You’ve probably read what we think are the top albums of 2014 and now it’s time to turn to Timber and Steel’s favourite artists and see what they pick as their number one.
We reached out to musicians across the folk spectrum, from local singer-songwriters to internationally acclaimed folk stars and the response, as always, has been amazing. So we’ll shut up and we’ll let the artists do the talking with Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2014:
Matt Walters – Nightwalk
I was a small part of Matt’s crowd-funding campaign to get this album off the ground and it was definitely money well spent! Matt has a really defined, folky sound, which evokes different emotions throughout the album. His understated vocals with his powerful lyrics make a great recipe for an excellent album. My personal highlights are Track 2, “Melbourne Goodbye’ and Track 8, ‘Build A Place’. I highly recommend you give it a listen!
Roland K Smith
John Fullbright – Songs
On his second album the best new songwriter in the world pairs lyricism with musicality and musicianship. Seriously, no one is making records as good as this young man from Oklahoma. “High Road”, the album’s penultimate track, still sends shivers down my spine after the hundredth listen. Fingers crossed we see him in Australia soon.
Steven Barnard (Arbori)
Glass Animals – Zaba
It was a toss up between this record and Jamie Cullum’s Momentum. Both are full are brilliant arranging and some great hip hop and R&B influences. Glass Animals however have created soundscapes, grooves, crochendo, and a singer who’s channelling a rapper, in what I can only describe as indie swag. I have not stopped listening to this record all year
Todd Sibbin (Todd Sibbin and the Acadian Driftwood)
Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
Its been three years since Bright Eyes’ 2011 heavily electronic influenced The Peoples Key and many were expecting a blow back to the early Oberst/Bright Eyes days with the announcement of a solo record. While it certainly is more laid back, the collaboration with producer Jonathan Wilson brings an entirely new aesthetic to anything we’ve heard from an Oberst incarnation (not to mention, in terms of subject matter, Oberst got married three years ago so most of the lyrical content is about the “experiences” of married life, instead of the “experiences” of single life). Defiantly modern sounding (largely due to a decent amount of electronic PAD work), Wilson and Oberst have managed to retain the stripped back and intimate nature of the songs despite the fact that the tracks are still fairly overdubbed (with a decent amount of electric guitar too!). It’s an extremely ambient record which, after speaking to others, can help take some of the “bluntness” out of Oberst’s delivery, certainly making it one of Oberst’s more “friendlier” releases. I love it.
Sarah Humphreys – New Moon
It may seem biased because I played on this album but the things I love about it are nothing to do with my playing. Sarah’s songwriting is exquisite and her voice sublime. It also has the energy and dynamics of a live album.
Liam Gale (Liam Gale & the Ponytails)
The Spoon Collectors – A Dime for Charon
Part mellow-drama-rock-opera, part nineteen-seventies-swamp-explosion, but mostly a psychedelic journey through The Spoon Collector’s fabricated landscape beyond space and time. I was present for a lot of the recording of this album, out in central NSW with Sunfield Records, and let me tell you: The Spoon Collectors know how to party. The album features guest vocals by the boys from the Dusty Yellow Sunbeams and characterised artwork by the producer’s brother.
Lauren Moore (Pepperjack)
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
There’s something consistently cool and brooding about this February release. It’s the fuzzy guitar tones; it’s her angry-drunk to sleepy-drunk vocals. It’s the gripping nature of the tom-heavy drumming in “Forgiven/Forgotten”. You can put this in your ears, down a glass of red and kick in a car window if you want to. I love it when folk meets rock in the most seamless way. And that’s what this album is – an ideal balance of gloom and glow – as well-rounded as a human personality; bleak at times, but honest and changing. As she sings in “High & Wild”, “I’m neither innocent nor wise when you look me in the eyes.” Perfect for long walks in the dark and putting out cigarettes in the carpet.
Mac Demarco – Salad Days
I decided to listen to this album before dozing off to sleep. Didn’t sleep of course. My ears were completely drawn to the ‘jizz jazz’ of Mac Demarco and ended up listening to the very end of the album. Upon listening to this album, I found myself head-bopping to nearly all his songs. He has a way of messing with your head with his romantic-like melodies and bizzare yet addictive twangy guitar riffs. For some reason I feel like this album should be listened in a cafe in Paris or something. My hat’s off to Mac Demarco. Listening to him inspired me to write ‘Fridge Buzz (Choirs Of Suburbia)’ on my Incentive EP, though I doubt it’s got nothing on any of his tunes.
Oisin Leech (The Lost Brothers)
Beck – Morning Phase
On this album Beck appears in the desert wearing silver robes and speaking in tongues of crystal and cold fire. The songs are immaculate. The precision and emotion in this album makes it so special. This album was my close companion as we toured the world. I love it dearly.
Mark McCausland (The Lost Brothers)
The Coral – The Curse of Love
This album was recorded eight years ago and kept hidden in a treasure chest until the flavours had stewed. It’s a unique album of frightening beauty and its songs hold many secrets. I’d been waiting to hear these songs for centuries without realising it. The album immediately unlocked a labyrinth of mysteries to me from the first note to the last. It’s boss.
Cory Branan – The No-Hit Wonder
Everything Cory does is pretty much flawless – it’s a real wonder to me that he’s not better known than he is. Most every songwriter I know loves his stuff and feels slightly daunted by it, he’s so much better than the rest of us! This new album is no exception. It’s worth the price for the opening lines of “The Only You” alone. A classic record in the making.
Jack White – Lazaretto
This one’s easy for me, Jack White’s Lazaretto. It’s full of wicked riffs, catchy melodies, analog raw production, brilliant songs, all the ingredients for a perfect album. I’ve flogged it to death.
