End Of Year · Music

Backfill: 2014 EOY: Part 1 of 4

As before, bold for albums or songs that should be higher, strikethrough for those that have not held up over time and should be far lower. This is archive writing by myself that I published on Buzzjack and we’re now on 2014, which is I would say the year when I really started to look back at these and think that I had done myself proud in talking about the music that I liked that year. So in all honesty I probably won’t do much editing and putting in extra italic comments (that signifies that’s 2016 me and not 2014 me) unless there is an extra point I want to make.  

First up, it’s albums:
31. The Fray – Helios
30. Lily Allen – Sheezus
29. Beyoncé – Beyoncé
28. OneRepublic – Native
27. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
26. Alyssa Reid – Time Bomb
25. The Cab – Symphony Soldier
24. The Cat Empire – Steal The Light
23. The Hoosiers – The News From Nowhere
22. Katy B – Little Red
21. 2NE1 – Crush

To be perfectly honest, most of these albums I haven’t felt motivated enough to sit down and give an entire listen through, what I’ve heard from them is good for the most part but it doesn’t motivate me to want more and more. I have linked a non-single/non-obvious highlight to each one nevertheless.

Helios is a product of my brother’s casual loyalty to The Fray, it has vague places where they’re trying to be less boring but it doesn’t entirely succeed. Sheezus I was rather underwhelmed by, it’s definitely Lily’s weakest work and there’s not much to excite me like there was on her 2nd album, there are occasional bits of goodness but they don’t have a great shelf life on the whole. Beyoncé’s opus mostly passed me by but there are a few strong songs on it, if I can ignore the self-congratulatory feeling that seems to permeate it. OneRepublic I’ve been loving about at the highest level one should love a band of their ilk, in that I’m still playing Counting Stars a lot, and against all odds it still sounds fresh, the rest of the album is reasonably samey though and there’s few reasons to listen to anything other than CS.

Stay Gold was a bit of a disappointment for me, I haven’t found an Emmylou or Lion’s Roar on it and my folk love from a couple of years ago hasn’t been as strong this time around. I’m going to keep listen to it and see if I can find a few more growers, I probably did gloss over it a bit too quickly. Time Bomb is another album that doesn’t benefit from my tastes shifting, only the first two singles seem like anything strong from Alyssa though.

The Cab and The Cat Empire do benefit from my tastes shifting though, both are albums a couple of years old but I got into both bands quite a bit this year and this is a representation of that. The Cab are pretty standard pop-rock but the odd song does make me notice them, the best of which most people will know in its speeded-up version (i.e. Angel With A Shotgun), while The Cat Empire are an off-the-wall ska-jazz-latin-reggae-rock Australian band who may feature as a future Séyetan entry if I ever work up the courage to send them, their songs are surprisingly amazing when you let them grow on you.

Everyone may have forgotten about The Hoosiers but their third album is a decent enough mature effort that’s not really driven by commercialism either, always nice to feel. Katy B’s second album didn’t quite live up to the lofty heights of the first one but there’s a lot of good songs on there, particularly among the likes of Aaliyah and Sapphire Blue, I’d put it in my top 20 if I could. And finally, the first proper K-Pop album that I got didn’t really disappoint with a lot of strong 2NE1 songs in a pretty compact form, I’ve linked MTBD as the highlight as (spoiler alert) it didn’t quite make it to my singles chart, most of the album could be there instead though.

20. Meadowlark – Three Six Five
19. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
18. Christina Perri – Head Or Heart
17. Foxes – Glorious
16. Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love

Three Six Five, so named I assume because of its four tracks (or, you know, because that’s the length of the year), is the shortest ‘album’ here by some distance. It’s the debut EP of Kate McGill’s new band and BJSC participants will be familiar with the name. The three tracks on here which aren’t Family Tree are also very lovely cute pop tracks, and the band has a lot of potential should they continue.

