As we reach the middle of the year, DiS' staff share the records released so far in 2014 that they love the most.
There was no voting nonsense, we simply asked our writing team to send us a paragraph about their favourite album of the half-year and here - in no particular order - is what they told us...
as carefully planned as luck would have it, it came to a nice round number.
Sean Adams (Editor): ††† (or Crosses) have made one of the albums of the year. Featuring the vocals of Deftones' Chino Moreno, who could probably sing the entire Russian phonebook and it be a deeply sexual experience, Crosses conjures a wall of mythical beasts writhing in the corner of your mind's eye. The LP is kind of a collection of EPs but don't let that put you off one iota, as it takes everything foreboding about Deftones' classic baby-maker White Pony and bedazzles it with M83's glittering giganatronica.
Andrzej Lukowski (Reviews Editor): I try to be as cold-eyedly unsentimental about music and musicians as physically possible, but nonetheless I was a bit discomfited by the fact that Marissa Nadler's last, self-titled album didn't do a lot for me, despite the self-funded blood sweat and tears she put into it. July was a monumental follow up, though, regaining the mystique without losing the maturity.
Sharon Van Etten
Are We There
Matthew Slaughter: A record that I’ve been unable to resist playing on a daily basis since first being handed it for review a couple of months back. Heartbreaking, glorious, poetic, anthemic – everything you could ask for from perhaps the most talented songwriter of a generation. I’m now feeling my 9/10 was a little low.
Dom Gourlay: Having seemingly taken an eternity in the making, Eagulls was well worth the wait. Buzzing with vitality and an eagerness to experiment, the Leeds five-piece fused guttural punk with sonic adventurism like a Northern Killing Joke or The Horrors post Strange House.
Here and Nowhere Else
Robert Leedham (Singles Columnist): When was the last time guitar, bass and drums sounded this good? Here And Nowhere Else falls into the same lineage as The Replacements' Let It Be and Hüsker Dü's New Day Rising, but those records were then and Dylan Baldi's band are now. Rabble-rousers to their very core, in just eight songs they inspire an adrenaline rush to believe in... Impressionable teens with low self-esteem: This is a rock band. This could be you.
Jon Clark: A ferocious, succinct 27 minute LP, Here and Nowhere Else doesn't pause for breath, perfectly demonstrating everything exciting about guitar music. 'No Thoughts' gets me every single time. It is a record that you cannot get bored of.
Matt Langham: Forget AOTY of 2014 so far - this will be it, full stop. CN mastermind Dylan Baldini binned off none other than Steve Albini as producer from 2012’s Attack on Memory, writing Here and Nowhere Else ad hoc on the road, recording it sans rehearsals in double-quick time. Such rare boldness would be self-sabotaging to most, but Baldini’s gifts as a punk songwriter transcend any pitfalls. The record is a strident triumph, the apotheosis of his bruised work to date; a fearsome howl of a record fulminating with pride and insight and rage, shot through with a rare amphetamine urgency of performance. Listening to it - or, better, seeing the band live - and being comprehensively pummelled into submission is a consistently joyous catharsis. Oh, and for further proof that CN are obviously doing everything right, the NME gave it a LOL-worthy 5/10.
J.R. Moores: Bozulich has described Boy as her “pop” album. It isn’t pop, it’s as bloody weird as ever, only all the songs are under five minutes long. It’s wonky modern blues of such musical and lyrical depth that the album reveals something new each time you give it a spin. Who needs Tom Waits anyway?
To Be Kind
Ben Bland: That To Be Kind is my favourite of 2014 so far should come as little surprise to anyone who read my review of the record earlier this year. Simply put, Swans are the best band on the planet right now, and have been pretty much ever since they returned to action. Gira and co are producing music in a spiritual league of its own, and that alone earns them the right to near unlimited praise.
