Jack Antonoff's side project succeeds in almost every way where fun. did not (at least for me - sorry fun. superfans). It's bombastic, un-self-conscious and cinematic pop with shades of David Bowie and Elvis Costello. More than anything, though, it reminds me of a more polished version of woefully unheralded singer-songwriter Josh Joplin. Look him up and be glad you did:
Like Bleachers, nearly every track on this album has the potential to punctuate an indie rom-com trailer ("Hemiplegia" actually does, in the promo clip for "Cake"). "Wings" is pure 80s Stevie Nicks in the best way. It's the perfect record for a rainy afternoon;
3. Magic Man / Before The Waves
Did you love The Killers' Hot Fuss? Of course you did. Boston-based Magic Man is, in a lot of ways, taking everything that made that album amazing, putting an even shinier pop gloss all over it, and dancing right over to your place for a house party. "Catherine" wouldn't be out of place on a One Direction album, but "It All Starts Here" shows potential for something even greater. Here's "Out of Mind":
4. ASTR / Varsity EP - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EegCJ9DgErY
I like my female-fronted synth-pop on the dark side a lot of the time (Hi, Banks! Wassup, Data Romance!). Hailing from Brooklyn, ASTR is like a sexy gut-punch. Double bonus points for the cheeky sample of the Growing Pains theme song on "R U With Me." Then there's "Razor":
5. Jaymes Young / Habits of My Heart EP
The elevator pitch for LA-based Jaymes Young sounds like it would be terrible in practice - Justin Timberlake meets Jeff Buckley. I know, right? Even so, his manages to combine his soaring, emotive voice with a backbeat that will rattle your teeth and move your feet. I still maintain that "I'll Be Good" ought to be plugged into every TV ad for Showtime's The Affair, but if "Two More Minutes" doesn't blow up all over radio in 2015, the music industry is doing it wrong. Per usual:
I've been a fan of The Damnwells, Alex Dezen's American-folk-rock outfit, for at least a decade or more. He has an otherworldly ability to write not only a catchy hook but to tell deeply personal yet still universal stories of love, growing up and heartbreak (pretty sure his Masters in creative writing helps). His solo EPs this year have been filled with more introspective tracks, including "None of These Things" which is probably the most quietly heartbreaking song NOT by Peter Bradley Adams.
7. Mystery Skulls / Forever
Mystery Skulls is the shit. If ever there was a guy deserving of major label success, it's Luis Dubuc. He's Sam Sparro, Jamie Lidell and Calvin Harris all rolled into one guy with a laptop and mic. Go see him live on tour in early 2015 - trust me.
Mixing a unique blend of southern twang with synthesizers, Grizfolk just wrapped up a tour with Bastille and is yet another example of something that ought to be awful in practice. Yet they've managed to produce "Hymnals," one of the most roll-down-the-windows-and-fist-pump songs of 2014.
On her debut album, Mr. Little Jeans is equal parts dark and sweet and bouncy all at once - sort of the kid sister of Lana Del Rey and Bat For Lashes. "Good Mistake" makes great use of its stuttering bassline and driving beat while "Far From Home" wouldn't sound out of place on the soundtrack for the new reboot of Twin Peaks (can someone seriously hire The XX for that, too? Pretty please? K thx).
Despite being possibly the least engaging (see also: boring) band I've seen live recently (#sorrynotsorry), New Zealand's Broods have still produced what is probably the most well-produced and just all-around lovely albums of the year. "Four Walls" will delicately reach in and crush your heart, and "Bridges" is a just a damn hit by any standard.