As clichéd as it probably sounds, 2014 has been a great year for music and picking favourites to rank them seems as Herculean a task as embracing winter mornings from the comfort of a warm bed. Yet, the year’s end is nigh and we’ve decided to bring you a sneak peek into a few of our absolute favourite new artists from all over the world who succeeded in giving us enough reasons to enjoy otherwise mundane car rides, all-nighters and find friendship through a mutual love for all the brilliance that they’ve so effortlessly personified. They’ve moved in, and we hope that they stay.
1. George Ezra
When this adventure ends, your next one will begin. With a boom didi boom didi boom boom boom
Where does one even begin? This is an artist who can be likened to any number of poetic references that would still fail to capture the enormity of his talents. And still, the labouring observer tries.
Ezra is most popularly recognised for his uniquely beautiful voice and the life it breathes into his internationally hit single, Budapest, from his debut album, Wanted on Voyage. The song, quite like the rest of this excellent album, possesses a quality that is unique to the singer, the ability to capture anyone’s attention and invite it again with distinct yet wonderfully subtle melodies forming the soundtrack to a mind that is compelled to appreciate the magnitude of his works.
Born in the summer of 1993 in Hertford, England, Bob Dylan is among his prominent influences although his often quoted ‘bluesy’ baritone was a product of identifying Dylan’s inspirations – Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly and learning that he could have the ‘big voice’ that was attributed to the latter.
Not just the voice that clearly merits the attention it has received for being ‘ahead of his mortal years’ for the quiet blues that compliment his perfection, the songs are exquisite elements of an inescapable story told with the captivating wisdom of the ages and the innocence with which he sings, and invites the listener to sing along, albeit softly lest his own music be subjected to anything less than what it actually deserves.
Such is the feeling that accompanies tracks like Blame it on Me, whose chorus will sway the depths of one’s imagination and Cassy O’, a song that acquires dominance over every dancing cell and breathing fibre of this blogger’s being, and will continue to, with its rhythmic moves to every refrain of Cassy O’ lingering in the complete aura of a self-applauding circular track for a long time to come.
Leaving it Up to You and Drawing Board are the kind of songs that will accompany many moods, from the after work drive home to a Sunday spent in the comfort of a loyal book. Did You Hear the Rain begins with a brief one minute solo that is a glimpse of pure Ezra, magnificent, if not more that gives way to a track reminiscent of a cold, rainy day with the deliberate electro-strumming that lightens a smooth lyrical downpour.
Breakaway is a poetic walk in the woods through a bridge that is built on the foundations of the song: Breakaway (Oh). Stand by Your Gun and Over the Creek will probably drive one’s thoughts from the backseat but will stay there, nonetheless. There are four additional tracks in the deluxe edition of the album of which Song 6 begins with a muffled sound emanating from an old radio set that is followed by a sincere declaration; we are only dreaming and I’m dreaming only of you; of the kind that will have the listener hoping for a sign of reality.
Spectacular Rival and It’s Just My Skin (the latter coming from the deluxe edition) possess every reason to be aboard the ‘Ezra Express’ (a real thing where George Ezra and a few chosen fortunate souls won an opportunity to travel Europe for seven days). By the time the Da Vinci Riot Police lead you to the Blind Man in Amsterdam, there will be much gratitude for this life, for good music and for George Ezra.
If there is any reason why you haven’t heard said singer yet, we recommend a starter of Budapest (written before he even visited the city), served best with a heart-warming special of the video of Listen to the Man featuring none other than Sir Ian MacKellen; a winter delight.
What are you waiting for?
2. Sam Smith
Quite possibly the potential Grammy highlight of 2015, Sam Smith’s music and especially his debut album, In the Lonely Hour, is a panacea for unrequited love. The album which was released earlier this year includes the acoustic version of Latch, the original 2012 Disclosure song that brought the England born singer to the masses. It is the only 2014 album to sell over a million copies in both the UK and USA.
Inspired by female artists like Adele and Amy Winehouse, Sam Smith has been a student under jazz vocalist and pianist Joanna Eden. Yet his music is original, perceptive and engaging, to say the very least. There is so much experienced with every song.
