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Germany won the World Cup, Austria won the Eurovision and Twitter won the Brits, but who won music in 2014? Well, no one obviously. While we’d personally be in favour of the music industry being reorganised into a league system where bands like The 1975 can be relegated into the Evo-Stick League Northern Premier, tricky things like subjective taste sadly prevent this from happening. Also, we’re still only halfway through the year so it’d be a bit early to choose a champion.

Still, we’ve heard a lot of people talking about how 2014 has been pretty poor for albums so far, and we want to address this issue. Namely, by presenting 40 records that disprove that opinion. Like our Best of 2013 list, we’ve decided to present them alphabetically rather than try to rank them by quality (that old subjective taste thing again), so scroll down to get a taste of our favourite full-lengths of the year, from the fractured techno of Actress to the heartfelt hip-hop of Young Fathers (we couldn’t shoehorn in a band beginning with Z, annoyingly).

Actress – Ghettoville (Werk Discs / Ninja Tune)

“For our money, ‘Ghettoville’ is the best album of its type since last year’s Huerco S. LP, and the most cohesive and affecting Actress record yet. If it does turn out to be the record Darren Cunningham retires his pseudonym with, it’s a fitting way to bow out.” Kier Wiater Carnihan

[N.B. A surprise new vinyl-only Actress EP was just announced, so the above prediction of Cunningham’s cognomenative death turned out to be a little premature]

Read our full ‘review’ (written entirely in verse (don’t ask)), here.

AK/DK – Synths + Drums + Noise + Space (Little Miss Echo Recordings)

“AK/DK’s set up is fairly straightforward. Two guys. Two drum kits. Two racks of synthesisers. Possibly apocryphally, they got together because they had such a rant at each other about how much they loved drums and synths, and they wished there were more bands that focussed on just that. Someone overheard them, booked them a venue, and told them they had to prove it. About five years later, they’re still proving it.” Alex Allsworth

Read our review of AK/DK’s album launch here.

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar)

“It is the music critic’s eternal crutch to cite Artist Y in a review of Artist X, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Invocations of Dylan, Sandoval, Breeders and Pavement flutter (and sometimes skulk) by on this album, and I’m neither the first nor the last to mention Leonard Cohen in relation to ‘White Fire’; frankly there’s no getting around it. Whilst the song’s “Everything is tragic, it all just falls apart” opening line is almost a caricature of the Canadian, it broods and grows into a hypnotic seven-minute exercise in disguised optimism, the bass and guitar dancing a constant, stalking waltz.” Kwojo Ackah

Read our full review here, and a live review here.

Brace/Choir – Turning on Your Double (Tapete Records)

“Brace/Choir sound like a band who’re trying to actually do something (ie, more than the bare minimum many groups try to get away with). They swap instruments between songs, rotate vocal responsibilities, write each other’s lyrics, and pen songs about multiple personality disorder and identity theft… The warming, whirring psychedelia of debut album Turning On Your Double is capable of putting you in the most delicious daze.” KWC

Read our full review here.

Damaged Bug – Hubba Bubba (Castle Face Records)

John Dwyer has demonstrated the work-rate of a hungry Victorian workhouse child as frontman for Thee Oh Sees, Coachwhips, The Hospitals and Pink & Brown. The hardest working man in San Fran’s sabbatical project as Damaged Bug has alienated many with its blithe, out-of-time moog pop. The individually strong components don’t meet as seamlessly as they should but there are snatches of muddled brilliance here.

For my money the fullest, most complete tunes on this record are ‘Hot Swells’ and ‘SS Cassidinea,’ while the stumbling synth line of the title track sounds like The Shaggs let loose on a MG1. ‘Sic Bay Surprise’ is reminiscent of ‘Lupine Dominus’, while the slow textural buildup and anticlimax of ‘Catastrophobia’ looms and teases, taking the piss in the nicest way possible.

