After much deliberation, the top five are:
#5. Viva Voce- The Future Will Destroy Us
There is something about this album that lends itself to being played at any time. Somehow, it always just fits. It is clear that the husband-wife duo have figured out who they are as musicians and are comfortable with what they found. What they have created here is a cohesive, warm journey for us to be a part. It is the simplest album they have produced, but by far the richest in spirit.
In a year with worldwide political turmoil, PJ Harvey gave us a battle-cry to rally the protesters. It is just as relevant for England, as it is for the U.S. and the rest of the world. Although released previous to the London riots, it seems as though Ms. Harvey is a bit clairvoyant- or perhaps she realized it was all inevitable. This album makes it apparent that the personal is in fact political, and that is what must push us out of submission. Harvey has delivered something much different than she has in the past, and it is up to us to follow her through every battlefield in protest and questioning.
#3. Jolie Holland- Pint of Blood
There has never been a question of the talents which Jolie Holland is capable of delivering. However, she often easily alienates her listeners at times on previous albums. With Pint of Blood, Holland sits us down, gives us a drink, and draws us in. This is her most honest, pared-down effort to date, and it paid off. Her voice has gained a raspy, weathered quality that showcases a certain vulnerability and familiarity that has lead to an honest collection of songs that make us feel a part of its creation.
How there has not been more notice for this Canadian electronica-ish band is a mystery. With powerful, pitch-perfect vocals that grab you at the first note, and pull you into an ocean of musical magic, there is not escaping their talent. At times, it seems they channel the essence of Kate Bush or Florence and the Machine, but there is something distinctly unique that resonates with each song. They provide unforgettable covers of “Woodstock” and “Crying” that make breathing seem nearly impossible until they are over. This album does simply that- leaves you breathless from start to finish, and yearning for more in the end of its dizzying ride.
#1. Alela Diane & Wild Divine- Alela Diane
There are few albums that feel as though they could exist in any time, any era, any world. This is one of them. Alela Diane has a voice that carries so much feeling with every note, but breaks with fragility at the same time. She knows how to use her voice and control it, while still keeping a certain amount of vulnerability, so as to imply she has a secret to tell the listener. While she has prided herself on the simplicity of her previous work, she ramps it up a notch with a band on Wild Divine, lending a fuller and richer sound to her soulful vocals.
Wild Divine is an album that could have been released thirty-odd years ago and fit in just as nicely as it does now. Alela’s sound on this release is reminiscent of those in the Brit-folk movement of the 1970s, referencing Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, and the Wainwrights and McGarrigles, as well as nods to Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.
Her lyrics weave timeless stories of love and heartbreak on many levels. “Elijah” tells the story of a young mother’s relationship with her son, while “Suzanne” seems to be a subtle nod to the Leonard Cohen song by the same name. However, it is on “Of Many Colors” that it feels as though she may in fact be the lost child of Richard and Linda Thompson.
Wild Divine is a beautiful album that gives the listener a sense that time has no place in her world. It hooks you from the first note and does not let go until long after the last, and will be on constant rotation for some time. It is the album that Alela Diane and the new folk genre has needed to wake up listeners—even while seeming dreamlike. Alela sings in ‘The Wind’: “I am a dream on a wind.” Well, then, I am going to sleep because I wish to be blown away.