1. Taylor Swift – 1989
No, I haven’t gone crazy. And no, I’m not an insane Taylor Swift fan girl – at least, I wasn’t prior to the release of 1989. But she really has done something different here. Yes, she has always been incredibly gifted at writing stupidly catchy songs that perfectly describe the lives of every upper-middle class white girl in North America, but she has honed the skill to perfection on this latest album. Despite what some are saying, I don’t think it’s true that Taylor has gone in a more mature direction regarding the topic of her songs. While Shake It Off and Blank Space may be about confronting the media, the rest of the songs on 1989 are about boys. But really, who cares? What are half the songs in the music industry about these days? Quite frankly, a lot of us can relate to songs about relationships and maybe that’s why Taylor’s music sells so well. In fact, there is something infectious about this new album. From the opening synths of Welcome To New York to the closing notes of emotional ballad, Clean, 1989 is a delight. Taylor’s vocals are clean, her lyrics are relatable and honest, and the music is upbeat and catchy. And it doesn’t package itself as anything else other than what it is: a really, really good pop album. Taylor knows exactly what she’s good at and exactly what her fans want, and she delivers.
Picks: Blank Space, All You Had To Do Was Stay, I Know Places
2. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
Okay, okay, I know I’m going on about Bombay Bicycle Club again but how can you not?! To be fair, I didn’t put them as my Number 1 AOTY so clearly I have thought about this clearly and decided to be just. But honestly, they really do deserve to be here. While their fourth album isn’t their best (in my opinion), it’s still so damn good. There is so much energy on this latest release, and the production is absolutely impeccable. Featuring some outstanding vocal appearances from Rae Morris and Lucy Rose, as well as some insane sampling that somehow works, So Long, See You Tomorrow is incredibly fun. While I feel like the LP is relatively weak within Bombay Bicycle Club’s own body of work, it really does stand out among other releases this year. This isn’t an insult towards Bombay; rather it demonstrates how their standards are simply leagues ahead of others in the music industry right now. If you are a fan of sampling, synths, upbeat riffs, vocal layering… you know what to do.
Picks: Feel, Overdone, Come To
3. Jungle – Jungle
For those of you who have never heard Jungle before, it is hard for me to explain to you just how cool they are. They manage to blend the right amount of funk, synths, and harmonies to create the ultimate Summer soundtrack that manages to make you feel upbeat, but also extremely chilled all at the same time. The only comparison I could think of is if Earth, Wind & Fire recorded an album while being completely strung out on sleep meds. Some may criticise the band for releasing an LP that is a little bit same-y, and I would have to say that this is a fair statement. But there just isn’t anything else out there like Jungle (that I’ve come across anyway, please enlighten me if I’m wrong here). Whenever you’re feeling this curious mood combination of happy yet calm, they are the only thing you should listen to. I repeat, the only thing.
Picks: The Heat, Busy Earnin’, Time, Accelerate
4. BANKS – Goddess
This time last year I would not have had a clue who BANKS was. But this side of 2014, the moody singer-songwriter has catapulted to fame and has now been compared to musical giants such as Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, and FKA Twigs. What makes BANKS’ music so powerful is that every single song is written from personal experience. For BANKS, writing music on her piano (which she taught herself at the age of 15) seems to be a coping mechanism for when she feels “alone and helpless”. It really comes across when you listen to the album, and you have to credit her for her songwriting ability, if nothing else. The production on this record is also phenomenal: atmospheric, emotional, and tailored to suit BANKS’ reedy vocals. I don’t know how production can be emotional really, but listen to this record and you’ll see what I mean. The whole thing is incredibly catchy, and manages to sound so trendy even though it’s dripping with feelings. I would certainly keep an eye on this woman for the future.
Picks: Brain, This Is What It Feels Like, Change, Warm Water
5. The Kooks – Listen
What a shock it is that The Kooks are actually relevant in 2014. I wrote them off alongside the majority of you with the release of their second album, Konk, which was a mediocre mish-mash of attempted hit singles and boring filler tracks. So what a pleasant surprise it was when Listen landed on my desk back in Autumn. Instead of being met with the usual naff “Oh-woah-oh” and generic guitar riffs, I was met with a vibrant and edgy new sound from the Brighton four-piece. Drawing from their incredibly successful debut, Listen incorporates blues and reggae influences. You really get the sense that, since reaching the depths of their popularity, The Kooks regained a sense of fearlessness and musical passion. With the exception of Are We Electric, this album is a complete success, enjoyable from beginning to end. It’s so upbeat and funky and the lyrics are genuinely interesting and relevant. It only disappoints me that a lot of people will have written it off before having given it a chance.
Picks: It Was London, Bad Habit, Sweet Emotion, Forgive & Forget
What just missed the cut
Alt-J – This Is All Yours: Some may find it absurd that I’ve named Taylor Swift as my Number 1 while previous Mercury Award winners, Alt-J, didn’t make the cut. Trust me, nobody is as surprised as me. As a self-professed Alt-J mega-fan since the release of their debut, I was counting down the seconds to the release of their second LP. But while there are some tracks on the album that do the band justice, others just try a little bit too hard. The whole Alt-J brand can get a little bit insufferable when it starts to seep into their musical creativity, with song sequel, Bloodflood Pt. II, being a key example of this. It was all just a little bit too repetitive for me, without bringing anything new or innovative to the table. I almost feel as though the band are riding off of the success of their debut, as it seems evident that the same amount of attention to detail has not been met this time round. The most striking difference is the inconsistency of This Is All Yours compared to the almost flawless An Awesome Wave. So many of the songs on this album are skippable, which is incredibly frustrating when the ones that are worth listening to are so insanely good.
Picks: Nara, Every Other Freckle, Left Hand Free, Hunger Of The Pine