Sunday, January 3, 2010

Top Ten Albums of 2009: Part II

Here we are, picking up right where we left off. So without further ado, here are my personal top five albums of 2009!

5.) "Heaven & Earth" by Phil Wickham 

Phil Wickham first crossed my radar freshman year of college. I dismissed him as just another Christian singer with an acoustic guitar. Well, since then, his worship-packed songs have truly grown on me, and I can say with confidence that between the free live singalong album released last year and this year's "Heaven & Earth," I am a fan. The production quality is top-notch and his songwriting skills have only improved. The album feels very whole, as well, drawing upon reoccurring themes of the expanse between heaven and earth, how far man has fallen since creation, how Christ crossed the barrier to save us, and just how desperately Wickham wants to get back with God, "naked and unashamed in a sweet downpour of innocent rain" (from Eden). Even the almost-hoedown call to arms of "The Time Is Now" works, while songs don't get much more jubilant than "In Your City."

4.) "Curse Your Branches" by David Bazan 

Switching gears entirely from #5, "Curse Your Branches" is the yearnings of an agnostic singer/songwriter who once lead the Christian alt outfit Pedro the Lion. David Bazan, now an older, more introverted man, husband, and father, has stumbled into a place of faith confusion. He articulates the questions he has for his creator beautifully and unflinchingly, making a first time listener ask themselves, "Did he really just say that?" The album is an unbarred look into a soul searching for something true, something real, amidst a lot of confusion. He takes it out on church leadership, his parents, the creation story, and God Himself on many occasions, not in an angry or upset way, but in a way that is eloquent and quite intelligent. He echos many of my own conundrums of belief with passion and precise musicianship. His vocals and multi-instrument recordings add dense layers to otherwise simple song structures, making "Curse Your Branches" something in and of itself, something entirely true.

3.) "it's all crazy! it's all false! it's all a dream! it's alright" by mewithoutYou

2009 brought my favorite band's fourth full length with "it's all crazy!..." and these Philadelphia natives chose to write with a completely new pen, so to speak. This album is chock full of story driven songs, analogies with fruits and vegetables, and character vignettes from a band trying something very different. Aaron's shout-singing is all but gone, replaced with melodic singing. Even the guitar and drum work is stripped down from previous releases, allowing lesser instruments like shakers, hand drums, and piano take the limelight. Watching mwY progress from album to album has thus far paralleled much of their spiritual transformation too. With the epic scope and denial of self in 2006's "Brother Sister," this new album is full of upbeat songs, more in the vein of praise and recognition of "what a beautiful God there must be" (from Timothy Hay).

2.) "Mean Everything to Nothing" by Manchester Orchestra

I've been reading lots of year end countdowns of albums on various blogs, and it is super lame how "forgetful" many of them are of Manchester Orchestra. MO released an absolutely killer new album, which was praised heavily when it was released, but has since been swept under the rug now that the album has taken off. Well, I'm here to recognize how powerful this record is, how precise and hard, how MO improved in all the best ways from their previous work in 2006. Every single song is a piece of rock songwriting mastery, catchy hooks, splashy drums, perfected breakdowns, harmonized guitar work, and vocals ranging from snarls and screams to whispers and whimpers. Andy Hull and co. deserve all the accolades and fame coming their way, pretentious "we-heard-them-first" naysayers be stricken.

1.) "Build Me This" by Joshua James

I do not recall the last time an album fully enthralled me, encapsulated a season in my life, or spoke words I wish I could say the way "Build Me This" has done for me this year, making it sit atop the rest as the BEST album of 2009. I cannot say enough good things about James and this record. It is joyful, tragic, jubilant, depressing, heavy, light, full-on, and reserved in ways that stir my soul. It is musical therapy to my innermost being and thoughts. The passion that James writes with is something I haven't heard in a long time, and his voice swells and cracks over elegant folk guitar, organ, and piano. The album pulls from backgrounds in traditional folk, hints of country, and gospel, meshing them together into a soulful and spiritual amalgamate. Listen to Joshua James, and go support this band! I cannot wait to see him in concert. I hear he puts on one heck of a show!

DOWNLOAD (One song from each album)

Well that's all folks! Here is to a joyful and musical 2010! Cheers.