Friday, January 07, 2011

Albums of the Year

It seems that the posts around here have been getting more trivial...not to mention spaced very far apart. Believe it or not, I'm halfway through a post about evolution, science, and the Bible, but then, I started it two months ago, so we'll see if it ever gets finished. This post is more on the fun side, though.

I discovered several new bands last year, some new and some old, and some of my old favorite bands released some great new albums. So this is my list of the 15 albums that I enjoyed the most in 2010. There's no particular order, and you'll see that the albums stretch from released last year to released thirty years ago.

1. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

Possibly my favorite album of the year, this Irish band somehow manages to pull off something I can only describe as alternative folk rock...although I can't neglect the bluegrass influences. They have a knack for melody, and the arrangements usually range from stripped back acoustic to symphonic choirs, often in the same song. I'll admit, I haven't been able to get enough of this album, and I'm already eagerly anticipating their follow-up. Stellar tracks include, well, the whole album, but especially "The Cave," "Roll Away Your Stone," and "Little Lion Man."

2. John Mark McMillan - The Medicine

An impulse buy at the beginning of this semester, this indie-feeling rock album quickly earned my respect. The sound is reminiscent of Kings of Leon, but managing to sound a little less like it was recorded in a garage without sounding overly produced. There's a raw energy that comes from McMillan's raspy rock vocals, yet staying much closer to folk rock. Plus, his lyrics entertwines Christian themes with incredibly skillful and sometimes beautiful poetry, approaching old topics in fresh new ways. Highlights include "Carbon Ribs," "Out of the Ground," and the title track.

3. OneRepublic - Waking Up

Something about OneRepublic's blend of incredibly skillful singing, catchy rhythms, and string section allows me to keep returning for more enjoyment. It's fairly light fare, but oh-so-catchy. I think I had "All the Right Moves" stuck in my head for half of the year. Other great tracks include "Secrets," "Fear," and "Marchin' On."

4. The Gabe Dixon Band - The Gabe Dixon Band

Someone gave me the live version of their track "All Will Be Well" a few years ago, and it quickly became one of my favorite songs. This year I finally decided to buy their whole album, and I can't say enough good things about it. It's a trio of a pianist, a drummer, and a bassist, and the lack of a guitarist leads them to create some sweet piano-driven tracks, carried by Dixon's beautiful tenor voice and skillful lyrics. Every track on this album is a winner, but especially "Disappear," "Find My Way," "And the World Turned," and the incredible forementioned "All Will Be Well" (which is still in my top five list of songs all-time).

5. Kings of Leon - Only By the Night

When my iPod got wiped in Turkey, this was one of the only albums I managed to salvage from other people's iPods. Thank goodness. The rough, raw vocals and guitars of this alternative rock band go way beyond the song everyone knows, "Use Somebody." There's a raw energy here that is infectious, and Anthony Followill's almost soulful voice soars over the somewhat grungy guitars. Listening to this album in many ways is its own experience. Highlights include the forementioned "Use Somebody," "Closer," "Crawl, and "Sex on Fire."

6. Switchfoot - Hello Hurricane

I've been a Switchfoot fan since the wonder that was The Beautiful Letdown, but with this album they've almost outdone themselves. It feels like they've returned more to their roots and given some straight-up alternative rock that flows with energy. Although it feels a little more produced than some of their previous efforts, that doesn't hurt it at all, and Jon Foreman has never sounded better. Hightlights include "Needle and Haystack Life," "Free," "Enough to Let Me Go," and the title track.

7. House of Heroes - Suburba

I was a huge fan of House of Heroes last album The End Is Not the End, and so I was really excited for this release this year. A concept album about living in suburban white middle-class America, the band has a flair for witty lyrics and catchy melodies, but what really gets me is the musicianship of the band: all their vocals, including background vocals, are sung around one old-fashioned group mic, producing some absolutely incredible sounds. This is just a straight-up rock album, and they reflect that by being willing to take legit guitar solos that are reminiscent of classic rock days, but with a very modern flair. Highlights include "Love Is For the Middle Class," "Salt in the Sea," and "Disappear."

