Tracks of 2014 — #14 Altar Flowers “We Still Can’t Be Friends”

Tracks of 2014
<<<<Track 13
Index
>>>>Track 15

Selling a bowl of Special K at £3.20 a pop is the work of deranged loony-tunes, as we all know, so for true vintage fun with a new age feel, don’t involve yourself with coiffured numpties with no care about the poverty on the streets outside their tasteless cereal flimflam, get your ears wrapped around Altar Flowers instead. (What do you mean, I’m making it obvious that I find horrific the idea that selling breakfast cereal at a hypergazillion percentage mark up is somehow acceptable in this day and age? No politics here, chums, I’m all about the music doncha know.)

Regular readers will doubtlessly know that my choices for Tracks Of 2014 are cut on a distinct bias. I ruddy love solid pop written with melody running all the way through like Blackpool rock. Not cheese (although heaven knows I like a slice of that) and not just taken from one style (because I’m open minded and don’t work for Radio 1). Altar Flowers’ “We Still Can’t Be Friends” is a great example of what I listen out for: rich and raucous and full of great pop sensibilities whilst carrying itself with more than its fair share of cool-for-school swagger. Altar Flowers have a certain curious side to their output I’ve liked for a while and there’s no suggestion yet that they’re about to turn away from this quite yet.

The former LVLS have been busying themselves with EPs and gigs of late, with more to come next year. “WSCBF” should help you get the feel of them while we’re all waiting for more: everything a neat little chart botherer should be without the danger of choking on a plastic toy at the bottom of the bag. YES I’M GOING ON ABOUT THAT DAMN CEREAL PLACE TONIGHT THANKS FOR POINTING THAT OUT.

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Tracks of 2014 — #13 Rae Morris “Skin”

Tracks Of 2014
<<<<Track 12
Index
>>>>Track 14

Leaving Lorde to one side (not least because she is currently sitting behind Björk’s throne muttering “Just abdicate already, I’m Queen Kooky now, bitch!”), the one great name in slightly off-piste females this year has been Rae Morris. Educated in Preston and now famous in ALL THE PLACES, Rae was attached like a jigsaw piece to Bombay Bicycle Club during their residency at 6 Musi….I mean, the new album launch thing they did at some point, but now she’s all on her own and making quite the name for herself.

“Skin” certainly is the song in sang-froid, if you know what I mean. It’s such a fragile lyric, and yet such character and emotion. It’s not easy putting such an icy frost over what is, ostensibly, mainstream pop, yet Rae manages to do so without over-production or under-selling. Coupled with one of the great stand-out videos of the year, “Skin” has certainly justified the BBC’s shortlisting her as one of the sounds of next year: I am confident in naming her one of the female voices of this.

Tracks of 2014 — #12 Then Thickens “Restart Your Heart”

Tracks of 2014
<<<Track 11
Index
>>>Track 13

The sound may be a bit grungy, scrungy and sludgy, but all the same, Then Thickens have a solid heart of pure pop sensibilities and have had quite the high profile year as a consequence. They seem to have a magnetic relationship with melody, extracting the very best from every sentiment, hitting the bullseye each time.

Given the thumbs-up from Biffy Clyro, who they supported earlier this year, Then Thickens have released well regarded song after well regarded song in an embarrassment of riches. I love their sound, a sort of Cherry Ghost-meets-Beautiful South-meets-local anesthetic, all undercut with a very bleak northern humour. The track I have chosen for the run down, “Restart Your Heart”, is the greatest example of their skills, for me; produced as a thick wedge of  rock sludge, all shimmered up with a glistening pop overtone. Add to all that with the lost art of good videos (seek out “Tiny Legs” for another belter), and you’ve got a cracking next favourite band between your ears.

Tracks of 2014 — #11 Espher “To The Sky”

Tracks of 2014
<<<Track 10
Index
>>>Track 12

Espher on Moses Gold duties

Espher on Moses Gold duties

Espher is a quiet genius, a feature of Manchester’s musical fringes if you’ve ever been out for more than an hour or so in the see-and-be-seen places. His new EP “Insular” is released this month, and the title stands as a rock solid ironic punchline to the expansive mass of its contents; sweeping electronica and dance beats drift to-and-fro, the complex inner workings of love (and lord knows how many left-over pieces there are once you’ve tried sticking them all together again) spilling out in all the contradictory patterns that emotion tends to enjoying doing from time-to-time.

“To The Sky” is the stand-out track for me; immediate and subtle, familiar and alien, the track builds on skewed techo foundations in the only way possible, slightly twisted but nonetheless structurally sound. No, it’s not perhaps a track to throw in the middle of a house party (not that I’ve hosted one for a while), but if you do have a gathering of folks at short notice, I’d consider pressing ‘play’ on this one, there’s bound to be a positive reaction from them. Cultured, in all senses, “To The Sky” is the great curious unknown of my month-long run down.

