After last week's series of heavy posts, I'm looking forward to a little lighter fare this week.
It's upon us... The end of each year brings with it the opportunity for critics and fans to name their Top 10s. (Why 10? No one knows. I always have many more that I love...) Here are my favorite records of the year, in alphabetical order:
1) Armistice - Mute Math I love Mute Math. The first two tracks alone make this record worth your time and money. Lots of great rhythms and keyboard and vocals.
2) Curse Your Branches - David Bazan Former Pedro the Lion frontman bares his soul, asks the questions most followers of Jesus are afraid to ask and ends up breaking up with Jesus. I think. And man, does he sound great doing it.
3) Ellipse - Imogen Heap I first heard Imogen singing "It's Good to Be in Love" with Frou Frou on some live recording. I didn't know if she was a boy or a girl at first. And then there was "Let Go," on the Garden State Soundtrack. And then "Hide and Seek," which, though overplayed, remains a monumental achievement. This record is her finest work yet, and I think "Wait It Out" may be her finest song.
4) I And Love and You - The Avett Brothers The Avett Brothers were on my radar, but I had never heard any of their music, really, until I moved to Tulsa earlier this year. While I didn't make it to their Cain's show, several of my friends here did, and they raved about it. Then Ryan Myers bought their new record shared it through our office network. I must have listened to it dozens of times since then, and it's landed on my Top Ten list. Not bad for a record I haven't even purchased. Old-timey but fresh, killer harmonies and lyrics. I love this band.
5) Live - Shawn Colvin The first of two live albums on my list this year. This record, culled from three evenings at Yoshi's in San Francisco, shows why Colvin is one of the most respected singer-songwriters around. Just a guitar, her crystalline voice and beautiful songs. I've been a fan since I was a senior in high school and I fell in love with Steady On. When Luanne and I saw her on the "Three Girls and Their Buddy" tour last summer, she was the highlight for me.
6) Live from Nowhere, Volume 4 - Over the Rhine OtR continues to be my favorite band, year after year. Karin's voice gets better and better, and the songs grow richer and richer. But there was something magical about the early years, and fans like me who remember the band in the early 90s were delighted with the concept of this concert: For their 20th Anniversary, the band would play back-to-back concerts on two evenings, each concert focusing on a different decade. The first night... Play the old songs, from 1991's Till We Have Faces, 1992's Patience, 1994's Eve and 1996's Good Dog Bad Dog. And bring back the band. Or, more specifically, bring back Ric Hordinski to rock the electric guitar. And they recorded it and released it for us. It's a treasure.
7) Middle Cyclone - Neko Case Her voice is a howling tornado. Killer songs and terrific production. Wild lyrics. It's the perfect storm.
8) Stockholm Syndrome - Derek Webb The ever-controversial Derek Webb stirs it up again with the song "What Matters More." I loved following his Tweets and trying to figure it all out. (Great article here.) My favorite album of 2009.
9) The Fray - The Fray I've been surprised by how much I like this record. Would I have ever even purchased it were it not for my Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon connection to them? (Drummer Ben Wysocki grew up in an Evangelical Covenant church. He is the brother of my friend Angie Wysocki and a good friend of my good friend David Greco.) I just don't know. But I can't deny that I listened to this record this year. A lot. And loved it.
10) The Long Play - Sam Phillips I love the music, and I love the idea. Over the years, Sam has been one of my favorite artists, so I jumped when the opportunity became available to "subscribe" for a year to her creative process. $52 bought me 5 digital EPs, released every two months; a full-length digital album scheduled for release in the fall of 2010; a "subscribers-only" bonus track with each EP and album, plus additional bonus tracks throughout the year; bonus audio and video content throughout the year and "may include" live concert footage, rehearsal tapes, demos, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, etc.
PLUS there's message boards, etc. where Sam interacts with her fans. There have been two EPs released so far... one, a collection of songs performed with The Section Quartet and the other, a collection of Christmas songs. Haunting and intimate. This is cool.
11) Written in Chalk - Buddy & Julie Miller At long last, the sequel to the first brilliant "duo" record, 2001's "Buddy & Julie Miller." Authentic, raw, earthy, spiritual, fragile and tough all at the same time.
Yes, I know it's eleven. But, technically, Sam Phillips's album isn't really an "album" per se. That's my excuse anyway.
2020 - The Orange Peels
Balm in Gilead - Rickie Lee Jones
Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King - Dave Matthews Band
Church Music - David Crowder*Band
Glory in the Highest: Christmas Songs of Worship - Chris Tomlin
Hundreds of Lions - Erin McKeown
Life Light Up - Christy Nockels
No Line on the Horizon - U2
Poseidon and the Bitter Bug - Indigo Girls
Soul of My Soul - Michelle Shocked
Troubadour - K'Naan
Wilco (The Album) - Wilco
How about you? What's your favorite music from the past year?
Tomorrow: My top ten of the decade.