Monday, 29 December 2014

Gnaw Their Tongues- Wir Essen Seelen In Der Nacht

Artist: Gnaw Their Tongues
Album: Wir Essen Seelen In Der Nacht
Record Label: Self-release
Release Date: 1st November 2014

One man BM project's latest offering is strong at conjuring horrible atmospheres, but not so strong at conjuring memorable tunes

In an age where experimentation in music is consistently taking on a more extreme course, artists like Maurice De Jong (aka Gnaw Their Tongues) could reserve the right to feel slightly gratified. Although Gnaw Their Tongues' appeal has always been confined to those reaching for the most unpleasant depths of the underground, years of hard-graft and boundary-pushing sonic brutality have meant his presence and influence have not been wanton. 

On "Wir Essen Seelen In Der Nacht", a typically understated 4 track release that's hard to track down anywhere besides GTT's bandcamp, De Jong seems more keen to emphasise his artistic expressionism over writing anything that one could really sink their teeth into. The resulting produce is one more categorised by its atmospheres than by craft. Opener "A Calm Friday Night in Hinterkaifeck" broods with a metallic film-score menace, more of a nightmarish scene-setter than a song. The title track starts off like a true psychopath's re-interpretation of the original "Nosferatu" soundtrack before descending into the absolute skull-fucking chaos of improvisational bass flourishes and horrific screams. 

"The Gate of Death" is much more considered in its psychosis; there are waves of tuneless static surrounding a mid-paced bass drum boom that recalls The Haxan Cloak. The closer "Droom Van De Rattenvreger" is where the atmosphere is at its most-horrific. Blastbeats and distortion provide a back-bone for the odd-ball, nerve-wracking male & female opera vocals, whilst its final two minutes are the most musical the EP has to offer. 

Although commendable for its audacity, this is music with shock tactics used purely to be torturous; by no means a new trait of extreme metal, but ultimately deducing any real soul other than a black pit of attention-seeking noise in "Wir Essen..." is problematic. 


Key tracks: "Droom Van De Rattenvreger"
For fans of: Pharmakon, De Magia Veterum  

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Dirty Beaches- Stateless

Artist: Dirty Beaches
Album: Stateless
Record Label: Zoo Music
Release Date: 4th November 2014

Lo-fi darling's final release is an exercise in simple but textured expansiveness

That "Stateless" will be Taiwanese-Canadian prodigy Alex Zhang Hungtai's last release (under the moniker of Dirty Beaches at least) is something of a shame when he's capable of producing works as immersive as this. All of the four songs here have simple, drumless cores that leave plenty of space for presence to be built around them. The title track, with its cavernous and vast synth undertow and imperial horn inflection recalls SunnO))) & Ulver's collaborative efforts on this year's "Terrestrials". 

The gorgeous "Pacific Ocean" reveals slow, lushous keyboard chord progressions throughout its expansive drone, all the while circling its ever more prevalent, pulsating centre. The most manoeuvrability comes on the 15-minute closer "Time Washes Away Everything", who's sense of loss hangs heavy throughout its cacophonous violin swoons and cold, lone brass solos. A soulful farewell from one of lo-fi's blogosphere favourites. 


Key tracks: "Pacific Ocean", "Stateless"
For fans of: Oneohtrix Point Never, SunnO))) & Ulver

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Chartered Territory: The Riviera's Top 40 Songs of 2014

And so we come to it at last! It's taken me a while, but here's my top 40 songs of 2014. There are a few things to mention/ say before we get into the list. Firstly, much like the albums chart I published last week, these songs are ranked in the order in which I have listened to them and enjoyed them most throughout the year. You could, in theory, swap numbers 1 and 2 around; both of them have brought me an equal amount of joy and have proved equally as addictive, so by the point of thinking about their positioning like a shroom-fried psychiatrist you're kind of splitting hairs. Essentially though, this list is much less theory based than the albums list; they're all just excellent songs, with no real margin between them in their brilliance. They're mostly just listed in an order that I feel is most fitting. Also, this list is a mixture of both singles and album tracks. I don't listen to the radio enough to put together a list of tracks that have been officially released as singles, so there's probably plenty here that you've heard and plenty that you haven't, which is a healthy thing, I think. 

Secondly, in the new year I'm planning on re-launching this site (sort of) properly. It won't be as active as it once was, but my plan is to produce two reviews a week (maybe more if I manage to squeeze them in). These will mostly be Rock and Metal reviews, since those are my primary listening preferences. However, when there are notable/ attention-grabbing releases from outside of that world I'll certainly give them the coverage they deserve; for example, I'm already planning on reviewing the new albums by Joey Bada$$, Father John Misty and Mark Ronson. I'm planning on publishing reviews of the new releases by Dirty Beaches and Gnaw Their Tongues before the 31st, so they'll hopefully be up over the course of the next few days. 

Thirdly and finally, just a quick note to say thank you for your continuous reading and support! The site doesn't see much action these days which gives you even less of a reason to bother with it, but to those who do I say thank you very much! I don't really do this for anyone other than myself but when people do check out the stuff I write it makes it all the more worthwhile. 

