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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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Such Hot Blood album Review

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by Cherie, contributing writer and editor

Most bands do one thing and they do it well. That’s certainly not the case for the Airborne Toxic Event. Each of the five band members is multitalented and those eclectic talents and passions help make the bands sound unique.  Lead singer Mikel Jollett first made a career for himself not out of music, but out of writing. One of his short stories, The Crack, was published alongside a novella by Stephen King in McSweeney’s Quarterly Issue #27. Anna Bulbrook is a classically trained violinist who has also played shows with hip hop legend Kanye West. Noah Harmon has played in both rock and jazz bands and can also play the upright bass. Steven Chen also made his start as a writer and was asked to join the band as their keyboardist before he revealed that he played the guitar as well. The band plays frequently with orchestras and symphonies, most often with the classically trained Calder Quartet. When they aren’t playing rock shows with TATE, the Calder Quartet can be found preforming with the National, another prominent indie rock band, as well as playing sold out shows featuring the works of Beethoven and Mozart.

Such Hot Blood is the band’s third album and with it comes a sense of maturity. The bands first self-titled album was mostly about losing the girl, case in point the band’s biggest single “Sometime Around Midnight.” The band’s second album All At Once was also about losing the girl and other failed relationships. Such Hot Blood deals with a lot of failed relationships but it also deals with the deeper concepts of love and loss. One common thread throughout the album is the idea of looking back on past relationships and realizing that despite how right them might have seemed at the time, they weren’t right in the end. Even a song that seems at first glance to be about a happy relationship, “True Love”, reflects on this idea, showing once more that maybe the relationships we think we need aren’t always the best ones for us in the end. “But they don’t know a goddamn thing about us / or a think about holding on / cuz we were wrong,” Jolett states.

The album’s opening track, “The Secret” comes in with driving synths and violins and immediately packs a punch. The song ebs and flows like the tide, building the listener up then easing them back down; its a classic Airborne track. The chorus loudly proclaims that “the secret’s out now” but the idea is embraced triumphantly as a relief instead of a disappointment. Group background vocals add an extra layer to the song and help build the swelling sound of the chorus. Its not my favorite song on the album, but it is a brilliant opening track in that the listener is once more swept up by the band and instantly connected to the music.

The album’s second track, and the band’s first single, Timeless, is a pounding anthem about losing someone very close to you. It’s raw and honest; there’s no fancy prose, no deep metaphors for death. There’s something painfully honest about the simplicity of the lyrics. “Just help me through this moment after everything I told you / how the weight of their loss was like the weight of the sun” Jollett pleads in the bridge. Anyone who has ever lost someone close to them can instantly relate to the song. The song was, of course, inspired by Jollett’s personal life, and losing three of his grandparents in a short period of time. “My whole perspective changed, and [death] went from being this whole idea of brokenness and poetry to just…it became much more simple. And I just didn’t want it to have happened. And suddenly all the metaphors didn’t matter any more and I just wanted them to still be here,” he reveals in the track by track commentary featured on Spotify. Death and loss are not new concepts that Jollett has wrestled with in the past but Timeless is a new answer to those questions, and one that is a lot more real and honest.

“The Storm”, the fourth track on the album, presents us with the first lull of the album. The tempo starts off slow with just a simple acoustic guitar and some ambient noise. The change of pace is a welcome relief from the constant energy of the previous song, “What’s in a Name?”. The song slowly builds to the chorus where the drums come in along with the rest of the band. The violin is used sparingly on the track but comes in for a rocking solo towards the end of the song.

In the spotify commentary for the album, Jollett reveals that the song “The Fifth Day” was almost the last song on the album. “I thought about ending the record with Fifth Day …its kind of the apex of the record, the climax as it were…but I wanted to have an epilogue.” The last track of the album “Elizabeth” indeed plays the role of an epilogue perfectly. It’s less heavy than the rest of the record, and upon listening to it one can sense the band stepping back from the rest of the album a little. Jollett states the song came out of a conversation he had had with a friend, and it starts with Elizabeth asking Jollet to write her a love song. Her request is almost childlike and naïve in nature, “could you write me just one love song / and put my name somewhere in the middle of it / and if you call the song Elizabeth / then all my friends will know that its about me.” Finally at the end of the song Jollett comes right out and tells her that “all these songs are love songs / just love at times can make you feel like shit / so you write a string of words down / it’s better if there’s some truth in it.” The song ends with the parting admission that “ the truth is hard to admit / I’ve never known love this is just my best guess.” It’s like the ending to a really good book. That one line will leave the listener questioning what they know, both it terms of the songs they just listened to as well as in their own life.