The ‘Damaged Bug’ moniker has given Dwyer freedom to deviate from the rigid perfectionism displayed on recent Oh Sees albums, alleviating the pressure to maintain the consistency of that band’s bounding momentum and his elder statesman status. Here, American neo garage’s favourite workhorse is having fun and he doesn’t care if you like it or not. This odd and uninhibited lo-fi pop record is well worth a listen despite its wacky shortcomings. Ted Ralph

Damien Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son (Secretly Canadian)

“What goes in to a record is never as important as what comes out, and what comes out here is frequently magical. ‘Silver Timothy’ starts out in fairly familiar America/Neil Young territory before exploding into a blissful, bubbling wig-out, while the woozy trudge of ‘Return to Maraqopa’ is kept cropped in length and fluffy in feel, and slips down like a greased salamander.” KWC

Read our full review here, and look out for an interview with Damien on the site soon…

David Douglas – Moon Observations (Atomnation)

“For all Douglas’ undoubted skill as a producer, it’s the moments when he uses that talent to push things slightly off-kilter that really shine. The title track is a particular gem, with a touch of brass towards the end adding some subtle grandeur to proceedings. You almost feel like saluting as the album comes to a close.” KWC

Read our full review here.

Dead Fader – Blood Forest (Robot Elephant)

Blood Forest is the most accessible Dead Fader work to date, although it’s still comfortably weird enough to subtly freak out your co-workers if played at an insidious volume. Boards of Canada provide the most obvious reference point, with the record frequently ridden with their trademark tremulous pitch-shifting, while a range of deliciously haunting, subtly twisted melodies lurk round every corner.” KWC

Read the full review of Blood Forest (and its significantly noisier sister record Scorched) here.

East India Youth – Total Strife Forever (Stolen Recordings)

If Jon Hopkins had a protégé with Donovan, East India Youth might be the result. He inspired The Quietus to start a record label to put out his debut EP (which even they admitted was nuts given the current climate). However, they’ did it for a worthy cause, as William Doyle’s first full-length is an emotive piece of work. Openers ‘Glitter Recession’ and ‘Total Strife Forever 1’ create a warm embrace of electronics, before ‘Dripping Down”s psychedelic vocals (“Find new love, dripping down your soul”) make their way direct to that part of your head which is all gooey and romantic. Nicholas Burman

Read our full review here.

Ergo Phizmiz – The Peacock (Care in the Community Recordings)

“‘The Tinker Song’ sounds like the inspired creation of a British Invasion band who missed the actual invasion because they couldn’t afford a decent drum kit, the slightly detuned guitars and brief whistling section being particularly charming. The piano-led ‘Open Artery Surgery’ is similarly fast-paced, although with a chorus that sounds like it’s a deranged surgeon’s siren song, as he attempts to lure wide-eyed youngsters into his psychedelic death cult. Lyrics about “spilling essence on the floor, which spreads like lovely butter” are enjoyably creepy.” KWC

Read our full review here.

Fat Goth – One Hundred Percent Suave (Hefty Dafty)

One Hundred Percent Suave isn’t an album built for your modern iTunes style previews or track skipping. If you’d heard a snippet from any of the songs you wouldn’t have a clue what the album actually sounds like. Each song is its own wee journey, changing and mutating every chance it can get, absorbing any fucker in range, like The Blob. No one can survive.” Luke O’Dwyer

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata (aka Cocaine Piñata) (Madlib Invazion)

Madlib’s beats for Pinata are luscious, soulful bangers reminiscent of those that he made for Dudley Perkins in 2003/06. The lyrical and thematic content of is very different from that of the Perkins collaborations that spawned the classic ‘Flowers’ though; Freddie Gibbs’ authentic thug narratives and glamorisation of guns and drugs mean that Madlib has never ventured so deeply into thug rap.

Gibbs’ stunted lyrical ability and primitive gangsta aesthetics are more than compensated for with his authoritative delivery and shining Midwestern flow, best demonstrated over the timeless piano loop of ‘Knicks’. The Beat Konducta’s customary strings permeate through singles ‘Shame’ and ‘Deeper’, setting the standard for the rest of the record. Wu Tang legend Raekwon The Chef makes an appearance on the thoughtful ‘Bomb,’ and Earl Sweathshirt & Domo Genesis grace the harmony drenched ‘Robes.’

