Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Land of Sunshine albums of 2014

When I began compiling this year’s list I was pretty sure I would struggle to think of even 10 albums worthy of mention. But as I trolled through my iTunes ‘recently added’ I kept finding more and more, and as you can see from my lengthy ‘Honourable Mentions’ list, in the end I was struggling to get it down to just 10. 2014 has really been the year of the sleeper hit. Albums that have crept in under the radar and nested in my brain, slowly growing without me really noticing. Only on review did I realise quite how much awesome music had been made this year. But hey, enough of my yacking. Let’s get down to brass tacks…

10. Valley Of The Sun – ‘Electric Talons Of The Thunderhawk’ valley-of-the-sun-electric-talons-of-the-thunderhawk Hands down the winner of 2014’s greatest album title, this is a monolithic, groovy slab of stoner rock from the unlikely town of Cincinnati, Ohio. Valley of the Sun make way more noise than three people should rightly be able to. All the ingredients for a great stoner album are evident. Fuzzy bass, grooving riffs, soaring 70’s rock vocals, and just the right amount of cowbell (ie. loads of it!). This is an incredibly assured debut album and I can tell you from experience, they’re even better live (their drummer is a maniac!). Check out the chorus hanging off of this bad boy and you’ll see what I mean. 9. Ginger Wildheart – ‘Albion’ albion For the third year in a row Mr. Wildheart makes an appearance in our top 10 and I must admit this one nearly slipped my mind. After 2012’s Pledge Campaign smashing ‘555%’ and last year’s pop / metal double whammy of Hey! Hello! and Mutation, ‘Albion’ almost seemed to arrive without much fanfare. It’s just the new Ginger Wildheart album. Fortunately that’s much like saying ‘just the new Scorsese movie’ as the guy never disappoints. All the things that make a great Ginger album are evident in spades. Soaring melodies, inventive riffs, songs that jump from out and out pop to crunching metal in a matter of minutes. There may not be many surprises on Albion compared to some of his other releases but if you’re after incredible melodic rock that never fails to stir the emotions then there’s really only one man I would turn to. 8. Lyla Foy – ‘Mirrors The Sky’ mirrorsthesky There aren’t many albums in my collection that one would describe as ‘chilled out’. There’s a bit of Sneaker Pimps lurking in there and an Ennio Morricone collection that has some relaxing moments on it, but other than that it’s pretty much on the other end of the scale. Therefore this wonderful little album from London based songwriter Lyla Foy is both the literal and metaphorical ‘sleeper hit’ of my year.  Coming to my attention when, of all things, horse based, animated comedy Bojak Horseman decided to end an episode with her song Impossible instead of its usual closing theme. The song got under my skin so much that I found myself on Spotify listening to the entire album. For want of a better description, Miss Foy sounds somewhat akin to Lana Del Rey but at no point did I feel like cutting myself. All mellow synths, jangly guitars, and restrained, sensual vocals. It is deceptively catchy indie pop at its best and it’s fucking beautiful. Someone make this girl a star. 7. Sons Of Merrick – ‘Of English Execution’ Of-English-Execution-2014 But enough of this relaxing stuff. Kent boys Sons of Merrick aren’t interested in your spiritual well being, they want to strip the flesh from your bones and pour cheap booze on the open wounds. Their first album, 2009’s ‘Tight Nerves & Suavity’ was a rollicking slice of ragged stoner metal, yet was very much the sum of its influences. Of English Execution sounds like them and them alone. Still retaining the dirty Down style groove, the boys have added a proggy experimental edge to their sound. While monsters like Volley’d And Thunder’d and Hideously Taloned (what a song name!) will sate the riff mongers out there, the brooding epic Of Dusky Palour and loony closing instrumental The Rats Are Coming / The Werewolves Are Here (!!!) really show how much they’ve grown as songwriters and musicians. Vocalist Nick Berkshire has grown so impressively as a vocalist, and backed by such a talented bunch of bastards these boys are a force to be reckoned with. 6. Malibu SharMalibuk Attack – ‘Malibu Shark Attack’ I can’t really add anything that I haven’t already said in my review earlier this year. Indie hip hop at its best. Just go grab a copy! 5. The Hold Steady – ‘Teeth Dreams’ 91nqhzzkddl-sl1400-1395337976 I was worried that The Hold Steady had lost something with the departure of their keyboard player Franz Nicolay. 2010’s Heaven Is Whenever, while still better than most band’s albums, lacked the spark that made ‘Stay Positive’ and ‘Boys & Girls In America’ such instant classics. Having returned from hiatus they have seemingly embraced the fact that they’re a guitar band and made a wonderfully earnest album of stripped bare guitar rock. No bells and whistles, just great tunes led by Craig Finn’s trademark story telling lyrics. Teeth Dreams should please fans old and new, blending the raw honesty of the early albums with the melodic sensibility of their later work. It might not quite reach the heights of ‘Boys & Girls…’ but it’s pretty damn close. 