Albums of 2014 #1 - Broken Twin - May

Broken Twin
Anti. Released 28th April.

Broken Twin has been a favourite of mine since I first heard Copenhagen's Majke Voss Romme's debut EP Hold On To Nothing in the midst of summer 2013, four tracks which beguiled with an affecting intimacy and genuine emotion. Her debut full length May is no different, an outstanding collection of uncluttered and introspective tracks full of haunting beauty with different shades of light, dark and desolation.

Naming May my album of 2014 is easy, it's by far my most played record of the year and it's the record I have turned to over and over again. Not once has it let me down. It is truly a stunning record. Beautifully sad but reflective and cautiously optimistic too. It's an album that deserves to be shared around by those who discover it.

"Sun Has Gone" was the first track I heard from the album, it gives newcomers to Broken Twin a brilliant, darkly indication of what to expect. Stark, spine-tingling music and emotional devastation through tender piano chords and Majke's arresting voice, her voice is always a highlight, undeniably beautiful it has this wavering quality that makes you hang onto her every word and delivers emotion in a way that leaves you gasping for air.

For an album that hits you in the gut time and time again, "Soon After This" hits harder than most, sparse piano chords build to Majke's repeated cries of "Do you care?" chilling in vulnerability and intimacy. Similarly "Glimpse of a Time" is guided by soft, uncluttered instrumentation, never more than an understated accompaniment to lyrics that leave your emotions teetering on the edge. If you can listen to Majke sing "What was I but a glimpse of time? Time, in your life" and not well up over lost memories, well you are a stronger person than I.

There's few better songs than "Out of Air" been released this year, piano twinkles and intense emotions that build with orchestral flourishes but it's bettered by the phenomenal "In Dreams", which builds with piano chords once again at the core to an evocative, dramatic conclusions filled with tension-laden violin and distorted vocals.

"Roam" is one of the most ambitious tracks on the record, forceful percussion and echoey synths strike with evocative depth whilst the sparing "If Pilots Go To Heaven" ekes out further depths from her vocals with lyrics that will genuinely move you.

"No Darkness" is May's closing track, a tender and touching moment that lets light and optimism shine through after ten tracks of resigned longing and, at times, outspoken despair.

Where May's opening track "The Aching" finishes on the reflective "Nobody wants to belong somewhere in between what you wanted and what you didn't want" here Majke Voss Romme opens with the more hopeful "Today I’ll cut the flowers, I will walk for hours, I will breathe in all that grows, now that spring is coming and the sun will shine".

Throughout her vocal is pure, full of strength and clarity amongst always restrained instrumentation and sparkling string flourishes, so beautiful is the track, that by the time you reach the repeated ending of "There will be no darkness, I will fill your space with light and it looks like hope" you almost believe it.

May is my album of 2014, if you haven't discovered it yet, you really are missing out.

Albums of 2014 #2 - St Vincent - St Vincent

St Vincent
St Vincent
Caroline International. Released February 24th.

St Vincent, Annie Clark's fourth and self-titled album has catapulted her from indie idol to near-mainstream heroine. The most accomplished and ambitious of her career and one that see's her deservedly top poll after poll of 'albums of 2014' lists, all without losing any of her left-field creativity and exhilarating merging of multiple genres, funk, rock, pop et al. 

"Birth in Reverse" sees Annie wield her guitar as a magic wand with a series of aggressive guitar riffs wandering around propulsive rhythms and chaotic synths, there's a relentless beats and a typically ethereal vocal delivery, it gives a perfect summation of one of the most inventive and progressive artists of this generation.

"Digital Witness", an ode/lament to the digital age and it instantly seems that the time spent with David Byrne on the side-project album Love This Giant has washed off on Annie's solo work too, a brass-laden funk stomp with billowing horns creating a deep, infectious rhythm amongst Annie's art-rock guitar and synth patterns.

The whole record is quirky and boundless with the second half of "Huey Newton" summing up the intensity, rising from a soft hypnotic ballad to an absolute beast with huge dirty rock riffs and Annie's wide-open stare. It's the track I've been waiting from Annie since I first saw "Your Lips Are Red" live. 

The inventiveness and variety doesn't stop there, "I Prefer Your Love" a saccharine ballad that highlight as well as being able to shred guitar, Annie has quite the ethereal vocal. "Bring Me Your Loves" is absolutely insane, undulating, pulsating rhythms and off-the-wall lyrics. It could be a 'what the fuck' moment but instead, with Annie at the helm turns into a moment of pure genius. "Psychopath" is more straightforward but provides another highlight with perhaps the most memorable chorus on the record too.

The different styles fit together seamlessly and closing track "Severed Crossed Fingers" brings humour out in St Vincent's songwriting too. Annie's style has always been divisive and St Vincent is even more so, yet for those of us her brace it, it is the most brilliant of rewards.

Albums of 2014 #3 - Arthur Beatrice - Working Out

Arthur Beatrice
Working Out
Polydor. February 24th.

