Presenters’ Picks – 2014

Phoenix FM presenters choose their favourite singles and albums of the year …

Alan Johnson

Album: Sia – 1000 Forms Of Fear

The first release in a few years by the artist who famously shuns being famous, the melodies of some of the tracks are akin to those of the chart toppers she’s written for the likes of Rihanna but the lyrics generally go deeper, reflecting a troubled soul. Vocally she brings to mind both Stevie Nicks and Nelly Furtado – not a bad thing on either count.

Track: Wretch 32 – 6 Words

I normally like to choose tracks released early enough to have had the chance to stand the test of at least a few months, but the smooth sound of 6 Words with its nod towards drum ‘n’ bass is going around my head a lot as the year draws to its close – in a pleasant way.

Alex Hoggett

Album: Catfish And The Bottlemen – The Balcony

Not just because it’s a brilliant album, but because it shows how if you stick with it, you can make it to the big time! Seeing as they were formed in 2007, and only made it past their local circuit in 2013 after signing to Communion records, I think it’s to be applauded. The Balcony, their debut album is 11 tracks of indie rock, reminiscent of the 2005 indie scene, a bit of nostalgia for those who were into that! Highs and lows throughout, but ultimately a great album for the summer!

Track: Turbowolf – Solid Gold

A band I have had the pleasure of seeing live twice now, and both times they have put on a great show! Solid Gold was the first of two singles they released this year and shows what this band can do – a great build up, into a fantastic rock song. I would highly recommend this band, and can’t wait till the second album “Two Hands” comes out next April!

Ben Knight

Album: Glass Animals – Zaba

This Oxford-based band were picked up by super-producer Paul Epworth and subsequently signed to his label Wolf Tone Records. I first saw them supporting Yeasayer, so that immediately earns them hero status. The LP is best described as a clever pop record, with the intricacy and attention to detail key to what makes this album so enjoyable. Enjoyed best as a complete piece, it still features popular radio friendly singles, with Gooey given the remix treatment on several occasions.

Track: The 2 Bears – Not This Time

Joe Goddard and Raf Rundell conjured up a beautifully constructed pop song that conveys a great deal of emotion. Taken from their latest album ‘The Night Is Young’, the duo manage to shake the feeling that they are only capable of making blandish house music. The vocals are as honest and real as it gets, with their performance at Bestival increasing my love for them even more.

Brad Acton

Album: Broken Bells – After The Disco

Driven by production genius Dangermouse whose collection of works have caressed your eardrums more than any of you know, being the creative genius behind the likes of Gorillaz and Gnarlz Barkley to name but two. This album solidifies Broken Bells’ juggernaut trajectory into the realms of the unknown escalating with it the highlights of the last one hundred years in music. It’s a nod to everything you’ve ever heard and everything you ever need to know and I love it dearly.

Track: Jungle – The Heat

Taken from the self-titled album, which in my opinion is a haunting collection of music undefinitive in time and genre. “The Heat” makes for an eclectic delve into a whole other way of thinking and has given me no end of ear love. It sits on top as an invite to the deep-echoed world of the album and I can’t recommend it enough.

Brian Ager

Album: Hard Working Americans – Hard Working Americans

Album of the year? Well, I struggled long and hard over this one – to me 2014 has been a classic year for new music. Albums by Jim Suhler, Chuck Prophet, Robert Plant, two from Ian Siegal, John Mellencamp, Rosco Levee & The Southern Slide – the list went on and on. I finally decided on the Hard Working Americans. Formed as a side project by Todd Snider and other luminaries from the “Americana” circuit, it’s an album of cover versions of great American songs from the recent past. Anyone who knows anything about Todd Snider knows he’s a fabulous, albeit shambolic artist, but this album brings tremendous musicianship and he really ups his game.