One above is Lana’s followup to Born To Die, which was one of the best albums of 2012. Ultraviolence isn’t really as good, there were lots of cool memorable melodies on BTD that aren’t really apparent here, but certain tracks mean it isn’t a huge writeoff in the slightest. Meanwhile, Head Or Heart is a pretty lovely album with lovely ballady tunes, even though it’s just more of the same from Christina Perri, I do love her but it does not feel as special as lovestrong on the whole. Both of these are classic ‘sophomore slump’ albums and so it’s hard to listen to them without negatively comparing them to the debut, which remains perfect in my eyes. Hopefully in a year’s time they will have worked their way in some more and I’ll appreciate them just as much, that’s how I work with albums.

Foxes I thought had huge potential to be a big favourite at certain points while she was breaking through, but she’s going to have to settle for a mid-level position with Glorious, which again is good but I’ve been less pop-oriented this year so the music hasn’t hit me as much as I’d like. Again, certain tracks are absolute essentials, others are not.

Paolo though, his work is the epitome of where I want my music taste to be, sonically interesting music coupled with an artistry that feels natural and unique, and until now he’s only touched the edge of this with his first two albums. Caustic Love is very different though, it feels far more raw but also like a collection of future classic songs, and I predict it’ll be one. It was very big for me during the summer and hearing of things like festival season going on, where it seemed he was everywhere for Radio 1 only helped me appreciate him more as I heard interviews with him about the record. And of course there were a couple of tracks from it that I would love like I had never loved a Nutini track before. Great album from an artist I’d previously overlooked.

From here on out I think the album commentary will become much more informed as I am more familiar with the top 15.

15. Lorde – Pure Heroine
14. Avicii – True
13. Kyla La Grange – Cut Your Teeth
12. Coldplay – Ghost Stories
11. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Lorde fooled me with Royals, I never hugely took to that, but the rest of her material is SO CUTE (with a healthy dose of teenage girl powah powah) and exactly the sort of thing pop needs. I got this album, along with the two other albums in this section that were technically released in 2013, with a giftcard last Christmas, so it’s had the entire year to grow on me and that’s helped its cause immensely, strong messages, interesting songs that both draw you in with the titles and keep you there when you start listening, this is more like the sort of album that I love.

One up, my weakness as far as popular music goes is euphoric dance and any strong producer will have me captivated if they’re at the top of their game and release an album with good melodies and beats. This is what Avicii has done with True, an album that encapsulates the dance sound of late 2013/early 2014, the brief reign of country-dance/dance with strong memorable vocals that this guy set into motion. It was wonderful and there are a lot of big hitters on this one, particularly the likes of Lay Me Down and Shame On Me as well as the great singles.

Another sophomore slump (albeit a minor one) from a female vocalist comes in the form of Kyla La Grange’s Cut Your Teeth. I’m not exaggerating when I say Ashes is now one of my favourite albums of the last few years, so Cut Your Teeth had a huge amount to live up to, and Kyla’s shift in sound made the endeavour a bit risky, while I far prefer her being folksy and/or employing Coldplay-style riffs, at least the shift to electronica made me notice what she’d done. It has nothing on Ashes but throughout the late summer I was listening to loads of both Kylas, which means this was a success.

Speaking of Coldplay, they’re up with Ghost Stories, which like all Coldplay albums is going to take years and years to grow on me, but it is very respectable and a nice, more subtle change in direction from Mylo Xyloto. I probably prefer them loud and boisterous, but the slow Coldplay has its merits too, and there are plenty of good examples of that on here.

Reflektor the track did very well for me last year, so now it’s the turn of the album, which, as befits my conversion to Arcade Fire loondom this year, only just misses out on a very strong top 10. Having heard all their albums now it’s probably their weakest but that’s no slight given their back catalogue, highlights like Awful Sound and We Exist along with the obvious Reflektor and Afterlife make it a very enjoyable indie-rock record to fit in my small collection from that genre. I want to expand (was really into the idea of getting albums by bands with weird names and interesting song titles at this point, still am to an extent, certainly more exciting than the idea of listening to bloody ‘Home’ by James Smith or something)

