Not Much Hidden About Hidden Figures

Not Much Hidden About Hidden Figures

There’s something to be said for movies that get the job done. No flashy camerawork, no dream sequences, little to no subtext. Not every movie needs to be Moonlight or La La Land. Sometimes you just need to see an untold story told well.

Hidden Figures does just that. Following three black women (Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer) working for NASA in the 1960s, Hidden Figures does just about everything you would want from a period movie like this. We get a comprehensive view of the racism they faced both in the workplace and outside of it. The white people involved are not excused, but they do get opportunities to redeem themselves in the movie’s plot, which seems unrealistic. But clean period movies like this often lack nuance, and that’s okay. The story of these women overcoming the institutional and personal racism directed at them to achieve far more than anyone expected of them is enough. Nuance is for other movies.


Octavia Spencer gives the best performance of the three, but that’s really just because her character was written with the most range. She has to bite her tongue in the face of white ignorance more than the other two, and we see more of Spencer taking initiative behind the scenes. Henson has the most emotional scenes, one in which she loses control in front of her white coworkers and chastises them for how they’ve treated her, and one in which she is proposed to by a good man (Mahershala Ali). She nails both of them. Monáe, who, like Ali, is having a breakout year, is sassy and quietly strong, which nicely complements her maternal performance in Moonlight.

My personal preferences have me disappointed in retrospect that Hidden Figures was a little too well tied up at the end. Surely these women didn’t live happily ever after. But I can appreciate the beauty of a pure, Hollywood movie starring three black women that hits all the expected emotional moments. It’s enjoyable in a way that more artsy movies cannot be. If I want nuance, I’ll go watch Moonlight again. If I want pure entertainment, I’ll put on Hidden Figures.


Song of the Hour: “Hell You Talmbout” by Janelle Monáe & Wondaland Records

With “Hell You Talmbout”, Wondaland Records has stripped down protest music to its barest form, chanting names of black people killed by police (and some that were simply the victims of hate crimes dating all the way back to Emmett Till in 1955) over syncopated rhythms and imploring us to say their names, with interspersed choruses of “Hell you talmbout?” sung in the style of a wailing African spiritual.  It doesn’t go anywhere. It’s repetitive. There’s no artistry to speak of, really, nothing especially creative to commend.

And yet the song is undeniably affecting. Repeating the names, names we’ve heard over and over, removes the numbness we’ve developed to them. I’m reminded of the Plastic Ono Band song, “Give Peace a Chance”. There’s very little to it besides the chorus of “All we are saying / Is give peace a chance!”. The very act of repetition has a way of getting into your heart.

The passion with which these artists beg us to say their names is contagious. The decision to include a variety of artists rather than just one (Monáe is the big name, but she’s only got one segment just like everyone else) reflects the necessity of community for protest. By the end, “Hell you talmbout?” becomes a rallying cry, a shared exasperation about those who pretend these things aren’t happening, and a call to speak up on behalf of those that no longer can.

Retro Bummys: Best Albums of 2010

The reason for this 2010 Bummys season is simple: I hadn’t done one yet. Every year since I started college I had done a Top 10 movies and albums, starting with Facebook notes and transitioning to WordPress in 2012. Yet, somehow, some way, I skipped 2010. Honestly, I felt bad. One of the best years for music in recent memory, and I totally ignored all of 2010’s texts, tweets, and Facebook messages. It probably had something to do with 2010 being a terrible year for movies. Oh well.

Anyway, I needed to make amends. The Best Albums Bummys were the hardest; I count so many albums from 2010 in my favorites. The fact that Big Boi, Broken Social Scene, Jars of Clay, Jimmy Needham, Local Natives, and Vampire Weekend were all left out of the Top Ten was a complete shock to me. But 2010 killed in the album department. Terrible year for movies. Wonderful year for music.

Links in the albums’ titles are to streaming services, mostly Spotify.

Top Ten


10. The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth: Few albums elicit as much joy from me as The Wild Hunt. This Swedish folk troubadour has such a love for the effects of simple music. It showed on his break-through album in his unforgettable yelp and his first-rate finger-pickin’.


9. High Violet by The National: And so began the rock critics’ switching of allegiances from dad-rock to sad-rock, two terms that completely devalued what The National did on High Violet. It was easy to overlook the balance they struck between self-serious and self-deprecating, since the music sounded so serious. But High Violet is full of insightful commentary on middle-age life with its own brand of humor.


8. The Guitar Song by Jamey Johnson: If you don’t like county, you probably wouldn’t have liked The Guitar Song, because this was a lot of country. The Guitar Song was 2 discs and 25 tracks of hard-boiled, deep-fried country music. Jamey Johnson always made country music for his fans and not for the radio, so his songs were actually about real life- hence, songs with titles like “Can’t Cash My Checks”, “Heaven Bound”, and “California Riots”.


7. Astro Coast by Surfer Blood: It’s impossible to talk about Surfer Blood now without mention of their frontman’s accusations of domestic violence. The story was appalling and has colored all the music they’ve made since. But this album of perfectly calibrated pop rock can’t be sullied; I have too many fond memories of marveling over the riffs and clever lyrics.


6. Beautiful Things by Gungor: Gungor rose into prominence around the time that David Crowder Band was struggling for a new direction to take worship music after having cemented themselves in the genre’s firm foundation. DCB had a knack for melody unparalleled until Gungor, whose songwriting abilities were matched by their willingness to push the instrumentation into the outer limits of the genre’s reach. They pushed farther on their next record, but Beautiful Things was when it became clear they were providing new ways to worship God.


5. Counting Stars by Andrew Peterson: This was music at its simplest but most powerful. Peterson was content to remain within a certain stylistic framework, and he milked it for all its potential elegance. He didn’t reach as far as he would two years later on Light for the Lost Boy, but he hints at it on “The Reckoning” and “You Came So Close”, filling out maybe the most beautiful album of the year. He received a lot of attention for the album from Christian publications, but somehow he remains underrated. For me, Counting Stars made Andrew Peterson one of my top three favorite musicians.


4. Brothers by The Black Keys: The Black Keys have gotten so good at what they do, their last few records have almost sounded bored. That wasn’t a problem with Brothers. Brothers was the sound of master surfers riding the biggest wave of their lives without ever wiping out. Their professionalism was matched only by their populism, filling their best album with hook after brilliant hook. Even more impressive, they were able to equally modulate their prowess across speeds, from the slow “Everlasting Light” to the speedy singles “Tighten Up” and “Howlin’ for You”.


3. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West: Well, at least he was self-aware. And I use the term loosely, since VMA-gate seemed to belie a complete lack of self-awareness. At the very least, he’s self-aware enough to know that he’s dark and twisted and egotistical enough to assume that his fantasies are beautiful. But all three adjectives are appropriate- this is a dark and twisted album, full of confessionals that would make an NFL player blush. And it’s also beautiful, full of the kind of music even geniuses only get one chance in their lifetime to make.


2. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire: Arcade Fire are a huge band, both in numbers and in ambition. Even a throwaway song like “Empty Room” was wall-to-wall sound. Arcade Fire had already waged war on the suburbs before in both Funeral and Neon Bible, so naming their third album The Suburbs may have seemed redundant, but it actually functioned more as a purging. On The Suburbs, Butler and his band poured out all the pain of growing older and coming of age in emotionless environments. It’s no wonder Reflektor sounds looser and freer; they buried all their demons on The Suburbs.


1. The Monitor by Titus Andronicus: The pinnacle of emo and the peak of pop-punk, even though Titus Andronicus would probably deny those labels while pissing in your face. In 2010, when I was facing life after undergrad, these songs became my anthems- internal anthems, since I wouldn’t advise singing these out loud on the bus or anywhere else public. The profanity alone would get you thrown out of restaurants, not to mention the anxious existentialism that would depress everyone around you. A concept album that framed a young man’s migration from Jersey to Boston loosely within Civil War imagery, The Monitor managed to be both full of fun and totally angsty at the same time. With my graduation from OU pending, The Monitor provided me with a rock opera worth rolling my windows down and belting, as if I didn’t have to care about anything.

Another Fifteen (alphabetical by artist)

Into the Morning by Ben Rector: His style will never garner much critical attention, but to those of us who have submitted to his easy-going affect, Ben Rector means nothing less than bliss, and this was his most blissful album.

Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi: Big Boi showed off why he was every much Andre’s equal when it comes to his flow and that he was nearly as off-the-wall with his production choices.

Forgiveness Rock Record by Broken Social Scene: Criminally overlooked that year, Broken Social Scene were known for their status as a collective of indie rock minds, and the variety on Forgiveness Rock Record is a testament to that- it could have been messy, but the range comes off more generous than anything else.

Thank Me Later by Drake: I’d forgotten how many hit-worthy songs were on this album, but it makes sense, since Thank Me Later was far more commercially inclined than Drake’s next two releases, proving that he could do mainstream rap as well as or better than anyone.

American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem: Not as appealingly hangdog as their first album, The ’59 Sound, but its more polished sheen didn’t take away from the sense that the band was still telling real stories.

One Life Stand by Hot Chip: Electronic nerd-pop shouldn’t be my thing, but this record totally was.

The ArchAndroid by Janelle Monáe: R&B has become one of my favorite genres, which I think you can trace back to this album. It opened my eyes to the lack of limits within the style.

The Shelter by Jars of Clay: Albums based around high-profile collaborations are usually boring, low-risk affairs, but The Shelter was a joyous, highly-listenable affair. Jars of Clay kept up their streak of defying expectations.

Nightlights by Jimmy Needham: I prefer Needham’s earlier, more stripped-down records, but Nightlights is chock-full of songs that should have been hits on Christian radio, if we lived in a world without the Fall.

This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem: More inscrutable than their universally-beloved Sound of SilverThis Is Happening was nevertheless a worthy final statement for the great electronic band.

Gorilla Manor by Local Natives: Before Gorilla Manor, indie rock was just a genre that sounded cool, but Local Natives’ debut included a lot of songs that touched a nerve in my 21-year-old self.

Body Talk by Robyn: Robyn’s brand of robo-pop has been severely missed since she rocked the known world with Body Talk.

The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens: Sufjan was never a normal dude, but he went all in on weirdo with Age of Adz, nevertheless making beautiful, meaningful songs with everything and the kitchen sink.

Contra by Vampire Weekend: So far, Vampire Weekend still hasn’t eclipsed the sunny blast of indie-pop from their self-titled debut, but Contra got real close.

Gemini by Wild Nothing: Wild Nothing’s Gemini had a blazed-out nostalgia to it that hooked me and continues to stir up wistful emotions even today.

Future Top Tens


Jason Isbell: Southeastern
Beyoncé: Beyoncé
Laura Marling: Once I Was an Eagle
Patty Griffin: American Kid
Sandra McCracken: Desire Like Dynamite
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience
Beautiful Eulogy: Instruments of Mercy
Kanye West: Yeezus
KaiL Baxley: Heatstroke / The Wind and the War


Andrew Peterson: Light for the Lost Boy
Lecrae: Gravity
Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE
Japandroids: Celebration Rock
David Crowder*Band: Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])
Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball
Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
The Olive Tree: Our Desert Ways
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra: Fable
Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city


Gungor: Ghosts upon the Earth
Adele: 21
Over the Rhine: The Long Surrender
Bon Iver: Bon Iver
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
Drake: Take Care
Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin’
Beyoncé: 4
Matt Papa: This Changes Everything

Retro Bummys: Best Songs of 2010

2010 was a formative year in music for me. I was enduring the after-effects of a breakup, entering my senior year, and traveling to Italy that summer, all while discovering what kinds of music I really liked. You can tell from this list that my musical taste wasn’t as diversified as it is now (45 different artists from last year’s top 50 songs, versus 36 from 2010). I held tightly to the bands I loved and the albums that defined my life that year.

Links to audio streaming or videos are in the song titles.

[Disclaimer: There’s probably profanity in a lot of these songs.]

Another Twenty-Five

50. “Beautiful Things” by Gungor
49. “To Old Friends and New” by Titus Andronicus
48. “Confirmation” by Wild Nothing
47. “Desire Lines” by Deerhunter
46. “On Melancholy Hill” by Gorillaz
45. “The Hangover (feat. Mikey Rocks)” by Curren$y
44. “White Dress” by Ben Rector
43. “Sun Hands” by Local Natives
42. “A More Perfect Union” by Titus Andronicus
41. “In the Night My Hope Lives On” by Andrew Peterson
40. “All Day Day Light” by The Morning Benders
39. “Light of Day” by Jimmy Needham
38. “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn
37. “Twin Peaks” by Surfer Blood
36. “Dry Bones” by Gungor
35. “Giving Up the Gun” by Vampire Weekend
34. “What’s My Name? (feat. Drake)” by Rihanna
33. “Small Rebellions (feat. Brandon Heath)” by Jars of Clay
32. “Feel It All Around” by Washed Out
31. “Hang with Me” by Robyn
30. “National Anthem (F**k the World)” by Freddie Gibbs
29. “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj
28. “All Creatures of Our God and King” by Patty Griffin
27. “When I’m with You” by Best Coast
26. “Shine Blockas (feat. Gucci Mane)” by Big Boi

Top 25 Songs

25. “The Reckoning (How Long)” by Andrew Peterson: The veteran singer-songwriter’s most triumphant ode to the tension between this life and the next.

