This time of year is well-known for its gluttony and over-the-top nature. In Germany, the minute advent begins so does the onslaught of tasty treats at every turn, bombarding you and promising to sabotage any fleeting ambitions you had of relying on your willpower reserves. The music world is no different, with list after list (after list) coming out claiming to have compiled THE “best of” list for the year. Let me spare you the redundancy of having to read yet again how fantastic the new St. Vincent album was (make no mistake, I am in complete agreement with this), and instead share with you a few musicians I had the good fortune of stumbling upon this year.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact sound of this 8-piece band from Grand Rapids. It’s at once intimate and bursting at the seams. Their debut album, Meridian, plays out like some sort of epic sound theatre piece, with introspective vignettes suddenly leading into burgeoning moments that are sung with all the power of a gospel choir. In any case, definitely make the effort to listen to the entire album in one sitting; trust me, it’ll be worth it.
Hundred Waters is one of the more soulful bands I’ve encountered this year. The intro to their most recent album, The Moon Rang Like a Bell, is a modern a cappella ode to R&B. With a flawless combination of live and electronic elements and Nicole Miglis’s lilting voice, they create some wonderfully flowing soundscapes. No longer small fish from Gainesville, Florida, Hundred Waters has gained quite the following, getting rave reviews from Pitchfork and their ilk.
Mutual Benefit is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Jordan Lee, and with a little help from his friends, he creates a rich but subdued sound that’s reminiscent of some of Sigur Rós’s early work. At the risk of sounding too ridiculous, the songs kind of remind me of a magical forest awakening, with fairies fluttering around; it’s probably due to all of the chimes he uses. In any case, if you’re on the hunt for some quality indie that is heartwarming but not cheesily so, look no further.
If the “girl power” movement of the 90s made a comeback, you can be sure that Lucius’s song “Wildewoman” would be sung as an anthem at the forefront. Though not composed entirely of women, this five-piece Americana-tinged indie pop act is definitely defined by the striking voices and tight harmonies of the two singers, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig. While often times their music is very sweet, the band has done a fantastic job of not letting it go overboard. To top it all off, their newest album as a whole is superbly well-crafted and impeccably produced.
Matt Kivel is definitely one my new favorite singer-songwriters. He’s soft-spoken and introspective, incorporating just enough noise and distortion to avoid sounding melodramatic. He makes good use of space and acoustics, giving his music a real depth of sound. With some of his songs clocking in at a mere one minute and thirty seconds or under, he’s simple, sweet, and to the point.
Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow is another musician who has the gift of being able to immerse his listeners in a carefully crafted world of sound, using seamless layering and texturing. His airy falsetto and soaring musical lines most closely resemble Bon Iver’s music, while his occasional foray into R&B echoes James Blake’s sound. Either way, the calculated beauty of James Vincent McMorrow’s music is a treat for the ears.
If it’s any indication of the impact of Norwegian band Highasakite, this is the second time this year that I’ve felt the need to proclaim their awesomeness. In an effort to avoid sounding like a broken record, I’ll just link you to my previous write-up of their performance at First We Take Berlin, but suffice it to say that discovering Highasakite was one of the musical highlights of my year.
Of all of the new music that I encountered this year, Leeds-based band Adult Jazz had, by far, the most unusual and inventive sound. Their music is atmospheric and slow to build, but never stagnant. The songs on their album, Gist Is, (which are rarely under five minutes long) unfold unpredictably, in a way that I can only describe as stream of consciousness, but that begs the listener to stick around for more. I find that the broken, jarring nature of the instrumental bits are tied together nicely by the melodies of lead singer Harry Burgess. So while their music may not be considered an “easy listen,” it is never boring and sure to be well worth the listen.
Angel Olsen’s most recent album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, is the perfect break-up companion; telling of the hurt that accompanies lost love, and doing so in a manner that exposes the sheer rawness and vulnerability that we all feel during heartbreak. However, her biting and at times cheeky lyrics hint that she’s not going to take all of it lying down. She couples this intensity with an incredibly intimate and mesmerizing style of singing, which makes her impossible to ignore. I’m not sure if the world could ever have enough strong, angsty women with a knack for making great music, and Angel Olsen is continuing this tradition.
Just as I’d predicted when I first heard them, PHOX takes the top spot on my list of favorite new music from 2014. As with Highasakite, I’ll spare you a regurgitation of my praise for them from their First We Take Berlin performance and once again link you to my previous post. But don’t let that fool you: PHOX has produced some of the most enjoyable music that I’ve heard this year, and I can’t wait to hear more from them.
Hopefully some of this music will make your transition in 2015 that much better. Happy New Year :]