The warm glow of Madlib’s obligatory Hammond organ sprinkles and searing soul strings counterbalance the aggression of Freddie’s flow throughout the album. A bracing, soulful thug rap record to put hairs on your chest. TR

Jessica Lea Mayfield – Make My Head Sing (ATO)

Mayfield ditched former producer Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) and turned up the distortion for her third solo album and best to date. There’s still a tinge of her inherent country sensibility (Mayfield played in her family’s bluegrass band from the age of eight) in lonesome heartbreakers like ‘Seein* Starz’, but the crunching ‘Oblivious’ and ‘Anything You Want’ have added some serious muscle to her sound. Then there’s the aching comedown of ‘Party Drugs’ and, perhaps best of all, lead single ‘I Wanna Love You’, which takes the riff from ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ and twists it into a Holly Golighty-esque stomp. There’s nothing too fancy on Make My Head Sing, but in terms of solid yet stirring songwriting, not much in 2014 has topped it. KWC

Kate Tempest – Everybody Down (Big Dada)

One of the most remarkable British rap albums in years, Everybody Down follows a convincing cast of characters through London’s streets, and manages to sum up not only life in the capital’s cocaine-ridden bars and massage parlours but the intricacies and inconsistencies of love itself. It’s not just Tempest’s incredible narrative rapping though; Dan Carey’s production is pristine throughout, and comparisons to The Streets are frankly way more flattering to Mike Skinner than they are to KT. Big Dada have already released one Mercury Prize-winning album in Speech Debelle’s Speech Therapy and we’d recommend putting a decent wedge on Everybody Down doing the same. Not that you’ll win much; William Hill already have her priced as a 3/1 favourite, before the shortlist has even been announced. KWC

Read a review of Kate Tempest’s live set at Glastonbury 2014 here.

King of the Mountains – Zoetrope (Melodic Records)

“The halfway point is marked by what might be the album’s high point, the spacily psychedelic ‘Zebra Girls’. Its weightless feel is tempered by a bittersweet emotionality, while the sickly synth melody that limps in halfway through adds a smartly disarming element – combined with the occasional bursts of background noise, it makes sure things never get too comfortable. In fact, it sums up what I imagine a space-walk would actually be like – an ecstatic, drifting victory against gravity, but tainted with a faint feeling of panic and claustrophobia.” KWC

Read our full review here.

Little Simz – E.D.G.E. (Age 101 Music)

Islington rapper Little Simz put out four well-received mixtapes by the tender age of twenty, but E.D.G.E. is her first release to feature entirely original production, with most of the tracks being recorded and mixed in her bedroom. It’s also her best music to date, despite a generally more downbeat feel – melancholy piano tones drip down tracks like ‘Devour’ and ‘Quest Luv’ like raindrops on a window pane, although her flow can still snap like a rat-trap. Apparently the acronym of the album title stands for the rapper’s motto: ‘Every Day Gets Easier’. If her future releases keep this standard up, then that’ll probably prove true. KWC

Lushes – What Am I Doing (Felte)

“Disparate influences tend to lead to more interesting music, even if those elements aren’t audible in the final results. Brooklyn duo Lushes are a fine example. Singer/guitarist James Ardery grew up on Nirvana and Wu Tang Clan albums pilfered off his brother, and attended Fugazi shows at the age of 12 (the lucky bastard). Meanwhile, the music lying around drummer Joel Myers’ house wasn’t quite so hip; instead he nourished himself on his classical organist father’s Rachmaninoff and Bach collections. If this leads you to expect baroque renditions of songs from Bleach, you’re in for a disappointment. If, however, it simply leads you to expect something much more interesting than the usual guff, then you’re in luck…” KWC

Read our full review here.

Mac DeMarco – Salad Days (Captured Tracks)

Possibly the album where DeMarco ‘grows up’, Salad Days sees the Canadian songwriter in a more reflective mood than we’ve seen him in before, and good news, because it makes for an engaging listen. Full of honesty but retaining the idiosyncratic country-tinged musicality, it puts him in good stead to continue to be much, much more than a joke (though he has been criticised for plagiarism, we’ll have to see how that plays out). NB

Read our full review here.

