50. Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – ‘Tyranny’
‘Tyranny’ was a toxic green stew of metal solos, atonal post-punk, comically distorted afrobeat, Arabian scales and future-prog. By daring to fail, Julian showed us that he had it in him to be his own denim-vests-’n’-puffy-trainers Lou Reed: a man whose career you will follow even if it actively appalls you.
49. Interpol- ‘El Pintor’
From the glimmering falsetto on ‘My Blue Supreme’ to the subtle use of samples of ‘Breaker 1’, ‘El Pintor’ was rich with boldness. The adventurous spirit that surged through Interpol’s 2002 debut ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’ was back. It was the sound of a band enjoying themselves, striving to push forward.
48. Temples – ‘Sun Structures’
The psych revival showed no sign of dwindling in 2014, but no album threw itself into its textured, multi-faceted rainbow wonderland with as much ‘Sun Structures’. Every track on Temples’ debut was a technicolour patchwork of dense, intricate layers that, when combined, produced an effortlessly lush whole.
47. Gruff Rhys – ‘American Interior’
Very much in a field of its own in 2014, Gruff Rhys’ ‘American Interior’ investigated the story of a distant relative, John Evans, who scoured the US in the 1790s in search of a mythical tribe. Tracks featured familiar analogue synths, Spanish guitar and bizarre samples, but the album also contained his most moving work yet.
46. Twin Peaks- ‘Wild Onion’
‘Wild Onion’ was the record that introduced Twin Peaks as an enjoyably sloppy but energetic new force in rock’n’roll: a band of bong-huffing, beer-guzzling hellraisers who’ve discovered the art of measured songwriting. It was full of romantic missives from the quartet’s suburban Chicago lives (‘Sweet Thing’, ‘Making Breakfast’).
45. Honeyblood – ‘Honeyblood’
When you listened to this flab-free 40-minute LP, you heard a band living on the edge. It was in Stina Tweeddale’s voice as she turned from sweet and loving to scornful and inflamed. Here was a record to help you kick back at anyone who’d ever wronged you. In the face.
44. Perfect Pussy – ‘Say Yes To Love’
Nothing about ‘Say Yes To Love’ screamed welcome. It was an album of blissful extremes, ugly thoughts leading to powerful breakthroughs – being “loved insofar as I cherish this pain”. And if the Syracuse band’s name didn’t immediately mark out their place in the margins, then they were blasted straight there by their soul-scouring production.
43. Freddie Giibs And Madlib – ‘Piñata’
‘Piñata’ was a ‘70s boom-bap supernova that told tales of scrapping drug dealers and faded, rusted American dreams. From the sumptuous, ‘High’, which featured Danny Brown, to the stoned funk ‘Robes’, which starred Earl Sweatshirt, the fizzing chemistry between Gibbs and Otis Jackson Jr. aka Madlib was this album’s main attraction.
42. Hookworms – ‘The Hum’
Normally it takes two or three years for bands to release an album and tour the shit out of it, before disappearing to record new material. It took Hookworms just over a year. There were grand leaps forward in the quality of the songwriting and in the band’s understanding of what makes an album work.
41. Manic Street Preachers – ‘Futurology’
Many bands have tried to make their ‘Berlin album’, treading in the hallowed, Europhile footsteps of Iggy and Bowie, in thrall to Alexanderplatz and the autobahn. Manic Street Preachers were only too aware of when they chose to record ‘Futurology’ in Berlin’s Hansa studios, but it found them rampant with rude, renewed energy.
40. Bombay Bicycle Club- ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’
‘So Long..’ made it tempting to hear BBC as a new kind of band – a product of the post-internet age, where genre barriers are obliterated and the only thing that matters is whether you like a song or a sound, and how much it will influence the music you make.
39. Protomartyr – ‘Under Color Of Official Right’
Protomartyr’s second album improved on 2012’s ‘No Passion All Technique’ debut in numerous ways. The songs were more nuanced and dynamic, the machinelike production lent an atmosphere of unease, and frontman Joe Casey cemented his reputation as a brilliantly acerbic lyricist.
38. Alt-J – ‘This Is All Yours’
On their wriggly, crunchy and suggestive second album, Alt-J did a fine job of dispersing any lingering image of them as MOR and predictable. It was replaced by one of a subtly experimental and freakishly sexual band, unafraid to make their unique way through the world of pop.