10. Amaranthe – Massive Addictive

Highlights: Dynamite, Drop Dead Cynical, Trinity, Massive Addictive, Skyline, Exhale

The sequel to my #1 from last year, Amaranthe’s glorious second album ‘The Nexus’, I was very hyped for a new album coming out with barely 18 months gap, that’s lightning speed for a metal band. This peculiar set of circumstances means it’s also the newest album in the top 10. They had replaced one member of the band and it’s to their credit that I can’t really tell, the harsh vocals still sound as energetic and uplifting as ever. Massive Addictive itself though lives up to its name, it’s massive, and it is addictive; the tracks are full of ferocious clean pop melodies mixed in with some dirty metal guitar strumming and with the electro hints to their music stronger than even on The Nexus. Honestly, it’s at the bottom of this 10 because it is ‘The Nexus’ part 2, that’s no bad thing but it doesn’t feel as perfect as that one did so negative comparisons and all…
Of note, beyond the hugeness of Drop Dead Cynical which will be covered in my singles chart is the glorious album closer in Exhale. Even The Nexus had time for a couple of ballads but the same is barely true here (well, the track called ‘True’ is also ballady to an extent), so this closing midtempo is the closest we have and it caught my attention very early on with its beauty, a lovely way to end this chapter in Amaranthe-shaped fun and games.

9. Babymetal – Babymetal (the only bold I’m doing in the album rank, I got most of this right but Babymetal has become one of my favourite albums of the last few years, as I say below, DEADLY SERIOUS) 

Highlights: Megitsune, Gimme Chocolate!!, Onedari Daisakusen, Uki Uki ★ Midnight, Catch Me If You Can, Rondo Of Nightmare, Head Bangya!!

Deadly serious (but then why wouldn’t I be)! You’ve seen me rave about the greatness of this band quite a bit over the last year, and that’s not just because of the fast and wonderfully crafted singles, but the whole package of the band that is Babymetal. I will be honest and say that people very concerned about exactly what metal is will not like their stuff at all, while the people who like just pop might be a bit taken aback by the sight of Japanese teenage girls singing both pop and going in for metal at the same time. However, for people like me; I was already a fan of Amaranthe, and Babymetal are essentially the teen Asian version of them. A weird mix of pop and metal that because of my love for both genres at their best combines to make me absolutely adore the musical result.

This album barely ever stops for breath, each track is different, there’s a vague lyrical theme involving the day of a teenage girl (I think?). At least the tracks marked Morning, Midnight and Nightmare give that impression. It’s not the best rock album this year, but it’s been a very enjoyable and interesting listen throughout this year, and if you ever feel like expanding your genre horizons to J-pop or metal, start with this album and open your mind. You will not be disappointed.

8. Tove Lo – Queen Of The Clouds

Highlights: Talking Body, Timebomb, Got Love, Not On Drugs, Thousand Miles, Habits (Stay High) [Hippie Sabotage Remix]

Tove Lo is my favourite ‘new’ (as in, released her debut album) pop singer this year and this is largely due to said lovely album, which takes everything good about her singing style and repeats it again and again over 16 tracks. Normally I would criticise an album for being samey, but the specific formula used here is pretty fantastic, and unlike so much pop music this year, compelling and interesting. Even Like Em Young, which seems a bit suspicious at first, has a lovely melody that makes you forget about those lyrics, and lyrically it’s a sharp curve upwards from here, through Talking Body, Timebomb, and all of the next two ‘sections’, a simple construct to make the album seem more structured.

That gives the album meaning, and so with that meaning this becomes the sort of pop album I love listening to, a brilliant debut. If only Out Of Mind was on here in its original form, then it’d be unstoppable.

7. Within Temptation – Hydra

Highlights: Dangerous (feat. Howard Jones), And We Run (feat. Xzibit), Silver Moonlight, Covered By Roses, Whole World Is Watching (feat. Dave Pirner)

With Hydra, Within Temptation had crafted their most accessible and commercially successful album yet, possibly even the most accessible gothic metal album since Fallen. I’ve always seen them before this as playing second fiddle to Nightwish in their field, but with a number of killer features and fantastic melodies, Hydra has given them their own identity as a band, for me at least, and probably for everyone else bar the Dutch and Regina.

