It is just me, or is the year flying by? It seems like just last week when I compiled the best albums for March. Then I woke up today and realized it was time to do the same for April. So here’s an alphabetical list of the 33 best releases I heard during the month — click on the cover pictures to read the original reviews (and hear the albums in full). Don’t wait; at the rate we’re going, by the time you blink it’ll be May. No fooling.
Amidst The Chaos
Singer-songwriter and Broadway darling Sara Bareilles’ sixth set is her most politically charged disc. But before you strap on your pussy hat (or MAGA cap) in protest, relax: None of it is are blatant enough to alienate anyone. Meanwhile, her running mate T Bone Burnett’s brilliant production elevates these songs with tasteful understatement while anchoring them in various idioms and styles. All told, it might be Bareilles’ most fully realized work. And her least chaotic.
Her name sounds like a piece from your grandma’s jewelry box. But 21-year-old British singer-songwriter Jade Bird — and yes, that apparently is her real moniker — is nowhere near as tacky or precious on her debut disc of earthy, earnest and sharply focused songs. It’s a memorable introduction to an artist whose career is just taking flight.
Broken Social Scene
Let’s Try the After Vol. 2
You can’t accuse them of not following through. The Toronto indie-rock collective’s second EP this year is just as strong as its predecessor, complementing Vol. 1’s hopeful and nostalgic vibe with something darker, more fatalistic and resigned. It will be interesting to see where they go after After.
The Budos Band
That’s V as in 5. Though really, the title of The Budos Band’s latest album could just as easily stand for Victory. Chiefly because the Staten Island crew have cranked out another winner. Not endeavouring to fix what ain’t even close to broke, the nine-member instrumental outfit continue to split the difference between Fela Kuti, Black Sabbath and Daptone soul on this 10-track set of heavy vibes, hard riffs, aggressive horns and ominous overtones.
Ain’t no change in the weather, ain’t no change in late great Oklahoma singer-songwriter JJ Cale’s signature sound. Compiled from previously unreleased recordings that were mixed and produced by the late great singer-guitarist, the mellow 15-song set is chock full of the lazy folk-blues jams and hazy Dust Bowl vocals that Cale seemingly could (and did) toss off at will. Sometimes change is overrated.
The Chemical Brothers
Knobtwiddling while the world implodes, the ChemBros dish up more block-rocking beats for your next (and perhaps last) rave — though they haven’t done it with this much focus and gusto in some time. No Geography marks a long-overdue return to the classic form of electronica first-wave classics like Exit Planet Dust and Dig Your Own Hole. See you in the dance tent.
The Pennsylvania country-rockers’ upbeat sophomore album pays tribute to the troubled Texas troubadour who gave them their name — and approximates what Townes Van Zandt might have sounded like with the benefit of anti-depressants, extensive therapy, a 12-step program and a crack band. Fingers crossed for a sequel.
Too Mean to Die
Karly Driftwood does not play nice. Nor does she play by the rules. But she’s definitely playing for keeps. The audacious Nashville singer-songwriter pulls no punches and takes no crap on her debut disc, an alt-country album rude and ribald enough to make Miranda Lambert blush. Ignore her at your peril.
Fat White Family
Somewhere between a far more menacing The Residents and The Beach Boys in the depths of a cough syrup binge, the provocative London weirdos’ third album takes your indie-pop pretensions, injects them with twisted malevolence and jams the bitter pill straight down your throat. Open wide.
I Need a New War
Craig Finn has had his fill of massive nights. These days, the 47-year-old singer-songwriter and Hold Steady frontman is reportedly trying to act his age — artistically speaking — and write smaller songs about more mundane characters dealing with everyday topics. And after one spin of his fourth solo album I Need a New War, there’s only one possible reaction: Mission accomplished.
King’s Mouth: Music and Songs
Wayne Coyne is coming for your children. But fear not: The Flaming Lips’ freaky frontman only wants to tell them a weird musical fairy tale about a giant king who sucks the cosmos into his massive noggin while trying to save his city — only to end up dipped in steel and used as a structure where visitors who climb into his mouth can gaze up at the stars in his cranium. Hey, it’s no weirder than anything else he’s come up with.
“I‘m gonna be big!” announces Fontaines frontman Grian Chatten on his band’s misleadingly titled debut Dogrel. He’s being sarcastic. But he’s not wrong. The Dublin post-punks have earned kudos and cult-hero status with their angularly clanging guitar lines, grimly chugging Joy Division basslines and relentlessly thumping beats — all of which underpin his brash bark, accented delivery and acerbically poetic lyrics.
Guided by Voices
Warp and Woof
You know those 90-second songs Uncle Bob Pollard has always peppered throughout Guided By Voices albums (not to mention all his solo and extracurricular releases)? Warp and Woof — the second of at least three planned GBV releases this year — consists of almost nothing but those songs. So that’s different. And with Pollard, different is always good.
This Wild Willing
Glen Hansard has always been willing to follow his muse wherever it leads. But it’s never taken him anywhere quite this wild before. For his fourth solo album, the acclaimed Irish singer-songwriter revamps his sound more drastically without sacrificing the core qualities that have defined his sound and style for decades. If he’s willing to go the distance, so should you.
Pearl Harbor & The Explosions
Pearl Harbor & The Explosions Deluxe
If you remember Pearl Harbor & The Explosions at all, it’s likely for their minor 1980 hit single Drivin’, a bouncy ditty fuelled by a busy bassline, slinky jazz-guitar slashes and singer Pearl E. Gates’ expressive, colourful vocals. This long-overdue deluxe edition adds seven bonus cuts to the lineup and more heft to the mix. Now, can someone please revamp her vastly superior solo album Don’t Follow Me, I’m Last Too?
