White Arrows – In Bardo

Votiv, 2014

An album that’s as perplexing as its cover art, though White Arrows at their core are a psyche-rock band, their sound is constantly evolving in all directions. Sometimes sitting in synth-pop with falsetto singing, other times it’s fuzzy guitars and a distorted version of alt-rock. But the most memorable parts are the dark grooves and deeper vocals where the powerful rhythm section prevails. Unusual, yes. Incredible, also yes.

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Greensky Bluegrass – If Sorrows Swim

Big Blue Zoo, 2014

Existing somewhere between bluegrass and rock with an approach rooted in prog-rock, Greensky Bluegrass have amassed legions of fans due to their skilled approach and limitless boundaries. With furious banjo picking and gritty melodies, this fifth album occasional sits in traditional country and bluegrass, but mostly explores how detailed their instrumentation can get without alienating the listener.

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Look Again To The Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited

Sony Masterworks, 2014

Cash’s concept album gets reworked here on its 50th anniversary by luminaries in the area of folk and country. A more delicate, atmospheric interpretation than one might expect, the album focuses more on calm acoustic sounds and singing far prettier than Cash’s distinct croon. However, Steve Earle still contributes a rousing, gritty tune which shakes up the intimate feel quite a bit. An imperative piece of Cash’s legacy, this is a lovely and compelling tribute.

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Lost In A Name – A Silence In Static

Self-released, 2014

Amazingly, a two piece are behind this glossy, giant sounding meshing of metalcore, prog-rock and driving punk, though members of Alien Ant Farm and Newsted also contributed their talents. My main gripe with bands of this ilk is that their LPs would be better off as EPs due to similar sounding songs, and that there is often little lasting power. However these guys are hard to forget, and skilled enough at their instruments to not repeat themselves. How Razor & Tie haven’t scooped this duo up yet is a mystery.

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Bike Thief – Stuck In A Dream

The Musebox, 2014

This first album from Bike Thief takes the neo-folk ideas of their Portland home and adds dramatic strings, haunting choirs and the sort of experimentalism that sounds both cinematic and prog-rockish. An extremely detailed affair, there’s more than 20 musicians involved, though the songs never sound busy and flow well between soft and pensive to swirling, fully developed chamber rock. A fantastic debut.

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Sloan – Commonwealth

Yep Roc, 2014

The Toronto legends return with their 11th studio album where each member contributes their own songs, effectively getting their own side (on the 2xLP anyway). Since all members can sing and write well, their throwback power-pop stays consistently strong across each members portion, touching on ’70s rock, hard rock or even glam rock with their keen sense of melody and dynamics. Sometimes direct and focused, other times wandering and elusive, it’s an hour of music that only Sloan could produce.

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