INSPIRATION MORIBUND, aural excitement low? Allow MOJO to help recharge those batteries with a nifty guide to the best music released so far this year.
From Springsteen to St. Vincent, Beck to Julie Byrne, it’s a stimulating mix of knowns, unknowns and known unknowns that add up to a startlingly good start to 2014.
Expect this MOJO innovation to continue throughout the year, as we pop up once a quarter to recap on the best album releases – new albums and reissues – of each three-month period, guiding you through the jungle of the latest greatest sounds.
Please note before getting het up: the lists are in alphabetical order, not ranked-in-terms-of-relative-brilliance. But please do buttonhole us on Facebook and Twitter about anything you think we’ve overrated or undervalued. Or even – madness, I know! – something you think we’ve got exactly right.
We struggled, as ever, to keep the list to a manageable size. But the upshot is 20 records we can endorse wholeheartedly and without caveat. So dig in, freak out and get off!
Beck Morning Phase
COLUMBIA It’s reassuring that Beck Hansen can still pull an original record as substantive and absorbing as this one out of the hat. “The early morning has gold in its mouth,” noted Benjamin Franklin, and so, too, does Morning Phase. James McNair READ MORE ▶
Julie Byrne Rooms With Walls And Windows
ORINDAL RECORDS Beautifully sombre and understated songs by the Buffalo-born singer unwind like tape spool, as pretty, picked acoustic guitar lines and muffled fret board hum give way to warm strummed chords, subtly treated with delay and bathed in natural echo. Sonny Baker
Neneh Cherry The Blank Project
SMALLTOWN SUPERSOUND The Blank Project finds Cherry surfing her most powerful surge of creative energy since 1989’s stellar solo debut Raw Like Sushi. And the feral chuckle of seven-minute finale Everything suggests there may be more where this came from. Ben Thompson
Elbow The Take Off And Landing Of Everything
POLYDOR Bury romantics keep the rudder steady for their sixth album’s journey through the ups and downs of life. Those who fear a new transatlantic twang can relax, however. Elbow are all about making connections. Victoria Segal READ MORE ▶
Nils Frahm Spaces
ERASED TAPES Spaces finds the Berlin-based pianist and composer stitching together a patchwork of unreleased pieces, expanded and improv versions and music inspired by his past canon. It results in an intimate album that shudders in the blast of an icy onslaught of crisp, wintery piano. Stephen Worthy
Future Islands Singles
4AD Their fourth full-length – the first with Beach House engineer Chris Coady – finds the band at their most joyously pop. In taming their wilder side, Future Islands’ ecstatic melancholy has never sounded quite so free. Sonny Baker READ MORE ▶
The Gloaming The Gloaming
REAL WORLD Sumptuous debut by virtuoso folk supergroup featuring Afro Celt Iarla Ó Lionaird and fiddle maestro Martin Hayes. Historic poetry and ancient tunes combine on a very organic, modern album. Colin Irwin
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings Give The People What They Want
DAPTONE RECORDS Jones’s fifth album with the Dap-Kings was quickly shifted to the back burner when it was announced that the singer had a stage-one tumour in her bile duct. Caught early, the cancer has been dealt with, allowing Jones to continue injecting new vitality into classic soul forms. Geoff Brown
Mogwai Rave Tapes
ROCK ACTION A sampled American voice warns against the satanic messages of Stairway To Heaven. “Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper, all the rock singers - they have a choice to make,” it intones. “What about you? What will you choose?” As Master Card’s evil guitars burst in, the choice is clear. Victoria Segal READ MORE ▶
Marissa Nadler July
BELLA UNION Nadler is still exploring the same elegiac, moody inner territory she’s made her home, with songs of mourning, memory, and self-awareness. Her voice - often layered and reverbed - has a sweetly narcotic quality. Sylvie Simmons
Angel Olsen Burn Your Fire For No Witness
JAGJAGUWAR The seductive harshness of Karen Dalton, the infectious languor of Mazzy Star, the clipped, sardonic intensity of the first two Cate Le Bon albums... if you’ve a partiality for any one of these addictive pleasures, this album will have plenty to offer you. Ben Thompson READ MORE ▶
patten Estoile Naiant
WARP Like those ‘magic eye’ autostereograms, the seemingly abstract dots of patten's music can come together in a moment – cramped collages of splintered rhythms, mutated drones and unanchored pop melodies suddenly cohering into dizzying modernist electronica of a ghostly hypnotic beauty. Andrew Male
Pye Corner Audio Black Mill Tapes Volumes 3&4
TYPE Rain drizzle and doppler-shift whines merge with metal tape hiss and beats like wet tyres over A-road chevrons, resulting in a beautifully hypnotic groove of repetitive learning, recovering ancient memories from darkest regions of the brain. Andrew Male
Real Estate Atlas
DOMINO Charm, tunes and a certain hazy vision. New Jersey quintet Real Estate have these elements in abundance, and on Atlas they’re more than enough to coax endless summer warmth from behind the wall of winter. Stevie Chick
St Vincent St Vincent
CAROLINE On her strident fourth album, Annie Clark has whittled a motley crew of characters who sit inside taut, ever so slightly paranoid, Byrne-ish P-funk. Who else would open a song with “Oh what an ordinary day. Take out the garbage, masturbate”? Wonderful. Priya Elan
Bruce Springsteen High Hopes
COLUMBIA Any album that finishes with Springsteen’s shattering hymnal treatment of Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream is justified: a revisioning so absolute and powerful that Alan Vega himself has declared he wants Springsteen’s version played at his funeral. Keith Cameron READ MORE ▶
Step Brothers Lord Steppington
RHYMESAYERS Random, occasionally crude, and knee-deep in clandestine references, Lord Steppington simultaneously engages the grey matter while snapping at the neck muscles. MOJO’s hip-hop album of the quarter. Andrew Male
PIAS Guests such as Nashville fiddler Fats Kaplin enhance a handful of tracks, but this is a cry from a frontier far beyond Music City. It warns of the division conflict brings, of the conflict division brings. Tinariwen still speak to the world as outsiders. David Hutcheon READ MORE ▶
The War On Drugs Lost In The Dream
SECRETLY CANADIAN A triumph of emotive feel amid neurotic detail: immaculately conceived big music for little people. The sort who are, as the title track has it, “lost in the dream, or just the silence of the moment”. Tramps like us, in other words. Keith Cameron READ MORE ▶
Wild Beasts Present Tense
DOMINO Not quite Wild Beasts tamed, Present Tense nonetheless leavens their signature creative audacity with newfound restraint. This intimate, intelligent album boasts that rarest quality in 21st century rock music: inimitability. David Sheppard
ALL THE MONTH’S BEST RELEASES, STRINGENTLY SELECTED BY EXPERTS, REVIEWED EVERY MONTH IN MOJO MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OUR LATEST GREAT SUBS DEAL.