Anyway, let's get into it. Here are my (un)official top 40 songs of the year. There's a Spotify playlist compiled for your listening needs at the bottom, as well as youtube links for every track listed. Enjoy, and have a very merry Christmas and an equally as grand New Year!



40. Grouper- Lighthouse

Liz Harris' 10th solo LP under the moniker Grouper, "Ruins", was perceived across the board as one of her most affecting and delicate to date. The 5-minute misty, morose and distant piano funeral march of "Lighthouse" was one of it's most tantalising moments, irreversibly sad but also somehow a friend in dark times. 

39. Full of Hell & Merzbow- Blue Litmus

It was occasionally hard to spot just what influence Japanese noise maverick Merzbow had on his collaborative project with US grindcore brutalists Full of Hell this year, and despite being one of these moments, the piercing, unfathomably harsh 2 minutes of "Blue Litmus" was one of the album's most primal, disgusting and electrifying moments. Sonic abuse is this collision's forte, and here it's delivered on a number of garishly brilliant levels. 

38. Comeback Kid- Should Know Better

Just like the rest of Comeback Kid's brilliant, erm, comeback album "Die Knowing", "Should Know Better" made me want to grow my hair long, drink stupid amounts of Dr. Pepper and thrash around on the concrete drive outside my house until I feel off and cracked my elbow. This is the most exhilarating kind of nostalgia trip. 

37. Objekt- Ganzfeld

Along with his excellent debut full-length "Flatland" this year, TJ Hertz released the brilliant "Ganzfeld", which saw him take Aphex Twin's abstract breakbeat blueprint and add discordant but beautiful layers of hazy oddness and atmospheric bleepery. 

36. Caribou- Dive

One of the slower, more sensual moments from this year's critically acclaimed "Our Love", Dan Snaith produced a textured slow-burner that emphasised his ear for reflective beauty and imperative warmth over everything else. If the warm tides of synth don't make you feel like you should be on a Mediterranean beach in mid July glazing over then there's nothing for you here. 

35. Dirty Beaches- Pacific Ocean

A very recent listening experience for me, but one that caught me straight away with its intensely deep and minimal but gorgeous droney crawl. It's easy to imagine the entire expanse of a shimmering but unknown mass encaptured by these 7 or so minutes. 

34. The Twilight Sad- Last January

Frost-bitten, bitter and lonely yet rhythmic and epic in equal measure, the finest track from The Twilight Sad's excellent return LP "Nobody Wants To Be Here..." spends it's first half as a hypnotic post-punk rush before climbing to a cascading, life affirming climax in its final throes. Nothing else on this list spells out "Winter blues" quite like it. 

33. Mallory Knox- She Took Him To The Lake

Mallory Knox are a band who, up until a couple of weeks ago I was quite happy to stay well away from. However, a couple of decent reviews of their new record meant that this gorgeously sad 7 minute wonder from the Cambridge quintet has been getting a fair amount of repeated plays recently. It ends up at soaring levels of atmosphere that very few other bands of this ilk seem to be capable of generating. 

Unfortunately the site won't let me imbed the right video properly, so you can access the song here via youtube:

32. Scott Walker & SunnO)))- Brando

The whole of this collaborative projects album "Soused" was a bit like an especially warped nightmare, or one of the more hallucinogenic scenes from The Shining, but "Brando" was nails-on-a-blackboard level of odd. Droning, cacophonous and intoxicating, Walker's assertions that "a beating would do me good" helped in no way to lift the track's twisted core out of its sublime darkness. 

31. Todd Terje- Inspector Norse

Although initially released in 2012, the inclusion of "Inspector Norse" on Todd Terje's debut "It's Album Time!" earlier this year was a most welcome one. Deliriously groovy and unashamedly cheesey, it's far harder to NOT have fun to this piece of percussive, sunny and woozy synth worship than to enjoy it. 

30. Sleaford Mods- You're Brave

If Nottingham duo Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearne proved anything this year, it's that left-wing working class Britain still very much has a righteously bitter and angry voice. Williamson's hilarious depictions of a first-rate, drug-addled loser in "You're Brave", via anecdotes of wanking in toilets and stealing friends, tied in perfectly with the overall sense of hopelessness that hits when he concludes "oh, aren't we all just pissing in the rain?". 

29. Godflesh- New Dark Ages

Everything about the opening track to Godflesh's blinding comeback LP "A World Lit Only By Fire" screamed "CLASSIC FUCKING GODFLESH!". From the outrageously thunderous and filthy riff to the clanging and motorik bass playing and the nail-grittingly harsh beat-down halfway through, there was absolutely no doubt that the masters of brutal industrial noise rock were back. 

28. Father John Misty- Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)

The Former Fleet Foxes man has a new album dropping in February, and "Chateau Lobby #4...", the first track to drop from it, shows Misty expanding his song-writing chops in increasingly humourous, joyous and catchy ways. The slightly raunchy but lovely brass- inflected ditty is (hopefully) a fine indicator of what to expect upon the album's release. 

