Here’s my favourite list of the year to do: my songs of 2014 All I ask is that if you discover something through it, leave me a comment below and let me know. Listen on Spotify or browse below. I’m taking an extended Christmas break until January 13th. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!
My favourite albums of the year features a sixth album career highlights from a psychedelic mathematician, a fourth album breakthrough for a rubbernecking sweat-drenched band, the return of Aphex Twin, a Wicklow man who seemed to take over the music world, two great Irish rap albums, an album about an imagined trip through China, two very different R&B debut albums, lounge-time electronica from Norway, Annie Clark’s continued ascension through ambition, a collaborative effort from Iceland and the Faroe Islands and a marquee buddy rap album that said more about the state of America than anything else this year and had a brash kick-ass time doing it.
There’s a Spotify playlist available for it all but click down to get some context for each album from 10 to 1. Top 100 songs of the year tomorrow.
“We know now that the contents of Syro is just some of the material recorded in the intervening years in one of James’ many studios. The oldest track stretch back six or seven years, using a massive 138 pieces of musical equipment (all listed in spiral on the artwork).
“What appears before it also echoes the heavier side of Druqks but repeated listens reveal new textures, new moods, new avenues explored by James. The trademark eeriness of melody and general cheeky humour is still evident throughout but the greatest part of a new Aphex Twin record is that is truly allows you to get lost in its puzzle, a completely different musical terrain even when there are expected imprints of ambient works, electro, acid, jungle and squiggly funk.
“The 10 minute experience of ‘XMAS_EVET10 [thanaton3 mix]’ feels different every time with environmental listening experiences changing the focus and feel (headphones, outdoors, late-night) as all the best electronic music can do. Syro still offers much to explore, many repeat listens in.
“And that is the key to why Aphex Twin is pored over so minutely, because he goes into such detail in his music. James’ intricate compositional skills remains his biggest asset. While his sounds have been copied over the years, his brain is still peerless.”
The American singer dials up the amps and keeps things intimate.
“When you have a voice so striking you could hang a hat on it, it’s probably a good idea to hang your songs on it too. Angel Olsen’s 2012 debut album Half Way Home introduced us to the Missouri singer’s deep country-folk vibrato that sometimes sounded like an entrant in a yodelling competition and musically, was set to throwback acoustic folk. She was an otherworldly attraction.
“The followup, Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar) still relies on Olsen’s distinctive tones to draw you in but the songs hold you closer and Olsen reveals more of herself in the process, while expanding the arrangements to include a rock band at full tilt, devastating acoustic songs and poignant country-folk.
“If Olsen sounded distant and unearthly before, on Burn Your Fire For No Witness, she is emotionally baring, whispering uncomfortably close in your ear or sometimes dancing around you, a real person, hanging her songs and her voice on relatable and knowable experiences.”
A brilliant grimey hip-hop collaborative album via Clare, Zimbabwe and Limerick..
“As they describe it, ‘a Zimbabwean Christian and an Irish pagan sit down with a pot of tea’ with the expressed interest of changing the game.
“What God Knows, the founding member of the Random Acts Of Kindness collective and Ennis-born mynameisjOhn came up with (along with MuRli) is a game-changer in the way it drags Irish hip-hop into a fully-formed album/mixtape format with a confidence and skill that is unfamiliar in this country’s rap output.
“MC God Knows is a fervent presence, an MC with command, as heard on the soulful clip of ‘Standard’, an easy album highlight. MynameisjOhn provides the horn-soul hip-hop backing but doesn’t rest there, the beats bang, the strings stab and God Knows goes double time to the beat slowing to let the soul sample breathe.
“The versatility extends to MynameisjOhn too. ‘Throw The Spear’ reminds me of an MF Doom production – Dangerdoom era, meets Machinedrum. ‘Habbahuk’ is more plaintive, ‘Twentyfourseven’ is psychedelic funk and there are hints of a knowledge of electronic subgenres, even African dance on ‘African Shirts’.
“Aspects of being an African boy growing up in Ireland seeps through the lyrics in details about being black in an Irish school. He’s Joined by MuRli and Guide on ‘Words Of Our Fathers’, a track which, in the short history of Irish-African rap would have never been made twenty years ago, and serves as an aural document of one small thing that multi-cultural Ireland has given us.”
Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds and Faroe Islands’ synth-pop musician Janus Rasmussen’s first album together collides two worlds of sounds to engaging effect.
” Arnalds and Rasmussen explore what happens when contemporary composition that uses stringed instruments, has a classical knowledge and is often written with scores in mind intersects with the sensibilities and practices of synthesizer-driven music structures.
“The pair spent much of the year in Reykjavík working together on this album. The result is a grandiose vocal-less dance album that effectively uses the tactile textures of the former in the arena of the latter.
“Across seven, often long tracks (the average length of about 6 and a half minutes), the opposing worlds of electronic and classical mesh well together and Kiasmos moves in a place that is neither contemporary or classical, house or techno, but that crosses both with a new identity.”
An alluring minimal indie R&B album from the Oxford musicians.
“ZABA, the band’s debut album pushes their atmospheric agenda into a cohesive release. Their M.O. is slinky minimal pop, not a million miles from Alt-J, but more exotic and worldly than their counterparts. But they do share a common parlance in how they translate their traditional band setup into an otherworldly place.
“Executive production by Paul Epworth with Bayley producing ensures that level of aural consistency, meaning ZABA which is likened to ‘a backdrop of man-made wilderness,’ according to the band directly, is awash with ambient and alluring songcraft.”
Dark disco and electronic pop on album #2 from the Long Island band.
“The eight tracks on the self-titled second album are definitely night-time grooves, which occupy the same mood without jumping around from genre to genre, and as an album it works wonderfully, because Mr Twin Sister have an attention to the small details that stands to them when they delve deep into genres like disco and funk.
“Andrea Estella’s lyrics suit the vibe, their disco-noir sound is escapism and she often seeks to escape. ‘In The House Of Yes’ she locks herself in her room, drinks to a stupor and dances on her own own til her head is on the ground. ‘Rude Boy’ finds her rejecting the advances of an opposite (“I have all the drinks i can handle”), content to exist in the space. “Is there a real me? Or am I just a series of nights,” she sings on ‘Blush’. The thrilling ‘Out Of The Dark’ has her questioning identity too – “I am a woman / But inside I’m a man / And I want to be as gay as I can.” The Johnny Jewel-esque ’12 Angels’ has someone singing about being in drag to reinforce the theme.
“Despite the album being united in tone, there’s a sense that Mr Twin Sister aren’t settled. It’s in the artwork which is deliberately unfinished and packaged, it’s in the 37-minute running time and it’s in the new name. The altered band have reset and are heading in their own independent direction and making great music as part of the process.”
“Twigs has showed herself in public through artwork and videos which have hyper-realised versions of herself (large eyes, elongated neck, disfigured faces), that she is interested in examining and distorting her identity, including the very name she’s persisted with – Formerly known as.” On LP1, she shares seemingly true intimate versions of herself.
“There is no worry that the separation of the music from the visuals FKA twigs has become synonymous with has lessened the impact of LP1 or that twigs has nothing to say. A longer sustained running time means rather than snatches of character-forming opinion, we get a confidential look at the artist herself talking sex, self-image, desire, loneliness, intimacy, and state of mind, subjects normally guarded from others more vehemently, particularly for new artists.
“The combination of twigs’ alien otherworldliness, her ambient often anguished electronic R&B style and her intimate and lustful portrait of herself, directly or reflected in others, makes for an iconic release and helps form a person who feels human and real. By the end of the album’s 10 tracks, twigs decides that she knows herself best, after all.”
The Baltimore band’s fourth record of melodramatic synth-pop hit a bigger audience.
“These are songs that have the chest-thumping melodramatic new wave pop at the heart of what they do while refining the songwriting and production by Chris Coady make for an overall better album.
“There’s a straight up heart-on-sleeve anthemic lean to all of the songs. Each of them stand on their own, hence the title, whether it’s the yearning synth-pop of ‘Spirit’, the hook-laden chorus of ‘Sun In The Morning’, the bass-funk of ‘Doves’ , the slow epic atmosphere of ‘A Song For Our Grandfathers’ or the brilliant album closer ‘A Dream Within A Dream’.
