I refuse to refer to this as a “Top” list of music because well, we all know the avalanche of such named lists that emerge right around this time of the year all proclaim to contain top material but the truth is, those lists are comprised of the music that is at the top of that person’s mind and playlist. Music that “stands out,” which is quite a similarly subjective title, feels more appropriate, as it doesn’t have to be stacked against any kind of uniform definition of “best” or “most talked about” but still managed to leave an impression for an assortment of reasons. It is with that last thought in mind that I share these ten songs, in no particular order, I believe will add at least a good 30+ minutes of interesting music worth its weight in good party discussion, so maybe you’ll consider checking up on these artists in the new year.
This song doesn’t waste time in the attention grabbing department and the moderate touch of flange and phase on the guitars give this aptly (if perhaps a bit real life misleading) named (skate) punk rock band, a vibe that resonates with their much more DIY cousins from afar, FIDLAR. Still, a bit more production isn’t a death wish and the presence of such on this uptempo rock track allows Skaters to “control the chaos” if you will, so while this is pumping through your bluetooth speaker at the party, there will be no sudden clips, painful spikes or unexpected dips in gain (volume).
The penultimate track from Anberlin’s final studio album might not be the most upbeat, most melodically uplifting or even the most lyrically cheerful for blasting while serving appetizers. (I feel lost / conflicting thoughts coarse through / clarity she’s gone / don’t know a thing I thought I knew.) Flipping to the other side of the same coin for this third point however, why this does stand out is in fact for its lyrics. Leading man, Stephen Christian, has always delivered pristine, lyrical complexity that has reflected either his own state of mind, the state of the band, the state of his own life or even the world at large, among other things. Lowborn might have meant a lot to Anberlin fans by default, based on its significance as an ending to a chapter but even if someone has never heard this bad before, this song demonstrates Christian’s skill with words that can leave one impressed but is conversely not layered with verse so cryptic that fans late to the party feel excluded.
Solely from the material one can find online, it’s not difficult to become interested in what Little May has to offer. This single from their self-titled debut EP is tightly crafted but exudes plenty of natural character, fitting of their indie/folk rock colors. Stick scrapes, finger slides on guitars, that ounce of reverb that isn’t from a plug-in but from the recording space and the women’s voices colliding midair. They are a nicely defined outfit that can only be further enjoyed in a live experience (something less frequent for us in the States, unfortunately,) where the ladies’ vocal harmonizing truly shines –even more so than in a prepared studio environment. Little May are a group with seasoned stripes of teamwork and this song embodies and then emphasizes that natural chemistry with a well produced record.
Despite the repeated findings of less-than-peppy reviews of the Cold War Kids’s fifth record, there were some tracks that came away from the control room in post-production with the potential to become songs you turn up and can unabashedly enjoy. Coincidentally, the first track off of “Hold My Home,” also coincidentally titled “First” was one of those. The captivating qualities of this track come from staples of Cold War Kids performance expectations: A handful of memorable and repeatable (read: shout-able from the audience) lyrics, a foot stomping bass beat and (real human) claps. Given how much push the Kids gave this record right after its release, it’s safe to say when they composed this one, they had much of their usual live antics kept well in mind.
“Everything Will Be Alright In The End” was a refreshing revival for Weezer and double so for their fans and among the overall strong resurfacing, Cleopatra contains an especially satisfying assortment of components that make it a cool track, whether it its place among the rest of the album as a full play through or on its own in a miscellaneous playlist. Rivers Cuomo tinkers with friendly enough metaphors standing in for the state of Weezer as a band in the biz, that can easily be imposed onto a relationship-esque stamp if that suits the listener. Melodically and rhythmically the triple team of an almost Mumford and Sons-like instrumental intro, harmonic minor scale cameos and, yes, that well celebrated single measure of 5/4 time in the beginning of the chorus, make this catchy and hook-driven Weezer comeback (which was not a chosen single, mind you) just a bit more unique than the rest.
At this stage in their collective career (rumors of a last album in the works but, that’s another story for another day…) Coldplay could create radio ready singles in their sleep. “Sky Full of Stars” is by no means a song setting any kind of lyrical precedence. Nor is this a song with a melody defying the laws of conventional music theory, western, eastern or otherwise. What makes this single stand out is precisely the fact that it has so much leeway for remixing and reimagining. The pure, original form is pleasing enough on its own (the particular synth used for the five note hook at the beginning of the chorus is club and home friendly in terms of its timbre.) but as was most likely obvious to any radio programmer who got their hands on a promotional copy before official release, people knew this song could be cranked up, slowed down, made sweet, spiky, punchy or sultry…whatever a person could imagine. “Stars” is a well polished shell waiting to be placed among a neatly finished tables cape of someone else’s design. (My personal favorite out there, getting an honorable mention, is the Sound Works Transylvania Orchestra’s cover here.)
