Ah, the sweet frosty month-long hangover that is January. We're all piss-poor, reeling from familial ruptures over the festive period and have been on the verge of painting the pavement a splendid melange of browns and yellows since New Year's Day. Blue Monday might just be a myth, but January's typically a rough time mentally and physically on us all, especially if we like to spend money on things like social occasions, treats and food. Not usually a prime time for music releases, January 2014 is bucking that trend – James Vincent McMorrow, I Break Horses and especially East India Youth are all seeing to that.

January 2013 (seems like only yesterday, doesn't it?) offered us some disappointment. The long awaiting solo debut from A$AP Rocky fell flat due to much chest-puffing and greasy pomp; Foxygen's nostalgia-fest buzzed limply and Ra Ra Riot threw an unappreciated curveball. The standout best LP from this time last year was the alt-pop jamboree from Everything Everything, entitled Arc. They graduated from the skewed, alienating falsetto and jerky axes into a sleek indie panther, bustling with hits like 'Kemosabe' (a perfect pop song, it must be stressed), 'Cough Cough', 'Duet' and plenty more.

At the helm of 2009, Lady Gaga had only just released 'Just Dance' (remember how great that was?) and the world was completely unaware of meat dresses, alter-ego-mania, ARTPOP and what she looked like naked. Now, for better or worse, all those things are part of daily life. Franz Ferdinand crapped out their damp squib of a third record (before last year heroically returning to form). However, we did receive, on a silver platter, Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion and Fever Ray's eponymous debut, so the scales were balanced. Both were met with universal acclaim, with plaudits awarded to the former for accessibility and the latter for a stunning round of scanditronica. Not much really needs to be said on these two – people are pretty well-versed in their quality. This is just a gentle reminder of how awesome they are.

A decade ago, it seems the industry fell into a collective slump. The Cure released a B-sides compilation, The Black Keys had a middling EP out, Michelle Williams' record was okay... If we go slightly further back to the dawn of the end of the millennium, way back in 1999, we stumble across Britney Spears' debut record, ...Baby One More Time. Despite some inflamed opinions and rallying cries from both camps, and not taking into account her tumultuous personal life, Spears paved the way for pop as we know it now with this record. Most of the singles torn from the album are regarded as staples of '90s cheese nights (surely a hallmark of a pop anthem?) – and while the pigtailed pop prodigy and Disney alum is possibly one of the most controversial 21st century popstars, as well as the saviour of pop at the time (on par with Michael Jackson's rise in the '80s), it's sad to think of how far she's fallen. Who knows though, perhaps this Vegas residency will resurrect her relevance one more time.

Delving further into the past, all the way to 1984, we chance upon drama. Frankie Goes To Hollywood's single 'Relax' tore the music world asunder – it's one of the original 'video nasties', was banned from the airwaves by the BBC (a ban flouted by John Peel and similar DJs), caused furore among conservative groups nationwide; all for a mere jigger of kink. On the tamer side of music, new wave outfit Wang Chung dropped their sophomore album, Points On The Curve. Never big players this side of the Atlantic, the band made waves in the States with hits like 'Dance Hall Days', draped in sax solos, rotoscoped beats and a serious case of looking a bit like Sting. It's quintessentially '80s, and though their influence hasn't been the 10-tonne dumbbell that say George Michael has, they're a blissfully peppy brand of Americanised pop. Also, 'Wang'.

As 1974 swaggered into existence, the almighty Joni Mitchell donned a fresh guise for Court and Spark. Drawing jazzy influences into her renowned folk-rock, she fused two mostly contrasting styles into a glorious cocktail of critical and commercial magnetism, spinning gold like the proverbial Rumpelstiltskin. It also features Cheech & Chong, Crosby/Nash from Crosby, Stills and Nash on various backing vocal duties, Robbie Robertson of The Band, Tom Scott of L.A. Express and acclaimed producer Henry Lewys. So aside from being a pioneering, classic and vital record of the '70s (Rolling Stone also listed it at #113 in its Top 500 records ever), it's also pretty star-studded. It's still Mitchell's most revered and successful record, forty years on from it's initial release – and with cuts like 'Help Me', 'Twisted' and 'Free Man In Paris', it's understandable why. She's a true master of the form, with a legacy ingrained into modern folk.