Yes, I know… January is almost over and everyone is pretty much over the old year. I should just scrap this last unfinished Awesome of 2010 list. But y’know what? I don’t think I can move forward until I make the list for the topic closest to my heart… music! It’s never too late to gush on your favorites, right?
Here’s the deal: I spend at least 10-12 hours a week in my car.* I work in radio. I write album reviews. And the closest I come to having a compulsive shopping problem is buying cheap albums on Amazon Mp3. I pretty much always have some kind of soundtrack going on. I listen to a LOT of music (probably more than a lot of sane and normal people). So, in honor of 2011, the top 11 2010 albums, according to me.** Please forgive the massive length of this post.
PS: If you care to see my Top 10 List for the Christian market, head on over to the JFH Staff Picks. My list is the fourth one down. A lot of those albums reappear here, but this one includes heathen music.*** :)
11) Florence + The Machine – Lungs
Lindsay introduced me to the video “Dog Days Are Over.” It kind of freaked me out and blew my mind all at once. And Lungs was mine immediately. Florence Welch’s voice is a stunner, alternating between sweetly melodic and howling with passion, and “The Machine” provides a quirky, genre-bending musical backdrop. Epic. Highlights: Dog Days are Over, Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up), Cosmic Love
10) Brandon Flowers – Flamingo
Bought it on a whim because I like The Killers and the “Crossfire” video has ninjas. It surpassed my expectations. An 80’s flavored pop record that blends sweeping aural landscapes with singer-songwriter introspection and storytelling to evoke the loneliness and humanity beneath the lights of Las Vegas. Highlights: Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Hard Enough, Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts
09) Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
I was new to the magic of Sufjan this year (like “first heard Illinoise in September” new), so I was quite excited to find out there was a new album on the way. And then it was… bizarre. Sufjan ditches the banjos and sad folkiness for electronic experimentation that sounds strange and noisy at first, but reveals beauty in the chaos with repeat listens. Highlights: Too Much, Vesuvius, Impossible Soul
08) Jónsi – Go
If Sigur Rós is what Heaven sounds like (and I’m pretty sure it is), then Jónsi’s first solo album is the sound of overflowing life and joy. Quirky, bright, and simply delightful. Highlights: Go Do, Animal Arithmetic, Tornado
07) Anberlin – Dark is the Way, Light is a Place
Um, it’s Anberlin. I’m biased, okay? :) New Surrender didn’t really do it for me, but Dark reminded me why I loved their music in the first place. A tight, quick-paced album that sounds great and explores the tensions and contrasts in life and love. Or, at the very least, a straight up fun rock record. (Second Opinion JFH Review) Highlights: Impossible, Closer, Pray Tell, Art of War
06) Audrey Assad – The House You’re Building
After falling in love with Audrey’s Christmas song “Winter Snow,” this was one of my more anticipated debut albums in Christian music for 2010, and it didn’t disappoint. What sets her apart from most CCM/worship is her poetic, vertical lyrics and understated piano-pop sensibilities. (My JFH Review) Highlights: The House You’re Building, Breaking Through, Run Forward
05) Gungor – Beautiful Things/John Mark McMillan – The Medicine (tie!)
This was the year I swallowed my pride about “worship music” and learned that there is more to the genre than repetitive praise choruses and hyper-emotional key changes. Gungor caught me by surprise first — I signed up to review the record with little knowledge of the band and found something unique and amazing. And John Mark’s intense, personal lyrics and gritty, Southern gothic style won me over from the start. (I reviewed Gungor for JFH and gushed about JMM here) Highlights: Dry Bones, Beautiful Things, Cannot Keep You / The Medicine, Carbon Ribs
04) Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
I know, I know… I was late to this party, not picking up this album until December even though I’d heard a million good things about it. But oh, I’m glad I finally did. Turbulent, raw, passionate folk-rock at its finest. Highlights: Sigh No More, The Cave, White Blank Page, After the Storm
03) Brooke Fraser – Flags
Okay, so maybe I jumped the gun writing a 5 star review for it after only owning the record for three days… but I still stand by the statement that Brooke’s newest was one of the best pop records of the year. Eschewing some of Albertine‘s melancholy, folkish introspection, Flags tells stories in an alt-pop style that effortlessly swings between the sweet and cheery and the stirring epic. A simply perfect pop record. (JFH Review) Highlights: Something in the Water, Betty, Orphans, Kingdoms, Coachella, Crows & Locusts (um… pretty much every track.)
02) Andrew Peterson – Counting Stars
I have to admit… up until this year, I wasn’t too familiar with Andrew Peterson, and even then I didn’t really get to know him until his fantasy novel On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and Rabbit Room website caught my attention. Counting Stars left me wondering what I’ve been missing for all these years. This understated gem is filled to the brim with poetic lyricism that brings out the sacred in the everyday. I am a fan for life now. Highlights: Many Roads, Dancing in the Minefields, Fool with a Fancy Guitar, The Reckoning (How Long)
01) Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Some call it brilliant. Some call it sellout. For me, it was more like a revelation. In the span of less than a month, I bought the entire Arcade Fire discography, and though Neon Bible first hooked me, The Suburbs secured me as a fan. Lyrically, this sprawling alt-rock record explores the emptiness of modern life, while capturing the tension between wanting to grow up and escape “the suburbs” while longing for the innocence left behind. That may sound like a downer, but there is still some hope and optimism just below the surface that “something pure can last.” Musically, it feels perhaps more accessible or mainstream than their past albums, but it works for me. I love it. The end. (If you’re still not convinced, check out the interactive video for “We Used to Wait” at TheWildernessDowntown.com. That pretty much sums it up.) Highlights: Ready to Start, Modern Man, Suburban War, We Used to Wait, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
So there you go. There are actually quite a few more, I’m sure, and I’ll remember them in time and kick myself for forgetting. But these are easily the 11 I listened to the most last year.
Feel free to share your favorites/dispute my list in the comments below.
And now… we can move past 2010 and onto better, newer things around here. :)
* Wow, that looks frightening in writing.
** That is, this is a subjective list of stuff I dig, ignoring what the critics, experts, and music snobs say. I’m done with music snobbery. But that’s another tale for another post…
*** Heathen Music = a joke. Don’t be alarmed or take offense plzkthx.