Double J's Top 50 Albums of 2014
Looking over the 50 albums we selected as our favourites from 2014, you begin to realise that this was an incredible year for indie music. From the wonderfully warped pop of St. Vincent, FKA Twigs and Kishi Bashi to the deeply personal and intimate ruminations of Sun Kil Moon, Sharon Van Etten and Tom E. Lewis, the quality is staggering. To anyone who thinks the album is dead, we implore you to sit down with any of these records and acknowledge the artistry of our modern performers.
Below are the 50 records that resonated with the entire Double J team most of all throughout 2014, our first year in existence. Check out the list and tell us which ones we missed on Facebook and Twitter.
50. Nikki Lane – All Or Nothin’
New West Records
Songbird-on-a-motorcycle Nikki Lane delivered the outlaw country album of the year with All Or Nothin'. With it she has won over thousands of fans from Kentucky to New York to Melbourne to Tokyo.
What is it about Lane? She’s a born star: charismatic and cool with songs to match. Produced by Dan Auerbach, Right Time is the direct descendent of the finer works of Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings. – Emma Swift
49. Redinho – Redinho
East London's Redinho released one of the year's most exciting collections of soulful electronic music with his self-titled debut.
Three years in the making, and influenced by a childhood spent listening to Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Zapp, he has crafted a record of Machine Funk for the 21st century.
Standout tunes include 'Get You Off My Mind' (featuring Brendan Reilly) and 'Break The Rules'. – Lance Ferguson
48. Radical Son – Cause 'N Affect
It has been a long, hard road for Radical Son in the lead up to his debut album Cause 'N Affect. On the record, elements of reggae, soul, hip hop and R&B all appear at different stages, showing the versatility of Radical Son as a singer and songwriter.
The music is practically perfect and guest appearances from Emma Donovan, Archie Roach, and Steve Spacek adds to the quality, but Radical Son's vocal performances steal the show. – Dan Condon
47. The Roots - …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin
...and then you shoot your cousin is a cheerless half-hour-long takedown of hip hop cliché and violence in general society, backed largely by avant-garde jazz and occasional blasts of noise.
The Roots might jam on classic hits night after night in front of a TV audience of millions, but they're still able to construct a piece of art this uncommercial, unhip, bleak and, musically, brilliantly informed. Incredible. – Dan Condon
46. Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather
Best known for his work with Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn has long been revered by lovers of the good old fashioned guitar jam. On Way Out Weather, Gunn stakes his claim as a modern day psychedelic folk hero bringing hypnotic guitars, gravel voiced baritone and a swag of fine tunes to the table.
A little bit mystic, a little bit western, this record gets better with every listen. – Emma Swift
45. Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours
Like NYC cohorts The Strokes and Interpol, The Walkmen’s lynchpin was a raspy and polarizing frontman. Hamilton Leithauser’s solo debut – even the cover art – conjures a fedora tilted Sinatra in those wee hours.
For whatever colour describes your sad – black, blue or a mean red – there’s plenty of room to wallow. But with enough country swagger, south-of-the-border sway and defiant bravado the introspection is kinda fun. – Dorothy Markek
44. BADBADNOTGOOD - III
BADBADNOTGOOD are a Canadian trio who met through a shared love of jazz and hip hop. Their musicality is what makes this record interesting. Jazz sensibilities are matched with relentless, massive DJ Shadow style beats. The result is mesmerising.
This album is a jazzy, post-rock, hip hop hybrid, and while not always perfect, it is intriguing. – Myf Warhurst
43. Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets The Bone
CVC/Universal Music Australia
The poet laureate of Americana, Lucinda Williams, strikes gold with a difficult to pull-off double album, which is ragged in tone and rich in observation. This 20-track album is an articulate, intelligent, beautifully resonant fuck you to the “singles work better than albums” mindset.
At 61, Williams is at her profound best, blending her trademark mix of hurt and hope, country and rock, joy and sorrow, with a little hard earned wisdom. – Emma Swift
42. Kishi Bashi – Lighght
There's nothing subtle about Lighght, a shamelessly exuberant collection of fantastical chamber pop songs. They throw back to the prog-pop of another era: Supertramp, Queen and ELO.
