David Byrne & St. Vincent

  • Love This Giant
  • 4AD

David Byrne and multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, merge their musical visions for a mesmerizing album built around brass bands, programmed beats and brisk, syncopated guitar riffs. The pair collaborated on melodies and arrangements that take unpredictably delightful turns. Lyrics were written separately. Trading off lead vocals from track to track, the pair matches their voice to brass arrangement that range from insolently brash to sweetly seductive, to frenetically propulsive. The energy of the horn section – including guest turns from The Dap Kings and the Afrobeat Orchestra Antibalas – was harnessed by recording them live in studio. (RMW)

19_DavidBryneStVincent_Web

Regina Spektor

  • What We Saw From the Cheap Seats
  • Sire

Regina Spektor is an eccentric, albeit talented, artist who pulls equally from her classical training and active imagination. She creates memorable songs that resonate in deep and often surprising fashion. Her sixth studio album features unrecorded material culled from her live repertoire and constitutes her most cohesive album. Beautiful piano interludes, quirky musical references and syncopated percussion are matched by lyrics that balance between emotional revelations and alternative perspectives on art and politics. Spektor and producer Mike Elizondo keep the production simple, but there is nothing minimalist about the depth of emotion displayed in Spektor’s songs or in her unique singing style. (RMW)

18_ReginaSpektor_Web

Cat Power

  • Sun
  • Matador

Sun is the ninth album from Chan Marshall, aka, Cat Power. It’s also her first release of original material in six years. It comes on the heels of a major romantic breakup, alongside a growing sense of independence in her personal life. “Cherokee” finds Marshall’s crooning, “I never knew pain like this/When everything dies,” making this your new breakup anthem. Sun also focuses on breaking away from the singer’s past hang-ups: stage fright, substance abuse and creative demons. This is Cat Power’s most melodic album, filled with synth and even some creatively placed Auto-Tune, making her sound like an angelic robot. (CH)

17_CatPower_Web

Bob Dylan

  • Tempest
  • Columbia

Bob Dylan has made a career out of alternately fascinating and confounding listeners, occasionally simultaneously, in the 50 years since his debut. , His latest is a perfect case study. Excellent songwriting that is sometimes inscrutable? Check. Half the album comprised of songs longer than seven minutes each? Check. Vocals that are not a strong point? Check. Each listener’s takeaway from Tempest will be different, but it’s surely among the best of Dylan’s recent vintage. Particular high points are the epic title track (clocking in at nearly 14 minutes) about the Titanic and the closer, “Roll On John,” a tribute to John Lennon. (MS)

16_BobDylan_Web

Florence & The Machine

  • Ceremonials
  • Universal Republic

Florence Welch’s big voice is robust enough to sustain itself in the swirling ocean of production that would swamp a lesser vessel. Ironically, the possibility of being pulled under the waves might be what she’s after. Ceremonials is flooded with watery imagery and metaphors describing the illicit lure of drowning and its promise of release. The massive wall of production overseen by producer Paul Epworth includes strings, tribal drumming, echoing choirs, and piano and harp that imitate peeling bells. Ceremonials deals with dark subject matter, but the melodies are ebullient. Welch calls it a type of exorcism with the music “battling the words.” (RMW)

15_FlorenceTheMachine_Web

Rufus Wainwright

  • Out of the Game
  • Decca

After a dark introspective period, Rufus Wainwright returns to form with a pop-oriented album that overflows with orchestral flourishes, choral crescendos and an acute sense of high drama. Producer Mark Ronson employs drum programming and electronic instrumentation, dance beats, mixing and matching them with Wainwright’s classical references. The Dap Kings turn up the volume with their brassy presence, and a new group of backing singers offer contrasting vocals. As is his family’s tradition Wainwright continues to mine his own world for material, including songs about trading bachelorhood for marriage, the birth of a daughter and the loss of his mother. (RMW)

14_RufusWainwright_Web

Kathleen Edwards

  • Voyager
  • Zoe

Canadian Kathleen Edwards’ world has gone through upheaval. She’s survived a divorce, moved to the U.S. and begun a new romantic and musical relationship with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. Edwards’ musical direction reflects the changes in her life. Working with Vernon and his band, her sound has evolved. Lustrous layers of guitar, cello and violin envelope Edwards’ vocals. Percussion ebbs and flows. Vernon’s production mimics the rise and fall of emotions as Edwards moves between sentiment and wry wit. Whether writing about the excitement of new love or the fractured communication of lost relationships, her songs are poignantly funny, melancholy and unforgettable. (RMW)

13_KathleenEdwards_Web

Michael Kiwanuka

  • Home Again
  • Cherrytree

With the opening flourishes of Michael Kiwanuka’s debut you’ll know you’re in for something special. Home Again offers surprisingly sophisticated songs rich with beautiful melodies and buoyed by thoughtful lyrics. Arrangements are intricate, placing attention on the symbiotic relationships between instruments. Shadows of old school soul and R&B tinges the session, but it is Kiwanuka’s vocals that galvanize the recording. The 24-year-old’s warm tenor conveys wisdom that defies his age. As the son of immigrant parents, Kiwanuka sings of displacement and a search for identity. Home Again may be somber, but it doesn’t weigh on the heart—or ear. (MS)

12_MichaelKiwanuka_Web

Mumford & Sons

  • Babel
  • Glassnote

The sophomore album from the English quartet follows closely in the stylistic footsteps of the band's huge 2010 debut. Front man Marcus Mumford and his colleagues don't change up the winning recipe that made the last album such a head-turner. Once again, there's the prominent banjo, the kinetic energy and the spiritual although sometimes impenetrable lyrics. The foot-stomping and fist-pumping of their sound is equal parts Avett Brothers, The Pogues and U2. A difficult band to write about, the arena-ready grandeur of their music is similar to a UFO sighting or a religious epiphany: Description can't begin to substitute for experience. (MS)

11_MumfordSons_Web

Of Monsters and Men

  • My Head is An Animal
  • Universal Republic

Bjork passed the torch to Sigur Ros and now it goes on to Iceland’s latest phenomenon, Of Monsters and Men. The Monsters are a six-piece band who create dense, charming tunes that climb and climb to a fantastic musical summit. Much like their homeland, these songs are surrounded by nature with mentions of sea creatures and beasts among magical imagery. The band’s two lead singers bring wonderful contrast to the album by trading off on songs and dueting on others. With its lush and lovely execution, it may surprise you that this is their debut. But, this is Iceland’s latest export, and they are as talented as they are charming. (BMS)

10_OfMonsters_Web