I’m going to be honest here. For as long as I’ve been a music fan I’ve always been a huge advocate of the album, and along with it, the concept of listening to an entire album from start to finish. I was thinking about writing this post earlier today and it struck me how much my listening habits have changed in 2014. Last year I blogged about how ditching CDs, then iTunes, (in favour of Spotify) had allowed me to listen to more music than any other time of my life. But it’s only now I’ve realised that, whilst true, with this freedom I’ve become impatient with the idea of playing a whole album from start to finish. Deep down, I hope the Guardian’s recent post on the death of the album isn’t a forecast of things to come… but I’m certainly not helping matters with my countless Spotify playlists.
Having said all that, there have been a handful of 2014’s albums that I’ve played straight through again and again – here they are:
2012 Mercury Prize Winners Alt-J returned in September 2014 with another synth-filled, alien-sounding, downbeat album. Miley Cyrus samples, sex metaphors, gothic space-folk – it sounds ridiculous but it all blends together beautifully. Even their cover of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” at the end of the album is gorgeous.
Before this album’s release, singer-songwriter Sam Smith was no stranger to the music world, appearing on Disclosure’s “Settle” (which made my top albums of 2013, btw) and Naughty Boy’s “Hotel Cabana”. This year he won both the BRIT Critic’s Choice Award and BBC’s Sound of 2014 poll, and his debut album is twice-nominated for the upcoming 57th Grammys. Smith’s expressive, powerful vocals team-up with piano and soaring strings for a grand tour of sadness and loneliness.
Sia Furler’s 6th studio album took a darker turn, leading with the addiction-themed hit “Chandelier”. The quirk factor is turned-up to 10, moving from slurry ballads (“Straight For The Knife”) to ska-pop (“Hostage”). It’s a shame that her decision to promote the album whilst never showing her face may run the risk of distracting from a collection of some of her best songs.
Tracks from George Ezra’s debut have peppered the charts all year, and it’s not hard to see why. Here we have a warm, comforting set of stories referring to his time inter-railing round Europe, set to themes of young love. It’s not all sunshine and happiness though, “Did You Hear The Rain?” is heavy, dark stuff, and never feels contrived. All wrapped-up in George’s deep baritone, bluesy vocal – folk-pop is here to stay.
Tracking the “conscious uncoupling” of Chris Martin from Gwyneth Paltrow, Coldplay’s 6th studio album is brimming with pain and heartache. Gone are the huge stadium-fillers of previous albums (a notable exception being “A Sky Full Of Stars”, co-written and produced by Swedish DJ Avicii), replaced instead by electronic minimalism – and it’s a breath of fresh air. It might even be their best since “Parachutes”.
Gaga’s jazz background and her friendship with 88 year-old Tony Bennett set the tone for a fun, cheerful walk through classic jazz standards. Gaga’s vocal dominates throughout, but it’s great to hear her disconnected from the familiar autotune and power pop. Hearing her deliver a relaxed, understated “Lush Life” with a simple piano/strings accompaniment is a real treat. I dare you to try not to tap your feet along to “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”.
OK, so this album isn’t technically from 2014, but it arrived too late to make last year’s round up! This, Porter’s third solo album received the 2014 Grammy Award for best jazz vocal album. But there’s far more here than jazz – title track “Liquid Spirit” is a memorable gospel, clap-along. “Free” is an easy funk-filled groove, and the standout “Hey Laura” wouldn’t be out of place on a Van Morrison record.
Feel free to post your favourite albums (or your favourite tracks) in the comments below! Meanwhile – wishing you a very happy 2015!