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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–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.

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The Starting Place

The new Death Cab for Cutie album, Codes and Keys, came out today. I like the album overall, but one song caught my attention in particular. The song is called “St Peter’s Cathedral“. Here are the lyrics:

St. Peter’s Cathedral built of granite but ever fearful of the answer
When the candle in the tunnel is flickering in sputters and fading faster
It’s only then that you will know what lies above or down below
Or if these fictions only prove how much you’ve really got to lose

At St. Peter’s Cathedral there is stained glass, there’s a steeple that is reaching
Up towards the heavens such ambition never failing to amaze me
It’s either quite a master plan or just chemicals that help us understand
That when our hearts stop ticking this is the end
There’s nothing past this

For those that would consider themselves to be Christians, believers, followers of Jesus — you need to recognize that these lyrics represent the starting place for many, especially across Europe and increasingly in the United States. This is what they believe.

After you’ve recognized this you need to understand why. Listen to them, ask them questions. Why do they believe what they believe? Don’t preach. Just listen. And please, do it in the context of relationship. Don’t grab a stranger and expect them have any vested interest in engaging with you in a spiritual conversation.

And go buy the album. It’s good.