Violinist and singer-songwriter Kishi Bashi uses every trick in his playbook to create maximum joy. This includes swelling string sections, reach-for-the-sky synths, bombastic gang harmonies and catchy vocal hooks beginning to end. Oh yes, and there's an ode to a piece of steak. – Tim Shiel
41. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
First Aid Kit's slick take on Americana developed in sound and scope on their third album Stay Gold. Everything about this album is bigger than what they've given us before.
They gave us more instruments, more grandiose arrangements, and more powerful voices – both individually and in glorious harmony – than we've heard before.
Despite this, there is still a homely charm to the songs that make them as welcoming as anything these Swedish sisters have given us before. – Dan Condon
40. Tom E. Lewis – Beneath The Sun
Tom E. Lewis is better known to many for his acting skills, which have seen him perform in front of packed audiences in theatres around the world. But the reflective Beneath The Sun shows that Lewis has plenty of stories to tell.
These stories are lifted immeasurably by stunning production from Skinnyfish Music's Michael Hohnen and performances by Ross Hannaford, Tony Floyd, Stephen Takle and Craig Pilkington. - Dan Condon
39. Real Estate – Atlas
Hop on your bike, Atlas' end-of-summer, sepia-soaked ride through your adolescence is set to turn your nostalgia dial up to 11. Real Estate's third full length is their most beautifully concise. The jangly guitar interplay feels loose but bright, conjuring up images of carefree days, but Martin Courtney's lyrics are riddled with anxiety.
This is an album of breezy dream pop fuelled by a heart full of memories in the suburbs. But it's concurrently aware of the vexation that comes with the passage of time and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. – Caz Tran
38. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
Presented in seven suites, Lese Majesty is a perfect example of the kind of high concept hip hop that a large number of today's groups and collectives are making, or at least trying to.
Shabazz Palaces proved with their 2011 debut that they can make truly thrilling experimental hip hop, but the bar has been raised with this second effort. It's spacey, dark and, while devoid of hooks, completely gripping. – Dan Condon
37. Steve Smyth – Exits
Put two of Steve Smyth's singles, 'Shake It' and 'Written and Spoken', up against each other and you'll hear two very different performers.
The songs on Exits can loosely be packed into these two categories: Smyth as the angry, preacher's son (which he actually was) and the sweet, charming modern troubadour. Thankfully he sounds great in both incarnations.
There's no doubting he is one of the most talented singers we have right now. – Dan Condon
36. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
The third Perfume Genius album Too Bright features the starkest, most confident and best written songs Mike Hadreas has given us yet. He is a masterful composer and stunning vocalist and on this record he steps up and defiantly tells us more about himself than he ever has.
On its surface, it's a wonderfully diverse chamber pop record. But those who choose to delve deeper will uncover not just an artist, but a man that is maturing. – Dan Condon
35. Blank Realm – Grassed Inn
Bedroom Suck Records
Brisbane four piece Blank Realm have capitalised on their acclaimed live reputation and made one of the most gorgeously wonky records of the year. It has deservedly garnered the band local and international praise.
What it lacks in polish, it makes up in delivering buckets of skewed pop delivered with the sweet and slightly off-kilter vocals of Daniel and Sarah Spencer. – Myf Warhurst
34. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
You're Dead! is as sublime as it is ridiculous. Drawing more than ever from free jazz, fusion and prog, Flying Lotus' fifth album is not for the faint of heart. It's a tightly loaded and hyper-produced cosmic cacophony of digital soul music.
Its every hyperactive moment is packed with virtuosic jazz licks and production tricks. The effect is mind-altering, and thrilling, if you give yourself over to it completely. – Tim Shiel
33. The Peep Tempel – Tales
Wing Sing Records
Dirty, raucous and distinctly Australian, this second album from Melbourne trio The Peep Tempel shines a grimy light on gritty characters walking the backstreets of Aussie society.
While they temper their intense on stage energy in the studio, their powerful rock still matches these inspired and seedy songs exploring rough-cut Aussie blokes. After all, no-one wants to be a Christmas ham. – Karen Leng
32. Tiny Ruins – Brightly Painted One
Gentle voiced New Zealander Hollie Fullbrook (aka Tiny Ruins) has made a stellar second record that combines her poignant lyrical observations with melodic acoustic guitar, lush percussion and a touch of brass.