27. Run The Jewels- Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) ft. Zack De La Rocha

EL-P and Killer Mike's furious anti-oppression vitriol is backed by an addictive loop of Zack's "Run Them Jewels fast" refrain, before the Rage Against The Machine man himself drops one of his best verses to date. "I'm Miles ahead of you, you can sip my Bitch's Brew...". One of Hip-Hop's most splendidly fiery releases in 2014. 

26. Busdriver- Bliss Point

The award of one of Hip-Hop's more intellectual and quick-witted moments in Hip-Hop could have gone to any one of the tracks on Busdriver's 10th album "Perfect Hair", but "Bliss Point's" tongue-in-cheek attack on tabloid music journalism over a beautifully bubbling and abstract beat was its most prolific moment. 

25. Elbow- My Sad Captains

Easily one of the most melodically memorable and handsome things Elbow have ever released, Guy Garvey's poetic metaphors for times spent drinking and catching up with old friends via the narrative of a ship's crew proves just how masterful he and his band can be compositionally. 

24. Enter Shikari- The Last Garrison

From it's bracing, furious first 20 seconds to it's almost-One Direction-worthy belter of a chorus, "The Last Garrison" saw the much maligned St. Albans quartet slide closer than ever to pop territory, but with their life affirming sense of epicness and melody still fully intact. "HANDS UP AND THANK FUCK WE'RE STILL ALIVE". 

23. Wiley- On A Level

Over these three minutes of squelchy, old-school grime bass Wiley spits with the kind of vitality that is more than enough evidence that he's still one of UK Grime's most crucial frontrunners. 

22. St. Vincent- Digital Witness

Easily the sassiest thing Annie Clark has ever put her name, "Digital Witness"'s brass-lead, cocksure Prince-esque stomp saw her steer away from the virtuosity of her last album but into much more immediate and celebratory territory. 

21. Leon Vynehall- Butterflies

A track released separaretly to his full-length debut "Music For The Uninvited", the beauty of "Butterflies" was in its revolving-door percussion sequences and meditative, repetitve synth loops that dripped with summery heat. 

20. Animals As Leaders- Nephele

The word "epic" gets thrown around all too frivolously these days, but in terms of the monstrous closer to Animals As Leaders brilliant "The Joy Of Motion" this year it certainly applies. One second grindingly djent-y and ferociously heavy, the next soaring above the stratosphere via huge melodies and furious guitar solos with a particularly '80s shimmer, it was perhaps the band's finest 5 minutes to date. 

19. Primordial- Born To Night

Starting off with 4 minutes of eerie, enchanting solitary guitar strumming and then launching into a ravenous Grand Magus-esque groove of rollicking, reverberating riffs and scorching vocals, the former Irish Black Metal veterans veered into totally assured classic metal territory with a sense of grandeur and imperative force that very few others managed to conjure in Metal in 2014. 

18. Sun Kil Moon- I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love

There isn't much that can be said about the most affecting moment from Mark Kozelek's opus "Benji" other than you just need to listen to it. This is a song to make grown adults weep. 

17. FKA Twigs- 2 Weeks

The first single to drop from Tahliah Barnett's "LP1" was, weirdly, almost an immediate hit. I say weirdly, but in an age where experimentation in r'n'b is almost favoured over Jason Derulo re-hashing old techniques then it makes the success of the breathy and sublime "2 Weeks" all the more satisfying. 

16. Liars- Pro-Anti Anti

Ghostly, weird, noisy and with a myriad of bubbling and pretty synth meshes to boot, "Pro-Anti Anti"'s oddball beat-down was everything that they do almost better than anyone else, as well as being a fantastic spokesperson for the whole album, "Mess". 

15. EyeHateGod- Nobody Told Me

Though their self-titled album wasn't as captivating or consistent as it perhaps could have been, it did contain some of the finest riffs the masters of Sludge have ever put to wax. "Nobody Told Me"'s swaggering, hefty and swamp-mired groove is most certainly one of them. 

14. Wild Beasts- Daughters

A rare excursion into a more political and sociological sphere lyrically for the Kendal quartet, "Daughters" was a bleak, cold but important portrait of what our children may face if the cultural climate and levels of austerity don't change soon. There's an underbelly of anger and despair running it's fingers over the track's skin, summed up perfectly by the discordant power-synths that run the song over the finish line. 

13. The Bug ft. Flowdan- The One

One of the most formidable partnerships in UK dub and bass music proved in abundance on The Bug's "Angels & Devils" that once again they can produce some of the most hard-hitting music in that vein, and the punishing "The One" was the epitome of that. The Bug's brutal, rattling drum barrage and screeching, siren-esque synths that surrounded the hook were as prominent and exciting as Flowdan's monstrous, non-stop delivery. 

12. Mogwai- Ex Cowboy (Cava Sessions)

One of the extra tracks released as part of the re-issue of Mogwai's finest album "Come on Die Young" earlier this year, "Ex Cowboy" in a live setting proved that they had just as much (if not more) finesse, dynamical skill, and were still just as good at making a chest-thumping racket as on record. Majestic. 

I've had to upload the studio version of the track as the re-released live version doesn't appear to be on youtube. You can hear the Cava Sessions version via the Spotify playlist below. 

