1. “Glass Heart” – Magic Giant. The rhythmic knowledge of a dance floor anthem powers this folk-pop jam. The inevitable whoa-ohs and jubilant trumpet line send this over the edge into “world-conquering pop song” mode. Seriously, this is like the best parts of the Lumineers and Mumford without the negatives.
2. “One More Song” – Tyler Hilton. Hilton imbues a lot of romantic intensity into his voice, layered neatly over an adult alternative tune that splits the difference between Taylor Swift and Matt Nathanson.
3. “Local News” – Heath McNeese. A simple acoustic fingerpicking pattern, a gentle voice, an endearing story, and a memorable melody: what else do you need? Beautiful singer/songwriter work here.
4. “All Along” – Joe Mansman and the Midnight Revival Band. Snare-shuffle country with evocative vocals, a soaring chorus, and a great vibe. Do I have to throw “alt” in front of country, or can I trust you to listen anyway?
5. “Alegria” – DBG. British folk singer/songwriter DBG went to Spain and interviewed people, then wrote a bunch of songs about those interviews–in Spanish. This one showcases his gentle fingerpicking along with the Spanish-language lyrics.
6. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Todd Kessler and the New Folk. The reverb on the solo guitar here puts me in a very dreamy, warm mood that fits the lyrics neatly.
7. “Jingle Bells” – River Whyless. This elegant folk outfit transforms an oft-kitschy tune into a delicate wonder.
Sunmonks’ “In a Desert of Plenty” is the rare track that succeeds in interpreting the rhythm and mood of the song with the clip. Most entrancing is the sections where the director tracks the polyrhythmic backbeat with the erratic motion of feet. (You just have to watch it.)
I love a good animated clip, especially when it tells an interesting (if slightly inscrutable) story.
Lights and Motion is back with a new album and a new video! The video for “The Spectacular Quiet” follows previous videos in having absolutely brilliant cinematography scoring a narrative that takes some thinking about. (Also: quite spectacular; not very quiet.)
If you’re the sort of person that appreciates slowly-unfolding musical mood pieces, then you might also appreciate a three-part, 15-minute, slowly-unfolding video mood piece set to three Jesse Marchant songs. Not a lot happens in the 15 minutes in terms of action, but it’s really pretty cinematography.
The Gray Havens are finally releasing Fire and Stone! Here’s a studio clip of “Stole My Fame (To Grace)” that’s a whole lot of acoustic-pop fun.
Do you need some fun, ska-influenced folk-punk backed with a traditional comedic chase video? Of course you do.
If you like old-school console gaming, The Roofers Union has a video that will steal your heart: fun, goofy, evocative, memory-jogging, the whole nine yards.
Robert Francis’ clip for “Baby Was the Devil” inlcudes VHS-style footage, but in a fun and interesting way. The song is great, and the video is equally fun to watch.
Electro High / Electro Down
1. “Keys in the Lake” – Hillström and Billy. This Swedish indie-rock track starts out at a level of enthusiasm that many songs crescendo to. It grows from there, if you can imagine that.
2. “Everything at Once” – Her Magic Wand. Authentic drum sounds power this M83-meets-Interpol-meets-Air jam.
3. “This Picture’s Old” – Stereogramm. Arpeggiator-heavy synth-pop from the “faster faster faster” school of thought, tempered with a relaxed vocal delivery that creates a fun tension. In lesser hands it could have been goofy, but instead it’s endearing.
4. “Young Oblivion” – Memoryy. If the giddiness of MGMT could have been tempered by the darkling sheen of The Naked and Famous, we’d have had this jubilant track earlier than we do.
5. “Wherever You Are” – New Arcades. If you’re looking for a huge, synthy pop track, here’s a strong candidate.
6. “Me vs. I (Rimski Bronski Mix)” – Hannah Schneider. Schneider is a neo-classical/electro/singer-songwriter somewhat in a more-recognizable-Bjork vein. This remix gives her sound bounce, lift, and vaguely African rhythms for a really fun time.
