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!

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