Music Bummys 2015: Best Albums of 2014

2014 was a low year for music. I love all the albums on this list, but a good chunk of them probably wouldn’t have appeared on more competitive years’ Top Ten lists. But that’s okay! Even if the big releases of 2014 were virtually nonexistent (except for a very notable October album, see #5 below), there was plenty of music to love under the radar. Three of my Top Ten are from artists I hadn’t heard of before 2014, which is probably the most since 2010. So, in the spirit of discovery, pick someone on this list (or the fifteen albums below the Top Ten) you haven’t heard of and give them a chance.

[Disclaimer: Links in the album titles are to the album on Spotify. Definitely some profanity in some of these. Links in the artist name are to times I wrote about their album already on the blog. Shouldn’t be much profanity in those.]

Top Ten

bummys01

10. Propaganda: Crimson Cord

Prop’s brand of rap has always leaned more toward spoken word poetry than straight up hip-hop. Crimson Cord finds Propaganda engaging far more with the kind of bangers you might hear on the radio- that is, if radio party rap had a soul. And yet Prop’s kept his socially conscious vibe fully intact, lashing out rationally against things like the state of hip-hop and the educational system while crafting his best hooks yet.

bummys02

9.Miranda Lambert: Platinum

2015 has been bad for Miranda, so let’s pretend like it hasn’t happened yet. 2014 saw Lambert release her best album of her career, a record so strong from beginning to end that it comes off as a greatest hits collection. We know Lambert’s personal life will be in turmoil for a while, so thankfully we have this perfect slice of country heaven to look back on.

bummys03

8. First Aid Kit: Stay Gold

Americana’s time has passed- at least, that’s what you might think if you only paid attention to the radio, since Mumford & Sons have gone electric and The Lumineers are nowhere to be found. But First Aid Kit, a sister duo from Sweden, are indicative of how unkillable American roots music really is. If the two of them, ‘90s babies from a Stockholm suburb, can release an album with the simple honesty of Stay Gold, then we can count on Americana retaining its heart long after DJs stop working banjo samples into their sets.

bummys04

7. Jackie Hill Perry: The Art of Joy

The best rap album of the year might have been the least heard. A poet from St. Louis, she’s signed to Humble Beast, the same record as Propaganda, and while, like him, her style veers toward the spoken-word, she demonstrates such aptitude with many different styles of rap that you forget this is her debut album. A lot of Perry’s ministry revolves around homosexuality, but Art of Joy is much less concerned with that, broadening her scope to forming a detailed definition of joy in God, regardless of your struggles.

bummys05

6. Liz Vice: There’s a Light

We have certain expectations for what worship music should sound like, but There’s a Light makes a case that we should reevaluate those norms. The old-school R&B & gospel influences on Vice’s debut add new dimensions to praise music, imbuing her songs with a soul often missing from a usually more straightforward genre. With a whole worship album of soul music as a shining example, it might be time for our staid, white churches to embrace new styles of worship.

bummys06

5. Taylor Swift: 1989

I didn’t really know it till last year, but I’ve grown up with Taylor. It’s not just that we were born in the same year, but that we’ve matured at about the same rate, and we started having paparazzi follow us at about the same age as well. Seriously though, going back to listen to her older records, there’s an obsession with romantic love that I could relate to at the time, even if I wouldn’t have admitted it to you or even to myself. There’s a lot of romantic love on 1989 too, but songs like “Style” and “Wildest Dreams” convey a world-weariness that wasn’t there on Fearless or Red. I’m not saying twenty-six years is enough for Taylor (or me, for that matter) to have a foolproof perspective on the world, but 1989 definitely presents a fully developed perspective, and that’s a start.

bummys07

4. Strand of Oaks: HEAL

Rock music is dead, supposedly. But the people who say that seem to be speaking mainly about its popularity or its monetization. I get that rock & roll used to have excess as a defining characteristic, but, if you know where to look, you can find honest expressions of rock. Strand of Oaks’s HEAL was the best pure, old-school rock record of 2014, weaving big choruses into verses about the boundless possibilities of youth and disillusionment with access to said possibilities in today’s culture. If you’re looking for rock & roll, look no further.

bummys08

3. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream

If HEAL is rock & roll, Lost in the Dream is more rocked & rolled. Adam Granduciel and his band don’t indulge in the excess of traditional rock. Instead they wade into Granduciel’s recent breakup with a stoner’s conviction, touching on themes and ideas, but rarely truly committing to getting to the bottom of them, preferring instead to play along the edges of every different kind of emotion, until Granduciel lets out one of his signature whoops- then the band truly plunges in. This is some of the cathartic music in years, continuing that tried and true tradition of the breakup album being an artist’s strongest.

arewethere.lpout

2. Sharon Van Etten: Are We There

Speaking of breakup albums, Are We There is Van Etten’s continued exploration of what seems like the same relationship since 2012’s Tramp. She’s like the opposite of pre-1989 Taylor Swift: every song is about the same person. Or at least that’s how it can feel when listening to Van Etten sing about her inability to remove herself from the same emotional abuse, the same lack of commitment, the same cowardice. For all I know, these songs could all be hypothetical or about different romantic partners altogether. The one constant is that Van Etten is never anything less than self-aware; she’ll have material to mine for years as long as she remains this brutally open and honest about her inner thoughts, and if Are We There is any indication, she’s mining gold.

