What a marvellous year for music. As ever, I am supremely grateful for the opportunity music gives me to ignore other people on public transport. When things are getting a bit rowdy on a late train – the kind of journey where you know that any girl in a short skirt will attract the leering advances of drunken wankers who think they can enchant the fairer sex, when all they can do is knock them cold with Carlsberg breath – it’s always a joy to whack up the MP3 player and let the masses have it out amongst themselves.
There were some big comebacks, all good except for the Daft Punk album, which was a non-distinct fart in the vicinity of my headphones. Bowie returned in good health and armed with enough songs to release one of those ‘Deluxe Edition’ albums which were previously cordoned off to silicone-enhanced teeny-boppers who couldn’t sell a second album, so fix a few tunes to the end of their first. The Arctic Monkeys finally became the best band in Britain, following the excellent ‘Suck It And See’ with the even-better ‘AM’. The public seems to agree too, and the Glasto set proved to be their crowning glory.
I’ve moved in with a couple of queers so that explains why Lady Gaga is on my top tracks of the year (although I always thought ‘Bad Romance’ was a stonking tune). I found myself tapping along to fucking Cher when she was on Graham Norton the other night… I lay the blame fully at the feet of my housemates. ‘I Hope You Find It’ finished just outside my Top 40 at a credibility-restoring 41.
Now, here’s to an amazing 2014. In music and in life, although the two do seem to get muddled up.
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
1) Arctic Monkeys – AM
Sexy, glammed-up and the dirtiest thing this side of Josh Homme’s laundry basket, ‘AM’ is the sound of a band continuing to live up to the hype with their best set yet. Impeccable basslines, slinky vocal hooks and a further sharpening of Alex Turner’s eye for lyrical majesty make this the album of the year, if not the decade. Masterpiece.
2) The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The National are the kind of band for whom ‘business as usual’ means something special. Yes, ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ is preoccupied with its own shoelaces, casting an occasional wary eye upon the world’s ills and coming to the conclusion that a stiff drink might sort it out. Four fantastic, beautiful records in a row.
3) Biffy Clyro – Opposites
Double albums can give bands the opportunity to bullshit and fuck around with a winning formula. But the Biff’ keep things simple. The ballads are more affecting than ever (‘Opposite’), the rockers rock harder than ever (‘Little Hospitals’) and things stay consistently excellent across twenty tracks.
4) David Bowie – The Next Day
No grand classic from The Dame, but ‘The Next Day’ is a great LP nonetheless. A fine collection of raw, sometimes caustic rock ‘n’ roll, plus a few gorgeous slowies (‘Where Are We Now’, ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’) make Bowie’s return a marketing triumph and a musical one too.
5) Everything Everything – Arc
Previously under the impression that you had to be cerebral (code for “above everyone’s head”) to be noticed, Everything Everything keep the smarts on their sophomore album but dial up the tunes, led by the effervescent ‘Kemosabe’ and the impossibly rhythmic ‘Cough Cough’.
6) Pet Shop Boys – Electric
A couple of old geezers go back to the dancefloor. This could have been an almighty mess but the resulting nine tracks are never short of joyous, an ode to spending a life on the dancefloor. Men in their fifties sound re-tooled and re-booted for a 21st Century welcoming them with open arms.
7) Manic Street Preachers – Rewind The Film
The Welsh boys rein in their anthemic tendencies for an all-acoustic affair. They have found a whole new way to express themselves; ’30 Year War’ still rocks out but tender acoustic tracks like ‘Running Out of Fantasy’ and ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’ are the ones that stand out.
8) Johnny Marr – The Messenger
In the year of Morrissey’s annus horriblis, Johnny Marr emerges victorious with a buoyant collection of pop rock gems, replete with his trademark shimmering guitar.
9) Suede – Bloodsports
2002’s ‘A New Morning’ was a catastrophe. To come back over a decade later with glam-pop gems like the ones on ‘Bloodsports’ has rescued their reputation and made them deserved stars again.
10) Surfer Blood – Pythons
Weezer-ish melodic rock, moving on well from the decent ‘Astro Coast’ to cement Surfer Blood as a band to look out for.
11) Arcade Fire – Reflektor
It’s a great concept and notionally great idea; it’s just a shame that Arcade Fire going disco doesn’t quite live up to its potential. Still marvellous though.
12) Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
Back after the unfairly lampooned ‘Tonight’, the Scottish quartet bring their twitchy guitar pop to the fore once more, winning back hearts and minds that should never have been lost in the first place.
13) Deaf Havana – Old Souls
A rallying from the British Gaslight Anthem. I was always gonna love this and so it proves to be – a fist-pumping collection of emotive rock with canyon-sized choruses.
14) Deerhunter – Monomania
On the title track, you just hear the title being screamed at you for three minutes. At other points, there’s dream-pop of the highest order. A record of extremes but they all come together nicely.
15) Janelle Monae – Electric Lady
She should be bigger than Beyonce. She has the swagger, the moves (check her out on Jools Holland) and she’s got funk-pop spilling out of her black and white corset.
16) Kurt Vile – Walkin’ On A Pretty Daze
A dreamy haze of gently plucked guitars, always moving in forward motion but somehow trapped in time. Ten minute bookends ‘Goldtone’ and the title track get lost in their own mindspace.
