10. Kelly Hogan – I Like to Keep Myself in Pain
Boasting a modest (almost) 5,000 twitter followers, Hogan is currently flying under a majority of the industry’s radar. However, her quality is kicking the shit out of that quantity. With Bloodshot Records in her back pocket, she brings to the conversation a label with a reputation of taking sleepers and making them stars. Her voice is a big as Loretta Lynn and her mouth is a witty as Martha Wainwright. She is as Americana as it comes. But you don’t have to take MY word for it. NPR and M. Ward love her too. That’s pretty good company to be in. Seriously, spotify it.
9. Fun. – Some Nights
With theatrical vocals and dramatic songwriting, Fun. has managed to capture the attention of the world with their bleeding heart harmonies. Some Nights serves as the boys’ most polished and addicting album to date, include the catalog featuring The Format. True to form the band is raw and real, holding nothing back and leaving everything on the mix.
8. Beth Orton – Sugaring Season
Beth Orton is Americana in the most candid form, regardless of hailing from England. With vocals that spark the ghost of a young Joni Mitchell and strings that swell to compliment her style, Orton holds nothing back on her new cut Sugaring Season. Track for track, the album stirs a sense of comfort that can only be found in that bedroom sound. With conversational lyrics and digestible storylines, Orton comes off as an acquaintance relaying a story in passing. She is approachable and undeniable in her charm.
7. Jenny Owen Youngs – An Unwavering Band of Light
Youngs’ latest album, An Unwavering Band of Light, is an extension of this already established signature. Her upward swing of albums, from Batten the Hatches into Transmitter Failure to the present have all aged her sound significantly, building a fair amount of depth which each of their births. For example, with each transition to the next album there has been a certain amount of growth. Transmitter went electric in its jump from Batten’s soft, soulful sound. Transmitter made way for Elliot Jacobson’s punctuated drumming with the release of Unwavering. On this album, Jacobson manages to turn his percussion skills into a band asset in a way generally only accomplished by guitarists. If you don’t believe me, check out tracks “Love for Long” and “Born to Lose” in which his sticks actually become the driving hook. However, Youngs plays second chair to no one. As a storyteller, Youngs seemingly manages to paint a rainbow in the background of every storm she sings about.
There is no questioning that An Unwavering Band of Light is a huge step forward for Youngs. She has managed to gather up all of the charm and charisma, that she has collected alone the shifty road of her career, and placed it on a mix that properly displays the talented firecracker she really is. While I hope for a long and success career out of this artist, if this album somehow ends up being her swan song, she can easily bow out proudly.
6. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
If you can listen to the album without gathering an overwhelming urge to rebel against everything in your upper-middle class life, you’re not playing it loudly enough. With a sound that The Clash created and The Gaslight Anthem are dying to be, Japandriods are legit punk without attempting to be legit. The result of such a candid approach to songwriting is a passionate and authentic sound that few bands can reference in an industry oversaturated by studio shine. Raw and real, Celebration Rock is what rock was intended to be.
5. Beach House – Bloom
This album’s whimsical and majestic aura floods the room in a way I have only seen a few accomplish (St. Vincent, The Flaming Lips and The Polyphonic Spree for example). All the key elements of an atmospheric album are accounted for. The driving drums push forward the tweeked piano and perfectly selected synthesizers. The guitar hooks repeat like clockwork, looping at just the right angle to leave a lasting impression on your soul. The blend of these features fuses together an album so indie, it reeks of the elements that make hipster ladies love beards.
4. The Shins – Port of Morrow
In life, there is a long ass list of things that people take too seriously. Religion, politics and The Shins new album top that list. The second that Port of Morrow hit NPR, masses of talking heads protested against its existence. Like a kid in a grocery store who had been told no to his request for a candy bar, they flopped down in the aisles, kicking and screaming. “This doesn’t sound like The Shins” they exclaimed. “It sounds more like a James Mercer solo record!” One step away from protests and flaming pitchforks, the masses took to Twitter to rebel. However, during the rallies, they forgot to take one small fact into consideration: this album is fantastic.
3. Right Away, Great Captain – The Church of the Good Thief
If you can listen to the first 60 seconds of The Church of the Good Thief, the third album in the Right Away, Great Captain trilogy without crediting Andy Hull with the title of poet your heart is hard and your mind is jaded. Creating more of a novel than an album, Hull’s concept for Right Away, Great Captain borders on the brilliance of Hemingway himself. His concept has Hull tell the story of a 17th century sailor who returns home to find his wife between the sheets with his very own brother. Hull uses the trilogy, consisting of The Bitter End, The Eventually Home and The Church of the Good Thief, to take a first person perspective of the emotions this captain is left with following the tragic events in his life. The results create a trio of albums possessing a story worthy of a Broadway stage.
2. Sigur Ros – Valtari
Valtari, the latest effort from Sigur Rós does not stray far from this course. Slow burning and passive in its builds, Valtari remains quieter and more modest than the band’s previous cuts. However, don’t for a moment mistake this as a sign of weakness. This album is as grand and magical as ever. In his truest form, Jónsi flutters in on “Ekki Múkk” like something from Neverland, welcomed by an orchestra of chimes and pianos. His tear-jerking falsetto is a gift from god, given to fans of music. Placed flawlessly over random bits of noise and computer jargon, the combination of man made noises and natural skills are breathtaking.
1. Stars – The North
No band in the industry has their shit together and as tightly crafted as Stars. Their secondary riffs are tighter than most people’s spotlight hooks. Their lyrics balance a very complex art of being charming and approachable while remaining deep and complex at the same time. They are peanut butter and jelly. They are the cake that you can eat too. They are all the clichés you’re told not to write as a journalist but can’t avoid because somehow they’re all true.
The North, Stars latest effort, does not deviate from this path. Laced with addicting synth based pop-tracks that would make John Hughes proud, the band sends listeners shaking their ass and pondering their existence. Seriously, Stars is like a dance party in your Intro to Psych class.
Top 5 from MY Scene (Lawrence/Kansas City)
5. Schwervon – Courage
4. Antennas Up – The Awkward Phase
3. The Architects – Live in LA
2. Deco Auto – Past Mistakes and Hauntings
1. We Are Voices – Tread Lightly