Welcome to the Nouse Music Awards feature, in which our music team picks the best and worst of a memorable year in music. Taking you through 2014’s strongest albums, stupidest lyrics, most memorable live moments and most forgettable songs, it’s just about the most comprehensive round up of a musical 12 months you could hope for. So kick back and relive it all, from Arcade Fire’s momentous Glastonbury headline set, to Robin Thicke’s tragic redemption album and Kanye’s historic meltdown at Wireless Festival. First up is Ricky Jones with his favourite albums of 2014.
Best Album of the Year
- The Heartbreaks – “We May Yet Stand A Chance”
- Aphex Twin – “Syro”
- Banks – “Goddess”
- The Afghan Whigs – “Do To The Beast”
- Perfect Pussy – “Say Yes to Love”
The Heartbreaks – “We May Yet Stand A Chance”
2014 has been defined by strong, consistent album efforts, but few – if any – have felt like real classics. Banks and FKA Twigs are two strong independent female artists producing evocative, sensual R&B that points to exciting futures. The return of 90s heroes Aphex Twin and The Afghan Whigs has been greeted with much fanfare, and has seen them build on their legacies with finely produced albums that offer subtle updates sonically. Perfect Pussy created one of the most aggressive – and most vital – albums of the year. However, the unsung heroes of the year have to be The Heartbreaks. Four lads from the lackadaisical seaside town of Morecambe have only gone and produced the most riveting, cinematic record of the year.
Still owing much to their indie rock beginnings, the band has progressed from their 2012 debut to include a range of influences from the flamenco-influenced urgency of standout track ‘This Is Not Entertainment’, to the bluesy ‘Bittersweet’, and the string arrangement on ‘No! Parasan!’, which wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Enrico Morricone’s legendary spaghetti western soundtracks. Indie rock can often descend into generic derivatives, but The Heartbreaks are updating the genre with their boundary-pushing attitude like no one else. They may not be on everyone’s radar; standing out of any sort of crowd can do that to a band. They are incomparable to any artist in the UK music scene in the last 5 years, and for this they should be celebrated. Ricky Jones
Worst Album of the Year
- Coldplay – “Ghost Stories”
- Kasabian – “48:13”
- Jessie J – “Sweet Talker”
- Robin Thicke – “Paula”
- Lily Allen – “Sheezus”
Robin Thicke – “Paula”
The title of ‘Worst Album of the Year’ has been hotly contested. With many artists treating LPs like fancy packaging for a vaguely successful single, I’ve had an absolute ball rummaging through some of the trash that ended up on iTunes; I’m delighted to call out Paula by Robin Thicke for being the most embarrassing thing I’ve heard since The Cheeky Girls’ Greatest Hits album (Yes, that happened). You just don’t experiment with calypso when following up ‘Blurred Lines’. The album, essentially, is Robin’s desperate attempt to repair his marriage with the actress Paula Patton. Track 2, ‘Get Her Back’, could have been released on an EP, and this entire thing would have been far less embarrassing for poor Robin. Even when you ignore the tragic lyrical themes, the production of the album just seems sloppy. In my head I was imagining incredibly simple drum patterns and melodies that could have spiced this all up a bit, and we could have perhaps forgiven Robin, for Paula. Instead, it’s a confused, contrived mess. It sold less than 54 copies in its release week in Australia. Jack Elliott
Most Exciting New Artist of the Year
- Wolf Alice
- Becky Hill
- James Bay
- Jess Glynne
- Clean Bandit
2014 has seen arguably one of the best waves of new artists in an ever-changing music scene. North London alternative rock group Wolf Alice have mixed a multitude of genres to bring a unique and refreshing indie-pop sound back into the limelight. James Bay, notably known for opening for the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park, has captivated audiences with his folksy acoustic melodies; his nomination here owes much to his victory in the 2015 Critics’ Choice Award at the BRIT Awards. Talented 20-year old Becky Hill has had an extremely busy year with the release of her brand new EP, showcasing the beginnings of a 90’s inspired eclectic musical journey. Virtually unheard of before 2014, Cambridge bred Clean Bandit have shaken up charts everywhere in their wake. This electo-pop-house cross over group has in my opinion won ‘Most Exciting New Artist of the Year’ because of their flawless ability in mixing classical elements and dance to create a tantalising, historic debut with New Eyes. Victoria Chater-Lea
Worst Lyric of the Year
- Cheryl – ‘Waking up diagonal, like an animal.’