Arthur Beatrice's debut album Working Out is one those records that has crept up on me gradually over the course of the year and after numerous repeated plays finds itself firmly as one of the most wonderful releases of the year, awash with slow burning rhythms, exotic guitars and the beautiful dual vocals of Orlando Leopard and Ella Gerardot.

From the sultry, smooth beauty of "Late" to the joyous and frankly mesmerising singles "Midland" and "Carter", it's an album that oozes with both style and substance throughout. For a band that formed in 2010, 2014's Working Out could be seen as a long time coming but patience is a virtue and whilst it means the band may have missed out on the instant fame of the likes of London Grammar or Daughter, hopefully it means that the quartet will be with us for the foreseeable future.

Those singles are probably the best place to start, "Midland" introduces the sleek pop style that runs throughout the record, glistening guitars, dynamic production and lilting vocals, and whilst "Carter" starts off slower, building from plaintive piano twinkles and rhythmic percussion until soon enough when the sophisticated, addictive hooks return, Ella again on lead vocal with her compelling, crystal clear voice capable of holding any melody.

"More Scrapes" is another highlight with Ella's soaring pop voice again radiant amongst gossamer layers of instrumentation whilst "Grand Union" sees Orlando take the lead, his more pared-down vocal working a treat to bring in some melancholy before Ella joins for the joyous, sing-along chorus.

Orlando's reserved voice again stars on the beautiful "Fairlawn", one of the albums most sparse and skittering moments before closing track "Ornament & Safeguard" brings the album to its climax with one last dip into pristine pop and infectious choruses, guaranteed to have you singing its repeated refrain "What I do as a woman, I do as a man" over and over again.

If Arthur Beatrice can build on this then they won't stay under the radar (subjectively) for long. A wonderful debut.

Albums of 2014 #4 - Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

Lana Del Rey
Polydor. Released June 16th

Lana Del Rey's Born to Die was my favourite album of 2012, a stunning master-class in exotic, slow-motion pop music, "Video Games" immediately creating a pop star that would divide fans and critics alike, any follow up was always likely to do the same, that record, Ultraviolence is not as immediate or upbeat or poppy as the aforementioned but once you are drawn into it, it's one that offers a transcendent experience (although perhaps the less said at that Glastonbury performance, the better). 

Opening track "Cruel World" sums up the ambition of Ultraviolence, dark, dreamlike and wholly intoxicating from the outset, a rich in atmosphere beauty that smolders around Lana's impeccable, breathy vocal and luscious instrumentation. "Shades of Cool" is just as good, brimmed full with space, echo and reverb, here guitars and luxurious strings guide an effortlessly haunting voice that brims with control and confidence, Ultraviolence is a record from someone who knew exactly what they were creating. 

"Brooklyn Baby" is slow, sultry and Lynchian, oozing cinematic mood and enigmatic songwriting whilst single "West Coast" is one of the simplest, poppiest tracks on the album with an outstanding breathy chorus whilst the string swept "Old Money" is another stand-out with its vivid atmosphere and gorgeous narrative.

"The Other Woman" takes Lana to jazz ballrooms in 60's America, pastiche and style full of Nancy Sinatra-esque execution. Bonus track "Black Beauty" was one of a handful of tracks leaked from what would have originally been a second album, I'm glad Lana stuck with it, a never hurried dreamboat of a track. The sultry/smoky midnight atmosphere of Ultraviolence is never wavered from throughout making it instantly less accessible than Born To Die, yet for those willing to get sucked within, glories await.

Albums of 2014 #5 - Fear of Men - Loom

Fear of Men
Kanine Records. Released April 21st.

Fear of Men have been a band I've followed for a long time now, it was way back in early 2011 that I discovered the Brighton based quartet, some three years later their debut full-length Loom arrived fulfilling all my hopes and wishes and then some.

The slow brooding "Alta" starts the album with a mist of eerie atmosphere built around elongated organ chords and plaintive vocals before launching straight into "Waterfall", a track more in-keeping with the dreamy jangle-pop which we've become accustomed to from the band, here Jess Weiss' impeccable voice serenades around beautifully upbeat guitar shimmers,chugging bass-riffs and machine gun percussion before the track closes with the re-introduction of experimental soundscapes.

"Green Sea" is Fear of Men at their most exquisite and beautiful. A rich and somewhat wistful melody chugs at your heart-strings complimented by shimmering textures and Jess' sweet (not sugary) vocals whilst "Tephra" has waves of guitars and punchy beats with a defiant dark and claustrophobic undercurrent.

Highlight "Luna" instantly introduces itself as a stronger, illuminating beauty that combines effortlessly melodic voice with soaring, kaleidoscopic guitars, surging drums and throbbing bass patterns. The result bedazzles, although after more than a couple of tries deciphering the lyrics I'm still unsure whether I should be swooning "I want you more than this" or running away "I tried my best to destroy you" / "you are unbearable memories"...

Similarly, on the surface "Descent" seems to a beautifully sweet, surging pop nugget with blossoming string instrumentation and Jess' honey-toned vocals, however, a darker tone is never too far away and the intimate lyrics hint at troubles from the result of over-reliance on one person.

