2010 in Music: Part 1 - My Albums of the Year

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16 Ene 2011, 16:06

Before we get too deep into this new year, it's time for me to look back at the music that impressed me the most this past year. In terms of new albums, I felt that 2010 was a down year. Fortunately, several strong releases in the latter half of the year kept the year from being a complete washout. Additionally, the quality of the albums at the top of my list are about on par with the top albums from the last few years. Here's a look at my top albums from this past year:

HONORABLE MENTION:

While these albums fell short of my top 10 albums of the year, I felt they were of sufficient quality to earn a mention here.

Sleeping at Last - Yearbook – October, November, and December EPs
While this technically doesn't qualify as an “album”, I still want to mention what so far has been a very strong collection of little EPs that Sleeping at Last has been releasing monthly. The bands usual strengths of instrumentation and lyrics are once again at a high level throughout the project. Should the remainder of the project be as strong, there's a good chance you will see me highlighting it in next year's “Year in Music”
Favorite Tracks (so far): Next To Me, Bright & Early, 101010

The Classic Crime - Vagabonds
The Classic Crime caught my interest several years ago with their mix of swinging rhythms and a heavy rock sound. This past year, they released their most consistent album to date. While rough production and harsh vocals detract a bit, there are enough catchy songs to make this one a winner.
Favorite Tracks: The Happy Nihilist, Everything & Nothing, Solar Powered Life

The Rocket Summer - Of Men And Angels
Bryce Avary has a reputation for writing up-tempo, catchy, piano-based pop-rock, and this album is essentially more of the same. You basically get one catchy song after another here, with few missteps along the way.
Favorite Tracks:Let You Go, Of Men And Angels, Roses

Jars of Clay - The Shelter
Jars of Clay's foray into modern worship won't go down as their best album, but it is still a pretty solid effort. As usual, the instrumentation was a highlight here, even if it doesn't stand out as much as it did on previous albums. I also liked how the guest vocalists blend without bringing too much attention to themselves. Even though I think Jars have done better, I'll still take this album over 90% of the modern worship albums on the market.
Favorite Tracks: Eyes Wide Open, Run In The Night (Psalm 27), Love Will Find Us

Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
After several well-regarded progressive folk albums, Sufjan Stevens returned to the electronic sound of his early albums, and for the most part the results are positive. Still present is the grand instrumentation and the musical twists and turns we've come to expect from Sufjan, all of which leads to one of the year's most creative albums. Several tracks that didn't quite work for me keep this one out of the top 10 for the year, but there's still a lot more to like than dislike here.
Favorite Tracks: Too Much, Get Real Get Right, Vesuvius

KT Tunstall - Tiger Suit
KT Tunstall's foray into electronic-based pop turned out to be a successful one as it results in her catchiest album to date. Varied instrumentation mixing in with the electronics help to make this album stand out, from the up-tempo tracks at the beginning of the album, to the more haunting tracks towards the end. All of this results in a solid effort that just misses making my top 10 for the year.
Favorite Tracks: Golden Frames, Difficulty, Uummannaq Song

TOP 10 ALBUMS

10. Anberlin - Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place
This short album shows what Anberlin continues to do well. Still present is the fast-paced rock that gets heavy at times, yet can go poppy at other times. While this album doesn't really tread any new ground for Anberlin, the tracks they have included on this album are quite strong, with “Impossible” entrenching itself in the discussion for my favorite all-time Anberlin song. This all results in a highly enjoyable listen.
Favorite Tracks: Impossible, To The Wolves, Pray Tell

9. Josh Ritter - So Runs The World Away
In terms of songwriting and instrumentation, Josh Ritter's latest ranks among the year's best. I liked Josh's references to literature, as he expounded on the poem “Annabel Lee” in “Another New World”, while giving a back story and a sequel to the murder ballad of Louis Collins in “Folk Bloodbath.” Rich instrumentation helped to color each of the songs, helping Josh paint a picture with both his words and music. A few songs I didn't care for knock this album's ranking down a little, but it still stands out among the year's best.
Favorite Tracks: Southern Pacifica, Another New World, Change of Time

8. Fair - Disappearing World
As much as I like Aaron Sprinkle's solo work, I think the addition of a full band adds a lot to his songs, and that musical growth continues on Fair's second full album. While you won't find anything overly ground-breaking musically here, what you will find is well-thought-out instrumentation, intelligent lyrics and enough hooks to last the entire album. This adds up to one solidly-executed musical package that has often found its way into my CD player.
Favorite Tracks: One Last Time, Disappearing World, Wayside

7. Caedmon's Call - Raising Up the Dead
After carving out a successful career as a staple on Christian radio for over ten years, Caedmon's Call went with an entirely different approach on this CD. First, they released it almost exclusively in digital format. On top of that, they allowed practically every member of the band to contribute to the songwriting in some way. While this led to a few awkward songs towards the end, overall this resulted in one of the band's most creative CDs, highlighted by rich instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics. Think of what Caedmon's Call typically does well and put it in an independent setting, and you essentially get the idea here.
Favorite Tracks: God's Hometown, Streets of Gold, Sometimes a Beggar

