[It Was A Very Good Year]: The Best Albums of 2014

2014 was an incredibly strong year for music, both from young hopefuls and from established acts. As always, compiling a list of only ten albums was like trying to choose between which limb you’d rather lose. However, the fact that it is a such struggle to whittle the year’s output down to ten albums is always a good sign that there’s plenty of new music to get excited about, and long may it continue that way. So, let’s kick this year off right…

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10. Jack White – Lazaretto
And in the blue corner, the genre-bending third man, weighing in at #10 this year is Jack White, whose Lazaretto came out swinging this summer. No other artist these days is so evidently firing on all cylinders, buzzing off their own momentum, but makes it look so infuriatingly effortless.

2014 Banner 99. Gemma Ray – Milk For Your Motors
Full of high drama, junkyard romance and dreamy noir, Milk For Your Motors has been successfully fulfilling my Nick Cave fix this year. Spangled guitars twinkle over shuffling percussion and carny organs, while Ray’s honeyed vocals drift effortlessly through this shadowy landscape. Simply gothic-tinged pop goodness.

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8. The Rails – Fair Warning
The debut offering from a married folk-rock duo with a fine pedigree. Their tales have an inherent universality and a healthy respect for folk tradition, but also display their confidence and capability to carve out a plot for themselves that feels totally contemporary. Fair Warning rambles, gambles, rocks and rolls.

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7. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
I’ve always been a bit on/off with Van Etten, but this is her first record where she seems completely comfortable in her own skin, delivering yearning, accomplished rock songs that reflect a boldness which was shaky before. Replete with panoramic self-expression without resorting to navel-gazing, Are We There is acerbic, cathartic and triumphant.

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6. Interpol – El Pintor
The release of anything by NY’s best dressed is cause for celebration, but what I didn’t expect was an album that brimmed with the dark, beguiling magic that characterised their debut. Bassist Carlos D may be errant, but the remaining trio have created a surging album of nocturnal alt. rock that is quintessential Interpol.

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5. Smoke Fairies – Smoke Fairies
Beautiful, dreamy pop music of many depths that fuses elements of gentle folk, moody rock and soaring electro-pop with some of the most mesmerising vocal harmonies I’ve heard in a while. The Chichester duo have been doing this for years, but somehow they always slipped through my grip until last year. Still, better late than never, especially with such masterfully built melodies as Eclipse Them All and Your Own Silent Movie, an uplifting anthem for those who live their lives soundtracked by music. What can I say? I relate.

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4. Lee Fields & The Expressions – Emma Jean
I saw Fields, now 63, with The Expressions support Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings (who also released a stonking, hip-shaking record last year) in the autumn and for sheer energy and showmanship he blew every other act I saw in 2014 out of the water. That roaring energy is palpable on Emma Jean, which manages to take different facets of James Brown funk, Memphis soul and old-school R&B, and pull it off with inspiration and flair. Love, loss, life and struggle; it’s all here in spades and it never sounded so good.

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3. The Roots – …and then you shoot your cousin
For my money, The Roots are one of the most intelligent and significant forces in music today, and the only band that can allude to both Nas and Dylan Thomas in the space of two lines (Never). Making uncompromising use of samples and jazzy countermelodies, …atysyc is a concretely dense album full of discomfort that satirises and problematises the ubiquity of violence in society and the media. It’s exactly what hip-hop should be: a giant melting pot where disparate elements combine to reflect something of our nature. If you haven’t read Questlove’s article series How Hip-Hop Failed Black America, I really encourage you to do so.

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2. Mirel Wagner – When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day
The second LP from the Finnish songwriter (and her first for Sub-Pop) is an elemental, earthy affair, which echoes John Steinbeck for the stark vividness of imagery and the dustbowl ghosts that seem to linger around these ballads. Her lyrics are heavy on blood lines and the tracks we make on the earth which holds our bones, while the plaintive brushing of acoustic strings seem to breathe the dust of ages. But, what resonates most is Wagner’s voice: Commanding, almost ancient in its unflinching directness, and laden with undeniable truths that bury themselves deep. Utter ragged glory and a masterpiece of songwriting.

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1. Warpaint – Warpaint
Sounding like Laurel Canyon via The Twilight Zone, Warpaint’s crepuscular sophomore effort is darker and more seductive than its predecessor (something I didn’t think possible) and was my go-to soundtrack last year. Absorbing minimalist electronics and the vast deserts of Joshua Tree into their idiosyncratic, jam-oriented formula, Warpaint have created a brooding, delicious treat that taps into something thrumming in the subconscious. No other album last year exerted the same enigmatic pull on me despite being on constant rotation. If anything, it becomes more mysterious the more I think I know it and for that reason, it takes my album of the year.

