Kurt Vile combines lo-fi with folk to create a serene album with sketches of intricate lyrics that almost read like the thoughts of his subconscious mind. Vile has successfully followed up his critically acclaimed 2011 release "Smoke Ring for My Halo" with "Waking On A Pretty Daze" and even manages to surpass it. He takes us on an unhurried journey through the pleasantries of his surroundings and the inner workings of his own venture towards self-awareness.
Laura Marling captured our attention in 2010 with "I Speak Because I Can". Since then, she's been speaking to us in both the literal and lyrical sense. Her songs, like prose, are constructed and performed narratively, almost taking on the style of Leonard Cohen. Her previous album was darker in its tonality, and much less mature in its presentation. There was a sense that the then-20-year-old had not fully gravitated towards her own musical confidence nor settled into a suitable niche. Since then, she's broken free and offers us folk music and talented guitar playing that is pleasantly upstaged by her silken, jazzy voice, which evokes a newfound maturity beyond her years.
Bostonian band Mutual Benefit debuts with the soothing folk LP "Love's Crushing Diamond", strewn with gentle instrumentation and hopeful lyrics. It bridges the gap between experimental music and rustic folk, making for a collection of seven songs perfect for a drive down a long country road. A debut this impressive prepares new fans for a strong future and prepares the band for its own longevity and the predictable loyalty of its developing fan base.
"Muchacho" isn't being recognized as the best album of the year, but undoubtedly should be. Matthew Houck's album plays like a calendar of songs, touching upon the sentiment of each month of the year, tempering the changes in season with nostalgic lyrics sung in his achingly imperfect way. "Song For Zula" may be the least folky song on the album, but is without question the most memorable. Houck tells the story of losing faith in love, and overcoming that loss with a sense of uncertain power. The gentle lull of a song that is both simple and gorgeous, lyrically expressive yet insecure, is not always easy to come by. However, Phosphorescent has managed to do so successfully on this track, and throughout the rest of the album.
Without Bob Dylan, this list would not exist. It is without question that he deserves the highest accolades, as he has been an influence on each member of the modern day folk scene. Last year, a tape of what would eventually become Bob Dylan's "Self Portrait" and "New Morning" albums was found, inspiring the creation of "The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 Another Self Portrait". Sessions of recorded music, demos, and alternate mixes from the years 1969-1971 are arranged in this 35-track, 2 CD collection. Even with some scrutiny over how streamlined the album is and how much sense it truly makes as a whole, the album brings us back to an era of Dylan's life when he was fighting the demons of his ego and the endless labels that were being placed upon him by the media. This is essentially a more complete version of "Self Portrait" and it successfully continues to stimulate its listeners.