Sharon Van Etten — Are We There
Listen To: “Your Love Is Killing Me”
Sharon Van Etten’s voice can make the most basic song interesting. It can shake with power or soothe with calmness. She has told The New York Times that she doesn’t think about harmony. “I just hear two notes at once — I just hear two melodies,” and her comfort is clear throughout her fourth studio album, Are We There. Whatever backing instruments she chooses, whether it is a simple piano and guitar or more adventurous structure with synths or tympanis, it is always her vocals that anchors the song and leaves the listener wanting more.
Jack White — Lazaretto
Listen To: “The Black Bat Licorice”
There is an interview with Conan O’Brien and Jack White where Conan brings up White’s past as an upholsterer. White remembers working on a certain couch and being obsessed with the fact that three staples were the perfect amount to hold the fabric in place. Any less would not work, and any more was just excess. That analogy works perfectly for his former band, The White Stripes, where he and Meg White became known for their short, fast-paced songs with few instruments. However, for White’s second solo offering, Lazaretto, he lets himself explore with more complex sounds. On the album, he goes from sing-song rapping on the title track to a folk duet on the next song. The new analogy that would suit White’s music is the vinyl version of Lazaretto itself. The LP is the bestselling vinyl release in 20 years and that is in large part due to all the added features, such as secret songs, alternate versions and an angel hologram that spins with the record. The vinyl, and the response that it has gotten, prove that sometimes excess is good.
The Antlers — Familiars
Listen To: “Hotel”
There are only three members in The Antlers, but on their latest album, Familiars, songs often turn into orchestral arrangements that never end where they started. Tracks feature weeping horns, bass rifts that dance in and out of your conscience and guitars that echo like the memories that lead singer Peter Silberman sings about. With track names like “Revisited,” “Surrender,” and “Refuge” there is a definite theme that is carried throughout the album, which is continuously beautiful yet eerie. Though there is sadness and regret in the songs, the instrumentation also gives a feeling of hope or at least acceptance of the way things have gone. On “Parade,” Silberman sings “I’m getting ready for when everything is wonderful,” and five albums in, you can only hope that the wait takes a little longer.
Travi$ Scott – Days Before Rodeo
Listen To: “Backyard”
Looking back at Kanye West’s recent releases, Cruel Summer and Yeezus, and now Travi$ Scott’s own Days Before Rodeo, his and Kanye’s artistic relationship seems to be very much in line with the Kid Cudi/Kanye West work in the 808’s & Heartbreak days. Scott has brought a different type of darkness to much of Kanye’s latest work, and on Days Before Rodeo he puts together one of the best hip hop records of the year. The album is a time capsule of hip hop in the summer of 2014, there is homage to the old school with quick wordplay and a crackling beat on “Backyard,” the grimy reggae-inspired “Mamacita,” indie guitars being plucked on the slow “Drugs You Should Try It,” harpsichords, medieval gospels and shades of Kanye in almost every song. The features, which range from The 1975 to T.I. prove that Days Before Rodeo has a little something for everyone.