Exclaim!'s Best of 2014: Top 10 Country, Folk & Blues Albums

4. The Barr Brothers
Sleeping Operator
(Secret City)

Two brothers from the U.S. move to Montreal to start a band with some of the city's brightest musicians — sound familiar? But what prevents the Barr Brothers from being referred to as the "Arcade Fire of alt-country" is Andrew and Brad's rich musical pedigree. Just as the Butlers absorbed the vibe of their adopted home to craft their sound, the Barr Brothers brought in nearly 20 years of experience from their long-running avant-rock outfit, the Slip. This is part of the reason why Sleeping Operator, the band's second release, came off sounding so confident and focused.

Over 60 minutes and 13 tracks, the brothers Barr, joined by multi-instrumentalists Sarah Page and Andres Vial, never feel indebted to alt-country's lineage, approaching every track, lyric and note with wide-eyed optimism and a clean sonic slate. And although the four-piece adorn Sleeping Operator with gentle harp tones and bouncing banjo, the album's production manages to come off big, brash and full of authority, similar to what bands like Broken Bells and the War on Drugs have pulled off with much larger recording budgets. On Sleeping Operator, the Barr Brothers don't seem to be uninterested in playing by the rules as much as they're blissfully oblivious to them, and our ears are the beneficiaries. (Daniel Sylvester)