bummys10

1. John Mark McMillan: Borderland

With Liz Vice’s There’s a Light, John Mark McMillan’s Borderland is redrawing the lines around what worship music can be. David Crowder Band plotted the boundaries and Gungor tilled the land, so it can seem like McMillan is just bearing their standard. In some ways he is; he still subscribes to a lot of the old formulas: repetitive choruses, building instrumentals, simple verses. But more than others in the worship business, McMillan is rewriting the lyrical rules. He does some interesting things with the instruments (saxophone in worship music?), but the real story here is the imagery in his words. He compares irresistible grace to a conquering Napoleon, our exile status in this world to living in a borderland with danger at every turn, and the temptations of this life to monsters in his room. Simplicity is important in worship music, but Borderland is a prime example of the idea that simplicity shouldn’t hamper creativity.

Another Fifteen

Ariana Grande: My Everything
Charli XCX: Sucker
Crowder: Neon Steeple
D’Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah
Diamond District: March on Washington
FKA twigs: LP1
Hiss Golden Messenger: Lateness of Dancers
Joan Shelley: Electric Ursa
Kelis: Food
Lecrae: Anomaly
Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal
Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Sun Kil Moon: Benji
Trip Lee: Rise
Twin Peaks: Wild Onion

Past Top Tens

2013

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

2012

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

2011

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

2010

Titus Andronicus: The Monitor
Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The Black Keys: Brothers
Andrew Peterson: Counting Stars
Gungor: Beautiful Things
Surfer Blood: Astro Coast
Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song
The National: High Violet
The Tallest Man on Earth: The Wild Hunt

Advertisements

Music Bummys 2015: Best Songs of 2014

Four of the Top-50-charting songs of 2014 are in my personal top 50. That’s not a totally accurate representation of how much I enjoy popular music, since a couple of those songs are holdovers from 2013 that appeared on that year’s list (like “Royals” and “Drunk in Love”). But while this is just a personal list and is far from objective, it does make me wonder about the quality of pop music that the vast majority of the Billboard Top 100 doesn’t interest me at all.

I don’t subscribe to the theory that things were better in the old days. If you looked up pop music charts from 25 or 50 years ago, you’d find good songs and bad songs, just like 2014. And by many accounts, 2014 was a down year for pop music anyway- not many blockbuster releases by big artists, the domination of streaming services bringing sales down, the appearance of some person named Iggy Azalea. But…only four?

On this list you’ll find pop music from heavyweights like Taylor Swift and One Direction and breakouts like Charli XCX and Sia. There’s alt-country from Drive-By Truckers and rising star Sturgill Simpson. And there’s whatever the heck “NRG” and “Attak” are. My point is, this list has something the Billboard Top 100 never seems to: diversity. Embrace it, and try a song by an artist you’ve never heard of.

[Disclaimer: The links in the song titles are to the songs themselves. They probably contain profanity and/or sexual content. The links in the artist names are to past posts in which I wrote about the song or the album it appeared on.]

Top Twenty-Five

25. tUnE-yArDs: “Water Fountain”

Merrill Garbus has been channeling world beats into protest gold for a while now, but this is her most powerful song yet.

24. Rustie: “Attak (feat. Danny Brown)”

This was my alarm for a while, and no song got me woke last year quite like it.

23. Taylor Swift: “Wildest Dreams”

I get why people are upset about the music video, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the song is gorgeous.

22. Drive-By Truckers: “Grand Canyon”

The Alabama rockers pen a masterful tribute to their late friend, remembering a poignant trip to the titular world wonder with him.

21. Sturgill Simpson: “Turtles All the Way Down”

The line about Simpson’s breakout song is about how he’s rebelling against country norms by singing about drugs, but I’m more impressed by how well he nails that old-school country sound.

20. Icona Pop: “Get Lost”

In some ways, this burner is even better than their hit “I Love It”, and it’s made all the more loveable by the fact that this one barely even charted.

19. Charli XCX: “Boom Clap”

It was nice to see a pop genius like Charli XCX get popular recognition for this sunny singalong.

18. D’Angelo & the Vanguard: “Betray My Heart”

This song didn’t receive a lot of attention, but I enjoyed it more than any other off Black Messiah because of its simple statement of commitment.

17. Propaganda: “Daywalkers (feat. Lecrae)”

A lot of my favorite Propaganda songs are closer to the spoken-word side of things, but Prop branched out more on this album into straight-up bangers, including this celebration of diversity with Lecrae.

15. One Direction: “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”

Four is full of full-throated hits, but this one might be peak One Direction for its unbeatable chorus.

15. Against Me!: “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”

A fiery plea for your empathy from one of the transgender community’s boldest public faces.

14. Ariana Grande: “Problem (feat. Iggy Azalea)”

The one time Iggy manages to be charming is also the best song of last summer with the best saxophone part since “Thrift Shop”.

13. Derek Minor: “Stranger (feat. Roz)”

To me, this is the song anyone who disbelieves the veracity of the Black Lives Matter movement needs to hear.

