We pretty much start thinking about our albums of the year as soon as the summer arrives, but this year it was with a sense of niggling doubt that 2014 hadn’t given us a real classic yet. But there was a bit of a late spurt and we’ve been able to come up with a list that makes us very happy – with over half the list being made up of debuts. Now, it’s no secret that we’re rather fond of Swedish ladies looking a mite melancholy next to a drum machine so you’ll have to go elsewhere if you’re eager to know our thoughts on the latest from some Norwegian metal vikings. So we’ve selected 17 of the cream of the crop; our favourites of the year. We put the emphasis on “favourite” over “best” because we’re firm believers that there’s no such thing as “the best music”; it’s all subjective. We did ponder whether to put them all in order but had a go and realised it was very arbitrary so have just ordered our top three. It’s also worth noting that these aren’t all available worldwide yet, but we’ve included them now as we’ve loved them this year and by the time they finally see the light of day on international shores we’ll get too confused about release dates to know whether to include them or not. We’ve included Spotify links where available, or you can listen to them all in one massive go with our Spotify playlist. Hope you enjoy this list.
iamamiwhoami – Blue (listen on Spotify)
Blue is when iamamiwhoami really showed their true colours (sorry). Previously, there have been times where Jonna Lee’s project has felt a little bit more like it’s had some good ideas but hasn’t always come up with the goods (sorry again). But Blue is a triumph. We’ve been drip fed the contents throughout the year and each track has sounded like a worthy single, from the staggering enormity of Fountain, to the propulsive pop of Tap Your Glass and the Kate Bush-recalling Chasing Kites. Plus the visuals to accompany each song should really show Beyoncé exactly how a “visual album” should be done.
Ida Redig – Thou Shall Not Be A Pussy (listen on Spotify)
How could we not include this with a title like that? It helps that the music is also really good, of course. It’s big, ballsy electropop that’s not reinventing the wheel but is exactly what you want if you’re a bit tipsy and a bit angry and want to scream into a hairbrush for a while (Shout, Show Me Now), followed by a bit of a cry (Lie). So your average Friday night, then.
Jennie Abrahamson – Gemini Gemini
Yet to be released on international shores but due sometime in 2015, Jennie’s fourth album of indie/alternative/pop is worth the wait. Like her near-namesake Jenny Wilson, she doesn’t get enough attention outside of Sweden, and also like Jenny Wilson her music has depth of meaning, superb melodies, and bite. International promotion is starting with The War, but Gemini Gemini isn’t short of potential singles, such as album highlight Wolf, the restorative Phoenix or the acrobatic Entity. She’s also coming off the back of a support slot with Peter Gabriel, so maybe some British recognition could be on the cards for 2015.
The Knife – Shaken-Up Versions (listen on Spotify)
Should this be included? Probably not, to be honest. It’s an album of reworkings of songs that for the most part are barely a year old, but they’re so damn good, and it coincides with such a spectacular live show, AND it’s “the end of The Knife”, that we just couldn’t leave it out. It basically gets rid of a lot of the unlistenable guff from the otherwise masterful Shaking the Habitual and bungs on a couple of hits as well. It’s noisy, it’s dirty and, although they might not like to be remembered this way, it’s a lot of fun.
Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband (listen on Spotify)
Nabuma Rubberband, Little Dragon’s fourth album, finds them in a sinister mood, but it also sees them at their best. It’s understated and unsettling, but also enthralling and funky, and listened to late at night it’s more seductive than Christina Hendricks’ best come hither voice or any number of Ryan Gosling GIFs. Seriously, this was released in May so come February look out for a spike in babies called Nabuma – or Nagano, Little Dragon’s lead singer and greatest asset.
Little Jinder – Little Jinder (listen on Spotify)
Only released a couple of weeks ago, it’s hard to assess this album properly. But our initial instinct is: we love it. Since the release of the so-so Break Up, Josefine Jinder has returned to her native Swedish and the results have been outstanding. Most listeners might not understand the lyrics, but it matters not. Little JInder’s almost sickly sweet voice works perfectly with the alien sounds of a foreign language, over minimal but catchy pop beats. And her image has been impeccable – from the mascara to the (holographic) artwork and the videos (check out Ful och tråkig tjej and Vita bergens klockor, although Inga e som vi e is a little odd at basically just three minutes of snogging her duet partner Melo). Little Jinder has embraced her Swedishness, added a touch of Japanese kawaii, and the results have been incredible (unlike when this guy did it).