Otis Gibbs – Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth
As well as being a native of Indiana, Otis Gibbs is also noted as “a storyteller’s storyteller” who symbolizes the true essence of the independent spirit thriving in the East Nashville neighbourhood he now calls home. Fiercely independent, Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth produced by Thomm Jutz is Gibb’s seventh album since 2002. Folk is Otis’s style but country is his flavour and many are predicting that this will be his breakout album. Not that it matters as Otis writes to inspire. If you like Guy, Townes, Steve etc then get on board. Every song on this album is a highlight, so as they say “lean in and listen” and you won’t be able to stop. My favourite track: “Ghosts of Our Father’s”. Otis Gibbs has also recorded nearly 100 podcasts under the title Thanks for Giving a Damn that consists of conversational interviews with those who write, sing and play for a living – free on iTunes.
Hey Rosetta – Second Sight
Such a good album! Tim Baker’s vocals are addictive and they’re backed up by clever and moving lyrics. Each song is thick with real instruments, which move together in a way that still feels fresh after the tenth listen. It just makes you feel good.
Ryan Oliver (Olivers Army)
Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy
It’s classic Damien Rice melancholy but with a new focussed indie-pop sensibility. The songs are well crafted, passionate, raw and honest and you feel like you’re sitting right in his Icelandic borrowed home-studio. The production is beautiful. I love the lengthy songs that take you on a wild journey and the lush orchestral arrangements that almost drown out everything else, in a very good way.
Caitlin Park – The Sleeper
Caitlin Park is a real gem and her latest album is a reflection of great ambition and perspective. A body of work exploring intricate layers of acoustic blended with touches of electronic (“Wake Up In A Whirr”) and thought provoking verses (“Hunt For The Young”) all in all results in a real treat for the senses indeed. Paired with sound engineer extraordinaire Sam Brumby, The Sleeper is a fusion of great ideas executed beautifully. Reminding us of how lucky we are to have inspiring talents like this in Australia.
Mikhail Paskelev – What’s Life Without Losers
This album has been the prominent soundtrack to my year. It is perfection and has really inspired me to think outside the box creatively. Such a genuine guy who deserves all the success that will continue to come his way.
Bex Chilcott (Ruby Boots)
Nikki Lane – All Or Nothin’
It takes about five minutes of watching a Nikki Lane show to become a totally dedicated fan girl and although album was a slow burner for me, its infectious nature took hold this year. She’s got to be one of the nicest badasses both in person and in song. The songs are just good, strong songs that are both honest and lyrically pretty clever, classy hooks and a really good dose of steel and slide which always pulls at my heartstrings. Totally won my heart over this year!
Chris Panousakis (Timberwolf)
Angus & Julia Stone – Angus & Julia Stone
For me it would be Angus & Julia Stone’s self titled album no doubt. It’s such a punchy, refreshing version of their songwriting, and there’s an intangible sense of unity between the two that you can really feel listening to it as well as seeing them play live. It almost feels a lot more vulnerable or honest, either way it’s pretty special.
The Ellis Collective
Aphex Twin – Syro
After 13 years, Richard James’ Syro is a tuneful, buoyant and humble return, playfully heralded by a green blimp hanging over London and announced from the depths of the deep web. Without any sonic uppercuts, the likes of Windowlicker or Come To Daddy, Syro dwells in analog manipulations more common to his Analord series (released as AFX) and serves as the frontrunner of what more may come now that the 13 years without Aphex Twin has passed. How bloody exciting!
Bearded Gypsy Band
Daniel Champagne – The Gypsy Moon – Volume II
Dan is one of the most hard working Australian musicians I know of. He is a prolific songwriter and musician of great calibre. The songs on this album are full of depth, they talk of life on the road, of friends and lovers lost and the constant moving on that comes with the touring life. Beautiful melodies accompanied by some of the finest guitar playing you’ll hear makes this album so great.
Billy The Kid
Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Why? It’s the most real, rocking, sincere, vulnerable, brave and catchy thing to get stuck in my ear holes in awhile, with a lyrical perspective that is engrossing, inclusive and yet daringly different. Also, I love these people.
Matthew Black (The Bottlers)
Protector 101 – Wastelands
Tuning into the crackling airwaves of cinematic score saturated post-apocalyptica never felt so awesomely ominous. Maine synthwave artist Protector 101 has paid homage to future shock, nuclear holocaust ravaged movies with an envisioned 17 track soundtrack entitled, Wastelands. Protector 101 takes the listener on a rugged journey through ravaged love, gang warfare and bleak radiated Australian desertscapes circa 2099 with a musically based visual dexterity I could only liken to John Carpenter or Vangelis.
Tinariwen – Emmaar
We’ve listened to countless favourite albums on long car trips, lots of familiar country and old-time and bluegrass. But Malian Tuareg band Tinariwen really struck us: rolling rhythmic grooves, bluesy electric guitars and beautiful low male vocals. There’s a hypnotic drive to this desert music that draws you in, we love it!
Fanfarlo – Let’s Go Extinct
Fanfarlo’s third LP Let’s Go Extinct quickly danced its way to the top of my record collection this year. Fanfarlo have been my go to fun music choice for a few years now and although there are a few more psychedelic moments on the album Let’s Go Extinct delivers with solid songwriting, vocal delivery and production.
Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone
It’s bluegrass, it’s folk, it’s rockin’ it’s heartbreaking, it’s uplifting and her voice carries each track in a vulnerable, sexy, “I take no shit, but I just wanna be loved” kind of way. I kind of want to marry her
Caitlin Harnett – The River Runs North
My favourite album of 2014 is The River Runs North by Caitlin Harnett. A collection of great songs, played with heart and a minimum of fuss. As an album, it’s incredible – as a DEBUT album, it’s astonishing.
Eddie Boyd (Eddie Boyd and the Phatapillars)
Jack White – Lazaretto
Jack White! What a man! His latest offering, Lazaretto is a dirty, raucous blues/rock/country mash-up which has been playing on repeat in my kitchen for months. Crunchy guitar riffs, wailing fiddles, ghoulish backing vocals, and a piano which has surely been bashed to pieces by now!
Easily my favourite album of 2014.
