The National, I Am Easy to Find (4AD) – Lush backing vocals and complex arrangements put this new 16-track album on a creative plane equal to and beyond 2010’s High Violet. As part of the score for a Mike Mills film, Matt Berninger offers breathtaking lyrics in songs like “Not in Kansas” and “Oblivions” that rival any efforts in modern rock. This sets a high water mark for The National’s career that they may struggle to surpass, but we can enjoy this perfect moment.
The Head and the Heart, Living Mirage (Warner/Reprise) – Since Josiah Johnson left the band, the focus for the fourth studio release is on a big sound — more complex harmonies for Charity Rose Thielen and a more mainstream sensibility with pop-psych lyrics. There are crowd-pleasing tracks within, but fans of early The Head and The Heart may feel let down.
The River Arkansas, Any Kind of Weather (River Arkansas/226) – This traditionalist side project from Mike Clark of Haunted Windchimes has somehow increased the engineering polish while also upping the down-home appeal from 2017’s You Animal. Clark might go overboard with the hillbilly vocal inflections, but when violin and guitar dominate tracks like “Meet Me Downtown,” the album sparkles.