24. “Howlin’ for You” by The Black Keys: Nothing about this song was complicated, or even lyrically coherent, and thank goodness for that- we need mindless anthems in this crazy world.

23. “City with No Children” by Arcade Fire: Win Butler lamented the abundance of hypocrites in his world, as well as the possibility that he may have been among them.

22. “Hurricane J” by The Hold Steady: Heaven Is Whenever was dismissed, and this song along with it, even though it was a prime example of the dizzying heights this band was capable of even when embracing more mainstream rock templates.

21. “Macon” by Jamey Johnson: Combining Johnson’s Alabama drawl with Muscle-Shoals-channeling backup singers turned out to be a pretty great move for the alt-country bigshot.

20. “I Can Change” by LCD Soundsystem: For all the attention LCD Soundsystem got for their production, it was the calisthenics from James Murphy’s voice that usually elevated their songs into emotional nirvana, especially on this dynamic single off their last album.

19. “Heaven’s on Fire” by The Radio Dept.: I used to think the pretentious Thurston Moore quote that opened this song served as its thesis statement, but, listening now, the rest of the song seems to laugh it off by dropping some acid out back of the restaurant on its break. Turns out the youths don’t care one way or the other about the “bogus capitalist process”.

18. “Moving to Zion” by Jimmy Needham: I’ll follow Needham’s golden voice anywhere, but he made it easy with this funky declaration of intent to make his home in Christ.

17. “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire: As clear a mission statement as you would have found on an album, “The Suburbs”, which opened the album of the same name, set up Arcade Fire’s Grammy-winning record as an epic, band-defining lament.

16. “Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)” by Alicia Keys: The spiritual cousin to Usher’s “Climax”. Keys’s voice sounds like butter spread over just the right amount of bread.

15. “King of Spain” by The Tallest Man on Earth: After listening to this Swedish folk song, who didn’t think they could be anything they wanted?

14. “Who Knows Who Cares” by Local Natives: When I discovered this song in 2010, I was in a big period of transition, and Local Natives’ cinematic embrace of aimlessness hit me right where I lived.

13. “Tightrope (feat. Big Boi)” by Janelle Monáe: Even four years later, this song feels like the future of R&B.

12. “F**k You” by Cee-Lo Green: There’s no denying its vulgarity, but the explicit version is the better, funnier song than the comparably toothless “Forget You” (Ain’t that some shit?).

11. “Four Score and Seven” by Titus Andronicus: An appropriate microcosm for the brilliance of Titus Andronicus’s entire record, The Monitor, with a slow, elegiac first act followed by a rip-roaring second, repeating, “It’s still us against them!” which might as well be the band’s motto.


10. “Swim” by Surfer Blood: Guitar-driven power-pop has fallen out of style since Surfer Blood’s bruising debut. Maybe that’s because no one’s written anything with quite the killer hook as “Swim” and its unbeatable chorus.  Effortless optimism is a tough vibe to pull off in indie rock, but Surfer Blood nailed it with “Swim”.


9. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National: I couldn’t tell you what some of the specific things in this song mean- like, what’s a “bloodbuzz”? Or why were bees carrying Matt Berninger to the Midwest? But I could certainly tell you that the malaise that permeates every inch of this song deeply affected me in 2010 even at the ripe old age of 21.


8. “Power” by Kanye West: Remember when people said ‘Ye was just a great producer and not a great rapper? Well, he’d already proven his flow before “Power”, but “Power” was the moment his acumen became undeniable, his lyrical prowess proved to be unbeatable, and his one-liners were unstoppable. West’s assertion that “no one man should have all that power” was obviously self-referential, but in hindsight maybe that chorus was a cry for help from a man who couldn’t handle his own genius.


7. “The Earth Is Yours” by Gungor: In light of Gungor’s recent bend toward the emergent church, it’s refreshing to look back on their explicitly worshipful music from Beautiful Things. “The Earth Is Yours” particularly stood out, because it’s an experimental rock song in a conventional worship song’s skin. Where David Crowder Band had already sharpened the edges of worship music’s box, Gungor had just begun to tip the box over and pour its contents out.


6. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire: Most of my other favorite Arcade Fire songs are the big, brash rock songs: “Wake Up”, “No Cars Go”, “Keep the Car Running”. But “Sprawl II” is more subtle, taking its time through its chorus, allowing The Suburbs to reach its emotional climax through Régine’s voice rather than Win’s. It doesn’t leave much room for hope in the tightness of its production, but Régine’s pleading for darkness wins me over every time.


5. “World Sick” by Broken Social Scene: Apparently everyone forgot about Broken Social Scene once Leslie Feist left, but they quietly released one of the best records of 2010, leading off with one of the best songs of 2010. “World Sick” was epic, both in length and depth. It was almost seven minutes long, but it earned that running time with several well-constructed musical movements and a chorus that sounded like a legitimate cry for help. Kevin Drew claiming that he gets “world sick” whenever he takes a stand was a poignant way of pointing out that something wasn’t quite right with a world where hearts are broken every day. The angry guitar flurries that back him up on that line seemed to agree, and the song ended in skittering drums and whispering guitars, allowing its sentiment to sink in.


4. “Runaway (feat. Pusha T)” by Kanye West: The song that ends up standing for West’s legacy better than any other doesn’t seem like it should include more of Kanye’s singing than his rapping, but this was the world we lived in back in 2010. Look, there were a lot of reasons to hate this song: ‘Ye’s singing voice, its blatant vulgarity, West’s apparent lack of repentance. But it would be hard to argue that “Runaway” wasn’t the perfect summation of the entire Kanye West ethos. For a man who elevated his career to the next level by being unflinchingly honest, “Runaway” was the pinnacle. That doesn’t give him a free pass for all his faults, but it’s worth at least something that he was able to confess them so effectively.


3. “Dance with Me Baby” by Ben Rector: It’s telling that Ben Rector’s best song was also his least produced. Of course, I’m biased- I sang this song to my wife when I proposed to her. But I legitimately think this was a perfect song apart from my connection to it. From the opening, off-the-cuff piano chord to the sparse arrangement to the warm lyrics, Rector had never been better. He’ll never get attention from the mainstream media, but with “Dance with Me Baby” he showed he didn’t need it; he was going to make great music regardless.


