Top Five Albums – 2015

It’s clear that this blog has become nothing more than a place to list my annual top five albums – but here’s to consistency. A couple of notes before we get into the list. One, Coldplay — you should be ashamed of yourselves. Rumor has it that this album (A Head Full of Dreams), your 7th studio album, is your last. I’m not saddened. You’ve not produced anything worth listening to since Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008). Two, while I enjoyed Wilder Mind, and truly admire Mumford & Sons for departing from the norm (banjos, acoustic guitars, and a standing bass), this album was lyrically weak. Does every song on a 12 song album have to be about the complexity of love & relationship? Aren’t there other topics you could write and sing about? Father John Misty makes me smile, and Adele has a voice like no other human on the planet.

Honorable Mentions

  • Mumford & Sons – Wilder Mind
  • Of Monsters and Men – Beneath the Skin
  • Wilco – Star Wars
  • CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
  • Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
  • Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Style
  • Adele – 25

The Top Five

5. Jamie xx – In Colour

This is like a subdued dance club album – as in, you can listen to it and not want to stick hot pokers in your ears. Think airy & effervescent, with a touch of cool.

4. Vance Joy – Dream Your Life Away

This is probably the album that will catch some pushback. Outside the overplayed Riptide this is a really good album. Musically clean and lyrically simple. Favorite track – Georgia

3. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi

I have a soft spot for Death Cab. I love them. I would put Benjamin Gibbard’s lyrics up against any other singer/songwriter in the world. The writing is smart. Each song tells a story. A good story. The music won’t blow you away…but I get lost in the lyrics every time I listen to this album. Favorite track – Ingenue

2. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

This is the album that I envision Mike Milligan (Fargo – Season 2) popping into the 8 track as he drives through the frozen north looking for Dodd Gerhardt. The beginning of the album — the start of the song Sound & Color — is beautiful. Strong. Soulful. Get up and dance good. I can’t stop listening to this album. Favorite track – This Feeling

1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Carrie-and-LowellIt’s hard to put into words how I feel about this album. It’s move-you-to-tears good. It’s named after Sufjan’s mother, Carrie, who died in 2012, and step-father Lowell. It sounds different than his earlier albums. This album is hard. Beautiful. Entrancing. Emotional. Real. Raw. Hopeful. I like what Steve McCoy said about this album: “A warm hug and consoling whisper through the reverberating ache”. Don’t play this at a party. While everyone will know they listened to an incredible record, they may go home depressed. It’s hard to pick just a single favorite track on this album. All of it is so good. But if I’m forced it’s All of Me Wants All of You.

Top Five Albums – 2014

My one and only post related to 2014 is this one. I took a new position last April at Puppet Labs; and haven’t slowed down since.

Like two years ago, this was not a strong year for albums – songs, yes – but not complete albums. And specifically, I was really disappointed with U2 and Coldplay. U2’s Songs of Innocence was not great, which pains me to say. Coldplay had a couple of nice songs on Ghost Stories, but it was no where near a complete, solid album.

Previous Years

Honorable Mentions

  • Jack White – Lazaretto
  • The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
  • Interpol – El Pintor
  • Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield
  • Real Estate – Atlas
  • Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything – Still no US love for Elbow.

The Top Five

5. Beck – Morning Phase

I’ve never been a huge fan of Beck. His early stuff is almost repulsive. But this is a good album.

4. The Black Keys – Turn Blue

There’s nothing overly special about this album. It’s the Black Keys, and they’ve been doing this for years. But they continue to deliver and this album is no exception. Turn this one up loud.

3. Delta Spirit – Into the Wide

Apparently Delta Spirit has been around for a while. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. But in 2015 I’ll be returning to their back catalog. This is a really nice album. Take Shelter, Into the Wide, and Push It are all excellent songs.

2. Vancouver Sleep Clinic – Winter

If you like Bon Iver, you’ll like Vancouver Sleep Clinic. It’s the same Justin Vernon, just a new project. There’s only 6 songs on the album, but I just repeat the whole thing…over, and over, and over.

