More music. Yay! Not exclusively sophomores, but there are quite a few second album wonders here. The first list of future hall of famers can be found here.
1. Liam Finn – Fomo
Scott: This list is the primary reason why I can never pick just five or ten albums as my favorites for the year. Too much goodness on this list for anything to be left out. Yet, like I said about Bon Iver before, if I was forced to make a list of five, this album would be on it. It seemed like I was the only one of my friends to fall in love with Finn’s debut release I’ll Be Lightning. I’m glad Brian is along for the ride this time, because I am most definitely in love all over again. This is one of the few albums this year that I can listen to on repeat for the better part of a day without ever getting tired of it.
He ranges from sweet and sentimental, to school-boy angst, before swinging over into snarky dick, then back over to lustful obsession for good measure. This man just knows how to craft every aspect of a song.
If he stops by your hometown, make sure to check him out live. He infuses a whole new energy into his live set and is an electrifying drummer, which results in a few moments where it’s just him and his brother on two drum sets going ape-shit. Highly recommended, as is this album!!
After writing all this, I discovered his newest music video is just an awesome showcase of his drumming. Watch it:
Brian: I only have one bad thing to say about Liam Finn’s latest release: it is too short! My first listen through, the last track ended and I felt genuinely sad that the CD had come to a close. Each song is amazing. So many nuances, so many interesting progressions. Highlights for me include: … actually I will name every song on the album if forced to pick favorites. Some shine because of the delicate way he weaves his vocals with keyboards and clean guitars (“Little Words”). Others shine because of a raw, straightforward production that showcases Finn’s versatility as a songwriter (“The Struggle”). It is special when an artist can have these two styles coexist so seamlessly on a record. That is what sets Liam Finn apart. He is amazing … here’s hoping for more brilliance in the coming years!
2. Lisa Hannigan – Passenger
Brian: This former Damien Rice band member and collaborator has really stepped out from behind his massive shadow with her second release. She continues to show us that she can take center stage with her sometimes sultry and expressive vocals, and her keen ear for melody. Passenger is a beautifully crafted album that exhibits growth for an already exceptionally talented singer/songwriter.
Scott: Every minute of Passenger is infused with such tenderness and intimacy. That part is much like Damien Rice, Hannigan’s former counterpart. Yet, she differs from Rice in that every moment of this album is also infused with sweetness and joy. She’s as cheery and delightful as Rice is brooding and depressed. Even when Hannigan is being morbid, (“Safe Travels” see the video below) it is in a playfully sweet way.
I’m amazed with how close she feels in every song. The sultriness Brian mentions makes for an album that feels like spending the afternoon cuddling with Lisa Hannigan, not just listening to her perform in a digital format. If you can listen to this entire album without cracking a smile then I think you might need to seek professional help. I mean, I do seek professional help and even I crack a smile when I listen to this album.
3. Wye Oak – Civilian
Scott: While it is always hard for me to pick a favorite, this is probably my favorite album of the year. It captured me on my very first listen in a way that hasn’t happened since the first time I sat down and listened to Boxer, and we all know how that turned out.
When I listen to this album I just want to close my eyes and rock like I’m shuckling in divine ecstasy or lament. These two remarkable people create such a living, breathing sound. I just want to crawl into their music and live there.
Brian: I am from Baltimore. I am ashamed that Wye Oak came onto my radar so late in the game. They have perfected the loud/soft dynamic on previous recordings, and while that dynamic still it exists here, it is scaled back just a bit, but not at all to the detriment of the sound. Civilian is raw and brilliant. Wasner’s vocals lilt and slide perfectly over and under the swell of guitars, drums, and keyboards. Such big sounds coming from two people commands attention. As much attention as lead singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner gets (she deserves it), props MUST be given to drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack. Dude plays drums and keyboard at the same time! And it works … don’t let the boy/girl dynamic fool you … this is not the White Stripes, or Beach House. Wye Oak’s sound is as big as the tree they named their band after.
4. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Brian: I had a hard time trying to describe Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces to a friend of mine. It is true that my knowledge of hip hop is not deep, but I couldn’t think of anyone to compare them to (there is probably someone obvious). The album is the perfect rainy day, or late night hip hop album. It is chill and experimental. It borders on the avant garde at times, but the quality of production or performance is not diminished. The boundaries that are pushed and the sounds played with, are not so distracting as to take away from the songs. I feel as though the sounds perfectly represent the city they are coming out of. The image that this album conjures up in my mind is driving through Seattle, rain on the windshield, lights hitting the rain, creating multicolored orbs of glowing water droplets, as a cool, damp breeze hits my face. Maybe that sounds crazy, but that is what I see and feel listening to this record. It is quite good.
