Friday, December 19, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2014

Time for the big one, then. I've already told you my favourite songs of 2014, and with that warm-up out of the way, I'm now ready to reveal my favourite albums.

Frankly, I can't quite believe that it's been a whole year since Quiet Marauder scooped top honours in December 2013, but a year it has been and we're about to find out who is following in their footsteps. We know that it won't be any of the bands from my Honourable Mentions list; those albums were good, but not quite good enough for the final list.

Without further ado, then, here are The Album Wall's Top 10 Albums of 2014:

10) Commune by Goat
World Music, Goat's first album, was pretty good, but I never managed to shake the feeling that it wasn't quite as good as I wanted it to be. Commune is a lot closer to being that album; it feels much more full-on and much more mystical than its predecessor, and that full-on mysticism is what makes Goat such a great prospect. That and the rhythms - I particularly like Bondye, which uses metal chains as a percussion instrument.

Standout Tracks: Talk to God // Bondye

9) Goodbye, Cagoule World by Benjamin Shaw
This one has grown and grown. On Wednesday, I called You & Me - this album's penultimate track - a "diamond in the rough", but the key to really understanding and enjoying Goodbye, Cagoule World lies with learning to love the rough just as much as the diamond. The creaky-groany stuff is pretty alienating at first, but after a few listens, you really start to connect with the desperate emotion of those sounds. Goodbye, Cagoule World left me cold to begin with, but now it warms me right up.

Standout Tracks: You & Me // Magneto Was Right
Read More: Dead or Alive?

8) Familiars by The Antlers
It's nowhere near as depressing as Hospice, nor even Burst Apart, but The Antlers' latest album has a soulful sheen that was nowhere to be found on its predecessors. Silberman and Co are now comfortable and confident enough to fill an album with long-form material, and yet Familiars never feels like a jam; each note is meticulously plotted while sounding elegantly loose, and it's that paradox - best exemplified by the stunning guitar solo from Revisited - that lifts this album above so much other music.

Standout Tracks: Revisited // Intruders

7) Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen
Wit is a foregone conclusion when you're listening to Leonard Cohen. I love the wry likes of Slow and Nevermind, but what's more surprising is the considerable beauty to be found on Len's latest offering; Samson in New Orleans and You Got Me Singing are lusher and lovelier than any other LC songs I've heard, and there's a plainspoken, brink-of-tears emotiveness to songs like Born in Chains ("that's all I know, I cannot read the rest") and Did I Ever Love You ("was I ever someone who could love you forever?")

Standout Tracks: Samson in New Orleans // Did I Ever Love You

6) Are We There by Sharon Van Etten
Only #6? I don't doubt that Are We There will top many lists this December, and while it hasn't quite made my own Top 5, I can certainly see why. Sharon Van Etten's best qualities - her honesty, her songwriting ability, and her ability to mix humour with tragedy - have been pulled together quite magnificently here. The album cover doubles as a serving suggestion; Are We There is a great album to listen to as you lean your head against the window and watch the world scroll past.

Standout Tracks: Tarifa // Every Time the Sun Comes Up

5) Do To The Beast by The Afghan Whigs
I called it the best Afghan Whigs album yet, and I stand by that - Do To The Beast really is a tremendous listen. The songs are strong and memorable, the sequencing is *perfect*, and the balance of hard-hitting rock songs and more introspective moments is spot-on.

Standout Tracks: Can Rova // Royal Cream // Algiers
Read More: Do To The Beast

4) Courting Strong by Martha
This was probably the most endearing album of 2014: whether it's the boy vocalist singing about his inability to speak French or the girl vocalist singing about that bubble in her bloodstream, it's nigh-impossible not to want to be friends with Martha (that's the band's name, not a person's name, just to be clear). The northern accents help, as do the wide-eyed, rollicking, and endlessly catchy tunes.

Standout Tracks: Gin & Listerine // 1997, Passing in the Hallway // 1967, I Miss You, I'm Lonely

3) My Favourite Faded Fantasy by Damien Rice
It could have been a huge disappointment, and the fact that it wasn't only made My Favourite Fantasy's eight tracks all the sweeter. Warm, epic, and nostalgic-sounding by the very nature of its delayed release, this was the record that made me think, hey, perhaps I haven't lost my way all that badly since 2006 after all.

Standout Tracks: The Box // The Greatest Bastard // I Don't Want to Change You

2) Benji by Sun Kil Moon
For the longest time, this was a shoe-in for the #1 slot. You'll see what's beaten it into second place shortly, but I don't want to downplay the fact that THIS ALBUM IS AMAZING. It's done what Josh T. Pearson's Last of the Country Gentlemen did for me in 2011, reminding me that I can love an album that doesn't have big pop songs or hella drums. The raw emotion that's present in these excruciatingly detailed songs is incredible, as is the intertextuality between them; I love a good concept album, as you know, and with Benji, Mark Kozelek has proven that life is the greatest concept album of all.

Standout Tracks: Jim Wise // Micheline // Dogs

1) Days of Abandon by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Of course, there are times when big pop songs simply can't be beaten, and I've come to the decision that 2014 was one of those times. Days of Abandon quite simply doesn't have a weak song on it; even lesser gems like Coral and Gold and Masokissed would be highlights on most mixtapes.

This album is markedly different to previous Pains of Being Pure at Heart albums; the shoegazing has been replaced with a truckload of hooks and a distinctly '80s pop sensibility, and the result is truly top-notch. Kip Berman is no longer one of those quite-good indie artists of which the late noughties were full to bursting; he's now officially one to watch, a classic-to-be, a future hall-of-famer. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Standout Tracks: Life After Life // Beautiful You // Eurydice
Read More: Days of Abandon

So that's my list. What's yours? Let me know YOUR favourite albums of 2014 in the comments.

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