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Top 20 albums of 2014

20. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
19. Wen – Signals
18. BONES – Garbage
17. Alex G – DSU
16. Untold – Black Lights Spiral
15. Max Graef – Rivers of the Red Planet  
Dusty house beats rattle through the jazz-tinged topography of Graef’s Dilla-channelling debut. 
14. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
If Guided By Voices made hip-hop it would sound like this dense ensemble of off-kilter ramblings; cryptic, scattergun, otherworldly.  
13. Caribou – Our Love
Perhaps a play toward the mainstream (or at least the lucrative deep house festival circuit), but an air of off-kilter melancholy tinges even the poppiest hooks Dan Snaith has produced here.
12. Moodymann – Moodymann
Pulsating techno basslines underlay cut-up house vocals on this swaggering ramble through the streets of Detroit. 
11. Various artists – Bake Haus 2014
This compilation, curated by an Aberdeen clubnight, pushes the Boxed-codified instrumental grime genre into even more soulful and skittering territory. 
10. Fatima al Qadiri – Asiatisch
Asiatisch explores and satirises the repackaging of Asian culture for Western financial gain, without ever falling into the trap of becoming the thing it is parodying. Elevator music from a shopping multiplex in 2050s Taiwan. 
9. Zola Jesus – Taiga
Had Zola Jesus listened to a little less Throbbing Gristle in her youth, she could now be selling records on the level of Mariah Carey, Rihanna or Alicia Keys. Thankfully, she chose to steep herself in Swans, The Residents and Stockhausen instead. On Taiga, the latent pop star within her is swimming to the surface, through murky layers of brassy synths and industrial breakbeats.
8. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
How to write about death without being maudlin; how to sing about your mum without being clichéd. Benji is indie-folk guitar plucking by a white, middle-aged American man; yet it was also one of the year’s most innovative and relevant LPs. The bonus live CD is an essential addition, showcasing the spell-binding acoustic story-telling of Mark Kozelek. 
7. Lee Gamble – KOCH 
KOCH is only held together as a whole by the omnipresent post-Burial hiss. Continuously shapeshifting, KOCH could have been overly diffuse, but as you listen through then each moment follows on from the next, as Gamble pursues his own skittish beats into constantly expanding vistas of sound. This is electronica as deep in complexity as a spiralling Mandelbrot set. 
6. Claude Speeed – My skeleton
Like Benji, this is an album inspired by the death of a loved one; like Benji¸ it is uplifting, simply-crafted and shorn of mawkish sentiment. Claude Speeed’s synths, choirs and chimes are all the more majestic for their artificial calmness.
5. Actress – Ghettoville
Equally fixated on the modern metropolis as Moodymann, but for Actress then the party has ended and the factories have shut down. Rattles, clicks and hisses populate his quasi-techno LP. Grey music for grey cities.
4. The Bug – Angels and Devils
The beauty of The Bug’s vision is that there is grime in the beauty, but no beauty in the grime. On the Angels half of his split album, the characteristic dancehall menace of his production is always lurking just around the corner, as organs groan and basslines clatter. By contrast, the Devils tracks are uniformly hellish in their venom and aggression. The balance is off; there is nothing heavenly about Death Grips or Flowdan. It seems The Bug cannot program drums without instilling a sense of impending doom in the listener. Between these two cohorts of supernatural entities, we know where his sympathies lie.
3. Lawrence English – Wilderness of mirrors 
Gorgeous, apocalyptic drone. Like Brian Eno giving up on nature documentaries and airports to soundtrack the collapse of civilization.
2. East India Youth – Total strife forever
By turns shimmering and extravagant, Total strife was not just head and shoulders above the other Mercury nominees. It levitated several feet over them, gliding between baroque excesses whilst somewhere back on earth Kate Tempest mumbled shitty poetry to that guy from Bombay Bicycle Club with the hair. There is a justified braggadocio coursing through even the quieter, ambient tracks on the album, bursting into full-on peacocking through acid-house breakdowns, soaring synth stabs and triumphant vocal crescendos. 
1. Ricky Eat Acid – Three love songs
Many of these tracks are little more than sketches, yet Three love songs channels immense emotional heft through iridescent wisps of sound. This is ambient music, as the word is used in phrases like ‘ambient lighting’ and ‘ambient noise’; it is related to the artist’s immediate surroundings and environment. Titles like ‘In rural virginia; watching glowing lights crawl from the dark corners of the room’ contribute to a specificity absent from inferior efforts in the genre, which merely generate a vague sense of sadness or beauty. Each moment on the LP is crystallised from heartfelt experience, turning slowly in suspension and glistening in the dark. 

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