It's been a great year for music, and here's my selection of the best of it. I've chosen one 'if you only listen to one...' track for each album, which I think is the best/one you might not have heard of. Feel free to praise or abuse as you want.
1. Arctic Monkeys - AM
The Sheffield lads returned from the (relatively) mixed success of Suck It And See with this belter - a collection of after-hour tales, described with Alex Turner's ever-sharp eye for human interaction. Musically, it blends blends bluesy Black Keys-rock with touches of West Coast hip-hop like Dr Dre, who Turner and co. have professed love for. That the Arctics have developed such an American sound having once sung Fake Tales of San Francisco ("He talks of San Francisco, he's from Hunter's Bar/I don't quite know the distance, but I'm sure that's far") shows the distance the band have come. Not that their first albums were bad - they're still brilliant - but would people really buy that they were often not getting into clubs and getting rejected by girls? No, is the answer - and they deserve much credit for realising and moving on. Do I Wanna Know.
2. Lorde - Pure Heroine
With pop this year increasingly anodyne and, in many aspects, seemingly only serving to anger feminists and Mumsnet, Lorde named her debut album very aptly. For this is what pop should be; intelligent, seductive (but definitely not in a Miley Cyrus/Rihanna way), and challenging; especially amazing given Ella Yelich-O'Connor made this on a break from school (she was still 16 when this was released in late September). Her smoky, soulful voice - not completely dissimilar from that other recent pop innovator, Lana Del Rey - is layered into clever harmonies over hand claps and xx-esque minimalist electronic beats and drums. It's at once a very distinct sound and one which wraps her myriad influences. There's not many young teens already with the good taste to devour Fleetwood Mac, James Blake, Yeasayer and Etta James and high-brow literature. And lyrically it's just as good; a kind of cri de coeur against vapid celebrity from a girl who is obviously both fascinated and repelled by it, and a celebration of suburban outsider adolescence as adolescence, rather than "adult"-lescence (she's from suburban Auckland). Ironically, this comes across as far more grown-up. To wit, she says: " I'm obsessed with really high-profile celebrities who get really fucked up" but, on Royals, sings "But every song's like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin' in the bathroom/Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room/We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams." Miley, Britney, Katy - sit down, you just got schooled. Tennis Court
3. Foals - Holy Fire
Foals have managed their ever-difficult trick; moving from widespread critic - and hipster - acclaim to chart success and playing stadiums without, it seems, losing many initial fans. Holy Fire is perhaps their best yet - like Total Life Forever, taking the Oxford band away from the "math rock" of Antidotes - impressive but obtuse - into lush indie rock, keeping their intricate guitar work but adding melodies and lyrics one can actually understand. Great album for running to by the way, especially on a summer scene (kind of) like the album's front cover. And some goodvideos. Out Of The Woods.
4. Jai Paul - Jai Paul
...And the Foals are responsible for another selection in this list - I only heard this late, through Yannis Phillipakis' recommendation. Turns out this Londoner has been knocking about mysteriously underground, like a musical Bansky as one blog put it, since a cult classic demo called BTSTU in 2007. I can understand how he slipped under the radar (or mine, rather), because this doesn't at all fit any convenient musical boxes. But he should be bigger because this is brilliantly bonkers; Bollywood sounds filtered through upbeat electro and Prince-esque funk and falsetto vocals (that's a big compliment - I fucking love old school Prince). I actually realised after writing much of this, and listening to it only recently on Youtube [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=me9RtPju_ys ], that it was not released properly, only leaked. Sounds like he's suffered for quite a while in the musical wilderness. But things are pointing up with a nod in BBC's sound of 2014 poll. Let's help him get out. Str8 Outta Mumbai.
5. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
The coolest musicians this year were, in fact, robots. Masterfully playing on pop music's current insatiable appetite, the French duo teased the world with three 15-second trailers, and from there after it was digital love around the world (I'll get my coat...). Get Lucky was not only the year's third biggest selling single but seemed to infiltrate everyday life, like the way great (or just sexually explicit) pop does. And rightly so, as Get Lucky is the pinnacle of an album which, with the charts increasingly an amorphous blob of pop/R&B/EDM, mines the sometimes overlooked or much-mocked depths of soul, disco, house, Chic and Jean Michel Jarre - and then takes it out of this world. Figuratively speaking on curtain closer Contact, which begins with the audio of commander of the Apollo 17 moon mission in 1972 set to some tinny background keyboard, then builds, like a rocket ship taking off, into an epic crescendo of percussion, spacey synths and something which sounds like dial-up internet gradually exploding - but in a good way. There is some filler here, but it works brilliantly as an album and - not that there are no others - it's great to have a dance/pop album breaking new horizons. Literally. Contact.