Every year the Interwebs are flooded with top 10 lists for pretty much everything. I love looking through these lists. When I see them, I’m looking at a group of albums/movies/TV shows that were loved very much. I’d rather watch movies or listen to albums that appear on top 10 lists than the ones that win awards. This is because the awards are usually based on a consensus vote, whereas the top 10 lists come from specific critics (who, contrary to popular belief, are living, breathing people). This means that the works that win awards were merely the most agreed upon as “good” within a group of people; the ones that are on the top 10 lists are the most loved.
That being said, there are great albums and great movies that never appear on anyone’s list, and they’re inevitably left out of the discussion of what was the best art from that year. Here are 5 albums that you won’t find on any other top 10 lists. That doesn’t mean they’re worse than the most acclaimed albums of the year; these albums would hold up when next to channel ORANGE or The Idler Wheel anyday. Rather, they’re the albums that fell through the cracks. Not all of them are on Spotify, but if they’re not, I’ve linked you in the name of the album to a place where you can listen to every track. Enjoy (in alphabetic order)!
Anaïs Mitchell, Young Man in America: Folk is all over the place right now, to the point where I’m starting to wonder if we’ll start seeing the pendulum swing the other way soon. But Anaïs Mitchell’s is a unique voice in folk; Sharon Van Etten got all the attention for her dark, brutal album Tramp (and deservedly so), but Mitchell’s Young Man in America is the better, more lived-in album. Much of the album sounds like it’s coming from a place that’s primal, and Mitchell sings as if there’s a lot at stake. She doesn’t simply follow the Mumford/Avett model, but she’s crafted her own distinct sound. Favorite Song: “Young Man in America”
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra, Fable: It used to be that great Christian music was hard to find, but that’s not the case anymore*, thank goodness. Thank God that not only is Christian music easier to access and enjoy, it’s improving creatively. Enter Benjamin Dunn. He and his band eschew the traditional Christian rock format and find an ecstatic medium between rock and electronic. Dunn’s lyrics piggyback off C.S. Lewis and his Narnia characters, but the connection hardly permeates every song and isn’t necessary to appreciate the album. On top of making great music in his spare time, Benjamin Dunn also runs what looks like a sweet orphanage in India with his wife. Cool dude. Favorite Song: “When We Were Young”
Christopher Paul Stelling, Songs of Praise and Scorn: And we’re back to folk. The pendulum hasn’t quite swung away yet, dear reader, so you’ll have to indulge me as I plug yet another album of music that sounds as if its singer must have a beard. Stelling does have a beard, though I couldn’t tell you much more about him. Honestly, he’s kind of a mystery to me. Three things I do know about him: 1) He’ll tweet you back if you tweet him, @C_P_Stelling. 2) The aforementioned beard. 3) He makes beautiful, simple folk music with lyrics that range from insightful and compassionate to angry and vitriolic. Best bearded album of the year. Favorite Song: “Mourning Train to Memphis”
The Olive Tree, Our Desert Ways: It was a great year for music, but I may not have loved an album more than The Olive Tree’s Our Desert Ways. Once again, I don’t know much about The Olive Tree, but I do know they consist of two brothers from Texas. The concept is simple: they make Americana about the things they love. If their music is to be trusted, they love Harleys, driving, God, the world God created, women, heaven, and not necessarily in that order. It sounds less lo-fi than you might expect, and some of the songs are downright beautiful in their simplicity. Favorite Song: “A Larger Portion”
The Vespers, The Fourth Wall: Probably the best album on this particular list, The Vespers’ The Fourth Wall was lauded by the Huffington Post, Under the Radar, and Christianity Today, and yet they still don’t seem to have broken out. Dumb. Another sibling act (a pair of sisters and a pair of brothers), the Vespers are a folk band (I know, I know!) that has managed to bend its genre to its musical needs. One song collapses into a shoegazing haze, others are blatantly pop, and still others rock better than Needtobreathe**. I’ve managed to convince several people to listen to them, and they love them now. Please give this wonderful band some more attention. Favorite Song: “Instrument for You”
*One of the many redemptive reasons that the Internet is sweet.
**Whom I love.