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Best of 2015

by Cherie

When it comes time to compile my favorite albums at the end of this year I always have a hard time. Even though I try my best there’s usually at least one or two albums that get missed – whether because I didn’t have time to listen to them during the course of the year or because I simply forget about them. I try my best to listen to new artists but I also tend to stick to a lot of the same ones, so there’s a lot of familiar names on my list: Frank Turner, Laura Marling, and Mumford and Sons just to name a few. There’s also some new names, though, like Willy Varley, George Ezra, and Halsey. Don’t be too surprised to see a lot of Xtra Mile bands on the list either. One side effect of repping the label is that you tend to listen to a lot of amazing music. And so, without further ado, here are my favorite albums from 2015.

Top Ten Albums

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#1 Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Balcony

Okay so technically The Balcony was released in 2014 but it wasn’t released in the United States until early 2015 when it was put out by one of my favorite record labels – Communion. If you haven’t heard of this band by now it’s time you stopped to give them a listen. The Balcony is only their debut album but it’s a surprisingly solid album for a freshmen release. The Welsh rock band have won the admiration of critics and fans alike, including Ewan McGreggor who became friends with the band after helping them shoot a video for their song “Hourglass”. The entire album is amazing and every time I listen to it I end up putting the whole thing on repeat.

Favorite Tracks: Hourglass, Tyrants, Cocoon, Kathleen

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#2 Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People

As the title suggests, Frank Turner’s sixth studio album, Positive Songs for Negative People contains a mix of optimism and pessimism. “Mittens” is typical Turner song where he laments about a past relationship that “I once wrote you love songs, you never fell in love.” The entire album is a classic example of Turner’s unflinching honesty. Each song rings true even when Turner is being critical of himself and his past relationships. If I had to pick one song that best represents the entire album it would have to be the first single from the album, “Get Better” which proudly proclaims “I’m trying to get better because I haven’t been my best….we can get better because we’re not dead yet.”

Favorite Tracks: Mittens, Josephine, Silent Key, Get Better

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#3 Short Movie – Laura Marling

Some things only get better with age. That seems to be the case with young Laura Marling, who released her fifth studio album this year. Short Movie is the first album to feature Marling on an electric guitar, and the album features a completely new sound and a sense of confidence that is striking in someone so young. The album was released after Marling took a year off from music and traveled around the United States by herself. The experience seems to have left a mark on her for she returned with a fifth album that is more mature, more confident, and louder then any of her previous albums. The album is about a woman learning who she is and accepting herself for that person. “Little boy, I know you want something from me / yes I may be blind but I am free / don’t you try and take that away from me,” she warns on the last track, “Worship Me.” Watch out world. Laura Marling is back and this time she’s taking no prisoners.

Favorite Tracks: False Hope, Short Movie, Walk Alone, Gurdjieff’s Daughter

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Wilder Mind – Mumford and Sons

I think the world as a whole was probably taken aback when the London based quartet announced a new album in 2015 but warned fans ahead of time that would not feature a banjo. Many people only associate the band with their distinctive banjo backed brand of folk that they’ve become famous for. The truth is, however, that the band was ready for a change for their next album and so this time they opted for a sound more grounded in rock than the folk they were previously known for. They may have swapped the banjo for the fiddle (played live by Noah and the Whale’s own Tom Hobden) but the heart and soul of the band remains the same. The faster tracks are probably the band’s strong point but each song on the album is a reminder that the band is back and stronger than ever.

Favorite Tracks: Ditmas, Tompkins Square Park, Just Smoke, Hot Gates

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#4 Blurryface – Twenty One Pilots

Tyler Joseph and Joshua Dun have no concept of genre limiting boundaries. With every song they put out they push the boundary a little further, refusing to be pingeonholed into a traditional genre like pop, rock, or rap. Each song on the album is a different journey with it’s own flavor and sound of it’s own. Blurryface could be considered an anthem for today’s youths – for those who don’t quite fit in or for those who struggle with mental health. It’s an album for the misfits and for people who feel like they are growing up too fast. A lot of people can relate to the songs in some way or another and it’s refreshing to see a young band being open and honest and still be embraced full heartedly by their fans. Despite consisting of only two members the duo put on a fantastic live performance as well, and watching them live you can see their passion first hand.