Joe Goggins: Technically, the release date of June 16th means that this one is right on the borderline as far as the first half of the year’s concerned, but as I’ve had a press copy for a while (and given that it leaked some weeks ago) I think I can just about get away with it. Familiars, in many ways, couldn’t be further from Burst Apart, DiS’ album of the year back in 2011; it’s light, airy and open, where its predecessor was claustrophobic and brooding, often oppressively so. It carries with it all the hallmarks of an Antlers record though; tales of heartbreak, insecurity and anxiety are relayed with a poise and delicacy that few of their contemporaries even come close to. Key to the record’s success is Darby Cicci’s decision to introduce brass instrumentation throughout; in doing so, he’s added another colour to his band’s palette whilst taking nothing away from the sound they’ve been expertly honing since Hospice.
The Phantom Band
Aaron Lavery: Only just reviewed this, but having now seen them play it live it only confirms that it's a near-perfect rock record - inventive, varied and unafraid of catchy, anthemic moments. Plus a strong Scottish accent always helps.
The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett
Christopher McBride: I could go into minute details about why I love The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, an album so direct and brutally honest - even by E's loose-tongued standards - about how its direct approach to the subject matter makes Electro-Shock Blues sound like Finnegan's Wake in comparison etc. and so-forth... Instead I will simply say this: it is miles better than Morning Phase, Beck's pish-poor attempt at an "emotional" album.
Paul Faller: Silkidrangar is the debut album proper from prodigal Icelandic trio Samaris, who combine glacial electronica with enchanting vocals and haunting clarinet motifs - think Björk meets Fever Ray and you’re somewhere along the right lines. At times, it calls to mind the bleakly beautiful landscape of their home country, and at others it’s in its own world entirely.
Russell Warfield: After recording this mysterious session in the early eighties, Lewis was never heard from again. These enigmatic songs sound like the start of his escape. Combining the classical guitar licks of Christopher Owens with the heart wrenching R&B vocal of How To Dress Well at his most vulnearabe, Lewis adds nothing more than loose piano runs and whisper-thin synths to sustain his fragile mood piece. The sentiments - when audible - arrest the listener with their simple, loving sincerity; romantic, rapturous and unutterably sad.
Night Time, My Time
Dave Hanratty: Given the current state of 'popular' music, it's easy to get disheartened with a glance at the charts but great pop music is still being created and celebrated by artists who refuse to travel to the ninth circle of hell that is Calvin Harris-approved synth-ramping and numerous shout-outs to the dance floor. One such proponent of this Pop Music Can Be Amazing, Honest movement is Sky Ferreira, whose much-delayed, seemingly-troubled debut Night Time, My Time stands as a super-charged reminder of what the genre is capable of. It is a record bursting at the seams with hooks, imagination and stunning execution. Would that more pop 'stars' gave a shit as much as Ferreira clearly does.
Gemma Hampson: Edgier, rockier and more psychedelic than her previous albums, and full of David Byrne influence, St Vincent's self-titled album is brilliant colour pop. There’s jagged guitar over flickering and swirling synths and her voice is harsh, expressive and looking for attention. There are beautiful soft, soulful moments coupled with a white noise fuzz-fest. It's brilliant.
Gemma Samways: Just when I’d consoled myself to the fact that they probably couldn’t top their last LP, Wild Beasts went and upped their game again. If Smother saw the four-piece cautiously experimenting with electronics, Present Tense found them succumbing fully to the synth to create songs that variously soared, spooked and soothed. An immaculately-imagined, sensitively-rendered set, that's simply brimming with beauty.
EEK featuring Islam Chipsy
Live at the Cairo High Cinema Institute
Tristan Bath: If 2014 is a year of global social upheaval, then Cairo's Islam Chipsy is the perfect soundtrack. Recorded in candid, taboo lo-fidelity by Alan Bishop (Cairo resident and formerly of Sun City Girls), it's a red raw live account of what has to be the most explosive live show in the entire world. Two super hyped drummers locked in perfect sync bash out heavy line after line of breathtaking stereo rhythm while Islam Chipsy runs up and down scale after scale on his fuzzed out keyboard, all executed at furious light speed for maximum effect. As with the global state of political decline, it’s tempting to happily keep a safe distance and listen in, but Chipsy and co leave you no option but to get up, let go, and dance your ass off like there’s no tomorrow. No release has ever quite so persistently left me breathless.
