The Music Factory’s top 20 albums of 2014: Part two – 10-1

So then – that’s your lot for 2014. It’s been a year we’ll remember for James Rodriguez, Alex Salmond and pointless iPhone launches, but also one that’s seen the seen the release of some bloody brilliant music. Here, Phil Smith, Buster Stonham and Piers Barber take a look at the best 2014 had to offer – get in touch to let us know what you think of the list! (Part II of II. Find out what was ranked no.20 to no.11 here)

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10. ElbowThe Take Off and Landing of Everything

elbow-thetakeoffandlandingofeverything_1394985450Though choosing a record of the year is by its nature a subjective task, it can be said with absolute factual certainty that this is the record I spun the most in 2014. Elbow have been have a relentlessly consistent band ever since their debut in 2001, but the way they combine the grand romanticism of their later work with the earthier vignettes that originally defined them make this one stand out. Album opener ‘This Blue World’ is a luscious, sweeping, delightful return to their prog-rock roots, while the dreamy ‘Real Life (Angel)’ is lyrically and musically gorgeous even by their standards. Phil Smith

Read a full review of this album here.

9. Andy Stott – Faith In Strangers

homepage_large.5c3725e1Oddly, you won’t come across any genuine beat on Andy Stott’s fourth full-length release until its ninth minute. When it arrives, though, on the mighty ‘Violence’, it’s one that shudders and spits and demands attention like nothing else you’ll hear all year. Soaked in grimy vats of distortion and echo, this is a physical and rust-flavoured adventure, a captivating mood best demonstrated by the magisterial ‘Science and Industry’. Meandering angelically throughout is the Beth Gibbons-sounding voice of Alison Skidmore, Stott’s former piano teacher, whose clarion vocals provide a very human mirror to Stott’s wobbling, metallic atmospheres. It’s definitive proof of a self-assured producer operating at the peak of his menacing and endlessly interesting powers. Piers Barber

8. Woman’s Hour – Conversations

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There’s nothing immediately groundbreaking about Conversations – sparse synth-pop, or albums focusing on the long process of heavy heartbreak, are hardly in short supply, after all. Yet this debut from the Kendall four-piece, a band that relentlessly fuelled the blogosphere back in 2013, is a remarkably memorable depiction of “awkward moments of strange affection” and the crushing loss of rhythm between two simple souls. There’s little anger on show here – instead an touching sadness and a refreshing honesty pervades. It’s handsomely composed, with Fiona Burgess’ majestic, sensuous vocals neatly reflecting some sophisticated and sparse instrumentation. It’ll stick with you far longer than you’d initially expect. PB

7. Jungle – Jungle

2014Jungle_Jungle_600G090514.galleryJungle’s 2014 experience may well prove to be a blueprint for modern bands. Starting by creating a relentless online hype with their early tracks, the band went from exciting underground soul revivalists, via a breakout set at Glastonbury in June, to finding mainstream success with brands falling over each other to feature their tracks in their adverts. The album itself is full of fanfare, with big brash horns and synths creating a soulful sound with more hooks than a fisherman’s tackle box. On first listen you may have trouble distinguishing one track from another, as the melodies tend to seamlessly blend together. After multiple listens, though, individual songs soon start to stand out – ‘Julia’ and ‘Time’ have grown into memorable favourites. Buster Stonham

6. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

sharon-van-etten-are-we-there-album-coverFew, if any, albums this year have been packed with such emotional intensity as this one. ‘Your Love is Killing Me’ has unsurprisingly garnered significant attention for its brutally direct delivery, but Are We There is so much more than a heartbreak album. This is Van Etten’s first self-produced album, and the results are sublime, particularly on the spacious, Sade-esque R’n’B number ‘Our Love’. ‘Tarifa’, meanwhile, affirms her lyrical and musical diversity, creating an absorbing emotional web. It’s a record that allows us to see the Brooklyn based songwriter’s playful side as well as her trademark bluntness, and it hints at a rich future. PS