2. “Take It In” by Hot Chip: You know those movie images of heaven with billowing clouds and angelic sunlight streaming through? That’s what I feel like when I listen to this song. Hot Chip are just a bunch of nerdy guys, but they found a way to make the simplest of sentiments hold so much more weight. The verses were dark, bouncy affairs, conveying insecurity and uncertainty. Then the choruses kicked in, and we were sailing in the sky, eternally secure in the arms of love.


1. “Dancing in the Minefields” by Andrew Peterson: Again, I’m biased: I sang this to my wife at our wedding. 2010 was a good year for songs that had to do with my marriage (No. 39 up there was the song playing when Vicky walked down the aisle). The DJ at our wedding helped me plan out when I was going to sing during the reception  as a surprise for Vicky. I ran into him at an event at OU a month or so after our wedding. He still had the song in his computer, so he played it for me randomly. It all came rushing back to me- not necessarily the romance of the event or the great dance party our DJ threw for us at the reception or even the moment when I got to kiss my bride for the first time. What I was reminded of was the heaviness of the promise I had made to my bride, to love her well for the rest of our life together. I knew I’d inevitably fail at carrying this out, that I would eventually turn out to be a bad husband. But that’s why I chose this song to sing: it’s a reminder that the promise is the thing that matters. God created marriage not as a testament to the power of romantic love to carry you through all things, but as an image of covenant, an image of His commitment to us. Is there any song that communicates that more fully than “Dancing in the Minefields”?

Future Top Tens


“Go Wherever You Wanna Go” by Patty Griffin
“Latch (feat. Sam Smith)” by Disclosure
“Elephant” by Jason Isbell
“I Blame Myself” by Sky Ferreira
“Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” by Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford
“The Bad Days” by David Ramirez
“Hold On, We’re Going Home (feat. Majid Jordan)” by Drake
“Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake
“Rocket” by Beyoncé
“The Sea & the Shore (feat. John Fullbright)” by Amy Speace


“Clear the Stage” by Jimmy Needham
“One Sixteen (feat. KB & Andy Mineo)” by Trip Lee
“Fire of Time” by David Ramirez
“Church Clothes” by Lecrae
“Climax” by Usher
“Day by Day” by Andrew Peterson
“When We Were Young” by Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra
“Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean
“Mourning Train to Memphis” by Christopher Paul Stelling
“Hold On” by Alabama Shakes


“Someone Like You” by Adele
“Need You Now” by Cut Copy
“You Are the Beauty” by Gungor
“Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes
“Oklahoma Sky” by Miranda Lambert
“Otis” by Jay-Z & Kanye West
“This Changes Everything” by Matt Papa
“Days Like This” by Over the Rhine
“Bright Lights” by Gary Clark Jr.
“Beth/Rest” by Bon Iver

Music Bummys 2014: Best Albums of 2013

Drinking game for you as you read this: take a shot every time I use the word “folk”. I’ll buy all these albums for whoever gets through the entire thing before falling asleep on their keyboard.

(Please don’t actually do this. I’m not about that life- the life of you getting drop-dead drunk or the life of buying twenty-five albums for anyone, even my loved ones.)

Links are to the albums on Spotify.

Top Ten

music1010. Heatstroke / The Wind and the War by KaiL Baxley: Music has always been a mishmash of genres, though it does seem like it has become more common to fill your sound with the echoes of disparate styles. Baxley’s album (really, a double EP) is an amalgamation of folk, blues, rock, gospel, even hip-hop. Some albums with all these sounds combined may come off as messy. But Baxley’s songs are tight, and the styles he draws from make for a cohesive vision. To paraphrase my good friend, Rust: music is a flat circle; everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.

music099. Yeezus by Kanye West: Yeezus could not be more different from the other rap albums on this list. Where Beautiful Eulogy and Drake find their niche in quiet production and thought-provoking lyrics, West doubles down on the latter and obliterates the former. The instrumentation on Yeezus has been dubbed “industrial”, but that’s not quite accurate. A better word would be the one Daft Punk ascribed to it: “primal”. It’s the sound of rap being reborn.

music088. Instruments of Mercy by Beautiful Eulogy: Beautiful Eulogy doesn’t sound like much of anything else. There are hints of A Tribe Called Quest in BE’s members and their chill flows, but Beautiful Eulogy are a style all their own. It suits them, the intellectual lyrics combined with the buoyant production. The three members (rappers Braille and Odd Thomas with producer Courtland Urbano) draw from all sorts of genres to fixate you on their honest ideas. The result is a thesis statement of uncommon joy.

songs087. The 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake: Over a year after its release, I can’t help feeling this album was totally underrated at the time. Expectations were high, which, let’s be honest, was Timberlake’s doing, what with the neverending marketing campaign and the pretentious assertions in the media that he was reaching for “great music”. Now that we’re away from the hype machine, The 20/20 Experience sounds like truly great music without the ignominy of a lack of a hit single or the burden of pleasing the critics. It’s a slice of retro-soul with hooks from beginning to end.

music066. Desire Like Dynamite by Sandra McCracken: It’s hard not to write about this album in the context of the hard year McCracken has had. She and her husband, Derek Webb (see below), announced their pending divorce in April. This album was released in January last year, over a year before. Webb appears on a few of the songs, and it’s always heartwrenching. But McCracken’s lyrics and beautiful voice are so powerfully focused on Christ’s return and the redemption he promises, it manages to convince you this music is an artistic triumph with effects that will outlast her personal turmoil.

music055. Inland by Jars of Clay: Inland is Jars of Clay’s least gimmicky album yet. That’s not to say Jars of Clay has relied on gimmicks before this, only that you can look back on their discography and pigeonhole every single one of their albums: Jars of Clay is the precocious debut, Who We Are Instead is the folk record, Good Monsters is the rock record, The Long Fall Back to Earth is the one where they went electric, and The Shelter is their late-career, collaboration record. I suppose Inland is the mature record? But that implies the rest of them were somehow immature, and you could never say that about Dan Haseltine’s lyrics or the band’s musical prowess. Inland, as a whole, isn’t doing anything different soundwise, and it doesn’t strike me as covering different ground lyricwise. But the band seems less prone to angst, as if they’ve begun to fully embrace their role in providing encouragement to those younger than them. Okay, it’s official: Inland is their grandpa record.songs014. American Kid by Patty Griffin: Patty Griffin has operated on the fringes of the mainstream for so long, it’s easy to forget the influence she’s had. Artists from the Dixie Chicks to Miranda Lambert have covered her work. Taylor Swift writes Griffin’s lyrics on her arm at her concerts. You could argue the current Americana boom wouldn’t be possible without her; for all the fakers in the scene, her authenticity is responsible for the real deals. American Kid isn’t my favorite record of hers, but it seems like her most personal. Griffin’s father recently passed away, and his ghost is all over the album, directly in “Go Wherever You Wanna Go”, as she celebrates his freedom from this world, and indirectly in songs like “I Am Not a Bad Man” and “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida”, song in which she takes on the persona of a man striving to justify his existence. But nothing haunts this record more than Griffin’s voice; whether she sings from a character’s perspective or her own, her voice commands your attention.

