In early April, we listed our favourite fifteen albums of the first quarter, and we thought we had a chore in choosing among some great LPs. Fast forward to the present day, and we find an even more daunting task in front of us, as the quality of albums from April 1 to the last week of June has been extraordinary. During this time, we reviewed nearly 100 albums, not including the RBC Bluefest Revue Series and our weekly Mundo lists. This also doesn’t include albums that we listened to but never reviewed because of the star power of those bands and artists (e.g., The Black Keys, Jack White, Lykki Li, and others). As such, we left some incredible albums off the list, which still might make our final favourites list. We would be remiss if we didn’t at least name these honourable mentions, which include:
Jolie Holland – Wine Dark Sea
Marta Pacek – Voodoo Dolls and False Alarms
Ought – More Than Any Other Day
Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
Paws – Youth Culture Forever
Phox – Phox
Those are just some of the great albums of the past three months. With that set aside, here are our favourite 15 albums spanning April to June. The list, as always, is in alphabetical order (Note: you may need to refresh your browsers to get the Soundcloud links as Soundcloud has had issues the past few days).
The Antlers’ music is very powerful, and moving. Hospice and Burst Apart are two absolutely incredible records, and their latest, Familiars is an absolute masterpiece. It’s hard not to be captivated from the first track, “Palace”. The instrumentation is gripping, especially the addition of horns. As stated last week, Familiars is dreamy, smoky, melancholy, hypnotic, but, most importantly, one of the best albums of the year so far.
In January, Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado released a terrific psyche-folk album that was on our first-quarter list. This quarter, Chad VanGaalen followed suit with his take on trippy folk music. But instead of being enshrouded with Christian references, the Calgary native goes celestial and even extra-terrestrial with his awesome album, Shrink Dust. As mentioned in an earlier revue, Shrink Dust isn’t just another album, it is a part-fantasy, part-reality journey.
Thanks to the incredible TORRES, Cleveland native Christopher Wild’s self-titled debut basically fell in our laps, and we were fortunate to be able to listen and revue the album in April. The album is a gritty and raw combination of garage rock, classic rock, and blues. It is heart-pounding and head-throbbing fantastic. And the most impressive part is that Wild played all the instruments himself while recording the album (although he travels with a 2-piece band for his live shows).
The man behind Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos, and many other projects released the absolutely fantastic Upside Down Mountain this year. It’s a mature Conor Oberst, and some of the songs on Upside Down Mountain are just as good as anything he’s ever put out. As mentioned recently in this spot, there’s some heavy emotional and lyrical content, especially on songs like “Desert Island Questionarre”. The album is among Oberst’s most complete albums, which should appeal to fans and new fans.
FIRST AID KIT
Stay Gold, the third album from this pair of Swedish sisters is an absolute stunner. The way these two harmonize is almost second to none, and they are incredibly strong songwriters. The songs on Stay Gold feel more full than the songs on The Lion’s Roar and there’s a growing maturity in their songwriting, equating to a beautiful, harmonious album. As stated in this revue/prevue, there are some awesome, southern-style songs, including a bad-ass rocker “Heaven Knows”, and the spectacular opener, “My Silver Lining”.
THE GHOST OF A SABER TOOTH TIGER (GOASTT)
2014 has been the year of reinvention with dozens of bands changing their musical approaches to something different. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger – or GOASTT for short – was one of those bands, but who did so with tremendous success. Moving away from the mellow folk songs of their earlier work, on- and off-stage partners Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl transformed themselves into a psychedelic outfit on Midnight Sun. While the sound is different, the duo’s witty lyricism and imaginative storytelling remain. As mentioned in an earlier revue, Midnight Sun may end up just being the most creative album of the year.
Dueling GOASTT for witticism and imagination is Canadian Mac DeMarco, whose third album as Mac DeMarco, Salad Days, is quirky, maybe even a bit weird, but thoroughly entertaining and brilliant. His ability to take the most mundane experiences and aspects of every day life and to make them interesting and humourous is an art form in itself. In many ways, as described in an earlier revue, his brilliance is not much different than what Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David achieved in the 1990s and early 2000s. The impressive thing, though, is that DeMarco is only 24 years old.
