Ben Walton's Top Albums of 2014
10) Grant Nicholas - Yorktown Heights
Feeder's Grant Nicholas went down the familiar lead-singer-does-a-solo-album route this year, and the results weren't too bad in the end. Yorktown Heights is a more sombre and acoustic take on the recognisable sounds of his regular band but there is still plenty of bite and energy on tracks like 'Joan of Arc' and 'Time Stood Still'. On Yorktown Heights, Nicholas proved he could pen a tune with more emotional depth than anything about a CD player player player player player.
9) CJ Wildheart - Mable
Not exactly a surprise that a member of The Wildhearts did a solo album this year, but CJs first solo work in seven years is an absolute mother of a sonic gut punch. The power pop blitzkrieg comes thick and fast with songs like 'Better Late Than Never', 'Devil' and the album highlight 'Vitriol'. CJ took the opportunity of his second solo outing to prove that The Wildhearts was never a one man show.
8) Beck - Morning Phase
2014 saw the welcome return of the musical equivalent of Willy Wonka, Beck. Morning Phase revisited the acoustic sounds of his seminal 2003 album Sea Change, with an added dash of optimism. The four years Beck took out between this and his last studio album obviously did him some good as Morning Phase features some of his best songs, such as 'Blue Moon', 'Waking Light' and the gorgeous 'Heart Is A Drum'.
7) The Gaslight Anthem - Get Hurt
The Gaslight Anthem's fourth album was talked up in the press as being a difficult, experimental left turn for the band. While it's true that Get Hurt features a little experimentation (the power ballad title track, the hard riffing opener 'Stay Vicious'), Get Hurt doesn't really stray too far from the Gaslight blueprint. Songs like '1,000 Years', 'Rollin' and Tumblin'' and 'Ain't That A Shame' still pack plenty of punch and punk rock bluster.
6) Mark Lanegan Band - Phantom Radio
Continuing his late career renaissance, this year Mark Lanegan released his most immediate and pop flavoured album to date. Lanegan has previously hinted at a love of electronics and samples but on Phantom Radio he cuts loose with some straight up pop hits such as the hard-hitting opener 'Harvest Home', the understated funk of 'The Killing Season' or the bluesy electro-trip of 'Death Trip To Tulsa'. This is Mark Lanegan stretching his legs and having fun with music, and the results are a joy to witness.
5) Ok Go - Hungry Ghosts
Another band doing something completely different, OK Go's fourth album is a million miles away from 'Here It Goes Again' and its treadmills. On Hungry Ghosts Ok Go continued their transformation into a straight-up pop band with the eighties influenced melancholy pop of album highlight 'The Writing's On The Wall', the Jackson 5 disco bounce of 'I Won't Let You Down' and the ludicrous funk attack of 'Obsession'. This album is packed solidly, wall to wall with hits after hit. Ok Go demonstrate on album number four that their creativity extends far past their inventive videos and that they have the songs to back it up.
4) Moral Dilemma - Is Anyone Alive Out There?
The loudest and most raw album on this list, London gutter punks Moral Dilemma chucked absolutely everything at their final album Is Anyone Alive Out There. Featuring a multitude of blistering assaults like 'Lost Cause For Alarm', 'Bigger Cages, Longer Chains' and 'Spare The Vote Spoil The Ballot' that many established punk acts would sacrifice their bass players to write, this is an album worth shouting about and quite clearly the punk album of the year. Nobody else came close to having this amount of blood, fire, piss or vinegar in them this year.
3) Manic Street Preachers - Futurology
After the lacklustre, defeatist acoustic trudge through that was 2013's Rewind The Film, what a relief it was to hear Futurology, the Manics' twelfth studio outing. Here is a band going through yet another late career renaissance and full with urgency and a certain sense of purpose. Futurology sees the band venturing into new territory with the Goldfrapp-esque electro march of 'Europa Geht Durch Mich', the driving single 'Walk Me to the Bridge' and the claustrophobic 'Misguided Missile'. Futurology showcases the Manics at their dizzying best - fiery, clever and undeniably ambitious. Even this far into their enthralling career, count the Manic Street Preachers out at your peril.
2) Tim Wheeler - Lost Domain
In the absence of Ash, it was good to hear one of Northern Ireland's best songwriters and finest exports still making music. Chronicling the end of his father's life, Lost Domain is an endlessly melancholic but lushly orchestrated collection of songs. And for a musician who wasn't much cop at the start of his career, some of the musicianship on Lost Domain is astounding such as instrumental opener 'Snow in Nara', the ten minute epic 'Medicine', or the tasteful hints of disco in the title track. Lost Domain is Wheeler working through a personal tragedy, but the musical fruits of it are some of his best work to date.
1) We Cut Corners - Think Nothing
Who would have thought that my favourite album of 2014 would have been made by a couple of Irish teachers? Think Nothing by We Cut Corners is an absolutely astonishing piece of work. Clocking in at just under half an hour, the album is so diverse it could be ten songs by ten different bands. You get tasteful, quiet acoustic folk like 'Wallflowers', you get the stadium sized pop punk of 'YKK' and 'Overtures', the fiery grunge assault of album highlights 'This Is Then' and 'Best Friend', and you get the anthemic bluster of 'Every Thief'. There is so much creativity throughout Think Nothing that the title seems ironic. We Cut Corners should be treasured, and Think Nothing is an album that keeps giving and revealing itself listen upon listen. A deserving album of the year.