The Music Factory’s top 20 albums of 2014: Part one – 20-11

So then – that’s your lot for 2014. It’s been a year we’ll remember for James Rodriguez, Alex Salmond and completely futile iPhone launches, but it’s also been 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 I of II. Find out the top ten here)

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20. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

Sun-Kil-Moon-Benji-608x540Now on his 13th album, Sun Kil Moon frontman Mark Kozalek has given up all pretence of inhibition. On this stark and unapologetically bleak record, there isn’t a song here that doesn’t depict death, emotional strife or sexual misdemeanour. At times, it is so direct that listening all the way through feels totally invasive. This, of course, is Kozalek and Sun Kil Moon’s strongest asset, it is a riveting and unforgettable listening experience. The narratives created wouldn’t be amiss on a Springsteen record, but they are totally empty of pomp and pretence. ‘I Love My Dad’ stands out, a moving depiction of Kozalek’s complicated relationship, a real trademark of his songwriting style. Phil Smith

19. Leon Vynehall – Music For The Uninvited

leon-vynehall-music-for-the-uninvitedMusic For The Uninvited is a double EP crafted without pretention but bathed in an honest and respectful nostalgia. The title itself is a nod to those marginalised communities – most notably black, gay populations – whose inspired innovation is largely to thank for the genesis of early house music. The record is a classy and timeless dance tour de force – mastered from cassette, it is characterised throughout by a charmingly dusty fuzz and texture. Followed up later in the year with the marvellous ‘Butterflies’, Music For The Uninvited is a vital snapshot of a producer getting himself comfortable for a seemingly irresistible and important rise. Piers Barber

18. The Twilight SadNobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave

The_Twilight_Sad_-_Nobody_Wants_to_Be_Here_and_Nobody_Wants_to_LeaveThe Sad seem to be finally receiving the recognition they richly deserve. Nobody Wants to be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave, the Kilsyth trio’s fourth studio album, is a real return to form after 2012’s stilted and disjointed No One Can Ever Know. Much of this is thanks to a return to the band’s roots, with contrasting discordant melodies and soaring guitars reminiscent of their seminal debut. They’re complimented by the electronic influence of synths, which add to the album rather than dominating it. But what makes this a special record is the sense of listening to a band who are finally comfortable with who they are and what their sound is. Buster Stonham

17. Future Islands – Singles

Future-Islands-Singles2Perhaps the greatest thing about this record was that it flies in the face of the argument that the internet era is destroying musical creativity and preventing organic success. After years grafting away at the coalface, an iconic performance on Letterman went viral and catapulted Future Islands into darlings of the alternative scene. Frontman Samuel Herring can certainly claim much credit, with his extroverted performances drawing in legions of curious bodies to their energetic gigs. This belies a record, however, that is totally flawless, slickly produced and refined from years of practice. ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’ is destined to ring out in indie discos for decades to come. PS

16. The 2 Bears – The Night Is Young

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Hot Chip‘s Joe Goddard has grown into a much loved phenomenon in recent years, with his completely accessible yet well-informed brand of playful house becoming a mainstay of Spotify libraries the world over. Everything great about his music is on full view on The Night Is Young, his joyous, delightful second album with Raf Rundell as The 2 Bears. It’s a lovely collection of spirited and technically accomplished dance music, which draws hungrily from the loveliest aspects of house, 2-step and electro. In the shape of ‘Not This Time’, it also boasts one of the finest pop songs of the year. Life’s too short, and this album is one warm, giddy bear hug that’s too much fun to miss. PB

15. Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems

71RSQNcvbHL._SL1500_ (1)In a year of well documented political and social turmoil, which musician chronicled it best? Ah, of course, the 80 year-old Leonard Cohen. His irrepressible wisdom and wit is at its finest here, and reflects the joy and peace old age has brought this infamously troubled soul. In many ways, the necessary restrictions the frailty of his voice and musical ability impose have helped him produce songs that play to his redoubtable strengths, creating poetic narratives that are bleak and hilarious all at once. Popular Problems is a pertinent reminder that when it comes to depicting political, economic and social strife, the giants of the 60’s generation can still teach us a thing or two. PS

14. How To Dress Well What is This Heart

bc2dad80Proving the rule that you should never judge an album by its cover, the third studio album from Tom Krell (AKA How to Dress Well) is possibly his most accomplished yet. Krell’s impressive and ethereal vocals have always been front and centre of his work, but in the past he’s relied on them too much, creating tracks that, whilst beautiful, feel empty. What is This Heart is anything but, with multi-layered instrumentals and samples giving this album a depth that previous offerings lacked. The R&B-laced beats mixed with Krell’s signature vocals come together to form something that’s far more than the sum of its parts. BS

13. D’Angelo – Black Messiah

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From the hot hells of Ferguson and Staten Island comes Black Messiah, D’Angelo’s timely and internet-shattering return. Coming 14 years since his last release, the modern R&B king has the experiences of a tumultuous recent past of his own to draw from, including a near-death car crash, drug addiction and several arrests. The result is Black Messiah: a fascinating account coloured by exhilarating multi-tracked falsetto, infectious guitar lines and squelching funk rhythms. Sonically it channels Prince; politically it continues down the path of Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Going On. It’s worth the wait: “Can’t snatch the meat out of the lioness’ mouth,” D’Angelo himself croons on ‘Sugar Daddy’. “Sometimes you gotta just ease it out”. The result is one of 2015’s most satisfying and important surprises. PB

12. St Vincent – St Vincent

91rQENRf9oL._SL1500_St Vincent’s early records and a successful collaboration with David Byrne hinted at a remarkable talent, and it was this year’s eponymous record that brought it into fruition. Critically acclaimed from all corners, it’s an album that dazzles and bemuses in equal measure. Comfortably her most accessible record, its also the one on which she pushed her experimental tendencies furthest. ‘Prince Johnny’ demonstrates this better than any other track, and might be her best yet. Her eclectic live performances have added a layer of mystique to this enigmatic musician, with her Glastonbury set easily one of the most talked about of the year. Of one thing, however, there can be no doubt: St Vincent is on the path to superstardom. PS

11. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

war_on_drugs_lost_in_the_dream_album_1395236302It’s strange that an album so reminiscent of 70s rock, with heavy shades of Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits, can be such a breath of fresh air. Lost In The Dream is the sort of record that sounds like it’s been in your collection for years, with frontman Adam Granduciel’s soulful vocals and graceful guitar melodies quickly worming their way into your subconscious. With sprawling guitar and organ solos and extended instrumental outros, Lost in the Dream clocks in at over an hour, but by treading a fine line between stadium and progressive rock commendably manages to avoid becoming pretentious. Who would have thought a resurgence of 70s Americana was just the thing that rock music of 2014 was calling out for? BS

Find out which albums made the top 10 here.

Follow the Music Factory on Twitter @MusicFactoryNo1

Read our previous album of the year lists:

 

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