“There’s quite enough eccentricity in Herring’s vocal delivery whether he’s whispering, skulking, brooding, wailing, growling, crooning or delivering a monologue like David Bowie in Labyrinth on ‘Fall From Grace’. His range is beautifully dramatic and spirited and the music doubles down on providing an effective poignant foil for that – focusing on chugging bass, propulsive rhythms and colourful synths. It’s a perfect distillation of Future Islands which just happens to leave a more accessible, hook-laden welcoming impression than before. The band are all on the same powerful page rather than just being “that band with the eccentric lead singer.”
And let’s face it – as Letterman proved, and as this album substantiates, Herring, Gerrit Welmers and William Cashion have a lot more highly-strung emotion and joyful connections to make with audiences.”
“What a pleasure it is to arrive at the sixth album from an artist to find them at the peak of their music-making abilities. Press play on Our Love and that sentiment is obvious.
“Snaith’s psychedelic imprint and swells of emotion covers everything, through his falsetto and his preference for nostalgic-faced melodies. His lyrics add to the tenderness, chiefly concerned with a slipping, fading love, yet he offers us, and himself, solace in every other way.
“On Our Love, Snaith is now fully immersed in the world of the nightclub but he wears his heart on his turntable. That doesn’t mean that there’s an dumbing down or mindlessness. There is a simplicity to a lot of the tracks that, only comes from putting in the long hours. Snaith’s love of his craft continues to shine. If anything, he’s has just better at making things sound larger with less.”
Best buddies El-P and Killer Mike made the year’s best rap record.
“The sequel to one of the best rap mixtapes in recent times does what many sequels do not. It improves the dynamic between the cast, it delivers smarter, more quotable lines, it takes aim at larger targets and it adds a whole lot of bang.
“Run The Jewels 2 is what happens when a producer-rapper/rapper hit a career high at the same damn time. Because this is El and Mike’s album, they own it. Because even though there are vocal guests: RATM’s Zack De La Rocha, singer/producer Boots and Three 6 Mafia’s Gangsta Boo, they serve the version of a banging lean record, rather than overcrowd it.
“RTJ2 is two buddies, operating at their creative peak. It’s more than another chapter, more than a sequel. It’s a sinewy distillation of more than a friendship, it’s a fruitful creative partnership that sounds like it’s been reinforced by steel foundations such is the wicked bulging energy contained within the album’s 40 minutes.”
Stevie G is a DJ, radio presenter and all-round legend from Cork; a lover of soul, hip-hop, disco and R&B, a maker of tracks, a mentor, a promoter and label owner. Here are his 10 favourite tracks of the year.
This one crept by virtually ignored but it was a very significant record in some ways. A limited 7 inch dropped from the sky on Record Store Day, and a guy even more reclusive than D’Angelo managed to submit a remix. Ludovic Navarre is the man behind St Germain and some amazing jazz, soul and house music, but he has been out of the spotlight for over 10 years. Gregory Porter is one of the finest jazz singers and writers of his generation and the original of this was a good example of a great artist who has something important to say too. The remix uses subtle bits of the Roy Ayers produced “Daylight” by Ramp (a hip-hop staple since the days of A Tribe Called Quest), and it’s a beautiful combination.
2. Saun & Starr – ‘Hot Shot’
We are always slaves to the past but soul music, like jazz, is producing great new artists and music too. These two have backed Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings live but their debut single on Daptone is an irresistible brass infected jam that is typical of the label. I was inspired by labels such as Daptone in starting my own Soul Jamz record label this summer and we released “Deep Down south” with Christiana soon after, hopefully the first of many singles. Shookrah are another Cork band worth mentioning here, but in truth, there’s loads of good soul music out there if you dig.
3. D’Angelo & the Vanguard – ‘Prayer’
“I believe that some day we will rise”. It could have been almost anything from this album; a stunning reminder that he’s still got it. And then some. Soul music probably needed this shot in the arm, as it will throw more light on many of the other artists doing very good stuff. Sonically it is incredible and it keeps up an impressive record of one great record every decade!