Track: The Old 97s – Longer Than You’ve Been Alive

It’s a semi biographic account of the life of a band member – in this case, Rhett Miller. Building slowly with an acoustic guitar, by the end the full band kicks in to a raucous telling of the ups and downs of being on the road in a working band. I’ve just realised that Elbow released a single from The Takeoff & Landing Of Everything, which was New York Morning. Typical Elbow, and have played it on my show a couple of times.

Chay Appleyard

Album: Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love

I absolutely love Mongol Horde’s album but it is not exactly family friendl so I’ve decidedto go for something a bit more welcoming. Elbow’s album was great but by going on personal feelings then there is no contest. After five years of silence, Paolo returned with a bang and flexed his musical muscle by incorporating soul and R&B to his ever expanding sound. It’s cohesive, got great songs and although I have a quick rotation system in regards to music in my car, I kept this in there for a solid six months. Truly brilliant.

Track: Clean Bandit – Rather Be

I struggled immensely with this. If I was to be loyal to my tastes I probably would go for the latest Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ single. However, after much deliberation I will have to go with a song which had stuck in my head from the majority of this year. As most singles this year to have been fragmented amongst each other in my humble opinion, Rather Be by Clean Bandit has kept itself above most of the chasing pack.

Chris Hood

Album: Paolo Morena – The Mighty Small

In a year in which I was filling obvious holes in my back catalogue, the album that I went out of my way to buy was this one. The debut solo album from a man who has done so much in his musical career features tracks with more layers than a tiramisu and twice as tasty. No padding, just brilliant track after brilliant track, I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

Track: Lordi – Nailed By The Hammer Of Frankenstein

No doubt in my mind, an amazing track from the greatest band ever to grace Eurovision. We were teased the track and when it dropped it blew my mind. From the guitar riff and synth at the beginning right to the chorus, this is just awesome, unashamed heavy metal heaven.

Chris Siviter

Album: Talons – New Topographics

Some truly great albums were released this year and it was hard just to pick one but Talons’ latest came top of the pile. A six-piece post-rock band from Hereford created a piece of work which is at points thrilling, exhilarating and also full of beauty. Oh and it’s also very noisy too in places, and that’s never a bad thing! An album I can literally finish and then just want to jump back in and listen to again.

Track: The War On Drugs – Red Eyes

From their magnificent Lost In The Dream album. A track that mixes the best bits of 80s stadium rock and adds a dreamy haze to create something that you just fall in love with from the first time you hear it.

Chris Stagg

Album: Slipknot – .5: The Grey Chapter

Their last studio album was 2008’s All Hope is Gone. That album was fine and had some good tracks, far removed from the heaviness of early Slipknot but to be expected with time. But in the six years since then, a lot has happened to the band. The death of Paul Gray (note the album title of this one) had a huge impact on them especially to Corey Taylor. Joey Jordison quitting/being fired (still not clarified!) And the complex situation of Jim Root fired from Stone Sour (Corey’s other band) but still in Slipknot meant a lot of people felt this album was likely to be not very good in the face of a few years of great difficulty. But thankfully this album exploded with the passion of their early days and the maturity and musicianship that they have crafted in the years since. One of the best Slipknot albums and I love it.

Track: Paloma Faith – Only Love Can Hurt Like This

My single of the year is from completely the opposite end of the spectrum. When I heard this I thought it was a brilliant track and it was one of those songs that really stuck in my head. I thought it was good but there was obviously plenty of computerised clean up going on when she hits the higher octave on the 2nd run of the chorus – it sounds very digital. Still I thought it was nice enough. But then I head Paloma sing this live and have since heard several different live recordings and performances and I am absolutely blown away by the range and control of her voice, and she demonstrates both to their best in this track.

Chris Sullivan

Album: Sun Kil Moon – Benji

My album of the year has to be this astonishing LP from Sun Kil Moon. Singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek hits a peak with his measured just faster than spoken word delivery and mesmerising lyrics which give us a self commentary and honest retrospect of what his life is, recalling past and current events, ranging from the important to the obscure, but always relevant. Laid over classic blues/folk acoustic riffs with accompaniment from bass and drums, it adds an edge to the sound giving it a rickety feel which only amplifies the personal tone of the album. Simply a must listen.

