Top Ten Albums of 2011

I’ve been skirting around writing this list since the beginning of the year because I don’t really think I listened to a lot of music in 2011, and didn’t even know if I’d have ten bands to choose from when I sat down to think about it, so I never sat down to think about it. Now I’m sitting down to think about it, and I was wrong, of course. 

This year was crazy. I lost my dad this year, got married this year, practically moved out of state with my wife and then back again this year, and lived in an RV with three or four other people for the majority of the year. My mom and sister - the only immediate family left in Albuquerque - left the state this year. One of my best friends got accepted to medical school this year. One of them moved to Colorado. All of them started either internships or devoted themselves to service at Mars Hill. My church has moved and grown this year, as well as my passion for it. To top it all off, my sister-in-law’s cat, The Captain, recently decided that he likes me more than anyone else in the family, which is just great. 

So here I go, writing album reviews for some invisible magazine in the sky, but hopefully I can connect some dots and make sense of why I’m choosing what I choosing - for my sake as much as anyone else’s. I feel like I should say that the majority of my picks are based more on the lyricists’ abilities to make me interested in anything they’re saying, as opposed to the type of music (though both are, obviously, important). This is, however, why you will never find LMFAO on my list, and when Brandi reads this, she will cry because she probably just forgot to include them in hers, because somehow the devil got ahold of her mind and tricked her into biting the apple behind those idiots’ leopard panties when they “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.”

X | Thrice: Major/Minor

I never gave a crap about Thrice before this album. My wife will undoubtedly comment and say that the only reason I started is because Dustin Kensrue began playing worship for the Mars Hill Orange County Church, and although I’m not even opposed to saying that was the thing that finally sparked my interest, I am legitimately enamored by this release. The rawness of it. I listened to it with the one and only Phillip Wells while we drove through Nowhere, Arkansas (which is actually any and all of Arkansas) on our way to a show, whilst tailing the one and only TD Benton of the Traveling White Collar Sideshow who, regardless of what he thinks, is often a terrifying driver who makes people spill coffee all over themselves. It helped that Phil is a long-standing Thrice fan who could tell me why I should be, too. This album reminds me of him, and the awesome year that we had hanging out together. 

• Favorite Songs:

     • Promises

     • Disarmed

• Favorite Lyrics:

     • “We were sons of imperfection, doomed to face the dark alone. Till vicarious perfection, dearly won, was made our own.”

     • “We say, ‘On me you can depend’ and ‘I will be there till the end’ - though we will not bear the cross.”

IX | John Mark McMillian: Economy

I played this CD a lot as I made over-easy eggs every morning at Brandi’s parents’ house and got laughed at by my mother-in-law all the time because I eat eggs more than anything else. I guess JMM he got super popular off of that “How He Loves Us” song, but every single church in the United States of America plays that song at least seven (the number of perfection) times in every service. I think that Economy appeals to me because it’s such a unique blend of both emotionally driven and theologically grounded worship. More often than not, writers are criticized for being one or the other, but this has got both the let-loose-joy-filled heart of a child and meat of maturity. It’s just unique, in general. McMillan doesn’t use all the cliche Christian worship words, and the songs seem so personal, while at the same time inviting me into a relatable experience that needs Christ. I needed Christ this year. I know I need him every year, but I feel like this year rested on a hinge that could have either swung towards Jesus, or towards a deep bitterness against him. So, to quote Mr. McMillan: “We have seen a darkness but we have seen a light. We have felt the love of a hope’s hot blood in the machinery of night. We have seen a darkness but we have seen the sun. We have come undone to a love’s hot song in the symphony of blood.”

• Favorite Songs: 

     • Murdered Son

     • Love You Swore

• Favorite Lyrics: 

     • “The devil’s dealing dirty in broken hearts and counterfeit currency.”

     • “I know that I love you, but sometimes I know it more.”