6. The Mynabirds - What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood
One of this year's most unique-sounding albums came from the new band led by former Georgie James member Laura Buhrenn. If you take a folk-pop band, mix it with some R&B and Gospel influence and add Buhrenn's strong vocals, that basically describes the band's sound. Not only does this album offer a unique sound, but the song quality is quite consistent, as the band tackles both the up-tempo and slower songs with equal skill. The band can go from the pounding pianos of "Let The Record Go", to the mellow "Give It Time" and execute all of it well. All of this results in the debut album that impressed me the most this past year by a wide margin.
Favorite Tracks: LA Rain, Numbers Don't Lie, Let the Record Go

5. Jennifer Knapp - Letting Go
Jennifer Knapp made so much news for coming out as a lesbian that it can be easy to forget that she released a pretty good CD this past year. Letting Go basically shows off what she did well before she went on hiatus. Once again, we have a rock-centered album with some folksy tracks included, all tied together by Jennifer's honest lyrics. Songs like "Better Off" and "Inside" effectively capture Jennifer's inner thoughts and struggles, which we hear all through the album. The album is a bit short in terms of length, but it's a solid as anything Jennifer's has done in the past in terms of quality. If Jennifer keeps making music like this, let's hope we don't have to wait seven more years for a follow-up.
Favorite Tracks: Mr. Gray, Dive In, Inside

4. Brooke Fraser - Flags
For me, the most pleasant surprise of this past year came from Brooke Fraser, a contemporary Christian singer from New Zealand. Even though Fraser's past music has been largely acclaimed by the critics, I could never really get into it. That changed this year with Flags, an album she claims as her biggest collaborative effort to date. That shows in the unique instrumentation throughout the album. While every song is in the folk-pop vein, Fraser is able to keep things interesting by tweaking the instrumentation on each song, as she goes as far as to use clappers on “Jack Kerouac”, while working in a saxophone on “Here's to You” towards the end of the album. Also sticking out are how some of the songs build to a climax, with “Crows & Locusts” and “Flags” especially standing out. This all adds up to an album that was not on my radar at the beginning of the year, but ended up as one of my favorites.
Favorite Tracks: Orphans, Kingdoms, Crows & Locusts, Something In The Water

3. Andrew Peterson - Counting Stars
It seems like every time Andrew Peterson releases a new album, he makes this list. Once again, a well-crafted folk-pop album lands him on my top 10. As usual, Andrew's storytelling stands out, and I especially like how he references personal stories, particularly on the first two tracks (“Many Roads” and “Dancing in the Minefields.”) Andrew's instrumentation is also well-thought-out, and I actually feel it stands out more on this album than on some of his recent efforts. Also standing out are two tracks on the back half of the album (“In The Night My Hope Lives On” and “The Reckoning (How Long)”) that are crafted to the point that they build to a climax at the end of the song. The result is a well-crafted and intelligently-written album that is enjoyable from start to finish.
Favorite Tracks: In the Night My Hope Lives On, The Reckoning (How Long), The Magic Hour

2. House of Heroes - Suburba
After landing the #1 spot on my top albums of 2008 with The End is Not The End, House of Heroes follow it up with another strong album. While this album isn't nearly as grand in scale as The End..., it contains many of the same elements that stood out in the former. This time, the album primarily deals with suburban topics. Like last time, there are plenty of catchy hooks, swinging rhythms, clever lyrics and well-thought-out instrumentation throughout the album. It also helps that the band once again performs power rockers and softer ballads with equal skill, and that the song quality is consistent. Whether it's the tongue-in-cheek look at middle class life in “Love is For The Middle Class”, or the musical rumble in “God Save The Foolish Kings”, there are plenty of memorable moments to make this one of the best albums of the year.
Favorite Tracks: Relentless, God Save the Foolish Kings, Love is For the Middle Class

1. The Reign Of Kindo - This is What Happens
s much as I was impressed with The Reign of Kindo's last CD, Rhythm, Chord and Melody, I think this one is even better. The Reign of Kindo's unique sound combining acoustic rock and jazz, along with the tight execution of their complex rhythms and unique instruments is already appealing in itself. However, on This is What Happens, they manage to sound even tighter musically, improving what already is one of their greatest strengths. Add improved lyrics, consistent song quality, and Joseph Secchiarroli's clear vocals to the mix, and you get an album that constantly found its way into my CD player. From the frantic rhythms of “Thrill of the Fall” and “Bullets in the Air” to the more subdued “Symptom of a Stumbling” and “Blistered Hands”, there are plenty of highlights throughout an album that contains one great song after another. An album that does this many things right is certainly worthy to be my #1 album of 2010.
Favorite Tracks: Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Symptom of a Stumbling, Thrill of the Fall

Part 2 in my "Year in Music" column will highlight the top concerts I attended this year.

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