Traveling Alone/Yep Roc Records
If you have been a fan of folk or Americana music at any point during the past decade, the chances are good that you have heard Tift Merritt’s arresting vocals, beautiful musical arrangements, and insightful lyrics. Merritt has been casting a spell on audiences and critics since day one, but on Traveling Alone she demonstrates that she is not above tossing out a few surprises. The country blues number “Sweet Spot” encapsulates the album’s main theme of searching for stability and comfort, while the title track progresses from simple acoustic fare to electric guitar-drenched Americana. “Drifted Apart” features a guest appearance from Andrew Bird, who sounds like Roy Orbison here, and “Feeling of Beauty” is easygoing, picturesque folk.
Traveling Alone tends to be more subdued in parts then Merritt’s other albums, relying heavily on ambiance and mood and not just lyrics and vocals. It’s a neat, unexpected tactic that results in a sublime album.
The 2nd Law/Warner Bros.
Muse’s flair for the dramatic has become increasingly clear in its music over the years. The latest release, The 2nd Law, is no exception, proving once again how much Muse loves the arena rock sound. Singer Matthew Bellamy attacks your eardrums (and seems to assault and absolutely destroy his own vocal cords) on the operatic rock opening track, “Supremacy,” and the Queen influence on the glorious rock ’n’ roll song, “Survival,” is obvious. And if you are up for a scathing portrayal of mankind’s base urges, check out “Animals” and take in the raucous sound bite at the end.
They shift the tempo a bit by letting bassist/rhythm guitarist Christopher Wolstenholme write and sing two of the album’s songs, “Liquid State” and “Save Me,” and while both are quite good, neither track is spellbinding by any means. Origin of Symmetry and Black Holes & Revelations arguably remain the band’s most accomplished records, but The 2nd Law still rocks.
Mumford & Sons
Babel/Glass Note Records
Mumford & Sons is changing the face of modern rock in unpredictable ways. The first single from new album Babel, “I Will Wait,” is a perfect example of using the banjo in a way that makes the instrument seem hip, while the epic love song “Lover’s Eyes” sounds like something the patrons of a Scottish pub would sing. The album gives listeners plenty of thought-provoking material to chew on. “Whispers in the Dark” is one of several songs that focuses on man’s effort to stand up to challenges of various kinds. Similarly, “Hopeless Wanderer” uses time changes, driving rhythms—including a banjo solo —and lyrical content to talk about the difficulties of finding your purpose in an ever-changing world. No distortion, no thunderous drums, and no emo angst: Babel is wonderful modern rock in 2012.
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