Lykke Li – I Never Learn (listen on Spotify)
In the space of just two albums, Lykke Li had become somewhat of a Swedish heavyweight on an international scale, so I Never Learn, her third, was met with a lot of anticipation and, in some quarters, disappointment, with suggestions it is too bleak and “one note”. And in some respects, that’s true. There’s certainly no I Follow Rivers here, but this isn’t an album of wallowing and self pity either, despite its subject matter of a painful separation. At times it’s difficult, but it’s also honest and moving. Of course we would like it if she is in a better place for her next record, but as Lykke herself once said, sadness is a blessing, and this is a record that she needed to make, and that we need to hear.
Mapei – Hey Hey
Don’t Wait was one of the songs of 2013, and then again of 2014 upon its rerelease. Then this New York Swede released Change and our excitement for her debut album doubled. So although she couldn’t maintain this momentum across a whole album, there are enough highs for it to find its way onto our list. It’s a fusion of pop, hip-hop, funk and even (whisper it) reggae, often all at once like on Things You Know Nothing About. Hey Hey might not be a perfect album, but it demonstrates a lot of potential which we’re excited to see develop.
Min Stora Sorg – Mvh Anso, M$$ (listen on Spotify)
For the uninitiated among you, “min stora sorg” is Swedish for “my greatest sorrow”, and this album includes tracks with titles such as Det Blir Inte Bättre, which translates as “It Doesn’t Get Better”. So you probably know by now whether this is for you or not. But, melancholy though it may be, it also has a brilliant sense of humour. See, for example, her brief cover of Harry Nilsson’s Without You on Intro (or Mariah Carey’s Without You if you’re of a younger generation), or her deadpan synchronised dancers during her live sets, or her ludicrous album sleeve. And let’s face it, most listeners won’t be able to penetrate the Swedish lyrics anyway. A real treat.
Neneh Cherry – Blank Project (listen on Spotify)
Neneh Cherry is a legend. Robyn features on this album. Will that do? Well, it’s also probably the coolest album on the list, sounding effortless yet endlessly fascinating. Her first solo album since 1996’s Man, it’s full of pounding tribal drums and comes from a similarly dark place as Portishead’s Third or The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual. Going back to it now after having lived with it for the best part of a year it’s easily maintained its position as one of 2014’s bravest and most interesting albums. And did we mention that Robyn features?
Oh Land – Earth Sick (listen on Spotify)
Barely a year since Wishbone we saw the release of Nanna Øland Fabricius’s fourth album, Earth Sick. Funded by her fans on Pledgemusic, this is a slick album of anthemic pop beats, and is full of highlights, from the motivational lead single Head Up High to the rousing call to arms Flags via the squelchy semi R&B of Hot ‘N’ Bothered and the brassy Half Hero. This time around she might not have any collaborations with Sia, but she doesn’t need them.
Röyksopp – The Inevitable End (listen on Spotify)
Our second Robyn featuring album of the list, and the trouble with a song so staggeringly good as Monument – in both its forms – is that any album would struggle to match it. But The Inevitable End, while a little meandering in places, is largely a hugely successful farewell from Röyksopp to the album format. Sordid Affair tips a hat to their past with its Air-esque vibes, Save Me gives us more female-led synth pop par excellence and I Had This Thing is a pounding dancefloor stomper. Not to mention the second Robyn collaboration, the sweary Rong (“What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re just so fucking wrong”, sung like butter wouldn’t melt), and the old yet still wondrous Running to the Sea with Susanne Sundfør. Albums may be in Röyksopp’s past, but, on this form, it’s a huge relief that they’re not abandoning music entirely.
