And so to the business end of the "Albums of 2014" countdown. Without, as they say, further ado…
5. Woman’s Hour - Conversations
2014 really does seem to have been the year my taste for elegant simplicity revealed itself more than ever. Conversations was as sleekly minimal and precise as the monochrome of its cover image implied. Not that it wasn't beautiful: Woman’s Hour showed throughout the album’s 11 tracks that they had a knack for opening up a song with a deft touch here, and a flourish there. Cool, maybe even cold at times, but far from emotionless, Conversations was a beautifully poised debut.
4. St. Vincent - St. Vincent
You might have noticed St. Vincent in 2014. You’d have been hard pressed not to; 2014 was the year Annie Clark went from celebrated outsider to Letterman star, catwalk soundtrack curator, 6 Music “wise woman”, and the art-rock auteur everyone scrambled to love the most. But St. Vincent is well worth the praise: the album’s strong, full of bold strokes, and the first half is practically perfect. If there are mis-steps towards the end they can surely be forgiven when they are trying their best to follow "Digital Witness", "Prince Johnny", "I Prefer Your Love" and "Rattlesnake" - tracks that could have lifted almost any album into the top 5. Throughout a busy year, St. Vincent proved herself as an outstanding live act, combining a performer’s sense for the dramatic with the flair and brilliance of her consummate guitar work.
3. King Creosote - From Scotland With Love
Buy the album, watch the film that it scores and for which it provides the sole narration: you will surely love both. Throughout Kenny Anderson’s prolific career seldom has he reached such consistently brilliant emotive heights as on From Scotland With Love. Working alongside Virginia Heath’s film, itself a re-purposing of archive footage - scenes of Scottish life old and older, carefree and poignant - Anderson reworks some of his existing songs: the heart-tugging "One Floor Down" started life in 1988; "Miserable Strangers" builds into the familiar loop of "678"; and Something to Believe In was born from the melody of "A Prairie Tale", these last two providing the perfect start and finish to the album. Alongside these newly developed works sit new gems like the coming in and going out of the tide that is "Cargill", and the Friday night dancehall whirl of "For One Night Only".
2. The Twilight Sad - Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave
Can it really be seven years already since the release of The Twilight Sad’s fierce, glowering debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters? Apparently so, and revisiting it now reveals that tracks like "That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy" have lost none of their ability to give goosebumps of intangible joy and uncertain confusion. Now three more albums down the line, and despite line-up changes, crises of confidence, and shifts in sound (first more noise was added, then it was stripped away again) they’re still an awkward and sinister-sounding bunch. The titles alone, especially imagined curling out with James Graham’s accented delivery, are foreboding enough: "There’s A Girl In The Corner", "Drown So I Can Watch", "Pills I Swallow", "Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep". The sound - gloomy post-punk plus morose electronic flourishes - only adds weight to the atmosphere.
A late contender (and close contender) for album of the year, Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave sees The Twilight Sad at their dark and imposing best.
1. Sharon Van Etten - Are We There
The first indication that hopes and expectations for Sharon Van Etten’s follow-up to Tramp would be met (and then some) by Are We There came with the surfacing of "Taking Chances" in early March. Beautiful vocals, shades of dark and light, and soft, calm production interrupted only by the crashing in of the guitar in the chorus were encouraging signs indeed. When the album’s last track "Every Time The Sun Comes Up" was released shortly before the album itself, excitement was once more raised - Van Etten effortlessly sliding through the notes while the band gently bubbles away behind, keeping to the corners and not getting in the way.
The rest of Are We There didn’t disappoint. Not a bit of it. In parts it exceeded expectations, and in "Your Love is Killing Me" provided the most devastating song of the year. Pain and hurt rarely sounds so good as here; it would make for a difficult listen if it wasn’t for the beauty of each "you like it" refrain.
Break my legs so I won't walk to you
Cut my tongue so I can't talk to you
Burn my skin so I can't feel you
Stab my eyes so I can't see
You like it when I let you walk over me
You tell me that you like it
Your love is killing me
The fact that this album, this deeply intimate and personal document, doesn’t end up bogged down in its own emotional baggage is down to Van Etten’s knack for the disarming, and moments where her voice and the melody her band is playing are so downright beautiful that as Van Etten herself undergoes musical catharsis you’re left consoled in her wake.
Outstanding, continually remarkable, and RRP's album of the year: Are We There.