Yesterday, Rocky and I threw up the first of our end of the year best in music lists when we let you know what the Top 5 Songs of the Year were. Today, it’s on to albums (check out Rocky’s list here – it’s stellar).
I can’t speak for Rocky, but, for me, the album is a different beast entirely than the song. Songs are about mood, moment, and memories. Songs are immediate. Songs conjure emotions. I will never tell you what the “best song” is because, like all other tunes, it is fleeting. But an album…
The collection of tunes we call an album is a serious endeavor. To my mind, an album represents a complete expression of an artist. Any tosser can write a song. But not everyone can write an album. It takes stamina. It takes foresight. It takes something than we mere mortals possess to write not just a bunch of songs, but a craft a vision. It takes something akin to what Nietzsche called “a long obedience in the same direction.”
These five albums I submit to you today are not necessarily my favorite albums. They are not necessarily the albums I spent hours listening to. But they are, in this man’s opinion, the best albums I heard this year. So, in alphabetical order, here are my nominees for Album of the Year:
1) Admiral Fallow’s Boots Met My Face
Featured as well on my Songs of the Year list, Admiral Fallow were a joyous discovery for me. Finding this album was one of those rare moments when I found something before everyone else (the last time that happened was the summer of ’95 when I pimped The Verve Pipe’s “Freshman” ad naseum. No one liked it. Until it went into radio play that fall…). I listened to this on Bandcamp for probably 2 months before deciding to buy it. By the time it hit my mp3 player, it was road tested. The perfect buy.
What gets me about this album is the percussive nature of the tunes and the obvious Scottish brogue of frontman Louis Abbott. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s clarinet, and flute, and pop sensibility. They describe their music as “orchestral folk pop.” Yes. And they do it beautifully.
Sample: “These Barren Years”
2) David Bazan’s Strange Negotiations
Bazan is one of those artists that I have long tried to like. I tried with his legendary band, Pedro the Lion, and I tried when he decided to record under his own name. When he came up in musical conversations I would always say, “I don’t get him. I appreciate him, but I don’t get him.” Strange Negotiations is not necessarily the album of his I’ve been waiting for, but it’s very close. I didn’t turn to this album repeatedly over the year because I just LOVED listening to it. I turned to it because there was something primal and raw in this collection that sought me out and required that I pay attention.
Bazan filled a need for me in giving voice to my distaste with idealism. Be it religious, economic, or patriotic, I have found myself disturbed by the pursuit of the perfect resulting in the shunning of all else. With a clarity and artistic sense rivaled by very few songwriters, Strange Negotiations finds Bazan tearing your understanding of the American Christian Industrial Complex to shreds. And you like it all the while. And you find yourself asking for more.
Sample: “Wolves at the Door”
3) Josh Garrel’s Love & War & The Sea In Between
Let me begin by saying that this album brought me to tears. In fact, I am still coming to terms with the impact this album had on my soul when I found it. The best I can do is say that it was a mystical experience, and I’m not trying to be cheeky.
Here’s what I wrote in Theology is Art, when I used Garrel’s as one of my main examples:
Recently, singer/songwriter Josh Garrels released what I consider to be a magnificent work of art, a collection of songs titled “Love & War & The Sea In Between,” which succeeds masterfully at revealing new facets about God to me. While I find his musical arrangements to be some of the most creative I’ve heard in years, it is his lyrics that leave me dead in my tracks, unable to do anything but ponder their depths… (And this is coming from a decidedly “non-lyric” person. I don’t care what you sing, as long as I tap my foot while you do it.)
Many people deride Contemporary Christian Music, and with good reason. Legend holds that the late Christian musician Rich Mullins commented that most music associated with the church is “fifth rate lyrics set to sixth rate music.” Louisville, KY songstress Heidi Howe has even written a song titled “Why does Jesus Music have to suck?” Saddled by the twin forces of capitalism and a stringent orthodoxy, CCM musicians have consistently produced music that is inoffensive to both ear and soul. Tired musical arrangements provide the foundation for tired “theological” conventions.
Yet Garrels has taken these once tired ideas and given them fresh life.
Garrel’s released Love & War… this year as a free download from his website (you would be foolish to not obtain it), and is, hands down, my pick for Album of the Year.
4) The Lower Lights’ Come Let Us Adore Him
Who let a Christmas album in here?! Trust me – I am as surprised as you are.
Here at Casa de Whitsitt we are crazy about Christmas music, and we have a wide variety of it. We have Sting, James Taylor, Bing Crosby, John Denver and the Muppets, New Kids on the Block… (Don’t judge, Judgey McJudgersons). The last thing we needed was more holiday offerings.
But, cruising Bandcamp one night, I stumbled onto The Lower Lights. These magnificently gifted Morman musicians grabbed a hold of us and didn’t let go all season. I’ll be listening to this long after the tinsel is gone.
Sample: “O Come All Ye Faithful”
5) Young the Giant’s Young the Giant
I have nothing witty or snappy to say about YTG’s self-titled offering except that it is a party in my ears every time I turn it on. It’s catchy. It’s jangly in that Athens, GA sort of way. It’s lyrically clever.
It’s just fun, and I could not stop listening to it. I could. Not. Stop.