The orchestral engagement in Good Thing is breath-taking for a song that warns, prevents and accepts the dangers of too much of a good thing. The pleading cries of Leave Your Lover leaves the listener with a pure melancholic sigh while truth spills out gingerly in I’ve Told You Now. Life Support has the artist openly singing his thoughts and offering the listener an idea of all that probably went into emotionally and musically developing this neatly packed collection of heart-clenching wonders. Lay Me Down and Not in that Way lower the lights and put Smith in the raw bluesy limelight of a closely packed crowd at a café down the street after dinner. The ambience of the songs leaves every present individual with an emotion so strong it is hard to ignore the heart and listen to anything (or anyone) else. Lay Me Down brings that all too familiar Adele feeling from Someone Like You but perhaps more explicitly. It strikes very gently and spreads to every musically sound element till the violinists and percussionists fade away and only Smith remains; a solitary spectacular sight.
Like I Can is essentially a melodic confession perfected by his falsetto that is initially reminiscent of Adam Lambert but develops as a more muted and authentic form. The acoustic version of Latch is a testimony to the rising popularity of Sam Smith for the song has him whispering coherently to his piano’s arguments until the depths of his talents overpower the listener and latch onto the heart with the sweet embrace of a mellifluous melody.
The radio sensations of Sam Smith, however, possess an identity of their own. I’m Not The Only One was the 2014 hit single that begins with a decided introduction of a certain jazz feeling that betrays the arrival of words arranged carefully with much pain and delivered with an equal passion in a bleeding moment of imminent recognition and its untamed power.
‘But I still need love ‘cause I’m just a man’ sums the endless courage needed to pour every request not heeded to, every heartache, every wish that will not be fulfilled and channel the pain into something as exquisitely beautiful and real as Stay With Me; a true anthem for every lonely hour. I guess nothing is as delicately divine as a song that resonates with the bedrock of one’s wandering soul.
Smith clearly never had Money on his Mind, his music is purely for the love.
Andrew Hozier-Byrne known as Hozier rose to international fame this year after the release of his debut studio album, Hozier, in September 2014, that included his 2013 hit single, Take Me to Church.
The Irish musician isn’t easy on his choice of words or delicately dulcet in his ability to lift a song to life and breathe meaning into its soul. Take me to church is as hauntingly beautiful as it is disturbingly profound in that it harbours a deeper introspection with every melodic utterance of Amen and exposes the nature of the artist’s works to every giggle at the funeral and everybody’s disapproval. Not all of his songs are as predictably dystopic as one would think; Jackie and Wilson relives youth and leaves an innocent feeling, complete with the daydreams fed and nurtured on rhythm and blues. Like Real People Do, Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene and It Will Come Back are songs that highlight the many hues of the individual tracks that together constitute the nouveau experience of this album.
Someone New explains the existence of blue and black days simply and truthfully (for there is no right way to make things easier). It is also the only track on the album written by Hozier and Sallay Matu Garnett while the rest are the former’s compositions. To Be Alone throws itself upon the listener with the magnificence of Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive but acquires a taste that can, and will hopefully be seen as unique to Hozier.
From Eden has a familiar and welcoming style that transports one to the gentle buzzing of an unknown paradise, home to only the recurring theme of a beckoning chorus. In a Week dominates the atmosphere with the wonderful duet of Hozier and Karen Cowley that deems everything else mortally insignificant for in the heart of the song comes forth a tragedy of awaited reunion in a death, hitherto only dreamt of with an eager prayer. The chorus of Sedated marches into the darkness of one’s thoughts and is picked up ominously by the harmonies of Work Song that build an ambience where the foundations of Hozier’s works can be traced and distinguished. The assuring nature of the name of the song, Cherry Wine, is adequately preserved by the consoling guitar played to a voice scented with just the right hint of spring love with all its hopeful promises while Foreigner’s God places unassailable doubts and a confusion of many hues in the purest expression of grief.
