Great music has come from just about every corner of the musical map this year, and on this list of our favorites of the year’s first half, there’s no real connecting thread. An ambitious all-over-the-place album from a big-money Nashville country mainstay is just as likely to rule as, say, a mixtape from a pair of Atlanta rap weirdos, or a Southern doom-metal trudge, or a sparkling and breezy piece of conceptual dance music, or a gut-ripping neo-folk record. But in our top three, you’ll find two heavy, sprawling slabs of death-obsessed darkness from songwriters who are decades into their careers but who are just hitting new strides now. If those made up our top two, we might be tempted to call this the Year of the Craggy Old Bastard. But right between them, there’s an effortlessly listenable album of lightly stoned ’80s radio-rock. So you figure it out. Nothing in music this year makes a lot of sense, but a lot of it is great anyway.
02. The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)
Thirty years after the release of Born In The USA, Adam Granduciel's the War On Drugs created an album that deals in both the sentiments and the sounds of the Boss' biggest. And not just Bruce, but all those Boomer icons who spent the Reagan era trafficking in synth Americana: Dylan, Don Henley, Dire Straits. But Lost In The Dream isn't a retro record; Granduciel's writing frequently equals (and occasionally eclipses) its influences. Meanwhile, he presents these sounds not as updated versions of dated originals, but as though they have been traveling on radio waves through space for the last three decades, and they have arrived here bent and warped and stretched thin. The album's title refers to a broken America, but it could just as easily describe the immersive qualities of the music: It is indeed a hazy, dreamlike record, and it is indeed a vast, spacious record in which you can't help but get lost. It is a record for driving -- open roads, preferably, at top speeds -- just as much as it is a record for drinking -- dark rooms and clouded thoughts and stillness. Classics don't announce themselves upon arrival -- it takes years of cultural erosion and evolution to reveal true timelessness -- but immediately Lost In The Dream feels like a record that has been with us forever, and will be with us forever. --Michael [LISTEN]
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