London – Let’s face it; there is just so much music out there. If you are privileged enough to get to write about music, one trick friends then play on you is to try to find new bands you’ve never come across. “You mean you really haven’t heard Mall Flood?!?” Partly this is to catch you out and ensure that any pedestal you might have been tempted to put yourself on as a writer is shakier than you imagined. Yet a blank look is also to do with the sheer number of albums released every year. Over the past 12 months you could have spent every waking hour listening yet not cover anything like the number put out this year; in which case it’s quite acceptable if you have totally missed the latest Plan C. [Apologies at this stage to any bands actually called Mall Flood or Plan C!]
With ‘Best of 2014’ lists hitting us from all quarters, it’s not a bad time to consider what might have passed under the radar this year. So, as an equally timely reminder for any music fans seeking stocking fillers, here is a countdown of ten great albums you might have missed in 2014. Enjoy!
10. Tiny Ruins – Brightly Painted One
Having previously worked as a solo artist, New Zealand singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook took the moniker of Tiny Ruins back in 2009. With bassist Cass Basil and drummer Alex Freer added to the line-up, Tiny Ruins released its sophomore album, Brightly Painted One, this year on Bella Union. There is a beguiling subtlety to the record, highlighted by Fullbrook’s delicate finger-picked guitar work, her softly longing vocals and sensitive accompaniments by her band mates. Her songs are often quirky and always graced with subtle observations. “Me At The Museum, You In The Wintergardens” neatly sums up Tiny Ruins’ charms.
9. Dum Dum Girls – Too True
U.S. goth rockers, Dum Dum Girls have been around since 2008, starting life as the bedroom recording project of front woman and songwriter Dee Dee Penny. The four-piece released its third studio album, Too True, in January on Sub Pop with songs inspired by 19th century French poetry and 80’s synth music. The album embraces a bigger, rockier sound with guitars to the fore and much set in mid tempo. Having given time for her vocal cords to heal from the effects of excessive touring, Penny is in fine voice here on “Lost Boys & Girls Club,” as well as looking luscious in latex in a curious H&M meets S&M post-Garden of Eden set.
8. Andrew Maxwell Morris – Well Tread Roads
With singer-songwriters occupying an especially crowded piece of the beach, standing out is the real challenge. Australian-born Andrew Maxwell Morris resides in Surrey, England and works as a criminal lawyer by day. The self-released Well Tread Roads is his first full-length album, a suitable title for a traveller by heart, a restless soul ever eager to learn and chart life’s experiences. Strong melodies and approachable lyrics abound on this record and you’d be hard pressed to find a better slice of Americana in 2014, for want of a label. “In A Heartache” from the album sums up the strength of this underrated songwriter and performer.
7. Lily & Madeleine – Fumes
Indianapolis folk sister act Lily & Madeleine brought out their second studio album, Fumes, on Asthmatic Kitty just a year after making their full-length debut. The Jurkiewicz sisters may still be only 17 and 19 respectively but they display the quiet assurance of veterans. As charted by Best New Bands recently on a live date, the duo offer harmonies that are instinctive, unforced and wholly natural with a pleasing contrast in tones. Fumes is a particularly satisfying album; richly textured yet crafted with an overriding sleight of hand. The songs have the confidence that coming of age can bring with it. “The Wolf Is Free” is a great cut from an extremely polished record.
6. Gabby Young & Other Animals – One Foot In Front Of The Other
The UK seven-piece Gabby Young & Other Animals are a band that defies labels, juggling a bewildering range of musical genres from to big-band jazz to opera, cabaret to folk, klezmer to bossa nova and more. Fronted by the inimitably stylish, operatic-toned Miss Young, the band is spectacular live as witnessed last month by Best New Bands. On record there are songs to make the party start and others to provide chilled contemplation. One Foot In Front Of The Other is the combo’s third studio album and compounds the best of Young’s earlier work with energetic workouts balanced by reflective beauty, the latter no better verified than by the stunning “Fear Of Flying.”
5. Summer Camp – Beyond Clueless
Summer Camp are the British husband and wife team of Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey who, following two successful albums, collaborated earlier this year with writer/director Charlie Lyne to produce the soundtrack to the film, Beyond Clueless. The film explores aspects of teenage life seen through over 200 coming-of-age movies. The soundtrack was composed organically with Lyne feeding footage to the duo, letting them musically evoke the moods suggested by the images and then cutting the final frames to Summer Camp’s finished score. Essentially the film is a British take on celluloid American youth culture and the soundtrack successfully implants a more contemporary spin on this quasi-mythical past as evidenced by this trailer.
4. Morton Valence – Left
Fronted by maverick genius, Robert ‘Hacker’ Jessett and honeyed singer Anne Gilpin, Morton Valence is a five-piece London-based rock band that loosely pitches its music as ‘urban country.’ Left is Valence’s third album – all put out on its own marvellously titled Bastard Recordings label – and maintains the free spirited inventiveness it is rightly renowned for. With typical understatement, the band itself describes the album as ‘a bunch of recordings that had literally been left languishing in Morton Valence’s archives which we felt deserved to see the light of day.’ It is actually a surprisingly cohesive collection and worthy of a place in your collection. The opening track is the startling “The Day I Went To Bed For 10 Years.”
3. Revere – My Mirror/Your Target
Revere is a seven-piece band combining orchestral instruments with rock staples that broke through in 2010 with a self-released debut album, Hey! Selim, a record packed with epic tunes including the astonishing “The Escape Artist.” After some changes in line-up the London-based band followed up this spring with the U.K. release of My Mirror/Your Target. The album sidesteps close comparison with its forerunner by focusing on shorter songs, many with a rockier edge to them, and allowing more space between instruments rather than building walls of sound, evidenced by the majestic balladry of “A Road From The Flood.”
2. Snowbird – Moon
Snowbird is the union of former Cocteau Twins instrumentalist Simon Raymonde, now the label boss of London-based label Bella Union, and Wisconsin-born singer-songwriter Stephanie Dosen. Released in January, the duo presents a collection of sensual, enigmatic songs that simply glide off Raymonde’s piano and Dosen’s tongue. While it might be easy to lose yourself in the sheer loveliness of all this, there are exceptional songs that remove any threat of stupor, not least the lushly realised “All Wishes Are Ghosts.” The accompanying video directed by Jamie Stone blends footage from Victor Sjöström’s 1918 film “Berg-Ejvind och hans Hustru” (“The Outlaw and His Wife”), adapted from the Icelandic play by Jóhann Sigurjónsson, with a contemporary tale that sits perfectly and movingly alongside it.
1. Arc Iris – Arc Iris
Formed in 2012 by multi-instrumentalist and singer Jocie Adams, formerly with The Low Anthem, Arc Iris produces a genre bending amalgam of folk, jazz, country, classical and progressive rock. Arc Iris’ first, self-titled album was released in April through the Los Angeles-based label ANTI- Records. The band has a real sense of theatre about it that comes across both live and on record, characterised on stage by Adams’ own trademark skin-tight gold lamé catsuit and its skittish, inventive recordings. Here is a delicious live version of one of the many outstanding songs from the album, “Canadian Cowboy”:
Top Photo: Arc Iris – Uncredited
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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