Playlist: Best Songs of 2014, Volume 1

Graham LeBron
01 14, 2015
The first of a 3-part series. Part 1 is what most folks would call indie rock -- a nice Sunday afternoon mix. It's mellow, great to put on if you're sitting on a patio, hanging out, drinking a beer in the sun.

Barnyard - Sandy's"Fourth Dementia" (Um Yeah Arts)

Sandy's is Alexi from The Botticelli's, an SF band that made a great record called “Old Home Movies” back in 2008. I saw them play Hickey Fest last summer, and they were amazing -- so I bought this record from him and then figured out the Botticelli’s connection. I’m very pleased he’s still making such phenomenal music.

Sweetest Talk - Habibi "S/T" (Burger Records)

Habibi is a band of young women that released their debut LP on Burger Records. I try to keep up with Burger stuff in general, which can be difficult given their prolific output. They made a video in the vein of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" or "Rock 'n' Roll High School" called "I Got the Moves" which is great -- it totally fits their garage rock vibe. Also, being babes doesn't hurt.

Love is to Die - Warpaint "S/T"(Rough Trade)

Warpaint is an all women band from LA that I'd overlooked because of the hype I'd heard. While researching band websites I came across theirs and the first thing on the site is the video for "Disco/Very - Keep it Healthy". I was hooked, I play this LP almost every time I DJ now. Upon further investigation, I found out two of my favorite producers, Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck) and Flood (Depeche Mode, New Order) were involved. No wonder it sounds so good.

Better Man - Paolo Nutini "Caustic Love" (Atlantic)

This is the 3rd album from half Scot, half Italian singer songwriter, Paolo Nutini, but the first I've heard of him. It is some kind of Neo-soul and it sounds timeless; like it could have come out any year in the last few decades. I'm beginning to realize a lot of my favorite records this year have that quality.

Morning - Beck "Morning Phase" (Capitol)

Beck put out his best (and only) record in years last year. According to the press release, it serves as a companion piece to 2002's Sea Change. Which is great for me since that is probably the Beck record I listen to the most to this day. Such a solid record, it doesn't even need a single. This style of arrangement, owing quite a debt to Serge Gainsbourg's 1971 opus "Histoire de Melody Nelson", is much harder to pull off than it sounds. I'd expect no less from this guy.

Finest Line - Mike Sempert "Mid-Dream" (Velvet Blue Music)

Mike Sempert used to front bay area indie favorite, Birds & Batteries. Then he moved to LA, got a dog, got married, and wrote some new songs. This record sounds like an old LA singer-songwriter album -- a modern vision of the the Laurel Canyon sound that still lives and breathes around those parts. The epic build of the arpeggiated keyboard line combined with the glacial pace and lyrics makes this one a modern classic in my book.

Turtles All The Way Down - Sturgill Simpson "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music" (High Top Mountain Records)

This is my favorite song of the year. The lyrical sentiment is perfect, the arrangement is timeless. In the vein of From Elvis in Memphis, it's the perfect blend of country, rock and soul. Truly a modern classic. You'll be hearing a lot more from this guy.

Marfa Lights - Steelism "615 to Fame" (Single Lock Records)

This band is an anomaly, and entirely compelling. They're an instrumental duo from Nashville featuring guitar and pedal steel, but it's not really country. There are so many other elements going on here, Beatles, Esquivel, Chet Atkins...
This song sounds like an unreleased Can or Neu! track, it's got that driving kraut rock, Motorik beat. Here is a band expressing something unique and original by not being chained to one genre. It doesn't sound like they even think about it. I'd like to believe it just happens for them, because sometimes, it just does.

From the Outside - Camera "Remember I was Carbon Dioxide" (Bureau B)

This is a fairly new band from Berlin that I found through Aquarius Records. Aquarius always champions strange music you won't find in normal places. If you told me this was a newly discovered kraut rock album from the 70s, I would believe you. Upon closer listen to the album, you'll notice a lot of other elements at play. Apparently, hey've been dubbed "Kraut Rock Guerrilla" due to their penchant for playing without permission in public places. In their words, "Perhaps we just have the same angle of approach." Classic.

Let's Grow - Gulp "Season Sun" (Sonic Cathedral)

Gulp is Guto Pryce from Super Furry Animals and friends. This reminds me of the records Stereolab was making in the 90s, when they were getting into French pop, Esquivel, and kraut rock. Another record that if I told you it came out in 1980, you'd believe me. Solid synth rock grooves throughout.

Blues in the Afternoon - The Donkeys (Easy Sound Recording Company)

A short little song, my favorite on this record. Sounds like it could be the end of road trip. They're one of the best bands in California -- they don't worry about genre, they just write great songs with great instrumentation.

For The Boy Who Moved Away - EDJ (Easy Sound Recording Company)

EDJ, Eric D. Johnson, was Fruit Bats for 15+ years, releasing some of my favorite albums of the last decade. In late 2013 he finally called it quits and continued his film score and production work, all the while honing his own material. He went down to LA and worked with frequent collaborator, Thom Monahan, and came back with this breezy, semi throwback record. It sounds old and new. You can hear his influences even as he is tossing them aside to follow his muse. This guy can write a song.

Waves - Bahamas "Bahamas is Afie" (Brushfire Records)

Bahamas is Afie Jurvanen, a Canadian musician most known for playing with Feist among others from Canada's prolific Arts & Crafts collective. For his second album on Jack Johnson's Brushfire imprint, he self produced and self titled it.
It's a surprisingly simple modern pop record -- the straight forward arrangements showcase Afie's comfortingly expressive voice and knack for good hooks. It is sparse and moving, and you can hear his warm personality coming through loud and clear.

Brother - Mac DeMarco "Salad Days" (Captured Tracks)

One of the mellower songs on this record, it fits the mix. What a prolific young Canadian. He recorded this himself in his Brooklyn apartment. Clearly, he can quickly and cohesively put together a meaningful, enjoyable rock album. Another one of those records with a timeless quality to it.

Call Out - Floating Action "Body Questions" (New West Records)

Floating Action is one of my all time favorite bands -- I have all of the records. Seth Kaufman plays all the instruments and the songs all flow from him. He lives in Asheville, NC and doesn't tour a lot, but he makes these timeless records that range from soul, to R&B, to rock to roll, There's even elements of  hip hop, dub, and reggae. He's got one of those polarizing voices -- either you like it or you don't. I do!

Back Down To The Tombs - Holy Sons "The Fact Facer" (Thrill Jockey)

Talk about prolific. This guy, Emil Amos, has been around since the 90s. I got turned on to him about 10 years ago, and lost track of him since, but he's got 12 records dating back to the late 90s. It's a folky, dark record full of really strong songs. Nice to see 90's indie label stalwart, Thrill Jockey, still releasing meaningful albums.

Through the Leaves - The Range of Light Wilderness "S/T" (Gnome Life Records)

This band is from Big Sur, and from what I understand, they did most of the recording themselves. They've pieced together a mix of demo, studio, and practice recordings in a most compelling, cohesive way. The songs are so good, you just want to keep listening. I've lost track of how many times I've immediately started it over as soon as it ends. A must listen.

Similar Articles