In the future, we will try to trickle album reviews out slowly - but given the busy next few weeks and lack of time to post, we are going to deliver the best January had to offer in one big post. We will check back in with you at some point in February with album reviews (good lord, the new Andrew Bird is amazing!) and concerts worth checking out, but in the meantime we give you this list of albums worth chewing on while we take a couple of weeks off.
Album Of The Month
First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar
The sophomore album from Swedish folk sister act sounds like, as our Nate Schultz put it, "Mumford And Sons and Jenny Lewis had a baby" - which translates as high praise in our book. Produced by Mike Mogis and featuring a collaboration with Bright Eyes, their second album is a colorful offering full of gorgeous harmonies, wonderful songwriting with hooks that stick long after the tracks have ended. The haunting vocals cutting through the strummed acoustic in the opening verse in the title track gives way to a raggedly melodic hook, pulling you into the album head-first. The pretty harmony in the achy hook of "This Old Routine" and the whine of the lap steel gleaming around the lovely "Emmylou" stand out on an album that consistently delivers the goods, culminating in a collaboration with Bright Eyes on the strummy folk winner "King Of The World".
Also worth a listen
Adam Arcuragi - Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It...
Adam Arcuragi's husky vocals over the tumbling drums and shaggily strummed acoustic of "Oh I See" is all you need to hear to fall for his blessed union of folk and gospel-tinged soul on his latest. Ripe with a backing choir warmly propping up his shaggy soulful vocals, the slow and lonesome "You'd Think Was Easy" and easy-going "... riverrun" are great listens from an album full of them.
Jessie Baylin - Little Spark
While her husband, Kings Of Leon's Nathan Followill, seems increasingly striving to fill stadiums and garner massive radio play, the quaint chill of Baylin's latest finds her retreating to a classic pop sound. The strings floating through sixties-inspired "Hurry Hurry" work wonders with her sweet voice, while the slight country twang in her vocals finds her wrapped lovingly around Nancy Sinatra-esque ballad "Love Is Wasted On Lovers". Baylin sets the mood in a jazz-infected early sixties pop style early, and thankfully never abandons it, resulting in gorgeous winners like "Star Cannon".
Lana Del Rey - Born To Die
Throw Lady GaGa, Morrisey, and Nancy Sinatra in a blender and you would have a concoction close to the mellow, stylish chill of Lana Del Rey's intriguing debut. It is definitely an acquired taste best served to those fond of Fiona Apple, with the flowing string-laced backdrops wearing on your nerves by the end, but her macabre delivery is defiantly unique. There is something special going on in the rat-a-tat flow of "Summertime Sadness", the icy cool of her vocals on gangsta-tinged "Off To The Races", and her pouty tones through wonderfully old school "Blue Jeans". One listen to her wonderful melody on "Video Games" and you will know whether this is your thing or not.
Ani DiFranco - Which Side Are You On?
Four years between albums a lifetime for the prolific alt-folk artist. DiFranco's strummy percussive musicianship fits her stark, matter-of-fact songwriting extremely well on tunes like mellow, motherly "Life Boat" and the album's snarling, banjo-loving title-track; her brilliant cover of a classic folk protest tune popularized by Pete Seeger back in 1967. The lovely acoustic flicker of strings dancing through "Splinter" and reggae-tinged "J" make this the most instantly accessible DiFranco album in a while, sacrificing none of her sharp tongued lyrics.
Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur
Edwards' fourth album marks a new beginning following her divorce and newfound relationship with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who co-produced it with her. It still lacks the sharp edge barbs that made Failer and Back To Me work so well, but there is still a lot to like here. Vernon's more atmospheric touch lightens things up just a bit, working exceedingly well with her brave vocals on tracks like the tender "A Soft Place To Land", the hopeful shimmer of "Change The Sheets", and the blues-kissed "Mint".
Gotye - Making Mirrors
Living somewhere between the quirky pop cool of Beck and the organ-dipped soul of Mutemath, this Belgian-born Australian artist's third effort is an arresting listen from start to finish. From the jangling keys and carefree vocals of feel-good "I Feel Better" to the percussively strummy "In Your Light", somewhat recalling George Michaels' "Faith" at first, to the grumbling toe-tapper "Easy Way Out", the album is pure indie pop heaven. The quirky, insanely catch first single "Somebody That I Used To Know" is joined by plenty of other unshakable tunes on this loveable album.
Hectic Zeniths - Hectic Zeniths
The work of bedroom producer Adam Morgan Prince, this wonderfully layered piece of instrumental hip-hop is a gorgeous, fascinating listen. The looped piano drizzling through groggy horns and tattered beat of "Then And Now" recalls some of Moby's more engaging moments, while the electrified bass buzzing through the melodic piano chords and antsy strings of "I Might Drown" balances a gooey uptempo groove against creaky strings. Stretching his wings a bit on the synthpop haze of "The Loneliest City", the album definitely leaves you thirsty for more.
Cheyenne Marie Mize - We Don't Need EP
This six-track EP from the Kentucky-born singer-songwriter grabs your attention immediately with the sparse, percussion and vocal only, killer "Wishing Well". Mize's pleading soulful vocals on the first track win you over, but it is her chameleon-like ability to slide from faint hush ("Call Me Beautiful") to cheery and bright ("Going Under") that leaves you in awe of her by the end of the effort.
O'Brother - Garden Window
Produced by Andy Hull, of Manchester Orchestra fame, Atlanta rockers's debut is a fierce first offering. Opening with the thickly distorted guitars hovering over clanking drums and quivering, barely audible vocals on "Malum", leaving you wondering what in the hell the rest of the album has in store given its menacing, murky open. Things clean up a bit for the sparkling "Lo", with the distortion turned down to clear room for the snarled-lip vocals and creaky stabbing guitars. O'Brother are a decidedly guitar-centric band, with Hull lending them some of Manchester Orchestra's sense of tension in the jittery grunge of "Sputnik".
Porcelain Raft - Strange Weekend
Living somewhere in the hazy cool between cheery indie pop and mellow shoegazer rock, the entrancing fog of music and waifish vocals drifting through somewhat recall the more psychedelic moments on MGMT's Orcular Spectacular. The textured layers of guitar and beats on "Drifting In And Out" and jittery programmed beats of "Put Me To Sleep" give this atmospheric treasure an irresistibly alluring quality, while the hooks lovingly recall early nineties new wave. The strummed acoustic over the steadily spelunking beat of "Shapeless & Gone" give this fascinating band a unique, instantly loveable sound you want to fall into and never come out.