music033. Once I Was an Eagle by Laura Marling: It’s nice to have mystery in life. You’re not supposed to know everything about people, even the ones you love the most. You need a certain distance in order to remain relevant. Laura Marling lives in that distance. It’s the area between people who think they’re in love, but who learn they never really knew each other in the first place. It’s the space between the people in a one night stand after they’ve realized what they did together wasn’t worth the subsequent awkwardness as they lie in bed. It’s the nothingness at the center of the rolling stone’s many transient relationships. You wish for stability and steadiness for Marling. But then you worry she’d lose her poignancy, and you lose yourself in her album’s spare beauty.

music022. Beyoncé by Beyoncé: I was going to write about Beyoncé when she first released it, but I struggled with what angle to take. It’s easy to write about anything you love, but it’s difficult to write about something you’re not sure you should love. But I already addressed my issues with the album’s sexuality in my Best Songs post, so I’d much rather take up this space with my love for the album. When Beyoncé was released out of nowhere last December, it felt like the purest pop statement imaginable, which is impossible considering how much money the Carter family is making right now. But Beyoncé eschewed the regular format for releasing an album, making it clear that this was hers; even if she didn’t write the songs, the full product, the album as a whole, the songs in their collected form (including the explicit videos, which I haven’t seen), are her statement. It’s a statement of feminism, yes, and a statement of a woman owning her sexuality, and a statement that pop music has taken a step back and it’s time to go forward. But more than that: it’s a statement that no one is going to unseat her as the queen.

music011. Southeastern by Jason Isbell: Listen to an album enough times, and you begin to see the seams. The machine shows its gears a little bit at a time, and you sometimes lose appreciation for the song as you discover how it’s managed to hook you. This can’t happen with Southeastern. There’s nothing to hook you on this album. I supposed it has the allure of the Americana megalith that has become the new “alternative” to mainstream music, but Jason Isbell is outside of that. He had his break in Drive-By Truckers, which is an outfit full of people who couldn’t care less about trends; they made songs and whole albums about dead classic rockers during his tenure, as an example. Southeastern does have a convenient narrative- Isbell made it having been relatively newly sober and non-relatively married. But Isbell addresses his cleanness only once, in “Stockholm,” as he laments being enamored with his captor (in this case, addiction). The rest of the album is preoccupied with death, loss, and the end of things, with at least two songs about his funeral, at least two that address the deaths of the people around him, and one about a province in Australia. Closer “Relatively Easy” ties a bow on those themes, but not a pretty one; you come away from Southeastern supremely moved, and “Relatively Easy” is Isbell’s reminder not to get too worked up about death. Compared to the rest of the world, our lives are easy. Compared to the rest of the world, our deaths are probably easier too.

Another Fifteen (alphabetically by artist)

Doldrums by Andrew St James: Like early Bob Dylan if his home base was the Bay Area? I’d rather compared him to Van Morrison. His style is far more free-flowing and melodic than Dylan’s early-period, straight-laced protest folk.

Reflektor by Arcade Fire: One of the more obtuse albums of the year, and the most divisive. My feelings on Reflektor go back and forth; I’ll love it one listen, then feel ambivalence on the next listen. Regardless, Reflektor is an ambitious statement of a rock album that tackles subjects other bands are really willing to face head on in songs like “Porno” and “Afterlife”.

The Civil Wars by The Civil Wars: Civil Wars, we hardly knew ye. Who knows what really happened to Joy Williams and John Paul White, but whatever it was, you can hear it all over their self-titled second album. Spite, regret, and general darkness are just dripping from their words as they expand the depths of their acoustic folk sound from their first record with slow-roasting production.

The Rooster by David Ramirez: Your EP better be super good for me to include it on this list. Ramirez is an Austin singer-songwriter, specializing in blunt folk that either excoriates himself or certain trends he finds reprehensible, which is kind of what folk used to be if you think about it. Over the past year, his songs have connected with me with a consistency like no one else’s; if he had transferred this quality to a full album, it surely would have been near the top.

I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You by Derek Webb: This one hurts, though I won’t pretend to have any special insight into Webb’s relationship with McCracken (see above). But it’s hard to hear Webb sing so clearly about relationships with what sounds like wisdom and joy. Even so, the songs speak for themselves, and I Was Wrong is full of great ones.

Nothing Was the Same by Drake: He’s a better rapper than most of the rappers and a better singer than most of the singers; put that together, and what have you got? One Aubrey Drake Graham, whose Nothing Was the Same may not have been the cohesive thesis statement that Take Care was. But Nothing does have the greatest album cover of all time (arguably).

Tape Deck Heart by Frank Turner: You could describe Turner’s sound pretty accurately as folk-punk, but this was the best pure rock album of the year. Turner sounds like the kind of man who needs to parse through his relationships’ demons by letting loose a little bit. If so, this album probably did the trick.

Quiet Frame; Wild Light by Golden Youth: Gungor released only one album last year, but you’d be forgiven for confusing Quiet Frame for one of theirs, especially since it’s better than I Am Mountain. Where Gungor found themselves caught up in abstract ideas rather than the straightforward gospel-sharing from their first two albums, Golden Youth keep it simple. In only seven songs, Quiet Frame celebrates all the ways God blesses us in this life.

The Electric Lady by Janelle Monáe: No one does Prince like Monáe these days, especially not even Prince. The Electric Lady is a continuation of the android concept from her brilliant ArchAndroid. As devoted as she is to that concept (and maybe after a third album she’ll have it beaten into me), her devotion to kinetic R&B is what keeps me coming back.

Trouble Will Find Me by The National: If you hate consistency, you’ll loathe The National. They aren’t concerned with things like “changing our sound” or “growing as a band”. They’re content to make the same brand of soft rock till they die out, puncturing relationships with indelible images on album after album, and Trouble Will Find Me is no exception to their greatness.

