[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]: Every Time The Sun Comes Up

“The mountains and the canyons start to tremble and shake / The children of the sun begin to awake”

A long hot summer is officially underway and nothing goes better with good weather than sultry jams playing through the long days and warm nights. I’ve kept this mixtape pretty current with choice cuts from the last year, but there are a few oldies in there too which are celebrating birthdays this year. Whether you’re on the move to sunnier climes, or simply lazing with no particular place to go, this mixtape will see you right wherever this summer takes you. Set off, plug in and enjoy.

Tracklist:
1.
 ‘Song For Zula’ – Phosphorescent – Muchacho
2. ‘Paris’ – Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
3. ‘Red Eyes’ – The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
4. ‘Fever’ – The Black Keys – Turn Blue
5. ‘Magnolia’ – Lee Fields & The Expressions – Emma Jean
6. ‘You’ve Got Nothing To Lose’ – Michael Kiwanuka – You’ve Got Nothing To Lose [Single]
7. ‘Going To California′ – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
8. ‘The Sing’ – Bill Callahan – Dream River
9. ‘Last Goodbye’ – Jeff Buckley – Grace
10. ‘Love Is To Die’ – Warpaint – Warpaint
11. ‘Every Time The Sun Comes Up’ – Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

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

[Cover Me]: Poliça, Martina Topley Bird & Mark Lanegan and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

Poliça – ‘Nobody’ (Originally by Keith Sweat)
In this live clip from a show in Phoenix, AZ last year, Poliça take Keith Sweat’s seduction hip-hop and put their energised spin on it. Driven along by the band’s powerful rhythm section, ‘Nobody’ takes on the effervescent energy of tracks like ‘Dark Star’ and ‘Amongster’. Meanwhile, Keith Sweat’s braggadocio is replaced by Channy Leaneagh’s soulful echoing vocals. That is, before she modulates her down a couple of pitches to comic effect mid song (oddly enough for Athena Cage’s part). For a group whose music often comes across as committed and serious, it’s a nice touch of self-deprecating fun and a feel-good club moment.

Mark Lanegan and Martina Topley Bird – ‘Crystalised’ (Originally by The xx)
When the introverted chill of ‘Crystalised’ was first released it quickly beguiled ears across the world and singlehandedly launched The xx into the international limelight. Here, Martina Topley Bird and Mark Lanegan give it a bit of a shake up, with some help from Warpaint. Martina Topley Bird’s distinctive, laconic croon has often acted as an effective foil to another vocalist on many records, but perhaps not against a voice as gravelly as Mark Lanegan’s tombstone grumble. They make an unlikely pair, but their juxtaposing vocals work surprisingly well. Meanwhile, Warpaint surrender to the groove and ‘Crystalised’ subsequently sounds less like disaffected showgaze and more like moody graveyard funk. The song is also accompanied by some pretty stellar visuals too.

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – ‘Wild Horses’ (Originally by The Rolling Stones)
Possibly the greatest song the Jagger/Richards writing partnership ever produced, ‘Wild Horses’ already had a slight soul bent. In the hands of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings though (whose fifth album Give The People What They Want recently landed) it becomes an all out soul belter, replete with horns, gospel organ and rocksteady snare snaps. While Mick Jagger’s tender emotional delivery belied his youthful earnestness, Sharon Jones pours a lifetime of experience and struggles into her wails, wringing each note for all it’s worth. Stunning.

And Away We Go: Warpaint

First of all, welcome to The Sun Also Rises: A music blog for my thoughts and musings on music old and new. To kick things off with a bang I’d like to write about what I found to be last year’s most exciting band: Warpaint

Okay. I’m going to come out and say it. There have arguably been no decent girl group rock bands. EVER. Sorry Courtney Love, I just don’t like Hole.

Seriously, try and think of one decent girl group rock band. One. Go on. Try it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that there have been no decent women in music. Quite the contrary, artists such as PJ Harvey, Nina Simone, Cat Power, Patti Smith etc. have produced some of the most fantastic pieces of music. But no matter how I try I cannot think of a single girl group that I have felt were worth listening to. For all the thousands of all male bands there appear to be no all female contenders. It just seems that women in music work best as solo artists where their visions can take free rein or as front women of mixed sex bands e.g. Chrissie Hyndes, Debbie Harry, Alison Mosshart.

Given my stated opinions on girl bands you can imagine my apprehension when giving Warpaint a listen after hearing about this rising girl band that would soon be touring the UK. And given my aforementioned apprehension you can imagine my surprise upon discovering that not only do Warpaint not suck, they create the most amazingly idiosyncratic music I’ve heard in the last year.

Occupying a far musical left field like Queens of the Stone Age, Warpaint’s music draws on influences and creates a unique music that shuns traditional song structure in favour of pure creative freedom. The notion of a song which has no clear verse, chorus or bridge that deviates periodically does sound disjointed and schizophrenic, but in the case of Warpaint’s music it seems so natural that I can only describe it as melodically unique.

Anchored by the weaving musical telepathy between childhood friends and guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman, the songs are given to fly with the independent spirits of Jenny Lee Lindberg’s pulsing hypnotic bass and Stella Mozgawa’s joyfully cascading drums. Emily has said, “We write from beginning to end in a linear fashion. We don’t say, Okay, here’s a verse, here’s a chorus, another verse… We usually start jamming on an idea, then it feels like it’s time to change, so we’ll write the next part, and then the third part might be completely different, and the fourth. We might never repeat any of them again, but it feels like it’s a natural progression from beginning to end. But also, Theresa and I have each brought complete songs in. There’s no formula, and that’s what’s kept it interesting.”

Such focus on artistic freedom was evident early on their 2008 debut EP “Exquisite Corpse” and on their full length album “The Fool”, released last year on Rough Trade, it is clear that their songwriting has blossomed in much the same manner as their creative philosophy suggests. The band has described the album as the older sister of “Exquisite Corpse” and this seems like a natural term to describe the progression between albums: Older, more sophisticated, but ultimately a different beast entirely.

Warpaint are not successful in spite of girl band mediocrity, but simply on terms all of their own. As Emily has stated, “Nobody in this band has to prove anything about being a woman in rock. You just have to let go of your ego, and really experiment”

Never a truer word.

“The Fool” is available in record stores now.

EDIT: I just remembered Shonen Knife. They’re decent