Before we get to these, however, I'd like to spotlight one honorable mention. The Alabama Shakes put out a self-titled EP this year that, had it been a full length of similar quality, would undoubtedly be at the top of this list. Soulful in every way imaginable these four songs are moving, passionate and evocative of a wide range of emotions. I could gush for a while, but I'll just end this with a plea for anyone reading this to click through to the link above and at least give these tunes a listen. I personally think the $4 asking price is more than a bargain.
Now, without further ado:
- 5) Feist - Metals There's no "Mushaboom" on this record; no "Feel it All". There isn't an easy pop hit to be found throughout its 12 tracks. What we have instead is some of the best and most consistent balladeering of Leslie Feist's career. The fantastic, sweeping and dynamic "Circle Marries the Line" specifically stands out, but the overall quality of every song on this album separates it from those made by better, more powerful singers like Adele who haven't quite been able express their striking talent over the course of an entire full-length.
- 4) Admiral Fallow - Boots Met My Face
I first heard of this Scottish band from NPR's SXSW preview and was elated to find that immediately after the festival they'd be playing Mercury Lounge - with a follow up at Brooklyn's own steam punk bar, the Way Station. I immediately bought the album: ten tracks of delicate beauty. The music within is rich, lush and filled with a sadness that is at times elegant and at times bombastic. While "Squealing Pigs" got the early attention - drawing comparisons to Mumford and Sons - it's the softer "Four Bulbs" that caught my ear both on the album and in person.
- 3) Joy Formidable - Big Roar In 2010 Jack Rabid, editor of the fantastic Big Takeover, gushed on and on about a British three-piece he'd just seen. He talked about YouTube videos showing crazy live shows that didn't do any justice to how powerful this trio actually was. One listen through the EP A Balloon Called Moaning convinced me I absolutely had to see them for myself and, shortly after reading the article, I was able to. After the fucking riot that was that November show I eagerly awaited the band's full length - and the trio did not disappoint. The album is huge and visceral with favorites picked from the EP - most notably Whirring and my personal favorite Cradle - re-recorded to be even bigger and ballsier. This band is pure adrenaline, and it's definitely made a junkie out of me.
- 2) Bon Iver - Bon Iver In 2007 I loved Bon Iver's first record, "For Emma, Forever Ago" enough to list it as my third favorite album of that year. While I can't bring myself to say I love this sophomore effort more, I can say I love it the same, but differently. The stripped down sadness and loss of that first release are gone, replaced by impeccably orchestrated confidence and determination. Almost every song is breathtaking - most writers are highlighting the fantastic constructions of "Calgary" but I personally prefer the serene longing of "Holocene". The single thing keeping this album out of the top spot is an unfortunate clunker of a last song. It has plastic 80s keyboard all over it with (horror of horrors) a fucking soft jazz saxophone. It seems too slick, paper-thin and throw-away and doesn't belong near any song Vernon has written as Bon Iver. The only explanation I can think of is that he got a bit too into his (excellent) split with Peter Gabriel and overworked the sound. It's a truly disappointing end to an otherwise other-worldy album.
- 1) Black Keys - El Camino At the heart of the Keys' latest release is everything that is quintessentially rock and roll. It's dirty rhythms and dirtier guitars; it's mean and it's sexy; it's a swaggering sojourn to the heights of badassery. Indeed, if "Sister" comes on while walking down the street it's hard to not strut in time while feeling completely invincible. This band is one that always flits around rock's roots, and this time the duo managed to perfectly channel the raucous, rebellious energy are central to the genre. Opener "Lonely Boy" - in addition to having one of the best music videos since Fat Boy Slim's "Praise You" - is a serious piece of old school dance rock. While this album's highs aren't quite as high as those on Bon Iver it doesn't have a single low.