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Top Albums of 2014: 20-11

January 2, 2015

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 DressFaint 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. WolfcryerWild 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 ArrowTower. (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 WintersMonarch. (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. SummeroomsS/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 JudahMonster. (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 VollebekkNorth 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 FewThe Geminids. (Review) Wide-open, mood-evoking electronic music that uses outer space as its muse and touchstone. Entirely transporting and enveloping.

19. The Good GracesClose 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 PridemoreBrook 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 HouseWhen 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 MachineThe 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

Wolfcryer: Consistently evocative and moving songwriting

January 16, 2014

wolfcryer_wildspaces

One of the things I was most impressed with on Wolfcryer‘s debut EP The Long Ride Home was the easy maturity that Matt Baumann displayed in his lyricism and melodicism. His follow-up EP Wild Spaces shows that it was no fluke: the quiet assurance of a man in his element is all over the four tunes here.

Baumann plays folk tunes, pure and simple: they’re the sort of songs that could be played a century ago or a century in the future and be pretty recognizable. Those barebones arrangements leave nowhere to hide, but Baumann doesn’t need to cover anything up. His evocative baritone deftly conveys nuanced emotion, and he varies his strum patterns enough to make these four songs quite distinct from each other.

The insistent strum pattern of highlight track “Lonely Country” gives the tune a forward motion that beautifully matches the lyrical theme of interstate travel, while the cascading banjo plucking of “This Revolver” provides a fitting backdrop for the smooth, mournful vocals. After a pretty intro, “Better to Be” takes the focus off the strummed instrument and puts in on the poetic, Dylan-esque lyrics. The title track even includes the squeak of fingers against strings; in such a stark environment, the consistent sound counts as a mood-making element in the tune.

Wild Spaces is another incredible four-song EP from Wolfcryer. Baumann is in a groove right now, turning out raw, passionate folk songs that strike all sorts of nerves. If you’re into evocative vocalists, poetic lyricists, or thoughtful guitar-players (which is to say, if you like any part of singer/songwritering done well), then you’ll be into Wild Spaces. Watch for this project in 2014.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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