Favorite Tracks: The Judge, Ride, Tear in My Heart, We Don’t Believe What’s On TV

Honorable mentions

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Glitterbug – The Wombats

Favorite Tracks: This is Not a Party, Your Body is a Weapon, Give Me a Try, Greek Tragedy

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Anthems for Doomed Youth – The Libertines

Favorite Tracks: Gunga Din, Fame and Fortune, The Heart of the Matter, You’re My Waterloo

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Marks to Prove It – The Maccabees

Favorite Tracks: Spit it Out, Something Like Happiness, Marks to Prove It

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Down on Deptford Broadway – Skinny Lister

Favorite Tracks: What Can I Say, Cathy, Trouble on Oxford Street, This is War

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Wanted on Voyage – George Ezra

Favorite Tracks: Budapest, Casey O’, Can You Hear the Rain, Listen to the Rain

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Postcards From Ursa Minor – Will Varley

Favorite Tracks: Talking Cat Blues, Seize the Night, Outside Over There

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Badlands – Halsey

Favorite Tracks: New Americana, Colours, Castle, Ghost

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Woman to Woman – Esme Patterson

Favorite Tracks: Never Chase a Man, Bluebird, The Glow

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Froot – Marina and the Diamonds

Favorite Tracks: Blue, Happy, Savages, Better Than That

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All Your Favorite Bands – Dawes

Favorite Tracks: All Your Favorite Bands, Things Happen, I Can’t Think About It Now

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Whispers II – Passenger

Favorite Tracks: David, Fear of Fear, Nothing’s Changed

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Rolling Up the Hill – Beans on Toast

Favorite Tracks: The Great American Novel, God is a Cartoonist, I’m Home When You Hold Me

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Back on Top – The Front Bottoms

Favorite Tracks: Cough it Out, West Virginia, Help

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To Us, The Beautiful – Franz Nicolay

Favorite Tracks: To Us, The Beautiful, Marfla Lights, Imperfect Rhyme

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Graceland – San Cisco

Favorite Tracks: Run, Snow, Bitter Winter

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New Music // San Cisco – “Run”

Our favorite indie rock band from Australia are back with a new single. Check out “Run” taken from the band’s upcoming second album.

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Measuring a Year in Music

by Cherie

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I kicked off the year with a bang, going to see the Vaccines play a headlining show at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. The Paradise Rock Club is one of my favorite Boston venues, because its just small enough that there’s really no bad spot in the house. The openers for the show were a (relatively) unknown band from Australia named San Cisco. I looked up their music ahead of time and was impressed by their catchy first single, Awkward. San Cisco is group of young kids, just barely out of high school, but they put on a great live set. I was an instant fan after seeing them live. The Vaccines put on a tremendous set as well. Some might criticize Justin’s vocal performance, which was less than perfect, but he puts so much energy into his live sets its hard to not be won over by his passion and enthusiasm.

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Next I got the chance to see English folk artist Benjamin Francis Leftwich play a set for Radio BDC at Naga in Boston. The venue was beautiful, with hanging glass above the bar; but the crowd was less than respectful during the show. Leftwich is a very mellow artist, its just him and his acoustic guitar, and there was a group of obnoxious people over at the bar who were disrespectfully loud throughout his set. He made sure to call them out on it though, causing the rest of us to laugh. I got the chance to meet him after and he truly is a sweet guy.

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Not long after I saw San Cisco open for the Vaccines I was thrilled to hear that the band was coming back through Boston for their first US Headlining Tour. They played Great Scott in Alston, another one of my favorite venues. The support bands were great, and I discovered a great local artist (Steph Barrack) when she opened for the band. My fellow concert goer was more impressed by Chaos Chaos, who won me over with their live vocals but also for having a oboe in their backing band. San Cisco put on a great live set, and we even got to meet the band afterward. The band swung back through one more time in July, and we were there front and center once more. Mark my words, they really are a fantastic band and they have such a bright future ahead of them. It will be fun watching them grow over the years.

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It was a long, hot July, but the hottest day by far was the day I saw Frank Turner in Portland, Maine. There’s no reason the show should have been as hot as it was, the day was actually cool and rainy but for some reason the temperature inside the venue was off the charts. After just a couple of songs Frank was drenched in sweat and joked about it being the hottest show he’d ever done. It was an amazing experience getting to see Frank perform songs off of Tape Deck Heart which is one of my favorite albums of 2013.

