Hurray for the Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes
For those who believe music serves a higher purpose than causing you to twerk, Alynda Lee Segarra is your girl. She embodies the essence of the folk genre, using her words to evoke emotion while putting a stake in the ground on issues plaguing today’s society. She’s exactly what’s been missing far too long in today’s music, which is saturated with female singers using their hips in place of their words to evoke a glimmer of emotion in their listeners (one literally made that her hook).
Small Town Heroes is a collection of songs reflecting life on the road, struggles and triumphs and all the messiness in between. Whether she’s singing about her homesickness for New Orleans or taking a stance, Segarra keeps her songwriting and storytelling honest. Power ballad “The Body Electric” serves as the undercurrent for a generation of female musicians tired of pandering to the status quo and ready to stand for something again. It’s a battle cry in favor of music returning as an integral part of our social consciousness – reentering society’s debate around right and wrong.
Small Town Heroes is in this number one spot because it did something outside of the popular norm – it strives to enter the political debate, to challenge the loudest voices in the most poetic and peaceful of ways – through music. It’s fitting that after losing the great Pete Seeger this year, the patriarch of speaking musical truth to power; Segarra emerges poised to carry the same torch.
The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
It’s been said that out of darkness comes greatness. While it may not have seemed that way while Adam Granduciel’s was putting together Lost in the Dream, it’s certainly apparent now. Great albums happen when hard work and talent coincide. Incredible albums are born out of quiet struggles and won through hard fought battles. Granduciel admits to giving up drugs, alcohol, meat and his girlfriend while working on this latest album to try and ascertain control over his physical and mental health. While there are obvious health benefits associated with these choices, there are artistic benefits as well. There isn’t a single flaw on this album – unlike the self-perceived flaws in its creator. Each song is made up of layers and textures weaving a rich tapestry – supported firmly by poignant and biting lyrics. Granduciel bares his soul on this album and in turn he awakens a bit of ours.
Beck -Morning Phase
On his twelfth studio album, Beck proves that great can (and will be) great again. Returning after a fairly dormant decade, Beck delivers the Cinderella Story of this year’s releases. With its hypnotic, lush qualities, Morning Phase feels like stream of subconscious thoughts permeating between the landscape of dreams and outer edges of consciousness. He still captures melodrama and self-loathing with ease – but this time it feels less tongue-in-cheek and more self-actualizing. It seems Beck is finally ready for a happy ending, no longer comfortable with being a loser.
Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
As the reigning king of sad bastard music, returning after a hiatus due to medical reasons, Adams returns with a self-titled album that exemplifies its name. It’s more rock and roll this go around, but all the hurt, pain and self-doubt is still in full effect. Ryan Adams captures the human condition unlike any writer out there (Jason Isbell comes in a close second) and it’s good for music to have him back on the scene.
Desert Noises – 27 Ways
Indie rock often gets mislabeled for the crowd it appeals to, regardless of sound in favor of age and appearance. For this reason it’s hard to believe that a band like Desert Noises doesn’t stand out further from the pack – because they appear to be the very definition of the genre, yet their sound is far more mature than any of their peers. While young (their oldest member is 24), their sound is reminiscent of 60s and 70s classic rock – energetic and masterful arrangements. They’re indie by definition, booking their own shows, pushing their own tunes – but don’t pigeonhole them. There’s much more once you get past the cover of this book.
Jack White – Lazaretto
Jack White is for when you want to dance and nod your head, but don’t want to have to sacrifice your sad bastard lyrics in the process. There’s a bravado to Lazaretto (rhyme intended) that at first listen may feel overly reaching and pompous. However, these aren’t new lyrics – these are words of 19-year-old Jack White accompanied by his current ability to blend old-time fiddle and piano, electronics, and his own blistering guitar. It’s a rare, full circle glimpse into the genius that was Jack White at nineteen and still is today.
Trampled by Turtles – Wild Animals
Words matter. And this time around Trampled by Turtles made sure you could hear them amongst the rapid, expert instrumentation that is typical of their albums. Less punk and more traditional, one has to assume that producer Alan Sparhawk (from the band Low) made sure these turtles where coming out of their shell. Wild Animals certainly lives up to its name with arrangements and rhythms thrown wildly around – all tamed and held together by strong lyrics and melodies. It’s one of their best albums to date.
Susto – Susto
Justin Osborne, chief songwriter and bandleader of Susto, weaves lyrics and haunting melodies that live up to the band and self-titled debut album’s name. Susto is a collection of songs reminiscent of old Southern ghost stories, each grounded in Osborne’s raspy, smooth voice. Be forewarned – as it’s defined, Susto will leave you retracing its lyrics in your head long after your head hits the pillow and the music has ended.
Phox – Phox
The six-piece Wisconsin folk band is instantly charming – without coming on too strong. Their style of folk-pop isn’t pushy or hurried – just smooth and patient. Lead singer, Monica Martin, takes her time weaving through lyrics as the band behind her provides the solid framework. Each song unfolds like a perfect tapestry – carefully and without error. Phox proves that pop, when done right, has a place within the folk genre.
Delta Spirit – Into the Wide
A change in scenery (and record label), opting to record in Brooklyn instead of their home in California, brought about its fair share of challenges. After Hurricane Sandy demolished their studio and provided some unscheduled reflection time, the group returned with their darkest, most introspective album to date. Into the Wide picks up where History from Below left off (and Delta Spirit never quite lived up to), proving that sometimes life’s setbacks are what propel us forward the farthest.