A Rock Supreme
Sadly, Can-rock vet Danko Jones’ ninth album is not a tribute to John Coltrane’s groundbreaking spiritual opus A Love Supreme. Happily, it is another magnificent and muscular slate of high-voltage, high-volume and high-velocity odes to being in a band, rocking out, partying down, getting crazy, raising your fists, burning in hell, watching your baby dance and trying to get to lipstick city. Can’t top that.
Calling Begin Again Norah Jones’ seventh album might be a bit of a stretch. It has only seven songs, clocks in under half an hour and consists of songs recorded on the fly over the past couple of years with collaborators including Jeff Tweedy and Doveman. Despite (or perhaps due to) its easygoing, less structured approach, this is one of the singer-songwriter and pianist’s more daring and vital releases.
I Like it Down Here
The veteran Nashville guitarist, songwriter and producer pens a love letter to his Southern roots, taking a clear-eyed inventory of the region’s triumphs, tragedies and touchstones, spinning tales of love and death, sin and redemption, wanderlust and patriotism. No matter the subject matter or the sonic setting, Will Kimbrough’s laid-back sincerity, casual wit and superbly understated musicianship make you feel right at home. You’ll like it down here too.
Cuz I Love You
Lizzo is nothing if not a pop star for our time — audacious, outrageous, ambitious, empowered and extra in every sense of the word. That much is obvious from the gloriously nude cover portrait that graces her third album. It’s even more obvious from the first note of this career-defining artistic and commercial breakthrough that deftly mixes and matches styles while infusing her powerhouse diva vocals with lyrics celebrating self-love, empowerment, inclusivity, diversity and positivity.
Blue With Lou
Nils Lofgren doesn’t exactly crank out albums these days. So it’s always a treat when he makes enough time to deliver some new tunes. Especially when they’re as strong as these. Blue With Lou, as you may have read, includes a handful of previously unrecorded cuts the Cry Tough singer-guitarist wrote with the one and only Lou Reed back in the ’70s. But the rest of the disc is every bit as good. This isn’t just the best album he’s made lately; it’s arguably one of the strongest and more consistent discs he’s ever released.
Bolden: Original Soundtrack
Buddy Bolden is the most influential jazz artist no one has never heard. So, to create this winning soundtrack for this upcoming biopic of the enigmatic founding father of New Orleans music, trumpeter and musical historian Wynton Marsalis does his best to approximate Bolden’s sound — described as bold, bawdy and brassy by those who heard and played with him — on classics played by Bolden and contemporary rival Louis Armstrong.
Jimbo Mathus always seems to have a lot of irons in the fire. Since the ’90s, he has led Jazz Age Americana revivalists Squirrel Nut Zippers. During their sometimes-lengthy hiatuses, he’s released more than a dozen rustic, rootsy albums with a long list of players and ensembles. But he manages to deliver quality along with quantity. I have yet to hear a bad Mathus album. That includes his latest slow-burning solo set Incinerator. Hear for yourself.
The Healing Game Deluxe
Belfast Cowboy Van Morrison puts out so many great albums that keepers inevitably fall through the cracks. Such was the case with 1997’s The Healing Game, his 26th release and latest upgraded offering The original 10-song set has been expanded to a three-disc, four-hour set that includes alternate versions of several songs, leftover tracks that were doled out on soundtracks and compilations, collaborations with John Lee Hooker, Carl Perkins and Lonnie Donegan, and a full 1997 performance from the Montreux Jazz Festival. Let the healing begin.
Talk about a musical ride. For their long-overdue sophomore album, Canadian alt-supergroup Mounties — the twisted triumvirate of merry musical pranksters Hawksley Workman, Hot Hot Heat’s Steve Bays and Limblifter’s Ryan Dahle – suit up, saddle up, spur each other on and head for the hills — right before they gleefully gallop straight off the edge of every artistic cliff they can find. They’ll get you, man.
The Last Word
The O’Jays’ Love Train has come to the end of the line. But after nearly 60 years and 30 albums, the iconic vocal trio go out with a bang and not a whimper on their final album. And they do it by staying on track and delivering old-school soul and R&B jams fuelled by their powerfully supple vocals and spiked with pointed social commentary. All aboard.
PUP singer-guitarist Stefan Babcock doesn’t sound like he’s having much fun. You don’t have to look past the title of the Toronto punks’ third full-length Morbid Stuff to grok that Babcock has more issues than a magazine warehouse. There’s death and dying, of course. But also depression, drinking, drugs, desperation and destitution. And let’s not forget self-harm, sibling rivalry, breakups and breakdowns. All of those awful topics (and a few more) take turns on his musical and mental couch over the course of this 11-song therapy session. Granted, he usually delivers them with a razor-sharp melody, an anthemic chorus and a disarming double-strength dose of pitch-black, self-deprecating humour.
Bury the Hatchet
The South will rise again. Even if it has to happen all the way out in the Golden State. Northern California power trio Shotgun Sawyer fuse blues-rock, boogie-metal and stoner-sludge into a high-powered, high-volume hybrid designed to be played in biker bars and blasted out of muscle cars. It’s a disc that asks (and answers) the age-old musical question: What would it sound like if Lemmy from Motörhead, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top and Jack White formed a blues band with a slab of BBQ ribs and a case of tequila?
John Paul White
The Hurting Kind
“What’s so good about the good old days?” wonders John Paul White on the opening track of The Hurting Kind. Well, judging by the bulk of the album, plenty. The singer-songwriter and former Civil Wars survivor spends most of his third solo album lovingly embracing the sounds, styles and songcraft of classic country music straight out of Nashville’s glory days.