Albums and Gigs of the Year

FKA twigs

FKA twigs

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2014 has been an impressive year for music. The Yorkshire Evening Post’s music writers choose their albums and gigs of the year.

Duncan Seaman

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

FKA twigs – LP1

Lurking within Tahliah Debrett Barnett’s debut album may be echoes of the ethereal spook-pop of Bjork, the skin-tingling intimacy of Portishead and the skeletal late-night electronic noir of The xx nonetheless this lean, sinuous and sensual record signalled the arrival of a startling talent.

A former backing dancer for the likes of Kylie Minogue, Ed Sheeran and Jessie J, Gloucestershire-born Barnett had been bubbling under as a singer-songwriter for a couple of years before being hailed by Spotify, Billboard and the BBC Sound of 2014 poll as one to watch and she duly delivered on LP1 with whispered vocals and layered production which couched fragile melodies in alt-R&B, trip hop and experimental grime.

The album was deservedly nominated for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize and earned Barnett slots on Later with Jools Holland and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in the USA. In February she’ll compete for a Grammy. Right now, the world is at her feet.

GIG OF THE YEAR

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters at O2 Academy Leeds on November 17

Though it would be hard to beat Kate Bush’s astonishingly inventive and emotional shows at the Hammersmith Apollo as the live event of the year, here in Leeds several artists gave it a damn good go. Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL’s performance at the First Direct Arena in May was notable for thrilling versions of Kiss and Purple Rain but was slightly marred by some muddy sound quality; Live at Leeds had arguably its best year yet; Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld provided a leftfield treat at the Howard Assembly Room.

But Robert Plant and his truly sensational band shaded it with a set at the O2 Academy Leeds that combined Delta and desert blues with light flavourings of bluegrass and Celtic folk. Plant made for a relaxed and humorous showman with a voice as elastic as the band’s arrangements of Led Zeppelin classics such as Black Dog and Whole Lotta Love. His new album, Lullaby...and the Ceaseless Roar, was cracking too.

Janne Oinonen

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather

Last year’s Time Off, Gunn’s debut as a singer and songwriter after years in the US avant-guitar underground, was a great record. However, it sounds little more than a rough sketch next to these eight unhurriedly evolving, luxuriously layered cuts. Fuelled by several guitar licks waltzing harmoniously around the mix, as opposed to stepping on each other’s toes in a battle for prominence, ‘Way Out Weather’ mixes various musical styles - folk, classic rock, psychedelia, space rock, dub hues, West African grooves, open-tuned raga drones – to arrive at a genre-defying, expansive sound that’s simultaneously tight and totally, winningly loose, sparsely uncluttered yet richly textured in a way that rewards repeated spins. What’s more, the songs are uniformly strong: just check out the Stones-at-Muscle-Shoals raunch of ‘Milly’s Garden’. Kick out the jams? Gunn proved that doing the exact opposite can sometimes result in utter magic.

Runners-up:

The Delines - Colfax; Mark Fry - South Wind, Clear Sky; Wild Beasts - Present Tense; Plain Ride - Skeleton Kites

GIG OF THE YEAR

Swans at The Cockpit, June 1; Hiss Golden Messenger at Brudenell Social Club, May 17

Brutal, relentless, cacophonic: attempts to summarise the Swans live experience with a single adjective makes catching the band live seem like a cruel and unusual punishment. However, this masterful show reminded us of the clarifying powers of pure pummelling noise, delivered by a veteran band whose most recent album ‘To Be Kind’ finds them at a creative peak, capable of not just decibel-drenched destruction of any and all resistance but also moments of surprising beauty. At the opposite end of the spectrum, MC Taylor kept his audience rapt for over 90 minutes with just his voice, acoustic guitar and brilliantly woven tales seemingly carved from the same stone as the enduring classics of American songcraft: mindful of the past but rooted in the here and now, with not an Americana cliché in sight. It’s no surprise that ‘Lateness of Dancers’ - released soon after this mesmerising set - proved a major breakthrough for Taylor’s Hiss Golden Messenger vehicle.

Susan Darlington

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

An album for the lonely and dispossessed, Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness holds the listener in its thrall from the very first note.

The second long player from the Missourian singer-songwriter, who started her career in Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s backing band, its eleven tracks could have been expressly recorded for late night intimacies.

Taking the alt-country of Neko Case as her starting point, she adds some Leonard Cohen drollery and a hint of Buffy Sainte-Marie in her vibrato. It’s this vocal catch that gives her a similar emotional resonance to Sharon Van Etten on ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Hi-Five’, tracks that could be twinned with ‘Serpents’ in terms of raw impact.

These songs manage to be vulnerable yet defiant – as when she confesses, ”I don’t know anything!” on the grungy ‘Forgiven / Forgotten’ – and it’s the honesty in this controlled intensity that can reduce the listener to tears.

GIG OF THE YEAR

Throwing Muses at Leeds Irish Centre on November 11

It doesn’t diminish Kristin Hersh’s reputation to admit that most Throwing Muses fans dream of a return from founding member Tanya Donelly. There was therefore a double bonus when she not only supported the band but joined them for five songs at Leeds Irish Centre.

Her guitar interplay and swooning backing vocals were used to terrifying effect on the hushed ‘You Cage’ and blistering ‘Devil’s Roof’ but, if her appearance allowed a moment of nostalgia, it was also clear that Throwing Muses remain a force to be reckoned with.

Thirty years into their career and the power trio’s current album, Paradise / Purgatory, features tracks as compelling as the barely restrained fury of ‘Static’; the fractured psychedelia of ‘Lazy Eye’; and the languid hypnoticism of ‘Dripping Trees’.

These were played with such ravaged confusion and vulnerability that there were times throughout the set that it was hard to breathe.

James Nuttall

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Woman’s Hour – Conversations

Northern loyalty shone through, this year, and the fabulous début album, Conversations, by Lake District foursome Woman’s Hour won out. It’s not so much that lead singer Fiona Burgess isn’t afraid to sing in her own accent that sells this spacey electronic release – although that does help – it’s the strength of the song­writing, and the sheer confidence of the musicians.

The album’s title song is undoubtedly the highlight. Introspective, elegant and wonderfully gloomy, their European­styled brand of electronica perfectly suits Burgess’ soothing vocals.

The dreamy opening of the penultimate track, Reflections, moves onto a haunting refrain and an abrupt ending, which sounds like someone pulled the plug. The eeriness of The Day That Needs Defending, an ambient and slow disco track, closes the sombre, late­ night trip.

The spacious but menacing pulses within this album are always hair-­raising and hypnotically captivating.

If Saint Etienne had an evil twin, it would be Woman’s Hour.

GIG OF THE YEAR

La Roux at Leeds Beckett University on November 7

The intimate, hot club setting of Leeds Becket’s Student’s Union provided the perfect venue for the colourful and vivid La Roux to showcase tracks from her latest neo-disco release, Trouble in Paradise.

The opening pants of Let Me Down Gently kicked off an evening of pumping beats and ‘80’s inspired electropop. Leeds Met was treated to a selection of new tracks, including the new album’s lead single, Uptight Downtown, which saw Jackson, who played almost all the instruments on her new record, pick up the electric guitar to lay down the groove.

The stomping pulses of Colourless Colour and Silent Partner closed the main set, before Jackson returned to give the crowed Bulletproof.

The incessant chant of ‘La Roux’s on fire’ as she left the stage proved that Jackson’s maturity as an artist has boded well with her audience, who have also grown up a little, too, since her first album.

Rag 'N' Bone Man. Picture: Dean Chalkley for Sony Records

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