At some point in October, I started receiving emails from record labels and publicists about their Tips For 2015. A new year loomed, distantly, and with it the annual music business imperative to embrace a tranche of new artists. Around the same time, the 2014 Mercury Prize hoopla culminated with a victory for the Scottish hip hop act, Young Fathers, and their “Dead” album, one of seven debuts in the shortlist of 12.
It is hard not to conclude from all this that the British music business has abandoned the idea of sticking with artists for the long haul: not always the most expedient commercial approach, but one which had at least a little bit of traction before neurotic short-termism went into overdrive. The subtext, perhaps, is that the industry, the media and, both would presume, the general public, find artists who grow incrementally to be boring underachievers. If you don’t start with a major success, then you’re expendable. Soon enough, there’ll be another new year and another horde of contenders to fling optimistically in the direction of the BBC’s Sound Of 2015 poll; some, in fairness, I’ll be championing myself.
Today, though, the new issue of Uncut arrives in UK shops, and our Best Albums Of 2014 chart tells quite another story. Four hundred and one releases were nominated by our 42 voters. In the Top 75 albums, only seven were technically debuts, and three of those were by artists with considerable careers in other bands behind them. Plenty of the acts felt fresh and exciting (Sleaford Mods, for instance, or Future Islands), but had in fact discreetly worked at their art for a few years, just off the radar, cumulatively growing with every release.
Take Mark Kozelek, who came up with what may be his masterpiece, Benji, 22 years into a career mostly conducted on the margins. “I felt confident that Benji would be received poorly, that people would find it to be middle-aged ramblings about dead relatives,” Kozelek told me for this month’s issue, in his most in-depth interview in years. “But something about it resonated with people.”
Kozelek’s career – and those of Sharon Van Etten, The War On Drugs, St Vincent, Caribou, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Steve Gunn, Chris Forsyth and many other key players of 2014, to say nothing of Neil Young, our cover star – is an object lesson in how things can be done differently. This end-of-year Uncut special, we hope, is a testament to the enduring creative health of our corner of the music scene; a place where many inspiring albums are still being made, regardless of the Death Of Rock thinkpieces that will doubtless proliferate, as they do every year, in the next month or two.
As a further antidote to those, please have a look at our Best Of 2014 special and then send us your own end-of-year charts. What do you think we’ve underrated or overrated this year? And what have we missed? As ever, it’d be great to hear from you all: email@example.com.
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