Top Albums 2011

It’s been a year. Blogging is so last decade, it’s all about the Twitters. Same as last time, you’ll get the countdown, the cover art, my thoughts, and a music vid. And without further ado:

TOP ALBUMS 2011

10- 116 Clique – “Man Up”

Honestly, this album is only #10 because there’s only seven tracks. In more traditional terminology, they’d have called it an “EP” but that’s such a “physical media” thing of me to say. Basically, the 116 Clique is all your ravourite rappers from Reach Records – Lecrae, Tedashii, Trip Lee, PRo, Andy Mineo, Sho Baraka and KB – doing posse cuts non stop. This album, apparently, is a soundtrack for a curriculum & documentary – all aimed at, you guessed it, helping this generation of young men to “man up” – to lead and love boldly with grace. It’s a much-needed rallying cry, and the beats and rhymes are only outmatched by the heart behind it all.

09- Gungor – “Ghosts Upon The Earth”

Some of my in-laws turned me on to Gungor earlier in the year – specifically their debut album “Beautiful Things.” When I met Gungor, I met great harmonies, folksy vibes, and a well-honed sense of when to be quiet and restrained and when to be free, loud, and relaxed. Gungor excels at using variance in volume, pacing, and tone to capture emotion (or more accurately, capture worship) and this is true of 2011’s “Ghosts Upon The Earth” – a generous, difficult-to-describe multi-layered hyphenated-word-deserving album. Not exactly a worship album, but not exactly not one either. Delicious, in other words.

08- Emery – “We Do What We Want”

I keep thinking that Emery is gonna fall off. Hardly the case at all – We Do What We Want is arguably and in turns their most aggressive, loud and intense album and at the same time has perhaps their greatest “slow song” to date (I’d even argue it tops “The Ponytail Parades”). This is a band that has matured remarkably in… wow it’s gotta be close to a decade now! Anyways, the closing track on the album, “Fix Me” is one of the most heartfelt, earnest songs they’ve ever done and it’s my personal favourite on an album that is otherwise marked by a serious case of THE HEAVIES. Brace yourself, buckle up, and check it out. You’ll be glad and wear a grin.

07- Propaganda & Odd Thomas – “Art Ambidextrous”

Most people first heard of Propaganda when his video “G.O.S.P.E.L.” went viral early in 2011. Some of us (myself included) have been familiar with the dude since his days with the Tunnel Rats in the early 2000’s. Much to my joy, Props has gone in a decidedly Christ-centric direction with his content, and the results are great. This is not your average rapper – Propaganda is the sort of emcee who can put together a brilliant spoken word piece just as quickly as a boom bap attack. Needless to say, the lyrics on Art Ambidextrous are (generally speaking) rather heady. Not one to shy away from polysyllabics and weirding rhyme schemes, there’s a lot to sink your brain into here. Definitely worth a careful listen when you’ve got time to digest meat rather than “just some rhymes”. Oh, and did I mention that this album is FREE from HumbleBeast Records? No? Well, it is.

06- Matt Redman – “10,000 Reasons”

Frankly, there was a sizeable portion of my life where I didn’t care at all for worship music. Needless to say, those days are gone. In terms of what my generation would call “normal worship music” – Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons is by far the best effort of the year. Personal favourites on the record are “Never Once” (about the faithfulness of God), “10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)” which is about as anthemic as they get, and “Holy” (you can guess what that one’s about). Either way, they’ve been standards at church this year and for good reason – they strike great notes and (with the help of God’s people) bring down the glory.

05- Braille – “Native Lungs”

You’ll be glad to know that one of this year’s best is also one of this year’s… FREE. Braille’s been a constant companion of my hear-drums since high school and for good reason – excellent beats, excellent rhymes, and a knack for excellent guest artists. Native Lungs is, in my opinion, his best to date (closely followed by The IV Edition) – stuffed with head-nodding rhythms and brain-happy wordsmithery. There’s a decidedly West Coast flavour to this album (that’s not unusual for Braille) and there’s plenty of transparent, vulnerable honesty (quite usual for Braille) and far from a weakness, the honesty makes the record what it is. Did I mention this album is FREE? Get it here from HumbleBeast Records.

