For her third album Joanna Newsom has pulled out all the stops. A three-disc, two-hour indie folk record, it's a multi-layered epic that just grows stronger on every listen. As a harpist and pianist her songs have a naturally melancholic beauty, and the instrumentation on offer is exceptional - although she describes the album as "me running around in my underwear, more or less." Most interesting of all are the lyrics, a choice excerpt from Go Long being "Will you tuck your shirt, Will you leave it loose, You are badly hurt, You're a silly goose." She's a poet, first and foremost, experimenting with almost Shakespearian verse, her old-world English complementing themes of bitter sadness. "Daddy Long Legs, how in the world am I expected to stay" she questions in Have One On Me, a sprawlingly heartfelt soul-searcher that gives the album its title. The album has moments of penetrating silence and surprising volume, but it always retains its own identity - Newsom may sound like Joni Mitchell on Good Intentions Paving Co. but album closer Does Not Suffice is completely her own.
#7. The National - High Violet
There are very few albums which start as strong as The National's High Violet. Terrible Love is a trembling, desperate journey through dark forests which explodes into a minimalist, distorted explosion by the finale. "It's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders, It's a terrible love and I'm walking in, It's quiet company" sings Matt Berninger, as a chorus echoes over the troubling, crescendoing guitar and drums. "Your shiver bones" is a lyric that reverberates through the mind as cold, challenging imagery is painted. It's a commanding piece that, the first time I heard it, left me breathless. So, naturally, the rest of the album can't quite live up to that. Anyone's Ghost is more straightforward but just as attention-grabbing; quietly depressing but equally catchy. Bloodbuzz Ohio is another highlight, Berninger once again displaying his talent for capturing the heart, mind and soul of the listener. The vocals are drawling and thought-out, but the tune is brighter, poppier and intoxicating. "I'm on a bloodbuzz, I'm on a bloodbuzz, God I am, on a bloodbuzz." And so are we...
#8. The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
They're what would happen if Pink Floyd and The Velvet Underground got together and decided to make dreamy shoegaze music. Album opener Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent starts out as a perfect compliment to the cover art - pink ocean aflame, the sky choking on destruction; nature at war with itself. The track trembles and wavers, the sound of impending doom. It's like the score to that scene in a war movie where the message comes over the radio that bombs are about to be dropped - and they are around the 4:00 mark when the track explodes into screeching guitar, solid drums and echoing vocals. It hurtles through stages of reflective quiet and commanding instrumentation. It's perhaps more accessible than anything on the ...Are The Dark Horse album but Albatross is a haunting, choral song that calls to mind a crow careering through the sky over collapsing cathedrals and ice cold water flooding cities. It's a beautifully tragic sight. An album of epic majesty and surprising emotion, ...Are The Roaring Night sounds like a 70s record made with a 00s sheen, and the styles are complimentary in unexpected and brilliant ways.
#9. Tamaryn - The Waves
More shoegaze now, with New Zealand-born, San Francisco-based Tamaryn, a dreamy art rocker who would be most at home at the top of a mountain, cranking her dream pop into the supernatural stratosphere. Choirs Of Winter sounds like The Cure with a sore throat mixed with The Raveonettes having a melancholic weekend in the Alps - but played through a distorted romantic daydream. To some the album may only have one tone, but tracks like The Waves gives proceedings a Jesus And Mary Chain/Death In Vegas vibe - the sort of song you'd listen to while taking a neon-lit trek into a Viking Cave. It's an album to be felt and explored rather than listened to for fun, but tracks like Love Fade are a bit more traditional in their structure and sound. It's not quite Radio One pop, but it is just as catchy and addictive. The smooth, misty vocals are the highlight here... an absorbing treat that precious few have heard of.
#10. She & Him - Volume Two
Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward reunite for their second collaboration after 2008's delightful Volume One, a whimsical folk-pop record with an indie/country sensibility - it was akin to the feeling of falling in love and this more mature, versatile record only makes the feeling richer. Lead single Thieves is a perfect place for newcomers to start. The sound of sunshine is met by a softly strumming guitar and Deschanel's seductively small-town vocals. It's a very simple song, but a truly beautiful one that leads into second single In The Sun, easily the catchiest song they've ever written. A simple piano line is met by Deschanel deepening her voice for a slightly more mainstream tune, recalling 60s dream pop. It's a bright album, just as before, but more intelligent and filled with some surprising hooks. Ridin' In My Car is nostalgic where Lingering Still is the song played before the morning of the school dance. It's just great track after great track. It's not overly new or innovative, but it's the soundtrack to next summer, no matter what else arrives in the next six months...