7. “Part of the Problem” – Trey Mumz. With a name like that, I’d expect auto-tuned R&B slow jamz. Instead, it’s auto-tuned psych slow jamz. Mad skillz.
8. “Me, Liquor & God” – Night Beds. If you go electro, you better know what you’re doing. Night Beds does a good job of keeping his melodic gifts on display while transitioning from soaring country to club-friendly, arch electronica.
9. “Sudden Acts” – Temple Invisible. Portishead-style trip-hop vocals meet witch house-style synths: a dark rave ensues.
10. “Raise the Gate (ft. Body Games)” – T0W3RS. First rule of electronica: know when to get out. This two-and-a-half-minute slice of ominous vibes and slinky rhythms hits it right on.
11. “Reykjavik, January 2015” – Teen Daze. My favorite “started as chillwave” outfit is now augmenting their core sound with the icy/warm tension of pensive melodies and pushing rhythms. The result is a beautiful piano-led tune.
Here’s my recounting of the best EPs of the year that was.
1. Drift Wood Miracle – Between Three and Four. (Review) After a triumphant emo/punk debut, DWM built on their artsy sentiment and churned out a well-textured, complex, mature follow-up EP. Heavy and light intermingle in one consistent flow of music that honestly sounds like one really long track. The songwriting instincts are already incredibly well-developed, which makes me excited for their future work.
2. Afterlife Parade – A Million Miles Away. (Review) What can I say? It’s the best pop-rock EP I’ve heard all year: it’s basically Coldplay, U2, and Imagine Dragons in a blender. Haters gonna hate. Lovers gonna love.
3. Arctic Tern – Hopeful Heart. (Review) Romantic in both the literary and literal sense of the word, these lush, gorgeous tunes blew me away with their arrangement and production.
4. Morgan Mecaskey – Lover Less Wild. (Review) One of the most ambitious releases of the year, Mecaskey attempts to cram dozens of ideas into a very short space. The resulting adventure is a National-esque indie-rock base packed full of twists and turns.
5. Smoke Season – Hot Coals Cold Souls. (Review) Like Morgan Mecaskey, a whiplash bullet train ride through multiple genres. Smoke Season leans more toward the alt-rock end of things for their remarkable tunes, ending up like a folkier version of Muse.
Honorable Mention: Death and the Penguin – Accidents Happen. (Review) The first rush of listening to Death and the Penguin was an adrenaline jolt the likes of which I haven’t felt in a long time. Post-hardcore of the finest order.
Without further adieu, numbers 1-10 in the best albums of the year.
Album of the Year: The Collection – Ars Moriendi. (Review) This album epitomizes the type of music I look for: intricate, complex arrangements of acoustic-led, folk-inspired indie-pop tunes with deeply thoughtful lyrics about life, death, and religion. The fact that you can shout along to half of the tunes only makes this more impressive. This was a no-contest winner for album of the year.
2. Kye Alfred Hillig – Real Snow. (Review) Temporarily shedding the acoustic singer/songwriter mantle, Hillig struck gold with a set of electro anthems cut through with his well-developed indie-pop songwriting techniques and evocative, thought-provoking lyrics. “None of Them Know Me Now” is the jaaaaaaam.
3. St. Even – Self-titled. (Review) I love concrete poetry that relies on images to portray meaning instead of adjectives. St. Even knocks that type of work out of the ballpark here, pairing it with playful, unexpected, herky-jerky, innovative arrangements of horns, piano, and strings. “Home Is Where You Hang Your Head” is a stand-out among stand-outs.
4. Brittany Jean and Will Copps – Places. (Review) Giant washes of sound meet indie-rock emotion over acoustic instruments to create something that’s not exactly electronica, indie-rock, or singer/songwriter. It hit me in unexpected ways, and always from unexpected angles.