4. Ilovemakkonen – Tuesday’ (Drake remix)
I played this for weeks and weeks before it got any bites, but that moment when it hit home was special. I actually play every Tuesday night, to a young student crowd, and they are very open to newer hip-hop and r&b so it works out. This, the Rae Sremmurd singles, Future, Tyga, Schoolboy Q, Young Thug, Tinashe and many more were all big for me in quite a productive year for low slung throwaway minimal music.
5. Run the Jewels – ‘Love Again’ (Akinyele Back)
“I think I’m in love again”.
Many hip-hop fans are reluctant to move past the ’90s; but if there’s one group capable of waking them from their slumber it’s Run the Jewels. El-P and Killer Mike are pretty much veterans of the game at this stage, but their two albums together have helped ensure things are still going on an upward trajectory. They’ve got a lot to say, and were among the most vocal rappers after a turbulent year which included tragedies such as Ferguson. Special shouts to Danny Brown and Dej Loaf for great singles as well.
In Ireland, we had some great hip-hop too. Mynameisjohn, Lethal Dialect and Corkman Trigger all coming out with impressive albums, while the likes of Deviant and Naive Ted, Spekultiv Fixtion, Jimmy Penguin and others continued to represent prolifically for the underground. Also, domestically, a few of us helped set up anam recordings to release music from Tommy KD, a recovering addict who has enlisted the legendary Hazo and DJ Mek in his team and who is already causing a stir too. Keeping it real for 2014.
6. Lorde – “Tennis Court” (Flume Remix)
I’m a big fan of this track in it’s original form, but this remix bangs and brings back some great memories of 2014, particularly my set at Body and Soul Festival in June. SertOne’s remix of Hannah Diamond’s ‘Pink and Blue’ is another that killed it in 14.
Lots of the best jazz these days is made by electronic artists, or even hip-hoppers who grew up discovering jazz through sampling and rap. We now have jazz artists covering hip-hop classics and it’s all gone full circle, as bands like BadbadnotGood have shown really well. FlyLo’s jazz credentials are in his family tree, but his Brainfeeder label showcases some amazing music from Thundercat, who is an essential element of the FlyLo sound, as well as Ras G and more. Taylor McFerrin made one of the jazz albums of the year on Brainfeeder, with the long awaited “Early Riser”, while FlyLo’s latest opus did not disappoint either. He managed to once again get big names like Snoop and Herbie Hancock to compliment his sound, and this track with Kendrick offers a big hint of what is to come from the Compton rapper, as he prepares to deliver one of the most eagerly awaited rap albums in years in the the next few months
8. James Vincent McMorrow – ‘When I Leave
Beautiful track, which he released on soundcloud, and which is on the bonus version of “Post Tropical”. Also worth mentioning Talos here. He released a couple of great singles on Feel Good Lost and there’s plenty more where that came from.
9. Doc Daneeka featuring Seven Davis Jr – ‘What’s it gonna be’
This is great. The whole EP is really good, and Seven Davis Jr released some wonderful stuff on his own too, including “P.A.R.T.Y.” and “Friends”. On a similar tip SBTRKT brought us “New york New Dorp” featuring Ezra Koenig. Lots of mixed reaction to their music this year but I like the album and love that jam.
10. Jhene Aiko – ‘The Pressure’
The influence of Aaliyah grows stronger as time passed. A year of some fine minimal soul and r&b vibes with Kelela, FKA Twigs, Fatima, The Weeknd, Kali Uchis, Jasmine V, Mapei and many more all contributing some great music. Also big shouts to King Avriel, who I first read about on this blog, and who’s “180” kicks off a mix i did of some of the best hip-hop and r&b from 2014 it’s a free download.
Niall D’Arcy is a DJ you will know from residencies at Hidden Agenda at weekends and the Somewhere? club in The Workman’s on Wednesday nights. Both club were voted top of the best club nights in last year’s poll so Niall and company are doing something right. The Newbridge, Kildare man continues to embed himself behind decks in the city and if you want to see him play over the Christmas and New Year, you can see him support Krystal Klear on Stephen’s Night and Frank B on NYE, both in Opium Rooms.
Jack J – ‘Looking Forward To You’
This is my track of the year. Jack J, who is also one half of Pender Street Steppers, put this out on Mood Hut back in August, and I’m pretty sure I’ve played it in every DJ set since I got my hands on it. Smooth as silk bassline and vocal, and works as well at 2am as it does at 10pm, which is always the sign of a great house record.