11. Trap Them- Savage Climbers

Much slower burning but just as discordant and incinerating as their most brutal, riotous work, "Savage Climbers" sounded like what seeing a deranged, almost starved-to-death, mud-caked man claw his way out of a sewer after 15 years of depravity might be like. Ryan McKenney's bellows of "Chuck your rights to ruin!" embody a distinctly political flavour, and in times where social justice seems to be falling short across the globe, he's never sounded more prolific. 

10. Manic Street Preachers- Walk Me to the Bridge

The utterly glorious first single from the latest Manics album was so THEM that, had it been any less euphoric it may have been seen as somewhat parodical. Thankfully, James Dean Bradfield's vocals sounded stronger than they had done in years, and the song's entire oeuvre was wrapped in so much conviction, emotion and massive sound that it was nigh on impossible not to feel your heart-strings tweak a little bit, the presence of Richey Edwards lurking all the while and upping the emotional ante. 

9. Every Time I Die- Idiot

"All I want is for everyone to go to Hell/ It's the last place I was seen before I lost myself/ All I want is for everyone to come to Hell/ There we can be free and learn to love ourselves". Not only was "Idiot", the final track on Every Time I Die's splendid return to form "From Parts Unknown", one of the most unforgiving and savage things they'd written in years, it also saw Keith Buckley's lyricism reach new levels of directness and emotion. 

8. Skepta ft. JME- That's Not Me

The biggest Grime song of the year. The most addictive, catchy and melodically pleasing too, bar one song...

7. Mumdance ft. Novelist- Take Time

...And here it is. Mumdance's penchant for pushing Grime out of its comfort zone reached its ecstatic pinnacle here, with "Take Time"'s bruising bass slams and searing, high-pitched synth stabs on the hook. Young MC Novelist proves that any time the old Grime vanguard might look like they're dwindling in terms of presence or talent, there's plenty of fresh-faced connoisseurs to pick up the pieces. 

6. Mogwai- The Lord Is Out of Control

The slowest, most atmospheric and genuinely moving song on Mogwai's "Rave Tapes" was saved for its final grace. Keyboardist Barry Burns' vocals and fed through a vocoder, making them impossible to make out but adding so much to the building, soaring beauty of the track's lush instrumentation. Also perhaps the best music video of the year. 

5. Taylor Swift- Blank Space

There was no song in 2014 that summed up what a guilt-free, well written and highly addictive pop megahit should sound like better than Swift's "Blank Space". Delivered with brooding yet confident emotion, as well as not running anywhere close to the mundanity most of the stuff that passes for poetry in chart music does these days, "Blank Space" was both a huge breath of fresh air and a sigh of relief. It, along with the slightly more irksome "Shake It Off", was the most pure and joyful that pop appeared all year. 

4. Run The Jewels- Oh My Darling Don't Cry

Production wise, this was the nastiest, grimiest and noisiest thing EL-P had conjured since his 2012 LP "Cancer 4 Cure", and it was all the more addictive for it. He and Killer Mike meanwhile, were as visceral, audacious and clinical with their rhyming as ever. The song oozed dark, oversized arrogance from every pour, and with its catastrophically brutal finale of a whirlwind of almost non-musical synth excursion, you'd be a fool to either doubt or deny it. 

3. Swans- Oxygen

Again, I could have picked any number of songs from Swans' latest Godlike masterpiece "To Be Kind", but in the end I went with the most brutal; the most nose-flattening, the most pummelling, the most repetitive, the most excruciatingly loud. "Oxygen" recalled the visceral, no-holds-barred abandon of Swans' earliest work in the way that it was unrelenting in its barrage of impeccably tight drumming, filthy and fast paced bass plucking and ear-drum bruising stabs of brass. UGH!

2. Mark Ronson- Uptown Funk (ft. Bruno Mars)

Yes OK, so it smacks a bit of the Nile Rodgers Bandwagon that's been affirming its place since Daft Punk's "Get Lucky", but in the case of "Uptown Funk" it really doesn't matter. Infectiously groovy, irreversibly cool and yet so deliberately simple, all of Ronson's vigour oozes into the track until it confirms him as perhaps one of the most capable pop song writers to be doing it. Bruno Mars' vocal delivery is slightly less remarkable, but he still fits over the perpetual sunshine funk pretty perfectly. Try not having fun to this song... I DARE YOU. 

1. Caribou- Can't Do Without You

"Can't do without can't do without can't do without can't do without, can't do without can't do without can't do without can't do without...". It was always slightly arduous to see Dan Snaith ever topping his incredible 2010 single "Sun", but he's apparently done it, and with the kind of silky, smooth, textured and euphoric ease with which he writes his most infectious songs. Whenever you're in a bad mood, or want to evoke memories of glorious summers you wish had never ended, then "Can't Do Without You" is here for you; encouraging, beautiful, and life affirming. Career affirming for Snaith, too.

The Riviera's Top 40 Tracks of 2014 Spotify Playlist

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The National @ O2 Arena, London, 26/11/2014

HEADS UP: Unfortunately I had to leave after the band played "Fake Empire" and so didn't get to catch the encore, hence why it isn't covered here. Sorry. 