Lera Lynn – The Avenues
I came home from Nashville in October with a stack of incredible records but this is the one that I’ve listened to non-stop since getting back. I’d call it Americana-Folk-Pop, similar to Lisa Mitchell but more Americana and less pop. The melodies are catchy, but there are offbeat moments (which is what I love about it) and the production is slick and atmospheric tying it all together. Her voice is smooth and irresistible and yes, I might have a slight crush on her.
Tony Wright (VerseChorusVerse)
Tim Wheeler – Lost Domain
The Ash frontman released his debut solo record this year and surprised everyone in that it didn’t sound remotely like the mother-band and it wasn’t (as a lot of solo debuts tend to be) an acoustic record! These songs deal with the loss of Tim’s dad, George, how it affected him and his family and how it’s still affecting them. It’s a work of tremendous emotion and beauty. I lost my mother at a young age and hearing some of the lyrics in this wonderful album tugged at my heart strings in every manner possible. From the instrumental, bluesy movers to the frankly stunning single, “Vigil”, this deeply personal album has an extremely universal appeal. A truly beautiful and happy/sad achievement on a topic we all, sooner or later, can relate to.
Emily Barker (Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo, Vena Portae)
Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
I love this new record of Lucinda’s. I’ve been a fan for many years now and this is stand out. The songwriting is exceptional and very much complimented by a great production. Her voice is weathered, broken and beautiful as ever. Very classy and visceral.
Aidan Roberts (The Maple Trail)
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
Unlike so many rock bands who meddle with reinventing a retro sound, The War on Drugs possess several assets that make them soar above the rest – particularly with this dark, spectacularly beautiful record. The songs live in a world almost entirely ruled by common-time 80’s new-wave rock rhythms, the landscape populated by widescreen analog synth textures and twisting, chorusy guitars. And above it all, the beauty of Adam Granduciel’s weary and insistent tenor tugs you through these resigned and ponderous story songs like a troubled, trusted brother. Amazing.
Lacey Cole (Lacey Cole & the Lazy Colts)
Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams
Nostalgically cinematic, hauntingly beautiful and profoundly strange Timber Timbre’s 2014 album Hot Dreams sounds like 50s L.A noir meets Elvis-era Vegas complete with the picturesque road-trip around Arizona it took to get there. Equal parts sexy and creepy Hot Dreams is breathtakingly weird. Each song emerges from the shadows reveling itself as either the night of your life or your worst nightmare, you choose, then hold on tight and enjoy easily the best musical expression of the Grand Canyon ever recorded.
The Timbers – Lawless
Gotta go with local lads The Timbers. Not only do we love watching them bring crowds to life at awesome Adelaide venues like The Grace, now we have an awesome CD that beautifully captures their live, real, raw spirit. One of the most hard working bands we know and I dare you to try to keep your feet still when that trumpet kicks in.
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
For months I kept hearing about this album and it took me a while to finally get to it. I remember my friends gushing about The War on Drugs. That kind of turned me off. You need to find things in your own time. Anyway, I was sitting in a cafe near my house and this beautiful dreamy music was playing. I thought it was a Dylan live recording that I hadn’t heard or something. So I Shazam’d it! I rarely use Shazam – but I knew I couldn’t miss this. I had to know. And it was the song, “Lost in the Dream”. That beautiful dreamy harmonica – the strange cryptic words – the ambience captured in the recording just pulled me in. It had me immediately. So I went home and bought the record and played nothing else for about 6 months. I’ve only really just stopped. I love this album. The production is just so pristine, flawless and unique. Adam Granduciel is like a master painter with his guitar sounds on this record – so ethereal and haunting. His playing is so detailed, yet raw and visceral at the same time. “Suffering” is so beautiful. Simple and profound. Oh, and If the guitar solo in that song doesn’t destroy you, nothing will. Masterpiece.
Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
This record is heart-wrenching, soulful, moving and pure magic, but also somehow packs this almighty punch and really rocks out. Ryan Adams manages to be a total electric-fuelled punk rocker and a sensitive, poignant, acoustic singer/songwriter all at once. He’s the champion of wearing his heart on his sleeve and he leaves no stone unturned. Thank you, DRA.
The Weeping Willows
Sweet Jean – Greetings From Goodbye
It is perhaps a little biased of us to choose Sweet Jean’s Greetings From Goodbye mini-LP as our top album of 2014 as it contains most of our favourite songs from the (many) times we’ve seen them play live over the years. Sime Nugent and Alice Keath are everything we would love to be as a duo; timeless singer-songwriters, multi-instrumentalists and heavenly harmonisers, with two of the best voices in the country. Much of this EP was actually recorded “live” in Sime and Alice’s laundry, which further demonstrates their effortless proficiency. Stand-out tracks are Dock Boggs’s “Country Blues” (in the style of Peggy Seeger), the traditional “Weeping Willow” and “Spring Bird” written by Keath and Nugent. Sweet Jean definitely have a gothic-folk sound that is all their own but check them out if you’re into the old-school folk stylings of She and Him or Americana duos Mandolin Orange, The Civil Wars or Australia’s own Jep and Dep.
Anna Buckingham (Nova & the Experience)
Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear
She’s never had one distinctive style to her career. Some would call her an indie goddess and others a pop princess. 1000 Forms of Fear is an anguished pop album, in its smartest and human form. The first album she has released in four years, her powerful and perfect melodies remain uniformly magnificent throughout these twelve songs, with deeper and darker lyrics that highlight a more intimate side of Sia. Beautiful in all its vulnerability, she delivers great pain with even greater triumph. Every track is magnificently crafted and combines a faultless balance of violently raw emotion with total uplift. You are invited to look into this woman’s anguish through melodies and vocal cartwheels that can make you think she is unbreakable . Hauntingly beautiful in all its cleverness. My favourite by far.
Timothy James Bowen
Ben Abraham – Sirens
My top album actually only came across my ears just the other day. It’s Sirens by Ben Abraham. He’s a friend of a friend of mine who I met at a house concert we were playing together in Melbourne around this time last year. He said that he had something in the works but I had no idea it would be this tasty. It’s like if you put Gotye, Josh Pyke and Passenger in a room and told them not to come out till they had something musical going on between them. Sort of. But all in his own greatness. Go and check it out.
