Top Ten Albums of 2014

This was a good year for music. Usually, I'm pretty stuck when it comes to these lists, however much I enjoy writing them. But this year, I had a good idea of who was going to make the cut from the start. This was also a crazy year, personally. New home in Albuquerque. New album for LTP. Collapsing church and all the emotions that ensued. Another year older and whatever that does to the way that a person looks at the world. A good amount of this music was the soundtrack to a year that, for better or worse, I'll never forget. 

I created a Spotify playlist with two-ish tracks from each of the artists below (minus Dave Bazan, because he hates Spotify), if you'd like to listen to them, here: Top Ten of 2014.

 

10. Red Sweater Lullaby: Pins and Needles

Last year, I included Red Sweater Lullaby’s The Norrtalje EP in my top-ten list, and this year, that acoustic, recorded-on-an-iPad-in-Sweden sound gave way to a full-fledged rock record. Kris Rochelle - frontman for the band - is my friend, so call it bias if you want, but I listened to Pins and Needles a whole lot this year, and my appreciation for it was solidified after watching the full band play in Albuquerque for about three people after my wife and I did a really bad job of promoting their show. Touring Texas with Kris as an acoustic act this December for our Ugly Sweater Christmas Tour was a great time. I don’t actually think that I listen to a whole lot of straight up rock and roll music, but I feel like Kris is an expert on it, and Pins and Needles is a wonderful time. Especially if you happen to be making your way out to a campground for a nice weekend of fires and pipe tobacco.

Notable lyrics:

- If you don't try, then you can't fail the trial. I haven't looked myself in the eyes in a while.

- Wake up, you are alive.

 

9. Jack White: Lazaretto 

Rock & Roll is why. Well, that might sound nice, but actually I think aesthetics is why. Jack White's music - even back to when White Stripes started to catch - has always been a tangible experience. Raw. Like something you can touch, figuratively, the way you can toy with his vinyl, literally. The more and more things go in a digital direction, the more and more I want art I can hold in my hands. I think a lot of Lazaretto embodies that experience. 

Notable lyrics:

- I’m so Detroit, I make it rise from the ashes.

 

8. Beyonce: Beyonce

I’m including this record tentatively because it’s such a sexually charged album with tracks that, truthfully, are so over-the-top at times that I’ve all but stopped listening to the majority of them. So why include it here at all? Because of the song XO, and its accompanying music videoXO is my feel-good song of the year. It is a warm, full, fun singalong track with a visual accompaniment that makes me feel as happy as the little kid dancing in it at 2:07 - roller coasters and fair food and dancing and laughing at Coney Island - like a cozy dream or something. Of course, the production throughout is excellent, and musically, it is my favorite Beyonce album yet. Her surprise release got me as much as the next guy, and I loved all the ensuing bad-idea marketing conversations from artists who don’t have four billion fans ready to make them a killing regardless of whether or not they build up hype or promote their secret drop. Probably shouldn’t quit your day-jobs. 

Notable lyrics:

- I love you like XO.

Just another stage, pageant the pain away.

 

7. Glowhouse - Rival

I can’t not include this. Alex Sugg’s Rival was an emotional roller coaster for me, and mostly because of my friendship with him over the years. Alex has gone from writing songs about God’s nonexistence to writing songs that honor and praise - through creativity, mystery, excellence, beauty - that same God that he has come to know. Alex is, in my own life, one of the truest evidences of the existence and grace of the resurrected Jesus, and the power that he holds to transform lost and broken people into redeemed, joy-filled sons and daughters.

And his music is phenomenal. Glowhouse, as a genre, has morphed and evolved into something other than what it began as, entirely, and though I loved what it was, there is so much maturity in what it has become. Alex is also the brains behind all of the music on my newest Correspondence (a fiction) release. I hope he ends up making a jillion dollars becoming the next Hans Zimmer. 

Notable lyrics:

I watching you love. 

 

6. David Bazan: Bazan Monthly 

Try to tell me that any time Dave releases something, it shouldn’t make a list.

Notable lyrics: 

- Nobody's perfect, nobody's free. Nobody ever gets away with anything. You keep a secret but the shadows tell on you. You hide it under a bushel but the light comes shining through. What can you do?

Do I enjoy the drugs I take? My lord, I hope I do.