There’s nothing about this record that screams “RADIO SMASH HIT!” but, without doubt, ‘Me At The Museum, You At The Winter Garden’ is my favourite song of 2014. – Emma Swift
31. Jack White – Lazaretto
Jack White fever hit hard around the middle of this year, as he went on the campaign trail to push his latest solo effort Lazaretto.
Beyond the gimmickry and publicity stunts, White again showed the real reason why he is one of the truly exciting rock stars of the modern day. He writes incredible songs and isn't afraid to push the envelope ever so slightly to let them stand out from the pack. – Dan Condon
30. Neneh Cherry – Blank Project
The queen of gloomy pop, Neneh Cherry, returns with her first solo record in 18 years and it did not let us down. The album was produced by Four Tet and is a collection of sparse and dark soulful songs with hard-hitting electro backing.
Her finest songs of the past remain timeless and we imagine quite a few of these songs will hold up when looking back on them in the years to come. – Dan Condon
29. Wild Beasts – Present Tense
You can feel the clouds gathering with Present Tense opener 'Wanderlust''s thick, belchy synths and insistent drums. Followed by the sneer of the opening line "We're decadent beyond our means...".
There's restraint throughout this record. A balance between Wild Beasts' musical flourishes and the lyrical and vocal contrast of Hayden Thorpe's falsetto and Tom Fleming's rumble.
For all the angst and disdain, this is a sumptuous and immersive listen from start to finish. – Caz Tran
28. Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
I have been a massive fan of vocalist Yukimi Nagano since her early recordings with Nu Jazz artists Koop and Swell Session in the early 2000s.
Little Dragon's fourth album Nabuma Rubberband seemed to crystallise the creative arc of their pop-infused electronic sound into something unmistakeably their own.
Tunes like 'Klapp Klapp' and the album's title track seem like instant classics. – Lance Ferguson
27. Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell
Hundred Waters' music is magic. Packed with lush sonic detail and deep musicality, listening to it is utterly intoxicating. I'm drawn further into it each time as I slowly give myself over to its dreamlike logic.
Its every moment is capable of transforming me into a state of deep intimacy. Easily my favourite album of the year, and one I'll be losing myself inside for years to come. – Tim Shiel
26. Swans – To Be Kind
As much as odyssey as an album, To Be Kind finds long-running New York band Swans at the top of their game. Singer Michael Gira yells and intones mantra-like over long songs built on bluesy, discordant riffs and pounding percussion.
To Be Kind begs to be played loud to subsume you in its hypnotic pulsing rhythms. So you can best experience the fire that still burns hot at the heart of this mighty, cacophonous and deeply original band. – Karen Leng
25. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Give the People What They Want
Give The People What They Want marked a triumphant return for the irrepressible true soul survivor that is Sharon Jones. The release was delayed several months while she underwent chemotherapy to beat stage two pancreatic cancer.
This album proves once again that Sharon and the band are the best in the business at making straight-up classic soul music. Just listen to 'Stranger To My Happiness' if you don't believe. – Lance Ferguson
24. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
Rough Trade/Remote Control
Parquet Courts' pop smarts, sense of humour and brazen willingness to mess with what have fast become expected garage rock tropes make them more than deserving of the hype bestowed upon them.
The Brooklyn quartet might seem like slackers on the surface, but the volume and quality of material they're pumping out suggests otherwise.
A must hear for fans of The Velvet Underground, Pavement and '70s power-pop. – Dan Condon
23. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
The utter simplicity of Burn Your Fire For No Witness means that Angel Olsen's considerable talents are laid bare, as are her emotions.
Her stunning voice is brimming with emotion and the way she writes these unique songs masks absolutely nothing. She doesn't mince words and doesn't use a chord if it doesn't have to be there. It's simple, emotional and addictive music. – Dan Condon
22. FKA Twigs – LP1
Young Turks/Remote Control
Released on hip UK label Young Turks, FKA Twigs debut LP1 lived up to the promise of her earlier EPs and went well beyond. The fiercely uncompromising and autonomous Twigs delivered lyrics that belied vulnerability, frankness and vitality.
She breathes new life into that ubiquitous minimal electronica post-James Blake sonic framework. I can't wait to see her do it live! – Lance Ferguson
21. tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack
Merill Garbus remains as experimental as ever on tUnE-yArDs' third record Nikki Nack.
She utilises complex rhythms, playful melodies, off-the-wall counter-melodies, onomatopoetic, neo-tribalist vocals and a vast array of intriguing synthesized sounds.