Maria Minerva – Histrionic (Not Not Fun Records)

Estonian singer/producer Maria Minerva’s debut album, Cabaret Cixous, presented a warped aesthetic of distant, twisted beauty, which she conjured by mixing her laptop productions down onto cassette tape. Histrionic, her third album for uber-cool Californian label Not Not Fun, develops the slightly cleaner, more vocally-led sound she started exploring in second album Will Happiness Find Me?, and it does so with serious aplomb. The opening track, imaginatively titled ‘The Beginning’, is a blissful two-step banger about love on the dancefloor, and the rest of the album follows that formula, combining candidly emotional lyrics with her idiosyncratic beats to compelling effect. KWC

Marissa Nadler – July (Bella Union / Sacred Bones)

“The strings, synths, multi-tracked vocals and sometimes stacked, sometimes bare fingerpicking combine to lend an osmium-like density to most tracks… That the intoxicating, suffocating brew manages to be so visually evocative is remarkable: from the winter walk recollection of album highlight ‘Dead City Emily’, to the out-of-the-bedroom-window gaze of ‘Holiday In’ and the sunbeam-in-a-dark-room immersion of ‘Anyone Else’, you might not be able to breathe, but you can certainly see… July is – and will remain – one of 2014’s most involving, draining, and best albums.” KA

Read our full review here.

Metronomy – Love Letters (Because Music)

After The English Riviera cemented Metronomy’s status as one of Britain’s finest bands, there was a lot of pressure on them to follow it up with something equally brilliant. The fact that Love Letters is the first Metronomy album to break the top ten, and has led to them being booked to headline Alexandra flipping Palace in December, would suggest they’ve succeeded. Yet first impressions from some quarters were less than enthusiastic.

We can only assume the nay-sayers haven’t listened to Love Letters often enough. While the subject matter is a little sadder than usual, and Joe Mount’s vocals sound way too dry on certain tracks (perhaps a result of being recorded at Liam Watson’s Toerag Studios?), the riches that reveal themselves after frequent listens are plentiful. ‘I’m Aquarius’ and ‘Reservoir’ are gorgeously melancholic pop songs, ‘Love Letters’ sounds like some lost ’70s Top of the Pops relic, while ‘Boy Racers’ harkens back to the quirky electronic instrumentals that peppered debut album Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe). Ultimately, if we were to pick a band to represent us at a musical World Cup, Metronomy would be it. KWC

Neneh Cherry – Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound)

It amazes me that an artist who I first heard blasting out of my mum’s stereo when I was a nipper is still making such vital music, but when you consider Neneh Cherry cut her teeth in bands like The Slits and New Age Steppers (and is the daughter of legendary jazz trumpeter Don Cherry) then it really shouldn’t be so surprising. 2012’s The Cherry Thing saw her collaborate with The Thing to produce fantastic covers of the likes of MF Doom and Suicide, but this year’s Blank Project LP is even better. Born from personal tragedy after the death of her mother, it moves from the dark trip-hop of’Spit Three Times’ to the upbeat strut of the title track without putting a single foot out of step. Recorded with electro-jazz experimentalists RocketNumberNine and produced by Four Tet, Blank Project shows that after more than three decades in the business, Cherry is still strides ahead of her peers. KWC

No Bra – Candy (Address)

Candy was initially released digitally in 2013 but was only pressed onto vinyl this year so we’re including it here anyway. From songs about chatting up construction workers to a crap attempt at seduction by Satan himself (see above), No Bra is like a fruitier update on post-punk legends The Raincoats, who famously selected only remaining No Bra member Susanne Oberbeck as their ‘gay icon’ for a 2009 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, despite Oberbeck insistsing she isn’t gay. Regardless, if I’d heard ‘Magic Cocksucking Fairy’ in 2010 I’d have declared myself an independent nation, chosen it as my national anthem, then spent the next four years mastering the luge just so that the Russians were forced to play it when I triumphed at the Sochi Winter Olympics. KWC

Some of the above paragraph is taken from our alternative Valentine’s Day playlist, which you can read / hear here.

