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2011

When we first met the band Dawes early in 2010 it was almost like being reintroduced to an old friend. Their classic folk-rock sensibilities and contemporary storytelling made for a comfortable, inspiring discovery. North Hills, the title of their debut was a deliberate nod to their Laurel Canyon home and their sound indicative of the neighborhoods musical landscape, both past and present. Nothing Is Wrong, the band’s sophomore album, further embraces their geographic roots and reminds us how easy it is to get wrapped up their lush harmonies and wistful stories.

It’s not characteristic (or suggested) to celebrate a win before you even play the game. But for My Morning Jacket, we’ll make an exception. On their new full-length album and first since 2008’s Evil Urges, MMJ open the curtains with a song called “Victory Dance.” While it may seem bold, the ominous opener turns out to be a good litmus test for this new collection as Jim James and his counterparts reconnect us to their shape-shifting brand of rock and roll.

Lots of musicians attempt to recapture sounds of classic soul, few actually own it. For Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin’, his fourth studio album is another indicator of how much a true descendent of classic soul and R&B he is. He tips his cap to the greats like Sly Stone and Stevie but all the while walks his own walk. The Grammy nominated Saadiq again delivers an awe-inspiring collection of throwback style jams on Stone Rollin’.

Seattle’s Fleet Foxes surprised even themselves with the success of their debut album. Fleet Foxes (the album) was an extraordinary introduction to the band’s harmonic bliss and rural sonic landscapes. For indie rock audiences, the band ushered in unprecedented warmth with their music and an approach that was honest and rather unassuming. Yet faced with the reality of their follow-up record, the band found itself in the precarious situation of dealing with grand expectations. The process of making what would become Helplessness Blues was well-documented as the band dealt with the demons of uncertainty and frustration.

For twenty years the band Elbow has been making music together. In 2008, they received arguably their most noteworthy accolade winning the UK’s Mercury Prize (their 2nd time nominated) for The Seldom Scene Kid. That album spawned some mild attention in the States for the song “Grounds for Divorce.” Yet despite their longevity and critical praise the band is seemingly still making lots of first impressions upon each release. Their latest, Build A Rocket Boys! stands perfectly in line with their previous works as a grandiose, deliberate and emotionally stirring effort.

John Paul White and Joy Williams hail from very different parts of the country (Alabama and California, respectively), and have both have been free spirits when it comes to their solo music careers....more....

Bloodless Coup is the fifth album from the Irish band Bell X1. And similar to their previous works, listening to these songs only makes one wonder what the larger scale American audience is missing. If you don’t know the story, the trio who tour the U.S. in humble fashion from club to club, like most other indie rock bands, are of superstar status in their native Ireland. And while this scenario isn’t unheard of, we see that type of discrepancy in popularity with Canadian artists frequently, Bell X1 offer up a blend of emotive songwriting and tempting melodies that our audiences should no doubt fall in love with.

It didn’t take long for the Seattle band The Head And The Heart to find an audience for their brand of indie folk and pop. In fact, within a year of coming together at a local open mic night the six piece band had released their self-titled debut album and become a standout of a hearty Seattle music scene. Following in the steps of fellow indie-folksters like Fleet Foxes, The Head And The Heart signed to the local Sub Pop label who have re-released the group’s introduction this year.

A decade into their career and with their fourth studio album now complete, it’s a good time to take a moment to reflect upon the impact of TV on the Radio. While some bands follow a road map to success, others make their own. The always experimental Brooklyn outfit, TV on the Radio, prove that the latter is not only more impressive but also a more enjoyable trip. Their latest collection Nine Types of Light is an uncanny blend of styles that will surely move your feet, right after you pick your jaw up from the floor.

Expectations aren't always easy to understand. Sure they're subjective, we all have our own. And after a while, you start wondering if you're setting the bar too high for certain things. When an artist like Paul Simon goes into the studio, what should we expect? Not every album is going to satisfy at the same level as say, Graceland right? Well, as we fast forward nearly 25 years again we realize why we hold this songwriter in such high regard. So Beautiful or So What is a stunning album, in the true sense of an album, and easily settles in as one of the year's best thus far.

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