Bon Iver drummer Sean Carey released his second album, Range of, on April 1st of this year under the name S. Carey. As revued ahead of the release, Range of Light is simply breathtaking. The opening track, “Glass/Film”, is gorgeous, as it features Carey’s dreamy vocals laced over perfectly assembled minimalist percussion. “Radiant” may be one of the most beautiful tracks of the year, a piano ballad with just a bit of pedal steel guitar and strings.
SHARON VAN ETTEN
With every album she releases, Sharon Van Etten keeps reinventing herself. This year’s Are We There is no different. features some soulful tracks with strange electronic instruments and even a couple of piano ballads. Are We There was self-produced (with a little help from Stewart Lerman), and Van Etten describes it as the album that is the most “her”. As examined in a Mundo Musique revue, the album is full of terrific songs from start to end, and it reflects not just Van Etten’s experiences but much of her personality. “Your Love Is Killing Me” is a heavy, deep song, while Van Etten shows her more light-hearted side with “Everytime The Sun Comes Up”. It is an album that will be remembered for a long time.
STRAND OF OAKS
Like Van Etten, Timothy Showalter – who is the mastermind behind Strand of Oaks – released an extremely personal album. Showalter holds nothing back on Heal, which he openly admits was written at a time where he was dealing with (and avoiding) the difficulties facing his marriage and his own substance addiction. As written earlier this week, the result is an album that is honest, raw, and gritty. Listening to the album is a cathartic experience, which makes you wonder how life-changing (and possibly life-saving) this was for the man behind Strand of Oaks. All we can say to Timothy Showalter is thank you for making this honest, reflective, and inspiring album.
A SUNNY DAY IN GLASGOW
Released just this week and revued two days ago, the intercontinental A Sunny Day in Glasgow have produced a sublime fourth LP with Sea Went Absent. It is an album that is complex and layered, yet at the same time extremely accessible. It is an album that you need to listen to over and over again to catch every little nuance and subtlety because the first time you listen to it you might think the album is a dreamy synth-pop record, the next time an ’80s pop revival, and then later on something that merges dream-pop and distorted rock. It really is difficult to characterize this great album by the sextet from Sydney, Australia; Brooklyn; and Philadelphia. Maybe we should just call it a jukebox of a record.
Maybe it’s the weather or maybe it’s just the underrated and understated musical history of this country, but there’s something about Canadians and songwriting – there are so many excellent songwriters in this vast nation. Timber Timbre – the quintet that comprises of Taylor Kirk, Simon Trottier, Mika Posen, Mathieu Charbonneau, and Olivier Fairfield – is one of those bands, which like Canada has been extremely underappreciated for nearly a decade. On their fifth studio album, Hot Dreams, they may finally gain the recognition they deserve with their vivid storytelling, which is, as described back in April, Leonard Cohen-esque. Hot Dreams is smokey blues-folk; an album that you want to sit back, close your eyes, and savor every note and word with little interruption.
Revued earlier this week, New Zealand’s Tiny Ruins have been putting out some amazing music over the last few years, yet, like many of the aforementioned bands, has flown under the radar. Front woman Hollie Fullbrook’s voice is just astounding, and her band creates one gorgeous and dreamy experience with Brightly Painted One. The album is brilliantly crafted with the perfect amounts of acoustic guitar, aching harmonies and fiddle. It is an album that you want to hear now before everyone does.
An album that has gone under the radar this year is Woods’ excellent 6th LP, With Light and With Love, which was released and revued in April. But like many artists this year, Woods reinvented itself, albeit more subtly as oppose to a full-blown transformation. On With Light and With Love, they up the tempo a bit and add more hooks and flair to create an album that crosses between Portugal. The Man’s Evil Friends and Grizzly Bear’s Shields – two superb albums as well. The album rises and soars and packs a punch with some unexpected jams and anthemic choruses.
Baltimore’s Wye Oak took a huge departure with this year’s Shriek. Gone are the trademark distorted guitars and heavy riffs and in are keyboards and bass. There’s a lot of electronic and ambient influences on the record, and they even try their hand at reggae, but none of it feels forced. As stated in this revue, it took a while to truly warm up to this album, but it does kick a lot of ass and Jenn Wasner’s voice is as strong as ever. Take some time to listen to this album and you’ll probably be mesmerized by what this band has accomplished.
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