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Our individual short lists were like night and day…from Robert Ellis (Harvey) to Asgeir (Josie). Benji was the point of convergence. We’ve never been to Ohio, but this land of lethal backyard fires, mercy killing, teen sex and albinos can sure inspire some amazing music. This is a brutal and beautiful collection of stories about life, death and gratitude. And it can be confronting – there’s nowhere to hide as Mark Kozelek shuns the use of metaphor and other distractions. This, combined with the mostly simple arrangements, produce deceptively insightful songs about the tragedy and joy of what it is to be human. Dark slacker folk at its finest – think Smog meets Pavement meets Neil Young.
Pete Flood (Bellowhead)
Sam Amidon – Lily-O
A really great ensemble album rooted in the inspired pairing of Amidon’s spiky banjo picking and Bill Frisell’s more expansive guitar playing. The overall tone is focused and quietly daring – traditional material given space to unfold and evolve in unusual and sometimes disquieting ways – a real breath of fresh air.
Sam Sweeny (Bellowhead)
Screaming Maldini – Everything Unsaid
This is the second and final album from one of my favourite bands of all time. Perfect, innovative intelli-pop from a band who never got the recognition they deserved.
Jon Boden (Bellowhead)
Eliza and Martin Carthy – The Moral of the Elephant
Two English folk greats on top form, shaking it up a bit with some unexpected material and totally nailing the traditional stuff, as ever.
Ben Abraham – Sirens
I had been waiting for this album for years. YEARS. Ben Abraham is one of my favourite Australian songwriters and performers. You know when you go and see someone play and you HAVE to buy their cd, it’s not a choice, you have to scavenge around your Mary Poppins bag for dollars and even ask your friends if you can borrow some money to buy their album? This is how you would feel if you saw him play and the album is more than we as listeners had hoped for. It was absolutely worth the wait. The production on the album suits Ben’s songs perfectly; subtle where it should be, interesting and very clever. The album was only released in November but I just cannot stop listening to it. ‘Speak’ was the single he released from the album and it’s one of those “EVERYONE BE QUIET AND PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS” songs. Although I’ve listened to it probably 300,000 times, every time is like the first time I heard it. Other favourites are ‘You and Me’, ‘I Belong To You’ and ‘Songbird’ oh and ‘Collide’… Okay so they’re all beautiful. I’m so glad that I finally have these songs in my ears and I’m really excited to see where this stupidly talented persons career heads.
Sivan Agam (The April Maze)
Southerly Change – Southerly Change
I love putting this album on first thing in the morning to get my day going with good vibes. It reminds me to live in the moment. Even if it’s cold outside this album makes me feel like I’m on summer holidays. There are some great singalong tunes in there too, so it’s the perfect album for long road trips.
Sophie Klein (Little Wise)
Lauren Glezer – Searching for Tall
This Melbourne songwriter likes to describe herself as a true “feeler”. That’s is exactly how I would describe my connection to this little record; emotional. The production, replete with gorgeous string arrangements on certain tracks, gracefully shines a deserving spotlight on Glezer’s tender and sultry vocals. Similarly, her long time rhythm players are sensitive and nuanced. But it is her personal, ever-so-human stories and her unforgettably breathy vocal delivery that really tug on my heartstrings.
Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Perhaps his first great solo work, Isbell’s Southeastern is a masterclass in songwriting that doesn’t just touch on its themes of regret and redemption but mines them in ways we’ve never before heard. We were lucky enough to see Jason perform a highlight from the record, opening track “Cover Me Up”, at this year’s Americana Music Awards in Nashville. He got the award for Best Album and we got the pleasure of hearing him play.
Ray Lamontagne – Supernova
What a surprise this album was! It had me absolutely hooked from the first spin. These psychedelic sounds are completely different to anything I’ve heard from Ray Lamontagne before. This, coupled with its catchy hooks and wonderful lyrics made it a no-brainer for my choice of album of the year. It’s an anywhere album! I love it!
Dan Arnott (Dan and Amy)
Robert Muinos – You’re Not Alone
There have been a few releases this year by wonderful artists who I’m lucky enough to be great mates with, and I think my favourite of these is the debut EP by Robert Muinos called You’re Not Alone. Robbo does what amazing songwriters do; his songs of very personal moments somehow become universalised, making it feel as though you’ve been through whatever he’s singing about yourself, even if you’ve never experienced anything like it. His voice and his melodies are beautiful and I can’t wait for more. (Notable mention to Jackson McLaren’s album)
Tobias Hengeveld – The Daylight Express
Hengeveld’s lyrics are brilliant. He’s operating at a level above. They’d be compelling enough without music, but his melodies and musicianship and that of his band elevate it to great album status for me. Lyrics that good just keep on giving. Every listen brings me to another great line or phrase. “All the old TVs on the side of the road…” that line in “Fools Rush In” kills me. Or “Our Katherine owned a temper like her name-sake. The firecracker always spinning off its nail” from “The Daylight Express”. Brilliant song, and heart breaking.
Ruth Hazleton – (Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton)
Luluc – Passerby
Gently and quietly profound, Luluc are perfecting the art of simplicity – a trait that is very unique and brave in this age of musical trickery. Unpretentious, disarming, beautifully written, recorded and produced with a “sound” completely their own, Passerby features beautiful vocal harmonies, sophisticated melodies and honest lyrics. Recommended for long drives, Sunday afternoons or whenever your feet and/or heart need to touch the ground again.
New Gods – Beloved
Because “Caravan park” taunts me, “I Love You Too” is like cringing in the mirror, “Beneath the World” is just simply beautiful, “Too High” makes me cry and “Skyman” makes me dance.
Beck – Morning Phase
For me this record perfectly balances precisely sculpted songs and production with organic sounds, and raw stories. I get the sense that this album is a series of “captured moments” in the studio as opposed to so many modern records where every track is edited to an inch of its life. It’s also both hi fi and lo fi at the same time, with the acoustic guitars and drums almost remaining unprocessed while the colours created by the lush reverbs and Beck’s characteristic lazy vocal performances take you on journeys through vast spaces.
