Favorite Tapes of 2014

by Rafael Grafals

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Adult Mom | Sometimes Bad Happens

[Miscreant Records]

I feel like there were very few releases this year that were as instantly likable as Adult Mom’s Sometimes Bad Happens. The full band debut of Steph Knipe’s songwriting project accomplishes a lot in its short run-time and it’s all because of how consistent Knipe’s songwriting is. These songs are straightforward and honest, though that’s not to say they’re ever boring. It’s this sort of simplicity that makes the songs so immediate. Nothing is drawn out for longer than it needs to be and there aren’t any flashy tricks found on this tape. It’s just a handful of really good pop songs that have tons of replay value. Adult Mom as a full band leaves a lasting impression on Sometimes Bad Happens and I’m excited for the full length that should be coming out pretty soon.

Buy it here

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Big Hush | Wholes

[DZ Tapes]

I hadn’t heard of Big Hush until this tape was released, and that’s only because it was released on DZ Tapes. Now I’m just very thankful that DZ Tapes was the label to release this or else it might have slipped past me this year. Wholes features tight instrumentation and seemingly effortless harmonies bundled with powerful songwriting. Big Hush seems like a band that does the most with what they have available so while this is a pretty fuzzy tape, they push past the lofi sound to deliver fantastic songs. The use of dynamics on “Wrong House” where guitars swell to the track’s peak show how great Big Hush is at establishing atmosphere and drawing you in. Wholes is only 4 tracks long so it’s definitely worth looking into and it serves as the perfect entry point to the rest of Big Hush’s work.

Buy it here

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Forth Wanderers | Tough Love

[Seagreen Records]

Though I’m not even sure this tape will actually be released before the year is over, the pre-order went up on Seagreen Records so I’m using that as an opportunity to talk about this album.

Jersey’s Forth Wanderers released their full length Tough Love close to the end of the year and it’s made it pretty hard to focus on any other music that’s come out this past month. It’s rare to see a band get so many things right on their debut album but I really can’t find anything to complain about on Tough Love. The songwriting is surprisingly consistent and there’s a beautiful intricacy to the instrumentation. Guitars never seen content with simple chord progressions and the percussion feels perfectly in synch with everything else happening on each track. The vocals sort of tie all the loose ends together and we’re left with a surprisingly consistent debut record that I haven’t been able to stop listening to since its release.

Buy it here

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Oh, Rose | That Do Now See

[Fox Food Records]

Oh, Rose’s That Do Now See was probably the first tape of the year to truly surprise me. That’s mostly my fault because I wasn’t aware of Oh, Rose’s previous output but “Prom,” the opener on this EP, is the best way I could have first heard this band. Even as the year comes to a close it’s one of the strongest tracks of the year both lyrically and emotionally. I don’t think there’s another lyric that came out this year that I’ll remember like, “looking for symptoms of a hole in your heart, before there’s a hole in your head.

The rest of this EP carries a similarly dark mood and makes for a cohesive listen. As a whole, That Do Now See feels like a pretty heartbroken release though there’s a definite comfort in that sound which is why it works so well. The tape’s closer, “Into The Chorus,” is particularly eerie though it feels like a logical conclusion to everything else presented here.

Buy it here

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Rivergazer | Random Nostalgia

[Seagreen Records/Father/Daughter Records]

Being a huge fan of PORCHES. I was excited to hear what Kevin Farrant had in store with his project Rivergazer and while “Safari Jack,” the first single off of Random Nostalgia, was not at all what I had expected I was still very much into what I was hearing. As it turns out the rest of Random Nostalgia is a lot more laid back than “Safari Jack” but it still delivers. Farrant writes songs that, while his influence from being in PORCHES. is apparent, are still very much his own. He has a way of tackling the themes he writes about with humor at some points and heartbreaking honesty at others. This gives the record a very human feel and ultimately allows you to connect to it easier. This sort of human element found in the music paired with catchy melodies and fantastic arrangements make this album a favorite even outside of the realm of tapes.

