12 Majestic Albums of 2014

Seems like everyone makes a list at the end of the year. Music, movies, regrets, etc. Here is my shot at a raw read of some of my favorite music from 2014. Most of these albums I haven’t seen on other lists. So let’s give a round of applause for the underdog… the innovative, yet sadly forgotten, indie voices from all corners of North America.

I’ve missed some (ie: PHOX, St. Vincent, Vacationer, Dry The River, Circa Survive, Smokey Brights etc, etc)

Listen to them too. What else are you going to do? Watch netflix until the death of the sun?

Hey Rosetta! – Second Sight

Hey Rosetta! Second Sight

“Under the pitch and the pull of the moon, sweet silver medicines swim in my temples.”

Fucking amazing album. Second Sight is the first release from Newfoundland 7-piece indie-folk ensemble Hey Rosetta! since Seeds in 2011. From the gentle organ swells giving way to syncopated grooves in ‘Soft Offering (For The Oft Suffering)’ all the way to the tentative piano and layered, highly mobile vocal harmonies of “Trish’s Song,” the album is gorgeous start to finish. Tim Baker’s voice has the uncanny ability to cut straight to the nerve, to levitate over the music, to float into the consciousness like a cloud, an epiphany, a solution to grievances. His voice shines on the album, certainly, as does his poetic lyricism. “Kid Gloves” is a good example of this. {when you come to // you’re kind of floating // the air is full // it’s like it’s holding you // isn’t it typical? // nobody’s noticing.) Yet it is the careful blend of various tones – perfectly balanced colors – that make the band.

The album will reach places in your emotional core while stimulating the fireworks of your intellectual curiosity.

From Indian Lakes – Absent Sounds

From Indian Lakes - Absent Sounds

“My thoughts are slowly coming out now. I flinch each time I hear them out loud. I guess I know what its like now to be honest.”

What a busy band! From Indian Lakes have constantly toured since their inception into the world of indie-progressive-vibe-rock in 2009. Terminology used to describe them: guitar-driven, vocal-driven, post-rock, Lydia-esque, progressive, Copeland-esque. From Indian Lakes have a perfected harmony between all of it’s disparate parts. Joey Vannucchi‘s unique voice soars over atmospheric indie tonalities. Sort of Radiohead mixed in with a modern punk edge, music to soothe a hurt soul. Vannucchi’s lyrics question big ideas with passion and answer with doubt. Ideas about basic human emotions like self-doubt/self-worth, fear/courage, and a longing for something greater. Absent Sounds is masterful in tone and execution. From track one, “Come In This Light” the album immediately reveals its strength. The listener is immediately sent into a trance, a portal to another world. “Am I Alive” is a terrific, everchanging jam, that melts and merges its way through different phases. The hook “I’ve been feeling like a lost cause,” feels poignant. “Runner” features a fascinating guitar solo.

Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell

Hundred Waters - The Moon Rang Like A Bell

“Don’t let me show cruelty, though I may make mistakes”

Hundred Waters are an experimental indie-electro group from Florida featured on Skrillex’s label OWLSA. They create wonderful noises and intoxicating rhythms while Nicole Migli’s wispy voice transitions smoothly from layer to verse. What I mean is her voice is versatile. It can be used as a wordless instrument to create certain textures and then highlight phrases in a near-whisper. {Yesterday was your birthday // happy birthday} from “Murmurs” is a particularly haunting moment. I can hear the soft angst in her voice in the midst of swelling synths, vocal patches, thunderous piano chords (Migli is also a renowned concert pianist) and seriously eerie background tones. It’s like haunted house electronica, full of creative yearning and sonic experimentation. Listen to “Innocent” and hear I mean. And DANCE.

PUP – PUP

PUP - PUP

“Am I too old to be camping out on the back porch?”

PUP’s self titled album is a pop-punk masterpiece. The first unbelievable thing about this album (aside from the schizophrenic guitar solo in “Yukon”) is the album art, this nasty-ass grill was hand drawn by Jason Bartell (of Fang Island) with goddamned charcoal. Whoah. I think it a gross enough image for the music contained within. It is a dirty, aggressive, poppy Canadian punk rock carnival of an album. The kind of music for basement keggars, smashing bottles, lighting things on fire. The youthful energy sustains throughout. Deranged guitar parts are mixed in with tasteful riffs, thundering, innovative drum rhythms compliment Stefan Babcock‘s intense vocals. I love the bookends of the album the most. “Guilt Trip” hits hard. “Factories” finishes solid. Listen to when you want to feel reckless and unlock yourself a bit.

Monogrenade – Composite

Monogrenade - Composite

“Dans les paupières, le balancement, qui s’accélère”

Monogrenade are an electronica pop-rock band from Montréal, Québec. Composite is sung entirely in Canadian French. If you do not know French it’s okay, the album is an adventure through spaces you’ve never heard or imagined anyway. The mix of instruments, of synths, bass, strings, and guitar, with sporadic beats, just makes sense to me. Sounds very spacey, dreamy, like floating. The language barrier diminishes none of the allure. Let “L’aiment” prove this to you. Afterward listen to head bobbing track “Metropolis.” It sounds like an 80’s pop hit coming from a disembodied source in a dark alleyway.

Copeland – Ixora

Copeland - Ixora

An ixora is a small flowering plant sometimes referred to as ‘the flame of the woods’ and the red varieties are commonly used for Hindu worship.

New music from Copeland! They regrouped this year to make an independent record after numerous label contracts all suspended by a six year hiatus. Ixora is an emotionally dense, carefully designed, work of art. Aaron Marsh’s falsetto is on point, soaring over the minor key violin and piano swells and intricate percussion. This is a well arranged album, each note deliberately and carefully placed (perhaps) to increase the emotional wreckage wrought on the listener if he/she is caught off guard. Like me, for example. When I first heard “Ordinary,” tears came out of me. Music is important when it can make you feel something, anything, with such a force. Unless you’re ready for a cathartic experience I suggest listening to “Disjointed” or “Lavender” first.

