Monday, March 4, 2013

The Top 10 Albums of 2012 (5-1)!!!

5.) The Insyderz - The Sinner's Songbook
The Insyderz were one of the first ska bands to really capture my attention. That was back in 2003. Flash forward 9 years, The Insyderz went on a long hiatus, reunited in late 2011, and got backing from their fans to make this, their first new record in almost a decade! The band is a little smaller, but their sound is just a punchy and powerful. They still employ a really funky horn section, crunchy guitars, and the gruff punk rock vocals of Joe Yerke. Album opener "Angel of Death" starts with a horn call, launching into his signature gritty singing, and rocks its way to a bold yell of an ending. Other standouts include the old-school beat of "We Come In Peace" (great funny lyrics too), introspective prayer in "The Dirty Work," and the anthem unifying title track with guest vocals from both Reese Roper from Five Iron Frenzy and Mojo from The O.C. Supertones. Toss in some amazing ska covers of "Jesus is a Friend of Mine," "All Creatures," and "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," and you got yourself a solid release start to finish! If Joe and co. are leading the choir in Heaven, we're going to have a skankin' good time.

4.) Showbread - Cancer
In Showbread's future universe, they are a band called The Protozoa with a lead musician named Kimo (chemo...get it?), who writes to rebel against the government/spiritual enemies called Principalities (street name: Cancer). With heavy protest songs, bold ballads, and blended worship, Showbread is in peak form musically and lyrically, and even have a full length sci-fi movie to go along with the record coming out any day now! What an undertaking and concept! As someone who has followed the ups and downs of Showbread's career, I have been thrilled with how "Cancer" turned out, probably my favorite of their records since 2008's "Anorexia/Nervosa" double album. This record is a blend of early screechy Showbread, thrash Showbread, and rock praise Showbread. With so many iterations of their raw rock sound, it is remarkable how refined "Cancer" is. I'll chant along with them as they "fight the Cancer!," and then turn to G-d in the worshipful gang vocals and confession as I realize the Cancer is often inside me. This album almost has to be listened to in its entirety, and the journey is worth every note! Download FREE HERE.

3.) Joshua James - From the Top of Willamette Mountain
Ethereal. Magical. Hopeful. Searching.
Joshua James writes from a place of enlightenment, even if most of his musings are uncertain or full of mystery. His beautiful folk rock melodies and impassioned breathy vocal delivery transport my soul to the mountain valley in Utah where he lives and from where he crafts his stories, recounts his love, and paints his heart into songs. I can't pick out album highlights because each song is a work of art, with harmonies that round out the sound, slide guitar that gives them that hint of country, and a plucked and weathered acoustic guitar that has seen many concerts as its seen lonely nights hoping for home. I'm listening to this album right now, and I really don't know how to say it properly. I just feel a peace in this set of songs that transcends this place, this skin, and all the hurt that this world has sometimes. "From the Top of Willamette Mountain" swells with a beauty, richness, and realness that is often unseen in music today. I hope to see Joshua James soon, and wish him well on his musical quest of life.

2.) mewithoutYou - Ten Stories
For people who know me, they know that I have a very deep love for mewithoutYou. "Ten Stories" is immaculate, spinning fables of destined circus animals that scatter (or don't) after a train wreck in Montana in the late 19th century. The premise may seem strange, but the truths hold weight for us all, concealed just beneath the surface of these analogy-filled songs. Shout singer turned folk poet extraordinaire Aaron Weiss crafts riddles and pours humanity into his fated tigers, bears, foxes, walruses, rabbits, peacocks, and owls. Each listen, I find a slice of myself in their wandering tales, as they encounter love, loss, death, sacrifice, and redemption. And if you spin "Ten Stories" and think it isn't as spiritually driven as previous mwY releases, grab a dictionary for the long words and commit yourself to delving into the lyrics and purpose of each song. The music is also crafted with elegance and purposeful flow, one song spilling into the next. The Philadelphia post/folk rock band pulled together their entire sonic range for a cohesive amalgam. I hear strong ties to their surprisingly different release, 2009's "It's All Crazy..." but with definite leanings toward the passionate yelps of "Catch For Us The Foxes" (2004) and my favorite "Brother Sister" (2006). In all, this is the best of mewithoutYou, the whole shebang on full display. Also, don't neglect the two b-sides. While they may not have fit into the album's story, "Julian the Onion" is one of the most earnest use of puns I've ever heard, and "Four Fire" is easily one of my favorite songs by mwY already.

