5. "Half Made Man" by Ben Sollee -
To the core, Sollee has always made truly organic music, which paints a picture of what one should expect if getting the chance to see him live, and that feel has been continued on his fourth full length release. His known primary instrument is the cello, and really, how many singer-songwriter cellists have you come across? On this latest album, he's stepped outside of that box he's been categorized in showing off other musical skills on guitar and mandolin. He's broken the genre specific barriers by combining folk with Americana, bluegrass, some jazz, and a bit of pop too. One of my favorite moments on the album is during the last track "Some Lovin'" specially around the two minute mark. The runs that Sollee with his cello, guitar, and the rhythm section are able to create and combine feels a bit fairytale-ish or dream-like, and it's led into by the most honest lyrics that we should all keep in our back pockets: "'Cause you are not a false start / you are not a mistake / on the day nothing goes wrong / there still be amends to make / 'cause we are human."
4. "Don't Paint Your Days So Gray." by Man In A Crowd -
This album does nothing but fill me with joy. Now, I may be a bit biased because I've been around since the demos, but I can tell you that after countless plays I still get chills when listening to this album. That sounds silly? You can't argue the hauntingly memorable guitar lines and piano tones in "A Little Too Far" or when the drums and lead guitar reach the crescendo at the beginning of "I Can Feel It" and the band kicks in with the female vocals taking that first chorus. Stylistically this is an album that I feel can please the masses - someone who likes pop-rock? Done. Someone who normally veers towards the country sound? Done. How about rock? Done. But wait, what if none of those sounds are to someone's liking? I feel if someone were to ask me those questions it would be a test, but really, they've blended together all things that are good in music and made it easily accessible for all ears to enjoy. DPYDSG is absolutely able to add sunshine to your cloudy days, as I myself have rolled my car window down and blasted this on high volume to help tackle the wintery blues, and with that sunshine comes some positivity too: "So here's that hopeful song to sing when all you've got is going wrong. And I know it hurts like hell but we're gonna heal up, we're gonna move on." With songs that are so upbeat that'll make it hard for you to sit still ("Take The Edge Off") to the contrasting closer to the album ("Tides"), there truly is something for everyone with Man In A Crowd's debut album.
3. "Forget The Storm" by Tyler Hilton -
This is hands-down my guilty pleasure album of 2012. Before this album came out I hadn't ever listened to a Tyler Hilton record. Now I can say I'm glad Spotify doesn't freely share the "play count" of the albums you listen to because I easily went through this from top to bottom about fifty times straight after my first listen. Hilton is able to perfectly mix the pop sensibility that his fans had come to know and love with a little bit more grit and a lot more rock 'n roll. To be honest with you, the more acoustic driven songs are great, for example the final track "Hey Jesus," but for me the true excitement lies in those upbeat tracks like "Loaded Gun," which I heard first on the series finale of One Tree Hill. It's by far the most infectious song off the album, but to be perfectly fair the rest of the album follows suit. You can't help but find yourself humming any of the choruses to yourself, even if it has been awhile since your last listen. From the drum and organ intro of "Kicking My Heels," you're taken from one hit to the next, each song sounding more solid than the last - Hilton has definitely made his mark with this.
2. "II" by Bad Books -
Bad Books is a truly exciting musical venture combining some of the greatest lyricists accompanied by some of the greatest musicians. "II" absolutely blew their debut out of the water for me. My favorite song of the past year is off this: "Pytor." I heard it before the record was released thanks to a Nervous Energies session Andy Hull did, and I immediately fell for it. Hull and Kevin Devine have a way with storytelling and songwriting that hits home for most people, but this song felt different, it felt larger. Without knowing the backstory, I was immediately hooked to the intriguing dialogue which is complimented well with echoing harmonies on the finalized version. Some of the best moments on the album shine through with simplistic beauty and ease, especially with the final three songs: "42," "Lost Creek," and "Ambivalent Peaks." These songs bring a great contrast by breaking from the electronic, guitar-laced, heavier moments to take us back to the core of why we all love music in the first place - a truly great song. This has to be the musicians' best work to date, and again, I can't help but wonder what's next as "II" was able to go above and beyond my expectations.
1. "Every Kingdom" by Ben Howard -
From start to finish and with each listen, I'm in awe of the greatness of "Every Kingdom." Ben Howard is a standout with the way he's able to gracefully pick a guitar and compliment that with his slightly husky and majorly soulful vocals. This winning combination gives Howard a richer sound and has helped him create his own signature style. "Everything" most showcases Howard's impeccable guitar playing wherein the first twenty seconds you're captured by his intricate picking, and fortunate for us, that guitar line becomes the backbone for the entire track. The honesty that comes from his lyrics is refreshing as they mix both an autobiographical feel along with a bit of storytelling. Another highlight is "Keep Your Head Up," which is exactly what it sounds like - an uplifting song that works truly well as a motivator for the listener. It's a bit more fast paced than the rest of the album, but even then the verses are fairly mellow with a building feel to them. That feel leads directly into the chorus of "keep your head up / keep your heart strong." Howard has created a timeless piece.
Listen to these albums here.
Listen to these albums here.