Best albums of 2014: Top 10

(Clockwise from top left) Damon Albarn, Kelis, St Vincent, Little DragonHere it is. The final countdown. We’ve had club bangers, blazing rap debuts, plenty of pop and atmospheric opuses. But the best is yet to come from albums that challenge the social order, boggle your mind and take you to new plains.

10. Jungle – Jungle
9. MØ – No Mythologies to Follow
8. Essa – The Misadventures of a Middle Man
7. Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
6. Broken Bells – After the Disco
5. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Give the People What They Want
4. Neneh Cherry – Blank Project
3. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
2. Kelis – Food
1. St Vincent – St Vincent Continue reading

Best albums of 2014: 20 to 11

AOTY 2014: 20-11 college NehruvianDoom, Ibibo, Daley, Foxes  (1448x815)Day four of my 2014 round-up includes standout R&B albums, an African highlife-psych collision, a rock music fight back and an indescribable Mercury Prize-winner.

20. Foxes – Glorious
19. Daley – Days & Nights
18. Banks – Goddess
17. NehruvianDoom – NehruvianDoom
16. Jack White – Lazaretto
15. Young Fathers – Dead
14. Tinashe – Aquarius
13. Beck – Morning Phase
12. Fatima – Yellow Memories
11. Ibibio Sound Machine – Ibibio Sound Machine Continue reading

Best albums of 2014: 30 to 21

AOTY 2014 30-21 college Beyonce, Nick Waterhouse, Ratking, ElbowDay three of my 2014 round-up features albums for the midnight hour, rare grooves galore and three degrees of hip hop excellence.

30. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
29. Allah-Las – Worship the Sun
28. Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour
27. Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything
26. Nick Waterhouse – Holly
25. Ratking – So It Goes
24. BadBadNotGood – III
23. Beyoncé – Beyoncé
22. Nick Mulvey – First Mind
21. People Under the Stairs – 12 Step Program Continue reading

Best albums of 2014: 40 to 31

Clockwise from top left) Temples, Azealia Banks, Pharrell Williams, SZAIn day two of my 2014 round-up, we have albums about nothing but fun times, getting faded and discombobulated, and ripping the heads off childhood toys. Go with it.

40. Pharrell Williams – G I R L
39. Dan Croll – Sweet Disarray
38. Thumpers – Galore
37. Alt-J – This is All Yours
36. FKA Twigs – LP1
35. Gil Scott-Heron – Nothing New
34. SZA – Z EP
33. Temples – Sun Structures
32. Azealia Banks – Broke with Expensive Taste
31. Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo Continue reading

Best albums of 2014: 50 to 41

Jessie Ware, Oya Festival 2012, 20120811, by NRKWith album sales on life support, 2014 was the year it became almost impossible to track – in chart terms, at least – the music that has connected with the most people.

Of course, there’s more to music and life than sales, who’s got the biggest entourage or who wins the next X Factor. Which is why I find it especially interesting to learn about artists or albums that I’ve not come across at all. The best albums can help you understand who you are or who you wish to be, take you to places you’ve never been and even comfort you in hard times.

Through sheer will – and madness – I’ve upped my annual round-up of the year’s best albums to 50. Some of them you many have heard about, but, with some luck, they’ll be a fair few you haven’t. In the words that follow I hope you find reason to give at least one album you’ve never heard a try. Continue reading

Marlena Shaw – the underappreciated queen of soul

Marlena Shaw, press photo, Cadet, 01It’s a real struggle to try and sum up what’s so arresting about Marlena Shaw. This New York-born chanteuse of soul and blues is best known in the UK for her interpretation of ‘California Soul’, the exuberant, feel-good soul-stunner written by Ashford & Simpson.

From the instant Shaw’s coffee-blend-rich voice takes over from the gust of strings and hand claps that greet your ears, you are enveloped by visions of a picturesque California. Glamorous figures gliding by sun-soaked beach strips; open-topped convertibles streaking through the heat haze, coursing down bare roadways; M&S Food ad-style close-ups of buffet tables and barbeques awaiting party guests; lovers laughing together like not a thing in the world could trouble them. Not just good times, the best of times. Continue reading

Bonobo @ Alexandra Palace, London

Bonobo, Alexandra Palace, London, 28.11.2014, by Aaron Lee, 01 (1448x815)Thousands of punters. Walls of pulsating shapes flying at you like an insane, multicoloured Rorschach inkblots. And enough electronic breakbeats to propel beer into the face of anyone who’s still drinking when the mayhem starts. That was the scene at Alexandra Palace, London, on Friday night for the finale of Bonobo’s North Borders Tour. And unlike the dismal displays of disinterest or detachment that concerts of this kinds generate from some artists (Calvin Harris comes to mind), this was two hours of welcoming, crowd-pleasing inclusiveness. Continue reading

Little Dragon @ Brixton Academy

Little Dragon, Brixton Academy 27.11 by Aaron Lee (1448x815)Yukimi Nagano appears triumphant. This is her scene and these are her people.

Emerging onto the laser-lit stage, Little Dragon’s angelic frontwoman is wrapped in a flamboyant orange and florescent green dress, with yellow flower petals lining its shoulder straps, which glowed like a neon beacon as she, and her band, set the mood for a striking evening of frenetic electronica and dance jams. Continue reading