Guilty of Everything
Radhika Tukro: Nothing understand the delicate balance between nostalgia and novelty, the skilled use of haze and clarity. Made up of shoegaze and sawdust, Guilty of Everything blends fragile harmonies with relentless brute force - gentle vocals soaking in guitars that could grate steel. It's gloriously discordant.
Upside Down Mountain
James Skinner: It’s no real surprise, to me, that Upside Down Mountain is my favourite album of the year so far. It is a wonderful piece of work; replete with ranging, contemplative lyrics and some of the warmest, most immediately engaging melodies Oberst has ever produced, it is both comforting and comfortable… but never too comfortable. (The one-two hit of ‘Desert Island Questionnaire’ and ‘Common Knowledge’ in particular makes for a wrenching close.)
East India Youth
Total Strife Forever
Tom Fenwick: I've returned to William Doyle's debut more than any other album in 2014; its nuanced shades of light, dark and the balance in-between terrifying and thrilling me with each repeated listen. In fact, it has a hold on me so great, it's one of the few albums I've reviewed which - given my time again - I would score more highly. It may have left some listeners cold, but to this writer it feels increasingly like a modern classic.
Derek Robertson: Thoroughly deserving of all the acclaim heaped on them since that Letterman performance, these are the best ten tracks of their 11-year career, the brine and bitter melancholia of previous releases replaced by a newfound zest and lust for life. Samuel T. Herring may have played the wounded poet better than anyone, but here their massive songs – and his quietly poignant lyrics – positively burst at the seams with hope, love and optimism, and all but guarantee Future Islands’ ascent from beloved cult band to genuine fame and success.
Gemma Hampson: Nick Mulvey - First Mind (A wonderful combination of west African and hip hop-influenced rhythms and Nick Drake-esq folk. Mulvey's guitar playing is intricate and percussive while his voice is calming and serene. This, matched with some excellent song-writing, makes it a top album for 2014), Ed Harcourt - Time of Dust (This six-track mini-album is touched by darkness – it’s distorted, unsettling, untrustworthy almost, like a creepy character lurking in the shadows. But its nooks and crannies reveal weird and wonderful delights at every turn), Tiny Ruins - Brightly Painted One (Gentle folk from these New Zealanders, but packed with brilliant, catchy melodies that make it almost addictive), Kelis - Food (The husk is back, and she's singing about food).
Dom Gourlay: Cloud Nothings - Here And Nowhere Else (Dylan Baldi and associates come of age...), Soft Walls - No Time (Psychdiscopunkfest), The Horrors - Luminous (Business as usual with an electronic twist), Temples - Sun Structures (Every bit as good as their live shows promised it would be), Eat Lights Become Lights - Into Forever (If this is to be Neil Rudd and co.'s swansong they couldn't have delivered a finer epitaph), Yvette - Process (Bringing the noise to a dancefloor near you), and PROTOMARTYR - Under Color Of Official Right (Channels the fluency of The Walkmen with the eccentricity of XTC and awkwardness of Wire).
Ben Bland: Her Name is Calla - Navigator (Heartbreakingly beautiful stuff from Britain’s most overlooked band), THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (Taking away my austerity blues since January 2014) and St Vincent - St Vincent (The most alluring pop record of recent years).
Joe Goggins: Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else, Lykke Li - I Never Learn, Wye Oak - Shriek, Blood Red Shoes - Blood Red Shoes
Matthew Slaughter: Sun Kil Moon – Benji, Roddy Frame – Seven Dials, Swans – To Be Kind, Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin, Augustines – Augustines, Horse Party – Cover Your Eyes, Tweens – Tweens.
Derek Robertson: St. Vincent – s/t (Weird, bratty, and utter compelling; proof that Annie Clark is up there with the best guitarists of her generation.) and Sharon van Etten – Are We There (The defiant voice and music of someone who's been crushed and mangled by life, and yet found the strength to get back up and walk towards the light.)