Owen Pallett – In Conflict (Domino / Secret City)

As Owen Pallett’s albums get better and Arcade Fire’s get worse, you start to wonder whether the violinist’s influence on the Montreal collective’s defining Funeral and Neon Bible albums went beyond co-writing the strings on them. Then again, you could also wonder about the extent of Brian Eno’s influence on In Conflict. However, when you’re wrapped up in the shivering violins of ‘I Am Not Afraid’ or dizzying ringtone arpeggios of ‘Infernal Fantasy’, you realise all that really matters is that this is the most accomplished Pallett release to date. KWC

Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal (Rough Trade)

Sunbathing Animal follows in a long tradition of great American lo-fi rock; you can feel the lineage filtered through their ramshackle lens of early Pavement and Sonic Youth back to Television and The Modern Lovers. Dual guitarists and vocalists Andrew Savage and Austin Brown both spray out Malkmus-esque wry drawls and, much like Jonathan Richman’s legendary band, focus on dryly observed lyrical portraits, full of witty images and off-kilter situations.” LO

Read our full review here, and an account of Parquet Courts’ 2014 Glastonbury performance here.

Plaid – Reachy Prints (Warp Records)

“If you like Plaid, you’ll definitely like this. Which sounds trite, and it is, but it’s true. This is a lovely Plaid album. Made by Plaid. For Plaid fans.

It’s damning with faint praise, but it’s true.

It’s also not the whole story. Because to a greater or lesser extent, I’ve been bored of Plaid for a while. And this record has got me. Wholly and utterly got me. I can’t get to the end of the record without flipping it over and starting again. I think I’ve been listening to it solidly for about a week now. Any time I’m not trapped in some other room, with some other task to do, I’ve been wrapping my heart in Plaid.” AA

Read our full review here.

Planningtorock – All Love’s Legal (Human Level)

While gender equality and feminism continues to be the big debate in music at the moment, it’s Bolton-via-Berlin’s Planningtorock who’s cutting the most individual and forward-thinking musical shape on the scene (or any scene, for that matter). All Love’s Legal opens with the icy synths of ‘Welcome’ before the dramatic strings of the title track. Throughout, disco elements are reimagined for usage in techno clubs – nowhere better than on ‘Patriarchy Over And Out’ and the stomp of ‘Let’s Talk About Gender, Baby’. While many other politicised artists in the UK remain musically in the late ’70s, Planningtorock actually sounds like the future. NB

Read an interview with Planningtorock here, and a live review here.

Protomartyr – Under Cover of Official Right (Hardly Art)

In the recent musical climate that has seen artists race to the safety of regular radio airplay it’s refreshing to see a band playing what essentially amounts to stripped-back punk, minus the clichés of obvious ‘scene’ affiliation. Sounding somewhere between the grimy post-punk of late ’70s Britain and early ’80s American hardcore, they’re part of a wave of bands giving a face-lift to the banal façade that rock and roll has been selling of late. Marcus Harris

Read a profile of Protomartyr here.

Sleep Party People – Floating (Blood and Biscuits)

“Personally, if I was lucky enough to have been given the name Brian Batz, I wouldn’t bother using a pseudonym. Unfortunately I’m not Brian Batz. Although a part of me wishes I was. For one, I’d be Danish, and the Danes are supposedly the happiest people in the world. I’d also have a successful music career as Sleep Party People with three albums under my belt, of which Floating is the latest, and possibly the best. Yes, it must be nice being Brian Batz.” KWC

Read our full review here.

SOHN – Tremors (4AD)

I didn’t expect to like this album, in the sense that I never expect to like an album that reminds me of Jamie Woon within ten seconds of putting it on. Yet despite some misgivings over Christopher ‘SOHN’ Taylor’s earnest, oh-so-soulful singing voice, it’s hard to deny the quality that occasionally sparkles across the 11 tracks of Tremors. The most glittering example is ‘Artifice’ and its huge, descending synths, but the torn up vocal samples of ‘Tempest’ and the pulverising bass of ‘Fool’ also catch the ear. It wears itself out a bit by the end, but there’s enough to suggest a sterling follow-up may be in the post. KWC

Taylor McFerrin – Early Riser (Brainfeeder)

“Early Riser is a sophisticated début, displaying gentle spiritual roots and a blend of freeform jazz and electronica… There’s no part of the album that doesn’t feel warm and good, and it’s tempting to equate this with implied goodness of heart or even naïve innocence. Early Riser certainly encompasses more complexity than first appears, but really it’s more of a smiling homage to shining sun, and that’s a fine and lovely thing.” Amris Kaur

Read our full review here.