But she's also turned to pop music more than ever before. She brilliantly balances the fun and complex elements of her music to make for captivating listening. – Dan Condon
20. C.W. Stoneking - Gon' Boogaloo
This album took six years to conceive and only two days to record and this urgency is clear. The music practically bursts out from the speakers. C.W. Stoneking sticks to electric guitar this time around, but still references his arsenal of sounds from a bygone era.
This record is an immediate and vital wonder that’s brought a little bit of magic back to the act of listening to music. – Myf Warhurst
19. Emma Donovan & the PutBacks – Dawn
Hope Street Recordings
The pairing of Indigenous vocalist Emma Donovan with one of Australia's finest rhythm sections The PutBacks was a stroke of genius. The resulting album, Dawn, is full of all kinds of soulful and subtle riches.
Country, rock, soul and funk influences collide to make what is not only one of the best home grown albums of 2014, but one of the best Australian albums of the past decade. – Lance Ferguson
18. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
Why so serious? We could all do with a reminder now and then that great music doesn't have to be dark or solemn. It need not be humourless and straight-faced. Todd Terje's fantastic debut, which we waited ten years for, is utterly joyous and unashamedly daggy.
It fuses disco, library-funk and lounge music into an irresistible celebration of silliness. You're meant to smile when you dance, you know... – Tim Shiel
17. Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders – Playmates
Jack Ladder and his band have always radiated cool. That they maintain it while evoking the best kind of '80s pastiche is impressive.
The Dreamlanders’ feature Kirin J. Callinan, Donny Benét and Laurence Pike (PVT). Backed by this experience Ladder is happy for them to sometimes take the lead, particularly live.
Producer, Kim Moyes (The Presets) adds an inspired electro top-coat to Ladder’s full-cream voice. – Dorothy Markek
16. Jane Tyrrell – Echoes In The Aviary
After more than a decade contributing elegant and spectral vocals to acts like The Herd and Urthboy, it's unsurprising Jane Tyrrell has stepped to the fore with such cool assuredness.
Tyrrell has chosen her collaborators wisely. Pip Norman (TZU), Laurence and Richard Pike (PVT), J. Walker and Dustin McLean (Axolotl) add well placed touches which beautifully underpin Echoes In The Aviary.
These are haunted, cinematic vignettes, which shift and morph with repeated listens. – Caz Tran
15. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
Damon Albarn's first album under his own name is the most personal in his varied career.
With no high concept, no laundry list of collaborators and a simple and understated sonic palette, Everyday Robots feels stitched together by hand. A collection of honest reflections on modern technology and the everyday.
It does little to dispel the myth of Albarn: mischievous musical polymath, puckish and ever-observant everyman, chronic over-achiever. – Tim Shiel
14. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Are We There's opener 'Afraid Of Nothing' gives an instant sense of the beginning of the end, which would come as a massive relief for someone who's endured the emotional havoc of heartbreak. There's comfort in the melodies of these songs, but prepare to be stripped bare.
This is intimate, urgent and confronting work, piecing yourself together in full view. In the end, Sharon Van Etten shows us the result is without a doubt, worth all the painstaking effort. – Caz Tran
13. Caitlin Park – The Sleeper
Three years on from her debut Caitlin Park’s penchant for sound effects, layering and loops is stronger than ever. Park has made great leaps in both her singing and song writing.
She has the confidence to push her voice further and deeper and the courage to express joy and vulnerability in her tender lyrics. Plus she’s not afraid to share a bed with seven other people. – Dorothy Markek
12. Total Control – Typical System
It's confounding how the bleak, murky tones of Typical System, excite and take hold of you with almost unbearable ease. Total Control's snaking coldwave synths, post punk guitars, curt, fragmented lyrical stabs and repetitive rhythms all work together efficiently.
Beyond the snarling, deadpan observations on the personal and the political, there is a mysteriousness that hangs over this record. Perhaps this is what gives this collection of songs their visceral, fluid and hypnotic power. – Caz Tran
11. Beck – Morning Phase
Beck’s chameleon-like musical instincts have rendered him one of contemporary music’s most intriguing artists. Morning Phase finds him once again stripping back his sound to focus on songs of rich emotional depth.
