The next order of business as I relive some of my favorite music from the past year is to give credit to the odds and ends that I really enjoyed, but considered categorically ineligible for my “Top Albums” list, either because they aren’t full-length albums, they were re-releases of older material, or they were released in 2014 and I just didn’t catch up to them in time to put them on last year’s list.
COMPILATIONS, EPs AND SO FORTH:
The Last Bison – Dorado EP
Four excellent songs that were cut from the VA track listing, and that in my opinion would have only improved an already great album. I’m just glad we got them in any format. It was nice to already know them when I finally got to see Bison live at the only concert I actually made it to this year.
Music Video: “Souls in the Sand”
Owel – Every Good Boy EP
Possibly a clearing of the vaults to make way for a full-length follow-up next year that band says will consist of all-new material. If songs as catchy as the title track and as expansive, strange and wonderful as “Razors” are what don’t make the cut, I’m stoked to find out what actually does!
Jars of Clay – The Long Fall Back to Earth (Deluxe Edition)
This unabashedly 80’s pop-influenced disc was one of my favorites from 2009, and I was alarmed to see that it had vanished from Spotify earlier this year, but for good reason: It was re-released with six bonus tracks. Re-releases of fairly recent material generally don’t excite me, but the three “new” songs featured here are all Jars at their quirky best, and the remixes are surprisingly good as well.
Listen: “Love Won’t Let Us”
Archis – Archis EP
Dia Frampton, of Meg & Dia and The Voice semi-fame, teamed up with producer Joseph Trapanese to give more of a mystical, symphonic edge to her stream-of-consciousness-style songwriting, and it works a whole lot better than you’d think. They play out the foreboding slow burn in songs like “Blood” and “Let Me Love” just as well as they drop immediate pop hooks in my favorite track, “I Need You”.
Music Video: “Let Me Love”
Sleeping at Last – Atlas: Life
Beautiful meditations on childhood from the perspective of a new parent. Ryan O’Neal, you always melt my heart, but you make me so dang impatient with this one-song-every-few-months release schedule!
Copeland – Ixora Twin
A companion to last year’s Ixora that isn’t strictly a remix album, but it plays like one if you listen to it on its own, unaware of how neatly the elements from these alternate visions were meant to slot into the originals. Play both versions at once, and the combined experience enhances nearly every track on the album, even if at times the rhythmic approach of one might threaten to ruin the intimacy of the other. You’ve got three versions of each song to choose from now – that’s nothing short of generous coming from a band that, up until last year, I never thought we’d ever get anything from again.
The Good Mad – Face Your Feels EP
A handful of strong and somewhat unpredictable songs from a band that might just have brought enough pop, rock, and ambient elements into their folksy sound to get out from under Nickel Creek’s shadow. (Not to mention Mumford & Sons, who tried roughly the same thing this year, but got it horribly wrong.) Now if they could just manage a full-length album one of these years…
Music Video: “Adelaide”
LAST YEAR’S LEFTOVERS:
Martel – Impersonator
Basically I can sum this one up as “That guy from a decent Christian rock band I kinda forgot about a few years ago got noticed for doing Freddie Mercury impressions made a pretty good pop/rock album”. Occasionally it genre hops into harder or more theatrical territory, with highly entertaining results, but Martel also knows his way around a show-stopping ballad, so this one’s got a pretty wide spectrum covered.
Live Video: “Dead Ringer”
Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
If I’d actually listened to this one last year, I’d have wrestled over whether to consider it an album (I guess it’s long enough time-wise) or an EP (it’s only eight songs), but either way, I’m fascinated by the concept of the band recording a song apiece in eight different cities, with the musical history of that city influencing the song in some way. A lot of these tracks seem to deviate from Foo Fighters’ core sound, which to be honest is not a sound that ever really did much for me over the years, but I’m now compelled to go back in time with this band and find out if I was wrong about that.
Live Video: “Outside”
Brooke Fraser – Brutal Romantic
Some really interesting electropop influences and a bit of a baroque/ambient touch later in the album come together in a way I wouldn’t have expected from an artist I’d wrongly pegged as a “worship leader” due to that one time she wrote and sang “Hosanna” for Hillsongs. You have to read between the lines to hear the faith influence in some of these songs, which are more about how humans relate to each other, to technology, and to the world around us. But to be honest, I kind of prefer it that way.
Music Video: “Psychosocial”
Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
Also doing interesting things with skeletal electronic arrangements is this duo from North Carolina that came about when a folk singer asked a DJ to remix one of her group’s acapella songs. Lots of weird and startling sounds here to go alongside funhouse of looped synth and vocal effects and the uber-catchy melodies. I can’t believe this existed for like a year and a half before I knew about it.
Live Video: “Hey Mami”
Sucré – Loner EP
Also tragically existing for way too long before I became aware of it is this little morsel from the power trio I gushed about on their 2012 debut A Minor Bird. MuteMath drummer Darren King is more of a prominent influence here than he was on that album, providing some sick beats on a few of these songs, and surprisingly, it doesn’t clash at all with Jeremy Larson’s lush instrumental scoring. Stacy DuPree-King’s confident yet fragile vocals are once again at the center of it all, and if she plans to keep up this project, then I’m almost OK with the extended break that she and her Eisley sisters announced earlier this year.
Live Video: “Loner”
P.O.D. – SoCal Sessions
P.O.D. seems like one of those relics from the heyday of nu-metal that we’d all like to forget about nowadays even though they keep chugging along, but to give the band credit, there’s more musicality and diversity of influence there than they often get credit for. These acoustic remakes of some of the band’s favorite songs from over the years scales back on the general bone-headedness of some of their heavy material and shows that underneath it all, the band’s got a damn good guitarist, bass player, and drummer, and a more soulful vocalist than I was willing to give them credit for. Most of these songs aren’t massively surprising in acoustic format, but I love the laid-back vibe they’ve cultivated here without forsaking the strong melodic hooks or general catchiness of most of these songs. Somehow a darker song like “Youth of the Nation” seems even more chilling with an acoustic guitar, go figure. The opening track “Panic & Run” underwent the most surprising transformation; I kind of hated its original, much heavier incarnation on Murdered Love, but the acoustic/punk/reggae treatment they’ve given it here accentuates that it’s actually quite a well-written song. The closing track “Set Your Eyes to Zion” is the lone pre-Satellite entry, but they’ve made it a belated favorite of mine with this rendition as well.
Live Video: “Panic & Run”