 

5. Kings Kaleidoscope: Becoming Who We Are

I was interested in what kind of record KK were going to release post-Mars Hill Music. Especially as a part of BadChristian. I enjoyed Sin, for the most part, and when their Joy Has Dawned EP came out, I didn’t have high hopes, but it’s come to be one of my favorite Christmas albums. In 2012, I attended a college conference that my friend took me to, hosted by The Resurgence up in Bellevue. King’s Kaleidoscope played that event, and I loved it. I was so excited about the type of music that was being created in a world of stereotypically bad music, especially as far as congregational worship goes. Although Becoming Who We Are is probably less in that vein, it still meets its upward purpose. Top of the game creatively, bar none. All over the place, emotionally. Zion broke my heart and encapsulated the only hope I have. Musically, there’s so much going on that it’s either exhausting or exhilarating, depending upon what type of mood you’re in. Theologically solid. I love that they chose to include Grace Alone. Heady tracks like Kensrue’s cover, here, have always captured my heart a hell of a lot more than Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble? ever did (even though that’s great and everything if you’re my mom). A+.

Notable lyrics: 

In the end I just want blood, and with his blood my hands are stained. See the God who reigns on high, he has opened his own veins. From his wounds a rushing torrent that can wash it all away. Grace upon grace, upon grace upon grace.

- Zion, I’m coming soon to where you are, ‘till then my love’s with you, though world’s apart.

 

4. La Dispute: Rooms Of The House

I didn’t fall in love with Rooms Of The House from the moment I heard it, but my appreciation for the concept album has grown into a crescendo. La Dispute did some pretty creative things with this release - not least of which, the full album’s worth of lyric videos set to old-time home video footage (something I started doing live, and have always wanted to do with my records as music videos, but you don’t have to believe me, because they got to it first. At some point, I’ll probably experiment with the same idea and call it “the highest form of flattery” as opposed to “theft”). Jordan Dryer is a master lyricist. He has an uncanny ability not only to verbalize the thoughts others wish they could, but to create beauty and color out of the mundane and grey. Rooms Of The House paints “memorable” the day-to-day that is only appreciated for what it is in the wake of the kind of loss the record explores and encompasses. The art seems spot-on and simplistic compared to Wildlife’s chaotic splatter. Musically, as well (though I am no musician), Rooms seems a tame follow up to previous releases (though that without negative connotation). I think I understand that, though, at least, as much as a fellow artist can. I still haven’t seen these guys live. Hopefully someday I’ll get to catch a set.

Notable lyrics:

- What would you do if I died? Would you fly out for my funeral? Get too drunk at my wake? Would you make a scene then? Climb in and try to resuscitate me?

- I guess in the end it sort of feels like every day it’s harder to stay happy where you are. There are all these ways to look through the fence into your neighbor’s yard. Why even risk it? It’s safer to stay distant when it’s so hard now to just be content, because there’s always something else.

 

3. Propaganda: Crimson Cord

First of all, I finally met Propaganda at Audiofeed Festival this last summer. My wife and I had been wanting to for quite some time, and it just so happened that our introduction was the most awkward experience possible. I’ll try to do the story justice with a short amount of space. I introduced myself before Prop played a tent-set to the whitest crowd in America. We didn’t know how to bob our heads up and down, let alone show any real interactive enthusiasm. Anyway, after his set, my friend Jacob Vigil goes up to introduce himself, and you know that thing where you stick out your hand for a handshake and then pull it back and hair-swipe the side of your head for a last-second fake-out? Jacob did that twice while Brandi stood there laughing and Prop stood there confused. Then Jacob stood next to the merch line and got down on his hands and knees behind people while Brandi pushed those people backwards so that they tripped and fell over Jacob and onto the ground, while she laughed. So anyway, first impressions. Nice to meet you. 

As for Crimson Cord, every time I listen through it, I hear something new. And I’m challenged. I could try to dissect all of the whys, but at the core of it, dude’s great at Both/And. Both engaging the culture and challenging it. Both interacting with what’s happening on the ground at a micro level, and observing and assessing it aerially from a macro view. Both writing a record about the things he values and modeling that they’re more than words on a page as he stands by them, practically. Some of his thoughts on the recent conversation surrounding Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the value of human life and inherent dignity as fearfully and wonderfully made are a valuable example, and one that the Lord has been using in my own life to convict my uninformed / generally unaware disconnect from what is happening in the world and how Jesus would have his people compassionately engage it.

His writing still isn’t a neat little bow to tie all of our problems up with, but I’m pretty skeptical about folk promising that kind of package, anyway. I’m glad he’s talking, and I’m thankful that we get to listen in on the conversation.

Notable lyrics: 

- There's no rewind, just redeem.

- Them identical strip malls on every corner of your mind can make you feel a little cluster-phobic, right?

