We’re half way through 2014 and what a year it’s been so far, with blockbuster releases from Damon Albarn, Coldplay, The Horrors and Metronomy. But what about the hidden gems you might have missed, like Cymbals’ The Age of Fracture? Acid sharp social commentary and big dance-pop sounds: what more do you want?
Montreal post-rockers Ought’s More Than Any Other Day is another that might have slipped you by. If so, sort it out! Their danceable protest music is throne to bouts of electrifying aggression, making for an impressive, impressive debut.
Canadian duo Wye Oak shifted their sound on fourth album Shriek, ditching the guitars for woozy Kate Bush keyboards and hypnotic grooves. Our JJ Dunning called it a 8/10 coming-of-age in his review. One to check out if you missed it on release, for sure.
Serious for originality to Calgary freak-folk savant Chad VanGaalen for his fifth LP, Shrink Dust: the score to a self-directed sci-fi movie, it had deeply relatable characters in the flawed protagonists of ‘Weighed Sin’ and ‘Monster’.
“In the tradition of Gen X-era lo-fi, the tracks are both dazed and confused,” said NME’s John Calvert back in April, when White Fang’s Full Time Freaks hit shelves. “They're jangly, messy garage-rock thrashers that grin inanely behind a fug of bong smoke, shit production values and goofy nihilism.”
Dan Sartain’s excellent Dudesblood had NME’s Mischa Pearlman puzzled when he reviewed it earlier this year. "Why does the quintessentially American, Alabama-native rockabilly aficionado have a song on it called ‘Smash The Tesco’?” We still don't know. But we know this record is great.
Reviewing the duo’s scowling debut ‘Divide and Exit’, Louis Pattison described Sleaford Mods’ confrontational singer Jason Williamson thusly: “Like a politicised Mike Skinner or John Cooper Clarke up for a scrap, he’s both angry and funny, imagining “the Prime Minister’s face hanging in the clouds/Like Gary Oldman’s Dracula”.
The thrill of Thee Oh Sees on new album Drop isn’t so much in moments of outright mayhem as the way they create a neat equilibrium between chaos and control. If you haven’t yet gold hold of the latest, and possible final, offering from John Dwyer's prolific garage punk legends, get on it now.
Dead Fader’s Blood Forest/Scorched was a take-no-prisoners two disc wig-out epic. Album one, 'Blood Forest', saw a hypnagogic mix of pretty, warped synth melodies. Its latter half, 'Scorched', on the other hand, is vicious, ranging from thuggish beats to squeaks and whirrs.
Protomartyr’s Under Color Of Official Right is, in the words of NME writer Ben Homewood, a pummelling assault of “Needly bass, tumultuous drums and big, dirty guitars careen beneath frontman Joe Casey's deadpan delivery, building riotously enjoyable labyrinthine passages that lead to nowhere, though Protomartyr make the journey feel essential.”
Brightoners Fear Of Men proved life beside the seaside isn’t all fun and games on the dark ‘Loom’, colliding anxiety, eroticism and the best rippling guitar textures and indie-pop hooks this side of the Cranberries.
We Are Catchers’ self-titled debut, the work of Liverpudlian musician Peter Jackson, aided by former Coral man Bill Ryder-Jones, was neither flash nor fancy, but most certainly beautiful.
NME's Noel Gardner called HTRK’s Psychic 9-5 Club, the first release from the Australian band since the death of member Sean Stewart in 2010, "a sparse sophisto-pop” gem full of “leftfield pop excellence."
S Carey's day job is as the drummer in Bon Iver. Kate Hutchinson said this of his second full-length album Range of Light: “Is it all a bit Twilight soundtrack? Sort of. Emotional porn? Most definitely. Does S Carey need a big bag of manballs? Probably. But is it achingly beautiful? A hundred times yes.”
Timber Timbre’s Hot Dreams warped their gothic folk feel of old into something abrasive, and even nightmarish. An intriguing listen? You better believe it.
It didn’t make a big splash, but Cincinnatti bubblegum punks Tween’s self-titled debut is the perfect soundtrack for raucous late nights, full of pop-punk delirium.
School Of Language’s Old Fears, the second solo album from Field Music’s David Brewis, picks up where Field Music’s ‘A New Town’ left off. "The likes of ‘Dress Up’ and ‘Between The Suburbs’ are in that same DIY-R&B vein, equal parts sleek and endearingly shonky,” said NME’s review.
NME’s Mischa Pearlman reckons that, with Toronto punks Pup, “the tussle is the attraction; loud geekcore, to-the-point indie-punk, and bustling pop immediacy combine in a frenzied rush of urgency.” Their debut album’s a stonker well worth your time and attention.
Freddie Gibbs And Madlib delivered on Pinata one of the hip-hop collabs of the year so far.
“The combination of Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – knuckleheaded rap thug and sophisticated, jazz-loving producer – may sound unlikely on paper. On record, though, Gibbs’ coarsely inventive flow works perfectly with Madlib’s imperfectly human beats,” wrote NME’s Ben Cardew.
NME’s David Renshaw said of the Michigan hardcore punks La Dispute’s Rooms Of The House: “[This] concept album detailing the collapse of a co-habiting couple sees the band properly impress, powerfully tying together disparate influences and big themes.”
