Glen Hansard

  • Rhythm and Repose
  • Anti

Glen Hansard chose a fitting title for his debut solo release. Rhythm and Repose is a beautiful haunting album ripe with gorgeous melodies and moody atmosphere. There’s a deliberate rhythm to the songs; intense episodes of introspection are offset by quiet pools of delicate production. Hansard’s vocals range from whispered passion to primal howls of pain, often accompanied by a commiserating piano, cello and violin. Hannah Cohen’s sunny vocals offer contrast to Hansard’s pensiveness. Ex-girlfriend Marketa Irglova appears on the heartbreaker “What Are We Going To Do?” The albums strongest moments feature a larger band, lending energy to the contemplative lyrics. (RMW)

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Sharon Van Etten

  • Tramp
  • Jagjaguwar

Sharon Van Etten’s third release solidifies her straightforward, yet edgy progressive folk rock style. Produced by Aaron Dessner of The National, the album doesn’t play like a hook-ladened pop record. Instead, it is intense and unpredictable. “Serpents” start off unassuming enough, but ends in an explosion of emotion. Tramp treads dark territory lyrically and musically, but still offers some bright spots, such as the gentle ballad “Leonard,” and “We Are Fine,” a sweet duet with Beirut’s Zach Condon. Listen to the whole album and soak in the brilliant, humble sounds of Sharon Van Etten’s masterfully crafted songs and powerful, unclassifiable voice. (CH)

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Mayer Hawthorne

  • How Do You Do
  • Universal Republic

Michigan native Mayer Hawthorne grew up soaking in the rich culture of Detroit’s music scene, and it is the Motown sound that plays out on his third album. Hawthorne has a remarkable knack for writing songs that sound classic, thanks to his clever arrangements. He knows when to throw in horns, strings, girl choruses, a bouncing bass or toy piano. Hawthorne gleans inspiration from the sexy grooves of Barry White to the falsetto of Smokey Robinson. Retro-soul intersects with rap as Snoop Dog adds his rhymes to the mix. “The Walk” snaps with attitude, smart-assed lyrics and a spunky beat. (RMW)

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Great Lake Swimmers

  • New Wild Everywhere
  • Nettwerk

Great Lake Swimmers have perfected the balances between traditional folk and indie rock. Mellifluous harmonies and delicate melodies intermingle, creating dreamy atmospheres. If the album’s title suggests untamed behavior, consider that upheaval to be internal and cerebral. New Wild Everywhere features the band’s most notable pop songs, but mellow is the prevailing mood. Universal themes are in play like love, mortality and the randomness of life. Songwriter Tony Dekker uses the natural world as metaphor for just about every emotion. His music underscores the vital bond between music and lyrics; like a good marriage, one brings out the best in the other. (RMW)

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Gotye

  • Making Mirrors
  • Universal Republic

Belgian-born, Australian-raised Wally de Backer, aka, Gotye, is no stranger to fame or popularity. In 2007, Gotye released a song in Australia that was voted one of the country’s ‘Top 100 Songs of All Time’ Making Mirrors is his first U.S. release and contains not only the smash hit, “Someone That I Used To Know,” but also a host of other great tracks. Influences from Peter Gabriel, Beck and Damon Albarn to 80’s synth pop, West African rhythms and funky bass lines create a pop record that will please pop fans as well as those looking for something more esoteric. (KS)

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Delta Spirit

  • Delta Spirit
  • Rounder

Front man Matthew Vasquez describes Delta Spirit, the album, as “the sound that we’ve been looking for, that we’ve been growing into.” Working with producer Chris Coady, the band presents an urgency that permeates the album. Their gritty, spontaneous sound zigzags between blues riffs, folky harmonies and indie-rock energy, fueled by the muscular guitar work of guitarist Will McLaren. Coady’s electronic manipulation of vocals and instruments broadens the band’s horizons, while lifting melodies out of the mix and into the spotlight. Vasquez’s voice is raspy and ragged, a perfect fit for songs that are designed to be catchy but not pretty. (RMW)

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Dave Matthews Band

  • Away From the World
  • RCA

The eighth studio album by the eclectic-rock mainstays reunite the band with their early producer Steve Lillywhite for the first time officially since 1998. Whether it’s the producer’s influence or not, the album is a winning stew of earnest ballads, funky stomps and soaring epics that harkens back to the ‘90s DMB releases that made the band a radio favorite and amphitheater staple. The many love songs might either buoy or weigh down the top-notch music, depending on one’s perspective, but the album underscores that whatever the band has lost in youthful vitality has been made up by a mature worldliness. (MS)

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Calexico

  • Algiers
  • Anti

Joey Burns and John Convertino are the heart and soul of the Tucson-based band Calexico. They’ve created a sound synonymous not only with the city but with the American southwest. Although Algiers takes its title from the New Orleans neighborhood where it was recorded, its musical inspiration comes from the co-mingling of American rock and border folk traditions. The lyrics reflect an intriguing mix of culture and language. The fractured lives of immigrants torn from their families create a mournful backdrop for the songs, while Joey Burns’ vocals drift down over the music like a thin layer of desert dust. (RMW)

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Aimee Mann

  • Charmer
  • SuperEgo

Aimee Mann’s lyrics lean toward the ironic and sardonic end of the attitude spectrum, but not without a sprinkling of sympathy for her characters. Her protagonists are interesting because they are imperfect, because we glimpse our own lives in their stories. Charmer explores the world of the irresistible narcissist, the magnetic personality whose attraction draws out the hapless victim in others. Why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated by these alluring personalities? Mann follows this lyrical thread through songs that are brightened by pop melodies, electric guitar and synthesizers. The Shins’ James Mercer appears on the duet “Living a Lie.” (RMW)

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Passion Pit

  • Gossamer
  • Columbia

The second album from indie-pop band Passion Pit is incredibly catchy, but also contains serious lyrical content. Front man Michael Angelakos is a much sought-after musical genius whose vocal range spans four octaves. As a producer he’s remixed work for Usher and Britney Spears. He also openly struggles with alcohol and drug addictions, and a rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. Despite the fact that Angelakos deals with these issues in his lyrics, Gossamer is not a bummer. It is incredibly easy to listen to – from the hooky opening track “Take a Walk” to the end. Honesty elevates the power of this album. (CH)

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