VIII | Manchester Orchestra: Simple Math

I bought this album in a mall next to a terrible Christian bookstore with self-help books and smiling faces and packaged crowns of thorns all over the place in a state that I don’t remember. Manchester will forever remind me of Jonathan Orner, and the year that I met my beautiful Brandi, and driving around in the snow and going to Dennys (was it Dennys?) I remember the night that I listened through it, because for some reason half of the people in the RV that Brandi and I were living in decided to go on walks, which meant that it was quiet enough to play the album through the system, in it’s entirety. Andy Hull makes me jealous, plain and simple. I love his lyrics because I love that, regardless of the simplicity, they cut you like a knife. I’ll be honest, this record isn’t my favorite of theirs - in fact, it’s my least favorite - and I miss that “independent” flare they had going for them beneath the falling winter snow in ‘07 when I first heard Virgin with my best friends. The story behind the record is what really got me - the vulnerability and autobiographical account of deeply personal relationship issues Andy and his wife went through… I think anyone who’s been through the various seasons of life that make up a relationship can relate to a lot of it. Simply put: I’m a sucker for a chick flick that conveys heartbreak well. I think Andy was pretty self-depreciating in Simple Math. I like that because I’m a pretty self-depreciating writer (for better or worse, whether I should be or shouldn’t be). I thought of Pink Floyd when I heard “Virgin”, weeping when I heard “Apprehension”, high school when I heard “Pale Black Eye”, and me when I heard “Deer”, and being pissed off throughout the majority of the records entirety. Also, “Pale Black Eye” definitely has to be related to black men being inside of people’s teeth in one way or another, because otherwise what else could Andy be talking about in Mean Everything To Nothing’s ”In My Teeth”?

• Favorite Songs:

     • Deer

     • Apprehension

• Favorite Lyrics:

     • “I sit home and plead the throne to speak, to speak to me, to me, hasn’t said a single thing.”

     • “I’m tired of lying. I wish I loved you like I used to.”

     • “Dear everybody that has paid to see my band, it’s still confusing, we’ll never understand.”

VII | Jay Z & Kanye West: Watch The Throne

Brandi bought this for me as a present during the long twelve-hour drive between Albuquerque and Ft. Smith that we traversed multiple times throughout the year. At first, I was thinking about it like a rap album, and I didn’t like it. Plus, they keep on singing about “Sweet Baby Jesus” in one song, and all I can think about when I hear “Baby Jesus” is Will Ferrel praying over dinner in the movie Taladega Nights. I think you have to listen to Watch The Throne like it’s an indie album that Mr. Cocky and Mr. Cocky Camel Cigarrettes wrote together. This CD continues to solidify my belief that Kanye West is an idiot regardless of how much I listen to him, and that Jay-Z continues to be the jam. It is said that music and movies are the sermons of today’s culture, and I liked deconstructing this album in relation to that idea, especially the song “No Church In The Wild”, which says: “We formed a new religion: no sins as long as there’s permission… Two tattoos, one read ‘No Apologies’. The other said, ‘Love is Cursed by Monogamy’. It’s something that the pastor don’t preach… preach.” What’s that? Moral relativity and post-modernism, even emphasized before the hook with Ye saying he’s preaching. “Ni**as in Paris” is the jam for dance parties, and I heard that they toured with live sharks inside of thirty-foot LED lighted tanks they stood on top, so that’s neat. 

• Favorite Songs:

     • Why I Love You

     • Ni**as In Paris

• Favorite Lyrics:

     • “Ball so hard muhf*ckas wanna fine me… that sh*t cray!”

     • “I tried to teach ni**as how to be kings, and all they ever wanted to be was soldiers.”

VI | The Front Bottoms: Self-Titled

I saw this record at an independent music store in Phoenix the day after all of my friends and I went to see Bon Iver. I liked the cover art. When I was in high school, my friend Isaac and I used to go to Hastings and buy whichever album we thought had the coolest cover on it. I found a lot of good music that way. I don’t know what kind of music it is. My friend Sam hates it and doesn’t think it’s real music at all (but he plays in a metal band and listens to nothing but country, so his opinion doesn’t count at all), Brandi’s not exactly fond of it, and whenever I’ve played it in a group setting, everyone wants to listen to something different. There’s a horn section, and the guy talks about hearing dog whistles from some chick’s bedroom. He also talks about skateboarding, telling people to stop taking pictures with their phones and a bunch of random crap, really, which reminds me of punk music where the kids in the band have a whole lot of fun and laugh on stage. You should listen to it (but you’ll probably hate it for some reason that isn’t really that good of a reason, like their name, which my friend Jonathan seems to think is a completely valid reason for not liking anything). 