12. Ariana Grande: “Love Me Harder (feat. The Weeknd)”

This is the song that solidified My Everything as a great pop album, a genuine hit with lasting power.

11. Duck Sauce: “NRG”

honestly this song should be #1 the bummys suck

arewethere.lpout

10. Sharon Van Etten: “Your Love Is Killing Me”

The violent imagery isn’t anything new for a Sharon Van Etten song. The single off her last album, “Serpents”, used snakes as a metaphor for the mental turmoil of an abusive relationship. But “Your Love Is Killing Me” is about needing self-mutilation so that she doesn’t go back to an abusive relationship, which is taking things up a notch.

WYR0514tubejktnoguidlines

9. Parquet Courts: “Instant Disassembly”

Courtney Barnett’s waiting in the wings and Patrick Stickles has a case to make, but there’s no one in music better at articulating the punk aesthetic than Parquet Courts’ Andrew Savage. But “Instant Disassembly” is so heartbreaking that it’s barely punk. Savage drunkenly muses to a woman identified only as “Mamasita” about the state of identity, that he feels like he’s falling apart, and begs her to reach for something higher than him.

bummys03

8. Taylor Swift: “Out of the Woods”

The best song on 1989 is the one that sounds the least like pre-1989 Taylor. Supposedly written for her relationship with Harry Styles, “Out of the Woods” could have come straight from its album’s titular year. But there’s something about the detail Taylor gives to it that makes it also feel so immediate.

bummys04

7. Jackie Hill Perry: “I Just Wanna Get There”

Perry’s story is incredible and informs every facet of her debut album, The Art of Joy. “I Just Wanna Get There” is the album’s climax, a summation of Perry’s life thesis in four minutes. Eight days after getting married, Perry found herself pregnant, and the song details her panic and her ultimate joy in trusting God.

bummys05

6. Sia: “Chandelier”

Was there a bigger song last year? I know there were certain other songs more dominant on the charts, but what “Fancy” or “Dark Horse” didn’t have was a sense that they were happening in the real world. From the moment Sia begins singing, you know she’s pouring years of her life into every syllable.

bummys06

5. First Aid Kit: “Waitress Song”

I’m a sucker for any road trip song. “Waitress Song” starts out as a chronicle of one girl’s getaway from a life in tatters, and there’s a lack of certainty about if she’ll be able to put it together. But as the song builds, so does her hope and her comprehension of the possibilities ahead of her.

bummys07

4. John Mark McMillan: “Future / Past”

Worship music is inherently formulaic, utilizing repetition as a method of instilling truth in the heart of the worshiper. McMillan, in “Future / Past”, takes the formula and multiplies it tenfold. There’s the expected repetition, but surrounded by unusual instrumentation and imbued with an appropriately epic chorus.

bummys08

3. The War on Drugs: “Red Eyes”

Not sure if the title is referring to late-night flights, drug use, or the effects of crying, but I am sure that it could be about any of those things and fit into the wide gamut of emotions Adam Granduciel runs through during the course of the song’s 5 minutes. “Big” isn’t necessarily an adjective you associate with The War on Drugs, especially not before “trippy” or “drugged out”, but “Red Eyes” is undeniably big and expansive and full. We’re treated to a breakup song writ large, with room for your problems and yours too and yours and yours and yours.

bummys09

2. Strand of Oaks: “Goshen ‘97”

Where “Red Eyes” feels expansive, “Goshen ‘97” is the epitome of tight, compact. As he tells the story of how he started his life in music, Timothy Showalter achieves the kind of honesty only present in the best songs rock music has to offer us. “Goshen ‘97” is the kind of song that makes me believe rock isn’t dead, it’s just hiding on the fringes of culture waiting to be discovered, because it knows music sounds better when it has to be found.

bummys10

1. FKA twigs: “Two Weeks”

Listen, before you press play on “Two Weeks”, it’s going to sound like a really vulgar song. And, admittedly, it’s unashamedly about sex, and not just about sex, but using sex to make your partner forget about someone else. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but “Two Weeks” is the most unforgettable song of the year. twigs’s boldness with her sexuality is different from the oversexualization of mainstream pop stars; it belongs fully to her, stemming from her own desires and preferences and not from the male gaze. This is refreshing, not because we live in an age that is too comfortable with sex, but because we live in an age where the proliferation of sex is driven by men, and “Two Weeks” is decidedly for women, by women.

Another Twenty-Five (in alphabetical order)

5 Seconds of Summer: “She Looks So Perfect”
Alvvays: “Archie, Marry Me”
Audrey Assad: “Death, Be Not Proud”
Bizzle: “Hallelujah (Work) (feat. Selah the Corner, B. Angelique & Black Knight)”
Charli XCX: “Break the Rules”
Diamond District: “First Step”
Ed Sheeran: “Thinking Out Loud”
Ellie Holcomb: “Marvelous Light”
Foreknown: “The Never Haves”
Hiss Golden Messenger: “Saturday’s Song”
Joan Shelley: “First of August”
John Mark McMillan: “Heart Runs”
Kendrick Lamar: “i”
Kevin Morby: “Parade”
Lakes: “Hold On”
Lecrae: “All I Need Is You”
Mariah Carey: “Heavenly (No Ways Tired / Can’t Give Up Now)”
Mark Ronson: “Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars)”
Miranda Lambert: “Smokin’ and Drinkin’ (feat. Little Big Down)”
NEEDTOBREATHE: “Brother”
Sharon Van Etten: “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”
Taylor Swift: “Shake It Off”
Tove Lo: “Not on Drugs”
Trip Lee: “Coulda Been Me”
The Weeknd: “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)”

