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Favourite albums of 2014…

December 21st, 2014 | 4 Comments | Categories: music reviews |

Over the last week or so I’ve read a whole load of different sources talking about the decline in music. Either the music economy has tanked or pop music is dead, or no-one’s buying albums, or only posh people make music…

Well, as an alternative to that, I think I’ve bought more new music this year than any year ever. And SO much of it is fabulous. Here’s my list of favourites from 2014, in absolutely no particular order:

  • Up – Stanley Clarke

I probably wouldn’t have bought this, for the simple reason that I’m buried under amazing new music. But I was sent it to go along with an interview that I did with Stanley for Bass Guitar Magazine (coming soon!) and I’m SO glad I heard it, cos it’s fabulous. Here’s an artist growing older, still learning, still evolving and having a whole lot of fun. It’s a wonderful album.

This one I discovered after meeting White Empress’ fabulous bassist Chela Rhea Harper at the Warwick Open Day in Germany in September. A fantastic extreme metal band, formed by Paul Allender who used to be in Cradle Of Filth. It avoids all the purile shock-tactics-that-appeal-to-12-year-olds bullshit that CoF traded in, and instead contains some incredibly progressive writing, more riffs than most metal bands’ entire careers, and of course some killer bass playing. Love it.

  • Goliath – Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil

I backed this on Kickstarter about 10 years before it came out (or that’s what it felt like) – SO long awaited. Anything Steve Taylor does is hotly anticipated round here, and Goliath delivers on every level. Amazing songwriting, production, lyrics, everything. Love it.

Another artist getting better and better with every album. I wasn’t sure how Rosanne could top The List, but I guess by applying the same level of care and attention to an album of all-original material (as opposed to the all-covers remit of The List) she gets even deeper inside her own work. It’s astonishing, deep, beautiful. A remarkable album.

I’ll buy anything Polar Bear ever do without even hearing it first, such is my trust in Seb Rochford’s taste and judgement. This one has a lot more Leafcutter John on that before, and it’s for the good, if you ask me. They get further from anything people would normally associate with jazz with every release, but perhaps deeper into the experimental progressive tradition of jazz at the same time. Wonderful.

Also a contender for gig of the year, Phronesis are outliers in my listening taste, as I usually like my jazz languid, ambient, mellow, ECM-ish… They play frenetic, complex, heavily written jazz, though tend to avoid walking bass and straight-up swing tunes. Jasper Hoiby is an astonishing bassist and band leader, and I love everything I’ve heard from them.

Comeback of the year? Quite possibly. A brave, stark, amazing record. Neneh’s voice and therefor words are so exposed here, and the two-piece band provide an amazing, beguiling context for her songs. Amazing.

‘Jonatha Brooke makes amazing album’ isn’t really much of a surprise, but writing an amazing musical about your mother’s journey into dementia is something that raises an eyebrow even from Jonatha. How does that work? Buy it and find out. Another collection of amazing songs. Every little thing she does is magic.

The 2nd extreme metal album in my list, and the 2nd one influenced by meeting the bass player at the Warwick Open Day. Nick Schendzielos is the latest in a distinct line of fretless players in extreme metal bands, and has carved out a sonic space for himself in the band that adds SO much to the sound of the band. Complex, heavy as shit, and with a great deal of light and shade. One of my favourite extreme metal albums ever.

Anything by Julie is going to be great, right? Right. In Marco, she’s found the perfect writing partner/foil. They compliment each other brilliantly, and Marco’s fretless alongside Julie’s signature riff ideas works perfectly. Fusion from the future.

  • Now – Gary Husband/Alex Machacek

I had SUCH high hopes for this, and it exceeded even those. Two musicians at the very top of their respective trees worldwide. Piano and elec guitar duets with just the right amount of additional manipulation from Alex. Love this so much.

Dan’s last project, Modular, is one of the greatest things I’ve ever bought on Bandcamp. So this was a must. And it’s great. A lil’ bit Frisell, a lil’ bit Torn, a big bit Phelps. Incredible instrumental guitar writing.

Another contender for metal album of the year – instrumental extreme metal, with a strong streak of classic rock harmony guitar running through it. The first of two great albums this year with Alex Webster on bass…

From the ashes of Little Fish comes Candy Says. Grown up disco pop perfection.

Ben channelling everything that was great about singer/songwriters in the 70s through the lens of the tracks that he sang lead on in Everything But The Girl. At least as good as you’d imagine that to be, possibly better.

About as mature and assured a debut album as you’ll ever hear. Acoustic singer/songwriter with just enough vaudeville/murder ballad/Nick Cave/Tom Waits-iness to give it an edge. Properly beautiful, and not even out yet 🙂

Jonas exploring further the intersection between improvised music, metal and indian music. With utterly stunning results.

  • Mira – Arild Andersen, Paolo Vinaccia, Tommy Smith

Sax, bass, drums. Spacious, exquisitely written and recorded, and by far my favourite Tommy Smith recording ever. Arild as amazing as ever. Includes the theme tune from Alfie. True story.

Lou’s vocals are SO refreshingly devoid of all the hystrionic fauxmotional melisma of every post Aguilera/Whitehouse female singer, it’s like a palette cleanser. Lamb do what Lamb do better than pretty much anyone.

Loud, angry, scary, dark, relentless. Pretty much everything you’d expect.

  • Black Messiah – D’Angelo

Album of the year? Quite possibly. An astonishing, audacious, near-perfect comeback, dropped at a days’ notice in mid December. Questlove and Pino have never sounded so great. Adore this so so much.

The all-acoustic version of this record was already one of my favourite albums of the last 5 years, but was never released. Andrew’s since taken it and added all kinds of other instruments, layers, production, and has lost none of the magic. He keeps making astonishing records. And there are a number of songs here that make me cry. So that’s good.

  • Roam – Trevor Exter

Trevor plays cello and sings. Here he does just those two things to stunning, world-beatingly great effect. Another contender for album of the year.

more amazing jazz that originates from the UK. Bassist Ruth Goller is one of my favourite bass playing musicians on the planet, and is also one of very few musicians whose presence on a recording makes it worth listening to purely due to her being there. A dizzying mix of heavy writing and heavy improv with some stellar guitar playing. And Ruth’s killer bass.

Cannibal Corpse’s only competition ever is their own back catalogue. They’re in a league of one. And this is definitely their best *sounding* record ever, and one of my favourites compositionally too. They just keep getting better. Which after 25 years as a resolutely non-progressive death metal band, is a truly unique and remarkable feat.

Imagine how great an album of two banjo players, one of them also singing, could possibly be, and multiply that. By six.

There you go. Something for everyone 🙂

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Dave Wilkinson

    Interesting list Steve. I wouldn’t have had you down as a Cannibal Corpse fan though.

    • Steve

      ah, my music listening is full of surprises 😉 CC are definitely an outlier in my taste, but I’m drawn to their almost zen like focus on doing one thing and doing it better every time. There act as a really interesting anchor in a world of people diversifying, valuing progression more than refinement… I dig that 🙂

  • guitartim

    You appear to have missed Songs of Innocence off the list. Shome mishtake shurely?

    • Steve

      haha! I haven’t heard a single second from it. It might be amazing for all I know. I’m guessing not though 😉