Top Ten Albums of 2014

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At the end of 2013 in my Top Ten Albums post I reflected on what was a bit of a disruptive year. I had months of sleeplessness. It wasn’t insomnia, and I wasn’t a walking zombie. I was a psychotic bouncing ball, bursts of energy pushing out from within, like a slowly exploding bomb. Sleeping pills, therapy and mindfulness didn’t do a whole lot.
I rode it out and 2014 was a calmer, kinder year, with a few sad hiccups. And yeah, a lot of it comes down to perspective, but if I’ve regained perspective, all the better. This year was a reflection of my relationships. Until that point, I was open to all; seemingly cynical, I persisted in trying to see the best in everyone, and occasionally this arrogance was to my detriment.
Going through a break up feels like you’ve been playing a game of chess for a long time, with no end in sight, and then someone flips the table and the ground is scattered black and whites. And so the dynamic is cruelly and quietly rearranged. In four years I’d forged ties which were now severed, I’d taken to some of my partner’s best influences, and respectfully tried to understand the worst influences, the easily misunderstood and insecure. Many were gone, after feigned attempts to retain independent friendships we knew wouldn’t last (some breaking trust without a second thought).
Somewhere along the way I accepted these things. 2014 became not so much about conflict resolution, but avoiding conflict altogether. I wrapped myself in silk, in a protective pupa. And from the wreckage of 2013 emerged some firmer friendships, relaxed and respectful, patient advice offered and not forced upon, acceptance afforded… And between lovers I somehow rediscovered self-worth.
Here I am on the other side of 2014 realising I was exhausted. In 2013 the albums were hysterical and packed with energy (Beyonce, Woodkid, Chvrches), emotional and dramatic (James Blake). My extended waking hours were hyperactive and intense, and the music met me halfway.
In 2014 my music was mellow, sexy, soulful, warming. My relationship with music had relaxed with my mood. My friends and lovers were the artists, and their albums, relationships with me. Some were summer flings, others winter comforts, relationships of convenience (I still hear Swift’s Shake It Off in shops, on the radio, and don’t miss her absence from Spotify), there began life-long romances, others reflected parts of me I did and didn’t like. And there was the occasional one that got away (albums from previous years I had somehow missed altogether).

Below in my top ten you’ll find some covers, remixes and choreography. As with any album, song, artist, the relationship to its listeners can evolve in many forms.

1. SBTRKT – Wonder Where We Land

When SBTRKT released his debut, I thought we were a match made in heaven. The bass, the soul of sampha, the groove of Little Dragon. It was all so good. Too good. Since then we had snippets of experimental music which served only to indicate that SBTRKT’s day had seemingly come and gone. And maybe it has. But not for me! And what an under-rated album this is! Gone is the softer, tighter groove. Wonder Where We Land hiccups and crashes, it’s the derelict jazz clubs of New York, the impatient thrum of a city that doesn’t sleep.

2. Kishi Bashi – Lighght

Here is a man with a song in his heart. Every note that flies from his mouth drips with emotion. At times uplifting, at others, heart stopping-ly sad, Kishi Bashi has put together an album which builds on music styled like Active Child and Andrew Bird. The build of Hahaha Parts 1 and 2 is especially nice.

3. Kevin Drew – Darlings

This is horribly under-rated. Maybe “our” tastes in music have changed. Maybe this album wasn’t a 2014 album, but I felt it was probably the only album that explored a fundamental issue happening in the depths of 2014. Weren’t many of us grasping the concept of online dating, which has exploded in apps form? Flooded with choice, haven’t we tarnished the organic by commericalising dating? Haven’t we noticed an odd decline in our night life, partly perhaps because (in Australia anyway) it’s becoming unsafe, and people are dying from one punch hits after spending their life savings on a few drinks, but also partly because meeting people through apps is safer? And wasn’t it then important for someone, somewhere to ask, “how is this affecting our ability to enjoy intimacy?” Maybe it was too soon, maybe he was ahead of his time. But Kevin Drew, the man behind Broken Social Scene, released an album that celebrates intimacy, and its sexy and warming mood was more than welcome in my home. Check out my interview with KD from earlier this year. His passion is insurmountable.

4. Ásgeir – In The Silence

Yes, he’s very handsome. And yes, there are some similarities here to Bon Iver, who some may argue does a ‘better’ job with a ‘better’ voice. But it’s the pace of Ásgeir’s songs that I think seduces listeners. Quickening here, softening there, Ásgeir’s shanty town tunes are ideal for transition moments; driving in a car somewhere (perhaps somewhere secluded); nursing a hangover one morning and reflecting on what mistakes you made and didn’t make; packing your things for a move, wondering if the letter your friend wrote you five years ago will tug at your heart strings in another five years’ time or if you’ve wrung the last sentimental vestiges from its tea stained corners and it’s time to lighten the load by a precious milligram.

5. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow

This is a pleasant surprise. I never envisaged it in my top ten list. But when I look back, I realise it has been something of a pillar of strength. This is the boyfriend who picks you up when you’re stranded at 3 am. The boyfriend who, when you’re feeling down, knows how to make you laugh without expecting you to. The boyfriend who reminds you that enduring is just as necessary as striving.

6. Kimbra – The Golden Echo

Partly a result of Kindness’s (and most of New York City, it seems) interest, and partly because I just think Kimbra, whose music never interested me before, suddenly sounded like she was nailing it, this album was another sexy pick me up. There is something contagious in the beat. Something I think which brings people together in a longer standing fashion than songs like Pharrell’s Happy (which has been played to death).

7. Nick Mulvey – First Mind

Mulvey’s rich, well developed song writing is nothing short of a gift. He doesn’t do much with it, mainly relying on his vocals and guitar. But somehow, instead of devolving into another Jack Johnson, or bummer-surfer music, there is an almost Motown soul.

8. Lowell – We Loved Her Dearly

There is something deeply personal about this album. Even the poppy moments of triumph and celebration (like LGBT and Cloud 69) are a bit daring and reveal Canadian, Elizabeth Lowell Boland’s vulnerable side. I was disappointed to see that Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen didn’t make my top ten, but this is partly why. Because while Etten and Olsen are amazing darlins whose music is effectively ‘canonised’, Lowell’s debut is a bit more expressive, emotive and exploratory.

9. Banks – Goddess

While everyone was listening to FKA Twigs, I was listening to Banks. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I was listening to her in 2013 when she released her EPs and wowed pretty much everyone. It was like we were all listening to her album but not telling one another about it. My friend was playing FKA Twigs recently. “Have you heard this? Isn’t she great?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t get it” I answered. “She just sounds like a watered down Banks”.
“Oh yeah, Banks is great!” he agreed, switching the album.
Credit where it’s due please. FKA Twigs is good, I’m sure. And maybe I need to listen to her more. But Banks has hit every nail on the head; the vocals are beautiful and rich, the production varied and exploratory, the song writing focused and revealing.

10. Kindness – Otherness

A dude which is, as my friend put it, an ‘Indie Darlin’, for me Kindness, who had never entered my radar until now, finds his way to my top ten because it became a bit of a gateway album to Blood Orange and D’Angelo and other artists I wouldn’t have otherwise heard, that I never quite understood. That very subtle slow build, horns tooting late in the piece, has never quite struck home with me. But here it works so well, and takes its listener beyond the album to its influences. In thinking about the relationship between album and listener, album and artist, for me this was the orgy.

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