So long, 2014, and thanks for all the great music.

What were your favourite music moments of 2014? Let me know in the comments below.

– Originally appeared on Hercules Moment.

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[Mixtape]: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – Songs To Keep You Warm


“Then the snow started falling, we were stuck out in your car”

Time for another mixtape methinks. Autumn is officially in full swing where I am: the trees are nearly stripped bare, your breath hangs in the air and you have to go out fifteen minutes earlier in the mornings to turn the heater on in the car and scrape the windows. Following on from my post about confessional albums last week, I thought it would be nice to post this mix of songs designed to keep you warm inside as winter creeps in. Wrap up warm, plug in and enjoy.

Tracklist:
1.
 ‘Observatory Crest’ – Captain Beefheart – Bluejeans and Moonbeams
2. ‘Autumn Sweater’ – Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One
3. ‘Sugar Mountain’ – Neil Young – Decade
4. ‘Don’t Want To Know’ – John Martyn – Solid Air
5. ‘Blood Bank’ – Bon Iver – Blood Bank EP
6. ‘Headlights Look Like Diamonds’ – Arcade Fire – Arcade Fire EP
7. ‘Obstacle 2’ – Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights
8. ‘So Here We Are’ – Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
9. ‘Norway’ – Beach House – Teen Dream
10. ‘Með Blóðnasir’ – Sigur Rós – Takk
11. ‘Once Around The Block’ – Kings Of Convenience – Toxic Girl [Single]
12. ‘Wildfires’ – Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter [Bonus Tracks]
13. ‘Harvest Moon [Live]’ – Pearl Jam – Live Portland, OR, 20/07/06
14. ‘Cherry Blossoms’ – The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
15. ‘The Trapeze Swinger’ – Iron & Wine – Around The Well

Cover Credit: Winter Story by Nayein

Got any winter mixes of your own? Link them in the comments, I’d love to hear them.

[Mixtape]: There Is A Light That Never Goes Out


“We set controls for the heart of the sun, One of the ways we show our age.”

Here is something I’ve been meaning to do on Tsar for a while now and I’m glad to have finally gotten around to it. I’ve been making mixtapes for the best part of ten years now and I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I enjoy making them. Keep your eyes peeled as I intend to upload more in the future, so watch this space.

This mixtape is intended to be listened to while driving around late at night, or maybe during a long drive home. I wanted to recreate the feel of driving in 80’s movies, because despite their cheesy quality they made driving feel really cool. So there’s a lot of synthy soundscapes in there, but there are also some quieter acoustic moments to be had as well. I originally made this mixtape for a friend as a sort of memento for those long nights we used to spend with others driving around with ‘no particular place to go’, as Chuck Berry would say. In fact, this mixtape was very nearly called Breadcrumbs in the Backseat, because whenever we’d stop off at Tescos for late night supplies he would always get baguettes which left breadcrumbs everywhere. It used to drive me insane, but I miss that stuff now. Nostalgia aside, this mix just seems more appropriate as the nights get longer and more sultry so I thought I’d share it with you folks. Relax, plug in and enjoy.

Tracklist:
1. ‘Untitled’ – Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights
2. ‘People Can Do the Most Amazing Things’ – Kisses – The Heart of the Night Life
3. ‘Castles in the Snow’ – Twin Shadow – Forget
4. ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ – Kid Cudi [Feat. MGMT and Ratatat] – Man on the moon: The End of Day
5. ‘Lay Your Cards Out’ – Poliça – Give You the Ghost
6. ‘Go Down Easy’ – John Martyn – Solid Air
7. ‘Daughters of the Soho Riots’ – The National – Alligator
8. ‘New York is Killing Me’ – Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
9. ‘Bad Religion’ – Frank Ocean – Channel ORANGE
10. ‘Street Lights’ – Kanye West – 808’s and Heartbreak
11. ‘Under Your Spell’ – Desire – Desire II
12. ‘Your Blue Room’ – Passengers (i.e. U2 & Brian Eno) – Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1
13. ‘Tick of the Clock’ – Chromatics – Night Drive
14. ‘Kreuzberg’ – Bloc Party – A Weekend in the City
15. ‘All My Friends’ – LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

Note: On the 8track mix, the website autofills the Solid Air original of ‘Go Down Easy’ with a godawful revisit John Martyn did later. I’ve tried editing and re-uploading the track, but to no avail. So if you’re recreating this at home (remember: safety first kids. Get an adult to help you if needed), insert the Solid Air original for track 6 and the mix should make a lot more sense.

Cover credit: Galveston by ~road2infinity