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2014 has been a diverse and divisive year for music, both for those making it and those listening to it. This year has seen Taylor Swift go from country queen to full-on pop princess, and U2 giving their album away to the fiery wrath of Bono-hating iTunes users, while Nicki Minaj introduced us to her Anaconda – and for that we’ll never be the same.

There were new releases from fan favourites Beck and Ed Sheeran, who proved that they’re still at the top of their respective games, while Paolo Nutini made a welcome return to the charts. Snapping at the more established artists’ heels were newcomers such as Catfish and the Bottlemen, who put their name on the map by winning big at the BBC Music Awards a few weeks ago.

Now that the year is almost over, check out the 13 albums that the Culturefly writers have selected as their favourite 2014 releases.

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
first-aid-kit-stay-goldFirst Aid Kit treated the world to their third album, Stay Gold, this summer. For fans of the duo the album is well and truly a treat. The lyrics are thoughtful, the instrumentation is charming yet bold enough when it needs to be, and the vocals are the best yet. Opener My Silver Lining is the show-stealer here but the entire album is packed with the Söderberg sisters’ unique brand of whimsical summery sounding country-folk. With sell out shows, gigs and festival appearances across Europe, North America and Downunder, it seems that things will be remaining golden for these two super Swedish sisters for some time to come. LS

Hozier – Hozier
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Like it or not, TV adverts can be credited for bringing unknown songs and artists to people’s attention. When I heard Hozier’s Take Me To Church on a commercial I instantly shazamed it, which led to me discovering the Irish singer’s Eden EP. Hozier’s self-titled debut album is an extension of Eden, and all 17 tracks on the deluxe version are divine. Songs like To Be Alone and Angel of Small Death & the Codeine Scene are soulful, bluesy and meant to be listened to in a smoky bar with a glass of whisky (that’s the vision they conjure anyway). Like Real People Do and Arsonist’s Lullabye are more introspective but just as alluring. Hozier’s voice is a little tortured but full of emotion, and his songs sound as if they come straight from his soul – not dissimilar to the more poppy Sam Smith, whose album was also a 2014 highlight. Hozier’s debut is up there with the best albums from not only this year, but also the last five years. This is real music from a true talent. NX

Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
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Lana Del Rey doesn’t simply sing songs, she tells stories. Each track is a moody, melancholic tale that simmers with atmosphere. Her hypnotic, gravelly voice is the perfect accompaniment, instilling her dark narratives with despondency and depth. As with Born To Die, Del Rey’s breakthrough record, Ultraviolence is an album packed with punchy ballads infused with intense, edgy lyrics. Consider it the best feel bad CD of 2014! JM

Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love
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Since his 2006 debut These Streets, Paolo Nutini has set about relinquishing himself of that painful Mother’s Day compilation album term ‘singer-songwriter’, maturing on his latest release, Caustic Love, into a bona fide soul god. With age and wisdom in his voice he betrays his youthful looks, cruising through noir R’n’B grooves on Let Me Down Easy and Fashion (featuring the equally exciting Janelle Monae) and ascending to epic soul rock on Cherry Blossom and the immense Iron Sky (a dead cert modern classic) in the record’s latter half. Not for decades has a British voice been so intense, soulful or commanding, nor has Nutini’s poetry and instrumental creativity ever been more affecting. “She’s my rock, she’s my bud, she’s tequila, she’s a trip” he sings on Caustic Love’s irresistibly upbeat opener; Nutini is addicted to rock ‘n’ roll, and I defy anyone to resist its charms by the end of this record’s duration. LR

St. Vincent – St. Vincent 
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A proud embracer of “the freaks and the others” of the world as proclaimed during her unrivalled live sets, Annie Clarke has spent years crusading through the endless realms of art-rock, finding herself here in a far more groovy and toe-tapping part of town than her previous work. She states her case with opener Rattlesnake, where amidst distorted synth sounds and disjointed drum beats she asks: “Am I the only one, in the only world?” Fortunately she isn’t, and the abstract satire of Digital Witnesses and garage-rock injections on Birth in Reverse and Bring Me Your Loves have amassed a great number of new fans (including yours truly). St. Vincent serves as a gateway to a back catalogue rich in subversive pop music. There are so many positives to take from Clarke’s success this year: here we have a spotless record that has rejuvenated rock music, and it’s come from a woman, an artist, an outsider, a freak, an other. LR