• Favorite Songs:

     • Maps

     • Flashlight

• Favorite Lyrics:

     • “But you are an artist, and your mind don’t work the way you want it to: one day you’ll be washing yourself with hand soap in a public bathroom.”

     • “You were high-school, and I was just more like real life.”

     • “She says a lot of the kids we graduated with are now homeless which puts them in mad shady situations with mad shady people - if not everyday, then on an every other day basis.”

V | Sleeping Giant: Kingdom Days In An Evil Age

When Tommy (vocalist) read my album review for their new album, he asked me what the heck an “openhanded doctrinal difference” is, and regardless of the fact that I have some of those differences, Jesus has, without a doubt, used my friends in Sleepy G to make me love Him more. They all prayed for my dad for years before he died, and when Brandi and I spent a few days with Tommy and Krissy (his wife) in Utah last year, they prayed over our marriage and I wept like I have never wept in front of anyone in my life, ever. So obviously, there’s a bit of bias, but what the hell? This album is heavy as balls. It’s serious - militant, pissed - and serious - humble, broken. I like the lyrics because they’re all, in essence, lists of attributes that Jesus possesses, which are praised, accompanied by metal-calls to Christians to actually live out of the awareness of Jesus’ goodness and be good fathers and things like that (“Sons need fathers”). Plus, Sleeping Giant is one of the only bands that I will ever get down and dance to, so it’s great to have more jams to flail to whenever we happen to see them around. 

• Favorite Songs:

     • Tithemi

     • The Cross Is Suicide

• Favorite Lyrics:

     • “Every curse of the fathers - washed in His blood, healed by His pain.”

     • “I saw the One seated on the throne, crystal clear as the sea. And he beckoned ‘Come up here, my child.’ I could feel him breathe.”

IV | Bright Eyes: The People’s Key

Brights Eyes could put out an album that completely sucks and I would still list it. My friend Brannon will comment and say something stupid like he did last year about how I only list bands that I am extremely biased about - but isn’t everyone that writes things about what he likes biased about it? Therefore, in my entirely subjective opinion, Bright Eyes is all of my high school memories passing before my eyes like people say happens when they’re going to die - a dramatic description for an equally dramatic band. Frankly, I liked all of Oberst’s music when he was on a lot of drugs more than I do now, but nothing could possibly be as bad as Cassadega, so, fearing the worst, The People’s Key was a huge relief. Plus, it made me laugh a lot, which is probably a first. I have no idea what the heck the guy that talks about reptiles and time travel and the Sumerian tablets and 800 super universes going counter clockwise and Hitler is actually talking about, but it’s the most amusing monologue I’ve ever heard in my life. I usually get sad when I listen to Bright Eyes, and I like that, but this time, although that dynamic was there, I also got pumped. They did all kinds of dancy synth things and weird time signatures and crap. I just think they’re geniuses, really. Def in the top three bands I want to see before I’m dead (along with Rage and Pink Floyd - but probably none of those will happen). 

• Favorite Songs:

     • Approximate Sunlight

     • Ladder Song

• Favorite Lyrics:

     • “No one knows where the ladder goes, you’re gonna lose what you love the most. You’re not alone in anything. You’re not unique in dying.”

     • “Now that the dream is over, I want it to be know: I never saw you coming from my little human prism - how sad it is to know I’m in control.”

III | La Dispute: Wildlife

I wrote so much about La Dispute last year when they hadn’t even released an album that I don’t feel like I have much to say this time around. I sat in White Collar Sideshow’s RV and gave Brandi a back rub when we first listened to this album. It was after we went to Chili’s and shared Fajitas for date night. We were both sad - suffering, in a way, and this record enabled that emotion. This record is a lot about wrestling with faith and God and a lot of things we wrestled with all year. I started running a lot this year and let Wildlife sympathize with my anger, fear, frustration, hope, and story - or maybe it was I that sympathized? - and pissed off, pushed myself to run past the last goal: four, five, six, seven miles. It’s got a great stream-of-conscious feel to it. The album makes me think of my friends. It makes me think of “rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep.” Brandi and I did that for one another a lot in twenty-eleven. They just do such a great job of - if this makes sense - concluding and inconclusive story, by building a common ground on questions, pain, fear, etc… Or maybe I’ve just asked a lot of those questions…? King Park makes me miss my dad. The whole album makes me miss my dad.