Track: Kendrick Lamar – i

Amazing track from the American rapper, comes at you fast and funky with a sound that would be at home on a 70s cop show, Kendricks lyrics and flow are just as rhythmic and cool as the instrumentation. Strong single.

Gary Casserley

Album: Paloma Faith – A Perfect Contradiction

She is a little bit like Marmite – you either love her or hate her. Now I detest Marmite but I do like Paloma Faith’s voice. A fairly easy going album which bounces along quite nicely and includes the single “Only Love Can Hurt Like This”.

Track: Aloe Blacc – The Man

Taken from his third album Lift Your Spirit, The Man “borrows” its chorus from Elton John’s ‘Your Song’. A great pop tune from early 2014.

James Moloney

Album: Primitives – Spin-O-Rama

There is a possibility that I might have given this to any Various Artists album which came out in the year – my library is full of them! However I had heard Paolo Nutini sing “Someone Like You” from the album “Caustic Love” and explored the album which, had it not been for my favourite would probably have pointed to my Album of the Year. That was until, listening to Brentwood’s Only Alternative on Phoenix FM while driving to gym one Thursday night, I heard The Primitives sing Petals from the album Spin-O-Rama. Initially I thought this sounds a little eighties, a little Blondie but it is this year and I love it.

Track: Clean Bandit – Rather Be

Like my album of the year I think music should make you feel good but not in an infantile way. So out is the Hokey Cokey stuff of boy bands, not sure of Olly Murs (but I like his latest stuff) but my biggest like of this year is Clean Bandit and Rather Be if only for just not being London Grammar but interesting and exciting!

James Phillips

Album: Damien Jurado – Brothers And Sisters Of The Eternal Sun

Tis is his thirteenth studio album with long time collaborator Richard Swift. I think the album says a lot about where music is at right now; self produced, released on Strictly Canadian and just really sounds like he has found his feet as an artist.

Track: Little Dragon – Klapp Klapp

Just a great chaotic pop tune!

Joe Box

Album: Jungle – Jungle

I usually don’t have time for self titled albums because it’s a bit lazy isn’t it? However, I’m happy to make an exception in this instance because it’s such a brilliant album. The thing about Jungle is when I listen to them I feel 100 times cooler than I actually am, and being an awkward, lanky teenager I need all the help I can get. Stand out tracks are The Heat, Busy Earnin and Julia. ALSO IT SHOULD HAVE WON THE MERCURY ESPECIALLY AFTER I DID A WHOLE FEATURE ON IT WHICH NOW SEEMS A SLIGHT WASTE OF TIME.

Track: Meridian Dan – German Whip

A stand out moment this year was going to watch Tinie Tempah at the O2. It got even better when Tinie invited Meridian Dan on stage to perform “German Whip” and hardly anyone around me knew the lyrics, so they all just stared at me rapping along. We then sung the song on the train journey home and annoyed the whole carriage. For a grime record to chart at number 13 was a great moment in 2014 and I can’t wait to hear the debut album from Meridian Dan.

Kavus Torabi

Album: Stars In Battledress – In Droplet

Track: Stars In Battledress – Fluent English

Stars In Battledress are one of the most beautiful gems hidden away in British music. A duet performing exquisite, spectral songs. This long-awaited album and subsequent track are an otherworldly treat.

Matt Hines

Album: Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

As a dyed-in-the-wool Oasis fan, choosing this album wasn’t easy! This album is deep. It’s soulful, introspective and beautiful. It’s Alban’s best release without Blur.

Track: Ryan Adams – Gimme Something Good

Alt-country troubadour Ryan Adams came back with his 2014 album “Ryan Admas” – a slice of American radio gold. Gimme Something Good evokes memories of Springsteen. It’s great. Check it out.