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I also got the chance to see the amazing Ben Marwoos, sorry Ben Marwood, open for Frank Turner; which ended up being a more momentous experience then I realized at the time. After every show I go to I try to find the setlist and burn a copy of the setlist onto a CD. I make personalized art work and everything (though its really nothing that special to be honest). When I realized that I probably wasn’t going to find Ben’s setlist on setlist.fm (my usual source for the information), I felt like I was facing a brick wall. On a whim I reached out to Ben via e-mail, not expecting to ever hear back from him. To my surprise he responded almost instantly, revealing that he actually keeps a notebook full of setlists and promptly sent me the information I had asked for. Realizing what a great opportunity I had I immediately thanked him and asked him if he’d be willing to do a short interview for my music blog and he instantly agreed (you can read the article here and the full interview here). It was the first “big scoop” for the blog, and I will always be proud that my first interview was with Ben (seriously, he’s such a talented guy, you should check out his music if you haven’t yet).

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August brought one of the biggest concerts of the year. Mumford and Sons had announced a show in Queens, NY and with the help and company of some good friends, I had the chance to go. It was an unbelievable experience. The crowd might have sucked, but the company I was in certainly didn’t. Forest Hills Stadium was an incredible venue, being a converted tennis stadium, and despite the hiccups I hope they finish the restoration project and restore it to a concert venue in the future. I fell in love with the opening band, Bear’s Den, who put on an amazing set despite only having three members. The Vaccines came next, and the highlight from their set was when Winston Marshall, from Mumford and Sons, came out to play guitar on a couple of songs.

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Mumford and Sons themselves were, of course, amazing. Words can’t express my love for this band. They are such a great band, and their songs have helped me through some really hard times. Their Gentlemen of the Road Stopover shows are such an amazing experience; I’m glad I got to experience not just one but two of them. When news broke a few weeks later of their temporary hiatus I was sad, but happy I got to see them twice before they went on break. Rumor has it the boys will be back in the studio in February working on the new album. Here’s hoping that it doesn’t take them as long to write album #3 as it did to write their second album!

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My last concert of 2013 was Noah and the Whale, and what a fitting way to close out the year. This was my second time seeing the band, but this year they were playing the House of Blues; a step up from their last show at the Paradise Rock Club. They blew me away once more. NATW are one of those bands that are made to perform live. Not only did they sound fantastic, but they also dug deep and played songs off their debut album that don’t get played much more. A highlight for me had to be hearing “Mary” played live.

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After the show we stuck around for a little bit hoping to meet the band. We picked a time to hang out until and decided that if they didn’t come out by that point we would give up. It was cold and windy and with our light jackets we were soon freezing. The time came and passed and no band. I didn’t mention the time to my friend, hoping she wouldn’t realize it and we could stick around a little bit longer. Eventually our patience paid off and the band exited the venue. They seemed surprised to see so many people waiting for them, perhaps because of the weather, but they cheerfully stuck around for pictures. They were the band that really introduced me to British indie folk music, and getting the chance to meet them was truly awesome.

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But the biggest highlight of 2013 for me had to be Lyrically Addicted. For years I’d had the idea to start some sort of music project, though the specifics were always vague in my mind as to what exactly that project would entail. In May I finally solidified the idea, creating Lyrically Addicted as a sort of music blog, and inviting two of my closest friends to take part with me. It’s been difficult at times, trying to come up with new ideas for stories and debating the relative merits of various albums that were released this year. The whole thing has been a blast so far, and if you’re reading this right now, thank you so much. Your support (even if it’s just silent support) means a lot to me and the rest of the team. I’m proud to announce that by the end of 2013 we reached 2,023 views!

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Top Albums of 2013

By Cherie

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I run a music blog. I’m practically obligated to write an end of the year list. So here’s my top 15 albums of 2013. You can also listen to a playlist of some of my favorite songs from 2013 (including tracks from artists who didn’t make this list) over on spotify.

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15. Heartthrob – Tegan and Sara

Its hard to believe the Quin sisters have been in the business for almost twenty years. Every album they put out has a completely different style and sound from the one before it, while still managing to stay true to their core values. For their latest album Tegan and Sara tackle a more synth and pop based sound, toning down the guitars and turning up the keyboards. Some might criticize the duo for selling out, but then they would be missing the whole point. It’s an evolution in sound but not a complete departure; an important distinction. It might be a surprising path for them to have taken, but its certainly not a bad one.

