It’s that time of the year again. As 2014 winds to a close, we take a look back at some of the music that awed and enthralled us throughout the year. The year was filled with remarkable debut albums by musicians that came into the world as fully-formed artists – here, we must remark that four of our top five albums are debut albums. So, without further ado, here’s our Top Five Albums of 2014.
5. LP1 by FKA twigs
As we’ve previously said, LP1 is a complex, intelligent and greatly satisfying record. At 26 years of age, FKA twigs has created a mirrorfor the lust, love and fractures in the relationships of her generation.
Refreshingly, FKA twigs does not tell us about soppy, overly-poetic relationships, as described by many an indie band, or about hollow, unrealistic hook-ups, as described by most EDM artists. Instead, she describes genuine stories that strike far closer to home. On the hauntingly sparse “Hours”, she’s in awe of her new man: “I could kiss you for hours/And not miss a thing”. On “Lights On”, she hints at setting aside her vulnerability to let her lover see her uglier shades (“When I trust you, we can do it with the lights on”). And on album-highlight “Two Weeks”, she seethes with lust over a lost lover(“I know it hurts/You know I’d put you first/I can fuck you better than her”), helplessly displaying the self-degrading vulnerability that she cautiously revealed to him earlier.
LP1 is an emotive essay on the most intense moments of an exceptionally passionate relationship. It manages to rework the most common themes in pop and R&B – passion, heartbreak, blinding love – into truly original, soulful music.
Best track: “Two Weeks”
4. Sunbathing Animals by Parquet Courts
Earlier this year, we praised Brooklyn-based Parquet Courts’ album Sunbathing Animals, complete with a laudatory comparison to the Strokes’ Is This It?.
Parquet Courts’ forte is their ability to transcribe the intensity of a live show straight into your headphones. On “Black and White”, lead singer Andrew Savage articulates the very intensity of their music (“Nothing makes my heart so wild as being in possession of a potent night/Racing down the stairs in a nude descension shedding and discarding my hide”) with a gunfire-like flow worthy of his surname. Quieter moments, too, are transliterated as fluidly: the laid-back “Dear Ramona” and “Into the Garden” act as much-needed breathers between frenetic pieces like the eponymous “Ducking and Dodging”.
Overall, Parquet Courts strike us as a promising band with a few things to iron out, foremost of which is Andrew Savage’s penchant to sing-shout furious, unintelligible lyrics (see: “Sunbathing Animals”). On the whole, we are certainly looking forward to more from this young, talented band!
Best track: “Black and White”
3. Jungle by Jungle
The opening riff of “Busy Earnin’”, the third track from Jungle’s eponymous album, elicits an image of an American cop show from the 1970s, perhaps set in Brooklyn or Queens, maybe starring an African-American actor as one of the cops. In reality, Jungle couldn’t be farther from the truth. Originally started by two childhood friends from London, the band has now become a soul-infused collective of seven musicians that strives for something rare in this time and age: honesty.
Founding members Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson have stated that Jungle is “a collective and collective energy”, a tribute to the collaborative, borderless nature of music. It’s entirely fitting that their music videos usually feature dancing, exuberant people of all ages and races, perfectly exemplifying the essence of their music. From start to finish, Jungle is a seamless album of great integrity and true earnestness.
Take “Julia”, an ode to falling heads-over-heels with the eponymous woman (“Julia I don’t know a thing about you/Soon enough you’ll be all I ever need”). The lyrics are not complex, and the theme of falling in love at first sight is not uncommon. Yet, somehow, Jungle’s sincerity shines through ‘70s-influenced syncopated beats. Jungle is all about this kind of beauty, enshrouded in simplicity and plainness.
Much like 2013’s matchless Random Access Memories, Jungle is the must-listen album of 2014: it fills the listener with awe and joy of music’s great, unifying power.
Best track: “Busy Earnin’”
2. No Mythologies to Follow by MØ
At Top Five Records, we’re huge MØ fans. Her early single, “Pilgrim”, featured on a must-listen list way back in October 2012, and her full-length debut album topped our mid-year round up of 2014 albums. Almost a year after we first heard it, Karen Marie Ørsted’s debut album continues to enthrall us with her particular brand of Danish-English hypnotic pop.
Using sparse background beats and layered vocals, MØ uses the album to showcase her soaring, impressive voice in a stunningly aesthetic manner. On “Dust is Gone”, she sings about heartbreak with tear-jerking melancholia. On “Maiden”, she croons with about unveiling her vulnerability, utilizing the outstanding fluidity in her voice to create the effect of a naïve young girl. On our old favorite “Pilgrim”, mesmerizing handclaps and a lean brass section give MØ all the space she needs to fill the song with her soulful voice.
MØ is a true artist: she’s not afraid of singing stripped-bare, acoustic versions of her songs on an equestrian field, nor does she seem to be concerned with her appearance as a selling point for her musical talents. If No Mythologies to Follow is what she could show us in just her debut, we are extremely eager to hear more from her.
Best track: “Fire Rides”
1. Royal Blood by Royal Blood
Here’s an experiment to try at home. Play Royal Blood’s “Little Monster” to someone who has not heard the band previously. The song opens with a ridiculously hard-hitting riff that jolts the listener directly into a moshpit-like craze. Wailing guitars fight for space with intimidating drums, and the bassline purrs and growls like a caged beast. Ask your listener who the artist is: many would hazard a guess at a White Stripes B-side or a Muse take-out, and some would perhaps guess at a heady Queens of the Stone Age track. Now, watch the amazement dawn on your friend’s face when you explain that the arena-sized sound on “Little Monster” is, in fact, created by two people – on their debut album, no less.
Such is the immense power of Royal Blood, who have rightly been hailed as the Arctic Monkeys’ successor in the arena of massively popular British rock bands. Consisting of childhood friends Ben Thatcher and Mike Kerr, the band has been known to wreak destructive chaos in British clubs, moving fans into almost a drugged frenzy.
“Little Monster” is not an exception on Royal Blood, which clocks in at just over half an hour. Every song on the album is a seething, lean monster of hard rock riffs and Mike Kerr’s Reznor-esque, angsty voice. Arrogance is distilled into song on album opener “Out of the Black”, featuring lyrics that hint at a manipulative, abusive relationship (“So don’t breathe when I talk/’Cause you haven’t been spoken to/I got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it”). That a song of this intensity can have such darkly poetic lyrics is just another intriguing, intoxicating element of Royal Blood’s vortex.
It’s impossible to just stop at “Little Monster” and “Out of the Black”. The sixteen-note opening riff on “Come On Over” coils and uncoils with a reckless abandon that matches the song’s lyrics (“Let’s run away, get out of here/ I got no money and I don’t care”). “Figure It Out” is a sick ode from one partner of a love-hate relationship to the other; Kerr’s vocals drip with derision and self-disgust until he breaks into a toxic-sludge riff that will send chills through your spine.
Clearly, we could go on. Here’s the bottom line: listen to Royal Blood. We guarantee that it will be, without question, the best 32 minutes and 38 seconds of your day.
Best track: “Little Monster”