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Top Five Albums – 2016

Let’s start with a hat tip to the Pet Shop Boys. They know their niche and stay in it. Forever. Honestly, go listen to their 2016 album Super. Mix it with all their other albums and I’m not sure you’d be able to pick out which songs came from this album versus any album of the 80s or 90s.

Two albums stood above the rest this year. But first, this years Honorable Mentions. And no, Solange is not on my list. Anywhere. Her album was a hot mess I could not get into.

Honorable Mentions

  • A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service
  • Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
  • Kings of Leon – Walls
  • The Lumineers – Cleopatra
  • Tycho – Epoch
  • Sia – This is Acting
  • Lucius – Good Grief

Top Five

5. David Bowie – Blackstar

Genius. “Look up here, I’m in Heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.” –Lazarus

4. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

I don’t remember a year like this – with two iconic artists dying and leaving us incredible works that we’ll listen to for quite some time. Cohen, like Bowie, left us final masterpieces. “I’m leaving the table, I’m out of the game.” – Leaving the Table

3. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

Quintessential Pop. And I love every bit of it. It reminds me of every great thing about 80s music. Is that what The 1975 was hoping for? Not sure. But this is a fun album. I put them in the same category as Bombay Bicycle Club and Two Door Cinema Club, two bands I really enjoy listening to. Potentially a boy band in the making, but honestly, I don’t care. After the weight of Cohen and Bowie, this is a needed pop of joy.

2. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Finally. This is the Radiohead I love. With similarities dating back to OK Computer and Kid A, this album is both dream-ish and nightmarish. Is it easy to understand? No. But is it a joy to listen to? Absolutely. True Love Waits, is a song that’s been around since 1995. It gets a refresh on this album as the last song, and it is gorgeous.

And true love waits

In haunted attics

And true love lives

On lollipops and crisps

1. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

As good as A Moon Shaped Pool was, 22, A Million was other-worldly. For the Bon Iver haters that think this is another falsetto laden snore fest, you should listen. You haters should start on track eight, 8 (circle). You get Justin and his simple voice. No falsetto. Just him singing. It’s a beautiful song.

This isn’t the folksy Vernon/Bon Iver you’ve become accustomed to. This is experimental. And odd. And weird. It’s art. It’s disjointed. In some places the lyrics make sense and tell a story as you nod your head in agreement. In other places you almost want to pull the car over and scream – it makes no sense.

Musically you won’t find another album this year that can compare. At one point I thought the record player was skipping, or had dust on the needle, only to find that what I was hearing was actually in the song.

Listen to the last song, track 10, 00000 Million, over and over. Watch and listen to Bon Iver’s video for the song.

And then listen to this cover – by Gordi.

Haunting. And beautiful.

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?

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.

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
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaIZhKkgteA&feature=share&list=UUhPzV-uAKhVMguKI7RB8uGQ

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

Notes:

  1. All links are Amazon Affiliate links

Buy Good Music

Black Friday has become a ridiculous excuse to partake in the accumulation of junk…but that’s a rant for another day. Music, however, does not fall into the category of junk. And Black Friday brings about great deals on great music. Here are a few albums you should go buy 1 now:

Notes:

  1. all links are Amazon Affiliate links

Waiting

Sometimes you only need a glimpse of something to know it’s going to be good.

Now I’ll be bold
As well as strong
And use my head alongside my heart
So tame my flesh
And fix my eyes
A tethered mind freed from the lies
And I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down
Know my ground
Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
Bow my head
Keep my heart slow
‘cus I will wait,
I will wait for you

from I Will Wait – Mumford & Sons new song off their forthcoming album Babel.

Top Five Albums–2011

Despite what a friend said last year about 2010 being a bad year for music, I thought it was a good year. Maybe that’s because Mumford & Sons Sigh No More and Arcade Fire’s Suburbs are 2 of my favorite albums. In fact, I would argue that 2011 was no better than 2010, and in some respects, a little worse. I don’t think there was a stand out album this year. There were definitely some good ones, but nothing grabbed me quite like last years albums did.  There were several good albums that didn’t make my top five…my Honorable Mentions if you will. They include in no particular order: The Black Keys – El Camino, Sigur Rós – Inní, The Decemberists – The King is Dead, Radiohead – The King of Limbs, and The Poison Tree – The Poison Tree. One album, in particular, was good, but didn’t quite live up to expectations, Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto. And there was one album, that for the life of me I can’t quite figure out why it’s included in most everyone’s top 10 list – PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake. I thought it was a contrived, over sold, preachy, screeching mess. My top five this year leans toward the somber and sad, with one exception. My list is varied and very different from last years list. But like last year, I’m including an album that might incite a little ridicule by my friends. Oh well, I liked it.

