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: 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 was one of the millions stuck in airports over the weekend. I eventually made it to my destination, five days after my original boarding pass assured me I would. During the last of my three airport visits, I queued up The Yellow Dress‘ Faint Music / Ordinary Light. Opening track “Tummy in the Blood” (provided commentary: “what a gross thing to name a song”) has a chorus that I wanted to sing with all my soul: “We try, and climb, but we know that / mathematically speaking, it gets harder every day / the chances of finding ourselves home again / of finding ourselves in the same way.” It’s a beautiful, passionate call, made all the more wonderful by perfectly illustrating the seeming futility of my situation.
The music itself leans more toward non-traditionally passionate than traditionally beautiful, as The Yellow Dress sounds like an exuberant mix of latter-day Mountain Goats, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!. These speedy indie-pop tunes ooze DIY personality from instruments you’d expect (glockenspiel, horns, off-kilter vocals) and don’t expect (clarinet and the unusually prominent bass, which immediately calls up references to Peter Hughes of the Mountain Goats).
The songs move sprightly along, scattering quirky melodies from vocals and instruments throughout songs without concern for obvious mile-markers: there are choruses in some places, and then sometimes there aren’t, but it all sounds wonderful. “A Complete List of Fears Age 5-28 (aprox)” starts with Neutral Milk Hotel-esque heavy strumming, then builds until it’s a roaring Funeral-style indie-rock tune, complete with frenzied vocal delivery. It’s the sort of song I listen to over and over.
My repeated listens are enhanced by the excellent lyrics. Existential angst, growing up, and seizing the day are all things that a person in their mid-20s can relate to at times–especially while trapped in a travel-induced limbo. “FatherSunFunRun/Walk Towardson/Daniel Pennypacker” is a standout in this department, while the previous two mentioned are also wonderful. There are lines throughout each of them that I could see ending up on my computer wallpaper (which, let’s be real, is the equivalent of a middle school trapper-keeper). It’s all incredibly earnest stuff, so I suppose if you’re not into that it might curl your ears a bit. But I’m all about sincerity, so I’m excited about it.
Beyond the intriguing arrangements and captivating lyrics, The Yellow Dress can just be a ton of fun. “Isaac Fitzgerald (bum bum bum)” sees a ragtag choir singing the titular “bum bum bum bum ba-da-da-da” repeatedly as a sort of chorus. If you’re not singing along by the end of the song, we’re probably not on the same page musically: this tune is pretty much all that I ask for in a song. It’s got a great arrangement (check that bass! and saxophone!), strong lyrics, a part where you can yell along exuberantly with the band, and melodies I want to sing out loudly with my windows down. It’s just wonderful.
If you’re into indie-pop, you need to know about The Yellow Dress. Faint Music / Ordinary Light is a wonderful album that takes all the idiosyncrasies that make DIY indie-pop great and rolls them together. It’s the first great album of 2014, and I can see myself listening to this one way into the 2014. Happy new year, y’all, and safe travels.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.