• Favorite Songs:

     • all our bruised bodies and the whole heart shrinks

     • a Letter

• “Tell me about God. Tell me about love. Tell me that it’s all of the above. Say you think of everything in fear. I bet you’re not the only one who does.”

• “He said it’s easy to find people that have suffered worse than him. ‘Like Jesus suffered worse than anyone,’ he told me last night, ‘when God abandoned him.’”

• “Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?”

II | Bon Iver: Self Titled

Going to see Bon Iver live in Phoenix this year made me fall in love. I’m kind of like that - sometimes it takes a live show to really win me over. All of my friends have been die-hards since For Emma, Forever Ago, and while I like it, I’ve listened to it more since this September than I ever did when it actually came out. I also like that Justin Vernon can make cuss words sound so pretty. Generally, I don’t know what he’s talking about, but that suits the genre well, whatever it is, and I don’t even care. The show was, perhaps, the best live set I’ve ever seen. I listened to this a lot driving around the country. I would sit in the “kitchen” while T drove around and write - in fact, I wrote most of the material that I want to release for LTP next while listened to this record. That, or I’d block the world out at night after a show and get lost in my own. Also, as Lynz’s boyfriend Seth said so eloquently, “The last song makes me really appreciate 80s soft-rock.” 

• Favorite Songs:

     • Holocene

     • Perth

• Favorite Lyrics:

     • “Oh the sermons are the first to rest, smoke on Sundays when you’re drunk and dressed.”

     • “All at once I knew I was not magnificent.”

I | Hands: Give Me Rest

Brandi already wrote a lot about this record in her “Top 10” list, and I love it for many of the same reasons. The memories associated with it. The beautiful campgrounds we ran through together, and along Lake Erie, where the sunset on the water shone like nothing I’ve ever seen. I was supposed to write an album review on this record for a magazine when it came out - and I did - but I felt like it was mediocre, at best. I couldn’t describe it. I still can’t describe it, and frankly, I feel like I’ve completely failed at describing any of these albums - like they’re all a bunch of pithy generic explanations that don’t do justice to the emotions listening to them conjure up within me. At any rate, a lot of what Shane wrote about in Give Me Rest resonated within me. I was tired, broken, wondering, hoping. I don’t think that any of my confidence in the sovereignty of God throughout such this year was a farce, but I do think that I masked a lot of hurt in the name of standing strong to exemplify “the joy of the Lord.” In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t “exemplifying” anything other than dishonesty that I never would have encouraged in anyone else whose life changed in such dramatic ways. I pressured my wife to be happy, be trusting, be joyful, be encouraged, be encouraging, be, be, be, be, be, be, be, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, listen, listen, listen, listen, listen when I should have shut the hell up and stopped acting like a pharisee. Give Me Rest echoes, I think, the pleas Brandi and I prayed this year - whether we said so or not and, perhaps, whether we realized it or not. I appreciate Shane’s honesty as it related to his life and his faith and maybe even his lack thereof, and to circumstances within the music scene at the time, and I think this album will have a longevity to it that extends well beyond anything the guys expected.

• Favorite Songs:

     • The Helix

     • Give Me Rest

• Favorite Lyrics:

     • “Oh, I feel so tired. So wake me up. I believe your hands hold the sun. But in the deepest of my mind, I question everything you’ve done. Give me rest. I believe your breath fills my lungs. But it’s a thought that’s hard to swallow, I feel ashamed I can’t hold on.”

     • “Is my name in there? Send a smile to my daughter. Tell her everything is fine. And give my wisdom to my brother. Tell him to use it right. And to everyone I’ve wronged, the thought has never left my mind. You are the end and I am fading. Will I rest with you for all of time? Is my name in there? Give me rest. Tell my wife I adore her. That she is beautiful and kind. Here I sit among the clouds. I was wrong and you were right. Give me rest.”

Honorable Mentions:

ITMOL: Shadows (because they’re my besties)

Eminem: Bad Meets Evil (because Em’s flow gets sicker all the time, even though he also get more immature with age)

Washed Out: Within And Without (because they should actually be in my top ten, except I didn’t listen to them until this month)

Adele: 21 (because I forgot about adding her until just now)


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