In the couple of weeks leading up to Ohio band The National's super-sized show at the O2 Arena in London, everyone who I'd told about it met me with the same reaction; "sorry, who? Nah, never heard of them". It's odd enough that any band playing a headline show at the O2 should be met with such indifference, but the most perplexing thing about The National is why they aren't much bigger than their relatively confining indie status allows them to be. Barack Obama used their brass-fueled opus "Fake Empire" in his 2008 Presidential election campaign, and the amount of adverts on the back of magazines for "High Violet" when it was released in 2010 should have at least alerted the Q-reading community to the increase in their printed appearances. Maybe it's a conscious decision on behalf of the band to rock out on a low profile, and quite right too. All that being said, tonight proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that they're a band for whom a show like this has felt like a long time coming on these shores. 

Tonight, support band Wild Beasts (8) sound more robust and confident than ever before. Their whole stage presence gives off a vibe of natural ease, as if shows like this were more their habitat than the more modestly sized venues they usually indulge on tour. Vocally the tag team of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming are on magnificent form; the difference between Thorpe's falsetto and Fleming's deep baritone is now smooth and seamless rather than slightly comical. Their songs sound positively cinematic; the shuddering synth finale of "Daughters" is more thunderous than ever. They close on old crowd favourite "All The King's Men", which sees Fleming completely consumed by the bubble of his momentarily bawdy character. It's performed with the kind of conviction that proves they deserve to be here. 

When The National (9) arrive on stage to a satisfyingly rapturous reception, they look as suave and stately as always, oozing a sense of reserved but confident cool. Frontman Mat Berninger is the absolute epitome of this; his stage presence is rather understated but you can feel it perennially all the same. During the glorious instrumental passages of the likes of "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and "Sea of Love" (which soar even higher than on record), he strides back and forth across the stage in an almost schizophrenic manner, clearly lost in the moment. 

And he very much deserves to be. From the moment they kick things off with "Don't Swallow The Cap", the ball is set rolling for an evening that is consistently as energetic as it is spiritual. The succession of a life-affirming rendition of "Demons" into a stark but wholesome performance of the moving "Hard To Find" is resounding, Aaron Dessner's twinkling lead-guitar line bringing the track to its close profoundly. An extended intro encourages a whole-hearted clap along from the entire crowd into "Squalor Victoria", which continues on to become one of the night's very finest moments, resulting in Berninger screaming the title in a feral and totally captivating way at the end. 

The band's dry on-stage humour is received in deservedly high spirits too, perhaps testament to how much of their dark sense of sarcasm is very much at home in Britain. "This one's dedicated to my brother, it's his birthday today", says Mat before just before the band launch into "Abel". "He's a metal-head and fucking hates all our slow songs, so we'll play a fast one for him", he continues. Then, referencing the touching documentary "Mistaken For Strangers", a film made by Tom Berninger about his brother's band and the strain it sometimes has on their relationship, he says, "Happy 35th Birthday, Tom. You can start moving out of my garage now". 

"Shit! Sorry, I forgot you were waiting for me", exclaims Mat with genuine surprise after about a minute of the pensive intro to "Sorrow" has passed. "You're way too happy to be singing this song right now", jokes guitarist Bryce Dessner. "Fuck, have I messed that up?" chuckles Mat. "Yeah, you gotta get into character", responds his friend. It's this kind of accidental and genuine persona of all the band members that adds so much charm to the night's proceedings. It's a resounding signifier of just how at home they feel here. 

"Graceless" is the absolute pinnacle of the night. Moving, loud and absolutely pertinent in its own presence, it's the absolute summation of the power of the band's music. Berninger launches himself into the crowd whilst desperately staying out of reach of security and subsequently getting swallowed up by his adoring fans during the final throes of the song, and it's the kind of sight that works on a number of levels to justify not only this booking, but the band's status as a people's rock band. They close on "Fake Empire", which seems maybe too conspicuous, but it makes perfect sense; it's a fan favourite and easily their biggest record to date. It's a natural candidate for the close of a show that has been undoubtedly career-affirming.  

The overall sense coming away from The National's show at the O2 tonight is that this is exactly where they're meant to be. The crowd was almost certainly made up of well-affirmed fans, so a widening of the sphere that The National will reach because of this isn't particularly likely. However, for those who were there and consumed in the moment, this was a definitive one; the realisation of a band who truly deserve to be much closer to household name status than they are. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Life's Too Short: The Riviera's Top 15 LPs of 2014

Greetings all! 

Every time I write a new piece for this site these days I precede it by doing the whole "I just don't have the time..." spiel. Over the past couple of months that has never been more true, but I'll save you that for now. I'll also save you the "this is just my opinion..." speech. There are those people who take this sort of thing as seriously as the invasion of Iraq, but they're to be ignored. The one thing I will say is that, instead of (as I have done in previous years) toiling for hours and hours a day over which album is TECHNICALLY better and more worthwhile than the other when compiling this list, I've ranked these albums in the most pure order possible; the amount which I've listened to them and the amount of enjoyment I get out of them. There's no science going on here. These are simply the albums that have made me laugh, cry, want to break things and contemplate the meaning of life consistently throughout the year. 