17) Smith Westerns – Soft Will
Substantially more subdued than 2011’s terrific ‘Dye It Blone’, ‘Soft Will’ still brings the mesmeric textures and longing vocals – they’re just a bit sadder this time round.
18) Kanye West – Yeezus
I haven’t listened to ‘Yeezus’ substantially but every time I do, I think it’s a majestic tour de force. ‘Nuff said.
19) Splashh – Comfort
A radiant, summery garage rock record, outrageously lo-fi at times but the sugar rush tunes still come through.
20) John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
Lyrically stunning, John Grant’s second album sees him throwing out the 70s rock nostalgia in favour of icy electronics, which by and large works a treat, especially on should-be-hit ‘Sensitive New Age Guy’.
TRACKS OF THE YEAR
1) Suede – Snowblind
Well, against all odds, Suede have not only returned to life with the excellent ‘Bloodsports’. They also create their best ever track. Yes, better than ‘Trash’ or ‘Everything Will Flow’ or ‘Still Life’. It swoops and snarls like their classics before ascending to an astonishing vocal turn from Brett Anderson. In one fell swoop Suede return to the top table of modern rock. Three and a half minutes of ecstasy.
2) Daft Punk – Get Lucky
The robots have created a monster. ‘Get Lucky’ can be played at a nightclub and everyone dances their face off. ‘Get Lucky’ can be played in the car and soundtrack a journey. ‘Get Lucky’ can be played at your Nan’s wedding reception and will be the highlight of the evening. ‘Get Lucky’ can be played on Radio 1, 2 or 6. ‘Get Lucky’ can be covered by a ten-piece jazz band in a Brighton pub and still sound magnificent. It’s an all-time classic. You’ve heard it enough times to know that.
3) Fall Out Boy – The Phoenix
From the abyss, FOB return with a proper rock ‘n’ roll, hands-in-the-air stormer. Faintly ridiculous and over the top, any cheesiness is immediately vanquished when that killer chorus comes in. Set to slay festivals for as long as they exist.
4) Pet Shop Boys – Vocal
Closing ‘Electric’, ‘Vocal’ would be a massive hit single if we lived in an age when bands like the Pet Shop Boys could have massive hit singles.
5) Enter Shikari – Radiate
Hellishly raucous, ‘Radiate’ manages to make a political point (“so to keep us all from falling apart, we’ll write songs in the dark”) while also delivering a stonking tune, blending their already pummelling guitars to some whirling dervish wob-wob electronics.
6) Arctic Monkeys – Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
Three quarters of ‘AM’ could have been a track of the year, such was the quality of this track’s parent album. A meaty bassline meets more falsetto vocals and magic ensues.
7) The National – Graceless
Ignore the title, this is The National at their most graceful and evocative, all swooning and gloriously downbeat, even with lyrics like “Graceless… Is there a powder to erase this?”
8) Johnny Marr – New Town Velocity
Penultimate track of Marr’s solo effort, ‘New Town Velocity’ sheds the power indie of the rest of ‘The Messenger’ to deliver one of those effortless and mesmeric guitar lines that will ring out through the ages.
9) Los Porcos – Sunshine
A gorgeous summer anthem, riding on the coat-tails of the disco comeback.
10) John Newman – Love Me Again
A massive number one single and deservedly so. It’s like Plan B went back to being your Mum’s favourite but even better.
11) Disclosure – White Noise
With help from Aluna Francis, ‘White Noise’ proved a club smash with its propulsive house groove.
12) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Sacrilege
‘Mosquito’ was a disappointment. Nothing came close to this gospel-tinged mammoth.
13) Kanye West – Black Skinhead
Kanye goes glam rock! Ish! With a lyric of fulminating bragging and much panting, Jay Z’s heir to the throne stakes his claim.
14) Placebo – Too Many Friends
“My computer thinks I’m gay”, “The applications are to blame”… something tells me Brian Moloko isn’t too keen on the modern age of the interweb. I can’t help but partially agree. Whilst watching it on YouTube, texting a mate and playing Angry Birds. Good point well made, Placebo.
15) Franz Ferdinand – Right Action
Yet more A-grade twitchy indie pop.
16) The Orwells – Who Needs You
Chicago punks hit the ground running with a Dave Sitek-produced slab of prime Strokes-y guitar thrills.
17) Arcade Fire – Reflektor
The Fire go disco with a seven minutes plus joyous epic.
18) David Bowie – The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
A simple but stunning track, Bowie sounds grand for a man apparently on the edge of death last year.
19) Icona Pop – I Love It
No-one can deny the visceral pop thrills of ‘I Love It’.
20) Merchandise – Anxiety’s Door
American punks Merchandise continue to burrow the 80s indie rock canon with ever-improving results.
21) Chvrches – Gun
22) Foals – My Number
23) Deerhunter – Monomania
24) Everything Everything – Cough Cough
25) Empire Of The Sun – Alive
26) The War on Drugs – Red Eyes
27) Still Corners – Berlin Lovers
28) Breton – Envy
29) Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines
30) Queens Of The Stone Age – Smooth Sailing
31) Surfer Blood – Say Yes To Me
32) Lady Gaga – Applause
33) Haim – The Wire
34) Tegan and Sara – Closer
35) Drake – Just Hold On, We’re Going Home
36) Two Door Cinema Club – Changing Of The Seasons
37) Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
38) The Killers – Shot At The Night
39) Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes
40) The Fratellis – She’s Not Gone Yet, But She’s Leaving