Meet Me at the Edge of the World by Over the Rhine: Over the Rhine are a group from Ohio who have received this blog’s praises before. They’re a lot like Patty Griffin: operating outside the mainstream, but influencing a ton of people in their genre. Meet Me at the Edge of the World is their most subdued album yet, and it projects serenity from beginning to end.

Muchacho by Phosphorescent: If you like Kurt Vile, you’ll love Phosphorescent. That is, of course, unless you don’t like your songs to have energy or sound like they’re full of life. Where Vile fully embraces the stoner sound without actually lighting up, it’s easy to imagine Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck with a joint in one hand while he skydives into an abyss.

Talented 10th by Sho Baraka: The most underrated album by a Christian last year, probably because Sho drops a bunch of N-words on one of the songs. But focusing on the profanity is missing his point. Talented 10th is a front-to-back dissection of life within black culture from a Christian perspective, and Sho came so close to unseating Yeezus from the top ten that you have to give this a listen.

Nobody Knows. by Willis Earl Beal: This was the peak of Beal’s troubadour powers. He’s backsliding into self-parody at this point, but Nobody Knows. was a full album’s worth of his best material. He does meandering folk better than anyone, and it’s my hope that he gets back to this level soon.

W.L.A.K. by W.L.A.K.: Grantland’s Jalen Rose and David Jacoby held a bracket for who has was the best hip-hop group of all time. Seems like they overlooked one, #amiright? W.L.A.K. (Alex Faith, Christon Gray, Dre Murray, and Swoope) are new, but they make quite the impression on this album that made the best of all their distinct styles.

Previous Top Tens


Andrew Peterson: Light for the Lost Boy
Lecrae: Gravity
Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE
Japandroids: Celebration Rock
David Crowder*Band: Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])
Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball
Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
The Olive Tree: Our Desert Ways
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra: Fable
Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city


Gungor: Ghosts upon the Earth
Adele: 21
Over the Rhine: The Long Surrender
Bon Iver: Bon Iver
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
Drake: Take Care
Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin’
Beyoncé: 4
Matt Papa: This Changes Everything

Music Bummys 2013: Best Albums of 2012

[It’s okay to mourn- 2012 was a long time ago, and we’re well into 2013, which is not the year that 2012 was.  Indeed, 2012 was the best year for pop culture in a long time- at least since 2009.  There wasn’t a runaway favorite in the music scene like Adele’s 21 in 2011,  but that’s because there were so many great offerings from 2012.  There wasn’t a clear favorite in Hollywood like…well, there wasn’t a clear favorite in 2011 either, was there?  But that was for lack of quality, whereas in 2012 we were inundated with quality movies the entire year.  Ah, the good old days.  Excuse me while I take out my teeth and reach for my prune juice.

2012 was a banner year, and what better time to look back at it than 9 months later?  No, seriously.  You don’t think so?  That’s okay.  Honestly, if I could, I’d do these Bummys lists right at the beginning of the year, but when January rolls around, I still have so many movies to watch and so much music to listen to, I can’t make a year-end list.  So I have to settle for what in our culture of immediacy amounts to a retrospective, akin to those montages at the Oscars for the celebrities that passed away that year.  We look back in fondness on the historic year of 2012; may the entire cast of Cloud Atlas rest in peace.]

Interestingly, I’ve already done a Top 10 Albums of 2012 list, at the end of the year, in conjunction with my friend’s blog.  Also interesting: four albums that made an appearance on that list don’t show up on this one.  I guess my perspective changed a little bit.  Two folk albums, the Vespers’ The Fourth Wall and Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Leaving Eden, were replaced by a rap album and a Christian electronic album, something I definitely didn’t expect.  Trip Lee fell to the “Fifteen More” category.  And Alabama Shakes, my beloved Alabama Shakes, were replaced by a brother duo from Texas that no one’s heard of.  I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I’m sure of one thing: this is the right list.

Top Albums of 2012

kendricklamar10. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city: A lot of albums profess to be concept albums, LPs with a plot and characters, but the majority end up having the vague outline of a story rather than the concrete and significant details that add weight to a narrative (see: American Idiot and The Black Parade, both great albums, but not great concept albums).  Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city might be the most fully fleshed-out concept album I’ve ever heard.  It helps that Lamar’s focus on his concept album is more specific than most; good kid is a chronicle of one evening in Lamar’s life out on the streets with his friends while they cruise around in his parents’ van.  From this one evening comes a treasure trove of insight about his lack of pleasure in his hedonistic but monotonous lifestyle (“Swimming Pools (Drank)”), his neverending search for escape (“B*tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”), and his dependence on his rapping for fulfillment (“Poetic Justice”).  But the overall takeaways from good kid are Lamar’s incredible self-awareness as he quotes Scripture and prayers in the midst of his own sinfulness, as well as the cyclical culture of the streets, mirrored in the way the record ends right where it began, implying that the sin and tragedy Kendrick places before us is only going to keep going.

benjamindunn9. Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra, Fable: If you had given up on Christian music before 2012 (and who could blame you, really…), you picked a terrible time to do it.  Independent Christian music is on the rise, with the help of Derek Webb’s NoiseTrade website, which coincidentally just released an offer for Benjamin Dunn’s discography for free (the offer’s over, btw- it was only a week; sorry, you snooze, you lose).  Benjamin Dunn synthesizes rock and electronic music into a wildly satisfying blend of happiness.  The music would induce rapture on its own, but Dunn has paired it with a libretto that draws inspiration from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books both in its characters and in its themes.  Characters like Eustace and Caspian show up to demonstrate our dependence on grace and God’s sovereignty, and “When We Were Young”, the best song on the album (and one of the best of the year), is an ecstatic ode to the glories of being young, something Lewis would have appreciated.  Put Fable on when the news in the world is getting you down, and you’ll be instantly reminded why you were originally captivated by God’s grace.

theolivetree8. The Olive Tree, Our Desert Ways: It’s no secret I’m a fan of folk music, but Our Desert Ways is really the only folk album on this list (with the possible exception of Andrew Peterson, sure, maybe, whatever), and it’s about as simple as folk music comes.  It’s basically two brothers, their acoustic guitars, and the occasional percussion.  And that’s all you need for great music when you’re a great songwriter; Our Desert Ways makes the case that The Olive Tree has two great songwriters on their hands.  My wife compared them to Caedmon’s Call, which she meant in a derogatory manner (she hates Caedmon’s Call, for some demonic reason…), though I’ll emphatically steal her comparison and use it for good.  Caedmon’s Call has always had folk leanings, but their consistent quality is Gospel-centered lyrics buoyed by stable melodies, the perfect description for The Olive Tree as well.  This can give CC and The Olive Tree a hokey feel sometimes, but Our Desert Ways’s commitment to storytelling and the Gospel have made this into a record that will endure.