5. The Fox and the Bird – Darkest Hours. (Review) The folk-pop boom is largely over, meaning that we can get back to people doing folk-pop because it’s their thing, not because it’s a trend. The Fox and the Bird produced the best straight folk-pop this year, both lyrically and musically. Challenging lyrics and breezy, easy-to-love music is a great combo for folk-pop, and Darkest Hours has both.
6. Cancellieri – Closet Songs. (Review) Welcome to Mount Pleasant was a gorgeous album, but this collection of demos, b-sides, and covers was the Cancellieri release that stole the most of my listening time this year. Ryan Hutchens’ delicate voice is beautifully juxtaposed against a single acoustic guitar, putting his songwriting, song re-envisionments, and impeccable taste in covers on display. A perfect chill-out album.
7. Little Chief – Lion’s Den. (Review) Arkansas folk-pop outfit Little Chief took the path trod by The Head and the Heart in creating chamber-pop arrangements to fit on their pastoral, rolling songwriting ways. The subtlety and maturity in the songwriting is astonishing from such a young outfit. If you need an album to drive around to in fall or winter, here’s your disc.
8. Novi Split – If Not This, Then What / Keep Moving Disc 2 / Spare Songs / Split. (Reviews) My favorite hyper-personal, intimate songwriting project got a massive bump in exposure this year. David J took the recordings of a decade that were spread about the internet and finally compiled them in one place. I’ve heard almost all of them before, but the fact that they’re official and can be easily accessed caused me to listen through them again. They’re all still amazing examples of painfully poignant bedroom singer/songwriter work. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with Novi Split.
9. M. Lockwood Porter – 27. (Review) Porter’s second full-length expanded his alt-country sound in dynamic ways while developing his lyrical bent. The results are memorable rock tracks (“I Know You’re Gonna Leave Me”) and memorable ballads (“Mountains”), a rare thing indeed.
10. Jacob Furr – Trails and Traces. (Review) The subject matter of Trails and Traces is even heavier than Ars Moriendi, but Furr takes a nimble, light approach to his alt-country. Instead of wallowing in despair, Furr’s heartbreaking lyrics are backed up with hopeful, searching melodies. I’d usually say “not for the faint of heart” on matters like these, but Furr has truly put together one that speaks hope for the hurting and hopeless. Search on, friends.
Merry holidays, everyone! Now, back to the music. I sometimes get talky here, but let’s get straight to the best ofs instead, since I’m already late on this. Here’s 11-20, listed from top to bottom. 1-10 comes tomorrow!
11. The Yellow Dress – Faint Music / Ordinary Light (Review) Most of indie rock used to be rickety, pastiche, oddball, and endearingly weird. Now only certain parts of it are: The Yellow Dress is certainly in that category, as their enthusiastically unusual indie-rock winds, warps, and wanders its way across the landscape. My wife and I sing “Isaac Fitzgerald (bum bum bum)” to ourselves absentmindedly.
12. Wolfcryer – Wild Spaces / The Prospect of Wind / Singles. (Reviews) Wolfcryer’s two EPs escaped the short-player list because his total 2014 output was closer to double-album length. His strum-heavy troubadour style gives a shot of energy to the often ponderous singer/songwriter game, and his engaging vocals deliver great melodies. Wolfcryer is going places, so you should jump on that train now.
13. Falcon Arrow – Tower. (Review) Falcon Arrow’s post-rock sounds nothing like anything I’ve ever heard in the genre: a drum-and-bass duo, the bassist uses what must be an army of pedals to create octaves upon octaves of notes, patterns aplenty, and looped bits galore. The results are soaring tunes that evoke the title of the record.
14. Zach Winters – Monarch. (Review) Snuck in at the end of the year, Monarch is the sort of unassuming album that works its way into your life and then acts like it never wasn’t there. Winters’ powerful arrangement skills are put to use in slowly-developing work that never roars but often washes over you.
