I know what you are thinking, “I thought 2014 was over.” You are right, January is a time for looking forward and whether or not 2014 left a sweet or sour taste in your mouth, 2015 is here with all its shiny new album releases and diet plans. However, I would implore you to put your 2015 dreams on hold for a few minutes to join me as we take a look back at some albums you might have missed in 2014.
But first, let us take a brief aside before we depart on our unexpected journey. These albums are not ones I think you might have missed because they all come from unsigned indie darlings, nay, these groups are all at least somewhat rather mainstream. However, these albums did not receive the buzz I believed they deserved and were nowhere to be found on any list from Pitchfork to Buzzfeed. So with that semi-brief foreword, I bring you 4 albums you should check out.
The Drums fall 2014 release Encyclopedia lives up to the all-encompassing nature of its name by playing host to the wide and complex array of emotions showcased by lead singer Jonny Pierce. On lead off track “Magic Mountain” Pierce’s slicing falsettos create a sense of unrest and anger, while on the very next track “I Can’t Pretend” he paints a beautiful portrait of melancholy and regret. Each track releases a new and passionate expression of emotion from Pierce, which at times can make the lyrics feel a tad too insular but this is where the rest of the band shines in keeping each track accessible, as well as, indicative of what Pierce is trying to express. Filling each cut with spooky yet oddly appealing synths, boldly dissonant and distorted guitar lines, and an overall theme of throwback reverence for everything 80s. While this was probably The Drums biggest and most well received release of their career, it failed to make it onto some of even the longest shortlists of the best of 2014. So if you missed it, do check out this bizarre and fervent love letter to 80s pop.
Rubblebucket – Survival Sounds
Rubblebucket’s summer 2014 release Survival Sounds listens like a buoyant testament to a love of the pure fun and joys of living, which is telltale of the group’s longtime quirky MO but also seems to be their collective resilient response to lead singer Annakalmia Traver’s recent battle with cancer. Each cut bristles with the phosphorescent positive energy of Traver and every other member of this seven piece indie dance group. The formation of Rubblebucket’s signature sound can be attributed to their distinctive horn section and while the horns play a markedly less distinctive role on Survival Sounds, I would contest that this is not such a bad thing. The horns do not disappear so much as pull back into a spot where they can still make their presence be felt, as they do on “Origami”, while allowing more room for the rest of the band to shine. From the undeniably funky bassline in “Middle”, to the grittily epic guitar solo on “Shake Me Around”, and the infectious synth melodies that can be found on most every track. If you missed out on your fair share of fun in 2014 or are looking to get some started in 2015 check out this album if you have yet to do so.
Ryan Hemsworth-Alone For the First Time
Now we are going to take a hard turn away from the world of high energy indie rock into the mellow and intimate electronica of producer Ryan Hemsworth, on his 2014 album Alone for the First Time. I have taken to referring to Hemsworth’s style as bedroom electronica. It has a certain seldom found level of closeness to it, creating a feeling you are there in the room with him as he creates these delicate, complex, and seemingly vulnerable expressions. Each synth seems to lend itself to creating a semi-conscious dream state, the kind right before you wake up but are not quite ready to stop dreaming. Now I know my description of Alone for the First Time to this point makes it seem sickeningly sweet but it isn’t. Hemsworth shows great awareness of the saccharine qualities of the sounds he is using and accordingly he makes use of them with subtle efficiency. He also cuts the potential cutesy nature of his arrangements by injecting healthy doses of R&B, hip hop, and elements of more traditionally skewing electronica. The lead melody in “Hips Against Yours” is potentially one of the funkiest things to come out of a synth in all of 2014 and with the exclusion of like-minded musician Alex G, each of the albums features can be described as soulful R&B and/or hip hop artists. The only problem I had with this album is how criminally short it is. With only seven tracks and a combined run time of 27:02 it is over far too quickly but perhaps this means there is more material in line for a potential 2015 release. In the meantime give this album a listen while you wait.
Looking over what I’ve written so far I realize that a lot of what I have talked about is the emotional impact held within these albums so it is only fitting that I saved Cool Choices by S for last. S is the solo project from singer, guitarist, pianist, and songwriter Jenn Ghetto and the inception of Cool Choices came in the wake of a particularly bad break-up of hers. In knowing that, it is easy to hear the pain within tracks like “Losers” and “Remember Love”, the lingering anger within “Brunch”, as well as, the paralyzing feeling of loneliness in “Vampires”. Each song makes you relate to her situation and takes you back to the times in your life where you felt the same as she did. And while this may sound like anything but a pleasant experience, the journey this album takes you on is admittedly sad but in the end it fostered my empathy and left me feeling triumphantly cathartic. I would be remiss not to mention S’s three supporting band members. They seem to so perfectly understand exactly what Ghetto is going for with each song; knowing exactly how to compliment the thesis of each track, which pays testament to their musical ability, as well as, the universal quality of Ghetto’s song writing. The shimmering guitars, surprisingly upbeat nature of select tracks and old school indie aesthetic of this album is enough to hook anyone but the sheer lyrical honesty of Ghetto is what keeps me coming back and what puts Cool Choices over the top as the best of the potentially overlooked albums of 2014.