James Vincent McMorrow, Post Tropical
Last winter, James Vincent McMorrow released his sophomore album, a beautiful collection of songs about light and dark, warmth and cold and the stagnancy that sticks in between. Compared to McMorrow’s first album, the sound is quite different. Early in the Morning, released in 2011, relied heavily on acoustic guitars. On Post Tropical we hear drums and synths that open tracks and gorgeous layers of harp and sweeping horn arrangements that carry the choruses through. But perhaps the greatest delight in Post Tropical is that it sounds the same and different with every listen. It’s really all we can hope for during the cold slog of winter: though it seems never-ending, we hope to find something new to believe in to get us through.
Robert Ellis, The Lights from the Chemical Plant
It’s amazing what moving to a new city and a haircut can do. In 2012, Robert Ellis moved from Houston to Nashville and shortly thereafter cut his Willie Nelson-length locks. His third studio album, The Lights From The Chemical Plant, came out last February and is one of the year’s best. The dark but sexy Good Intentions is the perfect upbeat track to sing along with, without ever passing into the cliche country song category. And as an added plus, there’s no mention of pickup trucks or blue jeans. Robert Ellis 1, Popular Country Music 0. Add in a track Ellis co-wrote with Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, a cover of a Paul Simon classic, and a tune about binge-watching TV and you’ve got something for everyone.
The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
Listen to The War on Drugs’ latest album, Lost In the Dream, and you’ll be hooked in less than one minute, guaranteed. An absolutely gorgeous, ambitious and sprawling album, Lost In the Dream is the band’s best work. Full of atmospheric drum beats and synths, it’s an album that is as mind blowing on its first listen as it is on the 30th. Four of the tracks are over six-minutes long, but listening never feels like a chore. Lost In the Dream is such a beautiful place to be.
Field Report, Marigolden
Field Report’s second full-length album Marigolden was released in October and is a tremendously well-written set of songs about sobriety, traveling and homecomings. The album is anchored by lead singer Chris Porterfield’s wavering voice and exceptional songwriting. There are so many lines and phrases that provide beautiful imagery to bring his stories alive. In Pale Rider, a song inspired by an episode of Six Feet Under, Porterfield assures us – with equal parts grief and calm – that he can’t be “your place to go or what you need.” It’s an album that you’ll want to enjoy line by line, chorus by chorus, and track by track. Never have synths and pedal steel sounded so great together.
When Take Me To Church started making the rounds in early 2014, not many had heard of Andrew Hozier-Byrne, a lanky and long-haired Irish singer and songwriter. And while the opening track is one of 2014’s best songs, it’s the variety on his self-titled release that makes it such a great listen. There’s jam-worthy guitars on the blues track Jackie and Wilson, but there’s a depth to Hozier’s lyrics and music as well. None more apparent than In A Week, a ballad about two lovers buried in the earth, a beautiful and depressing track oddly reminiscent of a Seamus Heaney poem. As Hozier remarks in From Eden, “babe, there’s something tragic about you, something so magic about you.” This album is wretched and precious, indeed.