Live4ever’s Essential Listening 2014: The Best Indie Albums

Live4ever’s Essential Listening 2014 series comes to an end today with The Albums.

It’s been a year when albums have once again come under attack from the established order, described as ‘edging closer to extinction’ by George Ergatoudis. He of course being the man behind Radio 1’s lamentable playlists so a quick look at the state of the station’s output and its uncanny resemblance to the current Christmas singles chart shows just what he’s doing with an undue level of influence over mainstream music.

Fortunately, despite being shunned and undermined by those who could make a truly positive difference, the most traditional format of them all, vinyl, has only gone from strength to strength once again this year. With Pink Floyd offering up new music for the first time since 1994, Royal Blood concocting one of the most popular rock debuts of recent times, and high profile re-releases from the likes of Oasis and Led Zeppelin, sales on vinyl have raced past the one million mark for the first time since 1996 in the UK, justifying all the campaigns which have given a timely boost to long players since Record Store Day was first dreamed up in 2008.

Most importantly though, 2014 has also shown there’s still a mountain of soon-to-be classics out there to discover if you’re prepared to look hard enough. We’ve picked out just 20 of those for our final Essentials list of the year; a few you’re no doubt already familiar with, some you might want to re-visit, and perhaps others you’ll check out for the first time.

Catch up with Live4ever’s Essential Listening 2014 in full at this link.

Live4ever’s Essential Listening series is here to share, not preach! An interactive celebration of rock and roll where your favourites can contribute. Make sure your stand-out albums of the year get a clearly deserved mention by leaving a comment below.

20: Band Of Skulls – ‘Himalayan’

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“The title track almost sounds like a souped up rock reconstruction of Prince‘s ‘Alphabet Street‘ but devoid of the smutty funk that Mr Rogers Nelson has always been pretty fond of buttering a number of his tunes with, while ‘Hoochie Coochie‘ is undoubtedly one of the most catchy tunes on the record, guaranteed to get caught in the skull like a piece of molten chewing gum on the sole of a cold shoe. The vocals splash themselves with the splendour of a pantomime villain over a sturdy triple assault of kick-out-the-jams guitar and bass and an excitable drumming pattern which sounds like the ghost of John Bonham has entered the sound scape for a minute or two. ‘Cold Sweat‘ is pure lovelorn epicness stained in whiskey heartbreak.”

19: The Crookes – ‘Soapbox’

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“It’s indie yes, it’s pop yes, but it’s also punk, post-punk and electro; it can’t be confined to one genre despite all the dark undertones that swim beneath the surface of a band constructing songs which speak of intelligence and should have Morrissey’s haircut and Brett Anderson’s waistline. ‘Play Dumb’ sounds like what you’d get if you put the band in a comic book designed by Andy Warhol; impelling and intoxicating with techno keyboards that dominate. The keyboard layers climb up the walls, bounce off and fall back into place, guitars plucked high and screeching like spikes on some lonely radar, the vocals genuinely sincere with their young and innocent manner, able to keep secrets, admit crimes or sentence to death by the power and potency of how they wrap around the track.”

18: Temples – ‘Sun Structures’

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“In fact, repeated listens and a little patience reveals a deft mix of brawn and brain, helping to avoid any knee-jerk lapses into pastiche. There are a couple of nervy moments – the start of ‘Test Of Time‘ recalls Bagshaw’s history in The Moons; a band fixated by The Jam, whilst ‘The Guesser‘ is too slight and glam, falling into the obvious Austin Powers trap. These help underline that as world conquering as it became, British music was in tightly concentric, ever decreasing circles of creativity until 1967 broke its song cycle in technicolour, sending our Victorian hang-ups into a kaleidoscopic, wonderful tailspin. ‘Colours To Life‘ and the six-minute closer ‘Sand Dance‘ aren’t as weird, spaced out or free wheeling as the excesses of that era, but succeed.”

