Sunday, December 28, 2014

Music I Discovered in 2014: The Songs

Hello, my friendly readers and readerly friends. I've spent this last week (including Christmas) being sick, and being surrounded by other sick people. It didn't make for a very merry Christmas, and I'm pretty sure that it will be an especially quiet New Year's coming later this week. But I am on the upswing, and am pretty optimistic about things getting better soon, health-wise and in other areas as well. It's also my busy time of year for my job, so it's likely that my own music, as usual, will take a backseat to other things for the short term.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share with you some of the more cool/interesting songs I discovered in 2014. Note that I say "discovered"; it doesn't mean that all of these were released in the last year (though most were). One of the wonderful things about music is that you can "discover" a band that hasn't released music in 30 years, but if they're new to you, the joy of getting to know them and their music is equally good. As you'll soon see, my tastes leaning toward independent music of various genres. Basically, almost anything you'd hear on pop radio (or would be acceptable on a show like "American Idol") are things you won't find in my top playlists. Anyway, here are the top 10 tunes that I didn't know about a year ago. This is a song list, so the order is alphabetical by song title.

Syd Arthur - "Autograph" (2014)

If I had to pick one band that I was most excited to find in 2014, it's this group of young and super talented guys out of Canterbury, UK. In as much as I never really like to go out to see or do anything, we had a fantastic time seeing Syd Arthur at the tiny Hotel Cafe in Hollywood last summer. They are a nearly indefinable blend of prog, pop, rock, psychedelia, jazz, and more. I am totally looking forward to their next batch of tunes, whenever it arrives.

Unwound - "Demons Sing Love Songs" (2001)

Here's a great example of finding a terrific "new" band that doesn't exist anymore. Out of Olympia, WA, these people made music together from 1991 until 2002, right after this ultimate album of theirs. And then, another 12 years went by before I'd ever heard of them. This song is ridiculously ahead of its time.

Nicholas Stevenson - "Here I Land" (2014)

I found this UK-based indie singer-songwriter (and, coincidentally, superb visual artist) when my band They Stole My Crayon submitted a song to the "Welcome To Night Vale" podcast. While checking out some of the other artists whose music had been chosen, I immediately gravitated toward this song, and bought it as soon as it was released. Nicholas has a terrific sound that, like most of the music makers on this list, isn't easy to immediately classify.

Fatso Jetson - "Long Deep Breath" (2014)

I'd love to be able to show you this whole song (a clip of it starts at 1:09 above), but the band seems to have only released this split EP on vinyl. Ah well. Fatso Jetson is a hugely influential band in the desert/stoner rock scene, and any new music from them is highly welcomed. We saw them in June at Pappy & Harriet's, and immersing ourselves in this band on an outdoor stage at sunset in the midst of the Mojave was fucking sublime.

Tweedy - "Low Key" (2014)

Jeff Tweedy, of course, was a member of influential alt-country bands Uncle Tupelo and Wilco. This year, he and his son Spencer created a band simply called Tweedy, and I have to say, this particular tune just hit all of the jangly, poppy goodness that I often like in music. It's simple, it's fun, and there's nothing I don't fully enjoy about it.

Heroic Doses - "Reggie, Is It?" (1998)

Here's the oldest entry on this year's list. Yeah, 1998. Making matters even more strange, this Chicago-based band did one album, and as far as I can tell, never did anything again. Somehow, I stumbled onto them, and loved their sound which is at times reminiscent of The Police if they didn't have a narcissistic vocalist. Or any vocalist; most of the tunes on this album are instrumental.

Talk In Tongues - "Still Don't Seem To Care (2014)

This is probably the newest band on my list. They're a psych-rock band based here in Los Angeles, and are so fresh that this single (and a remix of it) is all they've put out so far. I am looking forward to see what else they can do, but this tune is a sweet psych nugget regardless.

Quilt - "Tie Up The Tides" (2014)

A really cool indie psych-folk band out of Boston, I became more impressed with Quilt after I saw them do a couple of live shows, which really highlighted their musicianship and performance skills for me. Great harmonies and strong songs in a modern yet very organic-feeling package that doesn't feel at all contrived or overly hipstery.

Beck - "Waking Light" (2014)

You'll note that few bands on my list are on any kind of major label or are known on a widespread basis. Beck is one exception to that rule, but Beck has always been an exception. It was immediately apparent to me that his 2014 album Morning Phase was a companion piece to his great 2003 album Sea Change, and is simply an amazing piece of studio work. The songs and the sounds are all innovative and outstanding.

Polvo - "The Water Wheel" (2013)

Holy shit... how did I not know about Polvo until this year? I have few regrets in life, really, but I do wish I'd known about this North Carolina-based art/noise rock band previously. No better time than the present; their latest album (released in 2013) is fantastic. I'm not quite sure of their status; they haven't toured since 2011, but they use dissonance and odd timings in ways that appeal to me on many levels.

And a few honorable mentions...

The GOASTT - "Animals" (2014)

I have to admit, if The GOASTT was some random indie band, I'd probably like them even more than I do knowing that it's fronted by Sean Ono Lennon, the son of John and Yoko. As it is, it's very hard not to make comparisons and have certain expectations. I will say that I like what they did on this album quite a lot, and this tune hooked its way into my brain for quite awhile last summer.

Connan Mockasin - "It's Choade My Dear" (2010)

Well, if you want weird, I've got some weird for you. I'm not sure if Connan is a human, an extraterrestrial alien, or some kind of hedgehog, but his album from 2010 that I ran across this year has some moments of extraordinary strangeness.

Foo Fighters - "Subterranean" (2014)

Perhaps the most mainstream band on this entire list, I give the Foos credit because of Sonic Highways, Dave Grohl's spectacular television series on HBO this fall. This is the tune they did in Seattle, and is probably my favorite on the new album (which, while a solid rock outing, isn't nearly as strong as their previous LP Wasting Light which may have been their best).

They Stole My Crayon - "Things Under Trees" (2014)

I should say that I'm certainly not including my own band's only release of the year in some promotional effort on my own behalf. In fact, I had little to do with this song at all, other than performing on it. The lyrics are by my lovely Christina Lee, and the music is by the equally lovely Bunny Knutson. But looking back over the year, I find that I genuinely enjoy this song, and am proud of it despite my relatively small personal contribution toward it. It will be available as part of our debut release coming in mid-2015.

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