Best of 2014: Best of Bandcamp: 2014’s finest

Tom Walters picks up unsung gems from twelve months of late night Bandcamp listening sessions.

It’s been a massive year for Bandcamp-centric artists. The website is rapidly becoming the go-to platform for tastemakers to tuck in to their latest treat, and it shows: every artist featured on this end-of-year list has had a hugely successful 2014 in one way or another, and it all comes back to where it began.

It’s hard not to pigeonhole oneself in a particular community or group of artists - what’s regularly occurring more and more is that friends are breaking out together. With that in mind, this list explores artists, bands, musicians - and yeah, in some cases labels - who’ve made monumental progress in 2014 and have produced excellent music in the process.

Here’s a selection of Bandcamp favourites from the past twelve months:

Small Wonder - Wendy

Since Mutual Benefit’s breakout success with last year’s ‘Love’s Crushing Diamond’, there’s been a yearning for fragile-yet-euphoric pop music. Enter The Epoch is Now: a collective of musicians who take everything from chamber pop to full-on disco and eschew it into off-kilter entities.

There’s the driving, stadium-ready work of Bellows and the glitchy, dancefloor-prepped tunes of Sharpless, and then there’s Small Wonder, whose intricate, elegantly executed music swirls from festival-ready folk rock, foot-tapping power pop to erratic EDM. Whether it’s the soaring ‘Patron Saint of Pretty Faces’ or the piano-led, deeply melancholic slow-burner ‘Until I Open My Wings’, Henry Crawford’s music takes elements of things we’d otherwise disregard and moulds them into addictive off-kilter anthems. ‘Wendy’ is an album of infinite small wonders; an album that gives as much as was given towards it.

LVL UP - Hoodwink’d

There hasn’t been a record this year that Double Double Whammy have been involved with that hasn’t been excellent, but LVL UP’s ‘Hoodwink’d’ really is the icing on the cake. While most bands treading down the path of the emo revival are taking the doom and gloom a bit too far, LVL UP are taking a step back and putting tongue firmly in melancholic cheek. ‘Hoodwink’d’ is a deeply idiosyncratic punk record within 2014, one that’s not only riddled with fist-punching choruses and riotous riffs, but stories of twentysomething-dom that are told with a brutal honesty and cohesiveness many of us struggle to put into words. Is there any other chorus this year as relatable as the one in ‘Annie’s a Witch’? “One more day to make some money honey / then I’m gonna spend it on new shoes to kick these blues”. With those Marr-esque guitar lines (‘I Feel Ok’) and lyrics of heartache, slackerdom and loneliness, LVL UP are at once both genuinely enthralling and emotionally draining. Let’s just hope they carry on casting spells long into the future.

Ricky Eat Acid - Three Love Songs

One of 2014’s truly original records, ‘Three Love Songs’ marks another turning point for a highly prolific artist whose Bandcamp CV is hard to keep track of. Ricky Eat Acid is exciting because he isn’t producing music like anyone else right now. Rather than churn out the same old tired bedroom electronica or bubblegum EDM, Sam Ray is tearing up the rulebook and refusing to write one of his own. ‘Three Love Songs’ is a journey that can be undertaken at any time of the day, any time of the year - its experimental leanings in vast ambient and electronic fields a mystery to all, but a real fucking pleasure to many. Challenging yet accessible, forward-thinking and unfamiliar - ‘Three Love Songs’ is a gorgeous exploration of Ray’s fascinating world; a key that unlocks the chest to a very special musician’s back catalogue.

Martha - Courting Strong

Martha, a four-piece punk band from the incredibly aptly named Pity Me, hit the ground running with their Fortuna! POP debut ‘Courting Strong’. Instantly likeable and infinitely memorable, it’s an unrelenting ride that swerves from hook to insatiably catchy hook. Whether it’s a story of queer, unrequited love (‘1997, Passing in the Hallway’) distant and difficult relationships (‘1967, I Miss You, I’m Lonely’) or simply trying to break free of ridiculous gender assumptions (‘Sleeping Beauty’) Martha aren’t afraid to tackle anything head-on. They’re one of the gutsiest, most exciting forces in the UK DIY community right now, and if there’s one record that sums up the UK’s position in left-of-centre music right now then it’s this hidden gem.

Frankie Cosmos - Zentropy

Probably Double Double Whammy’s biggest break-out this year, Frankie Cosmos’ ‘Zentropy’ has been somewhat of a sleeper hit. Coming out of seemingly nowhere (Frankie had been playing with the also-excellent Porches. up until this point, and still does),’ Zentropy’ was a thrilling if mellow insight into one of the year’s most interesting songwriters.

