Monday 2 February 2015

E14 Reflects: Spike Direction's Top 5 Albums of 2014

For a lot of us, January is a time for reflection. Whether it's calling "stuff I've meant to do for ages" a New Year's resolution or not, everyone thinks back on this stuff to some degree. Here at E14, 2014 was a year to remember. We launched a second podcast (which you can find here), The Crazy Train went from strength to strength creatively and we even managed to put something on our Youtube page (more to follow).

It was thus with a sense of nostalgia that Rob asked the rest of Team E14 to take a look back into the year just passed, and think about the media we experienced that stood out (for good reasons or bad). Here, then, is our first foray back into the past 12 months. Today, Spike tells us his favourite albums from 2014. Enjoy, and look forward to more from the team soon!

Spike Direction’s Top 5 Albums of 2014

Most music I listen to is very old, at least 30 years old or more, much more. So when asked to list my favourite music of 2014, in order to prevent it just being wall-to-wall Wishbone Ash, Magic Sam or Screaming Jay Hawkins compilations I restricted myself to things actually released last year, and still managed to get some 70s in there! Typical...

5: Royal Blood – Self Titled

This is a weird one, and I still haven’t figured out how a heavy rock band got so popular with Radio 1 listeners in 2014. But, isolated from all the social connotations, this album is probably the perfect Rock music equivalent of the modern age, technically and technologically advanced, with a thin veneer of artificial grittiness like one of those fake vintage radios, and very little going on upstairs.

Riding the crest of a wave of two-piece bands, Royal Blood, for me, appeared out of nowhere in the TV coverage of Glastonbury and Reading, with a legion of young fans singing every word to every song from an album that wasn’t even released at that point. Right away I didn’t trust them; I knew I really liked what I was hearing, but it also flew in the face of everything I knew about music (“What the fuck is going on? People don’t ever like what I like!”) I knew something must be going on; They’d sold their soul somewhere along the line, or they must have to get around the ‘International Campaign to Dismiss Rock Music as Irrelevant’. Ultimately though, they made a great Rock N' Roll album, like a more stripped down, not-quite-as-good Queens of the Stone Age. The lyrics are bobbins, but the riffs will get in your head and they will not leave.

4: Black Keys - Turn Blue

The Black Keys have been around for yonks, and I always rated them but they’ve really taken off since they expanded beyond the two-piece formula with their last three or four albums, this one isn’t the best of those (that’d be Brothers), it does have a fantastic soul/psychedelic vibe, that gives it a unique selling point amongst their body of work. The opening track, 'Weight of Love' is worth the money on its own, while 'In Time', 'Bullet in the Brain' and lead single 'Fever' are also standout tracks.

3: Wilko Johnson/ Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home

For those not familiar with the name Wilko Johnson, he was best known as the lead guitarist and chief songwriter with pub rock band Dr Feelgood, until they fired him. Since then he’s been going solo to a loyal if small cult following, respected by many other musicians and artists but never breaking through into mainstream success.

All it took was a terminal cancer diagnosis to change that, as old mate Roger Daltrey thought maybe they ought to finally do that album together that they’d been talking about for years before Wilko pops his rivets. The album sounds exactly like what it is, Wilko’s killer live band playing their best songs with a world class vocalist bolted on the front, all the studio engineer had to do presumably was stick a mic in front of them and press record.

The happy ending here is Wilko Johnson isn’t dying after all thanks to some miracle 11th-hour surgery, so here’s hoping we get a few more albums out of him as cracking as this one.

2: Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix vol.1

And so, one of the biggest selling albums of this year was a compilation of 70’s minor hits, that will now forever be associated with the Star Lord, Rocket etc.


If I have to explain much more about the awesome appeal of this great little gem you probably shouldn’t be reading this site.

Instead, have my favourite tracks off the thing. First, Elvin Bishop’s masterpiece, most notable to me for also being on the soundtrack to The Devil’s Rejects, about the only thing that movie has in common with Guardians of the Galaxy.

Second, if you didn’t think it was possible for Native Americans to get any cooler, well, I present Redbone!

1: CW Stoneking – Gon’ Boogaloo

Just sneaking into this list (It was released in October but I only heard it just before Christmas) and nabbing the top spot comfortably comes the new album from Australian blues master C.W. Stoneking.

Previous work from Stoneking has seen him meticulously recreate the sound of 20’s and 30’s blues, complete with brass band, banjos, and a slightly racially dubious accent from a white Australian (though he does seem to talk like that the whole time if YouTube interviews are to be believed). However, since 2008 album Jungle Blues, C.W. seems to have leapt forward a few decades into the 50’s and 60’s, swapping his resonator and banjo for a Fender Jazzmaster and his brass band for drums, bass and backing singers. The transformation is not as drastic as it may first appear, as Stoneking himself still sings about zombies and voodoo and the jungle with the same half-spoken, half-sung delivery which makes him one of the most characterful and genuinely interesting vocalists working at the moment. However, the new setup injects a shot of energy and, if you will, boogaloo into an already successful formula and makes for a bold and exciting new direction. Here’s another reason why this album rocks: Remember the joke I made a minute ago about the engineer just putting a mic in front of the band and hitting record? That’s literally how this was recorded, and it sounds all the better for it, my inner punk delights at such a ‘production is for chumps!' approach.

More, please! And a UK tour would be nice!

Honourable mention – Ginger Wildheart - G-a-s-s

This would top the list as my favourite musical experience of 2014, but it isn’t an album so much as a series of singles, and much more besides.

Let me explain.

In April Ginger, part-time frontman and principal songwriter of The Wildhearts, launched G-A-S-S, a fan club on steroids. For a one-off payment of £30 you get membership of the club and a download of three brand new songs every month for 12 months, as well as access to the website containing interviews, reviews, competitions, podcasts and previously unheard demos of shockingly good quality. With all the content accessible even if a member joins after the year has run out, this represents ridiculous value for money for a fan, but sticking just to the music on offer the quality 9 months in has been worth the asking price alone.

The style ranges from the bonkers Prog/punk of tracks like 'Bloody Knees' and 'Down The Dip' through straight up rockers like 'Mr T and Me' or the Courtney Love duet 'Honour' to things as diverse as piano ballad 'King Rat', heavy metal freak-out/beat poem 'Only Henry Rollins Can Save Us Now' or my standout track of the whole set, country travelogue and design for life 'The Pendine Incident'.

The quality of the tracks on display is good overall, and while there are a few wobbles, the sheer volume of tracks on offer keeps the hit rate high. When it’s good, it’s very very good!

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