1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

This was my wife’s find of the year, and her favorite album. She got it on vinyl for Christmas. Maybe these guys get their own genre – because they’re hard to describe. Honestly, at one point I thought John Cougar Mellencamp, then Bon Jovi, then the Boss, then Tom Petty…it’s odd. I don’t particularly care for those guys, and would hate to put The War on Drugs in the same genre…so I won’t. Under the Pressure, Red Eyes, Eyes to the Wind, and Burning are excellent.

Top Five Albums – 2013

Two things changed the way I listened to music in 2013. Spotify & Vinyl. Almost every album that I listened to this year was through Spotify first. I did not make a single purchase without first testing the album out for free. I love Spotify. This year also ushered in the return of the turntable into the Hamilton house. It’s been over two decades since I last had a record player. But the boy came home from school one day wanting to get into vinyl (he’s a third grader). So we did. I love that it’s turned music back into a physical experience for me. From the crackles and pops to having to turn the album over, it’s made music fun.

Previous Years

This Years Honorable Mentions (Good, but not quite good enough)

  • Sleeping at Last – Atlas
  • Local Natives – Hummingbird
  • The Naked and the Famous – In Rolling Waves
  • Lucius – Wildewoman
  • Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
  • Volcano Choir – Repave
  • Sigur Ros – Kveikur
  • The Strokes – Comedown Machine (This was a tough choice…it could have easily made my Top 5. It’s a very good album.)

The Top Five

I’ve put these five albums in a Spotify playlist for your listening pleasure: Listen

5. The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still

5

This sophomore album is really good. Looking back, their first album (self-titled) should have been included in my Honorable Mentions for 2011. This album is more grown-up, more emotional, and the harmonies are even better than they were in their first album.

Best Song: Gone

 

4. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

4

The National never seem to disappoint. While this album is not as good as their High Violet album from 2010, it still delivers. You’ll notice two things on this album: Matt Berninger’s vocals & Bryan Devendorf’s drums. This album is just as melancholy as previous albums, maybe even more so. But it will hook you.

Best Song: Hard to Find. Demons is a close second.

3. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

3

Reflektor is a very good album, but not the best the band has ever produced. It will be hard for Arcade Fire to top Suburbs from 2010. This album is a different sound for Arcade Fire. It reminds me a little of when U2 changed things up with Pop. You know it’s them, but it doesn’t exactly sound like them. Still, it’s a very enjoyable album.

Best Song: Here Comes the Night Time

2. Cold War Kids – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts

2

In 2011 my number one album for the year was Elbow’s Build a Rocket Boys!. I remarked then that I was shocked that it wasn’t included on any official top album lists for that year. This year I have the same shock that Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is no where to be found. It didn’t even make Rolling Stone’s Top 50 for the year. Utterly confusing. The first song, Miracle Mile, hooks you and it doesn’t let go. This is foot-tapping, dancing in the living room good.

Best Song: Tuxedos

1. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

1

I really don’t now how to start other than saying…this album is amazing. It’s dark, deep, and spiritual. I have a tendency to be drawn to the spiritual implications in lyrics and this album is rich with them. I won’t bore you with listing them out, or try to interpret them. This album covers youth, wisdom that comes with age, fear of getting older, and questioning God, but I never felt preached at. I ended up singing along, nodding in agreement. Every song is excellent. In fact, it’s extremely difficult to pick my favorite…but if I were forced I’d have to go with Unvbelievers, the second song on the album. Here are the lyrics:

Got a little soul
The world is a cold, cold place to be
Want a little warmth
But who’s gonna save a little warmth for me?

We know the fire awaits unbelievers
All of the sinners the same
Girl, you and I will die unbelievers
Bound to the tracks of the train

If I’m born again I know that the world will disagree
Want a little grace but who’s gonna say a little grace for me?

We know the fire awaits unbelievers
All of the sinners the same
Girl, you and I will die unbelievers
Bound to the tracks of the train

I’m not excited, but should I be?
Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?

I know I love you
And you love the sea
But what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?

See the sun go down
It’s going on down, and the night is deep
Want a little light
But who’s gonna save a little light for me?

We know the fire awaits unbelievers
All of the sinners the same
Girl, you and I will die unbelievers
Bound to the tracks of the train

I’m not excited, but should I be?
Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?

