Both approaching an age where you'd expect them to be mainly occupied by watching daytime TV quiz shows, complaining about immigration and spending a good deal of time in the shed, Brian Eno and Underworld's Karl Hyde managed to lay down not one but TWO corking albums this year. 'Someday World' was my personal fave, the looped rave transmissions of Underworld intersecting nicely with Eno's ambient noodlings to craft something genuinely engaging. The tone is generally laid-back and positive so don't expect anything too out there - in fact you should check out their 'High Life' LP from later in the year if you're after some freeform rabbit hole weirdness - but this is still a masterclass in subdued electronica that dwarfs the output of their modern day novices. Think the quieter moments of Underworld's millennial material coupled with Eno's between the lines contribution to all those A-list production jobs and you're somewhere close. There's life in the old dogs yet.
Check out : 'Daddy's Car', aeons ahead of their 20-something suitors.
19. Johnny Marr - Playtime
Speaking of old dudes putting the youngsters to shame, who expected Johnny Marr to knock out one of the year's best albums? Not me certainly but seeing him live in November set me straight on that one - when you've got access to one of the most lauded back catalogues in music history and still bypass nostalgia to play the new shit you've gotta come out with something strong and 'Playland' has more than enough to hold its own against Johnny's best. Guys his age could be relying on past glories but instead he's tooled up with a bunch of 20-something apprentices and hit the road again to stay lean and mean - the live show was like seeing Ryan Giggs leading a bunch of academy tykes into battle and Johnny's still stylish enough to poach your girlfriend at the after party too. 'Playland' hits the rockier heights of the late Britpop period - think Hurricane N.1, early Travis and even Northern Uproar when they hit the target. All those years keeping his skills sharp in Modest Mouse and The Cribs have clearly paid off - Johnny's still setting the pace thirty years on.
Check out : 'Dynamo' - indie pop gold guaranteed to put a big old smile on your face.
18. Gardens and Villa - Dunes
If you're gonna synth it up these days you've gotta stand out from the crowd. I'm probably not alone in flitting through Spotify like I'm zapping TV channels, making my mind up after 5 seconds in case something better turns up next. Fortunately Michigan's Gardens and Villa hit the perfect frequency from the very first note of 'Dunes' and stay on it over ten tracks of luscious electronica, taking you back to Top of the Pops circa 1983 with modern songwriting chops to bust out this year's move loveable hipster indie LP. This guys cut it up the way I like it, keeping things short and to the point and flooding the mix with hooks and vocal melodies that'll light up your day - it might share characteristics with a zillion other Yank synthster acts right now but when someone bowls a strike like this you've got to give 'em credit where it's due. In fact I can't think of a record I've played more often than 'Dunes' since I bagged it back in February which pretty much says it all - this is just a perfect pop record from start to finish. Dip into it anywhere and you'll be saying the same soon enough.
Check out : 'Bullet Train', another potential radio gem to rival New Romantic at its finest.
17. Alvvays - s/t
If like me you're still buzzed off last year's Bleached LP then Toronto's Alvvays came around bang on time to keep the high going with this go-tell-your-friends-how-cool-it-is debut. In truth their approach is a bit more brainy and incisive than the slacker surf rock doing the rounds right now, getting in amongst them like Throwing Muses in their heyday and fleshing out the mix with some of the most satisfying melodic highs of the year. I think my continued love of this kinda sound stems from my teenage crush on Belly's Tanya Donnelly and this matches her at her flyaway best, their charge steeped in reverb but aimed squarely at the stars. I'm actually halfway inclined to sit down and read the lyrics on this one which is a bit of a rarity these days and we might just have a band on our hands capable of becoming genuine indie icons for the new era. 'Alvvays' gave me a rush of blood to the head I haven't felt since last year's Surfer Blood LP so if they can avoid career torpedoing troubles with the law these folks might just be destined for true greatness.
Check out : 'Archie Marry Me' - indie's best single of the year? Probably.
16. Clark - s/t
Losing LFO’s Mark Bell at the tender age of 43 was one of the year’s biggest bummers so let’s be thankful for those still around to fly Warp’s distinctive flag over years to come. Chris Clark already had half a dozen full lengths under his belt when he unleashed this self-titled stunner in September and might have just outdone himself for an eponymous late career peak a la Blur, Metallica et al. He skates in wide arcs here, veering from contemplative bleep tapestries to out and out bangers all as part of one fluid trajectory, his deft touch and masterful delivery providing a solo spot that almost merits a standing ovation when it’s all over. Comparisons with LFO’s own flawless run may be lazy given the circumstances of its release but ‘Clark’ is speaking a similar language and there’s even a shade of Dave Clark (no relation I’m told) and his much-overlooked 90s classic ‘Archive One’ on here. Techno continued to flourish in 2014 and Clark will start next year at the front of the pack ready for the next round of action.
Check out : 'Unfurla'. This man was clearly born to bleep.