Throughout Loom unravels to become a multi-textured gem brings together the bands charm, fragile emotions and engulfing beauty through guitar led melodic bliss. An absolute success. 

Albums of 2014 #6 - Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Angel Olsen
Burn Your Fire For No Witness 
Jagjaguwar, Released February 18th.

Angel Olsen's third LP Burn Your Fire for No Witness has acted as her breakout, introducing her sensual, knock-out vocal and intoxicating songcraft to a bigger audience and at the same time introducing a bigger, bolder sound to her repertoire, adding a swampy glue of reverb and riffs to her voice  full of emotion and power, one I've best read described as 'liquid gold'.

Lead single "Forgiven/Forgotten" is the heaviest moment, it wastes no time getting inside your head with a gruff, explosive melody that is propelled by fuzzed-up guitar and a forceful kick drum beat and makes the hairs on your neck stand on end with a rollicking, raw blast of intensely perfect punk-pop. "Hi-Five" finds the halfway house between the aforementioned heaviness and the mellower, stirring emotion in which Angel made her name, here her luxurious vocal melts glaciers amongst a fine full band sound as kicking percussion and distorted guitars are later met by driving piano in a melody sure to have you tapping along in agreement.

The burning intensity of the longest track on the record "White Fear" makes for a sublime highlight, a fractured beauty filled with atmosphere and drifting melody that gradually unwinds with bewitching brilliance to soaring incantations of  lament whilst "Enemy" is sparser but equally powerful.

The albums closing track "Windows" is one of my favourites, an emotive tour-de-force which epitomises Angel's dark, burning brilliance, her yearning vocals captivate throughout, her lyrical prose as ever, exemplary and the melody is full of rich, haunting melancholy.  

For those of us who revel in the dark radiance in which Angel roams, Burn Your Fire for No Witness is utter heaven...

Albums of 2014 #7 - Haerts - Haerts

Columbia. Released October 28th

Haerts were one of my Tips for 2014 so I was glad that they managed to release their album towards the end of the year, that's in the US at least.  I can't quite work out if it was either not picked up in the UK or it's being saved for a later date, either way, if you are a fan of glittering synth-pop, this is an album that you don't want to miss out on.  

Opening track "Heart" reminds me of a combination of countless bands from times gone by but the results sound modern and fresh; add the 80's pop of a Gloria Estefan and the stylish moonlight synth of an Ultravox with added 90's guitar shimmers and a bridge of Foals-esque tropical-pop and perhaps you'd create a melody this swooning. On top of this you have the truly heart-melting vocals of Nini Fabi, with a naturally warm, uplifting voice that you can't help but instantly fall in love with.

Tracks from 2013's EP return on the full-length, "Wings" was the song that propelled them to the radar of many, a flawless beauty that smoulders with perfect cinematic textures, stylish, swirling atmosphere and subtle, reflective mood and "All The Days" is another impeccably-crafted gem, where timeless, vintage soundscapes swoon and soar with exquisite ability combining with those beautiful, haunting vocals to beguiling results.

"Call My Name" continues Haerts perfect craft of uber-stylish, sexy-slow jams that could have been released at any point in time since the 80's with “No One Needs To Know” arguably the highlight on the album, an immediate. magical, swooning affair where the gentle pitter-patter of beats and restrained moonlight synths slowly guide Nini's heart-melting vocals whilst the gorgeous "Lights Out" and wonderful "Be The One" both make you want to grab someone you love and hold on tight.

Haerts is my pop album of the year. It's a joy from start and finish, you can't ask for more than that.

Albums of 2014 #8 - Marissa Nadler - July

Marissa Nadler
Bella Union. February 10th.

I'm not quite sure why I've never really listened to Marissa Nadler before 2014, despite releasing material at a consistent rate for almost ten years I don't think I've ever heard her until I pressed play on "Was It A Dream", a track from her album July (and the first released by Bella Union here in the UK). Immediately the track ticked my boxes, a guazy-like haze of misty-eyed beauty drenched in Marissa's luxurious voice and maudlin guitar strums, her vocal comforts you like a warming blanket and hypnotises you into repeated submersion.

Sitting in the same realms of dark melancholy "Dead City Emily" is equally rewarding, with a pretty guitar melody creating a serene mood around soft soothing vocals, it's the sort of thing dreams are made of. Throughout July is a masterclass in atmosphere, the perfect balance of space and intoxication, the divine "Firecrackers" sums up just how Marissa uses her enchanting voice to weave her spell and her haunting lyrics to tale tales of loves past and lost.

The opening track "Drive" is more direct but just as devastating, a ringing, repeating guitar melody guides Marissa's drifting, serene vocal whilst "Anyone Else" is another highlight with harder guitar rhythms and ambient backing harmonies bringing in the albums most Gothic of moments.

Such immersive, moreish beauty and just as stunning live too (as any attendees at either London 2014 show would testify), Marissa Nadler may have been a late discovery for me, but sometimes late is just fine.