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14. If You Leave – Daughter

Truly, one of the most poignant and beautiful albums to come out in 2013. Elena Tonra’s voice is stunning, and its striking to have her voice framed by a backing band, unlike her previous releases. There was a song she had previously released on an EP that was rereleased on this album that came out at a time when I was really struggling with the death of someone close to me. Now I can’t listen to the song “Youth” without thinking of her. The album is dark at times, yet enchantingly so.

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13. San Cisco – San Cisco

Its an impressive debut album, especially when you consider the fact that most of the band members are barely out of high school. Some of the melodies are childish but manage to be completely infectious at the same time. Where the album shines most, however, is in pure potential. Combine pure talent with brilliant live sets and its plain that this young band is only going to continue to improve. If you haven’t already heard of the band, look up their song “Awkward”. After you stop cursing me in a week for getting it stuck in your hear, you’ll thank me. I promise.

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12. Heart of Nowhere – Noah and the Whale

Noah and the Whale have always been one of those bands that are at their best for their live performances. So deciding to record their fourth album live was a natural decision for the band and it certainly paid off. The album is fuller, more vibrant than their previous albums, giving it a more mature sound. Its a more honest and personal album for Fink and for that reason it resonates more deeply with listeners. Many tracks are backed by a lush orchestra in addition to Hobden’s fiddle, creating a sweeping sound that one can perfectly imagine as the soundtrack to a movie (which in fact, it is).

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11. Trouble Will Find Me – The National

Without even noticing it this album has kind of become the soundtrack to my writing. Trouble Will Find Me manages to sound utterly effortless from track to track and is proudly confident without coming across as boastful or contrived. During the recording process the band’s recording studio lost power, and band members found themselves taking part in an impromptu acoustic jam session. Something of that session shows through in the quieter tracks, such as “I Should Live in Salt” and “This is the Last Time.”

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10. Country Mile – Johnny Flynn

A couple of the albums on this list have been recorded live (both Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale have chosen the technique in their latest records), but Johnny Flynn has taken the idea to a different level. Not only are most of the tracks recorded live, but the “final” versions that have made it onto the album are often demos. The rougher and more organic sound to the tracks certainly suits Flynn, who looks at home in a rustic sweater and a guitar in his hands. His lyrics are quaint with the occasional archaic turn of phrase (he is a Shakespearean actor after all). The most compelling track on the album, “Einstein’s Idea” is a lullaby written for Flynn’s two year old son. The lyrics might be a little dense for a two year old, fancy trying to explain the Theory of Relativity to a two year old, but one can easily picture Flynn singing it to his son with its hushed words and muted chords.

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9. Such Hot Blood – The Airborne Toxic Event

Although The Airborne Toxic Event may have largely ditched the orchestral sound in favor of a more pop rock sound, Such Hot Blood manages to be just as catch as the band’s previous two albums. The common themes of the album are familiar as well; love and loss. “Timeless” is a heartfelt anthem that anyone who has ever lost someone close to them can instantly relate to. “Just help me through this moment / after everything I told you / how the weight of their loss is like the weight of the sun / I see their faces near me / I hear their voices calling / it was like their lives were over before they begun” Jollett sings in the bridge. The words have the potential to be cheesy and cliché, but Jollett delivers them with such passion and conviction that one immediately senses the truth in them. “True Love” features a mandolin as the driving instrument, lending a quirky sound to the track. And the tongue in cheek “Elizabeth” provides the perfect ending to the album.

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8. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

I’d always been a casual Vampire Weekend fan; I knew the hit songs and I loved their unique music videos, but I never listened to an album start to finish. MVOTC was their first album I really fell in love with. It has a more mature sound than their older stuff, though the lighthearted silliness hasn’t been abandoned either. The album plays around with various sounding styles as well as recording techniques. The first single, “Diane Young” was a perfect representation of what the rest of the album would be like.

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7. Bad Blood – Bastille

Sometimes an album comes along that sounds fantastic recorded, but I hesitate because I wonder how well that sound will translate live. In the case of Bastille, the answer was that they just might sound better live. Group backing vocals help to make the songs sound epic and lush. Though their song Pompeii might have been overplayed on the radio (one of the reasons I am not sorry that I don’t listen to the radio), they have plenty of other songs that are just as good.

