10. Alvvays – eponymous
Chock-full of stories about the complexities of relationships, Alvvays has constructed an album that is able to appear both introspective and dynamic. Using nonchalance and humour simultaneously, they set the scenes of emotional distress to an indie soundtrack and let the barbs fly. Go back and take another listen to “Marry Me, Archie” if you need proof of the power struggle within a relationship.
9. Metric – Pagans In Vegas
Metric has never hidden their overwhelming desire to headline a fan-filled stadium show, and Pagans In Vegas has become the vehicle that drives them there. More than mere hyperbole, they seem to have found the perfect mix of Cure-like synth, 90’s indie guitar, and electro/dance rhythm. The tunes are catchy enough to get the casual fan singing along and the loyal fan seeking deeper meaning from the lyrics and, dare I say, inspiration.
8. Best Coast – California Nights
Gone is the warm washed fuzz of reverb on everything that had the words ‘lo-fi’ and ‘surf rock’ attached to their records, and in its place is a more ‘nineties-esque’ alt-rock tone that could be slipped into a mix between the Lemonheads and Garbage. Thematically, this is also the case as Bethany Cosentino has switched gears and presented herself in a more realistic position, as the lyrics deal with insomnia, heartbreak and happiness in a pill. The triumph of this record is that it doesn’t live in a world of manufactured dreams come true, eternal sun and beaches. The emotions behind it are universal and hence you can relate to it. California Nights is proof positive that beauty can be found in the balanced mix of power-pop and introspection, and that’s a sunny thought all in itself.
7. Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People
Like early Bowie, Furman seems to relish changes in identity, except rather than do it from album to album; Perpetual Motion People is a record that does it from song to song and, sometimes, within a single tune. “Haunted Head” deals with one’s own self-inflicted torment. “Can I Sleep In Your Brain” seeks respite from torment with a wish to become co-dependent. In turn, “Lousy Connection” hides themes of emotional distance behind old sounds of Doo-Wop and killer saxophone leads. To a certain extent, Furman makes being screwed up sound fun in his unique version of a poetic stream of consciousness.
6. City & Colour – If I Should Go Before You
Dallas Green may have started City and Colour as a means to introduce his ‘rootsy’ brand of song craft, but those days are now more of an ‘origin story’ than the reality of where he is. Much like Wilco, who turned from alt-country to sonic experimenters, Green took his acoustic-based leanings and is now creating expansive tunes that, at times, owe more to blues, soul and even psychedelia than the modern ‘folk rock’ he was labeled with on earlier City and Colour records.
5. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
His peer group may include contemporaries like Nick Waterhouse and Raphael Saadiq, but Bridges ups the game of capturing old-school R&B by pulling in music that could’ve been created by the Blues Brothers Band. He’s got the brass sounding like the legendary Memphis Horns, a deep groove reminiscent of Duck Dunn and the minimalist guitar leads that you might swear were coming off of Steve Cropper. Then, you mix in a style that slides in a suave 60’s Bacharach martini dance party and you get a glimpse of the power-possessed in Coming Home.
4. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats – eponymous
It takes a special kind of musician to evoke a slew of soul greats and retain an energy and sound that is still their own. Springsteen did this by mixing Dylan, a preacher style intensity towards rock ‘n’ roll and a few soul influences, concocting a sound all his own. Nathaniel Rateliff has taken the ’69 comeback version of Elvis, added southern rock themes and walked into a STAX studio to create a record that is instantly relatable. Of course, you would never have caught “the King” singing “son of a bitch / give me a drink” as Rateliff does on “S.O.B”. It just wouldn’t have been very, um… regal.
3. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
If Alabama Shakes’ debut Boys & Girls was a first shot across the bow against musical mediocrity, then Sound & Color is a full on declaration of war. Not content to merely ride the wave of being the best rock ‘n’ soul or Southern rock band to currently grace the planet, they expand and grow. It’s the kind of growth and experimentation one got from Radiohead when they leapt from The Bends to OK Computer; or in other words – WOW!
2. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Sarcastic and playful in the most observational of ways, Courtney Barnett makes stinging shots sound like a musical sit-com. Characters inhabit a ‘Seinfeld-esque’ place where nothing seems larger than life and decisions don’t necessarily lead to conclusions. However, the journey is one hell of an adventure. Barnett makes music that is fun, thought-provoking and really damn catchy. It’s a really weird moment to hear your children singing “all I want to be is an elevator operator, can you help me please.”
1. Terra Lightfoot – Every Time My Mind Runs Wild
Every so often something comes along that just smacks you in the head with something so freaking unexpected, you look for a house number on the cave you’ve been sleeping in. Perhaps it’s a debut album, an opening act you had never heard of before, or, as is the case for me, you just quite plainly arrived late to the party. Whatever the case, Terra Lightfoot has just lit the light bulb above my cranium and I’m hitting my forehead with that big “ah-ha” moment.
What seems most remarkable is just how many influences pop out all at once. A foot in the Chicago blues, another in Memphis soul and then she puts a third one in Nashville. The result is a combustible and full out gritty rock ‘n’ roll album.