For me, this was one of the first albums I got this year having never invested in a WT album before, and I was not disappointed, and it has made me want to go back and collect the other ones, which given as I hype this genre loads, is something I really need to do. I’m always a sucker for a duet and this album has a remarkable FOUR of them, all killer, indicative in that they all became singles, even if Paradise tired on me after a while, and the other tracks aren’t really slackers, Silver Moonlight and Covered By Roses especially. An essential album for anyone who wants to get into the lighter side of metal, or just wants some rock that’s slightly harder than Paramore and remembers Evanescence fondly. There’s a reason tracks from this have had a far wider reach than ever before.

6. Lindsey Stirling – Lindsey Stirling

Highlights: Electric Daisy Violin, Zi-Zi’s Journey, Crystallize, Moon Trance, Elements, Shadows

Yes, this is an album from 2012, and it’s in my top 10 albums of this year. That’s because before the summer of this year, all I knew from Lindsey Stirling with any sort of familiarity at all was Crystallize, which I adored. I just didn’t have the impetus to seek out more though. The release of Shatter Me and the impact the title track, did that for me, and I’ve barely stopped playing it, well both albums since, so unlike the likes of Funeral I feel I can get away with handing it a spot here. In all honesty, I probably prefer it to Shatter Me, it’s a stunner of a debut album but I was harsh to it because of its age for the integrity of this chart, and because the only reason it’s in here is because I want to talk about what an effect this album has had on my year; on balance it was probably the most significant ‘new to me’ album for 2014. (2014 was the year of me loving Lindsey Stirling so it’s very relevant here)

Entirely instrumental aside from a couple of sung lines on the last track, Stars Align, Lindsey nevertheless captures a perfect feeling of what most of the tracks are about just through the music, and that music is incredibly, incredibly epic, I could listen to every track over and over again. Zi-Zi’s Journey in particular is very me, largely because it could be ‘Iz-Iz’s Journey’ if one used a bit of imagination. It’s all very good classical melodies, I’ve began to discover lately just how good mixing some classical tunes with a more modern element can be, and it all feels entirely seamless. I was very often listening to this to help me get through some work or other this year, because it’s so easy to listen to and it inspired me to work harder without distracting me with lyrics, which I hardly need most of the time in music. I took loads away from this album, and well, Lindsey proved she was a great musician with this album and there’s a lot more goodness to come from her…

5. Lights – Little Machines

Highlights: Running With The Boys, Up We Go, Same Sea, Muscle Memory, Oil And Water, Don’t Go Home Without Me

There was a reason I put Lindsey at #6, because I barely know how to separate my top 5 albums. As good as Hydra is, there’s a significant gap between it and these 5, which are all utterly fantastic albums worth anyone’s time. Up here then, is probably one of my most anticipated albums this year, the proper return of someone who is probably one of my favourite pop singers of all time, largely due to her beautiful, vulnerable, ethereal voice, that is, of course Lights. Little Machines came out in September and as you may have seen, I actually posted and looned in the Pop Forum for it. I never do that normally, I barely even go in that forum any more, which is poor coming from a former mod I know but it shows how much a fan I am of this woman. (essentially, this sort of electropop is the only ‘pure’ pop I am ever here for anymore)

Anyway, Little Machines. Fantastic third album, it went back to what Lights is most comfortable in, I’d say, with more of the pure innocent pop that had been common on The Listening rather than the dubstep prevalent in Siberia. What’s kept from era 2 though, are a set of much better lyrics to go with the equally good melodies, from the album title drop on Running With The Boys to the longing Don’t Go Home Without Me, it feels very much like The Listening’s big mature sister than anything else (not that I’m knocking The Listening’s lyrics, I mean just check out my member title *.*). I was very pleased with it, and I hope I wasn’t the only one, because Lights deserves all the attention she can get, she’s one artist Canada doesn’t have to apologise for (well, her and Arcade Fire), it’s a shame she barely gets to go beyond its borders.

