Ten of the best albums of 2014

2014 was another fantastic year for music. Not only did we see the continued rise of game-changing youngsters like FKA Twigs, Marika Hackman, George Ezra and the brilliant Lorde, but also the return of some of the true greats of the past few years with fresh new albums – cue Sia, Lamb and Annie Lennox. That's not to mention the chart-toppers like Ed Sheeren and those making waves on the underground scene at the other end, like Merrill Garbus with her tUnE-yArDs collective and YouTube DJs Eton Messy.

It was all happening live too. Kate Bush commenced on a truly historic comeback tour, while Fleetwood Mac and Blondie brought the sounds of the 1970s and 80s back to our stages respectively. In a vintage year (which I was sad to miss), Glastonbury welcomed to the Pyramid Stage country legend Dolly Parton, heavy metal veterans Metallica and former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant.

Before you say it, I have of course missed out an infinite number of artists, trends and new sounds that may have dominated your radios, playlists and YouTube searches over the course of 2014. What the following list comprises of are the albums which, for me, were outstanding and which dominated my year and found a place in my everyday life and listening. Please do tell me what your list would include in the comments box below – I would love to hear about the music that's been important to your year.

All that's left for me to say is happy listening – and Happy New Year!

RP x

Ten of the best albums of 2014

10. Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste

Why: After Azaelia Banks broke into the charts fiercely with the fresh, explicit and extremely catchy single 212 in 2011, it took three years for her to release her debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste. A finger up to the "group of old white guys she has to consult about her black girl craft" no doubt, it is a bold set of imaginatively-produced hip-hop and dance tracks.

What the critics said: "Broke With Expensive Taste shows why people got excited about Banks in the first place, even if it remains a niche concern" – Alex Macpherson, Guardian

9. George Ezra: Wanted On Voyage

Why: George Ezra has a voice way beyond his years and his songs are upbeat, original and instantly memorable. This was the perfect summer release.

What the critics said: "Playing guitar, bass and keyboards, Ezra delivers structurally simple songs with enormous gusto, suggesting an uncynical, joyous release in the very act of making music" – Neil McCormick, Telegraph

8. Zola Jesus: Taiga

Why: I discovered Zola Jesus in my third year at university and have had her on my bucket list of performers to see live ever since. The opportunity came at the end of October when she was touring her new album, Taiga. One of the best live performers I have ever seen, the American singer-songwriter is a powerhouse of unbeatable vocals and true dedication to her music.

What the critics said: "A torch singer sonically shrouded in black lace, operatically trained Nika Roza Danilova’s fifth album borrows as much from Barbra Streisand as it does James Blake" – Leonie Cooper, NME 

7. Chet Faker: Built On Glass

Why: Chet Faker was another artist I was lucky enough to see live in 2014. A shit-hot producer with a distinctive voice, his debut album is a masterclass in how to do stripped-back electronica really, really well. I knew his voice before I knew him through his collaborations with Flume. Also outside this album, check out his brilliant cover of 90s classic No Diggity.

What the critics said: "Despite having the kind of voice that would make your mother go weak at the knees, Chet Faker also has a strong left-field sensibility that appeals to those more discerning music aficionados out there. This record is intelligent, succinct in its ambitions, and more than anything, it’s pretty bloody cool" – Stephen Jenkins, Line of Best Fit

6. First Aid Kit: Stay Gold

Why: These Swedish girls have a place very close to my heart. Bearers of warm, earnest Americana-inspired country music, they make songs with beautiful melodies and rich harmonies. Stay Gold seemed to make the arrival of summer official in 2014.

What the critics said: "Stay Gold, finds First Aid Kit's close harmonies as honey-drenched as ever. Closer to country than folk, the album sounds as if it’s aimed at cracking the United States, where they have a burgeoning following." – James Hall, Telegraph

5. SOHN: Tremors

Why: Singles by SOHN filled out my soundtrack to trips to Jersey and Bulgaria in 2013 and 2014 and when the full album came out in April I was not disappointed. Listen to The Wheel and Lights in the playlist below to hear how well the English producer/singer-songwriter builds his melancholic songs into fantastic dance tunes.

What the critics said: "Like a soulman version of OG selfie pioneer Cindy Sherman, SOHN casts his falsetto in blues-worthy scenarios – a one-man band balancing songcraft and heady post-dubstep production better than James Blake or Rhye, two inevitable comparisons" – Will Hermes, Rolling Stone

4. Warpaint: Warpaint

Why: In February I saw Warpaint live for the first time. They dazzled me with their LA cool and the songs from their new album. I have loved the record ever since.

What the critics said: "This is a deeply personal record, unequivocally sensual" Eve Barlow, NME

3. SBTRKT: Wonder Where We Land

Why: The second studio album from SBTRKT is just as cool as the first. SBTRKT's (AKA producer Aaron Jerome Foulds) strength lies in collaboration: this fantastic album features among others, Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig (listen to the brilliant NEW YORK, NEW DORP in the playlist below), singer-songwriter Sampha, who features on many of SBTRKT songs and Brooklyn-based singer Caroline Polachek, who's wispy vocals help to make Look Away the edgy and atmospheric track it is.

What the critics said: "Tastefully edgy hip hop" – Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Guardian

2. Lamb: Backspace Unwind

Why: At the end of 2014, I saw Lamb play live twice within the space of a week – in a stipped-back afternoon gig and in a full show that began the Backspace Unwind tour. The electronic duo has been teaming incredible lyrics with trip hop/dubstep-inspired synths since 1996 and they fast became a firm favourite of mine. If you like what Portishead and Massive Attack do, you have to check them out – start with In BinaryNobody Else and Doves & Ravens in the playlist below.

What the critics said: "With the release of their sixth album comes another platter of electronic brilliance that sounds fresh and contemporary" – Amelia Maher, Music OMH

1. FKA Twigs: LP1

Why: In 2014, those of you who are musically-minded probably couldn't turn around without hearing or seeing FKA Twigs mentioned somewhere. As soon as I got wind of a live show in Bristol, I had to go along and experience the phenomenon for myself. The 28-year-old former dancer's debut album is sparse and daring, featuring songs crafted from endlessly interesting new sounds and seductive lyrics. And live she is intoxicating.

What the critics said: "A pervading sense of control and commitment to her art proves that Twigs is set on building the sound of the future all by herself" – Hazel Sheffield, NME

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