We’re approaching the end of the year, now, and I’m just going to put this out here right now: I can’t wait for 2015. I might even have to come up with another list of just how many ace records there should be out next year. Anyway, you may have noticed the music zines beginning to spit out their “best-of-year” lists and, in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d come up with one myself.
Now, not being in possession of infinite time or money I obviously haven’t listened to everything (or even a tangible fraction of everything) released this year, so these will all be taken from the pool of albums I’ve shelled out for, all ranked in order of how-much-I-enjoyed-them-ness. As a result this should not be taken as an authoritative document on the sonic landscape of 2014, whatever that may or may not have actually been. There’s no particular science to this, either: it’s really just the stuff I liked most this year and a few thoughts and notes on why I enjoyed each record mixed into something of a mini-review. Enjoy.
#10. Kasabian – 48:13
I ended up enjoying this album far more than I thought I would. 48:13 is a looser, dancier record for Kasabian after the tough, experimental aggro-rock of Velociraptor!, hearkening back to their electronic roots but with a fuller, more polished sound. For all the band’s guff about being one of the last remaining rock bands out there, the songs here are mostly pop in construction with a coat of rock attitude, but after it’s all said and done they’re mostly really good songs. The instrumental interludes aren’t necessary and the odd snoozer messes up the consistency of the thing, but “bumblebeee”, “stevie” and “treat” are what Kasabian do best: dance-flecked stadium rock with attitude. Velociraptor!, to me, remains their best work, and if you didn’t like Kasabian before I couldn’t tell you how this album might change your tune, but I enjoyed it.
#9. Manic Street Preachers – Futurology
Something of a companion to 2013’s Rewind the Film (well, not really, but they were recorded at the same time), Futurology contrasts the melancholy acoustic sound of that record with a brash, explosive and experimental, but still very melodic album. There’s a definite sense of propulsion here that’s been missing on their last couple of releases, with a greater, more expansive palette of sounds, styles and rhythms that combine together well to make it an eclectic, if not completely consistent, piece of work. The Manics are still firmly entrenched in both their intellectual pursuits and their musical roots and, as a result, Futurology is an album that looks back as much as it does forward, both symbolically to the art and architecture of the twentieth century and sonically to Seventies Krautrock (“Europa Geht Durch Mich”) and Eighties New Wave (“Walk Me to the Bridge”); at the same time, lush, orchestrated pop songs like “Black Square” and “Divine Youth” could easily have slotted in somewhere on Everything Must Go. The guest vocalists are back again and, while Georgia Ruth and Nina Hoss are both excellent, I have to say my favourite outside contribution is Green Gartside and his wonderfully understated vocals on “Between the Clock and the Bed”. Another successful reinvention for the Manics, then. The only question now is, where do they go from here, if indeed there is anywhere left to go?
#8. Toseland – Renegade
I pre-ordered this from PledgeMusic on the strength of their Life is Beautiful EP and thoroughly enjoyed it from the off, something fairly rare with me. I suppose my appreciation for this record is largely based on just how pleasantly surprised I was by it: former biker turns rock star is not something that should really have worked, but sometimes it’s the ones who break expectations that remind us how little we should rely on our assumptions. Toseland is a fantastic vocalist with a great band behind him and the songs are just pure rock bliss: the energetic “Singer in a Band”, the strutting “Comin’ to Get Ya”, the grinding “Good Eye Blind” and the wonderful title track are all worth checking out, but I don’t think there’s a single song on here I’d say I disliked. That’s all there really is to it: simple, muscular, melodic hard rock with some excellent vocals and well-crafted songs. Meat and potatoes it might be, but do you know what else meat and potatoes are? Freaking delicious, not to mention a satisfying and nutritious meal. Argue with that.
#7. Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls
I might as well point out now: this list is going to be pretty heavy on rock and metal because that’s mostly what I listen to, so if you’re looking for someone else to sing the praises of Perfume Genius or FKA Twigs you won’t find much love here.
Anyway, Redeemer of Souls is an interesting album because, as much as it recalls the Priest sound of the past, it also takes it in a new Gothic/power metal direction which Priest have never really dabbled in before, at least not to the extent they do here. It’s both a typical and atypical record, perhaps in part due to the replacement of longtime guitarist K.K. Downing, who retired in 2011, with newbie Richie Faulkner (who boasts quite possibly my favourite name ever). It must be said that he certainly brings a new energy to the band: where Angel of Retribution, the first Halford-reunion record, often felt a bit stiff and unsure of itself, this record is vicious, brash and confident. “Dragonaut”, “Halls of Valhalla” and “Battle Cry” are thoroughly stirring stuff and, as long as you don’t take your music too seriously, a lot of fun. The one song that actively gave me chills, though, was “Beginning of the End”, which manages to capture in a bottle that late Seventies, pre-“Hell Bent for Leather” sound more than anything they’ve put out in the last thirty-eight years. It’s not a perfect set of songs, but Redeemer of Souls is easily the best Priest album since Painkiller.
#6. Crobot – Something Supernatural
A bit of a whim purchase, this, but a much welcomed one, Crobot have a heavy, groove-driven rock sound with a great balance of melody and riffage, making a wonderful new entry in the genre of what I like to call “beard rock.” The vocals often remind me of Myles Kennedy’s recent work with Slash while the songs have a gut-punch clout reminiscent of recent work from Clutch and Orange Goblin. “Nowhere to Hide”, “Legend of the Spaceborne Killer”, “Chupacabra” and “Cloud Spiller” are all loud, fun and catchy with some really cool lyrics based in science fiction and folklore (if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am). There is actually a ballad on here, too – final track “Queen of the Light” – which is surprisingly sophisticated and well-balanced, incorporating both the heaviness of the previous tracks and a lightness of touch that I wouldn’t mind seeing developed further in future material. Overall a very strong debut which, as all good debuts should do, has thoroughly whetted my appetite for more.
Part 2 will be up before long.