The Spend Matters Gift Guide: The Best Music of the Year (on Vinyl or CDs)

Wondering what presents to procure this holiday season? The Spend Matters Gift Guide offers suggestions on what to give your friends, family or your boss this year. Today's gift suggestion comes from Peter Smith, founder and executive editor of Spend Matters UK/Europe.

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I’m of a generation that loved vinyl records and grudgingly switched to CDs. Yes, I download, rip and burn now, but I still like something tangible, and when the digital world evaporates in some future unimaginable “invasion of the digital data snatchers” episode, I’ll still have my physical musical collection by my side! So why not buy CDs or even vinyl for the music fan in your life? (You will have to explain to anyone under 25 what the strange square box/sleeve is when they’ve opened the wrapping).

So here are a few of 2014’s highlights from this side of the Atlantic - and I’ve gone for slightly lesser known artists rather than our major exports such as Coldplay, U2 or the evil that is One Direction.

It’s been a great year for UK/Ireland male singer songwriters - George Ezra is only 21 but has an older-sounding, warm baritone and catchy tunes on “Wanted on Voyage” – no one could dislike this album. Hozier is a huge new talent from Ireland, hyped online but truly talented, sounding like Van Morrison at times with his soul-influenced songs on his excellent eponymous debut “Hozier;” and Ben Howard with “I Forget Where We Were” went a bit darker than his debut, using more electronics and sounding not unlike Bon Iver at times (as well as Nick Drake and John Martyn). It’s an album that repays multiple listening with its clever and complex songs (but still has some good tunes!).

If it’s rock you are after, or should I say rawwwccckkk, 2 young English new bands made successful, strong debut albums. Family Rain are three brothers from Bath and much of “Under The Volcano” is in a tuneful Kings of Leon blues-rock vein with touches of something more Zeppelin-like in its heavier moments. Catfish and the Bottlemen are more in the Oasis, Kasabian Britpop/rock mode, a lot of bad language and good old rock and roll attitude in their somewhat basic, raucous but very enjoyable songs on “The Balcony.”

Of course, that won’t impress the hipsters on your gift list. For them, we need something a little more unusual. FKA twigs, now hitting the gossip columns as the paramour of heartthrob Robert Pattison, is a sort of English Grimes with her hard-to-classify dance and R&B influenced songs, whispery vocals, pop hooks and general oddness. When it all comes together though on her debut, called “LP1,” it is thrilling. Alt-J’s second album “This Is All Yours” is ever weirder than the first, with madrigals, middle eastern influences, a pseudo southern rock number, yet it all works somehow. (The magical “Warm Foothills” from the album was perhaps the loveliest single track of the year for me. Sorry, give me a minute, something in my eye…). And Hookworms in “The Hum” make driving, psychedelic dance-rock music that might scare some of the more sensitive members of your family but is strangely compulsive.

And do follow Spend Matters UK/Europe in the days between Christmas and New Year, when we will be counting down our very own Top 30 Albums of the Year. I really don’t know what is going to be our No. 1 yet, but several of the albums above are in the running!

Check out our other gift suggestions below!

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