#5 Adele – 21
Like Brandon Flowers last year, this choice might catch a little ridicule. But let’s be honest, Adele’s voice is second to none. The vocals on this album are simply amazing. I thought I would tire of this album after a few listens, but I keep coming back to it. Sad at times, empowering at others, well rounded, solid. Best song – Take It All

 

#4 Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys
Probably the most upbeat of my five albums (Stay Young, Go Dancing), and Death Cab for Cutie’s best album to date. Driving bass, a saloon piano, and maybe a little bit too much hi-hat. But you’ll be tapping your foot, and singing along. Best Song – Portable Television

 

#3 Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Wispy, airy, singing out in a wheat field kind of sound, but with amplification. The first three songs warm you up, almost like inside pitches in baseball, they get you ready – then Battery Kinzie is like a fastball right over the middle of the plate…a strong, sit up straight kind of song. Crisp guitars, tight vocals, a really nice album. Best song – Helplessness Blues

 

#2 Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Listen to the first song, Perth, and wait for the swell at the 2:35 mark – you’ll be hooked. The lead singer, Justin Vernon, sings a lot in falsetto and it works. The song titles are mainly geographical (Perth, Minnesota, Hinnom, Calgary, Lisbon), and the lyrics may not make the most sense. But the album works, and you’ll want to continue to listen. Best Song – Calgary

 

#1 Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!
I am amazed at how this album has been left off list after list for top albums of the year. Maybe it’s because Elbow doesn’t get much play here in the States. I found Elbow, or maybe they found me, while living in the UK. Their previous album, The Seldom Seen Kid, was really good and was met with critical acclaim  – in the UK at least – but Build A Rocket Boys! is exponentially better in my opinion. It is melancholy and somber, yet inspiring and uplifting. With songs like Neat Little Rows it is anthemic, and it is reflective with The Night Will Always Win. The lyrics are tight, with each song telling a story. The music doesn’t get in the way, but is good enough to stand on it’s own. I simply love this album.

And let me say a few things about the album’s best song – Open Arms. There are very few songs that extend beyond themselves…that move you at your core…that touch your soul…that become part of the story of your life. Until Open Arms the only song that I would put in that special category was U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. This song, this year, was for me. It is me. It is both the man I am, and the man I hope to be. In a year that was undeniably difficult for me this song brought me to tears, and face to face with God. Lyrically it captures the story of the prodigal son, found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15:11-32. It tells the story of a community that welcomes back with open arms the man that once left them. This community, in celebration, reminds the man of the boy he used to be, and says “It’s okay, you’re home, and you’re accepted.” I’m posting the lyrics below for you to read through, but if you have $5.00 go buy the album on Amazon, or just spend 99¢ on the song.

You’re a law unto yourself
And we don’t suffer dreamers
But neither should you walk the earth alone

So with finger rolls and folding chairs
And a volley of streamers
We can be there for tweaks and repairs
Should you come back home

We got open arms for broken hearts
Like yours my boy, come home again

Tables are for pounding here
And when we’ve got you surrounded
The man you are will know the boy you were

And you’re not the man who fell to earth
You’re the man of La Mancha
And we’ve love enough to light the street
‘Cause everybody’s here

We got open arms for broken hearts
Like yours my boy, come home again
We got open arms for broken hearts
Like yours my boy, come home again

Everyone’s here
Everyone’s here
The moon is out looking for trouble
And everyone’s here

Everyone’s here
Everyone’s here
The moon wants a scrap or a cuddle
And everyone’s here

We got open arms for broken hearts
Like yours my boy, come home again
We got open arms for broken hearts
Like yours my boy, come home again

Everyone’s here
Everyone’s here
Everyone’s here
Come home again

The moon is out looking for trouble
The moon wants a scrap or a cuddle
The moon is face down in a puddle
And everyone’s here

As always, I’d love to hear your opinion, and your favorites this year.

(Links are Amazon Affiliate links)

A Good List

I’ll have my top 5 list up in a couple of days, but it won’t be nearly as thorough as Steve’s.

The Black Keys – Lonely Boys

From the upcoming album, El Camino, by the Black Keys.