This has been a great year for music. There was that St. Vincent album every website was raving about, the new Flying Lotus album and all the other apparently wonderful stuff that I haven’t actually listened to. So instead of talking about how the Taylor Swift album is a feminist fightback against the male-centric media industry (and ignoring the fact that Bikini Kill did it first), here are some of 2014’s less well-known albums.
The Golden Echo – Kimbra
Originating from New Zealand, Kimbra’s debut album Vows was a soulful, jazzy pop album: a composition of strong vocals and traditional beats that was all about settling down in the popular music genre.
However, after featuring on the successful ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, and with two Grammies under her belt, Kimbra went to hang out with sheep (and a kaleidoscopic list of pop producers). Subsequently, her second album ended up being one of the most expressive, well-crafted pop albums of 2014. Kimbra delivers cutting-edge pop with no holds barred, and complete mastery of the vocals. ‘90s Music’ is an ambitious tribute to the pop and R&B icons of the 1990s, while the album highlight ‘Goldmine’ has a worldly grandeur that I haven’t really heard anywhere else.
With The Golden Echo, Kimbra gives us a vision of art pop that makes no attempt to be easily categorisable. It is an album with soundscapes that make you yearn to be out there amongst the sheep too.
Kimbra performing at DCode Fest in 2012 Credit: Alterna2
Rhythm – Wildbirds & Peacedrums
Rhythm probably isn’t what people would associate minimalism with; it is an album as rich and exciting as a Marks & Spencer’s champagne truffle. The little-known husband and wife duo from Sweden have composed an album with little else besides carefully designed percussions and vocals. This is like music without the fat.
Despite being an experimental album with the mantra ‘no additives’, Rhythm never stops being engaging and exciting. Living up to its name, the album is a rollercoaster of a ride that exploits the use of delicately constructed vocals and pounding rhythms to its fullest potential, without ever feeling like these are standing in for another instrument. Vocal harmonies are rich and vibrant in ‘Soft Wind, Soft Death’, while ‘Who I Was’ and ‘Mind Blues’ are rapturous shows of vocal acrobatics.
Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ album might not, in the end, be the most accessible thing out there, but the thing is so beautifully designed and exciting that it’s hard not to be entranced.
They've got Rhythm Credit: Gergely Csatari
Strange Desire – Bleachers
Strange Desire is the solo debut of Jack Antonoff from Fun. Which, by the way, is also an accurate word to describe the album: a perpetually upbeat collection of great indie rock songs that’ll last any road trip.
Despite its indie rock status, the production values of Strange Desire are excellent. The album begins with a wall of sound in the form of ‘Wild Heart’, and moves into an ocean of cheery laid-backness with ‘Rollercoaster’. Sometimes the album harks back to the early 2000s, when bands like Maroon 5 were, you know, actually good. At other times it sounds like The National, but a lot more positive.
All in all, Bleachers have managed to create a wonderfully upbeat album, and the lead single ‘I Wanna Get Better’ will make getting through the Cambridge term just that little bit easier. There is, however, a song featuring Yoko Ono near the end. Make of that what you will.
They're even having fun in their music videos! Credit: YouTube