4. Kasabian – 48: 13

Highlights: Bumblebeee, Stevie, Treat, Explodes, Eez-Eh, Bow

Well, I mean, even with my expected sycophantic gestures towards anything with a hint of guitar in it these days, I was unsure about a new Kasabian album given Velociraptor had underwhelmed me a lot three years ago and so, even after a great first single in Eez-Eh, I went into their newest magenta-covered album with a healthy dose of scepticism. Which as it turns out, wasn’t needed. There are a lot of great stadium anthems here, almost as many as there were on West Ryder, which has left me wondering which is actually better, and sometimes I break all rules of established music critical tradition and think it’s this one. Oh, and it’s also now launched the rule, for me at least, of superior odd Kasabian albums, which means their next amazing one is due in 2020.

This works, and it’s worked as a project for Kasabian, because there’s a willingness here to move with the times, it sounds drastically different to my ears to what they had success with in 2009, in some ways reminiscent of 2004, but also incredibly 2014, Eez-Eh has a load of probably future cringe modern lyrics, Stevie is an anthem for the lost youth of today, and Treat is practically a dance song. Basically, what they did caught people’s attention and it certainly caught my attention, and made me relisten to every Kasabian album on my iTunes. Quite a few times. Before this album Kasabian were barely a footnote in my musical taste, now they’ve become one of the first things I think of when asked to name ‘modern rock’. To do that in a year is seriously impressive.

3. Tuomas Holopainen – Music Inspired By The Life And Times of Scrooge

Glasgow 1877 – 9.5/10
Into The West – 9/10
Duel & Cloudscapes – 10/10
Dreamtime – 8/10
Cold Heart Of The Klondike – 9.5/10
The Last Sled – 10/10
Goodbye, Papa – 8/10
To Be Rich – 8/10
A Lifetime Of Adventure – 11/10
Go Slowly Now, Sands Of Time – 9/10
A Lifetime Of Adventure (Alternative Version) – 10/10

When Tuomas, a guy who is literally the closest thing I have to a true musical hero (a statement I stand by, life dream would be for Tuomas to acknowledge me senpai), thanks to his near-100% record of fantastic composing for Nightwish, announced he was attempting a solo career, I was very curious to see what would result, as he doesn’t sing anymore, which meant this would be more of a project for him to test his skills. And given it was something without the metal vibes of the rest of Nightwish, I should have expected something quite different, but I wasn’t quite prepared for exactly what Tuomas had in store.

The Life And Times of Scrooge is a concept album, charting one of Tuomas’ favourite stories, the comic books of the title character, with which he worked with the original animator to get the artwork all right. With Tuomas’ ever beautiful compositions and the talents of several cool and varied guest vocalists, it’s a real joy to listen to. Concept albums are also really neat in that they encourage you to listen to it as a full album, so that’s really helped its case in my eyes, and given it charts an already existing story, it gives extra weight to the beautiful cinematic sound surrounding tracks like Glasgow 1877 and Cold Heart Of The Klondike.

Like 48:13, what really elevates Scrooge above what it could have been is that the artist is expanding their boundaries, with hints of familiarity (Duel & Cloudscapes could belong on Imaginaerum easily as one of the instrumentals and that buildup in The Last Sled is comfortingly recognisable as the sort of thing Tuomas does all the time) to keep the fans on board. I swear most of the comments I saw on the music videos from this, still posted on the heavy metal Nuclear Blast Youtube channel, were along the lines of ‘this is different from what I was expecting but I really like this’, and trust me, that is not usual with metal fans, just see how they reacted to Babymetal. It’s been a great album to help me fill the long time that I’ve been waiting for a new Nightwish album, a more thoughtful affair than the whirlwind those often are and showing a great accessible side to Mr Holopainen; if you liked The Last Sled from BJSC, check this one out.