The Amazing Snakeheads – Amphetamine Ballads (Domino)

“Amphetamine Ballads is the sound of a steaming bile splat on a cold Friday night pavement, an eruption from the darkest cavities of rotten Glaswegian stomachs. The sound of angry Scotsmen giving you the most threatening and sordid lap dance you’ve ever had, whilst burping in your face and dropping fag ash on your exposed saucy bits. Sexy.” LO

Read our full review here.

The Soft Pink Truth – Why Do the Heathen Rage (Thrill Jockey)

“Music this powerful and engaging rises above itself. The profanation is completed by the sacrament of a well shaken ass. Drew Daniel has taken the power of black metal, and turned it into a power of his own. It’s masterful, actually, a brilliantly produced record, that will challenge your expectations, make you intrigued by the subculture behind it, whilst, hopefully, successfully abjuring it’s nastiest products. The musical is political. The synth successfully queers out the hate.” AA

Read our full review here, and look out for a (very) in-depth interview with Drew Daniel and his Matmos partner M.C. Schmidt on the site very soon.

The Tower of Light – The Tower of Light (Felte)

“This record is darkly pensive yet hopeful and positive, both industrial in its metallic scrapes and hums and personal in its intricate melodic form. It’s the musical parallel of a rich, confusing brain: a coherent and yet deeply unknowable whole, contained inside a glass egg and whirling within its parameters in a world of contradiction.” AK

Read our full review here.

Tijuana Panthers – Wayne Interest

Third album from these three dudes who make SoCal surf rock that has a 1950s beachy vibe. They went analogue with this album and added a bit more edge to their sound. No frontman here; all three dudes take turns singing lead vocals which makes for great variety in their songs. Ellie Brennan

Todd Terje – It’s Album Time (Olsen Records)

It’s Album Time swims through the aesthetics of an imagined tropical disco, somewhere between a cocktail lounge and a beachside bar. The album feels affluent, arrogant and smug with cocaine. Everything is immaculate. Everything could be the soundtrack to a dream of a better life. It is caught up in a fantasy world; like an old-fashioned advert for an airline, it sells you an ideal of impossible possibilities.

It’s sleazy as fuck. It’s bouncy as fuck. It dances like a go-go girl. It swings like a lounge singer. It’s not just disco, it’s Sinatra, it’s big band, it’s a hotel lounge, it’s relentlessly kitsch.

It’s really quite good.” AA

Read our full review here.

Tom Vek – Luck (Moshi Moshi Records)

“The album may see Tom Vek stay in the same gear, but I’m not sure I’d like to see Tom Vek go down into 2nd gear, or take it up to 6th gear for that matter. He has his signature and there’s no real reason to mess with it. The production is crisper and more pleasing on the ears than on previous albums, a good sign for future Vek material. As with his previous two albums there are weak points, but these are accompanied by some big hits (or at least they should be considered that by a larger audience).” Josh Scarratt

Read our full review here.

tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack (4AD)

Merrill Garbus has created an all new experience for us with this album. Her songs are like children’s stories told in a fun rhythmic way. EB

Wild Beasts – Present Tense (Domino)

Wild Beasts venture further away from their vaudeville, guitar-funk-opera beginnings and continue their slow sink into a bath of saucy synth-led chocolatey goodness. Mmmm. LO

Young Fathers – Dead (Anticon / Big Dada)

One of the most expressive and stylised hip-hop records in recent times (especially from a UK artist), Young Fathers managed to combine rap, gospel and progressive electro in subtle and engrossing ways on their debut. Part political, part personal history, part heartfelt diary; the rising, emphatic ‘Hangman’ being the restrained highlight of the album against the bouncy tribal beats of ‘Get Up’ and big room drums of ‘LOW’. NB

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