Side Saddle might not be a globally resounding band name (yet), but, this group has their ducks in a well assembled row: An identifiable and consistent sound, a strong and very signature lead vocal (courtesy of Ian McGuinness) and flavorful a band arrangement blending acoustic with gentle electric, tambourine with other various hand percussion and even a touch of country with some sliding dobro and more –all of which keeps them from falling right off the band parts saddle (sorry, couldn’t help it!) into the pit of “over saturated market despair.” Think, clean, crisp indie folk-pop but with a layered vocal and tiny bit of organic roughness that might just prompt Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum to appear, floating by on his gramophone style airplane. If that’s not enough to intrigue, the subject matter of this song being very relationship centric and very much centered around loss/breakup territory but instead turning things around to say to the girl, “There are a lot of things you have left to do. Don’t wait for him to love you” is a far less written, and even far less heard, sentiment in songs today and for this kind of a song to have this level of single carrying power is commendable to say the least and many-replay worthy at best.
This cut managed to grab my attention close to the wire, what with its release having only been just above a week ago and claustrophobically close to Christmas festivities. In brief, this track is one void of words but what it lacks in spoken provocation it makes up for in spades through intricate and surprisingly instrument choice and interaction. The rolling and gradually growing marimba is not an instrument common within the mainstream but that’s what makes the collaborating of two slightly off-kilter (in the best, creative way) but mainstream paddling entities like Adult Swim and Ghostly International, the logical culprits for encouraging a compilation containing this kind of composition. Their brand power has allowed this sophisticated work of DJ Mike Silver (the man behind CFCF) to reach places where it might otherwise have been deemed intimidating or repetitious, (it takes more than a full minute before cymbals and a drum beat sneak in the mix) if not for the suitable likening and subsequent connecting to modern music minimalists Steve Reich and Phillip Glass. This is a quietly enjoyable DJ cut, perfect for when things are winding down in the wee hours of 2015, capable of being picked apart post-hangover, for all of its decadently layered and quasi-ostinato designs.
Seeing as the ukelele appears to becoming an instrument of choice and trend among bands that then subsequently get a touch of radio play here in the the U.S. (a good current example would be Vance Joy with his single, “Riptide,“) Leon Veremis (and yes, he really is “of Athens” in Greece,) would fit right in on any Top 40 station’s lineup right now with the titular song off his new album. Much like the ukelele, this song is bright and uptempo, balancing a tasteful amount of synthesized effects that sound as if they almost skim across the song’s background –like they would be skimming across a clear water’s surface in summer. Leon’s vocals are a thing of polished sweetness but not to a point of inhuman excess and the very pronounced retention of his supporting vocalists once the chorus kicks in shows this is no one man production, despite the name. Add in a few more uncommon elements like a sliding trombone part and some shaker percussion and even with the reliability of the “major=pop=major” formula, this is not one-dimensional track. The single having been released back in spring and the album in the beginning of summer, it’s a great reminder of the season from which we are now sitting a long ways and many months away.
Table Scraps are a male and female duo with a name that couldn’t have been better matched to their state of progress or sound if it had been absentminded put together during a game of Apples to Apples. A scrappy pair of punk rockers from Birmingham, England, Scott Vincent Abbott and Poppy Twist turned out this delightfully distorted, unrelenting single; doing so on their own time, with limited funds and a completely “give your all” DIY attitude –punk’s match made in heaven. “Bug” and the sound of Table Scraps as a whole, is in fact reflecting much of punk’s original sounds –fuzzed guitar, heavily reverbed vocals, unequal filtering abound all over this track. (Not to mention punk’s classic number, three, which is the number of differing notes used in the guitar driven hook.) That though is what makes it so great, as this pair have already gained a loyal following. This band and others forming in the analogous veins, are proving that there is still genuine love and a fire for the grit, blood, sweat, tears and hard earned cash it takes to make a (punk rock) record and that is like an oasis amidst the occasionally blinding sheen of mainstream perfection. It’s just a matter of time before they have the practical means to get themselves Stateside…