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5) Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

Manic_Street_Preachers_FuturologyA bit of an honorary mention this one if I’m honest, as I still struggle with parts of the Manics’ European opus. Walk Me To The Bridge and Let’s Go To War are the most immediately accessible moments of an album that revels in being the inscrutable, polished, flipside to 2013’s nostalgic Rewind the Film, an LP that sounded somewhat like a sigh of resignation.

Parts of Futurology remain frustratingly alien and willfully obscure even after several listens but, that being said, there’s no question that Futurology represents the Manics at their most creatively charged for a long time. Breaking out of a pattern of relatively safe, expectedly Manics-y albums (the superlative Journal for Plague Lovers not-withstanding), Futurology delivers something new and challenging, reiterating the Manics’ purpose and drive at a time when they’re already accepted as grandees of guitar music. For that, and the promise of what’s still to come, Futurology more than deserves its place on this list.

4) Eels – The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett

eelsOh Eels, nobody makes me enjoy being miserable more than you. Miserable is perhaps the wrong word to describe The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett (although it does suit a few of his other best works, like End Times and Electro-Shock Blues) but it is beautifully weary and reflective, with Where I’m From, Lockdown Hurricane and Gentleman’s Choice proving to be particularly moving in their simplicity. E’s voice is never more bewitching than when it’s only lightly accompanied after all.

It’s probably not the best place to start when introducing someone to Eels but it is another remarkably assured release from one of the generation’s most beautifully tragic figures. A songwriter with a rare talent for mixing heartbreak, intimacy and breakdowns into one song and making it sound life affirming.

3) Allo Darlin’ – We Come From The Same Place

allo darlinAllo Darlin’ have been ones to watch since their debut was released in 2010 but it’s their third album, We Come From The Same Place, that should make people really sit up and pay attention to them.

Although their previous two releases could be seen twee and too easily carried away with flights of bright-eyed fancy, WCFTSP is a much more sombre affair and is all the better for it. Sounding tighter and more musically honed than ever before, Allo Darlin’s third LP showed them as masters of understatement as well as jangly, sunny pop, with Elizabeth Morris’ vocals ringing clear over everything whilst her delicate turn of phrase catches the listener off-guard at least three times in every song.

We Come From The Same Place probably won’t be Allo Darlin’s breakout, but it does represent a big step forward musically and it’s hard not to see them storming onto bigger stages with a bona fide hit sooner rather than later.

2) Ginger Wildheart – Albion

ginger wildheartIf I’m being honest, when thinking of a top five list of albums for 2014 there wasn’t a great deal of music that immediately jumped out at me. That’s not to say it’s been a bad year for music, but more that a lot of my favourite bands released albums last year or just released fairly solid ones this year that didn’t really break any moulds. I was forgetting though, that Ginger Wildheart’s fantastic solo album, Albion, received its general release in spring of 2014. It’s an easy mistake to make, as I actually received my lengthier Plegemusic edition sometime just before Christmas last year, but Albion easily deserves its place on either year’s best albums list.

More focused than his recent genre-hopping projects would suggest (he released the pop-punk of Hey! Hello! and two eardrum-assaulting Mutation albums in the same year), Albion is essentially the story of a musician packing his life (and several bottles of gin) into his car for a few weeks in an effort to find himself whilst touring the land of his birth. It rocks hard and it gets freaky but, most importantly, Albion shows once again why we should treasure Ginger as one of Newcastle’s very best songwriters.

1) Owl John – Owl John

Owl-JohnI have to admit to a sense of unease when Scott Hutchison, the principle singer/writer of seminal Scottish heartbreak merchants Frightened Rabbit, announced his first solo album under the guise of Owl John. Not only did the announcement come with quotes about tensions within his principle band, but it came with a song called Hate Music; an anguished dirge plagued by skittery guitars which sounded pretty stark next to Frightened Rabbit’s big, whisky-sodden gestures.

As it turns out, I should have had more faith. It’s true that Hutchison’s Owl John doesn’t wear its heart on its alcohol-soaked sleeve as much as his other band but even a quick listen to Owl John reveals that the sensibilities that make Frightened Rabbit’s best songs so chest-thumpingly triumphant are still very much in evidence. It’s a more introspective and quiet album than FR are ever likely to make, the midday soul search after the night before, but the reduced bombast allows Hutchison to zero in on what makes him tick in an arguably more rewarding way than ever before.

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