I think it’s safe to say that I listened to more music in 2014 than any other year to date. Part of that was due to me finally compromising my ideals, giving in to the dark side, and subscribing to a music streaming service (Rdio, if you must know). Yes, a streaming service is just about as cool as everyone says it is. And as a result, this is probably my longest year-end song list so far, but there were just so many good songs out there.
This year, I’m doing something a little different: I’m listing my songs in alphabetical order by artist, just to make it easy on me so that I don’t have to pick a favorite song.
“Stay” by Seasurfer
When you hear the term “shoegazer,” “aggressive” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind. After all, the genre’s name was intended to deride the passive stage presence of bands who played shows staring at their effects pedals. “Stay” has all of the swirly, effects-laden sounds one associates with shoegazing, but also a drive and urgency that is anything but ethereal. The rhythm section pushes the song to an almost reckless velocity that owes more to punk bands than, say, the Cocteau Twins, and the guitars have a brittle, knife-like edge to them, as do the vocals. Not surprisingly, Seasurfer lists U.K. Subs and the Ramones as influences alongside the usual shoegaze-y names.
“Elena’s Sound-World” by Sinoia Caves
For all of its narrative weaknesses, Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow remained a fascinating aesthetic experience. Much of that was due to Cosmatos’ highly-stylized and over-saturated visuals, but Jeremy Schmidt’s soundtrack was also instrumental (npi) in creating the film’s nightmarish-yet-compelling atmosphere. Recording under his Sinoia Caves moniker, Schmidt created a soundtrack full of ghostly, haunting electronic pieces like “Elena’s Sound-World” — pieces that did as much to establish and enhance the film’s strange inner universe as anything you saw on the screen.
“Micheline” by Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozelek has always spun epic tales of introspection, but on Benji, he outdoes himself. He plumbs even the most insignificant (and embarrassing) details of his life to make sense of family, love, sex, and most importantly, death. On “Micheline,” he weaves three narratives — a mentally handicapped neighbor, a former bandmate who dies unexpectedly, and his ailing grandma — into a moving ballad about lost innocence and relationships. Kozelek crams in way too many lyrics and the music meanders all over the place, but that allows him to conjure up one stirring image after another. Don’t be surprised if, once “Micheline” is finished, you find yourself overwhelmed with the need to call a friend or loved one you haven’t talked to in years.
“Johnny and Mary” by Todd Terje
When discussing electronic music, chances are the places that come to mind are discothèques, night clubs, and glowstick-filled raves full of writhing, scantily clad bodies. And much of It’s Album Time finds Norwegian DJ Todd Terje inhabiting such spaces, thanks to songs like “Preben Goes To Acapulco” and both parts of “Swing Star.” But right smack dab in the middle of the album is this Robert Palmer cover, and suddenly, Terje and Bryan Ferry — whose world-weary vocals imbue the song with a heart-wrenching amount of pathos — are singing to the broken-hearted and the washed out. It’s the album’s most glorious and transcendent moment.
“Solêr” by Otto A Totland
Otto Totland’s solo piano compositions on Pinô are a far cry from his work in Deaf Center, quiet and introspective rather than ominous and crushing. “Solêr” showcases the simple beauty found in Totland’s piano compositions, with graceful melodies rolling right off the ivories. The lo-fi recording set-up catches all manner of ambient sounds, from the quiet brushing of the piano’s mallets to what sounds like the creaking and cracking of the floor. The impurities only add to the track’s immediacy, to the feeling of being drawn into the room right next to Totland as he plays.
“Shelter Song” by Temples
I first heard “Shelter Song” when Temples made their debut on The Tonight Show with their psyched out brand of pop, full of shades of the Kinks and the Byrds. The booming drums, the jangly guitars, the soaring vocal harmonies — the English quartet follow the ‘60s-era psych pop formula to a “T,” but they do it so well that it never feels like a rip-off. Rather, you’re half-convinced you’re listening to some lost-lost gem that has only just now been unearthed.
“Nice ‘n’ Slow” by Turks & Caicos
With his Turks & Caicos side project, Chad Valley doesn’t stray too far from his usual brand of lush electronic music — he just stretches it out and blisses it up a bit more. “Nice ‘n’ Slow” is a 9 ½ minute extended jam that immediately conjures up some tropical club at sunset — or maybe the wee hours of the morning. And just when you’re comfortably vibing out to the trance-y beats and textures, Valley mixes in samples of Marvin Gaye’s “I’ve Got My Music” and takes things to a whole new level. Hearing Gaye croon “Since we’ve been apart, baby, God has healed my heart” over Valley’s production is pretty healing in its own right.
“Good Shepherd” by Wovenhand
For my money, 2004’s Consider the Birds remains the best Wovenhand album to date. None of David Eugene Edwards’ subsequent albums have quite possessed the same remarkable consistency and intensity. However, each album has had one or two career highlights — songs that are absolute and undeniable juggernauts, and “Good Shepherd” is one such track. There’s no sense of restraint at all on Refractory Obdurate and “Good Shepherd” is Edwards at his wild-eyed best, from his wailing vocals and Bible-haunted lyrics to the churning guitars and percussion.
“Foil” by “Weird Al” Yankovic
There are three reasons why I’m writing about “Weird Al“ ‘s parody of Lorde’s hit song. One, 2014 was the year of “Weird Al.” He released a slew of songs that proved that even after three decades, his humor is still as goofy, charming, and — yes — funny as ever. Two, the second act of “Foil,” when it goes from discussing foil’s preservative powers to praising its ability to protect one from government thought control rays, was just sublime. And three, this line — “Wear a hat that’s foil-lined/In case an alien’s inclined/To probe your butt or read your mind” — makes me chuckle every time. In the hands of a master like “Weird Al,” alien anal probing equals sheer comedy genius.
“Caught In Time, So Far Away” by You’ll Never Get To Heaven
You’ll Never Get To Heaven’s moniker is rather ironic considering “Caught In Time, So Far Away” is an absolutely heavenly slice of electronic/ambient pop. (Eat your heart out, Chvrches!) The crisp, glittering synths and guitars provide a beautiful backdrop for Alice Hansen’s ethereal vocals, which exist somewhere between Elizabeth Fraser’s glossolalia and Alison Shaw’s child-like coo. As with the best of this sort of music, there’s a dreamy naiveté at work here, one that instantly pulls you into the song’s precious little world.