Past Top Tens

2013

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

2012

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

2011

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

2010

Andrew Peterson: “Dancing in the Minefields”
Hot Chip: “Take It In”
Ben Rector: “Dance with Me Baby”
Kanye West: “Runaway (feat. Pusha T)”
Broken Social Scene: “World Sick”
Arcade Fire: “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
Gungor: “The Earth Is Yours”
Kanye West: “Power”
The National: “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
Surfer Blood: “Swim”

If I Ran the Grammys 2015

Last year, I ran the first of what will hopefully be an annual feature about what the Grammy Awards would look like if I ran them. All systems are broken, but this year it’s more evident than ever that the Grammy system is a knot with no chance of being untangled anytime soon. We know this, because there’s only one worthy Album of the Year candidate (last year saw at least three- okay, at most three), and because there’s a legitimate chance Sam Smith might sweep the four major awards. This would be awful. I’m holding out hope that the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has come to their senses, so you’ll see below that I’ve bet against him in every category. Seriously, Academy- for the sake of all our brains overloaded with thinkpieces about race, do not give Sam Smith all the awards. Please.

A few ground rules:

1) I’ll give the real nominees with my prediction for the winner in bold. Then I’ll give you who I would have nominated with my choice for the best in the group in bold.

2) We all know the October 1st, 2013-September 30th, 2014 qualifying dates are stupid, but we’re going to keep them in the interest of chaos. So no 1989, but Reflektor (from 2013, but released after October 1st, 2013) is fair game.

3) For the four major awards (Album, Record, Song, New Artist), I’m realistic. The War on Drugs made my favorite album in the qualifying year, but they would never be nominated for Album of the Year. Lana Del Rey’s album isn’t even my favorite pop album of the year, but it’s the likeliest of that group to be nominated for Album of the Year. You get the idea. But when it comes to the genre awards, anything goes- hence, bands like Slow Club, Twin Peaks, and Kye Kye getting nods over more popular bands in their respective categories..

4) Genre boundaries are fuzzy- Beyoncé could really fit into pop or R&B, Arcade Fire could fit into rock or alternative, Drive-By Truckers could be rock or Americana, etc. So I went with my gut. I don’t have your gut, so if you disagree with me on whether or not Lecrae belongs in the rap or Christian category, sorry.

AP BEYONCE AND JAY Z - ON THE RUN TOUR - PARIS - NIGHT 2 A ENT CPA FRA

Album of the Year

Real nominees: Morning Phase, Beck
Beyoncé, Beyoncé
X, Ed Sheeran
In the Lonely Hour, Sam Smith
Girl, Pharrell Williams

My nominees: Reflektor, Arcade Fire
Beyoncé, Beyoncé
Turn Blue, The Black Keys
Ultraviolence, Lana Del Rey
Platinum, Miranda Lambert

grammys2If anyone but Beyoncé wins, the Grammys will have returned to their stupid ways. Daft Punk last year was fine; even if you liked Kendrick Lamar’s album better, it was hard to argue against Random Access Memories as a quality choice. But there is nothing else in this category that even comes close to being a worthy Album of the Year. And that’s not for lack of quality albums either! Why not Arcade Fire’s bold Reflektor, or The Black Keys’ solid Turn Blue, or Lana Del Rey’s legitimately and surprisingly great Ultraviolence? Are we really convince that Beck’s Morning Phase was anything but a rehash of Sea Change? And the other three nominees seem like votes for mediocrity and the status quo rather than quality. It’s a shame Miranda Lambert, who is a bona fide star, couldn’t get some love over Ed Sheeran, of all people. There’s only one right choice here, and the Academy better make it, or the Internet’s shit is gonna hit the fan.

grammys3

Record of the Year

Real nominees: “Fancy (feat. Charli XCX)”, Iggy Azalea
“All About That Bass”, Meghan Trainor
“Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)”, Sam Smith
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

My nominees: “Problem (feat. Iggy Azalea)”, Ariana Grande
“Drunk in Love (feat. Jay Z)”, Beyoncé
“Boom Clap”, Charli XCX
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

IGGY AZALEA, ARIANA GRANDE“Fancy” is nice and all that, but everything Iggy in that song gets on my nerves. Regardless of how I feel, though, it was the biggest song of the year, and the Grammys will likely reward it for its success (though I prefer Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap”). For everything I said about Sam Smith, “Stay with Me” is actually a really great song. Still, if I had to choose, I’d choose the remaining three. And where is “Problem”? There was a point over last summer where we didn’t know whether “Fancy” or “Problem” was the song of the summer, and just because “Fancy” won doesn’t make it the better song. I would’ve liked to have seen some love for “Drunk in Love” too, but “Problem” was the coolest record of the year.

grammys5

Song of the Year

Real nominees: “Take Me to Church”, Hozier
“All About That Bass”, Meghan Trainor
“Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)”, Sam Smith
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