Michelle Ward

Album: Pink Floyd – The Endless River

Beautiful, chilled, sweeping guitars – 18 tracks of music brilliance.

Track: Sam Smith – I’m Not The Only One

Not really been into this vocalist before that but it’s a brilliantly written song. I love the intro which reminds me of old style American blues. The lyrics are simple but effective. The choir build up the chorus at the end. It’s a very sad song. Only one thing spoils it for me is the bridge – not keen. Other than that, it’s my song of the year – his voice is superb.

Mike Jones

Album: Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were

As a Pink Floyd devotee it would be easy to select the new and last offering from the famous four but, good as it is, I have been blown away by the latest album from Ben Howard. Achingly good tunes and basslines to give a thunderstorm a run for its money.

Track: Madden Bros – We Are Done

Underplayed and deserved better charting.

Mike Porter

Album: Maximo Park – Too Much Information

I took a fancy to this right from the start when Phoenix FM started playing it.

Track: Maximo Park – Give, Get, Take

I love the retro feel of this track.

Nick Field

Album: Nick and the Sun Machine – Wide Lying Smiles

I was blown away by these guys when I saw them at a festival last year, and their debut album didn’t disappoint. A great mix of indie and psychadelia, with Nick Stephenson’s surprising vocal range matched well with his bandmates’ harmonies. A band who aren’t afraid to experiment with their sound, while never losing track of a good singalong.

Track: Sondre Lerche – Bad Law

Where a lot of pop music this year was polished until it glistened, and was all the more dull for it, Norway’s Sondre Lerche gave us something rough round the edges, with out-of-control instruments coupled with singalong choruses – a thrilling ride of a track. Proof that pop can still be experimental and unpredictable while never losing its sense of fun.

Nikki Mills

Album: Pixie Lott – Platinum Pixie

Platinum Pixie includes many of my favourite songs by Pixie Lott. There is a great choice of songs on the album including “Nasty”, her first single of her 3rd album also released this year, “Broken Arrow”, the single I was promoting when I had the privilege to meet her for the first time, “Coming Home” which is a collaboration with another artists I love Jason Derulo and Pixie’s beautiful rendition of my favourite song by Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody”. I’m glad this album has come out just in time to use it as my presenter pick as it showcases all the hits Pixie has produced since her first album Turn It Up in 2009.

Track: Sigma ft Paloma Faith – Changing

I know I say this every year but it was so hard to pick my favourite single! I even had to play 47 songs over two of my shows to help me choose, but I finally decided on Changing as it means a lot to me at this moment in time. Even though it was released in September (and reached number 1!) it is very current as it is still often played. The lyrics, although short and repetitive, are powerful and I love the music and beat which accompany them because it is very clubby and dancey! This helped the song to stand out above my other options.

Patrick Sherring

Album: Dolly Parton – Blue Smoke

Dolly Parton blew everyone away with the enthusiasm of her Glastonbury performance. Her Blue Smoke album, with its mixture of new tracks like Try (now being used in a Christmas advert) and classics like Jolene makes it a winner. How can you not like Dolly? She is a great songwriter and a truly unique performer.

Track: Gregory Porter – The “In” Crowd

This track is a great combination – Gregory Porter has a classic jazz voice. On this track he takes a classic 60s pop song and gives it a contemporary jazz feel. The result is timeless.

Paul Golder

Album: Kaiser Chiefs – Education, Education, Education and War

I’ve always been a big fan of the Kaisers, especially since they now follow the mantra of “What Would Blur Do?” much more closely than Damon Albarn given their respective releases. This was a solid album with no real weak points which went on rotation over and over again in the spring and summer. Not even the drag factor of appearing on a rubbish reality TV singing competition show could stop be making this number one, although my cooler, hipper self would have voted for Superfood’s Don’t Say That, which this narrowly beat into second place.