17: The Lost Brothers – ‘New Songs Of Dawn and Dust’

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“Not all tracks are remorseful, a more uplifting one that epitomises the spirit of being on the go is ‘Days Ahead’. The clappy acoustic guitar, chirpy trumpet and nonchalant ‘dududududuuhduduuh’ could substitute a suitcase on a luxury-escaping adventure across the southern parts of the world. It’s the song that’ll assuage the blandness of the desert on a road trip complete with cowboy hats, highway inns and sing-song bonfires. “Wake up baby, it’s time to go. Where we’re headed I don’t know…” No surprise then that ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ consists of 9 songs selected from 30 written while touring. Most remarkable about the album, recorded in cold and grey Liverpool, is not just its warmth, but the absolute unison of both members’ vocals.”

16: VerseChorusVerse – ‘VerseChorusVerse’

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“The record opens with the gushing, catchy, gypsy folk of ‘Our Truth Could Be Their Lie‘, where the resonant power and quality of Wright’s voice is first given free reign; a powerful and versatile instrument in itself, sounding somewhere between a more youthful Chris Helm and a less highly strung David McAlmont, rattling off lyrics against a quick tempo, driving background of guitar and Hammond organ, intermittent wild trumpet calls and with a loose resemblance to Cher‘s ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves‘. ‘No More Tears‘ is of the same sort of pedigree; equally as ‘ump pah pah’ and beginning with surging mouth organ which lends it a kind of Bob Dylan meets country rock vibe, but with eerie little Rhodes signatures in the back end of the song which give it a more reflective edge.”

15: White Lung – ‘Deep Fantasy’

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“Their coruscating undertow is far too strong to be denied. On songs like ‘Sycophant‘, ‘Wrong Star‘ and ‘Lucky One‘ White Lung appear to be somewhere between desolation and mania, revelling in their uncomplicated buzz, like Blondie might sound if they were still 20 now and had been playing people’s basements. The circle is constantly squared by intellect, Way never knowingly shying away from personal politics or any other unconsciously difficult topics – ‘Snake Jaw‘ was written about body dysmorphia – whilst her, drummer Anne-Marie Vassilou and guitarist Kenneth William combine to make ‘Deep Pleasure’ highly listenable scuzz. As part of the press work, the band put together a playlist of the music which had inspired it. Nearly all of the inclusions were surprising.”

14: The Afghan Whigs – ‘Do To The Beast’

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“Finally to the truly epic finale ‘These Sticks‘, ‘Do To The Beast’ is immersed in scenes of tragedy. A tragedy that pervades every corner of the album, and there are a lot of dark corners. However, it is a world of immense beauty as well as darkness, where the bleakness of mortality is felt with every beat. It is pure drama. Cinematic, not in being lush and orchestral, or even overly bombastic, but thematically and for the wonderful use of light and dark. Like a classic noir, everything is played out in the shadows, but every so often rays of light come bursting through. And its these tiny rays of light which make the album stand apart from earlier efforts. A wonderful album, shining light into the darkest corners of the soul.”

13: The Orwells – ‘Disgraceland’

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“‘Disgraceland‘ simply blows the doors off and walks away laughing. The Orwells‘ new album is equally as subversive as it is impressive. Relentlessly, powerfully and brutally bringing a heady mixture of youthful energy and filthy pop-rock to the table. This is music at its most excitingly brief. Opening with the excellent recent single ‘Southern Comfort‘, simply a concise slice of brilliance, it is impossible not to be taken in by their instant appeal. They make music reminiscent of everything that is exciting in rock. Drawing from a wide range of sources – yet never anything too obvious – the music, like their influences, has that wonderful familiarity which great tunes often have; certain you have heard the song before, but can never quite place it. It is just infectious and fascinating.”

12: Avi Buffalo – ‘At Best Cuckold’

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“The net result of this growing up in private is the feeling of precociousness that sometimes crept in four years ago has gone, replaced with a confidence and economy of thought and gesture becoming of an artist not afraid to showcase his depth and intelligence. With a duration of around thirty five minutes it’s a release that could also hardly be described as epic, so it’s a good thing that opener ‘So What‘ is like a handshake from an old friend. Themed around breaking away from loneliness, it’s timeless indie in form, Isenberg’s falsetto melodies now less forced and his guitar lines clean and immediately familiar. What’s most notable here, though, is that despite the less than creatively breakout formula, the words seem to be very important.”

