Impact’s Top 10 Albums of the Year

More important than awards from NME, Pitchfork and the Nobel Peace Prize combined, Impact’s top 10 albums list is out. Voted by readers and contributors alike, the albums span across a range of genres and tastes to give a definitive list of year’s best music.

10. Swans – ‘To Be Kind’

Summing up Swans’ latest offering is no mean feat. To Be Kind is a complex and unsettling record which is, in places, more akin to a shamanistic trance than a rock album. Its centrepiece, the 34 minute epic ‘Bring The Sun’, is based on the life of 18th century Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture. So naturally it’s not an easy listen. Yet, within the ebb and flow of the album, beauty is to be found. It counteracts the quite uncomfortable and aggressive tone giving it a strangely minimalist edge.  Each track painstakingly crafted from saws, horse hoofs, chanting and anything else they please. These elements creep together creating moments of great harmony which twist in and out of discordance; only to fade away to almost nothing, ready for the next breath-taking soundscape.  If you give yourself to this record then you’ll be treated to everything from pain and anguish to sheer ecstasy. You may feel like you’ve been through the wars, but the scars are worth it.

Keir Birchall

9. Paloma Faith – ‘Perfect Contradiction’

A return to form for Paloma Faith after 2012’s Fall to Grace, A Perfect Contradiction is a brilliant album from start to finish. Faith sounds like she is truly having fun, the album containing a myriad of different genres. From the clearly Mo-town styled: ‘Can’t Rely on You’, featuring Pharell Williams, the big band sounds of leading single: ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’ to the pop and disco infused pieces that are ‘Mouth to Mouth’ and ‘Impossible Heart’. While every track is of a style one would expect from Faith, they are all so different and so well realised that not one of them really sounds like filler. Put simply, her third album is the best yet, so it’s no surprise that it’s made our list.

Jacob Banks

8. The Smith Street Band – ‘Throw Me In The River’

Despite failing to penetrate the consciousness of the vast majority of music publications, Australian rockers The Smith Street Band released the record of their career in November. Wil Wagner’s lyrics are sincere, blunt and absolutely brilliant, just like they’ve always been, and the decision to hire Jeff Rosenstock of Bomb the Music Industry as producer turned out superbly with Throw Me in the River boasting their fullest and most satisfying sound yet. Songs of optimism intermingle with ones of anguish, and it’s the former feeling that prevails on what turns out to be an immensely affirming album. Album closer ‘I Love Life’ for couldn’t be more genuine and ‘Surrey Dive’ boasts a good entry for catchiest riff of the year. Lyrical highlights includes motivational urges to ‘keep on through the shit-storm’, which is just one of many great lines you could pick out. Throw Me In The River is a record for life, you’ll find yourself coming back to it again and again- not just in 2014.

Jack Langslow

7. St. Vincent – ‘St. Vincent’

Reinvigorated from her brassy stint with David Byrne on Love This Giant and reined in slightly from the wilder guitar theatrics of her previous albums, St. Vincent’s fourth has also been for many listeners their introduction to Annie Clark’s idiosyncratic world. Ostensibly ‘self-titled’, St. Vincent continues Clark’s knack for leftfield hooks and her distinctive guitar sound while moving her from the art-rock margins to the ‘unusual weirdo’ mainstream (not a bad place to be), all the while not sacrificing any of her integrity. Strange Mercy was for the head while the follow-up St. Vincent is for the feet, with Clark clearly taking pointers from Byrne and becoming funkier – albeit a nervous, agitated funk more worried about rattlesnakes and social media than any classical artistic preoccupations – as well as taking in taut R&B. On first listen, St. Vincent seems to fall into the classic foolhardy trope of stacking the catchy, immediate tracks at the front of the album, leaving the (only slightly) more meandering and slower-tempo tunes to wallow at the rear. However, over time it becomes clear that the first half is Vincent’s statement of intent, the second allows her to more fully explore this eccentric world she’s creating. What an ordinary day for Annie Clark…

Tom Watchorn

6. Mac DeMarco – ‘Salad Days’

With great anticipation, early 2014 saw Mac Demarco release his second full-length record, Salad Days. Recorded in his New York apartment after eighteen months of travel and performance, the album arrived made up of the same lo-fi, “slacker-rock” as its 2012 predecessor, 2, but with a clear change in mood. Although we can still expect the same old Macky to deliver his own brand of ‘enthusiastic’ live shows (how else to describe the drumstick incident?), Salad Days adds an introspective and thoughtful gloss to Demarco’s already alluring sound. With songs that reflect on the carelessness and optimism of youth, his relationship of four years, and how we should all just “go easy” on each other, Mac fishes up some pearls of wisdom to serve along with the melody-driven, psych-infused sound that the man himself labels as “jizz jazz”. Undoubtedly, this remains a standout album from 2014, and one which begs only one question – what will Macky do next?