04- Great Awakening – “Songs In Secret”

Ok… so this one falls into the “worship” category, but it’s not in the “normal worship music” category I mentioned above. Great Awakening’s first album (Cities) would have largely fallen into that category. Songs in Secret, much to the contrary, is subtle, paced, quiet, meditative, pleasant, downtempo worship that is full of earnest heart. Which is to say, this album’s excellence lies in the intricacy, in the stillness, in the excecution of well-timed silence and the strange first track “Explore” which fools you into thinking that you’re about to hear an uptempo indie rock worship album. Which you aren’t. Get this album FREE from Come&Live! Records here.

03- Sovereign Grace Music – “Risen”

I’ve never kept it secret (in person, at least) that I’m a huge fan of Sovereign Grace Music. Now, in part at least, this is because most of their songs are in keys I can sing along with (unlike Chris Tomlin, for example). I like to sing, so selfishly that makes sense, right? Anyways, Risen is their 2011 album centered around the Resurrection of Christ. Fittingly, it came out just before Easter, but don’t be surprised if a grip of these songs are just starting to hit the air more visibly as we head into Easter this year (2012). Fantastic writing, theological depth, thrilling harmonies, and a load of modern hymns / spiritual songs to lend your vocal chords to. Trust me, your vocal chords are stoked to sing along.

02- Shai Linne – “The Attributes of God”

Honestly, if there could be two #1’s, this would be #1. Choosing between these two albums left me conflicted. Let’s get to the basics, shall we? Shai Linne has released the best hip hop album of 2011. The Attributes of God is not only a 15-track sendup to the character and nature of Almighty God, he’s done it with class, substance, and serious music to match. When I say “serious,” I mean these beats have my head bouncing even when I don’t have the record on. Highlights on the record are “The Glory of God (Not To Us)”, “Taste and See”, and “Mercy and Grace”, but you won’t find a dud on this one. Non-stop glory to God, non-stop beat rock.

01- Thrice – “Major/Minor”

This shouldn’t be any surprise. I love Thrice and I’m not sure if they’re capable of anything below excellence at this point. I’ll admit that I’m probably biased and blind to it, but everything Dustin Kensrue and company touch turns to ear-gold to me. Personal favourites are “Words in the Water”, “Treading Paper”, “Promises” and “Anthology”… but I could listen to the thing on repeat all day and not get tired. The lyrics, as usual, are solid “good plutonium” for your eardrums – packed with biblical allusions and weight that is difficult to describe. To say that Dustin is one of the best lyricists in music today is an understatement. To say that Thrice is one of the best rock bands in music today is, also and likewise, an understatement. Miss this one at your own expense.

Honourable Mentions:
Lecrae – “Rehab: The Overdose”
Playdough & Heath McNease – “Wed, White and Wu”
Hillsong Live – “God Is Able”
Hillsong United – “Aftermath”
Blindside – “With Shivering Hearts We Wait”
August Burns Red – “Leveler”

…top ten records two thousand eight

Here’s my top 10 records released in 2008.
They are IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER, and are followed by a few lines about each.

Format:
## – Artist – “Album Name”

01 – Thrice – “The Alchemy Index Vol. 3 & 4: Air & Earth”
If their 2007 EP “The Alchemy Index Vol. 1 & 2: Fire & Water” hinted at anything, it was that the experimental direction begun on their previous record “Vheissu” was but a portent of things to come. “Vol. 1: Fire” revealed that Thrice can still melt faces with blistering post-punk rock even when they play with bizarre timings and unique structures, and “Vol 2: Water” revealed an entrancing, largely synthesized, beautiful ambient Thrice we had never heard before. In a
similar fashion, “Air & Earth” pushes that envelope further, with “Air” glistening and crackling with quiet energy and what can only be described as a whirlwind of light and atmospheric crescendos. Conversely, “Earth” shares much more in common with frontman Dustin Kensrue’s solo work and is full of acoustic sounds akin to Johnny Cash and old-school folk and country records than anything else in Thrice’s catalog. In a word, breathtaking.