15. Summerooms – S/t. (Review) Everything that Josh Jackson does is fun to listen to. Even this lo-fi “side project” that he amused himself with during the production of his new, hi-fi Fiery Crash record is awesome: it has that warm, lovely, dreamy glow that makes me think of summers by the pool.
16. Andrew Judah – Monster. (Review) Monster is a technically impressive marvel: an indie-pop record that juxtaposes instruments, styles, and moods with ease. It’s dark and not always fun, but it’ll drop your jaw at places.
17. Leif Vollebekk – North Americana. (Review) I fell in love with Gregory Alan Isakov’s gentle, smooth work last year; Vollebekk’s work isn’t as quiet all the time, but it does rarely get noisy. His drawling, attitude-filled vocal delivery gives a shot of intrigue into the elegant singer/songwriter work.
18. The Lovely Few – The Geminids. (Review) Wide-open, mood-evoking electronic music that uses outer space as its muse and touchstone. Entirely transporting and enveloping.
19. The Good Graces – Close to the Sun. (Review) Alt-country and indie-pop meet and mingle throughout this thoughtful record, which includes lots of surprising lyrical and musical moments.
20. Brook Pridemore – Brook Pridemore’s Gory Details. (Review) If you sped up a latter-day Mountain Goats record, or if you put a full band behind an early MG record, you’d end up with the folk-punk theatrics of Brook Pridemore. Great melodies, great arrangements, a lot of fun.
Honorary Mention: Colony House – When I Was Younger. (Review) Colony House doesn’t need my help, but their album is the best pop-rock album I heard all year.
Honorary Mention: The Weather Machine – The Weather Machine. (Review) This one came out in 2013 and isn’t eligible for best of 2014, but it came to my attention this year. Brilliant songwriting reminiscent of Josh Ritter, The Mountain Goats, and more: what’s not to love
I will post more about this in the new year, but now I have some BREAKING NEWS: Fiery Crash, whom I have raved about multiple times, is running a Kickstarter to fund the production of his new album In Clover. This one’s going to be amazing: first time in a full studio, and the work sounds amazing so far. If you’re a fan of singer/songwriter indie-dream-pop type work, you’re going to be thrilled by Fiery Crash. I am really, really excited about Josh Jackson as an artist, so I’m posting his Kickstarter (something I don’t often do, as you can check through the files and see).
tl;dr: a Kickstarter of note, worth your time and money.
I got married in November, which means I’ve been celebrating my way through the last few weeks instead of listening to new Christmas music. This means that instead of meaningful reviews, I have a large list of things that you and I should both listen to. I regret nothing. ONWARD!
The Good Shepherd Band, which released a beautiful Christmas album in 2011, are back with a new one entitled All the Bells Shall Ring. If it’s anything like the opener “O Come Let Us Adore Him” (starting off with an Advent hymn; I approve) and the last album, we’re in for big, church-style hymns in oft-triumphant arrangements. Wonderful!
Quirky, reverb-heavy indie-pop band SUNBEARS! offer up a 10-minute EP of Christmas music. It’s sure to be as thoroughly enthusiastic as its name: SUNBEARS! Do CHRISTMAS!
Vintage-style acoustic duo The Singer and the Songwriter are dropping 12 songs (in video form!) for the 12 Days of Christmas. Sounds lovely! Check it at their YouTube.
For those who like a little more punk rock in their Christmas tunes, Small Bear Records has released Never Mind the Baubles, Here’s The Small Bear. Need I say more?
Kris Orlowski caps a banner year with the original holiday tune “Is This Christmas” in his signature baritone voice and easygoing acoustic style.
James Apollo also had a big year, with Angelorum being a great release. His offering, “Ho Ho, Ho Hum,” is one for the (classy, Scotch-drinking) Scrooges out there.