Leon Vynehall – ‘It’s Just (House of Dupree)’
This guy keeps getting better and better. We’ve had him play Hidden Agenda a couple of times, and he’s one of the best DJs/Producers around at the moment, as well being a very nice guy. This track is from his mini album entitled “Music For The Uninvited”, and it samples an old Isley Brothers track called “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time For Love)”, which is a sample you might also recognise from the J Dilla track “So Far To Go”. This track uses that sample just as effectively, and the result is a fantastic, peak time club track.
Zanzibar Chanel – ‘Drunk At The Jazz Dub’
Two Australian dudes, who make insanely catchy dance music. They came to my attention after I watched their Boiler Room last year, and I’ve been hooked ever since. A producer + singer duo who essentially make very well put together party music. This track is from the recently released “Drunk At The Jazz Club EP” and is one of their standout tracks.
Adultrock – ‘Chants’
Another one that I’ve been playing out a lot this year. Released on Bodytonic at the end of March this year, this one finally, and well deservedly put fellow Newbridge man, Gavin Elsted, on the map. It’s been played out by the likes of James Holden, John Talabot, and Pional, so it must be doing something right. This track has a gorgeous Italo feel to it, with big synths stabs building up to a massive, hands in the air, last 90 seconds or so.
Young Thug – ‘Stoner’
I nicked this one from Kaytranada after his set at Electric Picnic, and I’ve been playing it every Wednesday in the Workman’s ever since. Massive low end, a super catchy bass melody, and a guy rapping about being a stoner. What more could you possibly want?
Mac DeMarco – ‘Chamber of Reflection’
This track has probably been brought to a lot of peoples’ attention recently due to Wiz Khalifa putting out a version of it with him rapping over the instrumental. The original is much better though, so just stick to that. The best track, from the best album of the year in my opinion. I’ve listened to this album at least once a week since it came out back in April. It’s got this haunting synth line to just reels you in. Stellar stuff from Mac.
Perfect Pussy – ‘I’
Probably the biggest curveball on this list. This is a hardcore punk rock track. Definitely the rawest thing I’ve heard this year. It was released on Captured Tracks, a label that has a knack for putting out great music (see Mac DeMarco track above). This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I fucking love how heavy and raw it is.
Jay Daniel – ‘Royal Dilemma’
A close runner up to that Jack J track for track of the year. Released on Kyle Hall’s label, Wild Oats, back in February, this is another one that works at 10pm, and works just as well at 2am. A hypnotic bassline, with an intricate beat underneath it, and a hint of some hip-hop influences too. There is a moment in the track about 5 minutes in where the bassline stops for a couple seconds and then drops back, and it makes me weak every time. So good.
Telephones – ‘Lotus Land’ (Sunset Mix)
A beautiful piece of mid tempo disco house music, that racks in just under the 10 minute mark. This is track is full of melodies, sounds, and textures that all fit together perfectly, and is best listened to on a big system with your eyes closed. A track to get lost in.
Andras & Oscar – ‘Every Time I Go’
The slickest house jam I’ve heard this year. This was one of those tracks that I had on repeat for a couple of hours after I first heard it. I’ve actually just played it four times whilst writing this little description of it. It’s a track that makes you stop and listen carefully. All of the Andras & Oscar stuff is great actually, but this is the best of the bunch.
The results of your favourite Irish songs are in. It was a breakthrough year for a few Irish acts this year namely Hozier (duh), The Riptide Movement, EMBRZ and God Knows + MynameisJohn. Established acts or artists who have been around a while like James Vincent McMorrow, The Riptide Movement, Girl Band, SOAK, Cloud Castle Lake and Le Galaxie stepped it up.
The addition of ‘Cavalier’, ‘Red Dust’ and the ubiquitous ‘Take Me To Church’, which placed highly last year were a result of their mainstream success. You might have heard it online last year but the latter in particular was everywhere, becoming the most virally streamed track on Spotify of 2014 in the entire world.
