ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Supernova Ray LaMontagne





This was the sound of my summer, the soundtrack for playing hooky with my honey and sneaking down the shore the back way on Mondays in July, wearing wreaths of Jersey sweet corn and tomatoes and a halo of mosquitoes, the sound of moonlit drives thru the Pine Barrens, and marveling at the incandescent twinkling of the Big Dipper under magic milkshake stand skies. This album is rife with all that bygone-but-still-here-stuff — drive-in movies, purple sunshine, tape delay, lavender skies, S.E. Hinton novels, Syd Barrett nursery rhymes, the power of a reverb-drenched electric guitar, in a white room with black curtains, to conjure the eternal and the sublime. Producer Dan Auerbach’s amazing technicolor trickbag of twee summery psych-pop sounds, tonalities and mood swings are not only perfectly suited to Ray Lamontagne’s mystical-lumberjack-who-sings-like-Joe-Cocker thing, but I’d argue they’re the key that unlocked the man’s greatness. At the end, right around the 2:35 mark of “Drive-In Movies” when he sings “I wanna be Brando in The Wild One,” well, it may not seem like much on paper, but to hear it alight on the windows-down white noise woosh of a starlight drive is another matter altogether — swooning, goosebump-inducing stuff, the kind you get from being party to an unannounced and fleeting moment of transcendental beauty, the kind of beauty that reminds you that the dead know only one thing which is why they say it over and over again: That it is better to be alive. And that, Dr. Watson, is the true meaning of the season. — JONATHAN VALANIA