My nominees: “Afterlife”, Arcade Fire
“Drunk in Love (feat. Jay Z)”, Beyoncé
“West Coast”, Lana Del Rey
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

grammys6Song of the Year is a songwriting award, and there wasn’t a better-written song this year than “Chandelier”. I’m not a fan of “Take Me to Church” at all, so I’ll gladly replace it with Arcade Fire’s best song of Reflektor. As much as I love “All About That Bass”, “Drunk in Love” beats it out by a mile. And “Stay with Me” isn’t a well-written song at all (especially considering the Tom Petty controversy); its charm is in its performance. I’d rather include one of the most interesting songs of the year, Lana Del Rey’s “West Coast”.

grammys7

Best New Artist

Real nominees: Bastille
Brandy Clark
Haim
Iggy Azalea
Sam Smith

My nominees: 5 Seconds of Summer
Charli XCX
Meghan Trainor
Sky Ferreira
Sturgill Simpson

grammys8If I’m honest with myself, Sam Smith is probably going to win this award. In an ideal world, either Brandy Clark or especially Haim would get it. But if any award is Sam Smith’s to lose, it’s this one. Even if the Academy realizes in the other categories that Smith isn’t the most deserving, it would be hard for them to ignore him in this one. But I’m kind of leaning toward a full-on Sam Smith fatigue having set in for the industry, so I’ll bet on Azalea’s monster year to push her into the lead. As far as my Grammys go, where are 5 Seconds of Summer, Charli XCX, and Meghan Trainor? Any of them would be better than Bastille, for goodness’ sake. I’d pick Charli XCX over Iggy Azalea even, since “Fancy” is largely successful because of its hook and not because of Iggy’s verses. And, just to make myself happy, I included two stars in the underground, the pop savant Sky Ferreira and the country up-and-comer Sturgill Simpson.

grammys9

Best Pop Album

Real nominees (Pop Vocal Album): My Everything, Ariana Grande
Ghost Stories, Coldplay
X, Ed Sheeran
Prism, Katy Perry
Bangerz, Miley Cyrus

My nominees: 5 Seconds of Summer, 5 Seconds of Summer
My Everything, Ariana Grande
Ultraviolence, Lana Del Rey
Midnight Memories, One Direction
Night Time, My Time, Sky Ferreira

grammys10I promise I don’t have anything against Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith. I just find them bland. That said, Sheeran has the inside track on this category, since he obviously had enough support to secure an Album of the Year nominee. The best album actually nominated, though, is My Everything. The best pop album not nominated was Sky Ferreira’s brilliant Night Time, My TimeUltraviolence got my vote for one of the more realistic Albums of the Year, so she’s obviously in here as well, taking Coldplay’s more alternative pop slot. And I’d replace Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus with a couple of other hit generators who were more on target: One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer.

grammys11

Best Rock Album

Real nominees: Morning Phase, Beck
Turn Blue, The Black Keys
Ryan Adams
, Ryan Adams
Hypnotic Eye, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Songs of Innocence, U2

My nominees: Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Against Me!
Reflektor, Arcade Fire
Turn Blue, The Black Keys
English Oceans, Drive-By Truckers
Wild Onion, Twin Peaks

grammys12Why do people think Beck is good? He hasn’t made an authentic album since Sea Change. Every album since then has been an effort to appease rather than challenge. That wouldn’t be a problem if the attempts were interesting, but he’s always boring. I’d choose any other album on that list over his. But on my personal list, I’d shoehorn Arcade Fire in on this ballot rather than the alternative genre, and give some love to some of the more underrated artists of the year: Against Me!’s brash punk, Drive-By Truckers rootsy epic, and Twin Peak’s blast of indie rock.

grammys13

Best Alternative Album

Real nominees (Alternative Music Album): This Is All Yours, alt-J
Reflektor, Arcade Fire
Melophobia, Cage the Elephant
Lazaretto, Jack White
St. Vincent, St. Vincent

My nominees: Electric Ursa, Joan Shelley
Fantasize, Kye Kye
Sunbathing Animal, Parquet Courts
Are We There, Sharon Van Etten
Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs

grammys14St. Vincent has the edge, since she was the critical darling of the last year on this list. I love Reflektor, but it belongs in the rock category, as does Lazaretto. In what world is Jack White not considered rock? I don’t care about alt-J or Cage the Elephant- they belong in the bland category with Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. I’m surprised The War on Drugs didn’t make it onto the Grammy’s list, since they received just as much if not more critical attention than St. Vincent. The same goes for Parquet Courts, thought they surely couldn’t care less. I enjoyed the albums by Sharon Van Etten, Joan Shelley, and Kye Kye far more than I liked St. Vincent’s. But that’s just my personal taste.

grammys15

Best R&B Album

Real nominees: Lift Your Spirit, Aloe Blacc
Islander, Bernhoft
Black Radio 2, Robert Glasper Experiment
Give the People What They Want, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Love, Marriage & Divorce, Toni Braxton & Babyface