5. Run the Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

hjb5iy8uunz60cd1a8qrWe’re big fans of El-P at MFN1, with his 2012 LP Cancer 4 Cure having made our 2012 album of the year list. Now, his incarnation with Atlanta rapper Killer Mike as Run the Jewels has provided one of the most exhilarating rap records of recent years. El-P’s signature brash, high octane production and emceeing provides energy throughout, with Killer Mike’s booming languid style complimenting this nicely. Underlying RTJ2 is a bubbling, politically motivated resentment aimed at the discrimination and corruption of the US establishment, made even more poignant by the protest sparked by events in Ferguson this year. It’s a theme epitomised by ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)’, in which former Rage Against The Machine frontman Zack De La Rocha’s looped verse powerfully attacks institutionalised racism (“I’m a fellow with melanin/suspect of a felony”). If you thought modern rap has lost its political roots, this is an album you need to hear. BS

4. Kassem Mosse – Workshop 19

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The concept of fame and renown bores Gunnar Wendel, this consistently intriguing German producer most commonly known as Kassem Mosse. So much so, in fact, that he’s a fully signed-up member of a lesser-spotted group of musicians who prefer it when their names are spelt incorrectly online and in the press. Workshop 19, then, is characteristically unique: his first full-length release in a fascinating eight year career, it’s devoid of any immediately discernible trajectory and is comprised of nine untitled tracks, yet is instantly identifiable as the work of a compelling musician obsessed by analogue imperfection. Drawing on some immaculate drum programming, crashing percussion and brilliantly simple synths, it’s centre point is the B1, an astonishing, floor-filling cacophony. You simply don’t find sounds like this anywhere else. PB

3. Bombay Bicycle ClubSo Long, See You Tomorrow

bombay-bicycle-club-so-long-see-you-tomorrow-678x678

So Long, See You Tomorrow is groove-infused and infectiously fun proof of Bombay Bicycle Club’s impressive rise in 2014, a year which culminated in a triumphant show at Earl’s Court and one of the great promotional videos. Their defining feature remains the charming falsetto of singer Jack Steadman, who has expanded and enriched his music palette through extensive travelling since his band’s humble, lager-soaked debut of 2009. Now, extensive and varied influences abound: there’s the R’n’B flavoured ‘Home By Now’; distinctive Bollywood influences in ‘Feel’; the dancefloor-appreciative peaks and troughs of ‘Carry Me’. It’s a perfect pop collection, and a jubilant and peculiarly overlooked triumph. PB

2. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness

Angel-Olsen-Burn-Your-Fire-For-No-Witness1Olsen recruited bassist Stewart Bronaugh and drummer Josh Jaegar to expand the sound of her sophomore record, and the result is an album that adds a tinge of garage rock to this extraordinary songwriters armoury. Forget album of the year, this is already one of the albums of the decade. Though its a comparison that is massively reductionist both stylistically and lyrically, there is a maturity, far beyond her years, in Olsen’s delivery that brings Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling to mind. At times Olsen is vulnerable, at times searingly wry, at times stern. ‘Windows’, meanwhile, is a track so beautiful I just want to climb inside it’s charm for the whole of next year. PS

1. Wild BeastsPresent Tense

present tense

Wild Beasts have always been something of a unique curiosity. Their quirky, delicate tunes and waifish indie persona have previously seen them characterised as an interesting sideshow to alternative music. 2014 was something of a watershed: throwing off their twee facade, they revealed a brooding, carnal heart underneath. It’s a new approach epitomised by Hayden Thorpe’s closing refrain on title track ‘Wanderlust’: “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck”. The most noticeable difference between Present Tense and previous offerings is the increased use of electronic synths, yet this is no desperate attempt to cover up a lack of new ideas: instead, they provide the Beasts with a new dimension that underpins the the best album of their career so far. BS

The list in full:
20. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
19. Leon Vynehall – Music For The Uninvited
18. The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave
17. Future Islands – Singles
16. The 2 Bears – The Night Is Young
15. Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems
14. How To Dress Well – What is This Heart
13. D’Angelo – Black Messiah
12. St Vincent – St Vincent
11. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
10. Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything
9. Andy Stott – Faith In Strangers
8. Woman’s Hour – Conversations
7. Jungle – Jungle
6. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
5. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
4. Kassem Mosse – Workshop 19
3. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
2. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
1. Wild Beasts – Present Tense

Read our rundown of no.20 to no.11 here.

Follow the Music Factory on Twitter @MusicFactoryNo1

Read our previous album of the year lists:

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