Artist: Valerie June
Album: The Order of Time
Quick Description: Gorgeous folk music.
Why You Should Listen: Valerie June is incredibly good and is quickly reaching "criminally underrated" status.
Overall Thoughts: I loved her debut album, and it's clear with this new album that she's sticking to a winning formula even while trying a few different things. "Astral Plane" hit a little early and the instrumentation behind the haunting vocals was just so arresting every time it came through. It's a great step forward, perhaps better than her debut, and is absolutely one of my favorite listens of 2017 so far.
Recommendation: A must listen, no excuses.
Artist: Hurray for the Riff Raff
Album: The Navigator
Quick Description: A slight shift in sound doesn't change how good an album this is.
Why You Should Listen: Hurray for the Riff Raff is a favorite around these parts, and this is a highly-anticipated listen.
Overall Thoughts: When we got a sneak peek of "Living in the City," I know I was surprised and concerned. While HftRR definitely updated their sound and production for Small Town Heroes, this felt like a radical shift for the act. Thankfully, The Navigator does spread its musical wings, but in a way that feels both familiar and fresh. There's plenty to love here as a fan, and plenty that I hope to spend more time with.
Recommendation: Great listen, one of the best this week.
Artist: Charli XCX
Album: Number 1 Angel
Quick Description: Songwriter/producer offers a "mixtape" through traditional channels.
Why You Should Listen: She's one of the most important pop artists going right now.
Overall Thoughts: I was frankly surprised this hit Spotify given its inconsistent treatment of mixtapes, but this is being advertised as such and I'll run with it. The tone behind it feels a little indie and disjointed, which is part of the point, but I can't say it works the way Sucker does nor is it supposed to. If this is how she wants to experiment, that works for me, but it's not going to be the same experience.
Recommendation: Be wary.
Artist: The Shins
Quick Description: New album from the indie darlings.
Why You Should Listen: The Shins are one of the most important indie bands in the world.
Overall Thoughts: For the first album we've gotten from them in five years, I think the surprise is how upbeat this felt on first listen. Not to say that James Mercer and company are typically sad sacks, but I haven't associated "upbeat" with them since Chutes Too Narrow. So with that in mind, this is a surprising album, and pretty high quality. Possibly on the upper end of their releases on a whole.
Recommendation: Check this one out.
Artist: Laura Marling
Album: Semper Femina
Quick Description: Latest from the Mumford-adjace folkie.
Why You Should Listen: Laura Marling has gotten progressively better with each album, and this is her best yet.
Overall Thoughts: I feel bad that Marling will be forever linked with Mumford and Sons since she's so good on her own, but this is the first album of hers that truly stands out on its own as a whole rather than with the various parts. It's a gorgeous listen with a lot of layers I look forward to listening to further, and I can't wait to revisit it.
Recommendation: One of the best of the week.
Artist: Greg Graffin
Quick Description: A folk album from the lead singer of Bad Religion.
Why You Should Listen: It's legitimately the best folk album I've heard in ages.
Overall Thoughts: Ken sent this one over to me and let me know what it was right away. I was ready to roll my eyes, but wow this was good. It's not trying to reinvent the wheel, and there's no punk aspects to it (outside of the concept that folk music in and of itself is pretty punk), and the result is a really great listen. I want to be listening to it right now. This was nearly my album of the week, and might still make my top albums list if it holds up on more listens. Just great.
Recommendation: A must listen this week.
Artist: Ha Ha Tonka
Album: Heart-Shaped Mountain
Quick Description: Some solid rootsy rock music.
Why You Should Listen: This is not the band you think they are if you've never heard of them before.
Overall Thoughts: Ha Ha Tonka has been around for some time, and I always had this picture of them in my mind as a weird indie band. This is really my first experience with them, and I was surprised as to how much I enjoyed it. It's fairly straightforward, no-frills rock music, but there's something really compelling about it nonetheless. I need to spend more time with it, but...
Recommendation: ...this deserves your attention.
Artist: Sunny Sweeney
Quick Description: Mainstream country for people who hate mainstream country.
Why You Should Listen: It's Kacey Musgraves with the attitude of Elizabeth Cook.
Overall Thoughts: I don't recall, at this point, what got me hooked on Sunny Sweeney except that I liked her previous album. This one, on first listen, feels a lot more raw and urgent. Sweeney needed that with her sound, in my opinion, as Trophy feels like the sort of album that's made to set you apart from your peers. That's huge in her genre, and I hope it works. This is a great listen, nonetheless.
Recommendation: Solid listen.
Album: Yours Conditionally
Quick Description: Latest from the indie rock seafarers.
Why You Should Listen: Tennis isn't always straightforward, but when they're on, they're on.
Overall Thoughts: Tennis is like that pop group from before you were born, and sometimes they're great and sometimes it's not. This new album has a similar pedigree to Cape Dory in that it was conceptualized on a boating adventure, but it lacks that same sort of fresh, airy feeling. I wanted to love this and ultimately couldn't.
Recommendation: Not saying skip it, but don't make it the first thing on your list.
Also out this week:
* The Picturebooks - Home is a Heartache (solid listen)
* The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band - Front Porch Sessions (super-raw blues/folk)
* Bush - Black and White Rainbows (legitimately terrible)