Manchester Orchestra – Hope

Manchester Orchestra - Hope

“It’s like everything I have ever imagined’s coming true today”

Soon after the release of their loud indie-rock album COPE, Manchester Orchestra released a secret counterpart album of stripped down, re-imagined versions of those songs. Trickling piano and light chugging acoustic guitars, mixed with spacious harmonies (ooh’s and aah’s) all paint a backdrop extremely suitable to the wonderful nuances of Andy Hull’s voice. I like COPE yet the reason I so love Manchester Orchestra is Hull’s voice and storytelling, which I think gets a bit buried in the mix of the fuzzy guitars and thudding drums of the louder album. The tones are gorgeous in this stripped down form. My favorite is “Indentions” for its total departure from the original. It features some strange-toned guitar bending harmonies, grand piano, ghostly harmonies, and an Eye of the Tiger- like strumming guitar rhythm. “Girl Harbor” is also beautiful. I suggest also listening to COPE and deciding for yourself which version you like, if not both equally.

Wye Oak – Shriek

Wye Oak - Shriek

“We live as many others live, the fear of dying incomplete”

Listen to “The Tower” and you will fall in love. Wye Oak have taken a totally fresh course of action for this album, messing around with more synthesizers and looping, and I think they did a wonderful job. Jenn Wasner is at her best vocally, rising above the bass, drums, and synth mix. Despite the hooplah involved in her switching from guitar to bass for this album, the grooves are real.

Mimicking Birds – Eons 

Mimicking Birds - Eons

“Pathways, holes, and cords connect everyone to each pair of lungs inflicting under the sun.”

Mimicking Birds are a band out of Portland. I’ve never heard such tongue twisting lyrics sung. Try to say “A low tide exposes what hides in a high tide, for every right a wrong is right on the other side” out loud with clarity and to a tempo. Nate Lacey‘s twisted tongue tackles grandiose concepts, all tied together by the natural world: the geologic lives of mountains, the echoing of voices through the eons, the melting of snow and rebirth of spring, and so on. Soft spoken vocals sway over the top of gorgeous acoustic guitar progressions, jazzy drums, melodies like meandering streams, pianos and guitars… The music and the lyrics are worth a close listen. Then another. You will learn something about poetry and science. Try “Bloodlines” first. Graduate to “Owl Hoots” for a crazy internal rhyme scheme. You’ll hear what I mean, linguistic people. All of those ‘oooh’s’

Young the Giant – Mind Over Matter

Young The Giant - Mind Over Matter

“It’s so affected, that color corrected night, but you’re falling fast, in plastic skies.”

Sophomore effort from indie rock n’ pop outfit, Young the Giant. This album is an evolution of their sound, from folky beach pop for days driving along the golden coast “Mind Over Matter”, to guitar-driven dense instrumentation and a greater artistic license to go for guitar riffs in ⅞ “Anagram.” I think that is what the album is about. Taking chances. No guts, no glory. Musically and vocally, this album tests boundaries and crossing thresholds between genre with gorgeous ease. Also there seems a rivalry between the amazingly catchy and tasteful guitar riffs (the intertwining guitar parts of Jacob Tilley and Eric Cannata) and Sameer Gadhia’s powerful, mesmerizing voice. They compliment in a way that boxers do after kicking the shit out of each other. Favorite track = “Waves” – another experimental syncopation. Guitar in 3/4 and drums in 4/4 yet it sounds perfectly fitted.

The Antlers – Familiars

The Antlers - Familiars

“Do you here that gentle tapping?”

This is a concept album also, yet instead of exploring the depth of the external universe as EONS does, The Antlers investigate the internal caverns of identity. Lyrically, there are themes of dopplegangers and the child within the narrator at war with the adult he has become. Also the concept of building your personality into the most definite structure you can imagine, a Palace, or a Chateau up in the hills. The album is also a slow burner, yet I think the music matches the lyrical ideas perfectly. Slow tempos and cautious vocal delivery allow the listener time to think about an important topic. “Hotel” is a great song. Trumpets layer in throughout in a beautiful way.

Sama Dams – Comfort in Doubt

Sama Dams - Comfort In Doubt

“Your blood fits like a glove in my veins.”

At first the name of this Portland trio honestly confused me a bit, until I said it out loud. Sama Dams. It is certainly a clever play on words but the singer/songwriter of the group’s name is actually Sam Adams. Now that’s cleared up. I encountered this band through the  station, Rainy Dawg Radio, where I heard someone call their music “glitch r’n’b.” Curious. Well I like the description. It fits. Sama Dams plays experimental, groovy, tunes with amazing dexterity. There are certainly moments of gentle progressive rock, nothing too extravagant to distract from the vocals. “My Ears Are Ringing” is totally glitch r’n’b. A good place to start. “Cold Snap” is a bit harder to digest, messing with strange melodies and time signatures, though with the redemptive quality of being something I’ve never heard before.

post-script

I am a twenty something living in Seattle studying English, making music, working at a bookstore and a radio station, making art, writing poetry, and more. These are things I do. Yes, I am confused. This is a dubious time in the history of the world. Yet, thankfully, musicians still make albums from their raw nerves, flesh, and blood. There is solace in art.

I wanted to share my knowledge of music and art with you, whoever you are, you, and hopefully introduce some yearning ears to some notes and melodies they may have missed this last year, when the wave, all the impossibly good music released this year, has crested and landed over you. It is easy for the truly great stuff to wash out.

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