The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow (4/5). Folk duo The Civil Wars' debut album, Barton Hollow, has drawn comparisons to the folk duo of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, stars of the charming musical Once and the recent documentary The Swell Season. It's easy to see why, as the album exudes a similar warm, acoustic sound and male/female vocal harmonies. Most of the album is slower songs, climaxing with the brilliantly beautiful "Poison and Wine," although they do also let their hair down on the toe-tapping title track. Best: Poison and Wine, Barton Hollow, I've Got a Friend, 20 Years.
Wilco - The Whole Love (4/5). Wilco begins their eight album, The Whole Love, with a real knockout of an opening song: a 7-minute epic that begins like Radiohead with beats and electronic blurts that are eventually drowned out by a tuning mass of strings before the song proper begins. "Art of Almost" is quite brilliant. It concludes with a satisfying 2 minutes and 30 seconds of guitar solo. While the rest of The Whole Love lacks that level of ambition, it doesn't lack for quality. Much of it floats around them doing what they do best--alternative rock with tinges of country and '70s rock influences on songs that are alternately bouncy and upbeat or slower. "I Might" and "Standing O" exude a similar retro feel, while "Dawned on Me" rolls along over a prominent bass line with a tune that sounds an awful lot like Supergrass' "Alright." I tend to like these more than the slower songs, although I do like the somber acoustic guitar of "Black Moon." Overall, I don't think it's as consistent as Sky Blue Sky, but I do think it's better than their last album. Best: Art of Almost, I Might, Dawned on Me, Black Moon.