37. Thom Yorke – ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’
To bypass the “self-elected gatekeepers” of the music industry, Yorke reached for BitTorrent, to seed ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’ to the masses. The music within slowly opened up like a lotus flower. The real highlights are its quietest, most withdrawn moments – the distant, ambiguous ‘Nose Grows Some’ or the haunted ‘Interference’.
36. Goat – ‘Commune’
The second album from the extravagantly robed Swedish collective found them jamming up a storm of sounds very similar to their 2012 debut, ‘World Music’. Though a healthy psychedelic scene has been flowering internationally over the last decade, few bands have created anything as enjoyable and life-affirming as ‘Commune’.
35. Parquet Courts – ‘Sunbathing Animal’
For an album named after a docile cat, ‘Sunbathing Animal’ was a harsh listen. With the instantaneous, thumping punk of the title-track, the fierce interplay of ‘Black And White’ and ‘Ducking & Dodging’ and campfire singalong ‘Instant Disassembly’, the New Yorkers’ third album bore little resemblance to 2012 breakthrough ‘Light Up Gold’.
34. Sun Kil Moon – ‘Benji’
Death is a simple fact of life, and listening to Mark Kozelek’s sixth release under the Sun Kil Moon moniker, you wonder if the whole record wasn’t conceived as an 11-song exercise in sledgehammering that point home. ‘Benji’ was an album with a bodycount, and its characters were scythed down like henchmen in a Bond movie.
33. Wild Beasts – ‘Present Tense’
2011’s ‘Smother’ found Kendal’s louchest rogues at their lowest ebb: haunted by past mistakes, trapped by old regrets, scalded by heartbreak. On ‘Present Tense’ Wild Beasts were rejuvenated, finding pleasure in brighter sounds. This was the album that cemented Wild Beasts’ status as artists able to turn idiosyncratic kinks into world-stopping pop.
32. Childhood – ‘Lacuna’
If indie rock’s life ever flashed before its eyes, it’d sound like Childhood’s ‘Lacuna’. Wafts of The Smiths, The xx and MGMT mingled like memory-mist to create an alt-rock Time Lord of a debut. ‘Falls Away’ and ‘Solemn Skies’ stood out on an amorphous, psychedelic and other-worldly album that was nonetheless rooted in gleaming indie-pop melody.
31. Sharon Van Etten – ‘Are We There’
Van Etten’s heartbreaking fourth album ‘Are We There’ gave the lovelorn and emotional somewhere to seek solace. Backed by an alt-indie cast, including members of The War On Drugs and Torres’ Mackenzie Scott, it documented the end of a long-term relationship. Its 11 outstanding tracks included the fragile yet tough ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’.
30. Warpaint – ‘Warpaint’
It was a delight to find that ‘Warpaint’ was not only warmer than Warpaint’s previous album ‘Love Is To Die’, but also more cohesive. Led by proggy single ‘Love Is To Die’, it was very much a record that needed to be lived with in order to unlock the subtle nuances and hidden depths.
29. Alvvays – ‘Alvvays’
The nine tracks on Alvvays’ debut album took the Telecaster jangles of Best Coast, added sweeter melodies than even Bethany Cosentino is capable of, and launched the five-piece from their sleepy Toronto scene onto college radio stations across the globe.
28. Morrissey – ‘World Peace Is None of Your Business’
‘World Peace… ’ managed to blow all doubts out of the water – it may have fallen just short of his finest work, but there’s always a certain satisfaction to be taken from seeing an embattled artist answer their critics in a fashion as resounding and inarguable as this.
27. Jungle – ‘Jungle’
Jungle’s debut album started with a climax in ‘The Heat’, and then by track three, ‘Busy Earnin’, built to a fever pitch of triumphalism. It was unrelentingly well-informed: the sound of veteran record shop shelf-scourers being given free rein to show you how well-informed their taste was.
26. Perfume Genius – ‘Too Bright’
‘Too Bright’ sounded different to previous Perfume Genius records; Mike Hadreas was often more aggressive, fleshing out his songs with sinister synths (‘Grid’), rumbling basslines (‘Longpig’) and distorted vocals. It even boasted a couple of twisted pop tunes: ‘Fool’ sounded like Erasure gone indie, while ‘Queen’ had echoes of Bowie.