Designed as the companion album to Sea Change (2002) it’s an album of warm, melancholic, dreamy and beautiful songs. It brings Beck’s lyrical poeticism to the fore, surrounded by lush, orchestral sounds. – Karen Leng
10. Mia Dyson – Idyllwild
For long-time fans, this release has enough of the gritty vocals and brilliant hooks that probably got you hooked on Mia Dyson in the first place. For newcomers, there's a slow-burning vulnerability and maturity on display.
Album highlight 'Any 3 Chords' recalls the best Lucinda Williams songs, a deceptively gentle starter before building into a yearning, desperate rock and roll plea, "I only wanna play in the band..." Don’t we all? – Emma Swift
9. Aphex Twin – Syro
Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) labours over his music so he can construct songs that are exceedingly complex and unique while remaining somewhat accessible. Both of these strengths are evident on Syro.
This is extremely complex music, but James always keeps the core fundamentals of melody and rhythm agreeable enough that it doesn't grate. Syro is kinda scary, kinda funky and kinda genius from go to whoa. – Dan Condon
8. Augie March – Havens Dumb
Five years after taking an indefinite hiatus Augie March shocked us with this gorgeous beast. It's dripping with their signature moves, yet still manages to take the listener somewhere else entirely.
Glenn Richards’ dense and layered prose is matched with the band’s swirling accompaniment, ensuring it’s a musical rollercoaster that moves from bleak to brilliant in a snap. It gets better and better with every listen. – Myf Warhurst
7. Kelis – Food
Kelis, a trained chef, loves food as much as she loves music. Perhaps that's why her sixth album, which features songs like 'Friday Fish Fry', 'Jerk Ribs' and 'Breakfast', is among her most assured yet.
Together with TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek, who produced the album, Kelis brings the soul from the past into the future with plenty of classic sounding horns melding with more modern electronic pop flourishes. – Dan Condon
6. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
Their richly rewarding third album finds The War On Drugs fully exploring the power of great songcraft against a widescreen sonic backdrop of fuzzy guitars and soaring synths.
Lovingly combining influences from Bruce Springsteen to Spacemen 3 and written after a period of post tour depression, singer Adam Granduciel’s songs of emotional yearning provide a truly transformative experience for the listener. – Karen Leng
5. Zammuto – Anchor
The breakup of indie collage pop duo The Books sent Nick Zammuto back to the farm to reconsider the vagaries of art as a career. Happily for us the vocalist and sonic-tinkerer fronts a four piece whose second album is typically experimental yet accessible.
With multi-layered vocals, quasi-binaural beats and crisp bass lines, Zammuto pushes the boat out (ahem) with their exceptional take on “challenging” pop. All from a tractor garage in landlocked Vermont. – Dorothy Markek
4. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
Recent news surrounding Mark Kozelek may leave a sour taste, but that shouldn't take away from the genius of the sixth Sun Kil Moon LP Benji.
The album is almost completely focused on the subject of death, but Kozelek approaches the subject with such poise that it's not as overly emotional as you may suspect.
It's fascinating hearing such well-written ruminations on mortality and it's completely gripping when they're set to such a killer soundtrack. – Dan Condon
3. Spoon – They Want My Soul
I didn’t think I could get that excited about a new Spoon record, but they managed to reel me in again, eight albums in. This is no mean feat.
While the band hooked up with super producers and the songs are catchier than ever, they lost none of their endearing ruffled edges. Britt Daniels’ voice seems even more isolated and determined than before and the band’s sound is bigger than ever. – Myf Warhurst
2. Caribou – Our Love
Dan Snaith (aka Caribou) is so far down the rabbit-hole now. He has internalised the process of musical alchemy so deeply, that his music now truly defies any kind of "this-meets-this" reductionism. It simply exists as thrilling, and uniquely peculiar, experimental pop music.
That his wildly innovative music is so effortless to listen to is magical enough; that it has maintained the charming naivety of a hopeless romantic is the true trick. – Tim Shiel
1. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Sitting statuesque on a pink plastic throne, Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, projects an almost regal confidence on the cover of her fifth album. Impeccably and economically crafted, it’s an album brimming with ideas and honed with her trademark wit.
Using pop as a base, St. Vincent eschews the simple norms of the tradition adopting a more twisted take on melodies and rhythms for a playful and self-styled art-funk all of her own. – Karen Leng