album review

Here are the albums that teased PG editors’ ears and made our heads explode with delight! Plus, some of the most-anticipated recordings—real or wish-listed—of 2023.

And the winners are…

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Art-rockers Conrad Keely and Jason Reece make whopping orchestral waves on their 10th studio album, X: The Godless Void and Other Stories.

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

X: The Godless Void and Other Stories

Trail of Dead formed in 1994. I’d heard the name often but never heard them. Now that I have, there’s a lot to unpack about this epic, symphonic art-rock and its progressive accessibility. Godless Void combines post-punk angst and remarkable musicality akin to T.o.D’s own influences, Rush and Sonic Youth, and matches it with spirited urgency.

Conrad Keely and Jason Reece alternate on vocals, drums, and guitar, resulting in captivating mood changes and fascinating breakdowns. In “All Who Wander,” massive percussive tsunamis rip into wailing, down-tuned guitar arpeggios. Emotional, anthemic vocals call Morrissey to mind, and even the band’s use of synths is choice. On “Gone,” piano and cascades of guitar delay blossom over ominous industrial beats.

Speaking of crescendos, “The Opening Crescendo,” starts the journey and sets the pace for pummeling buildups and melodic reprises. Keely says the album was built around the cyclic manipulation of one musical motif. It sounds incredible.

Must-hear tracks: “All Who Wander,” “Who Haunts the Haunter”

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A gentle giant of guitar enlists Petra Haden and others to raise the standard for standards.

Bill Frisell

Harmony

When I first heard Harmony, I’d hit a rough patch and my normal diet of grooving music wasn’t cutting it. From the opening strains of the first track, “Everywhere,” I felt as if I’d stepped through the looking glass into an alternative sonic universe, one both melancholic and divine. Ah—just what I needed.

At the center of this strange brew is Petra Haden, whose beautiful, sometimes ethereal voice casts a spell across the entire album, which consists of Frisell originals, standards, and folk songs. Whether it’s Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” or “On the Street Where You Live” by Lerner and Loewe, the quartet—which includes cellist Hank Roberts and guitarist Luke Bergman, both of whom also sing—puts a fresh twist on jazz-leaning vocal ensembles. And were he still alive, I can imagine Pete Seeger wiping away a tear after hearing his “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” rendered so poignantly. Throughout Harmony, Frisell’s guitar rings like a bell, and his rich voicings recall jazz piano genius Bill Evans. Moody sounds for tumultuous times. —Andy Ellis

Must-hear tracks: “God’s Wing’d Horse,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

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