3. City & Colour - Little Hell
For my money, Dallas Green is one of the best vocalists out there. The best way I can describe his voice is that it's just pure. And while his singing was incredible on his first two records, his songwriting wasn't nearly as strong and was really hit or miss. On Little Hell, his growth as a song writer really shows and results in his most balanced release to date. In addition to the improved songwriting, the addition of a full backing band really lets the songs breathe without drowning out the vocals. Melancholic, dark, beautiful and his finest album to date.
2. Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning
Steven Wilson seems to be one of the most busy people in music. When I first heard about his forthcoming solo record I was giddy, even though his previous album, Insurgentes, had fallen flat for me save a couple standout tracks.
No doubt his most ambitious release yet, Grace For Drowning is well over an hour long, and split into two volumes. Wilson recruited many prolific musicians for this record including Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater, a host of jazz musicians, a London orchestra, and a choir. This results in a diverse array of songs from the classic Wilson melancholy of "Postcard", to the dark, fucked up madness of "Remainder of the Black Dog". Despite there being very little distorted guitar, the album is not lacking heaviness at all. Heavy sax grooves and flute solos are aplenty in the 23 minute prog opus "Raider II" which is probably the standout of the album. In addition, "Deform To Form A Star" might be the most beautiful song Steven has ever written which is saying a lot. Such an amazing work that takes me on an epic musical journey every time I listen to it. A modern prog classic in my eyes.
1. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Having loved the debut For Emma, Forever Ago, this album was one of my most anticipated of the year. Vocalist Justin Vernon, much like Dallas Green, decided to put his stripped down folk style to the side in favor of a fuller sound courtesy of a new band. His instantly recognizable layered falsetto is still prevalent, and sounds fantastic as always. The new band, including a saxophonist, horn players, steel guitar, etc along with Vernon's incredible voice result in some of the most lush sonic landscapes I have ever heard. This album takes me away to an otherworldly place of beauty and fills my heart with joy like no other piece of music this year. And yes I realize that last sentence sounds a little cheesy but I don't care haha