15. Gallon Drunk - The Soul Of The Hour
15. Gallon Drunk - The Soul Of The Hour
It's a telling example of how powerful the music media still are when return flights from the likes of Nick Cave and David Bowie become events in their own right yet artists who've been doing the rounds for years can still drop a career best to practically zero fanfare. Gallon Drunk haven't even been away that long but they're the sort of loose living bunch that you'd assume would have died off by now (one of them did the other year as a matter of fact) so the fact that they can still smash out something this great deserves even more celebration. 'The Soul Of The Hour' sounds vibrant, determined and cathartic, a gaggle of shameless lushes staying focussed for long enough to perfectly capture their mindset after two and a half decades of wanton self abuse. There are romantic epics to rival anything The Bad Seeds ever put their name to plus some dirgey blues rock that could sit nicely alongside Jack White's solo stuff if enough people were paying attention. This is a late career peak in the same vein as Mazzy Star's return to the fray last year and is way too good to be a mere footnote to 2014.
Check out : the cinematic full length promo for 'Before The Fire'. Stirring stuff indeed.
14. Meatbodies - s/t
Ty Segall gets everywhere these days. I've started worrying that I'm gonna see his head pop out of the toilet next time I go to take a dump. Meatbodies are yet another offshoot from his stable, mainman Chad Ubovich having served time in Segall's Fuzz project who dropped a self-titled stunner last year and this newbie keeps the buzz going nicely. There's trippy riffs and stoner splurge everywhere you look plus some choppy four chord chunk in the vein of old school L7 and a fizzy enthusiasm in their delivery that recalls FIDLAR's stonking debut from a couple of years back. Plus they have possibly the year's coolest record sleeve, a startling collage that looks like a harrowing session of LSD and Haribo sweets projectile vomited onto the pavement. They're not rewriting the rulebook or anything here but when the material in question rules already there's no need to do so - you know this shit is gonna sound fantastic live and hopefully they'll put together some kind of slopfest Lollapalooza so that these guys, Segall and Thee Oh Sees can bring their joy to the people worldwide.
Check out : 'Rotten', a cocktail of psychedelic slush and brain-melting volume.
13. Museum Of Love - s/t
While we're on the subject of side projects, how about this one for a surprise success? I'm not the biggest fan of James Murphy or DFA records but former LCD drummer Pat Mahoney came straight outta leftfield this year with a solo voyage that connects where a lot of similar material goes in one ear and out the other. 'Museum Of Love' is one part disco pretension weighed out against several parts danceable tuneage and intricate dreamscaping, the loveable side of a musical subsection I'm often driven to loathe. There's a hidden depth to the material here that peels back to reveal different textures on every listen, a vibration built upwards from the beat rather than no substance disco thrills simply dolloped on top of a fragile foundation and you can travel within the tracks here as opposed to just sliding across the surface. The proliferation of vegan hipster electro these days would normally make me avoid this like a puddle of puke in the street but I'll admit that I was proven wrong here - the Museum Of Love is open for business and well worth a visit.
Check out : 'The Who's Who Of Who Cares', an emo song title for an nu electro classic.
12. Run The Jewels - RTJ 2
I probably wasn't alone in reacting with a mixture of pleasure and relief when RTJ's stoopendous second helping landed this year - with the seemingly endless debate about Hip Hop's place in society in today's media I'd almost given up hope on finding an album that made me feel like I did back in the 90s when I first heard Nas, Biggie et al. But let it be known that RTJ are no nostalgia trip, these guys are 2014 all over and somehow emerged as perhaps the band America needed as it slumped into yet another crisis of morality and fractious race conflict. Like the UK's own Sleaford Mods these dudes proved that youth was no pre-requisite for judging public mood with both EL-P and Killer Mike both pushing 40 but still razor sharp to the politics of the day, the latter in particular serving as one of entertainment's most indispensable voices in the wake of Ferguson. But we're almost forgetting the tunes here and the gold they served on this LP is as sharp as Raekwon and Ghostface firing lines off each other in Wu's heyday, a ruthless boot to the crotch that put smiles on faces perhaps more than any other release this year. Exceptionally, DO believe the hype - RTJ are just as good as the press would have you believe.
Check out : The whole thing for free on their website!
11. Behemoth - The Satanist
Think you had a busy 2014? How about coming back from the brink of death and recording the best album of your career? Behemoth's Nergal made us all look like underachievers this year with this stunning return from the void, his recovery from leukemia prior to the album's recording only made more remarkable by the music's fiery sense of purpose and defiant aggression. 'The Satanist' tops their stonking run of noughties releases by following a wholly different path, the skin-flaying Death Metal barrage of 'Demigod' and 'Evangelion' supplanted with a towering homage to their earlier Black Metal days that thrills and terrifies like nothing before. The Nerg sounds genuinely fearless, going as far as mixing his own blood samples with the paint for the album cover and pouring himself into a staggering hymn to survival against the odds. Seeing him tour this earlier in 2014 was one of the year's highlights for me and the guy is currently peerless at the helm of today's Extreme Metal scene.
Check out : the fruity (and entirely NSFW) promo for 'Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel!'.