As we gradually give up hope that Grimes will suddenly drop a surprise new album and thus render all end of year lists instantly redundant (well, assuming it didn’t sound like that fairly mediocre single she released this summer), the publications of The Monitors’ ‘Best Albums of 2014’ list grows ever nearer. However, while we continue to whittle down our triple-figure ‘shortlist’ into a more manageable number, it occurs that much of our favourite music over the last twelve months wasn’t actually released on an album.
Indeed, while only an idiot would write off the LP as a format, the fact remains that plenty of artists, particularly new artists, are increasingly feeling stifled by the time-consuming process of preparing an album in comparison to producing EPs and singles. The possibility of putting new music out as soon as its finished also appeals to many, and it’ll be interesting to see how many more musicians adopt that process in future.
Either way, we want to pay some well-earned attention to music that might otherwise get left by the wayside during December’s list orgy, as well as give you a few hints towards our favourite albums of the year. To that end, please enjoy this extended Spotify playlist* compiling all our favourite tracks this year, from major hits to underlooked releases, condensing twelve months of brilliant music into twelve hours of quality, quality music. From clipping to Clap! Clap!, Elliphant to Gazelle Twin, King Gizzard to Lil Silva and The Bots to the Nots, if you don’t find something new to love here then we’ll give you your money back**.
And if that’s not enough of an extended play for you, scroll down to enjoy a separate list, collating what we consider to be the best EPs of 2014**. Featuring old faces and fresh blood alike, each proves that small sometimes really is beautiful. Hopefully it’ll provide the perfect appetiser as we prepare to serve you our favourite albums of 2014; so stick your bib on and tuck in…
*Listening on shuffle is recommended, as they’re not in any logical order anyway.
**Money-back offer only applies to non-Premium Spotify users.
***Well, ‘I’ rather than ‘we’, as unlike the playlist I didn’t solicit our contributors’ opinions for this particular list. As we all know, too much democracy can be a terrible thing. And I’m greedy.
And now, without further ado, The Monitors presents…
Magical Mistakes – Decompose / Reassemble (King Deluxe)
Another sterling release from King Deluxe records – in fact, as we indicated when we posted the amazing video for ‘Hollow Bodies’ back in July, it might well be their best to date. Six tracks of sublime electronica that show an uncommon deftness of touch, we hope to be hearing more, much more, from the Osaka-based Magical Mistakes soon…
H. Grimace – H. Grimace (7 Eye Records)
As acknowledged in our initial coverage of this EP back in May, the words ‘Hackney-based guitar band’ are having an evermore soporific effect at Monitors HQ, so the fact that we’re still loving the Homerton three-piece six months later shows that they’re not only head and shoulders above their local peers, but knees and toes too…
Tense Men – Where Dull Care Is Forgotten (Faux Discx)
… apart from, that is, fellow Hackney three-piece Tense Men. A sort of Faux Discx supergroup featuring members of Cold Pumas, Sauna Youth and Omi Palone, the intense, repetitive riffs, deadpan vocals and lightning bolts of guitar make for an exhilarating experience both live and on record. In March we suggested the nervous energy it imparts is akin to supping from an energy drink consisting of “a gigantic, swollen Ox’s bollock.” Anyone got a straw?
Kissey – Initiation EP (KISSKISS Records)
Having previously worked with the likes of SBTRKT, Rustie, Machinedrum and Dorian Concept, you wouldn’t blame Kissey for calling in some favours and getting the big names in to produce her EP. Instead she did the whole thing herself, and it’s hard to see how anyone could’ve made it sound any better. “There’s nary a club in the land that wouldn’t benefit from having a track from Initiation blasting through its speakers,” was our take.
Hypnotized – Telesto (Love Thy Neighbour)
We may have been unconvinced by their vocals live, but the effect of the Brighton three-piece’s kaleidoscopic debut EP on our ears more than justified their name (taken from an early Spacemen 3 single). Not only was the effect-drenched Telesto a mesmeric piece of work, but it came in a gorgeous hand-made sleeve complete with a separate disc of equally ace remixes by the likes of Flamingods, to double your delight.
