It’s been a good month for music enthusiasts with many eagerly anticipated albums finally being released for public consumption. If you’re wondering where to begin, here are a few of the albums that you definitely should listen to this Fall.
Stars: The North
The North is the sixth studio album released by Canadian indie-pop band, Stars. Band members Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell take turns singing lead, but the album’s shining moments almost always revolve around the beautiful duets and harmonies these two seem to effortlessly churn out. During the closing track, “Walls,” Campbell implores “Do you love me?” to which Millan responds with a crushing “What am I supposed to say?” – the twelve tracks featured on The North tackle a variety of disparate topics, but the album finds its roots in suffering. It’s a soft, ethereal album full of synths sure to please fans of bands like LCD Soundsystem. Standout tracks include the bluesy 1950s inspired “Do You Want To Die Together?”, the opening track “The Theory of Relatively”, and the Woody Guthrie sampled/Enya-inspired “A Song Is A Weapon.” The songs each have a uniqueness to them that prevent the album as a whole from ever becoming boring.
Mumford & Sons: Babel
Babel is the British indie-folk band’s follow up to their wildly successful and critically acclaimed album Sigh No More. In 2011, I had the privilege of seeing Marcus Mumford and his bandmates perform at the Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland as part of the inaugural Railroad Revival Tour. Ticket-holders were promised an “immediate” download of live recordings of the performances in the weeks following the culmination of the tour, something I did not forget as Mumford & Sons treated the crowd to a sampling of new material, including songs like “Hopeless Wanderer” and “Lover’s Eyes.” Of course, it was naive of me to expect that I’d get my hands on those tracks, but it was still a disappointment. Now, with the release of Babel, fans are finally able to listen to those gritty, foot-stomping songs Bay Area folk music devotees heard in the train yard over a year ago. Although the band has received flack for this, I personally enjoy the fervor with which they perform; they put their instruments and voices through immense abuse, resulting in music that gets your adrenaline pumping. The album currently holds the top-selling spot in the iTunes store, and for good reason. Notable songs include the title track “Babel”, the first single “I Will Wait,” and the hopeful “Holland Road.”
The Avett Brothers: The Carpenter
To say this is the best work we’ve seen from The Avett Brothers would be a lie. If you are a first-time listener, I would suggest looking back in their catalog and listening to songs like “Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise,” “I And Love And You,” and “Paranoia in B-flat Major” to get a sense of the musical prowess of bluegrass geniuses Scott and Seth Avett. Nevertheless, they are undoubtedly one of the best folk groups active today – even at their weakest they still manage to produce quality music. In June, the brothers – along with bandmates Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon – graced Berkeley’s Greek Theater with their presence and their sheer chaos, in the best way possible. The brothers harmonize exceptionally well, but aren’t afraid to resort to screaming and flailing about the stage. It will be exciting to see how The Carpenter will come to life during live performances; my hunch is that the studio recording has robbed the brothers of a bit of emotion that will surely be present in front of a live audience. Standout songs include “Pretty Girl From Michigan,” “Father’s First Spring,” and “I Never Knew You.”
The xx: Coexist
No one will ever accuse The xx as being a band that creates thunderous or ear-splitting music, but their self-titled debut album certainly had more strength behind it than their sophomore album Coexist. It is decidedly more subtle and hushed than their previous work, relying primarily on percussion instruments, electronic sounds, and whispering vocals to carry the songs to fruition. To say Coexist is minimalistic would be simply stating the obvious. It’s not nearly as rousing as Stars’ The North, which also makes use of programmed beats, but its strength lies in its subtlety. It’s the type of album you can listen to as you lounge around the house or study. Memorable songs include the album’s opening track “Angels”, as well as “Fiction,” and “Sunset.”
Grizzly Bear: Shields
The infamously critical web publication, Pitchfork, gave Grizzly Bear’s newest album a 9.1 out of 10 rating, meaning it is both thoroughly indie and sonically pleasing enough to fall on the favorable side of Pitchfork’s highly discriminating taste. While The xx dialed their sound back a few notches, Grizzly Bear has given Shields more energy than their previous work has had. Not to say that the band hasn’t had explosive moments in the past, but this album is noticeably more powerful. The lyrics and melodies surge through your speakers and threaten to barrel you over. But even as the songs erupt into booming percussion and strings, they somehow manage to retain an airy quality about them. Impressive songs from the album include “Sleeping Ute,” “Yet Again,” and “Half Gate.”