Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2015: Compilations, EPs, and Last Year’s Leftovers

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.

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Sylvan Esso: She don’t know the gravity she holds.

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Artist: Sylvan Esso
Album: Sylvan Esso
Year: 2014
Grade: B

In Brief: It’s amazing what two people can accomplish with little more than a voice, some synths and drum pads, and a bit of ingenuity when it comes to live looping. Not every experiment works, but when it does, it’s an intoxicating example of synthpop/IDM at its best.

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Sucré – Loner EP: Please just let me go at my own speed.

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Artist: Sucré
Album: Loner EP
Year: 2014
Grade: A-

In Brief: A tasty little EP that packs a lot of different moods and sounds into a mere 15 minutes of music. If you like the symphonic and/or beat-driven side of indie pop, give it a listen.

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Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways: Insert obligatory “we built these cities on rock & roll” joke here.

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Artist: Foo Fighters
Album: Sonic Highways
Year: 2014
Grade: B+

In Brief: With this aural tribute to eight of our country’s great cities, featuring artists as diverse as Ben Gibbard, Joe Walsh, and Zac Brown (and that’s just on my three favorite tracks), Foo Fighters have finally gotten me hooked after nearly two decades of me thinking they weren’t my style. Not every experiment works, but the band is wise to let the various genre influences from each city be a flavor rather than the entire dish, which makes the record overall more cohesive and engaging than the sum of its parts.

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Brooke Fraser – Brutal Romantic: It’s like I don’t even know you.

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Artist: Brooke Fraser
Album: Brutal Romantic
Year: 2014
Grade: B

In Brief: A smart, rhythmic, and addictive pop album from an artist I had mistakenly pigeonholed as something entirely different. This seems like the type of record that was designed to shake off preconceived notions, and it does a darn good job of that.

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Martel – Impersonator: Like Mercury, but more down-to-Earth.

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Artist: Martel
Album: Impersonator
Year: 2014
Grade: B+

In Brief: Martel joyfully embraces his claim to fame as a Freddie Mercury doppelganger on this album, while also asserting his own identity apart from it. In doing so, he gets to fully indulge his more theatrical tendencies, and he comes up with a solid collection of power pop and riff-heavy rock songs that remind me of what his old band Downhere might have sounded like, if only they had let loose a little more often.

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Jennifer Knapp – Set Me Free: I still love you, Jennifer, but this record? Not so much.

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Artist: Jennifer Knapp
Album: Set Me Free
Year: 2014
Grade: C+

In Brief: What starts off as a gutsy, confessional, and even mildly confrontational record sadly slips into the adult contemporary doldrums barely a third of the way in, and it never truly recovers. I’ve got nothing but love for Jennifer as a person, but Set Me Free plays it way too safe to be nearly as lovable as her classic albums or even Letting Go.

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Copeland – Ixora: Are we just fooling ourselves, living in the moment?

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Artist: Copeland
Album: Ixora
Year: 2014
Grade: B

In Brief: Sometimes it’s lush and orchestral. Sometimes it’s surprisingly rhythmic. Even when it’s as mellow and moody as you might expect from one of the world’s most cautious rock bands, it’s quite beautifully textured if you just listen closely enough. Ixora is a quiet but commendable comeback for a band I didn’t realize I would miss so much.

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