Awards season doesn’t really have a beginning or end in the music business. From the January tips to the year-end charts, via the Brits and the NME Awards and the Ivor Novellos and so on and so forth, it feels like there’s always something to ‘win’, every week of the way. In the last few days we’ve had Q stage its annual awards and the MOBOs take place at Wembley; next week, it’s the turn of the Mercury Prize, which sets out to celebrate the best British or Irish album of the past 12 months.
The Mercury is the most recognised of these backs-slapping soirees to focus solely on the album format (there are several regional equivalents), but many ceremonies encompass an award for the ‘best’ long-player of the particular period. Best album at the Brits went to Arctic Monkeys for ‘AM’, a set released in 2013. At the 59th Ivor Novellos in May, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds won the album award for their ‘Push The Sky Away’ – released some 15 months earlier, in February 2013.
The Q Awards did select an LP of 2014 as their category-in-question winner, but it was Elbow with ‘The Take Off And Landing Of Everything’, a collection so characterised by complacency it’s a wonder anyone can remember it three seconds after it’s finished, let alone several months after its release at an awards do almost exclusively for indistinct white dudes with regulation rock guitars. Naturally, that’s subjectivity intruding on proceedings, and I’m not the biggest Elbow fan in the world, but come on: that is the best album of the year? Maybe if you’ve heard just the five long-play sets since January.
You may feel Royal Blood is the greatest rock band Britain has produced in a decade. You’d be wrong…
The year isn’t over, of course, but there’s a sore at the pit of my professional stomach here, a tremor in the hallways of my increasingly cluttered mind. Have there actually been any classic albums in 2014? Yes, this year’s Mercury shortlist is full of strong contenders, artists of great potential with albums that sing in singular fashions and suggest that there’s brilliance to come. But none of them, in and of themselves, is what you’d call a game-changer.
Sorry, let me rephrase that: what I’d call a game-changer. You might think that FKA twigs is making R&B that shouldn’t even be on the radar until 2018, such is her forward-thinking attitude. You may feel Royal Blood is the greatest rock band Britain has produced in a decade. You might think that. You’d be wrong, but it’s your brain, your emotions, so abuse them however you like. Royal Blood went to number one, so they’re doing something right.
Here’s a spoiler – not for the Mercury, because I’m not a soothsayer with a kind heart, sending you down the bookies with a winner to put your mortgage beside. Rather, one for something closer to home. Clash is 10 years old this year, and is about to reach issue 100. To mark these moments, the team’s been butting heads over what should make up a 100 greatest albums of Clash’s lifetime – fairly standard anniversary situation scenes, really. But what surprised me is that not one album released in 2014 is on the final list (and that’s your spoiler – I’m not going to reveal any albums that have made the cut).
A few came up in conversation, but none were argued for to any length as to make their omissions uncomfortable. We have our favourites of this year, but we can live with them not comprising part of the most essential fabric that makes up the site you’re looking at and the magazine it shares its editorial with. Why’s that? Because of the time we’ve spent with them, perhaps? Because they’re still fresh, and their longevity hasn’t been tested?
I’ve thought many albums of 2014 amazing – Ought, Run The Jewels, The Bug, Shellac, Young Fathers, The Twilight Sad, Flying Lotus, Liars, East India Youth, clipping., Scott Walker and Sunn O))), Madlib and Freddie Gibbs, Mogwai, Aphex Twin, Grouper, Alex Banks, Wild Beasts, This Will Destroy You, Conan. Loads. I get to round up my favourites every month – look, here. So, it might be that exposure is such that I’m still blinded by the light, and perspective is pretty hard to accurately assess while you’re squinting. Or it might be that nothing, really, is saying anything new right now.
I’ve heard hundreds of albums in 2014, but ask me to name a classic of the year? I don’t know…
When was the last time you heard a song that stopped you in your stride, that had you racing to find out who the artist in question was, and how you could hear more? In terms of album-producing sorts, I’d say that the most recently emerged artists of genuine uniqueness, who sure enough draw from the past but paint their own colours from a whole new palette, are the likes of Lorde in pop – and before her, perhaps The xx – and Kendrick Lamar in rap. In R&B, you probably have to go back to Frank Ocean.
In rock? No idea. I love what Ought have released in 2014, but their music is still mostly the sum of its parts – and if those constituents didn’t already appeal, I doubt their original assembly of them would, either. Otherwise: is Death Grips a rock band? In dance, the house revival that we’re all still in thrall to has a habit of pushing inspiration to the margins in favour of retrospective rhythms. Disclosure are great, but their album was no genre landmark, more an exercise in channelling commercial influences in an appealing form. The Bug’s ‘Angels & Devils’ is a devastating document of British bass culture, a worthy recipient of a 9/10 review – but if you knew Kevin Martin before the album’s release, you also knew he was capable of such an achievement. That it delivered on expectations doesn’t lessen its impression, its immense quality – but, still, it arguably met targets rather than position entirely new ones to take aim at.
Albums are how I like to listen to music. I know that might not be the popular choice in 2014, but there we are. Call me out of touch with what Radio 1 would have us believe is the preferred method of musical ‘consumption’ right now, and I’d say you were right. (I tune into 5 Live and Radio 4 more often than any BBC station playing music these days, which probably says something.) As such, I’ve heard hundreds in 2014 – it’s quite the perk of the job – but ask me to name a classic of the year?
I don’t know. Maybe it hasn’t come out yet. Maybe it’s this Taylor Swift album that everyone’s going mad for? I couldn’t say – nobody’s sent it to me, probably because my opinions mean less today than they ever have. So what do you think? Has 2014 birthed any bona-fide game-changing long-players, or are we in a fallow year, with greatness to come in 2015 when the likes of Kendrick and Lorde make their comebacks? Perhaps, though, all they can do is disappoint, such is the pressure of expectation. The surprises are what really resonate – and I’m not sure anything has this year. But that’s just me. Tell us what’s stood out for you on Twitter – or just grumble under your breath at your monitor before you click away to look at Sam Smith’s lovely round face some more. Honestly, MOBOs, what have you been smoking?
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