James Noble

5. Real Estate – ‘Atlas’

Following the success of previous album Days three years ago, Real Estate returned this year with their follow up Atlas. In many ways there was a lot of continuity with the new record. Listening to tracks like ‘Had to Hear’ and lead single ‘Talking Backwards’, it’s the same jangly, fuzzy, summery Real Estate that made such a successful debut. Though while the music may still be joyous, lyrically things aren’t quite as care-free as they once were. Atlas is the sign of a band starting to mature with songs such as ‘Past Lives’ and ‘Crime’ tackling the issues of returning home and anxiety. The combination of their now established slacker sound with thematic maturity has helped Real Estate produce one of the best albums of 2014.

Mike Winnington

4. Caribou – ‘Our Love’

According to the man himself, Our Love is full of ‘mind-numbingly simple’ dance music. However, with collaborations on the record including Jessy Lanza and Owen Pallett, it’s easy to doubt him. The album’s complex laptop-electronica references everything from British psychedelia to bedsit singer-songwriters to deep house: you could label it as anything, but simple. The whole album recalls dance chart-hits of recent years. The vocals of ‘All I Need’ echo UK garage; while the start of ‘Dive’ wouldn’t be out of place on a pop album. What is most obvious is Caribou knows how to make a well-timed drop. On ‘Can’t Do Without You’ and ‘Back Home’, Snaith uses volume to create deeply emphatic hooks. Our Love is unconventional and can’t be classified into just one genre. Regardless, it’s understatedly confident in it’s difference and the album is well worth a listen, landing at number 4.

Harriet Keep

3. The War on Drugs – ‘Lost in the Dream’

In an age dominated by deep house and rock revival, The War On Drugs offer a combination of both fads, resulting in a somehow retro sound. Singer/producer Adam Granduciel sounds like an adolescent Mark Knopfler and the guitars are tinged with that 80’s chorus effect that lets them wash through the songs with colour. In ‘Red Eyes’ we hear a pacey side to the band driven by a vintage sound, all too reminiscent of an Americana romance swinging through the mid-west. In ‘Disappearing’ we get the last hour of a hopelessly morose Indie disco, the production expertly separating the ethereal synths and guitars into a fantastic soundscape that is as much about mood as it is about atmosphere. It’s the complexity of the work that stands out – the songs seem to unwind slowly with repeated listens, Granduciel’s lyrics become more honest, and you slowly begin to be absorbed into one of the best albums of the year.

Mike Burman

2. Ben Howard – ‘I Forget Where We Were’

Word that Ben Howard would be releasing a second album swept across the UK like a tornado. The news created total chaos, moved very quickly and sucked up new fans as it swept past. Beginning on the jarring  ‘Small Things’, Howard’s message was simple- this is not the sickly sweet Ben Howard from 2011. While most of the album takes a much darker turn, tracks such as ‘She Treats Me Well’ still include the tricky guitar picking and melodic parts that are closely associated with Ben Howard’s sound. I Forget Where We Were successfully married the cheery jingles that people love and connect to Ben Howard with the heavy synths and brooding sounds of 2014. It is not easy to manipulate your music to meet the fashions of the time. Ben Howard has managed this remarkably whilst managing to put his own stamp on it.

Daisy Foster

1. Sun Kil Moon – ‘Benji’

There is a clear reason that Benji has made it to the top of this list: it is one of the most life-affirming records you will ever hear. It seems bizarre to hear a singer-songwriter reveal so much of his own pain and personal tragedy yet still feel strangely uplifted by the time the last note is played. It’s a curious bipolar reaction that Sun Kil Moon’s song-writing has accomplished that leaves the record open to infinite reinterpretation from every listener. Combining Mark Kozelek’s hypnotic guitar-playing, tales of aching personal memories and thoughtful storytelling; it can be easily speculated that this album will not only be a musical curiosity for this year, but will haunt and perplex listeners for many years to come.

Tom Roberts

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