No doubt there will be some people reading this who think I've made serious omissions, so here is a list of albums that I've enjoyed immensely whenever I've listened to them, but maybe haven't sat with long enough or have come out too late in the year for them to really be considered for this list. These are ranked in no particular order, as although I think they're all brilliant, I haven't really considered them in a way that would make that process possible. So:

The Bug- Angels & Devils
Leon Vynehall- Music For The Uninvited
Teitanblood- Death
Grouper- Ruins
Full of Hell & Merzbow- Full of Hell & Merzbow
Jon Hopkins- Asleep Versions EP
Gazelle Twin- Unflesh
The Body (& The Haxan Cloak)- I Shall Die Here

Right, lets get into it then. Here are my top 15 albums of 2014. Hopefully there are some records in here you love, and hopefully there are some you may never have checked out before and this list is what urged you to do so. At the end of the day, the most favourable thing about doing this is the idea that I may introduce someone to some music that they otherwise may never have heard and they end up loving it, so fingers crossed! Enjoy. 

15. Taylor Swift- 1989

In a year when Ariana Grande fell well short of the talent she'd previously hinted at and Kylie Minogue caught a bout of the Madonna syndrome and slipped uncomfortably into middle-age, Taylor Swift's "1989" was especially important. Not only is it a collection of pure, nigh on addictive and crisply produced songs; the really beautiful thing about "1989" is the fact that it's obvious just how much unadulterated, unashamed fun Swift had making it. Although Swift's expressionism reaches a new level of accessibility, this isn't an album about selling records. In it's heart it just wants to be a fun, catchy and emotional experience, and it mostly manages to achieve those goals. Couple all of that with the fact that the songs are just damn undeniable and you've got the record the pop world has needed for a long time. Life's too short to be hating on music that's genuinely ace. 

14. Caribou- Our Love

Four years after Dan Snaith's critically acclaimed opus "Swim", the (expected) cynicism surrounding the quality of a new Caribou full-length was certainly rife amongst some spheres on the indie community. With "Our Love" however, Snaith has produced the most wholesome, beautiful and moving album under the Caribou moniker to date. Smooth at every turn, deliriously funky on the likes of the title track and re-inserting his magnificent sense of euphoria on "Can't Do Without You" as well as the far more mellow and swooning "Dive", it was an album that traversed the line between the slightly more accessible end of rave culture and the more IDM-specific realms explored by the likes of Gold Panda and Clark. Snaith's head for interplay, colour and texture has never sounded better. 

13. Run The Jewels- Run The Jewels II

As has already been remarked by some critics, the real power of MCs EL-P and Killer Mike's return as an actual collaborative project is that that's exactly what it sounds like. The intimidating chemistry between them was evident on the first record, but on "II" it sounds absolutely unbreakable. EL-P's wizard-like creativity on the production is nastier, grittier and darker than ever before, and the violent vitriol and anger-charged rhetoric he and Killer Mike spit back and forth at each other is seamless, especially on the likes of "Oh My Darling Don't Cry". Rage Against The Machine's Zack De La Rocha lays down arguably one of his finest verses to date on "Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)", there's the intensely graphic sex humour of "Love Again", and there's even a sense of narrative never really indulged in by Run The Jewels before on "Crown". All in all, "II" is proof that EL-P and Killer Mike are two of the most versatile, witty and able MCs in the game today. 

12. Busdriver- Perfect Hair

The recently customised rap collective Hellfyre Club's veteran underground icon Busdriver returned with his 10th LP this year and, from the word go, slammed in hard the argument that he'd lost none of his skill, wit or creativity since 2012's "Beaus$Eros". Beneath all of his somtimes impossible-to-comprehend wordplay and lightning fast flow lay hundreds of layers of social criticism ("Eat Rich"), personal reflection ("Can't You Tell I'm a Sociopath?") and razor sharp humour ("Retirement Ode"). Dig a little deeper than 6ft into his angular literacy and you'd find a middle finger raised to the tabloid-like journalism with which Hip-Hop is often dealt on "Bliss Point", strikingly moving heartbreak on "Motion Lines" and perplexing but captivating guest appearances from his fellow Hellfyre Club stalwart Open Mike Eagle on "When The Tooth-Lined Horizon Blinks". Far from accessible but all the more richly rewarding for it, "Perfect Hair" is the most consistently entertaining Hip-Hop album of 2014. 

11. The Twilight Sad- Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave

Celebrated Scottish miserabalists The Twilight Sad seem to be in it for the long slog, and when they're churning out albums as wholesome, emotional and stark as their fourth full-length "Nobody Wants To Be Here..." there's no reason why they should be either denied or ignored. After the mixed response of their 2011 indulgence in synth-pop on "No One Can Ever Know", the return of epic chord progressions, shimmering reverb and meaty bass lines was warmly welcomed by the indie community, and long-standing die-hard fans of the band received the album as their absolute finest since their debut, which it most certainly is. Whether it's the bleak space that surrounds every melody on opener "There's a Girl in the Corner", the wintry, rhythmic epicness of "Last January" or the lovelorn, almost gut-wrenching sadness of "Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep", there's a remorseful power to "Nobody Wants To Know..." that means you'll come out of it feeling like you've just seen the finale of a powerful 1970s-based police drama. 