fionaapple7. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do: I can’t stand the stylings of metal or hardcore, and noise-rock tends to make me shudder, but I can’t get enough of the dissonance and strange chord changes of Fiona Apple.  Even the most listenable songs on The Idler Wheel… (“Every Single Night”, “Anything We Want”) are minor in key and unapologetically complicated in their construction.  They match their maker without a doubt; the most memorable lyric on the album, “nothin’ wrong when a song ends in the minor key” applies to both Apple’s music and, ostensibly, her life’s situations.  She never sounds comfortable, but if she’s comfortable with anything, it’s the fact that she’s a screwed-up person and her life is equally as screwed up.  On “Jonathan”, she begs to be kissed while her mind is racing.  On “Left Alone”, she talks about her tears calcifying in her stomach, so that she can’t cry when she’s sad.  And on the standout “Werewolf”, she claims complicity in the dissolution of a relationship, comparing her significant other to a shark and her faults to “waving around a bleeding open wound”.  I hope this album provided her some catharsis, because the songs portray a person with complex issues that needed to be dealt with- in other words, a human being.

brucespringsteen6. Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball: I wonder if Bruce Springsteen is the kind of artist I’m supposed to grow out of: earnest dad rock made by a man whose biggest hits were before I was born.  There’s no nostalgia holding me to Bruce, since I didn’t listen to him until college, and he’s hardly a defining artist of my generation.  Regardless, I can’t let go; he keeps putting out albums, and I keep loving them.  Wrecking Ball continues his trend of politically leaning albums mixing rock with folk begun in the 2000s with The Rising and continued with Magic and Working on a Dream.  We all know where Springsteen falls on the political spectrum (if you don’t, search Google for “Bruce Springsteen” and “campaign song”), but what often gets lost is the universality of Bruce’s lyrics and music.  If you remove Bruce the person from the songs, it’s hard to argue with words like “Let a man work, is that so wrong?” or “The road of good intentions has gone as dry as a bone”.  On an album where Bruce Springsteen swerves into hip-hop for the first time, I resist the idea that I could ever grow out of Bruce Springteen.  Instead, I’m seeing more and more than he’s one of the best artists of any time.

davidcrowderband5. David Crowder*Band, Give Us Rest; or, A Requiem Mass in C (The Happiest of All Keys): You know, David Crowder*Band had nothing left to prove.  They had already made at least three great records without releasing a bad one, on top of putting together a rollicking live show that mixed their standards with others’ worship songs and bluegrass hymns.  When they announced they’d be releasing their last album and embarking on their final tour, their legacy was intact.  They were the premier Christian pioneers of creative music-making, bringing innovation and excitement to a genre that was (and is) severely lacking in both.  Give Us Rest didn’t have to be their best album ever, and on its release, a lot of critics dismissed it as too long, too indulgent, too boring.  And they’re entitled to their opinions; they’re just wrong.  Give Us Rest is a joyous eruption of desperate praise.  It’s 100 minutes long, which is daunting at first, but there’s not a down spot on the album; even the instrumentals glow with vitality.  I’m not sure that, if I step back and think on it, I would say Give Us Rest is David Crowder*Band’s best album.  But while I listen to it, I certainly feel like it is.

japandroids4. Japandroids, Celebration Rock: There was a time in the distant, shrouded past when rock and roll was pure and unadulterated, forged in the fires of youthful passion and glorious naïveté, free from corporate greed and machinated studio contracts.  And even though none of that is true, Japandroids will make you believe it is.  Celebration Rock is exactly that: a celebration of the excesses of the music that is rock.  The titles of the songs (“Fire’s Highway”, “Adrenaline Nightshift”, “Continuous Thunder”) gesture toward the great expectations Japandroids has for their music’s effectiveness.  Japandroids is just two people, but they play with more force than most groups of any number, to the point where they’re in your heart before you even realize that everyone likes them so you’re not supposed to.

frankocean3. Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE: One of my friends has called Frank Ocean the “black Bon Iver”, which he meant as an insult, but it’s actually a pretty apt comparison.  Both artists make supremely melancholy music that transcends whatever genre they get pigeonholed in; both artists have seen success in the mainstream but truly belong somewhere outside of the radio box;  and both have unlikely partnerships with Kanye West that helped stretch his music beyond his soul-sampling comfort zone.  But with all due respect to Bon Iver, Frank Ocean is the reigning king of disillusionment.  The characters in his songs either live on the fringes of the world or they live the high life; there’s not really a middle ground for him (unless you count the average Joe in “Forrest Gump”, but he’s obsessed with the titular athlete, so he’ll end up on the fringes somehow, some way).  But all the perspectives he adopts share a sense of melancholy that can’t be duplicated.  The result is a boom in alt-R&B acts that are striving (some more successfully than others) to do just that; but channel ORANGE is that rare album that stands and will stand as a marker of its time, the first of its kind.

lecrae2. Lecrae, Gravity: A couple weeks ago, the rapper Evangel released a track online called “Hey Mr. Gravity” directed at Lecrae and the new direction he’s gone with his music.  Evangel took it down soon after, acknowledging that releasing a song that came off as a diss track probably wasn’t the best way to call out a brother.  It’s a shame, because Evangel’s song provided the perfect sounding board with which to test Lecrae’s methodology, so that we don’t just take Gravity  at face value.  I understand where Evangel was coming from- Lecrae is walking a fine line as he tries to rap from the perspective of those without Jesus, occasionally veering towards vilifying the church, God’s bride, and excusing sin.  But it’s a line on which Lecrae ultimately comes down on the right side, pointing to Jesus’s power and not man’s as the solution to our ills.  In fact, the more I listen to Gravity, the more I think Evangel must have forgotten to listen to it himself.  This is Lecrae’s best record yet, and his first to sound like he doesn’t care if it has a hit or not.  He moves away from the club-banger style that dominated Rehab and Overdose and branches out, embracing trap (“Lord Have Mercy”), Drake-style rap&B (“Confe$$ions”), and Afro-rap (“Violence”).  But the majority of the disc features the southern rap style that is dominating Reach Records’ recent releases, and you hear it here at its rollicking best.  Lecrae receives plenty of help from Trip Lee, Sho Baraka, Tedashii, Andy Mineo, and the rest of the usuals (along with a surprise appearance from Big K.R.I.T. on standout “Mayday”), but by the end of the record it’s clear that none of them are the star.  Finishing the album with “Tell the World” and “Lucky Ones”, songs that drive home our need to tell others the Gospel, Lecrae places Gravity firmly in Christ’s hands where it belongs.

