Summer is finally here! And with that, the schedule of album releases slows a bit, letting everyone digest the musical offerings of spring.
Although the year is still somewhat young, there have been some incredible releases already.
Acoustically speaking, it has already been a year rife with innovation.
This is a list of the six best acoustic tracks of 2014 so far, in my humble opinion. They’re a scattered group, a group of songs made by artists from different genres, generations and attitudes.
Together, they show the incredible (and increasing) diversity in the world of acoustic music.
6. Neil Young- “Girl From The North Country”
What an anachronism, and what a treat, Neil Young’s cover album A Letter Home is.
For all of its faults, it has some truly remarkable performances. None are greater than hearing Young, one of rock’s most unforgettable and familiar voices, tackle a classic from another one of rock’s most unforgettable and familiar voices.
Recorded with 75-year-old technology, Young’s solo, acoustic cover sounds distant, like if you reach out to it, it’ll disappear from view.
And in that, Young flawlessly captures the loneliness and melancholy of the original tune, while simultaneously making it, a song that was an early key in establishing the myth and legend of Dylan, his own.
5. Fanfarlo-“Myth Of Myself (A Ruse To Exploit Our Weaknesses)”
Aside from its slightly over-the-top title, this acoustic-driven thriller from this London-based band’s third record is gorgeous.
Fluttering acoustic riffs open the song, giving it an air of importance, but not of pompousness.
The acoustics soon give way to equally impressive horns and strings, but it’s the song’s opening riff that’s the tone-setter, one that allows the rest of the song to take off as well as it does.
4. Beck- “Heart Is A Drum”
Beck’s Morning Phase may not have been the perfect comeback album, but it showed an artist who still doesn’t have to try very hard to sound impressive.
A sonic follow-up to 2002’s acoustic masterwork Sea Change, Morning Phase has within it some fantastic acoustic moments.
“Heart Is A Drum”’s main riff sounds as if it is descending from the heavens, working its way beautifully around Beck’s angelic vocals.
Beck has always been a great acoustic player, Sea Change to the bizarro, out of tune folk of his early career, and on “Heart Is A Drum,” he shows that his chops are definitely still intact.
3. Damon Albarn- “Hostiles”
Damon Albarn’s solo debut was a long-awaited, more personal look into the creative mind of one of rock’s most fascinating and enigmatic talents.
Although Everyday Robots may have been slightly underwhelming at times, it sure had its moments of greatness.
Sleepy but beautiful, and led by a perfectly simple acoustic riff, “Hostiles” is one of the album’s early highlights.
Albarn perfectly evokes the grey, rainy locales of his childhood in this track, giving us an unprecedented glimpse into where he comes from.
2. Marissa Nadler- “Dead City Emily”
I listened to this song almost daily while immersing myself in the various novels I read for my dystopian literature class.
That sort of reading material, coupled with the chilling New England winter, went hand in hand with “Dead City Emily.”
This song’s central riff manages to be gorgeous, unsettling and richly technical all at once.
The track sounds like it should be in the “Game Of Thrones” soundtrack, or scoring some other tragic, medieval tale filled with death and despair.
It may not exactly be something you want to put on the stereo during your summer barbecue, but as a deeply personal, vibrant, acoustic examination of a darker character, its absolutely beautiful.
1. Sun Kil Moon- “I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same”
Everything else on this list is certainly worthy of praise, but this song’s hold at the top was never really much of a question.
Singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek’s sixth album as Sun Kil Moon, Benji, is simply without parallel.
“I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same” remains an absolutely staggering centerpiece to the album, and not only 2014’s best acoustic song, but its best song period.
For nearly 11 minutes, over perfectly measured but rock-solid finger-picking, Kozelek paints a conflicted, elaborate picture of himself and his identity.
He is blunt about his past actions, how they have affected him and how they’ll affect him in the future. Through the interweaving set of vignettes Kozelek lays out, he addresses death, aging, grief and friendship.
Devastatingly intimate, it is simply a peerless example of acoustic songwriting.
Jackson Maxwell is a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is double majoring in history and journalism. He is an editorial assistant at the Massachusetts Daily Collegian and has his own music blog entitled "Broken Drums." You can follow him here at http://broken--drums.tumblr.com/ or themotorcade.tumblr.com.