The deluxe edition possesses four additional songs. In the Woods Somewhere is a disturbing walk into the enigmatic depths of a picture that the lyrics paint with the inescapable music of timed claps and enveloping harmonies. The narrating verses don’t conclude and the walk continues long after the humming chorus is placed in a retrievable past. Run is a song that plays as a latent background number but its end doesn’t go unnoticed while Arsonist’s Lullaby is worth a listen for its well-placed introspecting hums bordered by a continuous flow of an answering piano to the story interspersed within the song. My Love will Never Die is a yearning of love for the imperfections, for the changing seasons of the singer’s emotions revolving around a proclamation of undying love; a soliloquy that ends this thought-provoking and delightful album.
4. Vance Joy
We loved his 2013 EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing and could barely wait for the 2014 release of his debut studio album, Dream Your Life Away. James Keogh, known popularly by his stage name, Vance Joy gave us many reasons to be happy this year as this Australian singer-songwriter’s hit single Riptide clearly shows.
Not just for the eccentric choice of lyrics and the quirky and engaging video, Riptide is, at its heart, an extremely enjoyable track with its inviting werewolf harmonies (for lack of a better term), and the smiling pause that launches into a brilliantly catchy chorus. The idea behind the album was to incorporate diversity and nothing describes this better than From Afar, a song that is at the polar opposite of Riptide, but shares in its individual greatness and identifiable beauty. Winds of Change is the opening track that sails on promises and wishes that need to be kept for a heavy and lonely heart, beating with hope and breathing inspiration from changing tides and floating melodies. The video of Mess is Mine is reminiscent of Travis’ Closer (the original personification of a man in a furry animal suit) in its use of an inevitably aww-inducing polar bear but the song, by itself is just the right dose needed for a day when mayhem and chaos rule the day and absolutely nothing seems worth carrying on. Maybe this one could be the reason.
Wasted Time is a bold and courageous leap of faith into questioning and understanding why- an honest and simple interrogation put to thoughtful music that moves the listener to recall fears and apprehensions locked away for another day. But why?
Who Am I is yet another track that cannot be hummed without appreciating the effortless portrait that the song paints of a heart in love. It is familiar yet distinguishable.
‘Lay my dreams at your feet
Baby watch out where you step
And there’s no need for us
‘Knowin all the answers yet.’
See what we mean?
What if the universality of the emotional pages of one’s life was put into a song? The paradoxical nature of our shared existence, the mutual desires of every living soul and the relentless wish to get things right, at least for once, become the theme of We All Die Trying To Get It Right.
We happen to love all songs named after people, from the Beatles’ classic, Michelle and Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline to Norah Jones’ Miriam, Hey There Delilah by The Plain White T’s and even Vance Joy’s Emmylou because the name captures a key ingredient: passion. Georgia is no different. With its poetic lyrics and comforting air, there is no reason to not fall in love with this delightful track.
Red Eye reads into everything unsaid and First Time will be on every playlist designed for the long way home. All I Ever Wanted… If you’re one of those finishing the phrase with the word ‘time’, then this song was written for you. It’s independently strong with its poignantly outspoken lyrics and is evidently a highlight from the album.
Best that I Can could have been another self-deprecating chain of thought processes that materialise into a song except this track maintains a dignity and is hopeful in spite of the obvious pitfalls that wrote it. An appreciation will come forth, for whatever it’s worth. My Kind of Man is descriptively creative in its employment of the opening lyrics that set the mood right and paint a scene so believable that the observer is left standing in the after-hours, imagining hopelessly and wondering if the artist could have genuinely felt all those colours of thoughts that were hitherto the prerogative of an individual story, wished away with deliberate caution and returning to an unwelcoming guest.
The decision to leave football by the singer couldn’t have been more right – Dream Your Life Away doesn’t leave things half undone or half unsaid.
5. Sylvan Esso
The American electropop duo from North Carolina featured on our new artists’ review earlier this year (read the original article here). The unique duo comprising of Amelia Meath of Mountain Man and the dynamic producer, Nick Sanborn of Megafaun gave us their eponymous debut album this year and we hope to see their future works in the coming years.