Nick Keeling (Mustered Courage)
Dwight Yoakam – Dwight Sings Buck
This ain’t your mother’s country music … it’s more like your grandmother’s! The sweet and pretty country music coming out of Nashville in the 1950’s got a punch in the face by the electrified honky-tonk coming out of Bakersfield California. Pioneers like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard plugged in their telecasters, set the drummer to shuffle, and layed down what would be a huge influence on the music of The Eagles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons and obviously Dwight Yoakam. Here Dwight nails the style and sound of Bakersfield country but with the fidelity of modern recording techniques. Pull up a barstool and let the steel guitar take you up Highway 99 to that oil patch they call Bakersfield.
Stromae – Racine Carrée
My album of the year is Racine Carrée by the Belgian artist Stromae. It has an essentially electronic dance feel, which is impeccably well complimented by absolutely brilliant song writing. I have had endless pleasure in sitting around on Google translate (as Stromae sings in French) discovering what each of my favourite songs is about. He sets the scene of each song magnificently and opens up discussions that are quite challenging for the listener. Given the dance feel – I find it amazing that people all over the world are jumping up and down in arenas to these words of wisdom. Stromae has incredible film clips – the artistic direction is both engaging and unique. He also incorporates elements of his clips into his live performances of each song and way he dances is literally ground breaking. There is a reason the new single “Papaoutai” has had over 200 millions views. Stromae is a master craftsman on every level and quickly becomes a complete obsession.
Kris Morris – Ruins
Ruins is a breath of honesty in a sea of over-earnest, over-thought out music that’s flooding my ears at the moment. I need truth in what I listen to and this is as raw as it gets and totally from the heart, a broken one. Bravely and beautifully produced by Kasey Chambers, he’s like the Australian Steve Earle.
Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy
I was driving to Denmark in the south of Western Australia, listening to NPR’s All Songs Considered program, when one of the program hosts started talking about Damien Rice’s long hiatus being over with the release of his new album My Favourite Faded Fantasy. It’s been so long since Damien has released anything that I kind of forgot what his music is to me. But on first impressions, this record didn’t make much of an impact with me. Not because it’s not staggeringly beautiful, but merely because of how I was listening to it. In the car. Through portable speakers. Driving at 110km per hour. I didn’t do it justice. I found the time the following week to sit down at listen to the record in full, and I’m completely blown away by it.
I’ve come to the conclusion the Damien Rice has three different writing personalities that are vastly different from one another, yet somehow come together to make what is uniquely his. There’s the distinctive guitar melodies, nothing complicated, but kind of like a place to house his other personalities. The second is his lyrical genius. Somehow always melancholic, even in moments of joy, his words resonate with honesty and integrity, self doubt, love and hate. His words become place holders for his third personality, which are the arrangements. Other than perhaps Bon Iver’s self-titled album, I’m not sure I’ve heard an album that balances the sincerity of words with these almost orchestra arrangements that soar with optimisim and drown with sorrow equally. All these personalities come together to give us a collection of songs which probably mean just as much to us as they do to him. I can live with a Damien Rice album every 8 years or so if this is the result. So see you in 2022, Damien. Until then, enjoy the solitude.
Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
This album is beautiful on so many levels. The songs are thoughtfully produced, delicately arranged and seem less overtly melodramatic than most of his previous work, but somehow they still manage hold the same sort of poetic weight and satirically pointed attention to detail that has drawn me to Conor Oberst as a songwriter for years.
Julia Johnson (Julia and the Deep Sea Sirens)
True Strength – True Strength
Lost in an empty old building in East Berlin while trying to find a bar Ned Colette was playing in, I arrived just in time to discover support act True Strength, an Australian/Danish duo. If you love your folk with a touch of experimentation, or your Joanna Newsom mixed with a bit of Scandinavia, you might love True Strength. The almost a-tonal tinges to their light, delicate melodies only make them more beautiful and robust. Their self titled EP is a work I have found myself returning to often, and their performance that night is a memory I find delicious to linger on.
Rodney Crowell – Tarpaper Sky
The name Rodney Crowell was only made known to me at the beginning of the year by a friend who told me I had to listen to Sex & Gasoline, an earlier release of Rodney’s, which I instantly connected with. I had become aware of a new album being released later this year couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It became the sound track of my first Tasmanian Tour in July this year and is still on high rotation. The way he looks at a song is not only unique but refreshing, this you might not expect from someone who’s been doing it for over 4 decades, but thats the very reason he is still at the top of his game and why this is my pick of 2014.
Curtis Smith (Yetis)
Kimbra – The Golden Echo
Kimbra has got it. Her vocal ability seems limitless and her sense of groove is spot on. Not necessarily “beautiful” or “folky” but I can’t stop listening to it. One of those artists who doesn’t appear to be restricted by any means, and through this is making me think about my voice and to explore it’s capabilities. Also, my brother, sister and I (half of Yetis) are half kiwi, and are way too proud of it. We believe everything that comes out of NZ is brilliant, such as Kimbra.
Joe Murphy (The Timbers)
Royal Blood – Royal Blood
Simply the album is a rocking banger from start to finish!! Influenced heavily by the White Stripes with a touch of Muse at times. Its been on rotation for weeks and responsible for a lot of head banging!!
CW Stoneking – Gon’ Boogaloo
This album was well and truly worth the wait. CW Stoneking managed to reinvent his sound whilst retaining his authenticity. I actually wonder whether he may own a flux capacitor and a DeLorean because there’s no doubt in my mind that he has just stepped out of a 1930’s speakeasy. The fact that he picked up a Fender Jazzmaster for this album and put down the banjo allowed him to swing a little harder and dig himself into deeper grooves. It’s a wonderful blend of blues, jazz and ragtime – yet there is also something here that is intangible and undefinable – and completely his own. Nobody wants to see me dance – I promise you that, but this album makes me want to get up on the floor.