Taylor Swift – 1989
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2014 was Taylor Swift’s year. 1989, her latest album, sold 1,287 million copies in its first week alone, more than any album since 2002. The album was Swift’s first release since her official departure from country music and it was immediately a hit. The album might be classified as pop, but it has an inherently indie vibe, as interesting beats and edges underline and embellish her ever-relatable lyrics, which chronicle complicated relationships, the thrill of moving to a big city, betrayals by frenemies, and getting by in a world where “haters gonna hate”. It has been a year of reinvention for the singer and she wonderfully parodies her tabloid image as a man-eating, boyfriend collector in one of the best songs on 1989, the brilliantly disturbing Blank Space. The atmospheric Out of the Woods and number one single Shake it Off are two other highlights, showing just how many styles and genres 1989 encompasses. FS

One Direction – FOUR
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Second only to Taylor Swift’s 1989, this is one of the most standout pop albums to come out in recent years and will easily dismiss any claims that One Direction have nothing else to add to the music industry. As well as the fact that their voices have noticeably and impressively improved with every new release, FOUR marks an important passage in the boys contributing more and more to the writing process of their music – Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson being the most prominent, writing on almost every song, and Night Changes having efforts from each band member; this adds an unmissable earnestness to the album as a whole. FOUR is not an album to ignore. MK

Catfish & The Bottlemen – The Balcony
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I first heard Catfish and the Bottlemen on the radio during the summer, and then their album, The Balcony, came out and my love for them grew like wildfire with each play. I’ve seen them live twice this year and I have a London show on the horizon in 2015, which excites me because they’re a band that sound even better live. Each song and its different subject hold a special place in my heart; it’s not often I can say I adore each and every track on a similar level (and pretty much know all the lyrics to sing back at them). Lead singer Van’s history and song writing skills make him a loveable chap, especially in the way in which he engages with his fans through his lyrics and at his shows exclaiming, “you guys have got us here and we thank you for that”. Catfish and the Bottlemen are pure talent and I urge you to follow them on all the social platforms, as you’ll feel part of their journey to success. If you’ve not listened to their album do so now… 2015 is their year, and I thank them for being the main soundtrack of my 2014. NW

Lo-Fang – Blue Film
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If you’ve seen the Baz Lurhmann-directed, three minute-long Chanel No 5 advert that’s been dominating our television screens in prime time advertising slots since October, then you’ve heard Lo-Fang as the voice behind the slowed-down, bluesed-up version of You’re the One that I Want that accompanies it. I’ll admit that the advert directed me towards the singer, but the singer led me to an album that quickly became one of my favourites. Blue Film was released back in February and is a beautiful collection of pretty lyrics and melodic tunes. This is the kind of album that is unlikely to produce a stream of radio-friendly hits in the same way that Bastille’s Pompeii took over our radio waves, but it does provide a fantastic collection of chilled out, easy listening songs that takes full advantage of Lo-Fang’s classically-trained background and ear for a good tune. MD

Beck – Morning Phase
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After an agonising 6-year absence, genre-hopping slacker icon Beck returned with this album of gorgeously melancholic ballads that was more than worth the wait. Acting as an older, wiser companion piece to his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change, songs like Blue Moon and Wave positively ache with sorrow and regret. It’s hardly Beck’s most adventurous album but it’s easily one of his best. KB

Manic Street Preachers – Futurology 
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Perhaps the most unexpectedly triumphant album of the year, the Manics took a huge left turn from last year’s subdued Rewind the Film, releasing a record full of spikey krautrock, Eurocentric anthems and brazenly eccentric sing-alongs. It’s all refreshingly bonkers, especially the clanging, clattering centrepiece Europa Geht Durch Mich. KB

Royal Blood – Royal Blood
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My outstanding album of the year is Royal Blood’s self-titled debut. As the recipient of the BBC’s Sound of 2013, Royal Blood gained a lot of media attention for being a rock band in the mainstream music world. The hype is completely warranted though, as the band provides a young and refreshing approach to the often inactive rock genre. As well as this being my favourite album of the year, Royal Blood’s Little Monster serves as my favourite track of 2014, with its ambitious and confident sound. This album is mature, memorable, raw and intense; it’ll send a chill down your spine. Generating such a raucous sound is quite an achievement for such a young band, and this is just the beginning for the ambitious rock duo. CD

Kasabian – 48.13
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Kasabian’s 48.13 album was a particular highlight in music this year. Released in early June, it was the Leicester band’s fifth studio album and it saw them push the psychedelic rock genre to a whole new level. From the short and eerie opening track, Shiva, to the mellower final song on the album, S.P.S, there’s never any doubt about the quality of Kasabian’s music. The album’s influences range from Led Zepplin to Kanye West, and there’s a real sense of creativity and experimentation that shines through, ensuring that 48.13 has become a firm favourite with both fans and critics alike. It doesn’t sound like anything Kasabian have done before and, more importantly, it’s unlike anything else currently in the charts. CD

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