I know I love you
And you love the sea
But what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?

I’m not excited, but should I be?
Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?

I know I love you
And you love the sea
But what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?

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Toy Boxed

NYC

From a recent trip to New York City. Processed with Lightroom, then Analog.

That Lady’s Shoes

London. In Color.

This is fascinating to me.

[via Kottke]

Five Years

This is where I lived for five years (May, 2006 — June, 2011) — Cardiff, Wales, UK. I loved the city. At the 4:12 mark you can see the house I lived in just above the bridge to the left side of the screen.

A Confession and a Plea

I have a confession to make. It’s not easy for me to say this, but the truth needs to come out. And while I wish there were alternatives, this is just the way things are, and I need to embrace it.

I wear women’s socks.

I don’t like that I wear women’s socks. The men’s sock industry has forced my hand in this. I would love to wear men’s socks. I am a man after all. But it just doesn’t work. You see, I have small(ish) feet. Depending on the shoe I’m between a size 7 and a size 8. Fashionable socks don’t exist in my size. I’ve looked. Everywhere. And I refuse to pay $35 for a pair of socks…so don’t send my any of those links.

The ONE SIZE FITS ALL label is a lie. If it were true I’d happily walk into the GAP and buy my socks from them. But I’ve tried that as well. Call me crazy, but I just don’t like the look where the heal of the sock is half way up my calf. The ONE SIZE FITS ALL mantra works for those men with a size 10-12…not for us MEN in the more petite range. Instead, I walk into the GAP and sheepishly make my way to the women’s socks. They actually have a nice array of choices. And they fit. Sure, I sometimes have to deal with a slight ruffle at the the top of my socks, but no one sees that. I hope.

I’ve also just recently been informed, by my wife, that Target has a nice choice of women’s socks. Over the weekend I picked up five pairs for $15. No shame in that. The next time you see me ask me to lift up my trousers…I’ll gladly show you my girls socks. Or I’ll run crying to the bathroom…I haven’t decided yet.

And to the men’s sock makers of the world — STOP IT! Give us small footed men socks that fit. Make them for us. We’ll buy them. I promise. Just stop trying to sell us the lie that one size fits all. You’re bruising our ego. And that’s good for no man…regardless of how big his feet are.

I Do What?

I’ve been asked by friends and family what I do, and maybe more confusingly, what is Puppet Labs? I thought I would answer both with a very short video.

My job is actually quite simple. I am an Instructional Designer. That means that I create curriculum and training materials for the products that Puppet Labs provides. Puppet Labs provides IT automation software. Confused? You shouldn’t be. It’s not that complicated.

Watch this short video I created to explain what Puppet (the product) is that Puppet Labs (the company) provides.

Top Five Albums — 2012

It’s time again for my top five albums of the year. As I was preparing for this post, and I’ve probably always known this, I realized that while I love music, I’m not going to spend time searching for the unheard-of bands, or the albums that no one knows of. I’m not a true audiophile in that sense. But I do love good music. I could never compile a list like Steve McCoy’s. I don’t have the time or the budget. And to be fair, I’m certain that there are several albums on Steve’s list that would be included in mine. No, my tastes are slightly more mainstream. And while you’ll never see the likes of today’s Pop Stars on this list you will most likely know the bands that are mentioned here.

Top Five — 2010
Top Five — 2011

Just like last year, I thought I would mention several albums that were good, but didn’t make the list 1.

Honorable Mentions

This year’s most disappointing album was Battle Born by The Killers. I was really looking forward to it, but goodness, what a mess. They seem miles away from the band that gave us Hot Fuss & Sam’s Town.

Top Five

valtari5. Sigur RosValtari

This band is Icelandic. I have no idea what they’re singing, which is okay because some of their songs use a non-literal language…basically made up sounds. It’s called Vonlenska. Wikipedia calls them an ambient/post-rock band. It doesn’t matter their language, or what Wikipedia calls them…they’re good. The music is ethereal and mesmerizing.

Best song: Fjögur píanó

 
 
grizzlybear

4. Grizzly BearShields

I didn’t pick this album up until really late in the year…but I can’t stop listening to it. Initially it reminded me of My Morning Jacket. But Grizzly Bear is better, both musically and lyrically. This album features great harmonies between Edward Droste & Daniel Rossen.

