Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Bitchin Bajas – Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties

A far cry from the sparse folk usually recorded by Will Oldham, “Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties” finds his intimate voice and warbly acoustic guitar enveloped by the cosmic drones, blooming synths, airy flutes, and hypnotic tape loops of Chicago new age trio, Bitchin Bajas. The lyrics are essentially fortune cookie mantras and, while there’s a chance they’re tongue-in-cheek, it’s difficult not to smile and feel a brightening of the spirit when hearing uplifting phrases like “Your hard work is about to pay off, keep on keepin’ on” or “you and your whole family are well” get repeated over and over. This collaboration is a soothing, heartwarming listen and a refreshing change-of-pace from Oldham’s tendency towards melancholy and solemn lyrical content.

Holy Sons – In the Garden

After 20+ years of using his introspective songwriting as a playground for psychedelic lo-fi experimentation, underdog hero Emil Amos hands the production reins to John Angello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.) for his most polished album yet, capturing the best aspects of 70’s rock classics without ever feeling cliché. The hi-fi analogue production brings a newfound clarity and depth that allows Amos’ songwriting and instrumental performances to bloom; the choruses are anthemic, the atmospheres are darkly psychedelic, and his lyrics are just as philosophical and contemplative as ever.

Young Jesus – The Whole Thing is Just There

The Whole Thing is Just There is another beautiful and life-affirming release from Young Jesus, the second with the current L.A. iteration of the band. Their inter-band chemistry seems stronger than ever, with telepathic improvisations, symbiotic catharses, and a mutual love for each other that is easily felt from a listener’s perspective. The lyrics deal with self-exploration and one’s relationship with the world around them, finding solace in spirituality, existentialism, literature, and the ethos of free jazz. Stylistically the music seems rooted in late-90’s indie rock and emo, with seamless but adventurous detours into post-rock, noisy post-hardcore, and free improvisation. Excited to see where these guys go next.

Eric Chenaux – Slowly Paradise

Eric Chenaux’s gentle falsetto is the most constant, tangible element on an album characterized by a permanent state of flux. The guitars are warbly and unsteady with their fluctuating tones, volume, and pitch. Yet, despite their experimental nature, they never sound abrasive and, together with some mellow Wurlitzer, create a soft, pillowy environment for Chenaux’s romantic crooning about the nature of love, the moon, and warm nights.

lojii – lofeye

Categorization and comparison are the least of lojii’s worries, instead prioritizing creative expression and finding spiritual truth and power in this dimly lit dystopia. He delivers his prophetic words with a focused, unwavering determination, while the beats are gritty and nocturnal with their open percussion, eerie synths, and negative space. Don’t miss out on this one.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

On this mournful offering, Cave’s poetic reflections on loss, longing, and loneliness slowly float down a river of gloomy synth drones, somber strings, and sparse piano. While not exactly uplifting, the album has a sense of peace and beauty that continues up through the repeating final refrain, “and it’s alright now”.

Damien Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son

Lushly cinematic folk-rock draped in sweeping string arrangements and spacey synth atmospheres. Damien’s reverbed falsetto recalls Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Bon Iver as he softly sings of God, “spaceships”, and other imagery blending Christian themes with science-fiction.

For fans of My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses, and Beck’s Sea Change

Poliça – United Crushers

Poliça’s brooding, atmospheric trip-hop/synth pop consists of the passionately dynamic vocals (from co-leader/lyricist Channy Leaneagh), prominent, groovy basslines, driving double drums, and occasional string and horn arrangements all run through effects and mapped into intricate, quantized webs of programmed beats and synthesizers by co-leader/producer Ryan Olsen. Lyrically, the album centers around themes of isolation, fading love, and even addressing on police violence on “Wedding”.

For fans of Portishead, The Knife

Joan Baez – Come From the Shadows

“What I’m asking you to do is take some risks. Stop paying war taxes, refuse the armed forces, organize against the air war, support the strikes and boycotts of farmers, workers and poor people, analyze the flag salute, give up the nation state, share your money, refuse to hate, be willing to work…in short, sisters and brothers, arm up with love and come from the shadows”

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick travels through the history of African-American music and into the future, taking inspiration from P-Funk, G-Funk, jazz, trap and everything in between. His lyrics display an acute awareness of someone battling with the weight of fame, institutional racism, and his own depression. This album is simultaneously personal and universal, and nothing short of revolutionary.

Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness

Julie Byrne’s gentle new-age folk is so light and airy it’s easy to miss its depth, but repeated listening shows that it’s strength lies in its weightlessness. Her soothing voice and delicate fingerpicking are enveloped in warm string arrangements, all tied together by soft reverb and pristine production that makes for an inviting, peaceful listen every time.


Jim O’Rourke – Insignificance

After a prolific career as a noise/improvisational/experimental guitarist and a few forays into folk and chamber pop, Jim O’Rourke surprised his audience with an album closer to straightforward rock than his audience could have ever expected of him. Yet underneath it’s catchy, cheery, and polished exterior, his lyrics are full of humorously bitter resentment. Like his debut singer/songwriter album Eureka, Insignificance is full of the meticulous and lush arrangements that Jim would become known for.

Ryley Walker – Deafman Glance

Acoustic-shredder/singer-songwriter ventures out of the jazz-inflected folk-rock territory explored by his last few albums to create something that feels fully himself. Deafman Glance is full of angular left turns, complex structures, airy flutes, jazz detours, and psychedelic atmospheres. A balance of great songwriting, jazz musicianship, and experimental/art-rock tendencies. Recommended to fans of Tortoise’s Standards, Tim Buckley’s Starsailor, and King Crimson’s Red. (Click for full review).

Tim Buckley – Blue Afternoon

Blue Afternoon continues the flowing jazz-folk of Tim’s previous release (Happy Sad) while starting to detour into the avant-garde atmospheres that would manifest more fully on his next two albums, Lorca and Starsailor. The songs and lyrics refuse to be boxed into one category as “joyful” or “lonely” or “sad” and instead reflect the intangible multi-dimensionality of feeling.

Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

On his Warp Records debut, the eccentric rapper crafts an album of shadowy hip-hop that expresses a unique creative vision. His bipolar, extremely personal lyrics fluctuate from paranoid agoraphobia and self-deprecating reflection to uninhibited hedonism and braggadocios swagger, sometimes in the course of a couple lines. Highly recommended for fans of Busdriver, Aesop Rock and other psychedelic hip-hop artists

Songs: Ohia – The Magnolia Electric Co

“Sometimes it’s hard doing anything”. Somehow Jason Molina knows how to perfectly express what depression feels like without ever succumbing to hopelessness. His music has been a friend and a voice of encouragement when I need it most, reminding me to persist and not beat myself up when I feel unproductive or lazy or unmotivated. “The real truth about it is no one gets it right. The real truth about it is we’re all supposed to try”