Album reviews: Looking over our shoulder at the year’s top releases

May it never be said that an album featuring odes to famous actors and the language of birds can't strike a chord—as with Darlingside's Birds Say. May it never be said that an album featuring odes to famous actors and the language of birds can’t strike a chord—as with Darlingside’s Birds Say.

It’s been an interesting year. Between “Uptown Funk” and “Shake It Off,” the music world has been dancing up a storm, but it’s also seen some head-scratchingly bizarre releases (I’m looking at you, Mutemath) and yawned at familiar material (Muse). So what to make of this year’s so-called best releases? What follows is one man’s opinion: Nod your head or throw tomatoes at your leisure.

The Lone Bellow, Then Came the Morning

On its sophomore release, this Brooklyn trio dazzles yet again with mesmerizing three-part harmonies and an uncanny combination of Americana, folk, rock and blues. A wondrous release.

Thunderbitch, Thunderbitch

Dirty, raw rock and punk with zero filter, Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard proves you can still scream about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and get people’s attention.

Mimi Page, The Ethereal Blues

West Coast singer-songwriter Mimi Page once again demonstrated why she is an up-and-coming purveyor of ambient downtempo music. Bluesy in terms of relational content rather than sonic structure, Page strikes the right chord between heartbreakingly melancholic and exquisitely beautiful, and her lush vocals are like something out of a dream

Silversun Pickups, Better Nature

Bouncing back from the dark misfire that was Neck of the Woods, Silversun Pickups surprised us with one of the year’s crispest rock records. Brian Aubert’s nasally snarl is as hypnotic as ever, and the trademark fuzzy guitars are matched by aggressive synths and a compelling narrative about connection.

JD McPherson, Let the Good Times Roll

There ought to be a law against how much rock, swing, soul and danceable music is on this record, which plays like a time warp of the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll and Motown. Lucky for us, there isn’t.  

Caitlin Canty, Reckless Skyline

This record is another gorgeous feather in the cap of Canty’s discography as she once again creates a spectacular landscape, transporting you everywhere from the exhilarating chill of an early morning to the incomparable warmth of a lover’s arms. This is a glorious Americana record.

Jason Isbell, Something More than Free

These 11 songs deftly plumb the depths of the personal, emotional, spiritual, mental and social repercussions of the notion of freedom. His scratchy, twangy drawl guides you through these Americana tracks with all the patience of a historian and the insight of a world-wise man.

BT, Electronic Opus

Composer, technologist, godfather of trance music and innovative member of the EDM community, BT takes things to the next level with a reimagining of 14 of his best-known tracks by pairing them with a 100-piece orchestra. The results are breathtaking and powerful, and demonstrate BT’s considerable knack for writing music that transcends genres.

Violents, Two Animals EP

This is more of a 1A than a 2, really, because this is a four-song EP and we did not have a chance to hear more of Violents’ brilliance. Kye Kye’s Olga Yagolnikov is spellbinding on these tracks, infusing the already fantastic synth-pop, downtempo songs with a breathy, unreal vocal quality that makes lyrics positively rapturous, like on the opening track, “Five Senses”: “I’d been away three years / None of them worth keeping / All of my five senses were / Either numb or fading.”

Darlingside, Birds Say

May it never be said that an album featuring odes to famous actors and the language of birds can’t strike a chord. This folk-rock quartet mixes dazzling four-part harmonies throughout its sophomore album, while using wry witticisms to examine the frivolity of hero worship one moment (“Harrison Ford”) before switching gears to explore the sometimes unsettling power of remembrance (“She’s All Around”). The title track expresses the album’s primary theme—finding beauty in the unknowable. Exactly what is found in the exquisite musical experience of Birds Say.

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