This year has been one of the best years in music that I can ever remember and since it’s late December, I decided to follow suit with just about every other blog and/or website in the country and do my own end of the year countdown.
Part 1: Some albums counting down to six.
When I first thought of writing this blog, I was going to just do the top five albums. Then I started going through the year’s releases and found that five just would not suffice. There have been far too many releases to merely mention five. So, I decided to start with ten (kind of) with the inclusion of a few honorable mentions.
Most times, “honorable mention” seems to be a very generous way of saying, “good, but not that good.” There doesn’t seem to be too much honor in being good, but not that good, does there? These honorable mentions are most definitely good. In fact, they are all really good. Just not as good. They are as follows.
The Black Keys – El Camino
Psychic Babble – My Brother’s Ears / My Sister’s Eyes
Release the Sunbird – Come Back To Us
Fruit Bats – Tripper
I originally wrote a short paragraph about each of these, but I realized that I was getting carried away. These are all good and worth listening to and paying money for. Below are the very best of the year in my expertly amateur opinion.
11) White Denim – D
Okay, it’s not ten. I couldn’t get myself to do ten. Eleven had to be done. I saw White Denim open for Manchester Orchestra and the Dear Hunter in early November and they stole the show. I was mesmerized the entire time. The only complaint I had was that it was too short. But they were the opener, so it had to be short.
I heard these guys a year or two ago when I saw them for the first time open for Portugal. The Man. I was impressed then, but disappointed when I checked out their album, Fits. It was like the Russell Westbrook of last season in the NBA. Extremely athletic. Almost too athletic. Really good, but out of control most of the time. D is a Russell Westbrook who learned how to play the point guard position and manage the game. It is an album that, while certainly highlighting the extreme talent of the band’s members, does so in a controlled format. In fact, the highlight of the album is a slower, simpler song titled Street Joy.
10) Mute Math – Odd Soul
I have been a big fan of these guys since their self-titled full-length debut and they are on the top of my list of must-see-live acts. Their previous record, Armistice, was really good, but drifted away from my taste throgh time – never a good sign for music in my opinion. I think they tried a little too hard for Armistic to make a great record, rather than making a great Mute Math record. Odd Soul is a great Mute Math record. The energy and enthusiasm pumps out of this album like Ghandi pumped out wisdom.
The band got super creative for Odd Soul particularly with their rhythmic qualities, which is what they are best known for. It doesn’t go for catchy hooks and goes for creative hooks instead.
9) Jessica Lea Mayfield – Tell Me
I had never heard of Jessica Lea Mayfield until my roommate told me about her about a month ago. Since then, Tell Me has been rocking my Spotify playlists as frequently as unnecessary status updates rock my Facebook.
Tell Me features the witty songwriting and soft voice of the singer/songwriter, backed by an almost country sounding band at times. The album, however, is not concerned with genre. It is concerned with brilliance.
8) David Bazan – Strange Negotiations
I saw David Bazan live at a house show in Fort Collins a few months ago and it was everything I hoped for it to be and more. It was just him, his guitar, a lamp, a few lawn chairs for listeners, and zero amplification. You could hear the steady tap of his foot keeping time with each song. After every few songs he would stop and say, “Are there any questions at this point in the show?” To which members of the small audience would respond with a series of questions leading him on a few rants about anything and everything, including Strange Negotiations and some podcast he had been listening to on the drive through the country.
I bought the vinyl at the show and it has possibly been turning on the record player more than any other vinyl between my roommate and I. My next goal is to see him perform with his band, which in my opinion is what separates this record from the previous Bazan brand records, as he called them. Though his previous solo albums have been anything but mediocre, they always seemed to be lacking something that I couldn’t put my finger on. Then I listened to Strange Negotiations and discovered what it was. This record is more of a rock record than anything done by Bazan in the past, but maintains his beautifully cynical lyrics and folk-like simplicity. The album begins with the chorus, “You’re a goddamn fool, but I love you, I love you,” in a way that only Bazan can make sound beautiful.
7) City and Colour – Little Hell
City and Colour’s sophomore album would currently be in my top five for all-time favorite albums, so I was actually a little nervous how Dallas Green and his band would follow up Bring Me Your Love. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. It is certainly not the same type of album as the previous release, but in a good way. Little Hell is a more soulful and less acoustic production. The stand-out track to me is Grand Optimist, soulful contemplation about optimism. “And then there’s my father, he’s always looking on the bright side,” Green softly wails and follows with the pounding chorus, “I guess I take after my mother…”
Though I may not rank Little Hell as high as Bring Me Your Love, it remains a fantastic record. Buy it. It’s worth every penny.
6) Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math
Any other year, this album would be ranked much higher. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it did not come out any other year. Ever since Manchester blew me away with their sophomore album Mean Everything To Nothing, I have been patiently looking forward to their third release. Simple Math shows how much the band has matured over the years. This album does not settle for easy hooks, but strives for and achieves deeper aesthetics, a reflection of the lyrical handy work of one of my favorite songwriters, the band’s lead man Andy Hull. This album takes several listens to truly appreciate, but once you allow it to grow on you, you will find its roots in the deeper inner workings of your brain.
End of Part One. Part two and the top five to come…if you care, which you probably don’t.