Record companies seem to believe that we are more prone to spend money on music in November and December. Who knows, maybe we are, even in this time and age of streaming. The result is in any case a wave of releases at the end of every year. 2014 is no exception. I have had a hard time choosing the very best of these. If you reload the blog list in Spotify now, you will find samples from as many as 13 new albums. I suggest you take a few extra days off over Christmas and spend them horizontally listening to great new stuff. You won’t be sorry, I promise.
There’s a lot of mellow stuff being released these days, but maybe that’s what we need at this time of year. Let’s start with a Canadian group, Stars, out with an album called No One is Lost. Some of the tracks are highly danceable, but I have picked some of the quieter indiepop ones. These are catchy and carefully crafted songs, and the mix of male and female vocals works really well for me. The band has been at it since 2001, but very little has reached the non-Canadian world. Perhaps this will change with this great album. Taster: Stars – From The Night
Similarily, the Irish has kept Adrian Crowley to themselves. I have not heard of him until this month, and I have made a mental Note To Self to listen to his many previous albums and get updated on the music of a great singer. From listening to his new album, Some Blue Morning, images of Leonard Cohen comes to mind, perhaps Richard Hawley as well, none of which lessens the interest in his music. Adrian’s deep, masculine voice, backed up by an equally dark orchestration, creates an eerily beautiful sound. Taster: Adrian Crowley – Trouble
And while we are in this mood, it makes sense to listen to Bell Gardens from California. Their second album, Slow Dawns for Lost Conclusions, glides into your ear like melted butter, sweet, full bodied and melodic. We should be so happy that record companies, in this case Rocket Girl in the UK, go against the flow and release music they must know never will reach any chart, but will excite most mature listeners. Taster:
On to something completely different, Norwegian folk music, or at least music inspired by such; Gjermund Larsen is a young fiddle player and composer, and on his new album Trønderbarokk, he pushes the boundaries of traditional music, working with classical musicians from Trondheimsolistene, creating music in the little known landscape between classical and folk music. The result is really exciting, neither classical nor folk, but a great hybrid. Give it a listen, you may just like it. Taster: Gjermund Larsen – Svingom (feat. Einar Olav Larsen & Trondheimsolistene)
Jaymay’s music has been described as anti-folk, whatever that means. On her new album Jaymay in Norway, there aren’t much reminiscent of folk, I’ll grant her that. However, if you had stripped the songs of the bright orchestrations and given Jaymay a classical guitar, perhaps it would have sounded folksy. Not that it matters, this is melodic, playful and well produced pop, very catchy indeed. There is a self-confidence in Jaymay’s voice that makes the songs stand out when you listen to them. Taster: Jaymay – Orange Peels
On to the oldies-but-very-much-alive-segment, in fact three artists qualify for the category in the updated blog list. I used to love the music of Neil Diamond when I was a teenager. It was not the coolest thing to do at that age, but I bought into his insisting sincerity, particularly when he strayed away from the blandest of songwriting – Song, Song Blue and such – which he frequently did. Diamond is still at it, and his newest album, Melody Road, is simply very good, sounds very much like vintage Neil Diamond, and impeccably produced by Don Was and Jacknife Lee. Taster: Neil Diamond – First Time
Pink Floyd is at it again as well, at least remnants of the group, and although The Endless River lack any of the songs that never leave your head, it is atmospheric rock at its best. I know a lot of reviewers have given the album thumbs down, but whether you are a fan or not, the tracks will grow on you with repeated listening. Most of the album is instrumental, and has an almost classic feel to it in my view. Yes, it may prompt a feeling of being in an elevator, but if you can’t hear the difference between Pink Floyd and muzak, perhaps you should get out of the elevator more often. Taster: Pink Floyd – Side 2, Pt. 4: Anisina
Bob Dylan is not at it again, but a group of other artists has taken on Dylan’s unfinished lyrics from the 1960s and released an album called Lost on the River, under the artist name of The New Basement Tapes. Among the artists are T-Bone Burnett (producing), Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons. This is what Dylan would have sounded like if he had worked with other composers instead of composing himself – and hid the lyrics in a chest for 30 years. The result is surprisingly good and varied, not necessarily cohesive, but the variation works well. Taster: The New Basement Tapes – Card Shark
Skinny Dipper’s EP, Masks, is considerably more cohesive. The nine talented Scottish musicians have created a beautiful little album, filled to the brim with strings, brass and wonderfully smooth vocals. I came across the album because I am following the members of last year’s brilliant debut group Quickbeam from Glasgow. It turns out these musicians move around a bit from band to band, so it is not easy to keep up with them. Right now, however, you’ll find two of them in Skinny Dipper, so enjoy it before they move on again. Taster: Skinny Dipper – Son of a Mitch
Country singer Sid Griffin lives in London, but the music is pure Americana. I have lived four years in southeastern Ohio, and Griffin’s music vividly brings to mind the bluegrass of the Midwest, but of a polished and sophisticated variety. No wonder, as Sid Griffin is born and raised in neighbouring state Kentucky. The new album is called The Trick is to Breathe, and ain’t that the truth? Taster: Sid Griffin – Ode To Bobbie Gentry
Two other artists added today also reside in England. Deptford Goth is nothing like the name would suggest, there is nothing goth about these almost hymnlike songs on the album, simply called Songs. Daniel Woolhouse hides behind the name, and is supposedly from a town called Deptford. The orchestration is as broad brushed as Skinny Dipper, and it can easily be mixed with their music, and with Pink Floyd for that matter (which is exactly what you’ll do if you let Spotify shuffle the tracks I have added for you – highly recommended by the way). Taster: Deptford Goth – Relics
Woman’s Hour’s debut EP was part of the blog list last year. Now their album, Conversations, is out, and it has definitely been worth the wait. Take a look at the artwork as well; this group knows how to create a stunning universe around their music. Some of the tracks are almost painfully beautiful; Fiona Burgess’ voice is smoother than Sade’s from the olden days. Taster: Woman’s Hour – Two Sides Of You
I’ll end this blog list – and the year – with a new favourite, the Welchman Mark Nevin. It is of course totally unfair to call Nevin new; he was part of Fairground Attraction, but this is the first time I have run into him as a solo artist. This is old fashioned, unpretentious pop with a touch of folk, I am sure it is unfashionable, but I couldn’t care less, I thoroughly enjoy the niceness of Beautiful Guitars. Mark and I share birthday, he is two years younger than I, but I feel kinship nevertheless (more with him than with Fidel Castro who was born on August 13 as well). Taster: Mark Nevin – Kiteflyer’s Hill
So this is it for 2014. I intend to wrap up the year with this year’s best albums, but don’t expect to hear from me again until after Christmas. New songs will be added in 2015. In the meantime, enjoy the 364 songs, less music from Violet Road, ESC, Glen Tilbrook, Dina Minsund, Lily Allen and Brandon Benson that are now officially retired from the list.
Have a great Yuletide, music lovers.