Resident music writer Andy Richardson gives his review on 2014’s best albums from the alternative scene—you won't find Ed Sheeran or Pharrell in here... If you like your music a little different take heed.
25. East India Youth – Total Strife Forever
Impressive debut and Mercury Prize nominee, William Doyle, crosses many musical boundaries with beautiful orchestration, Brian Wilson-esque choral complexity, nightmarish cadences and industrial dance configurations. A well crafted album unlike any other. One for late nights and mind-altering tonics.
24. FKA Twigs – LP1
Tahliah Barnett’s far-out, extra-terrestrial pop record certainly makes a mark on the shape of music to come. Double bass, futuristic soundscapes and alien, rhythmic shifts play with the listener’s perception of how music is put together. Yet there is something intrinsically groovy about the record. If Bjork took acid it would probably sound like this. Now that’s a scary thought!
23. St. Vincent – St Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic)
Polyphonic Spree’s Annie Clark converges the Madonna art-pop aesthetic with strange alternative Bowie/David Byrne-inspired experimental, funkadelic treatments.
22. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
NYC’s favourite underground-come-mainstream art rockers knock it out of the park with a steadfast follow up to 2013’s critically acclaimed, Light Up Gold, all about entrapment and exile. Like Mac Demarco, Parquet Courts are one of the leading acts in new-music today who are causing a big wave in alternative music scenes the world over but playing it ever so coolly.
21. Iceage – Plowing Into the Field of Love
A beautiful rage abounds in the young Danish punks’ third. It’s loose, it’s angry, it’s weird and abrasive and kind of sums up 2014 perfectly.
20. Twerps – Underlay
19. Tweedy – Sukierae
18. Moodoid - Le Monde Möö
Stylish, celestial and psychedelic. It’s an ambitious, shape shifting and sensual record full of oddities and splendorous trinkets from an ambitious band who are arguably France’s answer to Sweden’s GOAT. Blending rock, jazz, alt-pop, psychedelia, world music and folk, sometimes all at once into one cosmic soundscape. Moodoid are ones to watch for 2015 but also ones to remember from 2014.
17. Eno.Hyde – High Life
Worldly and magnificently joyous. High Life abides by the pop visionary’s quirky and cryptic synth-etiquette whereby the songs sound like they’re from both the 70s and 80s but at the same time futuristic. Hypnotising guitars and big mutating beats are all there too. Eno’s Second collaboration with Underworld’s Karl Hyde is most certainly out of this world.
16. Antonio Sanchez – Birdman (Soundtrack)
Proximity, timbre and fluidity play an essential part in Sanchez’s score performed solely on the drum kit. Sanchez and director, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s scope for the film and subsequent interpretation, is massive. Shot in one continuous take (the drums entirely improvised) gives a hyper-realistic dimension to the movie and creates an innovative cinematic and sensory experience.
15. Mac Demarco – Salad Days (Captured Tracks)
Something of a new-music pioneer/demigod of the last couple of years, Demarco’s rise to fame has been both well documented and well received. Crafting his own brand of infectious and super popular music he calls “jizz jazz”, Salad Days, is a continuation of this blend of ‘weirdo’ pop that has been wholly refreshing.
14. Pixies – Indie Cindy (PIAS Recordings)
Long awaited return from post-punk/grunge innovators does good in the end despite not quite living up to its predecessors. The great thing about Indie Cindy is its complete disregard for people’s expectations (this is also it’s worst quality) but that’s punk rock! Some songs are up there with their best but others just miss the mark.
13. GOAT - Commune (Rocket Recordings)
Innovatively tribal and psychedelic arrangements; soaring, spiritual vocals and acrobatic percussive feats emerge and converge – the most fascinating band in Sweden right now. Light the incense sticks, dim the lights and sit back.
12. Hookworms – The Hum (Domino)
Read November’s review here
11. Thurston Moore – The Best Day (Matador)
Read October’s review here
10. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time (Redeye Label)
“It’s ‘It’s Album Time’ time” tweeted Todd upon the release of his Second album which should be enough to instantly fall in love with the clever Nordic virtuoso. But if word play isn’t your thing, then infectious and intellectually graduating rhythms that re-imagine cheesy Cuban lounge music should be to your liking. By the way, Inspector Norse may be one of the greatest songs of all time.
