Another year, another reason to lose yourself in music instead of the news or social media, or the news on social media. Perhaps it was the pervasive effect of the internet on my life, and some profound desire to push away from it when I had the chance, that shaped my preferences this year. This is a list filled with folkiness, jazz and orchestral expanse. Now more than ever, we should hastily embrace the chance to slow down and breathe and think. I did so, or at least tried to, with these records. You should too.
1. War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic)
There is something so subtle about what War on Drugs do that they just seem to bridge the last five decades of rock music so effortlessly. Although it is inexplicitly American rock music, cut from the same cloth as Petty, Dylan, and Fleetwood Mac, it’s as modern as anything you’re likely to hear this year. There are keyboards, soaring guitar lines and the justifiable lyrical cynicism of bandleader Adam Granduciel.
What the band captures throughout most of their music is a kind of dreamy forward motion. On gems like “Holding On” there is kind of endless groove that accompanies the classic story about love and longing: “Now I’m headed down a different road / Can we walk it side by side? / Is an old memory just another way of saying goodbye?” Good question really. Although most of the songs on “A Deeper Understanding” start with a mellow boil, by the time you are at the end, these songs explode into the kind of rock anthem we don’t hear much anymore
2. Angus and Julia Stone – Snow (Nettwerk Music)
More than any band on this list, I’ve been smitten by the Aussie sibling duo from my first listen. Over the past dozen years they’ve been making some of the dreamiest indie folk music on the planet. Both Angus and Julia have the kind of distinctive voices that have allowed them to create incredible solo work, but it’s hearing them together, finishing each other’s sentences that put them in a league far away from everyone else.
“Snow” is yet another slight evolution away from the more straightforward rustic folk of their earlier efforts towards something a bit brighter and modern. There are drum kits, flashier guitar lines, and even some dots and loops to round things out. There are also even some songs that might you might even classify as (gasp) pop songs. “Chateau” is a wonderfully accessible song about being young and free, “I don’t mind if you wanna go anywhere / I’ll take you there.” And that’s what they do … take us away.
2.5. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism (Jagjaguar)
This is a genre-bending masterpiece if there ever was one. Released on the seminal folk label Jagjaguar (Bon Iver, Sharon Van Etten), this modern soul mash-up, grounded by Sumney’s silky Buckley-eque falsetto, is an exercise in texture and open space. There is a glassiness that he spreads across these spacey canvases, like Nina Simone.
“Aromantism” is that odd debut, so unlike anything you have heard in a while that it takes a while to truly set in. It’s often a delicate affair with Sumney singing over a sparse guitar chord, but occasionally he lets it all hang out foreshadowing what he will sound like as a fully realized band. On “Lonely World,” his gentle vocals explode into a full-on sonic explosion: “And the sound of the void / Flows through your body undestroyed.” Indeed. [Read more…]