February 2014: The Best Music Tracks

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Every week there are about a thousand new albums released on CD, and countless more released on digital downloads, streaming, free with your phone or any other way people can think to market their music to you in an astonishingly over-crowded marketplace. Each week we highlight some we are interested in hearing, and at the end of the following month we will be publishing what wound up as our favorites. 

I’m already 2 weeks late posting February 2014, and I’m leaving this week for jury duty at the Nashville Film Festival, so I’m posting this without much commentary.

By my estimation, I listened to over 80 new albums that were released in February 2014. These are my five favorite songs of the month.

1. Wave by Beck (from Morning Phase)

81coqLBpCWL._SL1400_Obviously the man needs no introduction, and you’ve probably already heard that this album sounds just like 2003’s Sea Change. And it does, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Wave struck me immediately, probably because of the amazing string section, haunting vocals and overall minimalism of the piece.

There are no videos for any of the songs on Morning Phase, but here is Beck performing Wave on Saturday Night Live.

2. I Love My Dad by Sun Kill Moon (from Benji)
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It took me a while to come around to Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon, but after last year’s one-two punch of Perils from the Sea (with The Album Leaf’s Jimmy LaValle) and Mark Kozelek & Desertshore (with…uhh Desertshore), I’m now officially a convert, with a lot of back catalog to absorb (or re-absorb) as soon as possible.

Benji (named for the G-rated 1974 film about the lovable stray mutt with a habit of helping people.) is as much literature as it is a piece of music. Kozelek usually writes in more of a storytelling style, often eschewing rhyming complete, while still retaining a singing style. Most of the songs on this album focus on mortality.

In this track, Kozelek talks his relationship with his dad, a seemingly complex relationship that involved a lot of sternness, but also is the person that taught him how to be a good person, and got him the guitar that has led to his near-quarter century career.

3. Look Away by Lo-Fang (from Blue Film)
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I could have chosen just about any song from this pleasant atmospheric electronic album. I’ve rarely put a single song from this album on, instead choosing to listen to it from start to finish each time.

This song, however, has a cool, trippy music video to go with it, so here you go.

4. Mark McGuire – In Search of the Miraculous (from Along The Way)
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No, not the baseball guy. Mark McGuire (mostly) plays guitar, mostly instrumental pieces. Previously for the three piece band Emeralds, who released almost half a dozen records from 2006-2013, when McGuire left the band to concentrate on his solo career.

McGuire plays minimalist music, usually utilizing his acoustic guitar along with some electronics. Overall it creates an album filled with sounds that I don’t think would be out of place calling Experimental and New Age, Psychedelic and Ambient.

As is the case with an album like this, individual tracks sometimes do not stick out, urging you to always look at the piece as a whole. In the case of Along The Way, however, the track most people seem to want to highlight is the 12-minute mid-album track (and single) The Instinct, the most drone-y song on the album, which starts out with very minimal, percussive electronics before launching into a very active guitar solo and fading back out. The song is even included in a remix version as a bonus track.

It is a pretty stunning song (and video), and apparently one that McGuire has been working on for at least four years, but I went with the shorter, smoother track, In Search of the Miraculous, which also features some of the very nice vocals scattered throughout the album.

5. Hamell On Trial – Artist In America
(from The Happiest Man in The World)
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I can’t believe Hamell On Trial is eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame right now. Not that I think he deserves to be there, but I can’t believe he’s been playing for 25 years.

His particular brand of music (mostly acoustic punk rock) and songwriting (political, emotional, intense, sometimes comedic) can often be hit or miss to me. When they hit, they really hit, like on the anthemic The Meeting, the beautiful tribute to the master Bill Hicks, humorous Inquiring Minds and the philosophical Big As Life.

Artist In America might not be as great as the four songs above, but it’s still a smart, song-dropping philosophical musing on the joy to be found in music.

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