1) Sharon Van Etten: "Are We There"
Sharon Van Etten's fourth album, "Are We There," stunningly captures the feelings of love, loss and desire. The sound -- whether it is multi-instrumental, like in "Afraid of Nothing" or "Your Love Is Killing Me," or just the solitary piano, as in "I Know" -- perfectly matches Van Etten's voice. The result is booming and expansive, but also strikes an intensely personal chord with the listener. This music fills the listener with emotion, whether from big themes or the minute details that make love (and her music) so powerful.
2) Owen Pallett: "In Conflict"
"In Conflict" -- Owen Pallett's second album under his own name and fourth solo album (the first two were under the moniker Final Fantasy) -- is beautiful, dark and personal. Seeing Pallett live is a dazzling experience: Viewers get to watch him construct the complex interwoven sounds he is known for. Pallett uses his violin (in various ways, plucking, playing and lightly drumming) and keyboard, seamlessly loops them and then, of course, sings. The violin and keyboard are still present in this album (along with a bassist and a drummer) but even more front and center is Pallett's beautiful and unique voice. And in the personal lyrics he sings, Pallett, himself is more present.
3) Neil Young: "A Letter Home"
The parts that came together to make "A Letter Home" aren't necessarily as "innovative" as they are "tried and true." The album consists of a venerable, longtime musician, Neil Young, singing covers of other songs. And the music itself was recorded on ancient technology resurrected from the 1940s: A Voice-O-Graph recorder, restored by Jack White. It's this lovely combination of Neil Young and personally selected songs -- from Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Bert Jansch and more -- plus the interesting story behind the recording that make this album so grand. All of this "old" is refreshing among the electronic sound that dominates the current music landscape.