Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Musically Inclined's Top Finds of 2014

It was a quiet year for music. While 2013 gave us Jay-Z, Kanye, Beyonce, Daft Punk, the return of My Bloody Valentine, The National, and whole bunch of other musical heavyweights, 2014 gave us… (a mild sense of unfulfillment?) much less. St. Vincent, Spoon, and Jack White were absolutely respectable, but it was like music this year forgot to take its vitamins.

The upshot is that 2015 almost has to be a knockout year. We already know we’re getting records from Sleater Kinney, Punch Brothers, and San Fermin. Hopefully there will be more to follow from folks we haven’t heard from in a while.

But, we’re not quite there yet. There are three-ish weeks left in 2014, and it would be unfair not to celebrate what did keep us turning the volume knob, up and up and up.

Even if there wasn’t one album this year that slayed all, there were so many great singles – probably enough to merit an extra five slots on this list, if my inner editor were a little more self-indulgent.

For the seventh year running, here are The Musically Inclined’s Top 10 Finds.

Gameplay is as follows:

1. Any artist or band TMI hadn't listened to before January '14.
2. Songs have to have a stick factor to survive the year. Catchy? Bouncy? Quirky? Sure, but mostly they just have to be solid. Doesn't hurt to be fun and mildly screwy, either.

For any interested parties, the full Spotify playlist is available right here.

Otherwise, scroll on.

10. Fire Extinguisher : Howell Dawdy

The tenth spot on the list usually goes to some song that’s too ridiculous or weird to ignore. This year is no exception. Louisville’s Howell Dawdy deadpans his way through “Fire Extinguisher,” listing off the oddball things he needs – a brick on a string, a 12 pack of moist towelettes, a driver who’s also a student in something interesting. His train of thought is inexplicable and incredibly amusing, especially when it veers from things like jackets into the way he sees the world.

9. Dark Sunglasses : Chrissie Hynde

While the Pretenders have been around for a while, this was the year Chrissie Hynde went solo. “Dark Sunglasses” was an immediate favorite. The song tells the story of a guy who’s lost his social status and hangs on to the last shreds of his glamour and style by hiding behind dark sunglasses. Cool is elusive, folks. 

8. Lead Me On : Joe Henry

Woefully, I’d never heard any of Joe Henry’s preceding 12 albums. “Lead Me On” is delicate and wistful as hell. If I ever stop listening to this track on loop, I might check out the rest of his stuff.

7. Out on the Street : Spanish Gold

A few weeks after I moved to Louisville, I found “Out on the Street” from Spanish Gold’s debut album. The group is patched together from bits of other bands like My Morning Jacket, Hacienda, and Fantasma. “Out on the Street” is So. Much. Slink.

6. Of Nothing : GRMLN

“Of Nothing” turns solid surf rock into something more searching and earnest. It almost doesn’t matter what the rest of the lyrics are. When singer Yoodo Park asks, “Are you alright, tell me that you’re alright,” the repetition in the chorus traps the listener in his appeal. Maybe if he asks enough times, he can will the answer into a positive form. 

5. Coffee : Sylvan Esso

So many good things were said this year about the debut album from Sylvan Esso. And rightly so. “Coffee” makes the list for being one of the most different songs I heard all year. They blend light blippy electronicpop sounds with singer Amelia Meath’s pure vocals -- Meath was in Mountain Man, a mostly a cappella folk trio with some really nutso harmonies from a few years back. Here’s to contrast.

4. Move : House Ghost

The final Louisville-based entry on this list comes from House Ghost and their wonderfully smart-ass song. Aside from having a buzzy bassline and some cool shifts, “Move” gets points for the fake-out that comes with the lyric “Hey, I really like you. No, the girl behind you. So please move.”

3. Avant Gardener : Courtney Barnett

Australia’s Courtney Barnett produced some of the most naturally-flowing, detail-stuffed songwriting this year. In “Avant Gardener,” she recounts a nervous breakdown brought on by weeding the yard – but probably not just that – and she bats around with the metaphor of having trouble breathing in. When the paramedics revive her she thinks, “I get adrenaline straight to the heart. I feel like Uma Thurman post-overdosing kick start,” which, if you ask me, is a great pop culture pull.

2. Love Ain't Enough : The Barr Brothers

In 2013, it was easy to find big songs, the kind with layered sounds that were warm and enveloping. There was “Hey Doreen” by Lucius and “Sonsick” by San Fermin – this year that wasn’t quite the case. However, “Love Ain’t Enough” swooped in this September with its gorgeous weave of harp, banjo, marimba, and dulcimer, making a request counter to its own title: “Forget I ever said that love ain’t enough.”

1. Archie, Marry Me : Alvvays

“Archie, Marry Me” might have landed the spot solely based on how many polysyllabic words are in its opening line: “You’ve expressed explicitly your contempt for matrimony/You’ve student loans to pay and will not risk the alimony.” A surf-rock ode to commitment might be the last thing you expect from the youthful-sounding Toronto band Alvvays, but the way they straddle the line between innocence and preconsciousness, makes for an incredibly endearing song, where the narrator’s ideal for love is let’s just sign the papers. And somehow this sounds romantic. Go figure.

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