My nominees: Beyoncé, Beyoncé
Cupid Deluxe, Blood Orange
Food, Kelis
There’s a Light, Liz Vice
Complete Surrender, Slow Club

grammys16Aloe Blacc is probably the only one the Academy has actually heard of on their own list. For my list, this is the category Beyoncé belongs in. She would fit just as well into pop music, but Beyoncé is way more D’Angelo than Katy Perry. Kelis also deserves some love for her sexy album, Food, but it went by this summer without anyone really noticing. Blood Orange and Slow Club received a little more attention in the indie world. And Liz Vice is the outlier of the group, a little-known Christian artist who has nailed how to pull worship R&B off.

grammys17

Best Rap Album

Real nominees: Because the Internet, Childish Gambino
Nobody’s Smiling, Common
The Marshall Mathers LP2, Eminem
The New Classic, Iggy Azalea
Oxymoron, Schoolboy Q

My nominees: Instruments of Mercy, Beautiful Eulogy
Old, Danny Brown
Anomaly, Lecrae
Crimson Cord, Propaganda
Sinema, Swoope

grammys18I don’t like Iggy’s style at all, but there’s no doubting she has all the momentum here, especially in such a down year for mainstream rap. I wish Danny Brown would get some love, but he’s the lone winner in a year full of rap losers. That wasn’t the case in the Christian rap scene though, with Beautiful Eulogy, Lecrae, and Swoope all releasing stellar versions of the genre. None was better than Prop though; he’d never win it in real life, but since I’m running things, Prop’s Crimson Cord would get the love it deserves.

grammys19

Best Christian Album

Real nominees (Contemporary Christian Music): Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong., for KING & COUNTRY
If We’re Honest
, Francesca Battistelli
Welcome to the New, MercyMe
Hurricane, Natalie Grant
Royal Tailor, Royal Tailor

My nominees: Devotion, Anberlin
Neon Steeple, Crowder
As Sure as the Sun, Ellie Holcomb
Borderland, John Mark McMillan
Rivers in the Wasteland, NEEDTOBREATHE

grammys20“Christian” is hardly a genre, but it’s a useful denomination for music that doesn’t really belong anywhere else. You could make the argument that Anberlin, Crowder, and NEEDTOBREATHE all make rock music, but they’re undeniably pigeonholed into the Christian category. Nothing on the Grammy list belongs in the conversation, though Francesca Battistelli probably has the most industry pull. I’d rather listen to Ellie Holcomb’s full-length debut any day. And the most overlooked of all will always be John Mark McMillan, always on the outskirts of even the Christian mainstream, forever going to be ignored by the Academy. He gets my vote though.

rosanne-cash

Best Americana Album

Real nominees: Terms of My Surrender, John Hiatt
Bluesamericana, Keb’ Mo’
A Dotted Line, Nickel Creek
The River & the Thread, Roseanne Cash
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill Simpson

My nominees: Stay Gold, First Aid Kit
Lateness of Dancers, Hiss Golden Messenger
Small Town Heroes, Hurray for the Riff Raff
Platinum, Miranda Lambert
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill Simpson

grammys22Sturgill Simpson’s album was a wonderful breath of fresh air in the country genre. There are plenty of artists like him out there, injecting a stale genre with modern ideas, but he’s received the most attention for it, and deservedly so. But Roseanne Cash is the daughter of Johnny Cash, so she’s going to win. One of those other artists like Simpson is Hurray for the Riff Raff, and her Small Town Heroes was maybe the second most acclaimed album of its kind behind Metamodern Sounds. Hiss Golden Messenger and First Aid Kit both released my favorite folk albums of the past year, but the award should really go to Miranda Lambert. She’s nominated in the Best Country genre, and she’s the best example of mainstream country in years. Literally years. She may lose her real Grammy to Eric Church (another for the bland pile), but she would win my Grammy.

I’m aware I didn’t include all the nominees for these categories. I blame the layout of the Grammys’ website.

Tentative Top Tens for 2014

If you’re a regular reader of Coulda Been a Contender (and that’s a big if), you know I don’t really complete my Top Ten lists until around September of the next year. I like some remove from the end-of-year list boom and awards season fever, and it gives me a lot more time to catch up on everything I missed. But it seems wrong not to release some sort of list, so I’m going to tentatively present my Top Ten movies and albums. I don’t keep up with reading or TV as much as I like, but I’ll go ahead and throw in a book and show at the end. Neither of them are from this year, but whatever.

I’ll write plenty about most of these when I do the actual Bummys, or I’ve already written about them. If I have, the link to what I wrote will be in the title.

tentativetopten01

Movies

10. Ernest & Celestine
9. How to Train Your Dragon 2
8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
7. Interstellar
6. The Lego Movie
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Blue Ruin
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
2. Snowpiercer
1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

tentativetopten02

Albums

10. Crimson Cord, Propaganda
9. There’s a Light, Liz Vice
8. 1989, Taylor Swift
7. Platinum, Miranda Lambert
6. The Art of Joy, Jackie Hill Perry
5. Stay Gold, First Aid Kit
4. Borderland, John Mark McMillan
3. Rise, Trip Lee
2. Are We There, Sharon Van Etten
1. Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs

Best Book I Read This Year

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Best TV Show I Watched This Year

The Wire

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

2011

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

2010

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

Music Bummys 2013: Best Songs 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.]

