4   +   8   =  

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
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
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
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 
st-vincent-album cover
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
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
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 add