The 6 Best Albums of September 2016

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The 6 Best Albums of September 2016

September was a good month for Paste regulars. Bon Iver, the Allah-Las, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds all released new albums this past month, and one of our favorites from the first half of this year saw a re-release on an established indie label. However, the No. 1 album we reviewed in September shouldn’t surprise anyone. Read on for the best six albums Paste wrote about last month and be sure to tell us your favorites in the comments below.

6. Allah-Las, Calico Review

Rating: 8.4
Recorded at the legendary Valentine Recording Studios, in the bowels of Studio City in L.A., the Allah-Las immersed their already-written tunes in the aural baths of their idols. The ghost notes of forgotten magnetic tape snippets and the reverberations of Beach Boy harmonic specters permeates the vibe of the band’s third record, Calico Review. Utilizing vintage equipment in a room with a lot of recording history, the band—as perhaps the most ardent (or at least celebrated) arbiters of the ‘60s rock revival today—were able to tap into the past in a more obvious way than with their previous two records, 2014’s Worship the Sun and 2012’s self-titled debut. Additionally, songwriting duties were dispersed generously between the four members of the band for Calico Review, making the record their first entirely collaborative jigsaw. This approach helps explain the diagonal trajectories at play throughout the album. —Ryan J. Prado

Read his full review here.

5. Adam Torres, Pearls to Swine

Rating: 8.5
As the revival of folk music that was first spearheaded a few years ago by acts such as Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Lumineers and Of Monsters and Men continues, it’s very exciting to see a renewal of the traditional singer-songwriter movement. Adam Torres is just one of many Americana/roots solo musicians who have popped up over the past few years, having released his debut album Nostra Nova in 2006 when he was just 20 years old. Pearls To Swine, is a sizzler of a record, one that will likely catapult Torres into a much greater spotlight. Torres’ Fat Possum debut is full of natural soundscapes and elaborate imagery that brilliantly twinkles throughout this piece of art. —Ben Rosner

Read his full review here.

4. Lucy Dacus No Burden

Rating: 8.6
To be clear, Lucy Dacus’ No Burden was originally released by the small Richmond, Virginia-based label Egghunt earlier this year, and was just reissued by venerable indie stronghold Matador following much critical acclaim and a few successful cross-country tours. The extra push is nice, but Dacus’ songs possess enough timeless vigor that it’s tough to imagine them having been kept a secret for long. Fans of fans of Mazzy Star or early Jolie Holland will appreciated the minutiae of Dacus’ confessional songwriting, culled from acute observation and sleek homage to a universal truth on this sleek debut. —Ryan J. Prado

Read his full review here.

3. Bon Iver, 22, A Million

Rating: 8.8

After a few years of introspection (along with producing albums for other artists and starting the Eaux Claires Music Festival), Justin Vernon has come back to Bon Iver. If he’s not exactly refreshed, it’s clear on 22, A Million that he feels a renewed urgency to create. There’s certainly a sense of urgency here, and also sublime moments on songs that overlay beauty with turbulence in a way that suggests an anguished soul reaching for solace amid turmoil. The beauty comes in layers of ethereal vocals, an echo of Bon Iver’s earlier work. But 22, A Million is neither the spare whisper-folk of For Emma, Forever Ago, nor the gauzy soft-rock of Bon Iver, Bon Iver. These 10 tunes have sharper edges, with touches of abrasion that extend to the song titles: each contains a number, and many replace letters with symbols that sometimes look as though Vernon found them scrolling through Wingdings. As a whole, it sounds as though Vernon is rediscovering—or maybe recreating—his own identity in the context of what Bon Iver has become, sifting through the dysfunction, demands and general weirdness of a public life in search of what is real and tangible, at least to himself. —Eric R. Danton

Read his full review here.

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree

Rating: 9.0
Like Beyoncé and Frank Ocean before him this year, Australian auteur and reigning prince of darkness Nick Cave also opted for a visual aspect accompanying the release of his 16th studio album with his band the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree. The album’s Friday release was coupled with a series of global screenings the night before, of a 3D black-and-white film, One More Time With Feeling.

The film is hardly a behind-the-scenes peek to satiate Cave die-hards still begging for a possible Birthday Party reunion. Nor is it a visual play-by-play of Skeleton Tree. Instead, it’s an act of survival. In 2015, Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur died following a fall from a cliff in Brighton, United Kingdom. The magnitude of this tragedy casts a long shadow over Skeleton Tree, serving as a wrenching reminder that grief is a shifty, many-tentacled being. It has the capability of coming on fast, then slow, then fast again at the most unsuspecting times. Still, Cave also uses this record to show that grief isn’t something that can be easily eradicated, but rather, eventually, it can be wrangled down in a way that makes it possible to keep living. —Paula Mejia

Read her full review here.

1. Angel Olsen, My Woman

Rating: 9.0
After 2014’s stunning Burn Your Fire for No Witness dramatically raised her profile, Olsen perhaps felt pressure to make a big statement the next time out. My Woman finds her up to the challenge, maintaining a harrowing intensity in full-band rockers and solitary confessionals. Olsen is a brilliant songwriter and an even better vocalist, who can go from stern to tender to deranged, and back again, in a single verse. In the beginning of My Woman, Olsen mostly pursues love with wild-eyed fervor, whereas the closing songs disconsolately consider its ruins. Yet, the relentless heat of My Woman can be exhausting over the course of 10 searing tracks—the addition of a throwaway would give a weary listener time to regroup. But Angel Olsen’s fearless and eloquent embrace of raw emotions in all their messy splendor ultimately feels oddly uplifting, the way it always does when you witness a gifted artist at her best. —Jon Young

Read his full review here.