Track: Pop Will Eat Itself – Reclaim The Game (Funk FIFA)

People often ask where all the protest singers have gone and although there aren’t many around, some of the oldies are still doing a great job. This has to be the best World Cup song in this year or any year, with its anti-FIFA anti-corruption message and a proper 90s indie/dance vibe to boot.

Rob Harvey

Album: Berlyn Trilogy – A Perfect Stranger

A three piece from Wakefield who have that big sound set amidst a dark film noir. Their debut album swirls around a dark set of tales with the human heart at its core. The track from the album “Can The Heart Be saved” would be my single of the year, alas I love others equally. Think David lynch films, with Eno, Bowie, Ultravox and you may have an idea of the feel of the album.

Track: Actors – Like U Want 2

As always a very hard choice and one that changes every time I think about it. However, I discovered this band from Vancouver in Canada, and being a fan of Editors, White Lines and Interpol, I found these guys to be for me, the fourth horsemen in this four band apocalypse of epic drama and soaring melodie s- which is what I like in a guitar band with decent synths. The single “Like U Want 2” holds that new wave punk feel I miss from late 1970 bands, it’s a gem and delivers for me a pogoing audio punch.

Scott Ross

Album: Pink Floyd – The Endless River

I really came unstuck here as not having much of an idea of what albums were out I took a stab at the Pink Floyd album because of the recent interview but when I heard the album in truth I hated it so what can I say. Let’s just say it was haunting!

Track: Amelia Lily – California

There were so many singles that I thoroughly enjoyed this year but as I had to pick one I chose the Amelia Lily track because I liked it. A great daytime radio track with a driving beat – a great summer-sounding song.

Steph Cawthorne

Album: Ed Sheeran – X

Ed Sheeran has really pushed his talents to the next level this year. As well as being beautifully and meticulously produced, lyrically his songs are pure genius.

Track: Hozier – Take Me To Church

Hozier has burst onto the music scene with grace and power. This song has so much meaning and emotion behind it, and regardless of your opinion on its themes portrayed in the music video, it has a purity that means so much to so many people.

Steve Davis

Album: Knifeworld – The Unravelling

Not only is Kavus Torabi a Phoenix FM presenter, he’s also a brilliant musician and, with this latest release, a superb writer.

Track: Knifeworld – This Empty Was Once Alive

From the same album, it’s a heart wrenched as Kavus pours out his soul as a dedication to his good friend Tim Smith from the Cardiacs.

Steve Robertson

Album: Spoon – They Want My Soul

You know exactly what you’re going to get from a Spoon album and this year’s offering from the American band has not disappointed, with a few of the tracks making the Phoenix A-List.

Track: Superfood – Right On Satellite

I probably like this single so much because it’s a “fun” track that reminds me a lot of the sort of music that was coming out of the UK in the 90s. Possibly part of what has arguably been a small Britpop resurgence this year, this band from Birmingham have released a good, poppy single that has influences from 20 years ago with a modern twist.

Tony Smith

Album: Ariana Grande – My Everything

Tough one again this year with so many great albums released, but if I had to choose, it would go to a young lady by the name of Ariana Grande. Ariana is from America and began her career in the Broadway musical “13” before landing the role of Cat Valentine on the Nickelodeon television series “Victorious” in 2009. After the show ended, she rose to prominence as a teen idol on her own spinoff, Sam & Cat. She released her debut studio album, “Yours Truly” in 2013, which debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200. The album’s lead single, “The Way”, became a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with critics comparing her wide vocal range to Mariah Carey. Her second studio album, My Everything, also reached number one in the United States, and contained the hit singles “Problem” and “Break Free”. These songs and “Bang Bang” have spent 26 straight weeks in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100. Ariana has also featured on many other artist hits this year, with 2015 sure to see her propelled into superstardom.