Sau Poler – Paradoxes Of Progress (Atomnation)
Atomnation released one of our favourite electronic albums of the year in David Douglas’ Moon Observations, and they were responsible for putting out one of our favourite electronic EPs too. The sultry Catalonian two-step of ‘Non Plus Ultra’ kicks off Sau Poler’s second EP for the label, bringing a welcome touch of sunshine to our present wintry environment. Sau Poler apparently counts Four Tet and Bonobo among his major influences, but Paradoxes of Progress matches anything either of those artists have released in some time…
Little Simz – AGE 101: DROP 2 (AGE 101 Music)
Islington rapper Little Simz is one of those artists with a habit of self-releasing her work as soon as it’s finished, which explains how she’s managed to release not just two EPs but the full-length E.D.G.E. this year. In fact, just to prove my point, she literally released a new EP while I was writing this list. Ludicrous. The really impressive thing though is that her prolific output hasn’t been compromised by shoddy quality control – her second AGE 101 EP is our favourite, but her sharp, brittle bars are a stamp of approval on pretty much anything they appear on.
Karen Gwyer – New Roof (No Pain In Pop)
At a mighty 35 minutes, the three tracks on New Roof run longer than many albums, never mind most EPs. It’s a testament to their quality that not a single second feels wasted. ‘Lay Claim to My Grub’ is the perfect example – over sixteen minutes of powerful, sinuous music that swells and releases like a bloody great big ocean of techno. The sense of scale is epic, the execution even better.
Segilola – Along the Line (King Deluxe)
The debut solo EP from Londoner Segilola Jolaosho saw her collaborating with Yorkshire producer Bambooman to produce a record that feels like putting on a freshly laundered shirt after a two-day bender. Segilola’s voice breathes soothingly peaceful melodies onto a varied mix of tracks, from the silken RnB of ‘Substance Called Love’ to the jazzy clip-clopping of ‘Somewhere Along the Line’. Apparently she’s a trained neuroscientist, and judging by the beneficial effect her music’s had on our brains we’re betting she’s a bloody good one.
The Pink Teens – Good Luck, Pink Teens (RIP Records)
You may remember The Pink Teens as Mancunian garage rockers Temple Songs, whose spiralling ‘Passed Caring’ caught many an ear last year. If not, then their debut release as The Pink Teens is the perfect opportunity to get acquainted. A nifty nine tracks of perky power-pop in the vein of Supergrass, with the odd skronky deviation (see jerky stand-out track ‘Spray Ark’), the band’s name is clearly all that’s changed as they retain their infectious enthusiasm. Not to mention the tunes. The lovely, lovely tunes.
Moon Gangs – Moon Gangs (SEXBEAT)
Rarely has an artist chosen a more suitable moniker. OK, apart from the ‘Gangs’ bit, seeing as Will Young is indeed just one man (and no, not THAT man, although it’s about time a reality talent show winner decides to jack it all in for a sci-fi ambient project). Nonetheless, there is something indisputably spacey about his eponymous EP, which fashions impeccable retro-futuristic soundscapes to slowly drift into the void with. “The music is deeply introspective,” we commented in May, “but as with many introverts, the more you look, the more you begin to see…”
Elliphant – One More (Kemosabe Records)
Sweden’s Elliphant has put out two great EPs this year. Look Like You Love It was a ridiculously fun, and occasionally just ridiculous, take on dancehall, trap and EDM, featuring inevitable appearances by Diplo and Skrillex. However, it was surpassed by the One More EP, with the MØ-featuring title track providing a particularly potent slice of Scandi-pop. Elliphant just toured the US with Charli XCX and FEMME, and we fancy all three will be touring your ear canals constantly in 2015…
The Enters – Small Town Love (The Enters Records)
2014 was the year where any band with a Boss Heavy Metal pedal were immediately slung onto the shoegaze revival bandwagon. The Enters, in contrast, were one of the few bands to do it properly – lashings of dreamy distortion and crashing cymbals wrapped into one sweet little package of noisy goodness. “Very much the real deal,” we claimed back in August, and they very much are.