Jon Clark: Eagulls Eagulls- (Fantastically disillusioned post-punk). East India Youth Total Strife Forever- (Stunning instrumental passages bolster beautifully layered pop) The War on Drugs Lost In A Dream- (Anything hazy or 80s sounding is fine by me. Conveniently, this is both. ‘Eyes To The Wind’ is particularly superb.) Liars Mess- (Another sinister lurch forward by this perennially challenging band).
Tristan Bath: Ben Frost Aurora (Almost impossible to dissect, Aurora is Ben Frost’s fullest realisation of his sonically twisted parallel universe yet, adding even more drama and urgency to his abstract, and somehow increasingly accessible compositions while also trimming down his arsenal to almost solely laptop and percussion. Without a doubt the work of the ballsiest, most brutally honest and furthest forward thinking electronic composer working today) and Various Artists - Haiti Direct (Never has history been this much fun. Haiti Direct is not only a crash course in one of 20th century North America’s most undersung musical hotbeds, but also one of the most addictive, energetic, outright fun compilations ever put together. Vodou aesthetics clash with Latin rhythms, African beats and latent French influences, making every track more colourful than the last. Endlessly listenable).
Gemma Samways: Wye Oak – Shriek (swapping guitars for synths = an INSPIRED idea), St Vincent – St Vincent (ambitious yet accessible, it’s probably Annie’s finest album to date), Mac DeMarco – Salad Days (Mac might be a little world weary nowadays, but he still does slacker blues, ramshackle psychedelia and sun-warped slow jams better than anyone else), Sabina – Toujours (multi-lingual, new wave pop), Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams (cinematic, serial killer blues) Plaid – Reachy Prints (Plaid show their softer side with a delicate, deeply-melodic set), Gruff Rhys – American Interior (the only Gruff Rhys album that hasn’t just made me miss SFA) and CYMBALS – The Age Of Fracture (New Order-meets-Talking Heads-meets-LCD Soundsystem: what’s not to love?)
J.R. Moores: Liars Mess, Kelis Food, Wooden Wand Farmer’s Corner, Pontiak Innocence, Howlin’ Rain Live Rain, and The Men Tomorrow’s Hits
Aaron Lavery: School Of Language - Old Fears, St Vincent - St Vincent, Elbow - The Take Off And Landing Of Everything
Dave Hanratty: Sun Kil Moon Benji (Mark Kozelek has always been and will always be a hard sell to many. It's part of his caustic charm. If last year's effective collaboration with The Album Leaf's Jimmy LaValle opened Kozelek up sonically, Benji somehow teases further emotion out of a man who is essentially powered by it. There's a huge difference between allowing depression to bury you and using melancholy as its own expression. Benji is career-best work from someone who recognises such importance.), Fucked Up Glass Boys (After scaling the heights of 2011's rock opera David Comes to Life, the only realistic place for Fucked Up to go was home. To that end, Glass Boys marks something of a 180; an album that cuts out fantasy in place of hard realities, most notably how an aggressive punk outfit can remain so as the trappings of life take hold. Though a sense of mortality arises, though this might very well end up being a last hurrah, Fucked Up continue to throw punches. They're still devastating, just for different, more poignant reasons.), Hamilton Leithauser - Black Hours, Alcest - Shelter, Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues, ††† - Crosses, Future Islands - Singles and The Horrors - Luminous
Tom Fenwick: Parquet Courts Sunbathing Animal, Todd Terje It's Album Time, Sharon Van Etten Are We There, Mac DeMarco Salad Days and The War On Drugs Lost In The Dream.
Paul Faller: Wild Beasts - Present Tense, Johnny Foreigner - You Could Do Better, MØ - No Mythologies To Follow and Ásgeir - In The Silence.
James Skinner: New ones by The War on Drugs, Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen and Sun Kil Moon are records that have made such an impact on me primarily because they’re so unflinchingly honest.
Hayley Scott: Perfect Pussy- Say Yes To Love, September Girls – Cursing The Sea, and La Sera – Hour of the Dawn.
1) Share your favourite album of the first half of 2014 in this thread
2) Our writers' favourite DiScoveries of the first half of 2014
3) Sharon Van Etten discusses Are We There
4) Antlers discuss Familiars
5) Marissa Nadler discusses July.