Track: Ella Eyre – If I Go

So many to chose from this year, so for me probably it had to be Ella Eyre, probably not the best single when pitted against the whole year’s charts, but certainly a fantastic start to the year for this young lady. Her track “If I Go” was released on 1 January 2014, and since then she has gone on to have a fantastic year. She recently played at the Kensington Roof Gardens, a popular London live music venue, and was supported by 3, yes 3 of my Sunday Lunch show guests! It all started in December 2012, when Eyre featured on Bastille’s cover and mash up of TLC’S “No Scrubs” and The XX’s “Angels” Titled “No Angels”, the song featured on the band’s 2012 mixtape, Other People’s Heartache, Pt. 2. In April 2013, she featured on Rudimental`s single “Waiting All Night”. The single was released on 14 April 2013 and peaked at number one on the UK Singles Chart, making it her first number one single in the United Kingdom. In August 2013 she appeared alongside Wiz Khafia on the track `Think about It` from Naughty Boy’s 2013 album Hotel Cabana. The song was released as the fourth single from the album on 17 November 2013. Eyre also features on Tinie Tempah`s album Demonstration on the track “Someday (Place in the Sun)”, which entered the UK Singles Chart at number 87 but was never released as a single. Eyre co-wrote “Changing” for Sigma featuring Paloma Faith. The song was released in the UK on 14 September 2014. Her other notable songs are debut single “If I Go” and “Comeback”. In October 2014, Ella Eyre won Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014. And to top the year It has been announced that Eyre will be supporting Olly Murs on his 2015 arena tour.

Tracy Morter

Album: Sharon van Etten – Are We There

Are We There opens aptly with Afraid of Nothing because this is a very brave, honest and raw album. The words of a wounded soul for all of us to hear so beautifully.

Track: Maximo Park – Leave This Island

Paul Smith has an amazing way of painting a picture in your mind with his words. Leave This Island is like a perfectly directed story in my mind. I see that map on the bedside table, I can see the water swell from a Scottish hotel and I feel his conflicting emotional submission and anticipation of what is coming.


Album: Roy Davis Jr – Destroy And Rebuild

Big fan and friend of Phoenix FM, legendary DJ/producer Roy Davis Jr released this album in April on Mile End Records. Best described as Soul Electrica (soul music mixed with electronics- a hybrid of garage, house, disco, R&B, soul and hip hop) which infiltrates the beats on “Destroy and Rebuild”. From the classic vibe track like “Slide” featuring legendary vocalist Robert Owens to J Noize rapping on hip-houser “Bang Bang” and not forgetting the sublime vocals of Terry Dexter on “Hands of Love”. Roy Davis Jr’s style and sound on this album has changed – going back to his spiritual roots by expanding his soulful side and combining the deeper funk sound of Chicago.

Track: Caribou – Can’t Do Without You

After a four year silence Caribou announced his new album “Our Love” and the track taken from it “Can’t Do Without You” was on repeat for weeks. The original is a soulful dance bliss with psychedelic atmospherics and incredible on it’s own right but the remix and retouches by German duo Tale of Us and Mano Le Tough became my ultimate dance track of the year (a VERY close call with Tenwalls “Walking with Elephants”). The track is divided into two parts; the first half of the track has Snaith’s vocal central to the build up then fades mid-track. The second half returns together with a very thick and intense baseline.

Xanthe Bearman

Album: Billy Idol – Kings And Queens Of The Underground

Ah, my 80’s hero! Billy Idol is now 58 and hasn’t had a new album out since 2005. I think this one was worth the wait. There are more ballads than you might expect, but fans of “Rebel Yell” will love “Postcards From the Past”. “Can’t Break Me Down” is more of a pop tune with a punky feel, and there are still the ‘guitar heavy’ rock anthems fans love Idol for – “Whiskey and Pills” is probably my fave! Great to have the old fella back!

Track: Paolo Nutini – Scream (Funk My Life Up)

I just love Paolo Nutini’s voice and especially love the lyrics on this single. I’d call this a pop tune with its catchy chorus, but it has more gravity than your average tune with the guitar riffs, loud horns and varying of pace. It’s one of those that I always turn up loud when I hear it on the radio.

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