- Fall Out Boy – ‘We are like young volcanoes’.
- The Chainsmokers – ‘Okay, let’s go take some shots. Oh no, I feel like I’m going to throw up. Oh wait. Never mind. I’m fine.’
- Jason Derulo – ‘Been around the world, don’t speak the language, but your booty don’t need explaining’.
- Pharrell Williams – ‘Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof’.
Jason Derulo – ‘Been around the world, don’t speak the language, but your booty don’t need explaining’.
When Jason Derulo chose to take a half-heartedly misogynistic swagger across the semantic field of air travel, no one could have expected him to pioneer an international linguistic referencing system in the process. That’s the beauty of the ‘booty’, you see – it just doesn’t need explaining. No need to learn ‘where is the nearest hospital?’ in French. Not if you’ve mastered booty.
In all seriousness, this lyric is just about the dumbest thing anyone has ever said in a pop song, superseded only perhaps by the startling realisation Jason has in the second verse – ‘I’ve got lipstick stamps on my passport. I think I need a new one’. Hate it when that happens.
Congratulations then, Jason. It’s a feat of stupidity to write a lyric daft enough to beat Cheryl’s ‘Waking up diagonal, like an animal’, but, on balance of logic, I’d say her confused simile is a deserving runner up to your laughably bad communicative cock-up. Chris Owen
Best Record Label of the Year
- Young Turks
- Big Dada
4AD have offered new releases from Daughter, Iron and Wine and The National as well as a compilation of rare and previously unreleased Pixies material. Warp released Aphex Twin’s first record in 13 years, Syro, as well as Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! which featured one of the standout tracks of the year – ‘Never Catch Me (feat. Kendrick Lamar)’. Big Dada have also had a great year with two Mercury nominated albums including Kate Tempest’s Everybody Down and Young Fathers’ winning Dead.
The most pre-eminent label this year, however, must go to Young Turks. FKA Twig’s critically acclaimed debut, LP1 is haunting and orchestral. SBTRKT’s genre mixing sophomore, Wonder Where We Land, features Jessie Ware, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and A$AP Ferg – a fitting follow up to 2011’s self-titled debut. They have also released two stellar Jamie xx 12”s; All Under One Roof Raving and Girl/Sleep Sound. The ambivalent yet powerful vocals of Sampha are the highlight from the independent British label, featuring on SBTRKT’s album as well as releasing the stunning double A-side Too Much/Happens.
Young Turks have gained high praise this year, and in the direction they’re heading, they’re destined for much more. And to top off their year, they’ve won Nouse’s award for Best Record Label. What a great early Christmas present. Callum McCulloch
Worst Number 1 of the Year
- Meghan Trainor – “All About That Bass”
- 5 Seconds of Summer – “She Looks So Perfect”
- Will.I.Am – “It’s My Birthday
- Cheryl – “Crazy Stupid Love”
- Sam Smith – “Money On My Mind”
Cheryl – “Crazy Stupid Love”
I don’t really know what to make of Cheryl’s career any more. She can release anything and it will always perform reasonably well. ‘Crazy Stupid Love’, from her 4th studio album Only Human, is an incredibly generic Cheryl anthem. The percussion is adequately stompy, with some claps thrown in for good measure. She’s singing about love being a bit naff and there is even a cameo from Tinie Tempah, complete with his signature synths featuring tragically low in the mix. She has even thrown in some ‘na na nas’ and an ugly horn riff. So far, you’d think it had all the ingredients to a pretty good Number 1, but the truth is that it has all been delivered in such an underwhelming manner. There is no bassline, the song sounds fragile, and it seems to be constantly building up to some sort of big drop that just never arrives.
My verdict of ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ is this; it fails to stand out, it’s so incredibly average and I just can’t imagine it being played much on commercial radio stations next year. Jack Elliott
Best Live Musical Moment of the Year
- Mac Demarco arrested during a performance at UC Santa Barbara – 16th November
- Outkast’s reunion at Coachella – 11th April
- Foo Fighters close Invictus Games – 14th September
- Kanye West’s rant at Wireless Festival, London – 4th July
Kanye West’s rant at Wireless Festival, London – 4th July
Are there any controversial incidents in music that do not, in time, become timeless and iconic? Hitler salutes from David Bowie and actual deaths in Rolling Stones concerts have, rather than dented the popularity of these artists, only served to make them even more notorious, and have become defining aspects of their careers. That’s why, as I walked away from the stage at Wireless after Kanye West’s set, where he had sacrificed 20 minutes to go on a rant about pretty much everything that goes on in his mind, I couldn’t believe that I was hearing people complain about the fact that he didn’t perform ‘Gold Digger’.