1.) Lost in the Trees - A Church That Fits Our Needs
Flawless. In a word, that is what I would say about Lost in the Trees' new album "A Church That Fits Our Needs." They are an orchestral-based folk band from North Carolina, and despite flying under the popular music radar, they continue to mold some of the most ornate and cohesively stunning records in recent history (in my humble opinion). In "Church," Ari Picker (lead vocalist and musician/guitarist) used musical composition to pay his respects and express his love to his late mother, Karen Shelton, an artist in her own right who tragically took her own life recently. After understanding this background, one might expect this record to be a tragic heavy-handed work, but Picker takes his grief and allows his songs to breathe new life into his mother, paying homage in a triumphant way. With lush string orchestration layered over intimate acoustic folk, Lost in the Trees melds modern indie rock with classical symphony. This duality does something truly captivating, as we celebrate and remember friends and family we may have lost along with the band. When the album was released, Picker said, "I wanted to give my mother a space to become all the things I think she deserved to be and wanted to be, and all the beautiful things in her that didn't quite shine while she was alive." I believe he has done just that an more. "Church" is breathtaking and worth many repeat listens, a monument and memorial in its own time.


And do remember to support the artists if you like what you hear! They put a lot of hard work and dedication into their craft. Don't make their art dispensable!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Top 10 Albums of 2012 (10-6)!!!

And finally, here are my personal favorite records released in 2012! It's been a long time coming, but I've listened to most of these albums countless times, whether at home, at work, or during long commutes. They are have been the soundtrack to my 2012, and probably will stick around as some of my favorites of all time. 2012 was a very strong year of music for me, and I hope to share some of that passion with you now.

10.) The Lumineers - The Lumineers 
File:TheLumineersalbum.jpgThis record is incredibly infectious. It is sweet, quaint, and oozing with singalong choruses about romance and love lost. The banjo-pop folk rock group from New Jersey/Colorado blasted onto the scene by having their song "Ho Hey" included in several television shows and commercials. They sound like they just got off work from a long day, just want to get together with their friends and acoustic instruments and jam it out. Their down-home sound has kept me smiling all year long. How can you not fall in love with the simple and earnest words, "I belong with you, you belong with me, my sweetheart"? If that doesn't make a lady swoon, I don't know what will. Each song is as charming as the last, and the future looks very bright for The Lumineers. (See what I did there?)

9.) David Crowder Band - Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])
File:GiveUsRest.jpg The truly triumphant final album from David Crowder Band is a double album masterpiece of worship, including 34 tracks, a set of 7 sequences, and walks you through a traditional church service with a modern heartbeat. "Give Us Rest" kicks off with footsteps entering a chapel with Latin liturgy being spoken from the pulpit, leading into a lush piano ballad with Crowder's signature Texan accent asking G-d to "give [him] rest." From there, the album span concepts, sounds, and genres that cover the entire DCB catalog, including danceable songs, songs perfect for a contemporary church service, bluegrass, and much more. It is quiet and empty when it needs to be, loud, pulsing, and big when that is required, but so full of soul that I found myself many times in tears reflecting on the lyrics and emotional builds of this record. "Give Us Rest" is a grandiose and thrilling conclusion to DCB's career.

8.)  Various Artists - Moonrise Kingdom (Original Soundtrack)
So maybe including a soundtrack is cheating, but Wes Anderson has a knack for putting together seemingly unrelated songs in his movies to make something unique and lovely. "Moonrise Kingdom" the movie was enchanting in its story-like wonder and discovery. I felt like I was part of their faux Boy Scout troop on an adventure of love and coming-of-age. The music reflects the adventure in dramatic fashion, including sections from Benjamin Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" and several selections from both Leonard Bernstein and Alexandre Desplat. Throw in some Hank Williams, a sultry French ditty by Fran├žoise Hardy, and some children's choirs, and you've got yourself an engaging, strange soundtrack that I can't get enough of.

7.)  The Chariot - One Wing
File:The Chariot - One Wing.jpg The Chariot, while completely un-formulaic in structure, has seemed to tap into a formula that works. Each release by the Georgia mathcore metal quartet is met by a ravenous fan base. It doesn't hurt that their live show is heralded as one of the best in the business, with lots of stage diving, moshing, unfiltered energy, blood, sweat, and tears. "One Wing" is no exception, building and growing out of 2010's "Long Live" but taking a stand completely on its own. It is definitely the strangest of their offerings, bursting through the speakers with two relentless visceral songs then taking a 180 for "Your," which is a harmony laden repetition of older Chariot lyrics by female vocalists. Then, back to the grinding action as if nothing happened on "First" which concludes with an old west breakdown. Does this make sense? Yeah, not to me either, but it is original and fun, especially for a band this intense to not take themselves too seriously. Thirty minutes later, you can catch your breath and regain your thoughts. Maybe.

6.) Of Monsters and Men - My Head Is An Animal
There is a upward swing in folk indie pop bands this year. I mentioned before how it might be because Mumford & Sons broke through the folk barrier and now, The Head and the Heart, Lumineers, The Last Bison, etc. can come out of the musical woodwork. Of Monsters and Men is now right up there with them, but instead of Americana rock, this Icelandic group does their own spin on the genre. There are almost constant male/female dual vocals that are peaceable and echoed in their harmonic layers. OMAM are storytellers, and their songs come across as tales and dreams that they are eager to tell. They remind me of The Lumineers with a less drawl and more rock, or early Arcade Fire with a flair for folk. OMAM's chamber pop coolness is not self-aware, allowing it to be honest and toe-tappingly good.