The Bros. Landreth – Let It Lie
I randomly met these guys a few months ago when they were on their way home to Winnipeg, Manitoba. They were a last minute support act for my show in Chicago and really blew me away, in fact, I should have been the one supporting them, they were phenomenal. There is something incredibly captivating about these four guys when they play and sing together, both on the stage and on their album. Let It Lie is out in Canada and set for release in the States and Europe in a month or so from what I understand. I haven’t stopped listening to this album since they snuck me a copy in Chicago, hopefully Australian crowds will have the chance to fall in love with them soon!
Temples – Sun Structures
This year I discovered Temples and thank golly gosh for that. Think the Beatles mix the best of Tame Impala on more psychedelics with the world’s best summer vibes. It suits every mood I’m in and compliments it perfectly. I was pretty much hooked from the first bar of the first song “Sun Shelters” on the album and have listened to the album in its entirety most days since. It gives me the warm fuzzy’s because I love the vibe so much.
The Mae Trio
The Stray Birds – Best Medicine
It’s extremely hard to communicate the strength and intensity of these three musicians on record, but the album is tracked live and what is captured is still enough to make it our favourite release this year. Lush, gutsy harmonies and warm acoustic instruments are part of the joy of this album, but the most exciting bit is the songwriting – there are some jaw-dropping songs on there. This is just such no-nonsense, straight up, great music to make you laugh and cry and sing along reeeally loudly!
Jack Carty – Esk
Jack has the most delightful voice, pens lyrics that take you on little faraway journeys, and has recorded an album that includes a song I suffer withdrawals from (“Honey, Do You Know The Way Back Home?”).
Jesse Lubitz (Tinpan Orange)
Husky – Ruckers Hill
This is a mighty record. The soaring harmonies and tight arrangements wrap perfectly around the beautifully crafted songs. This is one of the best albums to come out of Australia in the past few years. Faultless.
Jacob Wylde – It’s All About To Go
I’ve been following folk artist Jacob Wylde’s music for some time, impatiently waiting for an EP release from him for far too long. He’s 18, from Perth and been very busy with school I imagine. Then one day, It’s All About To Go came along and (pardon my foul mouth) but… HOLY F*CK! He’s the musician the world’s been needing and I’m spreading the word and supporting this guy till the bitter end of my days. Please listen to Jacob Wylde. He’s a rare find.
Kate Miller-Heidke – O Vertigo!
I love the way Kate surprises you with each new album. She never rests on her laurels and she is impossible to pin down. This is what has kept her fan-base so loyal. On this album, she has found the perfect balance of her theatrical leanings with off-kilter pop hooks and her mixture of literal and absurd lyrics. I’m a huge fan of the production on this one and the subtle eighties pop influences that never sound obviously retro. I began following (stalking) her career since her first EP and she has been a huge inspiration to me. Thanks, Kate!
Various – Australian Artists for Asylum Seekers
I was blown away by the Australian Artists for Asylum Seekers Christmas album, which was put together by Lindsay Philips and features 25 excellent local songwriters. Christmas albums have never done it for me before, but the quality of every song and the fact that all proceeds go towards supporting the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre make it a beautiful example of an artistic collaboration in the best traditions of giving.
Michael Paolino (Husband)
Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio
I got into Mark Lanegan’s music this year and I don’t know how I got through the last 30 years without it. This album has a pretty diverse sound, going from incredibly soulful, organic southern/gothic rock to some synth experimentation with iPhone drum apps! Best track “Harvest Home”. All in all a great listen.
Possessed by Paul James – There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely
I stumbled across Possessed by Paul James (stage name of musician Konrad Wert) at a show in San Francisco a few years ago. I was amazed at his effortless and energetic performance and impressed by his ability to seamlessly switch gears between heartfelt folk ballads and fiddle-driven, foot stompers. Although he fell off my radar for a little while I recently tracked down his latest album There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely (2013) and was immediately captivated. Although it was released late last year I’m still claiming it as my favourite for 2014. Through his shrewd lyrics and restless performance, Wert seems to capture both the inevitable joy and loneliness of everyday life. The end product is a series of songs that are as heartbreaking as they are heart-warming. Standout tracks are “Hurricane”, “Where Does All the Time Go” and title track “There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely”. Let’s hope he tours here sometime soon.
Matt Dewar (Direwolf)
Beck – Morning Phase
I don’t mean to split hairs, but I was vigorously torn between Faker, FKA Twigs and Beck. However I landed on Morning Phase because of its beautiful complicated simplicity. Despite the gusty blend of 60’s inspired psychedelic folk/rock, I’m constantly in awe of a man who can bring so much weight with such blunt phrases like “these are the words you use, to say goodbye”. It’s truly a lament of husky wails, lingering sadness and about 20 years of making records.
Jaye Kranz (Brighter Later)
#1 Dads – About Face
CAVEAT: I decided to choose my fav local release. It just seems like such an impressive time for Oz music, right? #1 Dads About Face flew in on first listen and still hasn’t left me. As per Big Scary, Tom Iansek is once again behind the production desk, wielding his sonic sensibilities in ways at once strangely familiar, decidedly new, and always astonishingly beautiful. I love how much he does with sometimes the simplest production choices and changes, doing only as much as the song needs. Love the collaborations, “Return To” being my standout. Also: a sax solo. (Equal first: Lowlakes – Iceberg Nerves)
Mia Dyson – Idyllwild
Idyllwild is such a playful and coherent bunch of songs. One of my favourites is “Based On Your Eyes”, a beautiful, honest and soulful love song that’s vulnerable and tender and heaving with feeling. It gets better with every listen which, for me, is a mark of a quality album. There’s a brashness to Idyllwild that I love. Mia seems to have reached another level of writing and playing. Just when you think it can’t get any better.