4. Jack White – ‘Lazaretto’ Jack_White_-_Lazaretto Let’s get this out of the way, I never liked The White Stripes. All that monotonous drumming and lack of bass player never really worked for me. As a result it took me a while to be talked round to listening to White’s first solo album ‘Blunderbuss’, but when I did I was blown away. It was how I always wanted The White Stripes to sound. Lazaretto makes Blunderbuss look like shit, if you’ll pardon my French. It is easily the most effortlessly cool album since Queens Of The Stone Age’s ‘Like Clockwork’. Veering from all out Prince-esque groove, to the gentlest of piano led bluegrass, it plays like a CV of everything that makes Jack White one of the most talented and creative songwriters around today. If you’re not humming the piano riff from Alone In My Home after the first listen then there’s something wrong with your ears. Believe me, it’s taking the suppression of every part of my male ego even to post this video – 3. Möngöl Hörde – ‘Möngöl Hörde mongol_1344067775_crop_550x550 And now on to the biggest surprise of the year. Folk troubadour Frank Turner had been threatening this project, which sees him returning to his hardcore punk roots and teaming up with old Million Dead bandmate Ben Dawson, for some time. I was excited, but I never anticipated the monster that this album turned out to be. At little over half an hour ‘Möngöl Hörde’ is a blistering exercise in intelligent, face melting, post hardcore, and boy is it exciting. Despite being just a singer, guitarist and drummer (they have no bass player, repeat, they have no bass player!), they sound enormous.  Frank is especially in top, throat grating form, as he belts out tales of marauding Mongolians, celebrity tape worms, and how he really, really, hates emoticons. His lyrics are furious and hilarious in equal measure, bringing to mind such lumiaries as Jello Baifra rather than today’s metalcore crowd. That’s not to say it’s mindless. In fact a lot of it is incredibly catchy. Take one listen to lead single Casual Threats From Weekend Hardmen and you’ll be ‘whooing’ along for the rest of the day. I had the pleasure of catching these guys in London and it was terrific. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we hear from them. 2. Manchester Orchestra – ‘Cope’ homepage_large.cc98c6af Did I say that ‘Teeth Dreams’ was raw and honest? My apologies, I had forgotten that this was coming up. Playing more like a spiritual successor to their 2009 album ‘Mean Everything To Nothing’ than the more mellifluous ‘Simple Math’, ‘Cope’ is Andy Hull at his soul bearing, heart bleeding best. Gone are the strings, the gentle acoustic numbers and the lilting southern rock of their last album, this is pure ear-bleeding grunge guitars and wounded animal vocals, cornered but furious. But this isn’t metal, these are still some of the most beautiful and melodic songs you will hear all year. Like Neil Young channeling Kurt Cobain, this is pure, unfiltered, alternative rock and it’s incredible.  Andy Hull’s introspective, small town tales tug at the heart while being strangely inspirational. The title track is one of the bleakest and most beautiful songs they have ever written and even lighter songs like Girl Harbour drip with brutal sincerity. Manchester Orchestra may be the greatest alternative rock band of the last ten years. 1. Afghan Whigs – ‘Do To The Beast’ Whigs_cover_noband There are two types of people in the world, those who love Afghan Whigs, and those who have never heard Afghan Whigs. Possibly the most under rated band of the 90’s, they went from raw grunge rockers to dark, sexy soul rock pioneers over the course of six albums before disbanding in 2001. Ten years later they reformed for a handful of gigs, but it was three years after that that they finally announced they’d be making a new album. Had time been kind to the Whigs? Would this be simply a cash in album made by a bunch of comfortable, middle aged men? I think its position on the list answers these questions. Of course I already new the answer. I had seen them back in 2013 and they were nothing short of stunning. Although nothing could prepare me for just how sublime ‘Do To The Beast’ turned out to be. It does exactly what a comeback album should do. It harks back to the band’s signature sound, but at the same time brings something fresh and never before heard. This isn’t ‘1965’ pt 2, this is entirely its own…er…beast. Obviously there’s still much for lovers of their back catalogue to get their teeth into. Opener Parked Outside is classic Whigs. That threatening two chord riff recalling the darker moments of ‘Black Love’. Dulli’s lovelorn lyrics read almost like call to arms and an announcement to the fans who’ve stuck with them (‘If time can incinerate what I was to you, allow me to illustrate how the hand becomes the fuse, if they’ve seen it all show them something new’). The Lottery, meanwhile, stirs memories of Gentlemen (from the album of the same name) with its jittery riff and soaring, majestic chorus. But there’s an unexpected spring in the step of new Whigs. ‘Matamoros’ is the first Afghan Whigs song you could genuinely dance to, and Can Rova even has, dare I say it, a house beat underneath it. But it works. All of it works. Which is why this is my album of the year, and that’s without even mentioning the laid back delight of Lost In The Woods, or the dark, heart wrenching beauty of It Kills (‘it kills to watch you love another’). If you have yet to discover the wonder that is The Afghan Whigs then ‘Do To The Beast’ would be a worthy way to start. Honorable Mentions – Machine Head – ‘Bloodstone & Diamonds’. Weezer – ‘Everything Will Be Alright In The End’. The Menzingers – ‘Rented World’. Boy Hits Car – ‘All That Led Us Here’. Foo Fighters – ‘Sonic Highways’. Slipknot – ‘.5: The Grey Chapter’. Mike Doughty – ‘Stellar Motel’. Royal Blood – ‘Royal Blood’. Atmosphere – ‘Southsiders’. Sage Francis – ‘Copper Gone’. Christian Fitness – ‘I’m Scared Of Everything That Isn’t Me’. Mastodon – ‘Once More ‘Round The Sun’. Linkin Park – ‘The Hunting Party’.