The Tallest Man On Earth- These Days
I could gush about Swedish Folk singer Kristian Matsson for hours. As folk acts like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, and The Head & The Heart gain immense popularity, The Tallest Man on Earth continues plucking his acoustic guitar just outside of the mainstream music industry’s eyes and ears. “These Days” is a Jackson Browne cover, but Matsson makes it his own, foregoing a guitar for much of the song in favor of a toy piano and a capella verses. The video lends itself to the intimacy of this excellent slow folk song.
The Hold Steady – First Night
I switch favorite bands with relative frequency (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers in middle school to The Mars Volta to Arcade Fire etc…), and The Hold Steady have recently staked their claim as my new obsession. Vocalist Craig Finn can take some getting used to, but the songs are catchy and thoughtful. “First Night”, like many of their songs, shares motifs of thrill seeking, loneliness, and substance abuse, with keyboardist Franz Nicolay adding emotional weight to the song on the piano.
Waxahatchee – Swan Dive
I didn’t discover Waxahatchee until late in 2013, when the album Cerulean Salt project began popping up on just about any end of the year list published. Lone member Katie Crutchfield perfects the art of lo-fi production, the songs led by simple guitar and drum rhythms, focusing instead of Crutchfield’s voice. “Swan Dive” is thematically similar to the rest of Cerulean Salt, as Crutchfield ruminates on failed relationships and letting go.
Jason Isbell – Cover Me Up
You won’t hear Jason Isbell being played at Kam’s on Country Night, as Isbell’s brand of country is decidedly more somber than Keith Urban or Brad Paisley. On “Cover Me Up”, Isbell retells his past troubles with alcoholism and dependency issues. The song is dominated by the sort-of chorus, as Isbell belts out the lyrics with heartbreaking conviction.
Pharrell Williams – Happy
Pharrell’s “Happy” is just about the antithesis of the last song on the list. I’m not obsessed with “Happy” because of deep, thoughtful lyrics or thematic depths. No, “Happy” is exactly what it says it use, unapologetically happy, and as fun as any song I’ve heard. Funky and uplifting, “Happy” would be the summer jam of the year if it had actually been a summer song.
Oscar Isaac – The Death of Queen Jane
Another cover, “The Death of Queen Jane” is a classic folk song most famously performed by Joan Baez. No offense to Baez, but Isaac (the eponymous lead of Inside Llewyn Davis) blows her version out of the water. Although Isaac’s folk career likely begins and ends with Inside Llewyn Davis, he proved capable of fitting in with the rest of the early 1960’s Greenwhich Village folk scene the movie portrays.