10. Every Time I Die- From Parts Unknown

Although Hardcore veterans Every Time I Die's 7th full-length "From Parts Unknown" has less in common with their more lauded, southern-fried and stomping crossover output ("The Big Dirty", "New Junk Aesthetic"), it's their best work to date. When the band tried to re-connect with their more primal, dislocated and discordant earlier sound on 2012's "Ex Lives" it felt like they'd lost some of that visceral, caveman-esque brutality, but on "From Parts Unknown" that sense is here in abundance more than it ever has been before. Lead-off single "Thirst" was a no holds barred sledgehammer that set the precedent for an album that indulged as much in that rawness as it did in a slightly understated sense of melody, like on the very fine "Decayin' With The Boys". Keith Buckley's instantly recognisable lyricism  still has all its charm and intelligence in tact, though perhaps the most earth-shattering moment of his dialect comes on the closer "Idiot"; "All I want is for everyone to go to Hell/ It's the last place I was seen before I lost myself/ All I want is for everyone to come to Hell/ There we can be free and learn to love ourselves". Indeed. 

9. FKA Twigs- LP1

One of the most critically acclaimed releases of 2014, former dancer Tahliah Barnett's debut full-length was quite rightly received as the most intriguing, twisted and genuinely sexy r'n'b album for quite some time. The amount of mainstream appreciation the album got was rather remarkable given the outlandishness and oddball skronk of most of the production on the album, but in terms of vision and creativity there were almost no qualms to be had with the shapes and sizes that the tracks on "LP1" came in. Sensual and fleshy but also emotional and diverse subject-matter wise, Barnett confirmed herself to be much more than the body in the background she'd been previously (a subject addressed directly on most recent single "Video Girl"). A beautiful, visionary and mindful step into the realms of a genre that has recently been lapping up all the virtuosity it can get. 

8. Manic Street Preachers- Futurology

A sort of accompaniment piece to 2013's "Rewind The Film", the Manics' 12th full-length was rightly received as their most epic and heartfelt piece of work for years. It's astonishing reviews across the board were largely a product of its scope and emotion; both things the band have almost always had in abundance, but "Futurology" felt like all that scope and emotion had finally come full circle and been turned into something truly wholesome. The spirit of Richey Edwards loomed large on "Futurology", adding extra weight and depth to the gorgeous Springsteen-esque fuel of "Walk Me to the Bridge" and the more sombre "Between the Clock and the Bed". The band were as rich as ever in firebrand vitriol too, the groove-laden stomp of "Let's Go To War" perhaps the most Manics-esque moment they've conjured in years, and the more humourous "Next Jet To Leave Moscow", which fires a sharp middle finger at wannabe rock stars. A sufficiently magnificent album that proved that, in reality, the Manics never really went away. 

7. Behemoth- The Satanist

Even before "The Satanist" had its official release in January Metal critics across the board were calling it the album of 2014. At that time it certainly seemed like surpassing its titanic scale would be a work of wonder. Soul-crushingly brutal, destructively epic and yet still retaining that sense of artfulness and musicianship that had always marked the Polish legends out as visionaries, Nergal & co.'s 10th album was nothing short of a cascading masterpiece. Written and recorded in the wake of Nergal's recovery from Leukaemia, there was an especially emotional shadow hanging over "The Satanist" which increased its miraculous power tenfold, something emphasised by the moving "In The Absence Ov Light". Just as the thunderous, atmosphere drenched first chords of opener "Blow Your Trumpets, Gabriel" affirmed, the overall feeling of this album was one of absolute triumph, a sense of triumph that only one other album in this list has been able to rival this year. 

6. Comeback Kid- Die Knowing

It's hard to put into words just why Canadian Hardcore legends Comeback Kid's return with "Die Knowing" was so special. Maybe it was the un-fuckwithable punk rock spirit that oozed from every pour of the record. Maybe it was the life affirming, fists-in-the-air oblivion that, even if Comeback Kid were lacking in for a couple of records, they still do much better than anyone else. From the slow, dark crawl of the crushing title track to the blood-pumping skate-punk of "Should Know Better" and the urgent but fully-formed melody of "Didn't Even Mind", "Die Knowing" was just a case of punch in the face after punch in the face, in the very most enjoyable, exciting, blood-curdling and skull-shattering way possible. This is absolutely how Comeback Kid should sound. 

5. Animals As Leaders- The Joy Of Motion

For years the rock media's coverage of instrumental prog-rock trio Animals As Leaders has mostly been about the scintillating ability of guitarist Tosin Abasi. Whilst that trait is, in some regards, their absolutely most remarkable feature, their 3rd full-length "The Joy Of Motion" proved beyond measure just how much of a BAND they are. All three members put in absolutely blinding shifts on this album to create something that's an absolute whirlwind of beauty and soulfulness, as well as the occasional descent into crushing heaviness. The spacious, stratospheric floatiness of "Air Chrysalis" interracted with and was balanced by the gorgeous grooviness of "Physical Education" and the ten-tonne epicness of the likes of "Tooth and Claw" and "Mind-Spun". Never have Animals As Leaders sounded so fun, vital and just fucking brilliant. 