andrewpeterson1. Andrew Peterson, Light for the Lost Boy: My wonderful wife bought us tickets to Andrew Peterson’s show in Linden, TX this weekend for my birthday.  When I tell people this, it’s with a certain amount of childish excitement that must come across on my face or in my voice or something, because they ask in a frightened way, “Who is he?”  I tell them he’s a Christian folk artist, and we all go on our merry way, but I fear I’m underselling him.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Christian folk, and it’s a designation that certainly would have been true for his first seven or eight albums (give or take his classic Christmas album); but frankly, Light for the Lost Boy fails to qualify as folk.  From his last album (the excellent Counting Stars) to Light, Andrew Peterson significantly expanded his palette.  Much like 2011’s best album, Gungor’s Ghosts upon the Earth, Light for the Lost Boys doesn’t abandon what made its predecessor great; after all, there are still Americana stylings hanging around.  But there’s so much more to enjoy, from the almost grunge guitars mixing with U2 reverb on “The Cornerstone” to the indie-pop of “The Voice of Jesus” and “Shine Your Light on Me” and on to the swirling, 10-minute epic “Don’t You Want to Think Someone”.  Peterson’s sound is fuller on this album, more ambitious and more realized at the same time.  This jump in musicality befits a similar jump in themes.  Counting Stars was simpler, focused on family and devoted love.  Light for the Lost Boy focuses on those as well, but adds the passage of time, purpose, the grandeur of God in nature, and theological quandaries to the mix.  It’s both the biggest album on this list and the smallest, and it’s time you listened to it.

Fifteen More (in alphabetic order)
Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls
Amadou & Mariam: Folila
Anaïs Mitchell: Young Man in America
Beautiful Eulogy: Satellite Kite
Carolina Chocolate Drops: Leaving Eden
Christopher Paul Stelling: Songs of Praise and Scorn
Flatfoot 56: Toil
Grizzly Bear: Shields
Jack White: Blunderbuss
John Fullbright: From the Ground Up
Matt Mays: Coyote
Passion Pit: Gossamer
Propaganda: Excellent
Trip Lee: The Good Life
The Vespers: The Fourth Wall

Top Albums of 2013 (So Far, in alphabetic order)

Jason Isbell, Southeastern: Probably my favorite album of the year (so far).  Isbell has released other good records since leaving Drive-By Truckers, but Southeastern is by far his most personal and forceful as he chronicles his recovery from alcoholism.

Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience: Corporate it may be, but there’s no denying that JT has once again made an album of songs that change our ideas of what pop should sound like today.  This time he does so using funk and R&B sounds of the past.

KaiL Baxley, HeatStroke / The Wind and the War: This is the record that never fell on your radar this year.  And if it weren’t for me, this diverse collection of funk and folk would have stayed off your grid.  You’re welcome.

Laura Marling, Once I Was an Eagle: I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to past artists for Laura Marling (much like Jake Bugg), but they’re useless.  Marling is a singular voice in a conformist world.  Her spare arrangements and vocals beg for creative descriptions and not lazy comparisons.

Patty Griffin, American Kid: Time after time, Patty Griffin turns out great alternative country albums.  Her newest is a tribute to her late father, and the intimacy is apparent in both the personal lyrics and the immediate music.

Most Anticipated Albums of 2013 (The Rest of the Year, in alphabetic order)

Drake, Nothing Was the Same: There aren’t many artists for whom I would willingly dive into depression and self-degradingly hedonistic behavior in order to hopefully better myself, but Drizzy is one of them.

Gungor, I Am Mountain: The title could either be awesome or laughable, I haven’t decided yet.  But I know on which side of that line the actual music will fall.  Their last album, Ghosts upon the Earth was my favorite album of 2011.  Some dropoff would be expected, but Gungor has always been a unique and surprising band, so all bets are off.

Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady: Her The ArchAndroid was one of the best albums of 2010, though it failed to catch on with the mainstream.  I’m a little disconcerted that she’s trying to appeal more to that demographic with this album, but early singles “Dance Apocalyptic” and “Q.U.E.E.N.” don’t sound like anything on the radio, so good riddance to that idea!

Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience Part 2: It’s hard to imagine this living up to the success of Part 1, and “Take Back the Night” isn’t necessarily a smash, but at this point, I’m not betting against JT.

M.I.A., Matangi: “Bad Girls” and “Come Walk with Me” are superb.  Here’s to hoping for a massive improvement on her terrible 2010 LP /\/\ /\ Y /\.

Previous Top Albums


Gungor: Ghosts upon the Earth
Adele: 21
Over the Rhine: The Long Surrender
Bon Iver: Bon Iver
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
Drake: Take Care
Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin’
Beyoncé: 4
Matt Papa: This Changes Everything


Titus Andronicus: The Monitor
Andrew Peterson: Counting Stars
Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Gungor: Beautiful Things
Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
Surfer Blood: Astro Coast
The Tallest Man on Earth: The Wild Hunt
Jars of Clay: The Shelter
Ben Rector: Into the Morning
Local Natives: Gorilla Manor

Song of the Hour: “Hey Love” by Quadron

quadronWhy it rocks: There’s been an abundance of great alt-R&B over the past few years.  It climaxed last year with Frank Ocean‘s channel ORANGE and includes this year’s Dawn Richard‘s Goldenheart, Autre Ne Veut‘s Anxiety, and, not coincidentally, Rhye‘s Woman, a project from the producer half of Quadron, Robin Hannibal.  Even Usher got in on the game last year with one of 2012’s best songs, the darkly euphoric “Climax”.  “Hey Love” is the bounciest of the bunch, shining a little light into the darkness R&B is embracing more and more.  With its broadly appealing chorus of “Promise the best is yet to come” and its aching desire for commitment, “Hey Love” is proof that the alt-R&B boom isn’t going to stay in the shadows.

If you like this…: Try any of those above records, especially anything off of Goldenheart, one of my favorite albums of the year so far.  But a more accurate comparison in terms of the song’s feel is probably Janelle Monáe‘s “Tightrope”.

quadron1How’s the album?: A joy to listen to.  Hannibal’s other effort this year, Woman, is cool and distant.  Quadron’s Avalanche benefits from the directness of singer Coco O’s vocals.  Other highlights include  opener “LFT” (the letters of which stand for Looking for Trouble- didn’t you k now?) and “Better Off” which features the hot-hot-hot Kendrick Lamar.