Scott: Brian’s right, Shabazz Palaces is really hard to compare to anything else. They’re original and genre challenging. These guys put in the work, and the result is pretty special. Like nothing else out there, they create a sound that’s simply stunning, because it’s at once fun to listen to and hard to wrap your brain around at the same time. An album shouldn’t be able to be in your face and relaxed at the same time, but Black Up definitely is. These guys are HoF locks if they keep producing this kind of brilliance.
Watch the whole performance to get a real feel for the band’s music. Every song has different movements to it.
5. The Antlers – Burst Apart
Brian: I was struck by the spacious and atmospheric quality to this record. Hospice is brilliant, but feels more intimate and closed than Burst Apart. The Antlers open things up on this record. While Hospice is a concept record, Burst Apart is not, but because of how cohesive the record is, it sounds every bit as tight thematically and musically. Synths and falsetto vocals stretch across the expanse of the record, flowing into every little space. Everything sounds so clean and crisp. Even the darker sounding songs feel washed in slick and silky sounds that fill the space behind the other sounds. I don’t know what else to say. I love this record, it is brilliant!
Scott: I agree with everything Brian said, so I won’t say all of that again.
The Antlers make brilliant music, but it certainly isn’t cheery by any stretch of the imagination. With song titles like “Putting the Dog to Sleep” and lyrics like / Every time we speak, you are spitting in my mouth / If I don’t take you somewhere else, I’m gonna pull my teeth right out /
This isn’t an album you listen to because you’re looking for a pick-me-up. However, it is an album you listen to if you want hauntingly beautiful sounds to fill your day. If you’re looking for something to dance to, go somewhere else. However, if you’re looking for the perfect accompaniment to a melancholy mood, look no further.
6. Adele – 21
Brian: With a voice that is able to emote so clearly and purposefully, Adele has a quality very few can match. She is supremely talented both as a vocalist and a songwriter. It is no wonder that she has gained such popularity worldwide. She is so relatable and is so good at pouring herself entirely into her performances, whether they be live or in studio. She always gets her feeling across. You feel the gamut of emotions through the record as you listen. It really is an emotional journey. I submit that very few people have heard “Someone Like You” and not shed a tear or two. Let’s hope she recovers from her vocal cord injury speedily so she can continue to make amazing music!
Scott: I agree with Brian wholeheartedly. Adele is also one of my wife’s very favorite artists. Her voice is second to none, and emotes just as powerfully as Brian says, but for all her voice’s power it is her songwriting that really pushes her into a rarified air most pop-stars can only dream of. Brian mentions “Someone Like You,” and rightly so. Songwriting like that shows that she isn’t earning her place among the likes of today’s pop stars, she is earning her place with greats like Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.
Between the remarkable bookend songs of ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and ‘Someone Like You’, this is one of the greatest break-up albums of all time. Then again, Adele is uber-famous, so you already knew that.
I know everyone has already seen this video, but I love it, so I’m posting it anyway.
7. Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials
Scott: Big music. Like, it sounds like it was recorded in a cathedral big. Choir vocals, grandiose rhythms, eerie reverberations, religious imagery, beautiful melodies, and a heaping side of sexuality. You don’t dance to this music, you dance in this music.
I love it.
And, written entirely separately from mine…
Brian: Ceremonials is a big album. Full of big choruses, big instrumentation, and last, but certainly not least, and most certainly at the center, the life blood, are the huge vocals of Florence Welch. The album sounds as if it was recorded in a huge cathedral, and this thought is only further reinforced by the use of organs, bells, and harp. But, don’t let the churchy instruments mentioned make you think that this is some of your Grandma’s and Pop-Pop’s church music. The only church that could possibly contain this album is maybe a black gospel church in the South. Florence belts and bellows her way through these tracks, touching on soul, gospel, and rock, but dunked entirely in the theatrics of Welch’s delivery. One thing that makes Ceremonials stand apart from its predecessor, the aptly named Lungs, is Welch’s feel for the moment. She doesn’t simply blast her way through each track, but plays with loud and soft dynamics, which makes for a more stunningly dramatic performance, particularly on “Seven Devils”, “Spectrum”, and the almost Bjork-like “Heartlines”. There is so much to like about this band! There is so much to look forward to with this band!