2014 // The Top Ten Albums
- Sinead O’Connor – I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss
Sinead O’Connor scored her first number one album – not that chart position means all that much – since 1991’s iconic I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got with the similarly wordy I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss, earlier this summer. O’Connor’s tenth album isn’t so much a return to form as it is a brilliant record in its own right.
Having liberated herself from the confines of autobiographical writing, she approached the record as if writing the soundtrack of a film. She told Something for the Weekend in the run-up to the album release: “It’s not autobiographical. There are possibly three or four female characters on the record, and then there are three songs that are about me personally.
“The rest are these characters, and a particular romantic journey of one of them. There is one character who is perhaps learning the difference between projection and reality as far romantic matters go, and Take Me to Church would be her ‘Eureka!’ moment.”
- Hozier –Hozier
While Sinead O’Connor’s Take Me to Church lit up our album of the year – an entirely different song of the same name was lighting up the pop charts all over the world. Bray has never been renowned as a heartland of the blues, but one suspects Andrew Hozier-Byrne had a broader church in mind when he composed the euphoric alternative love song; the Brendan Canty-directed video, which depicts the violent reaction suffered by a same-sex couple in an unidentified place, is genuinely chilling too.
The album is a soulful mix of blues and rock which wouldn’t sound out of place alongside 1970s Van Morrison, and has already produced two further hits in From Eden and Sedated.
- Johnny Marr – Playland
It took Johnny Marr the guts of 25 post-Smiths years to finally treat us to a solo album, last year’s The Messenger. Album number two, Playland, shows why it’s such a shame we had to wait so long. Playland expands on a theme developed on The Messenger whereby Manchester-born Marr takes inspiration from the urban geography of his home town and the characters who live on its margins.
Playland takes its title from a seedy arcade the music-mad young Marr would visit to hear the latest rock n’ roll tunes. He told SFTW: “Music sounded really good in there and you were hearing all the kicking music of the day coming in through distorted speakers, in the same way as I was in the funfare and football matches.
“It was always about hearing chart music – this was obviously before you had stuff being beamed down to your pocket through your phone. It was pre-walkman! Unless you just walked around with a transistor radio to your ear, you went to those places to hear music all day long.”
- Against Me! – Transgender Dysmorphia Blues
Were just about any other band to title a record Transgender Dysmorphia Blues, it would likely come across as a cruel joke at the expense of those who suffer its effects. Not so for Against Me!, whose singer Laura Jane Grace shocked many when she announced that, having identified as a man for most of her life, would begin the transition to living as a woman.
The album is a discomfiting, challenging and angry punk rock record that documents Grace’s experiences and the experiences of transgender people in navigating a world that is both intentionally and inadvertently cruel.
- Lethal Dialect x Jackknife-J – 1988
SFTW were big fans of Lethal Dialect’s first two albums – LD50 Parts I & II – and the Finglas rapper’s ability to marry dark, complex rhymes with a sinister, brooding atmosphere. The follow-up sees the man born Paulie Allwright ditch much of what was great about those albums, but in doing so he’s opened up as an artist, aided by the stellar production of fellow Dubliner Jackkife-J.
Speaking to SFTW before the album’s release, Allwright said: “As an emcee, you have to show the ability to tell stories. With 1988, I’m not doing any concepts to prove myself as an emcee. I’m not trying to prove I can rap. I’m just putting a bit of myself out there.
“With this album I’m telling stories that are true, stories I have personally experienced – it’s me. That’s why it’s 1988 – it’s me.”
- The Hot Sprockets – Brother Nature
Dubliners blues rockers the Hot Sprockets aren’t a band that will be familiar to the eyes of many, but they’ll certainly be recognisable to most discerning ears: Cruizin’ has soundtracked the ubiquitous TV advert for a bank, while Soul Brother has been a mainstay in RTE Sport ads. Their second album, Brother Nature, is a short and infectious collection of Americana-tinged pop songs.
As guitarist Tim Cullen told SFTW, a big leap forward from their very raw debut: “With the first album, we’d hear songs on the radio, and the song before it would sound much bigger and the song after it would sound much bigger, and you’d know then that you’re missing something there.
“When we did finish recording the second album, and we were like ‘this sounds actually amazing and we did take it to the next level,’ we knew we could let it go under the bridge like the first record.”
- Wife – What’s Between
There was some amount of surprise when Cork black metal act Altar of Plagues announced they would play their last show in 2013, shortly after the release of Teethed Glory & Injury, however the new electronic influences on the record demonstrated that James Kelly’s mind was already elsewhere. London, in fact, where life in the city had tuned him into more electronic influences, and his debut album as Wife sees him flit between sugary synths and bleak, ambient pop a la Burial.
Kelly told Something for the Weekend: “London’s a strange place to live having grown up in the countryside. Living here where having a conversation at 2 in the morning bleeds through the walls, it totally changes your lifestyle. Subconsciously, it changes your psyche going from living in a spacious rural area to the city.”
- Trophy Scars – Holy Vacants
Trophy Scars built their reputation on fierce and obtuse hardcore punk but, like many reformed punks, have taken a shine to the blues in their dotage. Holy Vacants completes the New Jersey five-piece’s transition from punk to all-out blues rock, and it’s a transition they’ve made sound far easier than it sound be.
It’s a dark and harrowing record punctuated by expert musicianship, furious blues riffs and frontman Jerry Jones’ menacing croak which, though it may sound inelegant at first, is as fine as the rest of the record’s considerable parts.
- Pianos Become Teeth – Keep You
Pianos Become the Teeth’s three albums to date have each, in different ways, been defined by frontman Kyle Durfey’s struggle to come to terms with his father’s slow deterioration and eventual passing as a result of multiple sclerosis.
On the first two records, that manifested itself in the form of crushing, ultra-dynamic hardcore and Durfey’s piercing, screamed vocals. Keep You takes the band in precisely the opposite direction, with post-rock melodies and layered, elegant sounds underpinning Durfey’s pained vocals, which are none the less raw and emotional for the lack of screaming.
- Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun
Having sold out Dublin twice in 2013, Atlanta progressive metal machine Mastodon repeated the trick last month when their single date sold out almost instantly – although in truth they probably could have sold out a week straight had they been so inclined.
It’s a phenomenal achievement for a group whose background in stoner metal and prog should, rightfully, consign them to obscurity within their own families, but Once More ‘Round the Sun is yet another example of a heavy rock record that has serious pop sensibilities without sacrificing the elements that made them such an interesting band to begin with.