Buy it here

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Seismograph | Tundra Divine

[Snowbeast Records]

If there’s one tape I can accurately describe as gorgeous on this list, it’d have to be Tundra Divine. The second record from Portland’s Seismograph (Jonathan Ioviero) is breathtaking in its use of texture to create a sort of sonic narrative for the album. Inspiration for this record came partially from the death of one of Ioviero’s friends but also a search for clarity (among other more abstract themes). Those themes become apparent after you listen to Tundra Divine and not because they’re directly expressed but rather because Ioviero is able to accurately convert these thoughts into sounds. At points gentle instrumental patches shift into noisier interludes that then return to peaceful synth sections. Considering this album was recorded over a 12-month period it’s clear the amount of effort there was put into making sure all the details were correct. There are a lot of subtle elements that you don’t really pick up on the first listen. Tundra Divine is an album that slowly reveals itself to you and gets better with every listen.

Buy it here

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Sister Palace | The purple tape

[Self Released]

I found Sister Palace while digging through Bandcamp earlier this year and in a year where it feels like small record labels were a huge way for me to find new artists, it felt good to discover a great band that was self releasing their tapes.

The purple tape is probably one of the most fun releases I’ve heard in 2014. The hooks here are infectious and each song has a way of building tension until it reaches some sort of release. Most importantly, however, this tape is great if only because it concludes with what’s essentially a ten minute jam track that’s actually really enjoyable.

Buy it here

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Small Wonder | Wendy

[Father/Daughter Records]

Wendy is truthfully one of the most special releases to come out this year. On it Small Wonder, the songwriting project of Henry Crawford, hits the perfect balance of acoustic, more folk focused music and drone-y synthesizers and while it’s not a new sound the way in which it’s achieved feels perfect. The production on this tape makes these songs sound huge which is only fitting considering the themes found on this record. It’s a painfully beautiful album and Crawford is able to touch on themes like love and death without ever resorting to clichés.

All of this makes listening to Wendy one of the most cathartic experiences you’ll have when connecting with music, and for that reason it feels like one of the most necessary releases to come out this year. There were a lot of albums that came out in 2014 that I loved, and still love, but Wendy is one of the few that really helped me through this year.

Buy it here

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Spencer Radcliffe & R.L. Kelly | Brown Horse

[Orchid Tapes]

It’s no secret that this was a big year for Orchid Tapes. After their first vinyl released with the new Ricky Eat Acid record things seemed to happen very fast for them as they consistently put out fantastic albums. In between those LPs they released this gem.

The Brown Horse split might be the most impressive thing both artists involved have put out so far. Spencer’s side offers intimate recordings fleshed out with odd synths and precise layering. All of these elements blend perfectly with Radcliffe’s lyricism. On the tape’s opener, “Green Things,” he kicks things off with “Oh my God I’ve really done it this time. I loved you so much that it was a crime,”setting the tone for the rest of the tape.

Rachel’s side plays off of Radcliffe’s well, offering another set of personal tracks that even come off as more personal than those found on her debut Life’s a Bummer. I remember before the tape had been released Rachel had mentioned that the songs were older and not necessarily the kind of songs she was working on now. Despite that I feel like it was still important that we get to hear them because not only are they great, they’re extremely therapeutic and connected with me in a way that I really needed. “I don’t know what it is I’m doing” is the way Rachel introduces us to her side of split and it’s something I needed to hear, to be reminded that I’m not the only one that feels that way.

Buy it here

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Steve Sobs | Heavy Heart

[Waaga Records]

Eric Littman, the mind behind Steve Sobs, released this hazy, slow-burning tape on Waaga Records this year and it’s slowly grown to be one of my favorite tapes in recent memory. Littman has a way of crafting heartfelt, effect heavy pop tunes that strike an emotional chord. Throughout Heavy Heart Littman displays an ear for texture and layering, creating a consistent atmosphere throughout the tape that never feels dull or overdone. Vocal layers create dreamy harmonies while guitar and synth fill up the rest of the space on these tracks. Delays and reverb help enhance the mood but ultimately it’s Littman’s writing that makes everything work. Heavy Heart might take some time for you to settle into but it’s worth the time because it’s one of the most rewarding tapes I’ve heard in some time.

Buy it here

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Rafael Grafals runs the Heart & Soul music blog. Check it out here.

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Check out GoldFlakePaint’s tape label here.

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