Here is an artist whose contradictions, opinions and struggles as a celebrity have defined his groundbreaking and brilliant music, and yet, when he layed himself bare he was rejected by the majority of the crowd. In time, however, his willingness to speak out so passionately will make this moment one of the most unforgettable ones of his career: beyond his obsessive ranting about brands like Nike and Louis Vuitton, there is actually a genuinely positive message. “Don’t let nobody tell you what you can do”, he sings – maybe he focuses his rants on himself too much, but I for one am glad I heard him sing that live rather than perform Gold Digger, and in time everyone else will be too. Christoph Macdowall
Most Overplayed Song of the Year
- Pharrell – “Happy”
- Magic! – “Rude”
- Pitbull feat. Kesha – “Timber”
- 5 Seconds of Summer – “She Looks So Perfect”
- Meghan Trainor – “All About That Bass”
Magic! – “Rude”
Every year the music industry churns out a ton of music, and every year a set of songs is adopted by media outlets and played so much that even those which were once good eventually produce only feelings of distress and helplessness in the listener. There is no way of escaping this annual eardrum contamination (besides becoming a hermit), and this year, the worst of these was ‘Rude’ by Canadian newcomers, Magic!. The song tells the woeful tale of a young man locked in argument with his girlfriend’s father (George Clooney, anyone?) who refuses to give his blessing on their marriage. The video portrays this issue in a style that can only be compared to pantomime, combined with weird camera angles and some odd dancing. Unfortunately, when lead singer, Nasri, rocks up in a beanie to his own wedding, you can’t help feeling that George Clooney was right.
The reggae inflections create a chilled summery vibe, but this doesn’t cover up the fact that this song is intensely annoying, both lyrically and musically. Its huge international success is a mystery. Hatti Linnell
Best Soundtrack of the Year
- Tyler Bates & Various Artists – “Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix”
- Priscilla Ahn – “Just Know that I Love You” for When Marnie Was There
- Various Artists – “Magic In the Moonlight (Music from the Motion Picture)”
- Johann Johansson – “The Theory of Everything (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)”
Priscilla Ahn – “Just Know that I Love You” for When Marnie Was There
Look, I’m no hipster. My tastes may intersect with that of such a classification, but any self-respecting hipster will disdain the enthusiasm with which I enjoy things. And while there has been many a soundtrack with carefully chosen compilations, I must admit that lately I’ve been a sucker for brilliant original soundtracks all by one artist.
After the discovery of Alex Turner’s solo soundtrack for Submarine (Yes, I have just found out about it. Yes, I have been living under a rock.), my hipster-scorned passionate love for Priscilla Ahn was reignited upon the release of an entirely original soundtrack, Just Know that I Love You, for Studio Ghibli’s last film before their hiatus, When Marnie Was There.
If repetitive lyrics are one of the greatest sins of pop, then Priscilla Ahn is our lord and saviour. Her ethereal voice paired with her beautiful lyrics – practically stories unto themselves – are the perfect accompaniment to the slightly strange but compelling film.
A mixture of both Ahn’s more familiar plaintive songs like ‘Fine on the Outside’ and ‘I See You’, and her quirky rhythmical melodies like ‘This Old House’, Just Know that I Love You is a wonderful introduction to her interesting, varied musical storytelling. Deborah Lam
Best Headline Performance of the Year
- Arcade Fire – Glastonbury Festival
- Foals – Parklife Weekender
- Arctic Monkeys – Reading and Leeds Festival
- The Black Keys – Latitude Festival
- Kasabian – Glastonbury Festival
Arcade Fire – Glastonbury Festival
The truest headline performance of the year, Arcade Fire’s opening night of Glastonbury 2014 will likely be seen as a landmark moment for both the band and the festival in years to come. The Canadian rockers are a band of reinvention and preservation – with each album, they embrace new sounds, styles and ambitions whilst keeping constant their themes, ideals and commitment to writing exceptional music. Never was this truer than during their Glastonbury slot. A career spanning set, coupled with the Haitian festival/mirror minimalism styling of their Reflektor tour, made for one of the most energetic, accessible and iconic headline shows in recent memory. It should – and probably will – go down in Glastonbury history as the point at which a cohesion of music, art and theatre became not only a welcome but standard-setting mode of headline show. Chris Owen