Best Song: Sun In Your Eyes

Fallen once, you’ll fall again
And lean on
Your tired hands, the crawling grass
The soft ground

lumineers3. The LumineersThe Lumineers

You know the Lumineers because you’ve likely heard Ho Hey about a thousand times on the radio. Fortunately the album is more than that one song. And fortunately, most of the other songs are better than Ho Hey. Lyrically easy on the ears…and you can sing along with all the songs.

Best Song: Stubborn Love

It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all
The opposite of love’s indifference
Pay attention now, I’m standing on your porch screaming out
And I wont leave until you come downstairs

monsters2. Of Monsters and MenMy Head Is An Animal

The guitar intro on the first song, Dirty Paws, instantly hooked me…and I didn’t stop listening. This is an  album that takes the listener from a story about bees, birds, and creatures with Dirty Paws to a romantic discourse between lovers in Little Talks. Incidentally, this band is also from Iceland. What is it about good music coming from Iceland? I thought Björk was that country’s only export. The music is whimsical, wispy, a little folksy…and good.

Best Song: Little Talks

You’re gone, gone, gone away
I watched you disappear
All that’s left is a ghost of you
Now we’re torn, torn, torn apart
There’s nothing we can do
Just let me go, we’ll meet again soon

mumford1. Mumford & SonsBabel

In my past two years I’ve had albums that might have been slightly controversial…nothing major, but enough for some to question. Maybe Babel is this years controversy. Mumford, despite huge success and a brilliant first album, Sigh No More, have collected a group of haters along the way. Apparently Mumford is now formulaic…tired…not original. Apparently their second album was supposed to depart from who they are, and what made them successful. I don’t think U2 was asked to reinvent themselves on their second album. They didn’t try that almost disastrous experiment until their 8th & 9th albums. So let the haters hate. I love this album. It was easily my favorite album of the year. While My Head Is An Animal was good, it really was a distant second.

This album is filled with arena worthy anthems. Babel  is more polished than it’s predecessor, but still fills familiar. It is pregnant with spiritual undertones and hard love. It slows down, speeds up, stops, and then does it all over again.

It’s hard to pick a favorite song on this album. In fact, it’s easier to pick the few songs I didn’t like as much. One song that really grew on me was Lover of the Light. A first listen caused me to pause and say, “wait a second, when did they become the Dave Matthews Band?” Listen to the beginning of the song…you’ll see what I mean. But once I saw the video it completely changed things for me. We lived in Wales (UK) for five years…and the video for this song was shot in Wales. We became fans of Idris Elba while living there as well. Idris directed and starred in the video. It’s an excellent story. Watch for yourself.

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Having said that, Lover of the Light isn’t my favorite song on the album. Hopeless Wanderer gets that title. It reminds me of U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (which happens to be my favorite song of all time). It’s a story of searching for truth…of knowing it, and then not.

You heard my voice I came out of the woods by choice
Shelter also gave their shade
But in the dark I have no name

So leave that click in my head
And I will remember the words that you said
Left a clouded mind and a heavy heart
But I was sure we could see a new start

So when your hope’s on fire
But you know your desire
Don’t hold a glass over the flame
Don’t let your heart grow cold
I will call you by name
I will share your road

But hold me fast, Hold me fast
‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer
And hold me fast, Hold me fast
‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer

I wrestled long with my youth
We tried so hard to live in the truth
But do not tell me all is fine
When I lose my head, I lose my spine

So leave that click in my head
And I won’t remember the words that you said
You brought me out from the cold
Now, how I long, how I long to grow old

So when your hope’s on fire
But you know your desire
Don’t hold a glass over the flame
Don’t let your heart grow cold
I will call you by name
I will share your road

But hold me fast, Hold me fast
‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer
And hold me fast, Hold me fast
‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer
I will learn, I will learn to love the skies I’m under
I will learn, I will learn to love the skies I’m under
The skies I’m under

Hopeless Wanderer – Live
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As always, let me know your thoughts – where you agree, or not.

Notes:

  1. All links are Amazon Affiliate links