It’s happened again; you’ve fallen behind. The year 2014, once so open and full of possibilities, is dwindling to its end. There are a rapidly diminishing number of days, hours and minutes left for you to finish what you set out to accomplish this year. No matter how hard you try, you won’t catch up with every TV show, watch every movie, read every book, complete every project or reach every goal. You can’t be all places at once, so more things than you would probably prefer have fallen through the cracks. Don’t worry, though. There’s nothing to be ashamed of; it happens to the best of us. In 2014, there’s no such thing as a completionist, and I’m not sure there’s ever been, really. So with the acknowledgement that time is finite and that humans are imperfect out of the way, let’s move on and run through some of the songs you might have missed when things got hectic in the waning months of the year.
“Figure It Out” by Royal Blood
If there’s a common link between these songs, then it’s the idea of variety. I don’t necessarily mean musical variety, either (though that’s part of it). I’m talking more about the idea of songs with a variety of intentions. First case in point, British two-piece Royal Blood on the groovy, thrilling jam, “Figure It Out”. Royal Blood rejects the notion that music should be safe and comforting. They imbue an old school rock sound with experimentalism and, crucially, a sense of menace and not a small amount of swagger. Their ambition is to stretch the limits of what bass and drums can sound like. On “Figure It Out,” they’re just two guys going for it, and it’s as glorious as it is refreshing. More like this, please.
“Budapest” by George Ezra
On the other hand, we have a charming, young, British folk singer on the verge of pop stardom. George Ezra’s “Budapest,” was released in 2013, but it didn’t become a hit until the latter half of 2014. At present, it sits atop US Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart and is rising on various charts all over the world. It’s the opposite of “Figure It Out” – understated, sweet, comforting. It’s another in a long list of sincere folk songs that have become indie/alternative/pop hits in recent years, largely thanks to Mumford and Sons. We should be sick of this kind of thing by now – I mostly am – but gentle, catchy pop songs have a way of burrowing their way into your brain and making you like them anyway.
“Every Other Freckle” by alt-J
Now, erase the line you just (intentionally or unintentionally) drew between the dichotomy of ambitious swagger and cozy straightforwardness. Throw away the piece of paper it was on, too. Forget there was ever either of these things. Now, we can talk about alt-J, a band too distinct and weird for categorization. The creative and critically-acclaimed British – yep, lot of Brits out there worth paying attention to right now, and we’re not done with them yet– indie rock band dropped its sophomore album, This Is All Yours this fall, and it was a fascinating mash-up of instrumentals and harmonies, feelings and sounds, stories and moods. You travel from a sunny summer day at the lake to an English garden, from warm foothills to a nightmarish pine forest, among many other places. It’s hard to pin down the location of “Every Other Freckle,” but not its appeal. It’s an unnerving genre-bending track that combines soft harmonies, heavy distortion, an industrial, electronic beat, whispers, shouts and an irrepressible sense of longing. Each listen will reveal another nuance, so prepare to put this on repeat for quite a while.
“Zombie” by Jamie T
I told you; yet another Englishman. Singer-songwriter Jamie has been flying under the radar for a while now, but he’s released his share of pretty interesting hip-hop-tinged jams (“Sticks and Stones”) and some pretty delightful acoustic tracks (“Jilly Armeen”) over the years. His latest, 2014’s Carry On The Grudge, is more indie rock than hip-hop. It includes “Zombie,” an angst-y and ultra-catchy love song. Love as a form of infection has been done before, but it’s never felt this anthemic.
“Cannonball” by Watsky
American rapper/slam poet Watsky’s “Cannonball” probably isn’t very representative of his excellent fall release, “All You Can Do”. In fact, it’s closer to a poem with music than it is a rap song. But that doesn’t matter. The closing track is the most gripping on the whole album. It begins with moving piano keys and is immediately followed by the surprising vocals of none other than rock and roll legend Stephen Stills, before Watsky takes over with a reading of his urgent and increasingly passionate poem. “I’m so far from perfect,” he laments at the beginning. “So far it’s been worth it,” he eventually concludes. His conviction will make you feel inclined to believe him.
“Back to the Future (Part 1)” by D’Angelo and The Vanguard
I’m going to be honest here. I don’t have a lot to say about D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s recently released and ridiculously long-awaited album right now. Well, other than that it sounds totally different than anything else out there right now, and that you should listen to it. “Back to the Future (Part 1)” is an early personal favorite, though that’s definitely apt to change. Such is the beauty of surprising new music.
“Roam” by Crown & the M.O.B.
This recommendation comes from my Saying Something blogging partner Brent Glass, who recently turned me on to this emerging rapper (Crown) and his dynamic backing band (the M.O.B. – Message of the Blues), and I can’t stop listening to them. They dropped their debut EP Love My People this fall, and though it’s composed of just four tracks, every one is a definite keeper. Crown is a truly unique guy. Many rappers are politically and socially conscious, but he’s the only one that I’m aware of who has served tours in the Air Force. Both his Brooklyn upbringing and his Los Angeles residence influence his lyrics and style, and his songs are relentlessly upbeat, all good vibes and catchy choruses. “Roam” is the most chill of the four, evocative of a relaxing afternoon, rather than a dance party. In it, Crown namedrops Nas, but it’s more reminiscent of Biggie and The Roots; good company to be in, regardless.
“All This Could Be Yours” by Cold War Kids
Cold War Kids have long been a sentimental favorite of mine. They emerged around the time that I started to gravitate towards a certain type of indie rock. They’ve changed and grown a lot since the days of the raw, howling blues-rock of Robbers & Barons. It hasn’t always felt as vital it did in 2006, but they hit their sweet spot on this one. Funkier and friskier than they’ve ever sounded, “All This Could Be Yours” is a fun, taunting way to dive into their latest album.
“Happy Idiot” by TV on the Radio
TV On The Radio returned to indie airwaves this fall, three years after the devastating loss of bassist Gerard Smith, who died of cancer. Their fifth album, Seeds is pure catharsis, one the band had to get out of its system to move forward. It signals a new phase for a band that I suspect will eventually be remembered as a historic one. Lead single, “Happy Idiot” is up-tempo but melancholy. The always-superb Tunde Adebimpe paints a picture of a detached character more comfortable with willful ignorance than living with reality. Not a particularly cheery notion at any rate, but knowing the band’s recent history makes it particularly crushing. But, hey, the album has its bright spots, too.
For the last time in 2014: happy listening!
Blake Baxter is a native of Illinois and a 2013 graduate of Eureka College. He currently writes travel-related articles for Continental Driftings, and previously covered the Carolina Panthers for Football.com during the 2013 season, as well as college basketball for ESPN Louisville during the 2012-13 season. Additionally, he’s written about sports, pop culture and politics for Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Voices, The College Fix, and Voice of TV, among other places. Blake works in the communication and marketing field for Technical Solutions & Services, but aspires to write full-time in the near future.