2. Clean Bandit – New Eyes

Mozart’s House – 10/10
Extraordinary – 8/10
Dust Clears – 9.5/10
Rather Be – 11/10
A+E – 10/10
Come Over – 10/10
Cologne – 9/10
Telephone Banking – 9.5/10
Up Again – 9/10
Heart On Fire – 7.5/10
New Eyes – 9/10
Birch – 8/10

I don’t think this group really need any introduction, nor does their album, named as it in such a way that it’s very APT the new me fell so much in love with them. Because they’re Paramore fans, obviously. (this is a joke about my name on there being Eyes, I guess Izzy Stars isn’t too different to that)
Unlike most albums here, I’ve seen this one live, which has helped me fall in love with a lot of the tracks, especially Cologne, which I completely passed over before the concert and now is so incredibly cool for me that I can’t really handle it. And that’s just the start, from the incredibly weird Mozart’s House, Dust Clears and Telephone Banking to the relatively normal Rather Be and Up Again, it is a brilliant album that isn’t particularly cohesive but rather gains its greatness from being full of fantastic tracks. I have vaguely listened to the bonus tracks but not enough to rate here unfortunately, rest assured that I do like Rihanna and other ones.

I’m so very glad they’ve gone big because it would have been a crime to have such interesting music ignored by the public, and given how indie they seemed before Rather Be, that would never have happened without that track. This year has proved my love for classical-crossover music, this is a fantastic example of how to fuse that with dance, but it isn’t the only one in my top 2, the number one is also an example of that (and of course everyone knows what it is (it was that apparent))…

1. Lindsey Stirling – Shatter Me

Beyond The Veil – 9.5/10
Mirror Haus – 9/10
V-Pop – 9.5/10
Shatter Me (feat. Lzzy Hale) – 11/10
Heist – 9/10
Roundtable Rival – 10.5/10
Night Vision – 9/10
Take Flight – 9.5/10
Ascendance – 9/10
We Are Giants (feat. Dia Frampton) – 10/10
Swag – 8.5/10
Master Of Tides – 10/10

I got this album in July, so I’ve had it for nearly 6 months, and in that time I have listened to it enough that if you asked me how I’d describe the sound of 2014, to me it wasn’t really deep house or 90s throwback, even though those do feature heavily in my singles chart, it was violin-stringed dubstep (a sound I think we can all agree is one of the greatest sounds to ever come into existence). All these tracks are great in their own way and while near the middle a lot of them sound pretty similar, that’s similarly great more than anything else.

Starting off we have first single Beyond The Veil, which is very much a bit of a sequel to Crystallize, followed by the track Mirror Haus, which obviously gives us a lovely violin-dubstep interpretation of Bal becoming a die-hard Ella Henderson loon, V-Pop, which samples Rapture to great effect, turning it into another, and then we reach the crowning jewel of the album, the title track. I’ll talk about that more in my singles chart. The second part of the album is full of high speed strings of gloriousness from tracks like Take Flight, the former which is particularly longing in the same way as so many of the tracks on the first album, and Night Vision, which is more epic in its construction, rather like Shadows and Elements, then we get to We Are Giants.

I overlooked it at first, feeling it a bit weak compared to the other vocalled track and the instrumentals, but Dia’s vocals grew on me, I got the emotion in them (she’s good at emotion, see also Blood) and it’s now one of the most appealing ones on there for me. Finally, Swag and Master Of Tides close the album out on an appropriately quirky vibe, that’s what Ms Stirling does best, she’s the master of the quirky instrumental. I fully believe my year would have had something missing without this and the first album, so big thanks must go to Lindsey for providing me with a near bottomless well of fantastic listening for this year.

So, Shatter Me triumphed in the albums chart, but will she do it again in the singles? Stay tuned to my incredibly interesting thread to find out. And that’s it for my albums chart, come back in 2016 after Nightwish have secured their #1 next year for an actual battle. Possibly. Owl City might have released another full-length then. (actually, it is looking like a real battle for once in the 2016 albums, I’m quite excited to see what I’ll choose)


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