11: Alt-J – ‘This Is All Yours’

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“Yet ‘This Is All Yours’ is a very different beast to their debut. It’s not as aggressive or angular, but just as inventive and impressive. This record isn’t razor sharp and doesn’t feel the need of the debut to keep turning corners to keep the listener guessing what direction it will take next. Like the stone in the stream, the edges have been worn away, and the sound is more rounded and smooth. This is a coherent piece of work. On ‘An Awesome Wave’, they displayed their individual sound and style, but ‘This Is All Yours’ displays just how far this sound can go. The opening triumvirate of ‘Intro’, ‘Arrival In Nara’ and ‘Nara’ tell a coherent musical story. Never rushed, these tracks are given full room to breathe and slowly introduce the record.”

10: Iceage – ‘Plowing Into The Field Of Love’

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“‘Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled’ constantly shifts time-signatures, returning back and forth to slow and fast as a demonic song is snarled rather than sung above scratches of noise, a lonely brass-band blaring, lifting the song to another level of greatness and intelligent bravado. Is it rock’n’roll, post-punk, jazz, classical or just simply noise? It’s hard to pinpoint a particular musical genre and defy the sounds here that crawl on all fours out of the speakers. The attitude of ‘Stay’ rushes with a supreme plod and progresses into a dreamland of madness and menace that suggest rock n roll, but the stabbing string sections and monstrous vocal eruptions suggest something else all together – torn and torturous, wild and walking in a wilderness.”

9: King Creosote – ‘From Scotland With Love’

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“This love letter to Scotland is a collection of simple and beautiful songs, some grander gestures and a smattering of upbeat numbers all about a life lived amongst people who have grown up with common experiences. Like a microcosm of a way of life we now yearn for, not a simpler time, or anything so faux or twee, just a time fondly remembered and missed, but no less hard or more happy. Offering the listener such wonderful slices of lo-fi indie beauty, it truly stands apart as something special. And it does this by offering something quite distinctive in its bare bones, simple beauty and gentle honesty. Songs like opener ‘Something To Believe In‘ and ‘Miserable Strangers‘ are so fragile and tentative they feel like they could almost disappear before your eyes.”

8: Vikesh Kapoor – ‘The Ballad Of Willy Robbins’

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“This beautiful album brings into sharp focus the realities of the modern America, attempting to speak for all those disenfranchised by the cruelties of modern life in a seemingly unsympathetic country. The ghost of Woody Guthrie in particular is felt throughout the album production, with each track having that feeling of ‘authentic’ America, foraging deep into country, folk and blues for its warmth and lustre. But this album is really the spiritual heir to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’. The songs are extremely personal portraits of lives gone awry, exposing the true rotten heart of the United States. Where Guthrie’s songs were a clarion calls to the masses, Kapoor’s tracks, like Springsteen’s, are heartbreakingly personal pleas.”

7: Gruff Rhys – ‘American Interior’

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“The amount of platforms the album is released through could connote the amount of depth, thought and enigma which has gone into this record; always moving forward, but branching off into all kinds of footpaths very few can walk. The story Rhys wants to tell concerns the claim that North America was ‘discovered’ by Madog, a Welsh seafarer of Viking blood, three centuries before Columbus, and that evidence of his presence was preserved in the existence of a fair-skinned Welsh-speaking tribe in the remote fastness of the Canadian borderlands. Yes, it’s mad, but so too is ‘The Last Conquistador’, which edges and shuffles forward with keyboard bubbles. Despite all of the mixtures thrown into one melting pot, the actual bravado of the song is astounding.”