4. Mogwai- Rave Tapes

A bit like Animals As Leaders (and many other bands on this list) albeit of a much longer-standing nature, Glaswegian post-rock legends Mogwai have spent years honing, refining and changing their dynamic, and on their 8th album "Rave Tapes" it felt like they'd found a favourable way to be concise as well as soaring. Synths were more prevalent than ever in their sound this time around, adding a significant level of playfulness as well as depth and deep-seated atmosphere to the songs, something which was lacking on their previously release, 2011's "Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will". From the airy, sumptuous opener "Heard About You Last Night" to the apocalyptic peaks reached by the guitar-driven hue of "Hexon Bogon" and the near tear-jerking soulfulness of closer "The Lord is Out of Control", "Rave Tapes" felt like a PROPER Mogwai album, something that many people suggest hasn't totally been the case since 2006's "Mr. Beast". In every way they're still a totally imperative band. 

3. Wild Beasts- Present Tense

Every time Wild Beasts release a record it's like a new sonic journey into some uncharted but endlessly fascinating world. Although "Present Tense", the band's 4th and synth-heaviest album to date, wasn't received quite as gratuitously as 2011's "Smother", it blew the gates wide open in terms of the band's dynamic. A fast-paced, blood-pumping romp through righteous political and social anger ("Wanderlust", "Daughters") as well as the Kendal quartet's favoured old calling card of sex ("Mecca") and a spectral, philosophical and multi-faceted eye cast at life in the modern age, "Present Tense" was an album for the here and now in the truest sense. Although the sense of thematic identity isn't as strong as it was on previous releases, this is their most colourful, life-affirming album to date. 

2. Trap Them- Blissfucker

In terms of sheer nihilism there aren't a great deal of bands who walk in the same ball park as Trap Them. "Blissfucker", as it's title suggests, was the absolute epitome of the idea that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and that hope for mankind, on a social, cultural and sometimes personal level is an idea invented to blind people from seeing what the reality actually is. Unrelentingly bleak, pummelling, groovy and bone- shattering, "Blissfucker" is a rollercoaster ride through a black-hearted, blood-bubbling nemesis that reserves very little dignity for anything other than the dark message it portrays. In the epic "Savage Climbers" too, Trap Them have written one of their best songs to date. 

1. Swans- To Be Kind

When I wrote about the reformed Swans' 2012 masterpiece "The Seer" I said it was an album that was far too big for words. Just like that album, I find writing any kind of summary of "To Be Kind" excruciatingly hard without hitting and going over the 2,000 word mark. It's probably easiest to say that there has never and probably will never be a band as capable of creating the sound of entire universes exploding as well as Michael Gira's experimental veterans. "To Be Kind" seems to have a generally more positive root at its core than anything else Swans have produced. On the 34-minute centrepiece "Bring The Sun/ Toussaint L'ouverture", the glorious chants of "Suuuuuuuuun!" that consume the most thunderous build up you'll ever hear feel more like a celebratory paean to pagan Gods rather than a nihilistic sooth-sayer fortelling the doom of our time (see Trap Them). On majestic opener "Screen Shot" Gira's random, rambling two- word phrases all combine to create a sense of (whisper it) hope and life rather than negativity. One could probably interpret "To Be Kind" in some sort of Freudian reading, but more accurately, this is the sound of Gods judging men. This is the sound of the sun exploding, purely because it wants to. This is the sound of Yellowstone Park laughing as it lays Wyoming to waste. If you're of the persuasion that something that is catchy is by definition good, then "To Be Kind" is not exactly going to be pleasurable, but if you're a There Will Be Blood, heads-getting-smacked-against-walls and gazing across worlds kind of person, then there's not really any excuse to not indulge in this wonderful piece of art. 

The Riviera's Top 15 Albums of 2014

15. Taylor Swift- 1989
14. Caribou- Our Love
13. Run The Jewels- II
12. Busdriver- Perfect Hair
11. The Twilight Sad- Nobody Wants To Be Here & Nobody Wants To Leave
10. Every Time I Die- From Parts Unknown
9. FKA Twigs- LP1
8. Manic Street Preachers- Futurology
7. Behemoth- The Satanist
6. Comeback Kid- Die Knowing
5. Animals As Leaders- The Joy Of Motion
4. Mogwai- Rave Tapes
3. Wild Beasts- Present Tense
2. Trap Them- Blissfucker
1. Swans- To Be Kind

There you have it, then! Is there anything I missed? Anything that should be in there that isn't? Anything that is in there that shouldn't be? Please let me know if you're so inclined, and let me know of your favourite records of the year too. 

I'll be publishing a Top tracks of the year list tomorrow, as well as a couple of other pieces that I've got in the works and hope to get published within the next couple of weeks. Until then, thanks for reading and a very Merry Christmas to you all!