There seems to have been a running theme of childishness and youthful naivety in this year’s Bandcamp successes (see ‘Harvey’ by Alex G or ‘Wake Up’ by R. L. Kelly or even ‘Fireman’ by Frankie herself), but with this record it’s a sincere yearning. “Just because I am a certain age / doesn’t mean I was any older than I was yesterday,” Frankie (real name Greta Kline) softly sings over percussion that sounds like a toddler pitter-pattering in a music class. This is far from cynical music though, and the hallways of growing up that Kline wanders throughout Zentropy are presented as delightful, downright charming twee pop jams that feel more exciting and fresh than most of Bandcamp’s bloated universe.

Total Control - Typical System

Everyone loves an underdog. Total Control’s Mikey Young has been making noise in Melbourne for years, but thanks to Bandcamp and a record chocker-block with really fucking great songs, he’s finally broken out into bigger pastures. ‘Flesh War’ is one of the best songs of the year - a sprawling, ‘80s-indebted rock song that’s impeccably structured and immeasurably infectious. It’s a testament to the album that ‘Flesh War’ nonchalantly follows into ‘Systematic Fuck’, a groove-orientated, thrash-y bout of post-punk that explains why Total Control are so exciting: you never know what’s going to happen next, but it’s always going to be blooding thrilling. Ultimately, ‘Typical System’ is anything but typical: think Parkay Quarts’ ‘Content Nausea’ if it were left hanging upside-down for a few hours, before being made to walk around and shout loudly on prompt.

Foxes in Fiction - Ontario Gothic

Warren Hildebrand’s soothing, solemn new album as Foxes in Fiction is yet another home run for Orchid Tapes this year. Not unlike the fragile pop that everyone in The Epoch is Now camp have been exploring, ‘Ontario Gothic’ feels like a more fully realised vision, one of Orchid Tapes’ first truly widescreen releases. There’s a certain beauty in each of the crisp, analogue whispers kissed upon every track here, and Hildebrand has a knack for evoking emotions purely through generating a specific atmosphere. Listening to ‘Ontario Gothic’ unfold is like listening to an Elliott Smith or Bright Eyes album - in slow-motion - outside on a starry night; each perfect component clicking into place as Hildebrand’s universe consumes your thoughts and feelings.

Quarterbacks - Quarterboy

Quarterbacks’ output so far is a testament to what a digital footprint actually means. With every release Dean Engle puts out under the moniker, you can be sure there’s some revisited and tweaked older material in-between the new songs and demo-esque sketches. That’s what’s Brilliant about Bandcamp: there are no rules, and if an artist is shooting the shit one day and wants to re-record and re-release music, there’s nothing to stop them doing so. ‘Quarterboy’ was a hugely significant and masterful record from Engle; masterful in way that made it a hushed whisper of an album that quietly dealt with insecurities, anxiety and cliched boy-meets-girl stories. Significant in that it preceded the Quarterbacks’ forthcoming self-titled, full band record on Team Love that’ll see Engle reinterpreting tracks like the almighty ‘Pool’. ‘Quarterboy’ is an album for those hours of solitude and reflection, a short-but-sweet ode to curling up in a ball or wandering around the house alone on a Sunday.

Chumped - Teenage Retirement

In a world of instant gratification, you need to firmly grab hold of every chance you get, and Chumped swore by this ethic in 2014. ‘Teenage Retirement’ is an unashamed pop punk record that’s blood, sweat and tears is actually tangible. Fewer bands this year have seemed so at ease and embracing of their influences, and Chumped proudly wear theirs on their sleeve. From the outrageously fun song titles (‘Novella Ella Ella Eh’ and ‘Hot 97 Summer Jam’ anyone?) to the outrageously fun riffage (‘Name That Thing’ absolutely slays), Teenage Retirement is a rollercoaster ride of everything from ‘95 to ‘05. “And we drank and we talked shit and I was happy,” will raise the hairs on your arms as it erupts into a euphoric gang-chant, causing memories of those shows where everyone would yell along to flood to the forefront of the mind.

Happy Diving - Big World

Happy diving in, more like. The band’s first full-length effort may not have been as instantly tangible as their previous EP, but it’s definitely a record for reaping the rewards from the more time that’s spent with it. Father/Daughter regularly take a - excuse me, here - plunge with their artists, releasing music off the back of a handful of demos or sketches. It’s risky, but then again sometimes with intuition there is no risk - you could argue that Happy Diving was always going to be great. ‘Big World’ is a big world in itself, an absolutely huge one - from the sleepy, sliding riffs of ‘Sad Planet’ (that first cry of “take me out on the weekend,” is mesmerising) to the brash and unforgiving guitars in ‘Weird Dream’, ‘Big World’ is one of those rare records that goes for broke and gives it everything its got. It’s an exhilarating, often draining listen, but stick with it and sooner or later those melodies will be ricocheting around your head and those lyrics will be ingrained in you for days.

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