8. Dave Matthews Band - Big Whiskey and the Groo-Grux King

I only really discovered DMB this past year, but I sure am glad that I did. Since I've been listening to all their albums, it was hard to pick one, but I'd say this is the one I've listened to the most. I don't feel like I need to say much about it--I love sax in a rock band, I love his voice, and I love the fact that everything they do sounds like the best kind of jam session. I hope I can see them in concert some day. Highlights include "Shake Me Like a Monkey," "Funny the Way It Is," and "Dive In."

9. Florence + the Machine - Lungs

My friend gave me F+tM's track "Heavy In Your Arms" for my birthday, and I was an instant convert. It's hard to describe their style...percussion-heavy, fairly symphonic rock with a Regina Spektor-like vocalist. It's just a vocal pleasure that sweeps you up in the sound. Hightlights include "Dog Days Are Over," "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)," and "Howl."

10. Fleetwood Mac - The Dance

I've always loved Fleetwood Mac, who I discovered in the middle of high school, but I've found myself going back to this album over and over again. It's a live recording of their 1994 reunion tour, and features reinterpretations of many of their classic hits. I love the originals, but I love the redone versions of "Rihannon" and "Big Love," and "Landslide" is one of my all-time favorite songs. I'm not usually a fan of live albums, but this is one of the best.

11. David Crowder*Band - Illuminate

I know, Church Music is the one that just came out, and it's a good album, but having rediscovered this, their second album, it just can't compare. Something about the laid-back experimental style and the simple yet profound lyrics gets me every time, and I could just put this one on repeat for hours. David Crowder shows that you can be an explicitly Christian band and still make great, not just good, music. Highlights include "Open Skies," "How Great," and "Heaven Came Down."

12. Sara Bareilles - Little Voice

I was one of the people who originally downloaded "Love Song" as a free iTunes download and propelled it to a mega radio hit, but I didn't get the full album until this summer. I can't believe I waited so long. She has one of the most amazing voices in popular music, and every one of her songs is a beautiful, soul-stirring arrangement. Most albums peter off at the end, but the closing track "Gravity" is one of the most heart-stoppingly beautiful songs I've ever heard. Highlights include "Love Song," "One Sweet Love," "Between the Lines," and the forementioned "Gravity."

13. Relient K - Forget and Not Slow Down

I've been a Relient K fan since the goofiness of The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek, but unlike many of those high school fans I've stuck with the band as they've matured into a legit rock band, leaving their goofiness behind and demonstrating their gifted songwriting and a willingness to try something different. This album I actually was not a huge fan of the first few times because it's so different, but repeated listens propelled it to a status as one of my favorites of theirs. They have definitely completely left punk behind, and actually poppified a little bit in a good way. In contrast to their other albums, this is a fairly happy album, and displays their matured musical sensibilities well. Highlights include "I Don't Need a Soul," "Savannah," and the two-track closer "This Is the End (If You Want It)."

14. U2 - October

This has also been the year that I discovered the U2 beyond The Joshua Tree. Surprisingly, my favorite album of theirs so far is their second album, which produced no lasting singles and which most people don't care about. Yet something about the raw energy of this album, the first following Bono's conversion, just appeals to me, and his soaring vocals on tracks like "Gloria" and "Rejoice" stirs my soul. Highlights include the forementioned "Gloria," "Rejoice," "Fall Down," and the haunting title track.

15. 30 Seconds to Mars - This Is War

I've never been much for modern rock, so 30 Seconds to Mars' earlier albums never held much appeal for me besides as an adrenaline boost. In this album, though, they really vary things up, experimenting with atmospheric sounds, full choirs, and even a more electronic overall feel. The result is an album that is a pleasure to listen to and which has been my default rock album for the last year. Highlights include "Night of the Hunter," "Kings and Queens," "Closer to the Edge," and the title track.


Rebekah Daphne said...

Just so you know, I discovered the Gabe Dixon Band thanks to this post, and am SO HAPPY ABOUT IT. Thanks. :)

N-Mart said...

These are some really sweet picks.