Nearly 50 years in the making (yes, you read that right, half a century), Linda Perhacs’ The Soul Of All Natural Things was a gorgeous, glimmering slice of cynicism-free psychedelia, in which the cult singer’s delicate, girlish vocals enchant and bewilder. Track it down now.
Shapeshifting Germans The Notwist’s Close To The Glass is another overlooked 2014 masterwork. "Since 1989, they’ve been in perpetual evolution," said NME's Mischa Pearlman. "But on this album they remain accessible throughout, in large part thanks to singer Markus Acher."
Bleeding Rainbow have famous fans in Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, justifying their support earlier this year with Interrupt: a record that offers a net encapsulation of exactly what the Nirvana pair were getting excited about.
Sunn O))) & Ulver’s Terrestrials saw a decade of loose connections between American duo Sunn O))) and Norway’s Ulver culminate 36 minutes of rich, enveloping, meditative heaviness. Noisy and brilliant, basically.
“Ella Girardot’s darting, ice-cool vocals provide the album’s best moments, like on infectious ‘Late’, whilst when the house piano kicks in on ‘Ornament & Safeguard’, you can picture blissed-out summer of 2014 festival sets,” said Kevin EG Perry of Arthur Beatrice’s Working Out.
Bath’s very own Archie Bronson Outfit returned this year with Wild Crush their first album since the departure of bassist Dorian Hobday. The change did them good, reckoned NME’s Leonie Cooper in her review: “Though depleted in number, Archie Bronson still do pop as well as they do peculiar.”
Brit poet turned emcee Kate Tempest's Everybody Down was named NME album of the week upon its release. “As a rapper, Tempest is excellent,” wrote NME’s Louis Pattison in his review, “balancing deft flow and dense storytelling to the detriment of neither, with ‘Everybody Down’ bringing to life a plotline that’ll be more fully explored in her debut novel, published later this year.”
Leamington duo Coves' Soft Friday warranted the following praise from NME's Mark Beaumont: “Giant sonic steps are boldly taken: driving riffs mingle with propulsive electro beats, raga drones and glacial atmospherics to create a dank devil’s dancefloor.”
Boston's Quilt checked into a Brooklyn studio to combine hipster flavour with dreamy psychedelia on their latest album, earning praise from NME's Matthew Horton. "They've come up with a record that brings a crisp newness to arrangements straight out of 1967.”
At 16 tracks long Actress' Ghettoville is demanding, oscillating between punchy club beats that could give you a hernia and soundscapes so deep and affecting you’d expect to hear them at an art installation. One of the year's most beguilling releases to date, for sure.
Frenzied Brit newcomers Cheatahs’ debut borrowed from shoegaze, but neatly avoided the genre's old pitfall of drowning weak melodies in oceans of shimmer, instead coming on as hazy but hook-strong, like early Teenage Fanclub.
Let's Wrestle's latest record won a very favourable review from NME writer Simon Jay Catling: “The group’s third LP finds them kicking around London suburbs, with sweetly poignant recollections of the 2011 London riots (‘Rain Ruins Revolution,’) friendship fall-out (‘Opium Den,’) and unrequited love (‘Always A Friend’).”
Woods' With Light and With Love saw the Brooklyn band reverse the sluggish, lethargic feel of strikingly of their debut, 2006’s ‘How To Survive In + In The Woods’, sparkles with the light and love mentioned in the album title. Well worth checking out.
Is Todd Terje's newest release the party album of the year so far? NME’s Dan Stubbs reckoned so in his review: "The Norwegian producer's debut album is packed with personality. Its retro-futuristic, cosmic-disco grooves form a clear picture of Terje as life and soul of the party.”
Pure X used to be a drone-rock band. On new albumAngel, they reinvented themselves into bringers of cascading, heart-shaped soft rock. As singer Nate Grace puts it on the album’s third track ‘Livin’ The Dream’, it's like they have “fallen into a dream”.
Not heard The So So Glos' Blowout? If you're a fan of dirty, chipped-tooth, mischievious pop-punk, the Brooklyn band's latest is an absolute must-hear.
Big bastard riffs? Tick. Peyote-infused beats? Tick. Marvellously unsettling vocals? Yes, yes and yes again. Mexican psych duo Lorelle Meets The Obsolete's Chambers is a mescaline-flavoured trippy treasure.
All 11 icy nocturnes on Sohn's 4AD debut Tremors "come soaked in dread," said NME's Al Horner in his review, "from the gently classical ‘Tempest’ to arresting piano anthem ‘Paralysed’. When the colours align it’s alluring and impressive.” One for fans of James Blake and Jamie Woon.
“New York’s Drowners take their name from one of Suede’s singles, but their self-titled debut album suggests a band digging back further than the ’90s Britpop revival, right back into the heart of the jangly ’80s,” said NME's Rhian Daly in her review.
September Girls' Cursing The Sea found the Dublin fivesome perfecting their Jesus And Mary Chain style kettle-whistle sound, with energetic stomps like ‘Heartbeats’ and ‘Talking’ among the most impressive tracks.