Tracks of 2014 — #10 The War On Drugs “An Ocean In Between The Waves”

Tracks of 2014
<<<Track 9
Index
>>>Track 11

I was not expecting to dive straight into The War On Drugs, though Blimey Charlie, how easy is it to let their album drift up track by track until you’re completely smothered? Their particular retro-charm is, of course, more middle of the road than neon lights, and I kinda like it. Written during a prolonged moment of personal heartbreak, “Lost In the Dream” is an album dripping with pathos and lost love, and yet there’s no sense that we’re just being allowed into the celebration of self-pity which can often happen under such trying circs.

This song clocks in at over 7 minutes, managing to take in a bit of Bruce Springsteen, a great swathe of Dire Straits and just a smidge of Fleetwood Mac as it does so. Beautifully crafted without ever feeling anchored a particular mood, I flagged this track up almost immediately as a standout of the year, and so it proved.

Tracks of 2014 — #9 Ásgeir “Going Home”

Tracks Of 2014
<<<Track 8
Index
>>>Track 10

If yesterday’s choice of Beck’s “Blue Moon” isn’t a big huge clue about my soft centre, then this is the great hulking flashing neon light declaring “MARSHMALLOW FOR A HEART”. Yes, this song had me melting when I first heard it, and I know it’s polished within an inch of its life, I know it’s a bit “Dallas Green meets Chill Out Classics IV”, and yet, and yet…It just attracts me in the unfathomable way so often true of crafted pop ballads.

Yer man Ásgeir is a curious old sort from what I can gather (he’s covered Nirvana in his typical rough-bloke-with-soft-piano way). I can’t confirm if he’s as…er…special as Lorde, though there’s something behind his eyes that suggests they’re both on the lunatic fringe of mainstream music. Plonking that to one side, “Going Home” is one of those great big unapologetic soppy anthems I think has been lost during 2014, unless it’s hiding in very small text in the lower reaches of newspaper retrospective list articles. Unlikely.

Tracks of 2014 — #8 Beck “Blue Moon”

Tracks of 2014
<<<Track 7
Index
>>>Track 9

As a bloke whose teenage years stretched across the action end of the 1990s, Beck was unavoidable. Every other video on MTV was Beck, and indie club DJs knew that a quick burst of Beck was always a banker. In preparation for this entry, I considered whether or not I actually liked Beck, then or now, and I am still chin-stroking. On balance, probably not, and that is despite trying really hard to ‘get’ him.

One great swathe of not thinking about him much at all, along comes “Morning Phase” and all is good again. I have pressed repeat many a times across this album, with so many strong and emotive songs in the country-blues style. I don’t know if this has been a route taken by Beck whilst I’ve noticed, but he’s bloody good at it, that much is true. This song in particular makes my heart jump, I love its temperament and emotion, coming (for me at least) from a very unexpected source.

I know that Beck has personal beliefs which are somewhat cuckoo-bananas, but for the sake of this track, and from this album, this song is worth looking beyond all that.

Tracks of 2014 — #7 Carcharorion “Hiraeth”

Tracks of 2014
<<<<Track 6
Index
>>>>Track 8

The way journalism covers the Welsh-language music scene you’d assume that those who make some pretty darn tootin’ sounds all the way over there have beamed in from Neptune. Whilst my occasional dippings into the radio show C2 and Ochr1 on S4C don’t always return dozens of new bands to follow, the variety of music is always an enjoyable surprise.

“Hiraeth” is a track that made its way into my ears almost immediately on hearing it through Welsh-language media (I think through the excellent Cam o’r Tywyllwch via SoundCloud). Trippy, dream-like and with a certain retro charm, “Hiraeth” perhaps works all the better because of the natural rhythm of the language, an element I may be highlighting with other songs later in the rundown SPOILERIFFIC

I must also give a quick plug to Peski Records, who have featured on my earlier rundown, and who should be a starting point for anybody unsure of where to start on their Welsh-language journey.

Tracks of 2014 — #6 Drippy Dolphin “Oooops”

<<<<Track 5
Index
>>>>Track 7

Britney, Spice Girls, gun shots, dolphin song; is there anything else you’d like to know?

I can’t remember how I found this (it was a link of some sort from somewhere at some time) but heavens above it’s been raising a smile ever since. It’s truly bonkers, as twisted as telephone wire (contemporary references) and should have you either pressing “Play” the moment it ends or running for the hills in blind panic. I love the pure strength lunacy of it all, as perhaps you’d expect.

Tracks of 2014 — #5 Slow Readers Club “Forever In Your Debt”

<<<< Track 4
Index
>>>> Track 6

A cheat, this one. When I wrote last year’s run-down I didn’t know this track was released. Now it’s being re-released, so in a way, it’s Fate and happenstance, rather than out-and-out cheating. Anyway, Slow Readers Club are criminally underrated and I think they ruddy well deserve highlighting every which way.

It is a little insight into my mind, this, but I like the different elements of the song as much as the whole; the bass chugging along, the lyrics (both in character and melody), the mood of indie sensibilities which remind me that, mercifully, there are bands out there who don’t sound like nampy-pampy boyband nonsense.

If you scoot about Souncloud you can enjoy a fair amount of live sets from them which should attract you to them even further. I will be, hem hem, forever in their debt.