While the highlights of the album are Hey Mami and Coffee, the album in itself offers a fresh sound born from the ideal convergence of studio recordings and careful technical improvisations that can so easily go wrong but don’t. Coffee, which the duo performed in July as their television debut on the ‘Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’, is sung with the unprocessed originality of Amelia Meath’s voice and completed with Nick Sanborn’s ability to brew a track that flows as easily and smoothly as the early morning avatar of the beloved beverage. Hey Mami resonates repeatedly and echoes even after the counter harmonies and perceptive lyrics come to a relaxed end. The origin of the album and indeed the duo can be attributed to Play it Right, a Mountain Man original that brought Meath and Sanborn together. The version included in the album is a remix but doesn’t possess the overdone quality often attributed to most remix tracks. Dreamy Bruises shows off Sanborn’s ability to incorporate a typically beautiful female voice into an atypical track that can accompany myriad moods. Dress in another example of the ability of two exceedingly talented musicians of extremely diverse genres to unite and bring to the listener an amalgamation that has been tossed around and tampered with but not delivered until it sounded genuine and unbelievably real.
Though this list could have been endless and even though a lot of artists we’ve heard and loved through the changing colours of 2014 have not been included, we would like to mention, in particular, a few different genres and the special highlights therein.
Whether we criticize and ignore them and diminish their existence to tabloid covers and forgettable tracks of superficial appeal or embrace them with the mind-numbing excitement and ultrasonic shrieks of infamous teen girls, there is a truism in saying that boy-bands cannot be wished away, like as some of us would defy an axiom since the Beatles. But there was much to rejoice about as the domain covered essentially by British boy-band One Direction was taken over, at least in part by two notable newcomers, the British lads who are known as The Vamps and the Australian heartbreakers, 5 Seconds of Summer.
The former disagree with the stereotypical label of a ‘boy-band’ since they formed the band on their own and play their own instruments, but semantics aside the band’s popular tracks include Oh Cecilia (Breaking my heart) featuring Shawn Mendes, Wild Heart and Somebody to You, all of which will have you singing and swaying to them in a manner all too familiar with those high-school days spent searching for the ‘right’ music and casual dates with a group of friends singing at the top of their selfie addicted selves. Every other track on their debut album Meet the Vamps is originally engaging and enjoyable.
5 Seconds of Summer, like the Vamps, were a YouTube sensation and have identified themselves with the pop-rock/pop-punk genre; associating themselves more with the likes of Fall Out Boy. Their self-titled album was released this year and include their original hit singles Don’t Stop and She Looks So Perfect which are definitely worth a listen, whether you categorize them as a typical boy-band number or not.
MKTO is a duo comprising of Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller, their initials forming the name of the band that also stands for Misfit Kids and Total Outcasts. The duo is a crossover between pop and hip-hop. Their self-titled album was released in 2014 and includes their 2013 hit single, Classic as well as their debut single from the same year, Thank You. Malcolm Kelley (who played Walt on ABC’s Lost) and his friend from their Nickelodeon days, Tony Oller have acquired recognition and appreciation for their easy-going numbers. We’d like to see what these guys have in store for the recent future.
Last, but not the least, we dwell on the emergence of EDM without which no New Year’s Eve shall be complete. There have been amazing discoveries within the genre and the popular creations of Calvin Harris, Hardwell, David Guetta, Tiesto (to name the very few) will not go unnoticed. But also added to a humming heart’s playlist are the original works of Ansolo, better known to the masses as Ansel Elgort. His first remix was of Lana Del Ray’s poignant song, Born to Die followed by tracks such as Unite, Totem and Runaway, each possessing the raw nature of electronic dance music that is remarkable on its own for its explicit originality and the crests and troughs of a pure dance track sans the unnecessary and the superfluous, leaving only that which a few will truly appreciate. Add Ansolo to your end of the year party playlist and we assure you, you won’t regret it.
So here it is. Tell us what you think about some of our favourite artists of 2014.
Wishing everyone a wonderful year ahead!