Year 2013 saw David Bowie and Daft Punk cre­at­ing a buzz with their new albums, mak­ing the world sit up and lis­ten. In 2014, things all seem a bit more low key – well, maybe apart from Pink Floy­d’s The End­less Riv­er. It’s been more a case of hav­ing to go and seek out for your­self what’s around. There’s a real feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion in this, in dis­cov­er­ing a new artist or body of work which has­n’t been end­less­ly pushed in your face by the media – love­ly though David Bowie’s 2013 release was, it was hard to escape.

Since we moved over to down­loads, it feels as if new releas­es have been swirling around unteth­ered and with­out nar­ra­tive, so it’s a plea­sure to observe vinyl reclaim­ing its right­ful place again (sales reached 1m in 2014). The plea­sures of vinyl are mul­ti-sen­so­ry. Tac­tile, visu­al, olfac­to­ry…  I’ve always loved the smell of new plas­tic dust cov­ers, and it’s a reminder of my teenage days and the pride I took in my record col­lec­tion (they were even­tu­al­ly near­ly all stolen at uni, but that’s anoth­er sto­ry). Dit­to the sat­is­fy­ing thunk of albums drop­ping on top of each oth­er as you rif­fle through them at your local record store – if you’re lucky enough to have one still in exis­tence on your high street. My last pur­chase, last week, was a 2011 Tom Waits album and the plea­sure of slip­ping the album out of its cov­er with – hey what’s this? a book­let! pro­vides the same heart-leap­ing moment as find­ing the free toy in your cere­al box. Let’s not get too car­ried away though. This is still a niche mar­ket, and it’s an expen­sive hob­by to main­tain. Although £20 for an album sounds about right, tak­ing into account pro­duc­tion costs, most peo­ple I’ve polled (30 and 50 year olds) reserve new vinyl pur­chas­es as some­thing special.

In no par­tic­u­lar order, these are five releas­es of 2014 I’ve been enjoying.

Leonard Cohen –  Popular Problems

This is not new ter­ri­to­ry for Leonard Cohen, but these songs are beau­ti­ful­ly ren­dered, suf­fused with a per­va­sive sad­ness, his poet­ic sen­si­bil­i­ty and breadth of sub­ject mat­ter as strong as ever. Cohen’s is a world weary, occa­sion­al­ly wry, look at the world from the posi­tion of a man look­ing back over life, unable to rewrite the past but men­tal­ly try­ing out dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions, as if to rec­on­cile the past. Death, age, war, reli­gion, the tran­sience of life – these famil­iar themes are picked over with Cohen’s inim­itable style. His humour remains intact: the album’s open­er is Slow, refer­ring to love­mak­ing and per­haps age, and the final num­ber You Got me Singing offers an opti­mistic view of life despite the ever-increas­ing prob­lems of the world – ‘You got me singing that Hal­lelu­ja hymn’. The arrange­ments are spare, sim­ple and effective.

 War on Drugs –  Lost in the Dream

Lost in the dreamThe first time I heard this release, it went straight onto repeat.. and repeat, stop­ping at some point for fear of over­play. Lost in the Dream has found itself on many a Top Album list, and no won­der. It’s a beau­ti­ful, lyri­cal body of work that lifts you up, takes you on a jour­ney and drops you down gen­tly at the end. The songs were writ­ten after a breakup and the anguish per­vades every song. Adam Gran­duciel’s voice pos­sess­es an almost Dylanesque qual­i­ty, notably on Under the Pres­sure, with his dreamy into­na­tion. An Ocean In Between the Waves has a Fleet­wood Mac qual­i­ty with its steady, insis­tent beat which anchor waves of flu­id instrumentation.

The Bedroom Hour – Hinterland

HinterlandThis debut album by the west Lon­don band The Bed­room Hour is a well-bal­anced col­lec­tion of songs which I come back to time after time, Sea with­out Water is a dreamy, wist­ful bal­lad with a strong hook and pleas­ing­ly retro sound­ing rip­pling gui­tar from Rob Payne. It’s the per­fect vehi­cle for Stu­art Drum­mond’s emo­tion-drenched vocals. The fol­low­ing num­ber, Noc­tur­nal is anoth­er pow­er­ful song which builds beau­ti­ful­ly, telling of love lost,‘sleep through the day, just to get away from the thought of you with some­one…

Heart will Haunt paces itself with a slow build, a mas­ter of restraint that takes two steps for­ward and one step back. Its per­cus­sive start leads into Stu­ar­t’s vocals with the gui­tars weav­ing in, Andy Cop­per’s bassline hold­ing it togeth­er. There’s a lift with the euphor­ic, dancey I See Suns. What gives The Bed­room Hour the edge are strong song­writ­ing skills and the emo­tion-laden vocals of Stu­art Drum­mond which have a pow­er and strength of conviction.

Firestations –  Never Closer

This sneaks in near the end of my Top Five as I only dis­cov­ered this band in Novem­ber, and the debut album, described by the band as ‘dream pop’ was released in Decem­ber. The album open­er, French Caves, has already made it onto Radio 6 Music. This group of accom­plished young musi­cians (who got togeth­er from oth­er bands) have devel­oped a mul­ti-lay­ered sound, with some strong mate­r­i­al, expert­ly mixed. There’s some­thing quite decep­tive and play­ful about Firesta­tions – their songs are ini­tial­ly catchy pop, on repeat their dense lay­ers bring new ele­ments to the sur­face, drag­ging up from the deep a com­plex­i­ty of rhythm. Alma’s final sec­tion reminds me of a Bea­t­les’ track, maybe Blue Jay Way.

Chinese Man – The Groove Sessions Vol 3

It starts with a quote from Charl­ton Hes­ton’s Plan­et of the Apes lead­ing into Mari­achi-inspired trip-hop, yes, it’s French col­lec­tive Chi­nese Man with anoth­er glob­al­ly inspired release. This time there are African, Indi­an and Latin sam­ples. My fond­ness for Chi­nese Man The Groove Ses­sions Vol 1 meant this release, more rap focused, took longer to make its mark. Chi­nese Man are back in the UK for a two gigs in May, Brighton and The Forum, London.

What are your favourites for 2014?

Hap­py New Year every­body and here’s to a music-filled 2015!


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