Die Young - but songs like Remurdered and Repelish have a dark, brooding sound that's very, very cool. Blues Hour is my personal favourite; Mogwai don't often do lyrics, but when they do, the results are always awesome (see also: Cody, R U Still In 2 It).
From left: Haul Away! by Liz Green; American Interior by Gruff Rhys; 3rd by The Baseball Project.
Each of these three albums just barely missed out on the Top 10; had I been doing a Top 20 list, these records would have occupied slots 11, 12 and 13 without question.
Haul Away! is a lovely album that makes something delicious out of just a few ingredients, namely a piano, a bass, the odd horn, and Liz Green's vocals. American Interior is the exact opposite: an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink concept album that hops from genre to genre as it evokes John Evans's 'walk into the wilderness'. Squelchy synths, soaring strings, and chanting children are just some of the sounds to be heard here.
Finally, we have 3rd, an album that's all about baseball. I felt particularly churlish in leaving this one out of the Top 10 - I love both the concept and a lot of the tunes - but at 18 tracks, it does have a little too much mid-tempo filler for my liking. If they'd dropped three or four songs for the final cut, it could well have ranked a little higher.
Perhaps my favourite debut album of the year was An Island Called Earth by Emperor Yes. I've already written about this one at length, so I'll keep my summary short: it's a superbly colourful album with an awesome outer space theme and quite a lot of deep thoughts swirling just beneath the glittery, synth-poppy surface.
From left: Diffraction/Refraction by You Can't Win, Charlie Brown; At Best Cuckold by Avi Buffalo; Wig Out at Jagbags by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks.
2014 has given me quite a few brilliant albums that, for one reason or another, have simply failed to make a lasting impression. Here are three examples - each one sounds fantastic while I'm listening to it, but none have brought me stampeding back for more as a true classic really ought to. Still, they're all highly recommended, particularly to fans of intricate rhythms (Diffraction/Refraction), quirky yet classic-sounding American jams (At Best Cuckold), and Pavement, but with more wordplay and better musicianship (Wig Out at Jagbags).
Here's one of the year's biggest surprises: TV en Français by We Are Scientists. I certainly didn't expect the hippest band of the mid-noughties to release the best album of their career at this point, and I'm reasonably certain that nobody else did either, but there we are. Highlights include the rollicking Dumb Luck and the skyscraping Make It Easy.
One last honourable mention, and then I'll leave you to wonder who made the Top 10. 2014 has undoubtedly been The Year of Taylor Swift; in just a few short months, the country-pop superstar has leapt out of the C&W ghetto and into, well, my CD collection, as well as everybody else's.
I personally don't quite see 1989 as the perfect, life-affirming pop album that some people seem to be hearing, but it certainly isn't far off, and I can tell you right now that at least a couple of its tracks will be appearing in my Top 20 Songs of 2014 list on Wednesday. See you then...