When it comes to the sound of the album, there are some familiar sounds as well as a lot of new ones. The song “True Love” is reminiscent of their hit “Changing” with a plucky guitar base line but the band continues to experiment with some new sounds as well, utilizing the synthesizer versus a traditional piano on many tracks. The mandolin also makes an appearance once more for the catchy “True Love.” Ana’s vocal performance continues to be highlighted in many tracks, most notably the duet layered vocals on “The Fifth Day.” Looking back at their previous albums, we can clearly see a progression from the simple parts and melodies on The Airborne Toxic Event and the lush layers that weave themselves into the newer tracks and make for a much fuller sound.

But the band is equally able to strip away the excess and preform the same tracks acoustically to great effect. We are able to see this thanks to the bands commitment to producing what has been termed the Bombastic series. The Bombastic videos are a series of videos that have been produced for each album. Each song on the album is preformed by the band, live, acoustic, and the performance is filmed in one take. The resulting video is posted by the band on their website for fans to enjoy. The tradition stretches back to their first album, with each video being shot in a different locations. Some memorable locations from previous videos include a car, a moving merry-go-round, and a church. Its a way for the band to showcase the songs in a completely different light and each video only reaffirms the bands tremendous talent and creativity. So far three videos have been released for Such Hot Blood, “Timeless”, “The Storm,” and “True Love.”

You can watch the videos over on the bands website: http://www.theairbornetoxicevent.com/

Standout tracks: True Love, The Storm, Bride & Groom, This is London, Elizabeth

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Musical Sharing, Parental Edition

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by Cherie, contributing writer and editor

Music is my passion; I live and breath it. In fact, I listen to it almost constantly. It makes the forty minute commute to work bearable, and there are very few things I love more than rocking out in the shower. When you love music as much as I do, its only natural that you want to share it with the people you love. And when you are a twenty-three year old who, for better or worse, lives at home while working full time and going to school, your closest audience is your probably going to be your parents. Now, my parents are fairly young but I understand that there’s something of a generational gap. So I try to pick and choose my battles, introducing only bands I think that they will like and not wasting time with others. Even with a careful screening process I find that my luck has been 1/4 when it comes to introducing my parents to new music. As a rule I’ve found that mother despises the banjo, so any band that uses banjos heavily is out (alas, this means she doesn’t like Mumford and Sons, something I still can’t quite comprehend). She also isn’t a fan of mellow music, and that kind of music can be a hit or miss with my dad as well.

My mom tends to be more accepting of younger indie rock bands than my dad. Years ago I discovered that she liked My Chemical Romance and we spent one memorable car ride blasting The Black Parade together. She has recently started listening to fun and The Format (though Steel Train she doesn’t seem to care for). One year I found out that fun was playing a free show in Boston but I had no one to go with so I invited my mom to go with me. I don’t think she even listened to the band atthat point, but like a good sport she tagged along anyways. I think that night probably converted her into a fan if she wasn’t already. I don’t think it hurts that she probably has a crush on the lead singer either (in her defense, he is pretty adorable). The next time the band rolled through town she bought tickets with a friend and saw them again. I recently introduced her to the Lumineers, who, despite their Mumford & Son’s -esque sound, do not have a banjo and thus seem to have passed her approved listening test. Actually, she told me the other day that she is “obsessed with them” (her words, not mine). She actually hijacked my CD of them for the longest time and only gave it back recently. When I was growing up she literally could not stand to have music being played in the same room with her, so she’s come a long way since them. I’m so proud of her (sniffles).

As for my dad, he has more of an eclectic taste like my own. I remember when I was middle school de had a Linkin Park CD that my brother and I were forbidden from listening to because we were too young. Linkin Park went on to be one of my favorite bands of all time, thanks to him. Most of the music I’ve gotten him to listen to is very, very different from Linkin Park though. Unlike my mother, he doesn’t seem to mind banjos and he loves Mumford and Sons. He loved Sigh No More, but I have to admit I haven’t heard any feedback on Babel yet. For his birthday I burned him Daughter’s first album which was just released and he seems to have liked it so far, though only time will tell. I also got him to listen to Tegan and Sara, though the only album he cares for is The Con. And I can kind of understand that, because each T&S album has a completely different sound and they aren’t for everyone. My mother, for example, can’t stand them (in case you haven’t notice my mother tends to have extreme reactions to music; she either loves it or hates it and you can’t really fault her for that).

Despite all the small minor victories, there are two bands that have appealed to both my mother and my father and hence are counted as major victories. The first band that all three of us love is The Airborne Toxic Event. I think my parents fell in love with the band when they did their live CD/DVD. My dad loved the live DVD so much we actually bought him a copy as a present one year, and my mom bought the CD of it and that used to be her go-to album to listen to in the car. The second artist we all love is Laura Marling. I mean, what’s not to love? She’s an incredibly gifted musician and I have yet to meet someone who isn’t won over by her music. I’ve been lucky enough to see her in concert a few times the last few years, and hopefully when she swings back around for the new album I can get my parents to see her live. She is absolutely incredible live. I count the Airborne Toxic Event and Laura Marling as major victories because they are something all three of us can enjoy together. And there’s nothing I like more than to have my favorite people sharing the things that make me happy.