6: Sleaford Mods – ‘Divide and Exit’

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“In fairness to Williamson and Fearn, this is a democratic spray; we’re all legitimate targets. The deviant krautrock on sweets of ‘Air Conditioning‘ finds the ranter haranguing us through a megaphone; it’s probably no less than we deserve. On ‘Tied Up In Nottz‘ the verbal machine gunning is of drug takers, drug users, wasted little DJs, whilst a two chord bass rumbles like a launderette washing machine. In order to make their point, the SM mantra is frequently interspersed with shop-floor vocabulary, f’s and c’s and words that we all use and hear, but like good little Brits we’re only offended by people who offend. They are of course just words, but in forcing us to confront our own little hypocrisies, the stream of profanity is more threatening to our sense of normality than any weapon.”

5: The Barr Brothers – ‘Sleeping Operator’

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“Meditative, hypnotic, but always unusual thanks to orchestrations conducted to compliment the plethora of other strange instrumentations, it is an album that pulsates with promising and powerful charm throughout, always at home in the seclusion of our own thoughts. ‘Static Orphans’ creates a joyous sense of uplift, featuring a lush harp surely made from an angel’s old pair of wings, something from a distant dreamland where nothing can go wrong. The gentle guitars flutter into the air, overlapping each other, underpinning the next step that pulsates with a fabulous climax unafraid to break obstacles thought of as immovable. It bleeds into the next track, ‘Love Ain’t Enough’, establishing the album’s musical theme; overwhelming bursts of euphoria.”

4: Pulled Apart By Horses – ‘Blood’

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“The songs themselves are individually impressive, but ‘Blood’ is the musical equivalent of a bomb, its ferocious power coming from the sum of its constituent parts. All the pieces when aligned come together and explode, embodied in the wonderful closer ‘Golden Monument‘, where this phenomenal feat is produced within a single track. All the more impressive given how many wonderful intricate parts there are to be found here. Opener ‘Hot Squash‘ brings the intensity of the record to bare from the off. Its alternating time signatures and rhythms are complex and fascinating, yet it is brilliant and catchy all the same, feels like simplicity itself, and the typically wittily entitled ‘ADHD in HD‘ is just off-kilter and all the better for it.”

3: The Sunshine Underground – ‘The Sunshine Underground’

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“Majestic. If it was possible, this review would end there. Not that there is nothing else to say about the new self-titled Sunshine Underground album, but more that sometimes saying it isn’t necessary. ‘The Sunshine Underground‘ is unlike anything the band have previously released; their dance-infused indie rock is gone, in its place is something not infused, or influenced, just what it is – a dance album. Or more specifically an electronic album, as merely attaching the label ‘dance’ does what we have here no justice. Many bands have tried new directions, but rarely so bravely and successfully. In recent times ‘reinvention’ in music has become almost a dirty word, used cynically to garner new fans or shore up ailing careers.”

2: Augustines – ‘Augustines’

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“Opener and single ‘Cruel City’ imposes an immediate statement of intent as an impoverished cry to an ever changing city, filled with past love, to not turn its back on the protagonist, evoking a sympathising connection with the listener in the guttural howls of, ‘Come on now cruel city, with mourning eyes, come on now cruel city, don’t turn away’, before building into a rousing Arcade Fire style choral shouts. A textbook beer drenched rock anthem from The Gaslight Anthem or Bruce Springsteen canon is the template channelled on ‘Nothing To Lose But Your Head’, desperate shouts of ‘Hey!’ filter through a tale of heightened melodrama in the chimes of mournful loss in the lines, ‘Have you ever lost someone, screamed ‘Holy Mary’ down the hall?’.”

1: The Twilight Sad – ‘Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave’

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“This in particular is a record from a band working toward their strengths, making their strongest album yet. They can now carve and craft near-perfect songs that teeter on the edge. ‘Pills I Swallow’ sounds like rummaging through old photographs – eerie, airy, smoky and foggy, it unfolds gently and is nothing short of supernatural. ‘Leave The House’ and ‘Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep’ once again comprise the ominous and mischievous sides to a lullaby only a heart so black could come to terms with; special in their own, unique way to everything else, sad and sombre, but splendid and stunning all the same. There is a childlike and menacing aura that clouds the album; ‘clouds’ in the sense of providing great atmosphere and formidable aesthetic to the tunes.”

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One Response

  1. mimmihopps 22 December, 2014

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