Todd Terje – It’s Album Time (listen on Spotify)
Worst or best album title of the year? Regardless, this was an unexpected hit upon its release and it’s not hard to see why, being one of the funkiest, most fun electronic albums this year. If we’re honest, sometimes it sailed a little too close to Bond spoof-slash-1970s porn film-slash-early noughties chill out a few too many times to embed itself deeply within our hearts, but it has such a sense of style and charm that it’s impossible not to forgive its few slips (ooh, matron!). Daft Punk may be getting all the sales, but you know secretly they’d kill for a song like Delorean Dynamite. And we can’t not mention the Bryan Ferry featuring Robert Palmer cover, Johnny and Mary, which transforms the harsh nu-wave of the original into a lush, driving electronic ballad.
Tove Lo – Queen of the Clouds
What a year Tove has had. Habits has played seemingly everywhere all year (although we’re still not particularly fond of the Hippie Sabotage remix) and then she was handpicked by Lorde to appear on the Hunger Games soundtrack. In yet another example of bizarre worldwide scheduling, the UK still hasn’t been able to get their hands on her debut album, but it’s another one that is worth waiting for. Split into three parts of a relationship – the sex, the love and the pain – the first (of course) is crammed with album highlights My Gun, Talking Body and Timebomb (our personal favourite), but the love and pain sections have their highs, too, and we really hope that Tove is able to capitalise on her initial success and become a major pop figure in 2015.
And now for the top three…
3. Beatrice Eli – Die Another Day (listen on Spotify)
The sexiest album of 2014? Almost certainly. But unlike some of her more international contemporaries, who sing in breathy tones about imaginary Hollywood sex from the pool to the club, this is real, dirty sex, mixed with love and anger and frailty and doubt and bitterness. It’s so relatable and so honest that it’s more shocking than Nicki’s buns, hon, could ever be. It’s full of fantastic pop songs, too. Moment of Clarity starts the album with a few piano notes before a thunderous beat and Beatrice singing “I get so wet when I look at you”, and it rarely lets up from there – through Girls (“I see pictures in my head of her head between my legs”) and Party in My Pants (says it all, really) to the painful confessionals of The Last Time, (“I’m hurting, I’m always hurting, I’m really, really hurting and I just can’t take any more”) Coward and Trust Issues. It’s only on listening to this album that you realise how bereft of genuine emotion so much pop music is, and what makes this such a remarkable, brilliant debut.
2. MØ – No Mythologies to Follow (listen on Spotify)
By the time of its release, seven of its tracks had already been drip fed to us, so its familiarity almost led to a sense of disappointment. But that’s crazy talk, because No Mythologies to Follow contains some of the best alt-pop hits of many a year, and in MØ we have a genuine star in the making. Utterly distinctive and utterly catchy, full of hand claps and synth spikes and small shrieks, Karen Marie Ørsted has never failed to thrill us, except for when she’s moving us too, like on the heartbreaking and entirely relatable semi-power ballad Never Wanna Know. Her combination of punk and Spice Girls might have raised a few eyebrows at first, but now the only question we should be asking is why no one has done it sooner.
1. Emilie Nicolas – Like I’m a Warrior
Sometimes when you listen to an album it’s hard to remove your own personal experience from it and just judge it by the music. And so it was at first with this debut from Norwegian star Emilie Nicolas. It all started in February, when we saw her at by:Larm festival in Oslo. Our expectations were middling, but from the moment she stepped out on stage, barely visible in front of some blinding spotlights, we knew she was a star. If that festival were an election debate, pundits would declare Emilie the winner. So of course upon her album release in October our expectations had leapt from “middling” to “salivating”. And at first they were met, but with a nagging doubt that maybe we only loved it because we were so #teamemilie. But a couple of months have passed since then and those doubts have faded: this is a fantastic album. It’s brave. It’s beautiful. It matches cold, dark electronics with a human warmth that really grows on you with repeated listens. And the tone is always perfect – quiet just when it needs to be, like on the devastating Us (“I was never yours, was I? You were never mine, were you?”), and vicious when it’s needed, like on Fail – which also contains the lyric of the year: “Don’t call me lazy, I go down on him daily.” Plus we haven’t even mentioned Emilie’s amazing voice, which is perfect throughout.
Sadly, Like I’m a Warrior has yet to be released outside of Norway, so unless you import it you’re going to struggle to hear it for the time being. But an international release is planned for spring 2015, so we’re ready for it to be soundtracking next year as well as this.