Ásgeir – In The Silence
I’ve always admired artists who could mix organic instruments into their sound with electronic circuitry. So many try and fail, yet Iceland’s Ásgeir does it with supreme conviction. His release In The Silence had me intrigued and genuinely moved from the first listen. The Bon Iver influence can be heard throughout (especially in the layered vocal production and acoustic guitars) but Ásgeir carves his own sound through bleeps, bloops and R&B beats. The fact that these songs have been translated from their original Icelandic form to English makes the words all the more wholesome and endearing. His voice exudes a soft, pleading emotion, with ethereal qualities. “Kings and Queens” is a folky song, yet would not be out of place on a chillout sessions compilation. Punctuated by pulsing synths, lyrically it conjures beautiful imagery and a sense of wonder. “Torrent” is an absolute belter, with its anthemic piano line, the band joins in with the spirit of Arcade Fire. Do yourself a favour and check out his vulnerable yet grandiose take of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” on youtube, for an insight into his stunning live show.
Olivia Hally (Oh Pep!)
Elbow – The Taking Off And Landing Of Everything
Elbow’s arrangements hit you hard, even more so with this latest release. Guy Garvey’s lyrics make you smile, but not because they’re particularly happy. This is a great album, my favourite this year.
James McKendry (Takadimi)
Kimbra – The Golden Echo
This is not a lo-fi listen, it is as much about sound design and exploration of textures as it is about songs. On each track you can hear that great care was taken to a sculpt a piece of art, and not just write some catchy tunes that everybody would like. It still has Kimbra’s trademark quirky sense of melody but it is far more experimental and eclectic in it’s influences than Vows. There are strong influences of neo-soul, experimental electronic music and psychedelia present. Washy, armchair sinking moments of ambient bliss like those heard on Carolina are contrasted with some edgier and more confronting works like the tongue in cheek ode to nostalgia that is “90’s music”. All in all I’m blown away by this album. Go get it.
James Morrison (The Morrisons)
Emma Swift – Emma Swift
Emma really delivered with this album. The songs are full of conviction, and her voice is equal parts of beauty and sorrow. It’s a real late night record. The whole thing is understated and moody, the session band are subtle and tasteful, Anne McCue did a great job with the production, and there’s more than one moment that will bring on a blissful sigh (special mention to the chorus in “James”). Just go and listen to it, watch her live, fall in love with her, and if you meet anyone who belittles the state of Australian country music, throw this their way.
Shannon Carpenter (Sleepy Dreamers)
Daniel Rossen – Silent Hour/Golden Mile
I love Grizzly Bear so I was probably always going to love this. I’ve always been a big fan of his voice and guitar playing. Was really hard to choose a fav so I should give an honourable mention to The War on Drugs. Their album was ridiculously good as well.
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
It’s the subtle change of the snare drum after the first chorus of Lost in the Dream. It’s the distant piano that melts away in your ears. It’s the shimmering tremolo guitars, driving 80s rock beats and Dylan-esc vocal delivery that makes this record timeless, refreshing and my favourite album of 2014.
Roscoe James Irwin
S. Carey – Range of Light
S. Carey is mostly known for being the drummer and main backing vocalist in the Bon Iver live band, but his own solo records are amazing and place him highly as a genuine artist in his own right. He manages to blend live instruments and orchestration with manipulated ambient sound into something very haunting and really incredible. Once you’ve heard the opening track “Glass/Film”, you’ll be hard pressed not to listen to the whole record. “Crown the Pines”, with it’s free melody and layered double-stop fiddles, and “Alpenglow”, with it’s deep and powerful string arrangement, are both highlights.
Rosie McDonald (RAPT, Folklore)
The Staves – If I Was
I’m really pre-empting as the full album isn’t out until early Feb but I’ve heard snippets of the songs on If I Was from the online trailer for the album and i love it already and have even pre ordered it. I don’t know if you are like me but I tend to judge if I like a song in the first few seconds and this sister act have the goods to deliver. I saw the family band – Emily, Jess, Camilla – at the Cambridge folk festival last year having not heard them before and loved their close harmonies and lovely poetic songs (like Wailing Jenny’s, Fleet Foxes, Crosby Still Nash & Young) but the band could crank when needed also. There is something very special about family voices together that finds a cohesive fullness and beauty. Ukulele, still the new black, was a feature as well as very nice guitar playing. I bought their album Dead, Born and Grown and have absolutely loved listening to it. Their Live at Cecil Sharpe House album is also sublime with a beautiful reading of that American folk ballad “Silver Dagger” made famous by Joan Baez. Like his year’s release pre release of The Blood I Bled From, If I Was was produced by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon in the wintry wilds of Wisconsin and will be on high rotation as soon as I have it in my hands.
Jane Hendry (Broads, The Nymphs)
Tiny Ruins – Brightly Painted One
I had been waiting for this album, as I am a massive fan. Kel (also from Broads) is also a big fan. I was lucky enough to see Holly do a solo album preview show in Melbourne a few months ago put on by the Melbourne Folk Club and she played the entire album in order from start to finish. It was such a beautiful, intimate show. And she’s totally lovely as well.
Aidan Cooney (Boy Outside)
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
A complete album and the sound of art being perfected over years. Culminating in this painstakingly crafted masterpiece. Beauty from start to finish.
Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time
Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent conjure up the dead, awake the living and are in my opinion one of the best and purest forms of male-female–husband-wife country duo’s of all time. On this latest release they tread through deeper waters, transforming darkness into light, dirt into finely cut diamonds, all within just a few bars. I’m at times exhausted having gone on the journey with them but always better for it. Swimmin’ Time is magic! Hands down my favorite release of 2014. “There’s hope where you can’t see it, there’s a light after the storm”. I’m glad Shovels & Rope are around to remind us of that.
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
This album sounds like 2014 for me. My housemates can attest that I have probably listened to it too much but it really hit me hard. She crafts really interesting songs which kind of meander but never lose focus. Her voice is this incredibly powerful thing that just cuts right through, she is one of the most unique and evocative vocalists I have ever heard. Some of the best moments on the record are when it’s just a strummed electric guitar and her singing in a whisper. It’s just beautiful heartbreaking lo-fi goodness.