Sally Foran was everywhere a good party was had in 2014: from Body & Soul to Drop Everything to house parties to special events in galleries and beyond. A chief buzzer with a great record collection and knowledge, you can catch Sally’s radio show on Wednesdays at 4pm on Radiomade.
Sally found it difficult to distil her favourites to a top 10, always a good sign. Here they are:
1. Timber Timbre – ‘Hot Dreams’
I’m in love with this track. Its synths, melatron and those lazy sexy waves of sax at the end. It’s simply delicious. The lyrics are goofy but he means it all the same. It’s got that velvety timelessness that The Bees ‘I Love You’ holds that commands your attention and stops you in your tracks. Saxy vibes from Canada, who knew says you!
2. Silk Rhodes – ‘Pains’
First prize for awesome and most apt band name for 2014 as far as I’m concerned. This lovely 45 comes courtesy of Stone’s Throw Records and I can’t think of a better label to represent their sound on this track. The sleeve of the 45 is a sheet of acid and it’s definitely somewhat trippy. The pace is gorgeous, it’s a slow-dancing stoner’s dream.
3. Mo Kolours – ‘Mike Black’
Alex Chase brings us a lovely blend of his Mauritian and English roots with his album Mo Kolours. It’s thoughtful, it’s reflective but it’s also playful and really really groovy. His use of percussion is joyous and never overdone, a beautiful sunny holiday album all round.
I heard this track this summer and it was all I wanted to accompany me on smiling sunny strolls. It was instantly familiar, reminded me so much of early St Etienne which I loved so much as a late teen, it delivered fond and welcomed sentiment for me. I love the licks and and the Françoise Hardy-esque vocals, pure girl crush fodder.
5. The War On Drugs – ‘Red Eyes’
Lost In a Dream gives us everything you want from groovy grown up rock’n’roll. I managed to see them at Primavera which made my summer complete. Surrounded by nearest and dearest and on the ocean, it’s pretty much the only way to see your favourite bands and hear your albums of the year. The only other band that ever made me spazz out as much as I did at this gig was The Redneck Manifesto (R.I.P)
6. Sinkane – ‘New Name’
I met Sinkane frontman Ahmed through an NY buddy in Glasslands, Brooklyn last November. He DJ’d the best set I’d danced to that winter, all the lovely stuff I love the most was played so I wasn’t at all surprised I’d like his album as much as I do and his live show ten fold. They’re as tight as a duck’s arse and the energy and light show in Opium Room’s a few weeks back made it one of my favourite gig’s of the year.
7. Jamie xx – ‘Sleep Sound’
I’ve had this on heavy rotation since it’s release back in May and can’t quite put my finger on why I like it so much. It’s form and pace are testing in parts, it’s a little bit like a hurried tunnel journey if you will. It encompasses all that i love about electronic music. I haven’t tired of it at all and I’ve well overdone it at this stage.
8. New Jackson – ‘Of A Thousand Leaves’
hands down the most commanding dance track of the year and the most satisfying rise and fall NEW JACKSON has ever treated us to. Kittser’s more on form than ever these days and I love where he’s going with this. If you’re not biting your bottom lip and fist pumping the air three minutes in then my friend you’ve a little problem I’m afraid. It’s an absolute classic, I’ve no doubt I’ll love dancing to it and will be playing it for years to come.
9. Future Islands – ‘Doves’ (Vince Clarke remix)
Although this great effort from Vince Clarke doesn’t hold the timelessness that Seasons or A Dream Of You And Me might, and although I doubt it will age very well either, I still hold massively fond memories of dancing to this remix in 2014. You can hear the ghosts of Yazoo and Erasure strongly throughout but the production is perfect and it’s simple bass line platforms Samuel T. Herring’s heart warming vocal beautifully.
10. Caribou – ‘Can’t Do Without You’ ( Tale Of Us & Mano Le Tough Remix)
There a lot about the original that makes it sketchy when you play it in a loud and busy club so there’s really nothing else quite like the feeling you get when someone makes it super DJ friendly and maximises all your favourite bits. A fantastic contribution from Dublin’s techno hardshaw Mano Le Tough and the Berlin based A Tale of Us. This year has been particularly memorable for Dublin ravers, DJs and buzz fiends alike but this track definitely stands out as the one everyone is most grateful for. Good man, lads!