As far as songs go, 2012 didn’t have one dominant song of the year, as far as popular music goes.  There was no “Someone Like You” or “Runaway” or even “My Girls” for the hipster crowd.  You may bring up “Call Me Maybe” or “Somebody That I Used to Know”, and while I thought for sure those would at least fall in my top 25, they didn’t make the cut.  I love those songs, but 2012 was a GREAT year for music, so, sorry, Canada and Australia.  As for Christian music, 2012 was an unusually big year; half of my top ten are Christian songs.

Top Songs of 2012

alabamashakes10. “Hold On” by Alabama Shakes: I suppose you could lump Alabama Shakes in with The White Stripes and The Black Keys as some have done, insofar as all three share a garage blues rock sensibility.  But to do that is almost to dismiss Alabama Shakes for being derivative, and then you’d miss out on what separates AS from their elder statesmen, and that’s youth.  But youth isn’t even the right word for it, since both Jack White and the Keys still make music with a distinctly virile feel.  The youth that is on display in the Shakes’ music (and most notably on “Hold On”, the perfect album opener on their thickfreak Boys & Girls) is unashamed of its feelings, unabashed in its embrace of adolescent dreaming.  When frontwoman Brittany Howard wails “I don’t wanna wait!” on the chorus, she’s channeling a kind of youthful desire that no one else today is tapping into.

christopherpaulstelling9. “Mourning Train to Memphis” by Christopher Paul Stelling: If “Hold On” is the young woman song, “Mourning Train to Memphis” is the old man song.  Where Alabama Shakes thrive on childlike exuberance, Stelling flourishes when he fully dives into existential lamentation.  I’ve been listening to this song for a year now, and it never fails to stir that pit in my stomach that only appears when I’m deeply, emotionally wounded.  What, that doesn’t make you want to listen to this song?  Well, I’m sure you will if I tell you that it’s about a beloved geriatric dying of cancer and being buried.  No?  Well, your loss; you’re missing out on one of the best folk songs in recent memory.  More deep stomach pits for me.

frankocean8. “Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean: There are probably about three or four other songs from channel ORANGE that I could substitute for this song depending on which day of the week you ask me.  Monday is more of a “Pyramids” day.  Friday I’ll probably be leaning toward “Super Rich Kids” and getting ready for a joy ride in Daddy’s Jaguar.  “Thinking Bout You” could fit on Wednesday, I guess (this gimmick is running out of steam).  But “Bad Religion” takes the rest of the days.  It’s the best showcase of Ocean’s smooth vocals, sure, but it also happens to be the track where he comes close to revealing what’s in the heart of his soul.  I understand that this is about Ocean being in love with a man, and while I don’t support that or believe it’s right, I appreciate that he bares his inner thoughts and fears to us so completely.  Who isn’t afraid that “the one” won’t love them?  Would that we could all sound so beautiful when we’re in despair.

benjamindunn7. “When We Were Young” by Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra: Goodness gracious me!  I need a playground, stat.  This song makes me feel like a kid again, or at least it makes me wish that I could remember what it feels like to be a kid.  I know I said that no one else was tapping into youthful desire like Alabama Shakes, and, well…I stand by that statement completely!  Benjamin Dunn & whoever the Animal Orchestra is aren’t really encapsulating youthful desire, they’re capturing what it feels like to remember it.  And they’re doing it in one of the catchiest choruses of any year, let alone 2012.

andrewpeterson6. “Day by Day” by Andrew Peterson: On first listen, I didn’t think much of “Day by Day”.  There are so many good songs on Peterson’s Light for the Lost Boy that it kind of got lost in the shuffle.  But as I repeatedly played the album again and again in my car, “Day by Day” began to jump out at me.  It’s like how everyone likes The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when they first read the Narnia books, and The Magician’s Nephew is kind of boring, but as you read them multiple times, The Magician’s Nephew stands out as one of the most inventive and wise of the series.  “Day by Day” is like that.  Day after day of listening to it made the song grow on me. Now I’m fully in love with its singular forward motion, the perceptive lyrics about missing your childhood, the wanting so badly to be made new each and every day.  Maybe it’s because I’m at such a crossroads in my life, and the theme of time passing me by on my way to heaven really strikes a chord with me.  But Peterson’s song is a reminder that the mundanity of life on Earth points to a glorious eternity when the passing of the days will only produce more and more joy.  I know that message is not just for me.

usher5. “Climax” by Usher: A song by Usher called “Climax” is begging to not be taken seriously.  But this is the best, and weirdest, song that Usher has ever made.  The structure isn’t familiar to pop or hip-hop; it’s distinctly R&B, but the kind of R&B that they’re playing on the moon somewhere*.  If the title “Climax” sounds like it should belong to an ecstatic anthem to sex and, you know, what happens during sex, the actual song is best enjoyed without thinking about the possible humor in the double entendre.  When accepted fully as a serious song, “Climax” is heartwrenching and will make you want to remain celibate for fear of being as hurt as Usher sounds.  Though, once again, like in “Bad Religion”, if this is what getting burned by love sounds like, I should’ve recorded more alt-R&B songs in high school.

