Another year, another blog, another Top 10 list! As 2014 is literally just around the corner let us take a look back at some of my personal picks from the past year. Maybe you agree, or completely disagree, think I missed something, or need to have my hearing checked.
Flavorwire described Paramore‘s self-titled fourth release as music for “early 20s types who nurture inexplicably fond memories of pop punk” and I hate to say it, but they are probably right. I have nurtured a soft spot for Paramore since adolescence so I was not at all prepared for the slightly off beat, passive aggressive pop punk vibe that was being hurled at me, and entirely resisted it to begin with. However, what it lacks in infectious guitar riffs (arguably missing out on ex-guitarist Josh Farro’s input,) it makes up for in overall style, plus it’s fun to speculate over the individual interludes.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was eagerly anticipating Haim‘s debut. 2012’s Forever and Don’t Save Me set the bar very high for what to expect from Days Are Gone, and what we got was the sister’s own brand of Californian sing-a-long pop rock, complete with thundering drums, billowing harmonies and some serious bass face. It’s the kind of album you have on repeat for days until you can’t stand it, then go back to six months later and fall in love all over again. Having said this, the reason it isn’t higher up on my list is that most of the stand out tracks from Days Are Gone were heard as singles or demos prior to its September release date, leaving little surprise upon the final listen through.
I have been a pretty diehard Tegan and Sara fan for a few years now, so Heartthrob was another album I was very much looking forward too in the early days of 2013. It is clear the Quin twins were keen to try and crack the mainstream with their sixth studio release, and with the support of their utterly devoted fanbase, Heartthrob pretty much hit its mark. Even though it’s no Con, their change in direction is packed punchy 80s style synth pop and bittersweet lyricism. Also nothing says ‘made it’ like performing the lead single Closer with Taylor Swift.
Push The Sky Away probably wins the award for the most sexy album of the year. Having seen Nick Cave perform a few months ago I am entirely sold on what he is selling. It’s a wistful romp through smokey bass lines and unpredictable narrative presented with Cave’s not-so-Southern drawl. It feels as though it is an album best enjoyed with a large whiskey and some good company.
Let’s not think about the car crash that was the Bound 2 video for a moment and focus on the good aspects of what Kanye West presented to us with the hotly anticipated and arrogantly titled Yeezus. Riding on the coattails of of the fiercely successful My Dark Twisted Beautiful Fantasy, as well as a whole lot of controversy, Yeezus has it’s moments of both total genius and complete douchebaggery, which seems to lie at the foundation of Kanye’s entire persona. Occasionally it’s really hard to take him seriously, I Am A God (‘I just talked to Jesus/He said what up Yeezus/I said shit i’m chillin’/Tryna stack these millions’) is either total self-indulgent delusion or total self-indulgent irony, but the overall effect seems to be Kanye telling Kanye just how brilliant Kanye is. If anything Yeezus is one of the most frustratingly brilliant albums released this year.
Chvrches are a band born of the synthpop genre and raised on the internet. If you like your female vocalists laden with Scottish inflection and your dramatic, cascading electronic overtures, then The Bones Of What You Believe does not disappoint. The majority of the album was recorded in band member Iain Cook’s front room, which is no small feat considering the length and intricacy of the record. It’s a sweeping triumph of independently produced music, full of ridiculously hooky songwriting and decadent synths.
If Reflektor is not hovering somewhere near the top of your favourite albums of the year then I don’t know if we friends. Arcade Fire shot and hit the mark with their fourth release, in some ways even surpassing 2010s The Suburbs in style and essence. Blending off beat rock sensibilities with a quirky nod to greek mythology, the two-part, 75-minute extravaganza was, as expected, one of the years most anticipated releases. Thankfully, it’s an inspired piece of musicianship, complete with lengthy marketing strategies and over the top theatrics – just as I would expect from a band whose imagery and presentation was just as critical and necessary as the music itself.
Daughter‘s If You Leave seems to have been completely overlooked as one of the stand out debuts of the year, but in my opinion there are few records that are so painfully relate to the human experience that its so surprising that If You Leave isn’t cracking a few more top 10’s. There isn’t a great deal of production value, and Elena Tonra’s enchanting vocals are without a doubt the star of the record. Musically and emotionally stripped back, each song glides into the next with earnest lyricism and sombre overtones. If you are in love then you are the lucky ones, if you’re not then you should probably give this album a listen and just cry.
Under his newest persona Blood Orange, Dev Hynes released what I consider to be one of the greatest musical triumphs of the year. Cupid Deluxe is so full of heart it’s almost bursting as the seams, helped along by Hynes’ breathy, heartbreaking lyrics, some slick disco guitar and a multitude of guest input and voices. Having spent the last few years collaborating with other artists such as Sky Ferreira and Solange, Cupid Deluxe is a wonderful expression of Blood Orange’s own style and musicianship. From the various videos, quotes and lyrics themselves, this album is obviously deeply personal to Hynes, which makes of a very touching listen.
I tried to find a record I genuinely connected with more than Pure Heroine, but in the end it was the obvious choice for me. Strip away everything you know about Lorde; the hype, her age, Royals, that strange clawing hand gesture she does when she performs and what you’re left with is possibly one of the greatest songwriters that has come out of 2013. Pure Heroine is a genre-bending, deliciously moody, and painfully relatable piece of work. Laden with a cynicism and a whole lot of angst, Lorde has tapped into something very organic and straight forward. Stylistically minimal and lyrically wise beyond her years, Lorde has managed to capture how it feels to be isolated, confused, enamoured, and bored by the world around you, no matter how old you are.
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