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My Favorite Spring Albums

by Cherie, contributing writer

Ah, spring in New England. It truly is a magical time of year. By the end of April we can finally put away the shovels and winter boots and at least be reasonably assured that we shouldn’t need them for another year. One of my favorite things about spring is the fact that I can finally roll down my windows and blast music on my way to work. It never fails to lift my mood. And while it’s true that I love all kinds of music, there’s just something about some albums that make them better to listen to at full volume with the wind rushing through your hair. Here’s what I’ll be listening to this spring.

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
This deserves an honorable mention because, despite the fact that I don’t feel the need to belt out every single song at full volume, its the perfect spring album. There’s something catchy about the band’s music, which is alternately laid back and upbeat, that makes it a perfect spring time listen. Favorite tracks: A-punk, Oxford Comma, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa

Where You Want to Be – Taking Back Sunday
To me, this is the quintessential TBS album. I think this might be my favorite TBS album, even beating out the much loved Tell All Your Friends. The vocal interplay between Lazzarra and Nolan is at its best on this album, and it has some of my favorite lyrics of all time. There’s very few albums I enjoy blasting at full volume and belting along more than this one. Favorite tracks: This Photograph is Proof (I Know You Know), New American Classic, Number Five With a Bullet, One Eighty By Summer

The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event
When they were first starting out, the music that TATE created was often referred to as “poetry you can dance to.” Try as I might I can’t come up with a better description of their music than that, especially when referencing their first album. Listening to this album at full volume while driving to work is like having an orchestral soundtrack. It’s beautiful and never fails to put me in a good mood. Favorite tracks: Wishing Well, Papillon, Does This Mean You’re Moving On?, Something New

The Family Jewels – Marina and the Diamonds
If you’re looking something more along the lines of power pop to listen to, then look no further than Marina and the Diamonds. Marina’s vocal range is unique and her power and control are remarkable. She’s definitely got a unique sound, and her songs are, without exception, lush creations that will get stuck in your head for days at a time. I highly recommend her to anyone who hasn’t already checked her out. Favorite tracks: Oh No!, Are You Satisfied?, Shampain, Hollywood

Steel Train – Steel Train
I love fun, but some really good bands were sacrificed so that fun could move forward. Unfortunately, Steel Train is one of those bands. The boys of Steel Train were just coming into their own as a band and creating their own unique sound, which makes it harder to see them on an indefinite hiatus. Regardless, their self titled album is an indie rock masterpiece. Antonoff and gang created a unique sound full of full-band vocals, guitar solos, and keyboard accompaniment. Favorite tracks: Touch Me Bad, Soldier in the Army, Bloody Lips, You are Dangerous

Babel – Mumford and Sons
There’s nothing like rolling down the road to the sound of banjos and horns blasting. The banjos are certainly back and louder than ever in Mumford and Son’s second album which is now a Grammy winning “album of the year” masterpiece. The soaring highs and the brokenhearted lows of the album are perfect for spring time listening. Favorite Tracks: Babel, Whispers in the Dark, Broken Crown, Hopeless Wanderer

Ocean Avenue – Yellowcard
One of the first pop punk albums I ever listened to, Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue has always had a place in my heart. It will forever remind me of summers spent on our camp at the lake, blasting the album from a boombox on the porch while my parents told me to turn it down. Spring and summer will always be the best time to listen to pop punk album’s such as this. Favorite tracks: Ocean Avenue, Empty Apartment, Inside Out, Way Away

Last Minutes and Lost Evenings – Frank Turner
This is kind of cheating since Last Minutes is a compilation album, but to be honest I couldn’t pick just one album to include on this list. Frank Turner is flawless, and every single one of this albums is ideal for making it onto a spring playlist. But this one is a compilation of some of his best songs. Favorite tracks: all of them but especially The Ballad of Me and My Friends

Every Kingdom – Ben Howard
I honestly think this might have been one of the best albums to come out of last year. The music itself is fairly simply, just a guitar, cello and Ben’s vocals (with some backing from India) but it is simply amazing. I can picture Ben sitting outside in the spring sun somewhere, busking these tracks (point in fact, Ben has done just that). It’s one of my more mellow picks for spring, but it is definitely a spring album all the same. Favorite tracks: Old Pine, The Wolves, The Fear, Keep Your Head Up

Aim and Ignite – fun
While I’m a huge fan of Some Nights, I have to say that nothing can beat Aim and Ignite. It combines the theatricality of The Format’s Dog Problems (Ruess’s previous band) with the more rock based elements of Steel Train (Antonoff). Just an all around feel good album produced by a very talented group of guys. Favorite tracks: At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I Used to Be), Walking the Dog, All the Pretty Girls, Be Calm.

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