ACL 2014: Top Ten Singles

His Master's VoiceBack in January, we asked, “What if instrumental music had its own Top Ten?”  We couldn’t find one online, so we invented one.  Now we’ve chosen the ten catchiest and most memorable short tracks of 2014.  Each is short enough to fit on one side of a 45.  We believe that each would have a plausible shot at being a hit in the larger world, if only given a chance.

The pop world prefers lyrics, but a great story can be told without them.  Our music may be the stuff of film scores, but its pedigree goes back to classical concerts.  If you’re trying to get a friend into instrumental music, and you’re looking for an entry point, this is it.

And now, here they are: our top ten instrumental-based singles of 2014!

1)  Christina Vantzou ~ going backwards to recover what was left behind (Kranky)
The most moving track of the year is graced by an equally moving title.  Vantzou reflects her words with subtle grace: tender piano notes offset by soaring strings.  Emotion drips like soft, silent tears.

 

2)  Tess Said So ~ The Snap Beans Aren’t Salty (Preserved Sound)
This piano and percussion duo is an inspired pairing.  The snares and keys combine to form a parachute of pleasure, and one can imagine being launched into the air as the music unfolds.

 

3)  Lullatone ~ All the optimism of early January
This happy piece also reflects its title; a swift tempo, clicking percussion and dancing strings combine to make it as promising as a fresh list of New Year’s aspirations and hopes.  As the snow begins to fall, we’ll be thinking of such things again.

 

4)  Tides of Man ~ Mountain House
As the lead single from Young and Courageous, “Mountain House” had a lot to prove.  The band was finishing a transition from prog rock to post-rock, and there was no telling how fans would react.  The good news: it worked.  The band picked up momentum as the year went on, and the brand new sound brought their acclaim to unprecedented heights.

 

5)  sleepmakeswaves ~ Something Like Avalanches
The lead single from Love of Cartography, “Something Like Avalanches” re-established this Australian band as one of the best in the business.  Outdoing fellow post-rockers 65dos with a wild combination of guitars, drums and electronics, the band certainly made waves with this one.

 

6)  Maybeshewill ~ Fair Youth (Superball)
Another post-rock band averse to spacing, Maybeshewill introduced its latest album with a burst of exuberance.  The horns are the highlight, but the entire track soars with the spirit of celebration.

 

7)  36 ~ Hyperbox (3six Recordings)
This one was actually released as a single: a translucent 7″ that preceded the amazing album.  Chimes sound, music box are wound and rewound, and the listener gains the feeling of time lost and found.

 

8)  Koloto ~ Fox Tales (Bad Panda/Abandon Building)
Given second life by Bad Panda (and third life by Abandon Building), “Fox Tales” is the song that kept getting stuck in our heads every time we were reintroduced.  The keys and pads imitate the playful life of a fox in snow.

 

9)  Mariano Rodriguez ~ Praise the Road (Grasstops Recording)
This relaxed guitar piece was one of our favorite songs of the summer, as it offered a slow pace and a calm demeanor, reflecting both its title and our wishes for the season.  Whether on the beach or on the road, this track made a perfect mini-score.

 

10)  (exitpost) ~ Sweet Fade
It took all year for me to agree with James that this was the best track on (exitpost)’s first album, but it finally happened.  This sweet fade provides the perfect coda to our year-end chart and our experiment in creating an instrumental-based singles countdown.

Richard Allen

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