25. Lana Del Rey – ‘Ultraviolence’
On the ludicrously provocative ‘Ultraviolence’, Del Rey cooked up a sound built on James Bond themes and smoky piano bars, and one that rarely did the obvious: the title track slowed to half speed for the chorus; ‘Shades Of Cool’ sounded like a Disney mermaid in full flow. She knew exactly what she was doing.
24. Angel Olsen – ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’
This album marked the moment Angel Olsen learned to tame her voice’s cracked and quivering notes. She used a band to fill in dusty drums and electric guitars that worked to its strengths too. It ended up being a break-up record of steely intent, even at its most sorrowful.
23. Kasabian – ’48:13′
’48:13′ tried out everything from gargantuan bangers (‘Bumblebee’, ‘Stevie’) to eight-minute dance tracks (‘Treat’) to mantra-like slowies (‘Glass’). Despite its innate oddness, Kasabian were still just Kasabian: and they had very much the last laugh.
22. Swans – ‘To Be Kind’
Attempting to describe ‘To Be Kind’ is a largely thankless task – with music this vast and monolithic, it’s always going to be a reductive exercise. This is an album to be lived in and pored over, admired like some ancient, immense monument that makes you stand back and think, “How the fuck did they build that?”
21. FKA Twigs – ‘LP1’
Before she became known for making freaky alt-pop, Tahliah Barnett earned her living as a backing dancer. But she didn’t suit being in the background. This debut’s functional title was misleading: the 10 songs included were innovative, layered and often filthy (‘Kicks’). ‘LP1’ was such an original work that it’s difficult to predict what she’ll do next.
20. Jack White – ‘Lazaretto’
As with every record he’s released with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and solo, Jack White played a character on ‘Lazaretto’. Scrap that, he played loads. The key to this album was that White was moving his characters and sound on. Nothing was certain, other than his constant messing about with the audience’s perception of him.
19. Royal Blood – ‘Royal Blood’
Royal Blood set 2014 alight. After their two-handed blues-rock onslaught saw rammed festival tents across Europe, the charts followed suit. ‘Out Of The Black’ and ‘Figure It Out’ attacked mainstream blues rock with hardcore’s brutalist attitude; this was Muse’s melodic metal raining down on Black Keys populism.
18. Kate Tempest – ‘Everybody Down’
There are those who will tell you that music in 2014 lacked ambition. There are those who’ll tell you that contemporary artists fail to engage honestly with British youth. Clearly, none of these people have heard Kate Tempest’s ‘Everybody Down’. With it, she sought to condense a hard-bitten novel’s worth of story into 12 relentless tracks.
17. Todd Terje – ‘It’s Album Time’
Todd Terje’s debut album lit up 2014 with big-hearted disco bangers, despite having one of the year’s least inspiring titles. ‘It’s Album Time’ fizzed with life and ideas right through to its gigantic, floor-filling closer ‘Inspector Norse’. The track was ridiculously good, like a firework display sketched out with vintage synths.
16. Iceage – ‘Plowing Into The Field Of Love’
With their 2013 album ‘You’re Nothing’, Iceage hinted at the sound that would flourish on ‘Plowing Into The Field Of Love’. For anybody with even a passing interest in non-corporate, angsty rock music, 2014 simply didn’t get much better than on these 48 minutes.
15. Eagulls – ‘Eagulls’
Itchy. That’s how Eagulls’ self-titled debut made you feel: a nasty, poisonous little thing that brought you out in a rash. Here were five pissed-off friends from Leeds who’d grown tired of toiling away in soulless jobs while everything around them rotted, so made an album that sounded as sick as they felt. Long may Eagull’s itches remain unscratched.
14. Run The Jewels – ‘RTJ1’
With ‘RTJ2’, Killer Mike and El-P hit a ludicrous peak: musically, lyrically, spiritually. Their second album as a duo was so energetic and full of fire it felt, at times, like it couldn’t possibly maintain its momentum for 11 tracks. By doing so it became the finest hip-hop of release of 2014.
