2014 got off to a bang with brilliant new releases from Warpaint, September Girls, Cymbals and more. But what was the best thing our writers heard all month? Here's the NME team on the singles and albums that most impressed them in January.
Merchandise - 'Begging For Your Life/In The City Light'
What kind of mad arrogant beasts put out a 14-minute single at the start of the year before they've even released a debut album? A band who're a) signed by a record label – 4AD – giving them space to be themselves and b) a band so completely brazen you should be listening to them if you haven't already. Merchandise are holed up at the moment in Tampa, Florida finishing off their debut album for 4AD though plenty's been released already. Carson Cox told NME recently that 'Begging For Your Life/In The City Light' sounds nothing like the new stuff but it's still a damn fine sign. Pootling, wig-out jazz, sleazy chords and Cox's fudgy drawl combine to create something utterly woozy and utterly addictive.
Lucy Jones, Deputy Editor, NME.com
FKA Twigs – ‘Hide’
Making your New Year’s Eve spent drinking tins of Carlsberg cramped into someone’s dank living room at a Clapton house party seem positively tame by comparison, influential indie imprint Young Turks brought in 2014 by hosting a bash in a Mexican jungle retreat that featured performances from the likes of SBTRKT, Four Tet, the xx and Grimes. Rising Londoner FKA Twigs also played, taking time out while she was there to film this arresting live clip of ‘Hide’, shot in a cave amid Mayan ruins. For an artist who’s spent most of her career so far in the shadows, hiding behind reams of reverb on record and cloaked in darkness in music videos, it’s great to see her minimalist spin on soul so upfront, sounding so raw.
Al Horner, Assistant Editor, NME.com
Howler – ‘Don’t Wanna’
The lead track from Howler’s second album ‘World Of Joy’, ‘Don’t Wanna’ sets the tone for the Minneapolis quartet’s comeback perfectly. “You don’t have to be a punk if you don’t want to/You don’t even have to date girls if you don’t want,” sings frontman Jordan Gatesmith, “You don’t have to be Kurt Cobain if you don’t want to/You don’t have to listen to The Germs if you don’t want to.” It’s trashy, tongue-in-cheek and entirely centered around Jordan’s gravelly-delivered lyrics – the perfect return for a band who thrive on sarcastic thrills.
Rhian Daly, Assistant Reviews Editor
Sun Kil Moon – ‘Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes’
Mark Kozelek’s delivery on this track from Sun Kil Moon’s upcoming album ‘Benji’ is so deadpan it takes time for the poignancy to reveal itself. ‘Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes’ uses the quiet death of the American serial killer and Satanist known as the Night Stalker as a jump off point to discuss how death can “mark time and make us pause”. For the now 47-year-old Kozelek it highlights the irony of a man as violent as Ramirez dying so quietly, conjures memories of the less gentle deaths of Elvis Presley, Ronald Reagan and James Gandolfini and forces him to reflect on his own fragile mortality: “The Sopranos guy died at 51, that’s the same age as the guy who’s coming to play drums / I don’t like this getting older stuff, having to pee 50 times a day is bad enough / But I’ve got a nagging prostate and I’ve got a bad back, and when I fuck too much I feel like I’m gonna have a heart attack.” Kozelek’s genius is that despite the subject matter, this song is funny and warm. And it’s a reminder that life’s unfair a lot of the time, so you might as well just get on with it.
Tom Howard, Reviews Editor
Actress – ‘Ghettoville’
To announce your eagerly anticipated new album by stating: "RIP Music 2014" is a pretty bold thing to do, but then Darren Cunningham is no ordinary musician. Offering up one last album before he vanishes back into the ether, 'Ghettoville' is a bleached out and black tinted collection of soundscapes and beats touching on techno, two-step and electro before dissected and disseminating each one on typical Actress style. Bleak and cold to the touch, 'Ghettoville' is an album which needs time for the listener to appreciate its ADD nature but tracks like 'Sreet Corp' and 'Our' are among Cunningham's best.
David Renshaw, News Reporter
Wild Beasts – ‘Wanderlust’
Spoiler alert! The new Wild Beasts record is very good. And this single is the first taste of the deconstructed pop hooks and danceable electro indie that will form the backbone of the forthcoming ‘Present Tense’; an album that couldn’t feel more now if it was hiding under the covers away from the cold snap of a frosty February morning. “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck,” bleats Hayden Thorpe. Now that’s biting.
Eve Barlow, Deputy Editor
War On Drugs - 'Lost In The Dream'
When fellow NME scribe Andy Welch described the forthcoming War On
Drugs album as 'Yacht rock Bruce Springsteen' on Twitter, I was
instantly sold. I wangled myself an advance copy a couple of weeks ago
and have barely listened to anything else since. Expansive, slick, sexy and
soulful, it's outrageously 1980s - the soundtrack to cruising along
the Pacific Coast Highway in Don Henley's soft top Buick - but somehow
not cheesy at all. It's out in March.
Leonie Cooper, writer
Holly Herndon – ‘Chorus’
Herndon is a San Francisco-based artist and musician who broke cover early last year with ‘Movement’, an album of electronic sound design and elaborate vocal processing that for all its experimental grounding sounded like the sort of thing that might sneak onto a more adventurous dancefloor. She marks this January with a new two-track EP, ‘Chorus’, inspired by our dailly internet browsing habits. The title track commences as abstract chitter-chatter, but its bits gradually coalesce into a beautiful construction of fractured chorals and twitchy groove; finally, some electropop that sounds like 2014, not 1981.
Louis Pattison, writer