 

2. James Vincent McMorrow: Post Tropical

JVM’s Post Tropical is beautiful, but I didn’t appreciate it for what it is until I saw the short films that accompanied the release for Cavalier, Red Dust and Glacier, from Irish film-maker Aoife McArdle. Her video trilogy was simultaneously nauseating and gorgeous. (Here is your official disclaimer about mature themes. The content is as dark as the directing is excellent. Cavalier's context follows a boy's emotional breakdown in a strip club, and Red Dust contains brief nudity, though neither of which are glorified as much as they follow a narrative of dissatisfied heartbrokenness.) McArdle talks a little bit about her reasoning behind the narrative here: http://buff.ly/16WsimX. Frankly, I didn’t do much research about whether her films reflect actual characters in Post Tropical, but they certainly fueled my intrigue. Then there’s the video for Gold - such a joy-filled contrast to McArdle’s depressing trilogy that it took me off guard. I love it when artists collaborate to create a holistic experience - especially when each contribution reflects the kind of consistency that pulls it all together. I feel like JVM did that with this record. I also feel like I didn’t actually talk about the record. It’s good, you should listen to it. Preferably on an early morning road trip, driving south along the coast from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria, while the sun rises and lifts the fog from the ocean to your right, and the ship lights blink in the greying dark.

Notable lyrics:

- Sometimes my hands, they don’t feel like my own. I need someone to love. I need someone to hold.

- I remember my first love.

- I’m not in a glove called how.

 

1. ’68: In Humor And Sadness

I’ve listened to In Humor And Sadness upwards of 100 times, probably. My friend Alex MacWilliam gave me Josh & Michael’s album after their set at Audiofeed Festival this year. I’d played with ’68 once before in Nashville, and enjoyed the new “Scogin project” live, but I have yet to experience it now that I’ve fallen in love with In Humor And Sadness. Brandi and I stayed an album’s length away from the festival, so we listened to it the next morning on the way back into the grounds. I only caught bits and pieces of the lyrics, but what I heard was thought provoking. I still want to call Josh and ask him what Track 3: E is about. I assume that I, like anyone else, pull other artists’ lyrics outside of the context that they are written in and warp them to fit whatever chord it is I hear resonating within. Not a bad thing, necessarily - good art probably allows for empathy and expansion beyond whatever specific circumstance or thought provoked the artist to craft it. “Revolution? Churches collapsing. Falling around me. Revolutionless?” did just that. As the church my wife and I attend collapsed this year, I heard all of my fear and anger and doubt in that line, and I loved and hated it all at once. Or, “I am the troubled waters, make no mistake.” My, have I crashed to and fro on the waves this year.

And sure, there was an element of anticipation from a long-time Chariot fan to see what was going to come next. I’m not going to compare the two projects, though. You’d all cry “blasphemy” and they shouldn’t be compared, anyhow. Musically, I love the permeating experimental grunge. Lyrically, I think that Josh is at the top of his game. Nothing’s wrapped up in a bow, but there is hope in all of the turmoil and questions and fear or boredom inside the box, and I need that hope when I find myself tossed by the themes this raging mistress tackles throughout.

Notable lyrics:

- I’m not scared, I’m just bored. I don’t know if I can help anymore and that’s what terrifies all of me.

- I’ve been lost, I’ve been found, and I’ve been blind again.

- I don’t know when I’m going to die, but I’ve done it once and I know in this life, keep your eyes in the clouds, keep your feet on the ground and dance to the drums of your own song. Take what you can from this life but then make it all count. Celebrate it.

- If Trust would be my lover, I’d take her anywhere I go.

 

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OTHER NOTABLES

Lowercase Noises - This Is For Our Sins

I've had a growing appreciation for Andy's music throughout the writing of my own record. I listened to his nautically-themed Migratory Patterns a lot while I penned the Correspondence (a fiction) story, and I love the way that he runs with creatively retelling narrative through sound and song. This Is For Our Sins is another example of that creativity played as soundtrack to a truly bizarre and fascinating story. You can listen to Andy tell you about it himself, here, if you want. Andy's a master at what he does for Lowercase Noises & Archibald, as sound engineer for Glowhouse and Levi The Poet, and elsewhere with other projects that may or may not have anything to do with music, and may or may not include a little too much whisky. It was also fun watching this video come together, even though the old guy broke my flask.

 

U2 - Songs Of Innocence

I want to hate myself for including this album, but after I woke up to Apple’s cyber intrusion, solidifying the fact that people can literally just do whatever they want, however they want, to anyone, anywhere, at any time, I ended up enjoying it. I haven’t listened to U2 in a long time prior to Songs Of Innocence, so maybe it’s all Joshua Tree nostalgia, but I jammed it three times through right after it dropped into my lap while I cut down tree branches in my backyard, so that’s something. Way to go Bono. I hope that when you meet God, he gives you a hug, and then asks you why you’re still wearing those stupid sunglasses. 

Notable lyrics:

- And I’m a long way from your hill of Calvary. And I’m a long way from where I was and where I need to be.

 

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What about you? What were some of your top albums this year? Feel free to comment below with things I missed, or stuff I should be looking forward to in 2015.