Sibylla Stephen (The Little Stevies)
The Staves – The Blood I Bled From
I am devastatingly slow when it comes to discovering to “new music”, even though I love it. These days, my two year old takes up most of my time (when I’m not concentrating on my own music), so I tend to catch onto things late, but I don’t enjoy them any less. The band I have discovered this year are The Staves. Their music moves me into a steady pace where I feel at peace. I’m pregnant again, and their album replaced my nightly 6pm-ish glass of wine (which is was very much missing!). I also want to shout-out to the best live band I’ve seen all year The Eastern, and the songs of Sweet Jean that featured heavily in the toddler music class my son and I have been attending at the Footscray Arts Centre, Rock On.
James Lindsay (Breabach)
Ane Brun – Rarities
We really grew to be big fans of Ane when we were at WOMADelaide and Womad NZ together back in March this year. This album perfectly displays her serene voice, subtle lyrics and brilliant band.
Nick Payne (Dear Orphans)
Gretta Ziller – Hell’s Half Acre
I’m a sucker for a good turn of melody and Gretta’s EP has a plenitude of notes that turn in unexpected directions. I also like songs that can take me to a different time and place. The title track “Hell’s Half Acre” transported me straight away to Wyoming, and “the low country where those lands were so so bad … for me”.
Mark ‘Looch’ Lewis (Handsome Young Strangers)
HITS – Hikikomori
This may be a controversial choice nominating a flat out rock and roll band in this forum. But sometimes exceptions need to be made. HITS have delivered a staggering album which stands right up there with the best Australian rock n roll flag wavers before them. Think Radio Birdman, The Saints, The Hard Ons at their best – this album sits right up there with them. Quite possibly the best rock n roll band in the world ATM.
Laura Bishop (Chaika, Laura & Susie)
Hans Zimmer – Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
It starts with a soft theme reminiscent of the opening of Prokofiev’s Cinderella, minuscule in sound like a forgotten echo of humanity’s first footsteps into space flight; progresses to the magnitude of a full church organ with columns of air blasting through metal pipes, matching the enormity of rocket engines launching; later sits back to watch as an observer from afar with a simple yet beautiful piano theme; and even at points uses a theme that is similar to one I wrote myself over a decade ago for a short film about the Apollo 11 mission. Wormholes much? Who knows! Either way, it’s a jolly good ride.
Sarah Humphreys – New Moon
Generally I am not into “love songs” or sincerity however this album makes me want to hug, love and high five everyone that is dear to me. The song writing is just top notch with equal parts heart, fight and spunk. I also really singing the songs into a wooden spoon and dancing around the kitchen. Also other tops were: Caitlin Harnett’s The River Runs North, Nikki Lane’s All or Nothin’ (yep girl power) and Del Barber’s Prarieography.
Tiny Ruins – Brightly Painted One
I was tremendously excited for this release. Holly’s first record, Some Were Meant for Sea, is one of my favourites – a beautiful piece of storytelling, cleverly told and delicately produced. This record has a little more of everything. More instruments, a little more electric, more variation and dynamics, but no less heart. It’s the perfect example of what happens when a musician grows a constant band around her. The arrangements become a little more thought out, the songs lift and fall a little more. Buy this record, wrap it up in paper, and leave it in the letterbox of someone brilliant.
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Sun Kil Moon had been one of those bands that, due to their bulky catalog and my own laziness, I’d never delved into. I couldn’t find an obvious doorway. I’d even played a show with them in Manchester a few years back, but it was a bad fit. The crowd watched me blank-faced and I felt self-conscious about displaying any kind of sunniness so just put my head down and plowed through. Mark Kozelek didn’t see me play but he was cordial in the bandroom and let me pilfer one of the bananas off his rider.
Just a few months back a good friend, in whose music taste I trust, implored me to listen to Benji, it was much more than a recommendation. So I took it very seriously and was, surprising to me, drawn into it right away by the croaky conversational tone and the stripped bare emotional tales he was telling.
A lot of the subject matter leans towards family, and is often confronting and candid. Lots of death and regret and tenderness. “I Can’t Live without My Mothers Love” is a far cry from your average Rock and Roll subject matter – and reminds me of first hearing Jonathan Richman sing about his wife in “Closer” – and just because of that is more Rock and Roll than any sex or drug reference. But there’s plenty of sex to be found. “Dogs” details the history of the protagonist’s (Kozelek’s?) early carnal explorations in erotic, graphic detail.
The songs are long, but don’t feel it. Like floating along on a stream where you’re too busy taking in the details of the surroundings to keep an eye on the time. The usual long-ingrained formulas of much popular music don’t apply here. The narratives are forthright and metaphor-free and the sparse instrumentation reflects this; it is subtle but inventive.
I’ve been thinking that as you get older poetry, for the sake of itself, can start to feel superfluous held up against pure message, or just plain truth. I’d spent my 20s trying to think up clever wordplay when now they can seem like window dressing. It’s not to say Benji isn’t clever. There’s so many surprising and inventive rhymes, or off-rhymes; it’s as if he’s tailored them to not quite fit so they jump out. And there’s a lot of humor, I actually laughed out loud hearing the line about his Dad flirting with the girls at Panera Bread. How often does that happen listing to serious folk music?
And it would take a hard heart not to find at least one tear. Listen to the story of his Dad’s downtrodden friend “Jim Wise”.
Very rarely, but every now and then, discovering a new band can pull back a curtain on a new way to approach songwriting, and another piece of the eternal puzzle falls away. I felt like this when I first heard Benji, ideas for about three new songs popped into my head. I feel like I have new tools with which to work.
I wonder if Mark Kozelek had an epiphany one day and a new horizon opened up, where the shackles of his old systems dissolved. Cause to me, as far as the lyrics go, this path he’s on feels limitless. Judging by his recent crazy slinging match with War On Drugs I hope this freedom of expression isn’t eating him up. I’m gonna go backwards now through his catalog to look for clues.
So listening to Benji has been a positive experience for me. I’ve also recommended it to other friends and they haven’t had the same experience, so evidently it’s not for everyone. But I’ve written this review without having listened to it for a few weeks now. That’s how vivid it still is in my mind.