9. Sex Hands – PLEH
From Manchester’s freak scene comes the band’s first full length; a peach of an album packed full of off-kilter pop gems. Think The Fall meets Pixies with the occasional F.R.I.E.N.D.S reference. A combo of artists, teachers, multi-instrumentalists, multiple personalities and all round good people, Sex Hands are the kind of band you wish you were in – talented, hard working, prolific but not ‘in your face’.
8. The Abigails – Tundra
Country folk breathe a different air to that of city dwellers and The Abigails embody this distinction with an accomplished finesse. Tundra is most certainly a breath of fresh air. The record plays out with a soulful candour and brutal sadness with the odd, inebriated hiccough for good measure. Tales of arrest, depression, drunkenness, lost love and atheism fill the heart of glass all the way to the top in this delightfully drunken scrapbook of sorrow. One more barkeep!
7. Shintaro Sakamoto – Let’s Dance Raw
Groovy, lilting and bizarre with a sharp, intimate production that really grips the hips. Perfect for all occasions, especially if you spend all your time in smoky jazz bars, your boudoir and/or live in a constant state of the 1970s. Anyone order a Sax on the beach? Fans of Happy End, Kevin Ayres and Gong take note.
6. Native America – Grown Up Wrong (Inflated Records)
There’s an obvious haziness to Native America that is indicative of those 90s American, post-grunge slacker acts. Sounding relevant today is all in the execution; these guys can play a song that sounds like music from a college party and then all of a sudden you’re at a high school dance circa. By their own admission, they take inspiration from New Orleans’ early 50s and 60s R&B pop music; the likes of Fats Domino, The Dixie Cups and Lee Dorsey.
5. Real Estate – Atlas (Domino)
That sunshine aesthetic still remains in Real Estate’s most mature outing to date. A very special band indeed, making music that perfectly sums up every relaxed or intimate moment you have. Every song sounds like an anthem for some hazy, nostalgic memory. Atlas is the band’s third and most accomplished sounding like four fully fledged, knowing exactly what they want out of the process. Shared communication is discernible the way the honest lyrics bounce off sleek bass lines, dampened drums and parallel guitar lines.
4. FREEMAN – Freeman
Fans of Elliot Smith, Neil Young, and Ween will adore this spiritual, existential outfit. With drum machines, freaky vocals, and lyrics of heart-felt truth and experience firmly we’ve come to expect, this single-handed undertaking has a subdued, tender nature. It’s a cleansing, a shedding of old skin, a detox. With sobriety as his new guardian, Freeman pursues a deeper quest of self-fulfillment; proving that cleanliness is godliness.
3. Ty Segall – Manipulator (Drag City)
Segall’s seventh is his longest but by no means is it a drag. It feels more like an experiment in compiling all the genres that make his world spin, fuzz, froth and bust apart. Manipulator, replete with beatific melodies, intricate harmonies, face melting guitar solos, plus decorous string arrangements (compliments of Mikal Cronin) sound like all previous albums were leading to this moment. It will undoubtedly be a staple in every record collection in years to come.
2. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags
I had the pleasure of catching Stephen Malkmus a few years ago and I know I wasn’t the only one there who was still picking the chills off my body the next morning. For me, it was like watching Hendrix; a religious experience; a necessary part of my journey. Wig Out At Jagbags is the most perfect translation of Malkmus’s peculiarity as a musician and general super being.
1. Naomi Punk – Television Man
The Shape of punk to come? I think so. It’s Melvins meets Captain Beefheart with a distinctly West Coast sound. Television Man is brooding and staccato in nature but with the space in between working just as much to their bouncy advantage. Moments of magnificence at times find themselves opposing the discord and distortion but, as a whole, there is something new and incredibly interesting in their reworking of classic formulas.
Listen to our 2014 playlist
Read more articles by Andy Richardson here