From l to r: Sophomore sensation Bon Iver does it again, Portugal. The man proves there’s more than noise in Wasila and Welch and Rawlings keep it simple.
Hipster icon Justin Vernon fully shed his loner-dude-in-a-cabin mystique with this multi-textured effort. The falsetto is still in full effect, but this time, instead of quiet strings, it’s set in front of layered sonic explosions filled with horn blasts, percussive outbursts, slide guitar accents and plenty of grand infectious melodies. With Vernon’s endearing, disjointed prose, the album is a piece of beautiful chaos that always works, even during the ‘80s cheese of closer “Beth/Rest.”
My Morning Jacket
Jim James and company toned down the cosmic soul experimentation of 2008’s Evil Urges and got back to some of the cavernous rock anthems and chilling ballads of their early years. Quite possibly the band’s most satisfying collection of songs from start to finish, Circuital gives a broad picture of what the Jacket does best—from the big arena riffs of the title track to the mellow Utopian folk of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).”
The Whole Love
The last two Wilco albums—Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album)—were lukewarm at best. The Whole Love is sweet redemption that finds Jeff Tweedy and his band thinking broadly. The album’s opening seven-minute “Art of Almost” contains the glitchy grandeur that made Yankee Hotel Foxtrot so intriguing, while “I Might” finds Nels Cline’s jarring riffs complemented by vintage Vox organ. “Born Alone” has the country punk punch found on early albums like Being There, and the closing “One Sunday Morning” is a sprawling 12-minute acoustic ballad that feels like a drive on rural road that you don’t want to end. It’s a complete package that will remind you why you fell in love with Wilco in the first place.
The Harrow and the Harvest
Eight years is a long time between albums. Although Welch took her time coming up with a new set of songs, she didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. With acoustic guitars and the purest of harmonies, Welch and her long time musical partner David Rawlings released a collection of tunes with a simple old time aesthetic that sound completely out of time. Whether it’s with the banjo-driven spiritual “Hard Times” or the hard-luck character ballad “The Way It Goes,” Welch proved why she’s still the best companion for sipping whiskey on the front porch.
Europe ’72: Volume 2
The Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 is one of the best-selling live albums of all time. After nearly four decades, the epic spring tour through Western Europe got a second life with Europe ’72: Volume 2. For Dead fans, it’s another essential, thanks to gems like an hour-long excursion from “Dark Star” into “The Other One,” as well as an epic “Not Fade Away” with “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” from the tour’s opening night in London.
Portugal. The Man
In the Mountain in the Cloud
So wait, something good actually came out of Wasilla, Alaska. These indie psych-rockers—originally from Palin-town—absolutely kill it on this debut effort for Atlantic Records. Every track soars with John Gourley’s high-wire falsetto and infectious hooks drenched in reverb and fuzzy guitars. This one gets inside your head and sticks around for a while.
The Valley Wind
Fans of Band of Horses need to hear this solo release from the band’s understated lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey. Blending intricate finger picking and narrative lyrics deftly laced with natural imagery, Ramsey conjures the haunting melancholy of Neil Young with the addition of some new school atmospherics. If this guy didn’t have such a sweet gig with BOH, he’d definitely be making more of a solo name for himself.