SHEL is an acoustic-music band of four sisters, and this version of “Sleigh Ride” is about as cute as can be. The video is also lovely.
1. “Bethlehem (feat. Joan as Policewoman)” – Jack Henderson. Because everyone needs a Tom Waits-ian original Christmas ballad duet.
2. “Fairy Christmas Day” – Junkie Thrown. A pensive, beautiful tune decrying the sad paradoxes of Christmas.
3. “Little Angel” – The Lost Brothers. Think “brothers” in the pristine, crooning, ’50s-style duet meaning.
4. “Christmas at the Zoo” – Sam Joole. As an Oklahoman, I’m categorically obliged to post any Flaming Lips covers. This one is pretty charming and cheerful.
5. “Stay Another Day” – pjaro. Experimental rock/emo/indie bands write Christmas songs too. This one has lots of distorted guitars and yelling, as one does.
Athens, GA is a huge music town with a lot of history. This means that there are iconic pieces of architecture that are getting lost, destroyed, or run down. Nuçi’s Space is working to restore a historic steeple in Athens that’s associated with R.E.M. (first show ever was there!), Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, and many other Athens bands. They’ve got a pretty huge crowdfunding goal to make this happen, but they also have some incredibly awesome rewards: clothes from Of Montreal, the pylons from Pylon, etc.
Sleeping at Last has started a company called Emphasis that allows bands to make one-of-a-kind t-shirts based off a band’s lyrics. The shirts include designs as well, so it’s not just words on shirts. This is incredibly cool for bands that have very wordy music (The Mountain Goats! Please sign up! Please!) to connect with their fans. So if you’re a fan or a band, jump on this.
Along those lines, Noisetrade has expanded their services to include fan accounts, which makes a lot of things really easy that were somewhat complicated before. I’m pretty excited about that. I love Noisetrade, and I’m glad to see them grow.
And finally, the RunHundred for November! –Stephen Carradini
This month’s top 10 list makes three things clear:
#1. Iggy Azalea isn’t going anywhere. The Levi’s model and rap phenomenon shows up in the list below with two different collaborators—Rita Ora and Jennifer Lopez.
#2. Calvin Harris is quickly becoming the face of electronic dance music. He also turns up twice this month—in a pop hit alongside John Newman and a club track with Alesso and Hurts.
#3. 128 beats per minute (BPM) is the Iggy Azalea and Calvin Harris of tempos. By that I mean it’s omnipresent. Seven of the ten songs below are within a few beats of this tempo.
In terms of working out, 128 BPM’s dominance in pop music means that–if you can find an exercise routine that approximates this pace–you’ll never be short of new workout music. If you’ve already got fixed a routine, you can swap in any of the songs from that range and see how they fit. If not, you might try walking, kickboxing, or a bootcamp-style workout—all of which are good matches for this speed.
Whatever this month’s top songs lack in tempo variety, they make up for in the genre variety thanks to a woozy remix from Tove Lo, some Australian folk from Vance Joy, and the fervent rock of Walk the Moon. Whether it’s the eclectic mix that draws you in or the four-on-the-floor beats, there’s something here that will invigorate your workout.
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.
Taylor Swift – Welcome to New York – 117 BPM
Tove Lo – Habits (Stay High) (Hippie Sabotage Remix) – 120 BPM
Vance Joy – Riptide – 104 BPM
Jennifer Lopez & Iggy Azalea – Booty – 129 BPM
Calvin Harris, Alesso & Hurts – Under Control – 126 BPM
Demi Lovato & Cher Lloyd – Really Don’t Care (Cole Plante Radio Remix) – 128 BPM
Walk the Moon – Shut Up and Dance – 128 BPM
Iggy Azalea & Rita Ora – Black Widow (Justin Prime Remix) – 128 BPM
Pitbull & John Ryan – Fireball – 125 BPM
Calvin Harris & John Newman – Blame – 128 BPM
To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. –Chris Lawhorn