By Brent Hill
The Apache Relay – The Apache Relay
It would have been easy for The Apache Relay to follow the well-worn Americana path that lay before them after their 2011 debut album, but this Nashville-based band chose a road less traveled. The result: an album that captures all the heartbreak and beauty of life in a sweeping, soulful indie pop opera that’s as catchy as it is cathartic.
Must Track: “Katie Queen of Tennessee”
Phox – Phox
This troupe of Wisconsin wunderkinds produce heartbreaking arrangements, complete with keys, flutes and horns that rise and fall like the plotline of a Fellini film. Few albums this year combine classic and contemporary sounds so seamlessly (take that Lake Street Dive). Solid narrative songwriting takes flight on the wings of lead singer Monica Martin’s sultry voice. Beware: you will be seduced, so slip into something a little more comfortable before you cozy up to this little gem.
Must Track: “Laura”
Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – Dereconstructed
Birmingham bred Lee Bains III has a love-hate relationship with the South, as evidenced by lyrics like “I know that Birmingham gets you down, but look what it raised you up to be.” Bains examines the wounded psyche of the modern Bible-belter in a blur of fist-pumping Southern rock and post-modern punk. It takes a few listens to hear past the brutal fuzz of guitar and drums, but Bains’ words are pure polarizing poetry.
Must Track: “The Weeds Downtown”
The Dirty Guv’nahs – Hearts on Fire
The Guvs could’ve gone country on their third studio album (nobody would’ve blamed them). But they would have left behind everything that makes them great– uplifting Southern rock with rousing sing-along choruses and heart-on-their sleeve narratives. Thankfully the Guvs ditched their Nashville record label to give us an album that flips stale Southern stereotypes. It’s no wonder that Hearts on Fire debuted at #1 on Billboard’s New Artist Chart back in March, a fantastic feat for a bunch of down-to-earth dudes from Knoxville.
Must Track: “Someone to Love”
TV on the Radio – Seeds
The veteran Brooklyn-based experimental rockers return with an album that expertly melds atmospheric elements with thoughtful electronic blips and bleeps, held together with gorgeous globs of post-punk glue. Seeds shoots for the heart as it sobs and throbs its way through failed relationships and hopeful reconciliations.
Must Track: “Seeds”
Hospitality – Trouble
Brooklyn trio Hospitality, featuring songwriter and vocalist Amber Papini, produce jammy pop anthems on their sophomore album. There is more attention paid to arrangements this time around as brisk guitar licks snake through Papini’s matter-of-fact slacker poetry. Hospitality prove that pop music has a dark side. Thank goodness.
Must Track: “Last Words”
Strand of Oaks – HEAL
Goshen, Indiana-based musician Tim Showalter takes folk-rock to the great beyond with his full-throttle masterpiece HEAL. Showalter creates intimate songs about loneliness and loss that build and eventually burst into a shower of arena-ready rock riffs that have the power to HEAL. This is a dangerously honest album, lyrically and sonically.
Must Track: “JM”
The Orwells – Disgraceland
It’s not ground-breaking stuff, but these four young punks from Chicago unleash solid rock and roll that crouches and growls in the shadows of British rock. Disgraceland is what rock and roll used to be, should be, and hopefully will be again. In the meantime, if you have a Spotify playlist entitled “Youth Gone Wild,” now would be the time to add The Orwells.
Must Track: “Blood Bubbles”
Bahamas – Bahamas is Afie
Toronto singer/songwriter Afie Jurvanen is Bahamas (lest you missed the album’s title). You probably already know his song, the catchy “All the Time,” from that Droid commercial. Dig a little deeper on his third album, however, and you’ll find more of a country-tinged swing as Jurvanen’s gentle voice winds through weeping guitars to the center the album’s earthy undertones.
Must Track: “Stronger Than That”