lecrae4. “Church Clothes” by Lecrae: This is the shortest song on this list, and it’s also the one most likely to burn a hole in your brain.  This is one that sticks with you.  Lecrae has never been one to mince words, but on this track (off his mixtape by the same name) he’s spitting real talk of the realest sort.  Over a delightfully retro and makeshift beat that intermittently morphs into a souled-out burner, Lecrae pulls off something remarkable.  “Church Clothes” starts out as a diatribe against everything we should hate about hypocritical churches, things we can all agree give us pause.  Then Lecrae deftly turns the microscope back on us and demolishes all the real reasons why we don’t give ourselves to the church.  Crae’s implication is that our problems with the church are legitimate, but they become excuses for why we don’t submit to God and start serving the church, which has always been God’s vessel for bringing His kingdom in.  Point taken, Lecrae.

davidramirez3. “Fire of Time” by David Ramirez: If Johnny Cash were alive today, he would have made this song, and it would have received the attention that Ramirez’s version deserves.  As it is, this is the best Johnny Cash song he never recorded, and the best song Ramirez has (though it has competition there- see below).  My hope is that Ramirez hasn’t really been in the place that he’s writing from in this song, but it’s far too genuine for that to be the case.  The man in this song has chased after the fleeting desires of this world and become addicted, and, miraculously, someone, probably a woman, has broken through his walls and is pulling him out.  “Fire of Time” is simple; but it doesn’t have to be anything more.

triplee2. “One Sixteen (feat. KB & Andy Mineo)” by Trip Lee: Oh my word this song is amazing.  There’s not a single thing about this song that isn’t awesome.  Every bar is basically a hook.  Which, in a twisted way, makes this the “Ignition [Remix]” of rap songs.  That part where Trip sneaks “man” onto the end of his verse to make the phrase “rocket man” like we wouldn’t notice.  That part where KB compares God to Bo Peep.  That part where Trip makes an astute basketball reference.  That part where KB rhymes “murder does” with “surge of us” and “churches up” because duh.  That part where Andy Mineo raps and kills everyone else in the world.  Best rap song ever?  Okay, that’s an unnecessary argument that I don’t want to get into.  …but maybe?

jimmyneedham1. “Clear the Stage” by Jimmy Needham: For eight years now, Jimmy Needham has been writing songs that toe the line between CCM** and R&B like someone who isn’t concerned with the status quo or that oldfangled thing called the radio that we used to listen to when we were kids.  Jimmy’s songs are funky and full of life, with lyrics that cut to the core of the Gospel and what it looks like to worship the Lord in the midst of a messed up world.  “Clear the Stage” isn’t funky or playful. In fact, it’s a ballad with piano and synth strings and a swelling chorus that actually would fit right in on Air1.  It goes along with the rest of Jimmy’s most recent album (also called Clear the Stage) in that it tends to be geared more towards a more radio-friendly sound.  It also happens to be the best song he’s ever recorded.  What has always made Jimmy a cut above the rest was his brutal honesty.  “Clear the Stage” cuts through the crap and reminds you that you’re full of it, you don’t really think about those words you sing at church, and it’s time you really began to worship your Father in the Spirit.  It’s one thing to say those things; it’s another to command it as forcefully as Needham does here.  But his voice, always soulful, reveals a heart that is just as guilty as ours.  Jimmy knows he has idols; “Clear the Stage” is how he purges them.  And he passionately invites us to join him.

*You know, where there are aliens who are secretly into R. Kelly and Pharrell.  These aliens aren’t interested in blowing up the White House.  But they might consider it if Jamie Foxx was president, since no one in the universe is a fan of “Blame It”.

**That’s Christian Contemporary Music for those of you who like good music.

Fifteen More Songs (in alphabetic order)
Anaïs Mitchell: “Young Man in America”
Bruce Springsteen: “Land of Hope and Dreams”
Frank Ocean: “Thinkin Bout You”
Icona Pop: “I Love It (feat. Charli XCX)”
Japandroids: “The House That Heaven Built”
Kacey Musgraves: “Merry Go ‘Round”
Kendrick Lamar: “B*tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”
Matt Mays: “Indio”
Miguel: “Adorn”
The Olive Tree: “A Larger Portion”
Palma Violets: “Best of Friends”
Phosphorescent: “Song for Zula”
Propaganda: “Forgive Me for Asking”
Solange: “Losing You”
Taylor Swift: “I Knew You Were Trouble”

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

Ashley Monroe, “Like a Rose”: Kacey Musgraves took 2012 by force from her authentic country contemporaries, but Ashley Monroe owns 2013 so far with this clever, coming-of-age ballad.

Daft Punk, “Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell Williams)”: Robin Thicke thinks he reigned over summer 2013, and maybe officially he did.  But we all know who we’re bowing down to when Alan Thicke’s son isn’t looking, and they would never let Miley twerk all up on them.

David Ramirez, “The Bad Days”: His “Fire of Time” very nearly stole best song honors from Jimmy Needham in 2012; his “The Bad Days” is a dark horse contender for 2013.  And I’ll bet this blog is the only place you’ve heard of him; what a shame.

Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”: The best pop song of the year, because JT so effortlessly fuses his pop-funk with weighty emotions that feel universal.

Vampire Weekend, “Diane Young”: Vampire Weekend are no strangers to great hooks, but this might be their most infectious and inventive one yet.