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6. AM – Arctic Monkeys

2013 will forever be known as the year I finally started listening to the Arctic Monkeys. And believe me, I’ve been kicking myself ever since. AM might just be their best album yet. Its smoother, bolder, and more mature sounding. The band experiments a little with an edgier, hip hop influenced sound that is most obvious on songs like “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”. Turner’s vocals are clearer then ever, with none of the raspyness of previous albums. The best song on the album is actually a throwback from Record Day 2012; R U Mine?. The album delivers hit after hit without a single weeks spot. Looking back at their past albums its amazing to see how far a band of teenagers from Sheffield have come. Even their B-sides wouldn’t sound amiss on the actual album itself and the band has released three paired with three singles off of AM.

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5. Back Down – Ben Marwood

Armed with just an acoustic guitar and a passionate voice, Ben Marwood has often been compared to label mate Frank Turner. I don’t really think that’s a fair comparison, though I love both artists greatly. Ben’s sound is simple; with no backing band (at least at this point in time), its just him and his guitar. But that’s all he needs to draw you in. His songs are brutally honest at times, to the point where he acknowledges his flaws unflinchingly. “I’m past the cusp of thirty and I swear I’m getting fatter by the day” he sings on the cynical track “This Industry Eats Its Young.” But there’s a measure of hope in his songs as well. He’s a man who loves what he does, though it might not be the most profitable profession, and that shows. “If I had a point I don’t know what it was / some days I stand on stage for little reason but because / and though I’ve wasted days you know I won’t take back these nights,” he sings on “We Are No Longer Twenty-Five”.

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4. Birthdays – Keaton Henson

There’s just something about this album that draws a listener in. At first, I was quick to dismiss the album as being too mellow, but the more I listened the more I came to appreciate it. Its true most of the songs are just Henson and his guitar, but the tracks build in intensity, culminating in the heavy double punch of “Kronos” and “Beekeeper.” Most of the lyrics are utterly heartbreaking and are delivered with obvious passion and conviction. The melodies are hauntingly melancholic but beautiful at the same time. One listen and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Henson is a poet who gets so nervous about performing live that he rarely does so; only playing in small venues and museums from time to time.

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3. Don’t Forget Who You Are – Miles Kane

 Don’t Forget Who You Are is the album that you put on before you go out on a Friday night. Its catchy riffs and upbeat rhythm at time mask darker lyrics, and its only on closer inspection that one would notice the melancholy that threads through various tracks on the album. The overall theme of the album is about being proud of where you’ve come from and never forgetting that; no matter where that might be. Miles has been a member in several successful bands over the years: the Little Flames, The Rascals, and, most famously, the Last Shadow Puppets. But its only as a solo artist that he’s really made a sound of his own and started to realize his full potential. Although his debut album might be considered by some to be his better technical work, Don’t Forget Who You Are is a better representation of his character. Its a very empowering album.

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2. Tape Deck Heart – Frank Turner

There are some artists who just keep getting better and better. With every album they release you think to yourself, “this is it. They can’t possible top this.” And then they do. Frank Turner is one of these artists. Since going solo in 2005 every single record he’s put out has been fantastic, but 2011’s England Keep My Bones was his crowning achievement to that date. I didn’t think it was possible for him to put out a better album. And then Tape Deck Heart was released. I think I’ve said just about all I can say about the album throughout the course of the year, but Tape Deck Heart really is his best album yet. It’s raw and honest and has passion pouring from every note and chord. The slow songs (“Tell Tale Signs” and “Anymore”) will break your heart, but the punk anthems of “Four Simple Words” and “We Shall Not Overcome” will have you dancing around the room belting out the words. Its a typical Frank Turner album that delicately balances highs and lows with both wit and precision. His lyrical ability is at the top of his game as well; look up the lyrics for “Broken Piano” if you have the time (I’d paste it here but there’s not room for me to paste the entire song).

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1. Once I Was an Eagle – Laura Marling

At this point in her career I’m convinced that Laura Marling can do no wrong. For her fourth studio album Marling has ditched her backing band and once more struck out solo. The resulting masterpiece is easily her best work yet and once again affirms her stunning talent. The album is roughly divided up into two parts, separated by the instrumental track named, simply, “Interlude”. The first half is notably darker, and most of it is taken over by the “medley”: four tracks that Marling wrote and polished separately but eventually weaved into what basically amounts to one long song. The tracks are separate songs, however, and are titled individual. Marling often plays the tracks live and individually as well. The dark and haunting first half of the album is perfectly balanced by the second half which is cautiously optimistic. Some fans might wish for a return to her earlier music, but Marling has clearly matured since she released her debut album just six years ago at the age of eighteen. Having recently left England to live in LA, one can only imagine what Marling will do next. I, for one, can’t wait to see.

 

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