That strange gap between Christmas Day and New Years. Perfect for hibernating, returning to Netflix for another free month and watching so much Jonathan Creek you’re positive there’s a killer monkey hiding in the rafters. That and reflection of course. Granted, I haven’t looked at mine for quite some time as I’ve given up shaving and would rather avoid seeing just how bad my Celtic heritage is growing out of my chin.
So, a Top 10 album list. My favourite part about it is, despite best laid plans of mice and men, no matter how many predictions anyone can make about a forthcoming year, the majority of music that you fall for just comes from nowhere. And not just brand new bands with debut albums (Adult Jazz, Honeyblood, Thumpers), but also bands that have been around the block a few times (Spoon, DFA1979), or a second album that was my first exposure to them (James Vincent McMorrow), and a noughties rock band stalward going solo (Gerard Way).
I spend (probably too much) time thinking about why a debut album by a new band can be so much more impactful than a second or third album, and I think part of it is the allure and shinyness of all the new parts. A new vocal sound to wrap your head around. A fresh take on a genre. But much of my list this year is actually just disparate parts of things that have existed before becoming better. The two guys in Thumpers have been a part of Friendly Fires previously. Gerard Way was of course the front man of My Chemical Romance. And interestingly, my number one album of the year – while offically speaking a debut – comes from the ashes of an older band.
Sorry #10-6, only #5-1 get a write up. Mainly because I’m getting a little hungry:
#10 – Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else
#9 – Thumpers – Galore
#8 – Spoon – They Want My Soul
#7 – Death From Above 1979 – Physical World
#6 – Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien
#5 – Superfood – Don’t Say That
Superfood, a Birmingham-based four piece, and Britney Spears, that one who shaved her hair n’ that, are more similar than you might think. Britney Spears is currently some (too lazy to research) months into her Las Vegas residency (maybe it’s finished already, who knows). Superfood have spent the past 14 months or so playing a residency in Oxford. If memory serves, they played the Art Bar at the tail end of 2013, and in 2014, have played in support of Wolf Alice, in support of We Are Scientists, and headlined the NME New Breed Tour with #4 on this list), all at Oxford’s O2 Academy. So, practically a residency. I have the Superfood popping candy. I have the Superfood coasters. I’ve seen them more often in 2014 than most of my own family.
Nonetheless, when I saw them at the Wolf Alice show and the We Are Scientists show, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of them. Their debut came out just before the NME New Breed Tour show in Oxford, and I fell for it. I wasn’t really expecting to either. I’d heard scraps and scrapes of singles online, but it wasn’t until I heard the whole thing that I really got it. It’s a happy-go-lucky kind of record, channeling the likes of Supergrass, with memorable hooks and hazy lyrics. Here’s hoping they come back to Oxford even just once more, they must be sick of us by now.
#4 – Honeyblood – Self Titled
I always read about a band’s history, almost as much as I always remember how I first got to listen to them. Sadly, and inexplicably, for Honeyblood, I cannot remember. I heard ‘Killer Bangs’ somewhere, I’m just completely lost as to where/why/how. What I can remember is seeing their debut self-titled LP was available to stream before its release on Pitchfork Advance, and I found myself listening to it several times a day for a week. The opening 20 seconds on the first track, ‘Fall Forever’, instantly told me that this was going to be something I was going to enjoy. Honeyblood are one of many two pieces that I have an affection for. In their case, with just a guitar and drums, they still contrived to create something so big, so noisy, and so smart. But more than that, it was probably the album whose lyrics I enjoyed the most out of the Top 10 I’ve put together. Replete with savage witticisms, snarking jilted exes, and wrapping it all up with a 90’s alt-rock gazing sound. I also had the enormous pleasure of seeing them play live, with their performance of ‘All Dragged Up’ a highlight, played at double speed with such energy.
#3 – James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
Poor James Vincent McMorrow. I came so close to forgetting to including this, not remembering that it came out all the way back in January 2014. But fortunately, somehow, I remembered. Despite January typically being the most depressing month of the year by quite some distance (for us Brits at least), this record helped. For whatever reason, I never heard his debut LP, but i caught ‘Cavalier’, the opening track on Post Tropical, on a ride home from work. Probably through pouring rain, grey skies, umbrellas. You know, how they usually portray England in the movies. Well, they are right, some of the time. Another lazy comparison ahoy-hoy, but I was quickly reminded of Bon Iver, one of my al time favourites. The falsetto voice, the brass channeling through the tail end of ‘Cavalier’, percussion leaping from timid to thrashing. The album plays a similar trick but is still completely captivating. I adore ‘Gold’ (the track below) for that melody in the chorus, as his vocal leaps several steps higher, all within two words. And now January 2015 is almost upon us, it’s probably a good a time as any to give it another listen.
#2 – Adult Jazz – Gist Is
More than anything, I’m enjoying the dichotomy between my #1 and #2. But you’ll get to that soon. Adult Jazz are a Leeds based band who take ponderous indie-rock to the absolute edges of its possibilities. Every note, every vocal, every song structure just gets pulled apart like Stretch Armstrong. And that’s why I love it. We all want instant gratification these days, but the way they form a song, it makes it all the more worth the wait. Like that trade-off between taking a beer out of the fridge before it’s cold (yeah I’m thirsty, what of it). Some comparisons have been made to Alt-J, but these lot are a whole lot loopier. Somewhat indecipherable lyrics, coupled with coy little guitar lines which occasionally descend into marvellous off-kilter breakdowns. Like #1 in this list, it’s not a record I’d want to break down and divide, as it’s such an excellent listen as a whole. However, below is ‘Donne Tongue’, which spirals into its sticky end from about 3:20 onwards. All aided and abetted from that softly-softly-catchy-monkey opening.
#1 – Issues – Self-Titled
It’s a bit of a leftfield winner from me. I’ve spent the last year and a half expanding my knowledge of what might be called post-hardcore / metalcore / etc from my affection of Alexisonfire years ago. What they did so well was, even with all the noise and heft of their sound, they’d create such excellent melodies and hooks, blended with the clean and heavy vocals.
As for Issues, I have the wonderful Daniel P Carter of radio / a million bands / general rock god fame to thank for setting me onto them. I heard ‘Sad Ghost’ thanks to his radio show and was suckered in on that oh-so-soulful clean vocal hook in the chorus. As for the album itself, it’s still yet to grow old for me. It plays that neat trick of presenting you with a couple of songs you think are your favourites straight-up, but further listening changes your perspective. Sure it’s heavy, but it’s life-affirming stuff. A deserved number one.