13. Damon Albarn – ‘Everyday Robots’
“I suppose you could call it a solo record,” Damon Albarn said while recording ‘Everyday Robots’, “but I don’t like that word. It sounds very lonely – solo.” And yet, though producer Richard Russell helped him hone 60 songs down to a final 12, it sounded such a solitary record. And, like so much of Albarn’s work, it was utterly immersive.
12. DFA 1979 – ‘The Physical World’
After a less than amicable split in 2006 and a tentative reunion in 2011, the very fact that Death From Above 1979 released a second album is worth celebrating. That it was one of 2014’s finest feels miraculous. For fans of the debut, it was a familiar sound – but there was controlled aggression mixed in.
11. Future Islands – ‘Singles’
Baltimore’s Future Islands are a case study of heart-gladdening perseverance. After almost six years of non-stop touring, the trio came to a natural pause in 2012. The result was the wonderful ‘Singles’, a great work with many, many levels.
10. Ex Hex – ‘Rips’
What’s a figurehead of US punk to do when their latest project runs out of steam? For Wild Flag’s Mary Timony, the answer was simple: make one of the most raucous records of the year. “Fun rock’n’roll music to dance to” was Ex Hex’s goal when making ‘Rips’ – and that feeling was written all over the album.
9. Sleaford Mods – ‘Divide And Exit’
Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn’s album is the most singular in this list. Nothing else sounds quite like it. We asked Williamson to reflect on how it happened: “Our manager would constantly remind us that whatever we released had to be watertight, no room for dogshit, no semi-skimmed gambles. Pure full fat.” Mission accomplished.
8. Jamie T – ‘Carry On The Grudge’
When you dug deep into Jamie Treays’ third album, you found inventive quirks throughout: the choral-like backing on ‘Peter’, ‘Trouble”s slinky guitar zips. Despite the trauma and drawn-out frustrations involved, Jamie T’s comeback turned negatives into positives.
7. Merchandise – ‘After The End’
“We’re going to remake ourselves as a pop band,” Merchandise singer Carson Cox in January. And the frontman did what so many bands fail, and stuck to his guns. And while some fans might have been put off by the serene sonic wizardry of songs like ‘Green Lady’ and ‘Little Killer’, few would argue that it was the best thing they’ve ever done.
6. La Roux – ‘Trouble In Paradise’
The remarkable thing about ‘Trouble In Paradise’ was how fabulously coherent it was. There wasn’t a single moment on the album that Elly Jackson didn’t sweat over, and it showed. All nine tracks were perfectly executed, classic-feeling pop songs, from the indie-disco opener of ‘Uptight Downtown’ through to should-have-been-a-single ‘Sexotheque’.
5. Caribou – ‘Our Love’
Our Love’ felt intimate, minimal and personal, with dreamy songs like ‘Can’t Do Without You’ and ‘Second Chance’. These 10 beautifully crafted tracks felt multi-functional in the best possible way, perfect for solo listening, but infinitely scalable, blowing up to fill a festival field or fire up a dancefloor.
4. Aphex Twin – ‘Syro’
The fact that 2014 was the year we get to celebrate the return of the Aphex Twin was largely down to chance. ‘Syro’ was Aphex at his most quintessential, a comeback that wasn’t spectacular in its dazzle, but utterly impregnable in its quality.
3. The War On Drugs – ‘Lost In The Dream’
With ‘Lost In The Dream’, Adam Granduciel plugged into the ley lines of FM rock: driving beats, squealing solos, freewheeling anthems. With ‘Red Eyes’ and ‘Under The Pressure’ leading the charge, listening to ‘Lost In The Dream’ was to exist as its title promised.
2. Mac DeMarco – ‘Salad Day’s
‘Salad Days’’ 10 tracks were seamless, full of warm chords and buzzing synth lines. With podgy bass and Mac’s lonely croon, songs like ‘Passing Out Pieces’ and ‘Blue Boy’ shone brightly, with downbeat lyrics bubbling around the hooks. ‘Salad Days’ revealed more of the Canadian’s character than ever, marking the end of DeMarco the prankster.
1. St Vincent – ‘St Vincent’
On her fourth album, Annie Clarke became a bamboozling package of singer-meets-performer and the closest thing we have to a 21st century Ziggy Stardust. No other record distilled the chaos and confusion of these fractured times, and no one turned themselves from songwriter to icon-in-waiting like Clarke did.