By Sean Titone
April 13, 2016
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive
On the fourth album from Thao Nguyen and her band, The Get Down Stay Down, Nguyen ratchets up the funky, herky-jerky beats as she simultaneously introduces a darker undercurrent that hasn’t always been present in her previous material. Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs mans the boards as producer on A Man Alive, and it’s a match made in indie rock heaven. Nguyen and Garbus prove to be kindred spirits as they embrace their love of driving, offbeat rhythms while transforming personal pain into percussive hand claps and heady grooves.
Favorite tracks: “Astonished Man,” “The Evening,” “Nobody Dies,” “Guts,” “Millionaire”
Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are
If you stopped paying attention to rock and roll journeymen Nada Surf in the ‘90s, you’ve been missing out on some beautiful, melancholy songs. Their newest effort, You Know Who You Are, doubles down on the Big Star-inspired jangly guitars with the inclusion of guitar god Doug Gillard (Guided by Voices, Cobra Verde) as a full-time member who recorded with them in the studio. Nada Surf’s music has always been steeped in nostalgia and, as lead singer/songwriter Matthew Caws has gotten older, his need to look back has only gotten more urgent. Caws and his bandmates know their way around an earworm melody, and You Know Who You Are contains a handful of songs that should make it onto their eventual Greatest Hits record.
Favorite tracks: “Cold to See Clear,” “Believe You’re Mine,” “New Bird,” “Animal”
Ray LaMontagne – Ouroboros
Who does Ray LaMontagne think he is, Pink Floyd? Never one to rest on a particular sound, LaMontagne soars into outer space on his new record Ouroboros, or Dark Side of the Moon as imagined by a former folk troubadour. LaMontagne’s fellow astronauts on the recording and subsequent tour behind Ouroboros are none other than rock and roll titans My Morning Jacket. It’s a winning combination that takes LaMontagne’s woozy lyrical delivery into a new and different stratosphere. My personal favorite track is “Part Two – In My Own Way,” a slow-burning jam about becoming one with your own consciousness and accepting your place in the vast universe. Deeeeep, man.
Favorite tracks: “Part One – Hey, No Pressure,” “Part One – While It Still Beats,” “Part Two – In My Own Way,” “Part Two – Another Day”
Lucius – Good Grief
Lucius, the otherworldly duo of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, expand their sonic palette on their second album, Good Grief. Bursting at the seams with ethereal, powerful harmonies and glitzy, dance-friendly beats, the music is as hypnotic as their unique live performances that revolve around the pair sporting matching hair and outfits. Deftly moving from folk and Americana to pop and rock, Wolfe and Laessig have a masterful command of their powerful voices and when they sing in unison, it’s impossible to not be moved.
Favorite tracks: “Madness,” “Born Again Teen,” “My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve,” “Dusty Trails”
M. Ward – More Rain
M. Ward is singing about helicopters again, and this is a very good thing. In a lyrical nod to the song “Helicopter” from his transcendent 2003 breakthrough album Transfiguration of Vincent, Ward on “Girl From Conejo Valley” sings “Helicopter, will you throw me a line? Because the girl from Conejo Valley used to be mine.” His eighth album, More Rain, is another fine showcase of Ward’s classicist approach to pop songwriting. His music is as timeless as it is dazzling, and Ward continues to prove himself one of the most elegant guitarists of his generation.
Favorite tracks: “Pirate Dial,” “Girl From Conejo Valley,” “Time Won’t Wait,” “I’m Going Higher,” “Confession”
Cullen Omori – New Misery
Cullen Omori is the former singer/songwriter of the great, underrated Chicago band Smith Westerns. Finding fame and indie success at a very young age (their first album was released when they were still teenagers), the Smith Westerns flamed out and the band members went their separate ways after three albums. Omori emerges from his band’s glam rock shadow with a glimmering debut on Sub Pop titled New Misery. His knack for melody remains strong, and an upbeat, yet moody vibe permeates the record.
Favorite tracks: “Sour Silk,” “Cinnamon,” “Hey Girl,” “Synthetic Romance,” “New Misery”
Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
Nashville’s Margo Price is set to have a breakout year that will rival the long overdue coming out party Chris Stapleton had in 2015. Shining in a recent Saturday Night Live appearance that introduced her old-school, outlaw country style to a massive, new audience, this Third Man Records-signed musician has a voice that is gorgeous and weathered in the best possible way. Much like Stapleton, Price loves singing about whiskey, heartbreak and regret, the holy trinity of country music, and the string arrangements throughout the album elevate Price’s songs to an auspicious and impressive debut.
Favorite tracks: “Hands of Time,” “Since You Put Me Down,” “How the Mighty Have Fallen,” “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)”
Eric Bachmann – (s/t)
Eric Bachmann sings like he’s seen some shit that you or I will never see. The frontman of indie rock mainstays Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers has decided to hang up those projects and move forward under his own name. With each progressive release, the edges of Bachmann’s voice have smoothed over, the warm honey-dripped vocals of his current self-titled album a far cry from the grit and gravel of his earlier work with Archers of Loaf. But the lyrical edge is still there and if anything, it’s only gotten sharper. In a first for Bachmann, many of the songs here were written on piano and he even explores doo-wop, showing that creativity should never diminish with age, but rather, grow and flourish.
Favorite tracks: “Belong to You,” “Mercy,” “Separation Fright,” “Carolina”
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