Semi-Precious – Semi-Precious (Squareglass Records)
One of the best-produced EPs of the year, this sample-based release by Guy Baron is like slipping into a bathtub of champagne, only without the associated feeling that you’ve wasted your money, nor the need for an actual bath immediately afterwards. The vocals are of the James Blake / Deptford Goth style we all know and, let’s be honest, are slightly bored of, but the way they waft in and out of some truly delicious samples is damn well delectable. The smooth soul of ‘Lady White & Lady Grey’ is our highlight, but there are plenty more delights hidden within Baron’s debut if you just keep digging.
Le1f – Hey (XL / Terrible Records)
Is there a rapper out there with a more glorious flow than Le1f? If there is, we haven’t heard them. The guy is so good that no one even bothers mentioning his sexuality any more, apart from me, just now. Oops. Anyway, here he finds the beats to match his sublime rhyming, not least the Dubbel Dutch production ‘Boom’, easily one of the tracks (and videos) of the year.
Kwannon – Honey Moon / Dizzy Spell
The bedroom productions of Kwannon have been beguiling us ever since his Lasts For Days EP was sent to us in January. Both that and his Honey Moon / Dizzy Spell follow-up are superb, but the enchanting drawl of the latter’s opening track just edges it. His drowsy, lo-fi demeanour still manages to sound completely exquisite, drifting out of the speakers like a plume of smoke floating across a still living room on a summer’s day…
The Last Skeptik – I Don’t Even Like You (BBE)
You might expect The Last Skeptik to be a bit knackered after making a music video for every single one of the 15 tracks on 2013’s Thanks For Trying LP, but he still had enough in the tank to produce I Don’t Even Like You this year. It’s a winner too, from the cut-up vocal samples and rattling hi-hats of ‘Show Me’ to the sultry ‘Propulsion’, which starts off like the warped theme tune to the detective show of your dreams. He may not even like us, but we rather like him.
Moon Hooch – Eat Your Veggies (Hornblow Recordings)
Horn-crunching three-piece Moon Hooch featured in our recent feature on the saxophone, and Eat Your Veggies demonstrates why we think they’re worthy of attention. Combining the furious sax-throttling of Melt Yourself Down with dancefloor-inspired 4/4 beats, they make a noise that can turn a quiet backstreet pub into a hive of rhythm within minutes. It’s all very well telling your kids to eat their veggies, but unless you’re also telling them to listen to Moon Hooch then you’re only halfway to satisfactory parenting.
Jon Phonics – White Neckle (First Word)
Jon Phonics’ 2013 tape Rugers has us declaring him the next Clams Casino, and White Neckle expands on and improves his sound, mixing sleazy electro-funk motifs with some enjoyably skewiff rhythms. Like the It’sNate-featuring ‘FX WITH THE LIFE’ from Rugers, the stand-out track features a cherry-picked rapper (in this case Rup on ‘Give It Up’) complementing his production, but Phonics’ tracks are a force to be reckoned with whether instrumental or not.
Son Lux – Alternate Worlds (Joyful Noise)
Arguably, Son Lux’s highest profile release in 2014 was his perhaps unlikely rap-focused collaboration with Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti, aka Sisyphus. However, his own Alternate Worlds EP, consisting of re-imaginings of his Lanterns LP and released at roughly the same time, is the one we’ve found ourselves going back to more often. Showing off the sort of slightly off-kilter pop production Damon Albarn would’ve killed for on his Everyday Robots album, it also features a bona fide popstar in the shape of Lorde on ‘Easy (Switch Screens)’, in which the pair come across like a funky Portishead, while ‘Build a Pyre (Build Again)’ is also itchily brilliant (and has a cracking video).
Kier Wiater Carnihan