1. HAERTS – Haerts
Haerts is almost everything I love about Bastille: Enormous sounds and complex arrangements, soaring vocals with choral harmonies. But Haerts' self-titled debut is slightly more top-level accessible; it flows one song into another from the first listen. It's constructed to be a repeat listen without sounding repetitive.
They sound a bit like Stevie Nicks, which gives the songs this timeless feeling without taking away from them being part of contemporary sound happening in indiepop. I hope they go big in 2015.
Wolf Gang's Alveron has one of the strongest album narrative arcs I heard in 2014. It's an emotional journey to listen to this album, as it tells a story of what it's like to lose someone and process that grief and go back out into the world. A few tracks appeared on the Black River EP earlier (including Last Bayou, one of my favourite songs of the year,) but it was merely a taste of what was to come. From Now I Can Feel It to the title track, Alveron doesn't just shimmer—it glows.
Technically it's an EP. The theme of this newest Bastille mixtape is VS. Each of the songs is about conflict. But they're also collaborations, which harkens to the rap and hip-hop cultural aspects of artists challenging each other to be better, and thus making the music as a whole better through these conflicts.
I've heard that people didn't like VS because they didn't think it sounded like Bastille, which I find confusing. It's a similar structure to the push-pull of the Bad Blood album—it's more evident with VS, as the EP brings the subtext comments up to the text level of the lyrics.
How do I know that I'm not projecting construction when there isn't any? The Driver. I have never heard anyone articulate the subtext of the film Drive better than this song does.
4. Little Daylight – Hello Memory
Little Daylight's debut was one of my most anticipated albums of 2014, as Tunnel Vision was about as perfect as an EP gets. Hello Memory doesn't disappoint—it shimmers and brims with youthful energy and joy. Aggressive synths, serious bass, and balanced lyrics; this is pop at its best.
5. Taylor Swift – 1989
Taylor Swift is the only country artist that I've followed with any kind of consistency in the past few years. (I'm dearly fond of her. She's a marketing genius.) 1989 has great arrangements and is constructed to be infectious. The stories are more mainstream pop, but there's a subtext to 1989 that goes full text in Shake It Off and I Know Places. But it was Blank Space that made me fall in love with the album. The only song I'm not super-keen on is Clean. It's a well-constructed song; it's just the weakest one on the album.
MØ is moody Danish murder pop: A bit of synth and a bit of hiphop. All of the tracks are great and the album has a solid tonal consistency. It's dark. Noir. I love the night versions on the deluxe album that are stripped down acoustics. Don't Wanna Dance is probably my favourite track.
7. Noosa — Wonderland LP
Again, not a full album but nine great songs. Noosa has a haunting voice and a great vocal range. Her songs have that same fairy tale element of Hearts and Little Daylight. I kind of love Wildfire and Clocktower. She has that whimsy of Lenka, but is more electronic-sounding.
8. Lights – Little Machines
Lights creates ethereal pop and Little Machines is full of loopable tracks but Up We Go, Meteorites, and How We Do It will get you going. I'm not in love with the opening track—it goes on a little bit longer than I feel like it needs to—but Portal acts like a prologue to the rest of the album. From Running With The Boys onward, Little Machines is cohesive and addictive with the majority of the songs being joyful and optimistic.
10. Foxes – Glorious
Foxes is like the arrangements of Haerts crossed with Noosa. The songs are big and atmospheric with electronic leanings, but the vocals are more soulful melancholy (with an occasional twange.) The album is less even than Hearts, as there are tracks on Glorious that I don't care for but I'd argue the hits outweigh the misses. (I'm a tad miffed Warrior and Youth weren't included on the album, as they're stronger than a few of the songs that were.)
10. Robots Don’t Sleep – Mirror
What I enjoy the most about Robots Don't Sleep is that it's a layered sound with a wide-appeal. This is one of the few albums that I've played as a whole to friends. The clappy, loopable Trouble introduces the well-constructed album. (You might recognize the second track, Don't Wake Me, from season three of Teen Wolf.)