02 – Brave Saint Saturn – “Anti-Meridian”
Not only the best BS2 record, but the best thing Reese Roper has ever written and performed vocals for – and that includes Five Iron Frenzy. A brilliant ending to the loose story arc begun back on “So Far From Home” and continued on “The Light of Things Hoped For”. Lyrically strong, musically strong, and very highly rated independent release out of the remains of what will always be one of Third Wave Ska’s greatest memories.

03 – Underoath – “Lost In The Sound Of Separation”
Blistering, anthemic, organic, pulsating with purpose, raw, passionate, and ultimately the best Underoath record to date. Structurally remarkable as it almost unilaterally avoids the trappings of traditional verse-chorus, and sonically/lyrically impressive as it comes across with a remarkable juxtaposition of distortion and clarity.

04 – Emery – “Where Broken Hearts Prevail EP”
Quite simply, this is a wonderful hybrid of the sounds explored on “The Question” and “I’m Only A Man”. In short, they’ve taken the best parts of both, made a hybrid, tightened up the screws, and unleashed their best album ever – the only downside is that it only lasts 7 tracks.

05 – The Classic Crime – “The Silver Cord”
Not exactly known for pushing envelopes musically, The Classic Crime do manage to outdo their previous work both in terms of scope and in terms of sound – with the tasteful appearance of quite a few new instruments (the least of which is not frontman Matt MacDonald’s visceral yells, a welcome addition). Overall, there’s a whole lot more depth and maturity here, resulting in one of the best rock albums in recent memory.

06 – Becoming The Archetype – “Dichotomy”
Quite simply, Becoming the Archetype finally realized their remarkable potential on this album. Moving out of riff-city and into epic-metropolis, and from “we can write sweet bits for songs” to “we do write great complete songs”. Consequently, this is the year’s must-have metal record. A completely mind-blowing re-imagining of the classic hymn “How Great Thou Art” stands as an example.

07 – Dustin Kensrue – “This Good Night Is Still Everywhere”
Thrice frontman Dustin Kensrue releases his second solo effort, this time a Christmas record. Questionable choice? Sure. Fantastic results? Absolutely. Eight covers (only one or two that are unremarkable) and two amazing originals. This one will see regular rotation for many years to come.

08 – Mars Ill – “Black Listed Sessions”
Mars Ill’s producer and deejay extraordinaire DJ Dust has been remixing their records since 2003, and the results are consistently as good or better than the original mixes. In this double-take on their previous “Blue Collar Sessions” EP, Dust provides us with some amazing reimaginings of classic tracks. They are so good that they might as well Blacklist them, for their release upon unsuspecting eardrums might cause the musical equivalent of a hydrogen bomb attack.

09 – Deepspace5 – “Bake Sale”
Upon finding themselves label-less after a brief stint on Gotee Records, rap supercrew Deepspace5 set out to record and release their third album independently. To fund the effort, they recorded and released this incredible 10-track equivalent of a grade school bake sale (hence the name) to raise funds for putting out album #3 (which will be called “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be”). The results, as always, are spectacular. Challenging beats coupled with humorous/convicting/clever raps, and brief enough to leave you hungering for DS5#3 in 2009.

10 – Copeland – “You Are My Sunshine”
Copeland finds itself on Tooth & Nail Records, being produced by Aaron Sprinkle. Awesome, overwhelming serenity results. Hands down the smooth, sleepy, ambient, vocal-driven hit of the year.

Honourable Mentions:
GZA/Genius – “Pro Tools”
Coldplay – “Viva La Vida”
City & Colour – “Bring Me Your Love”
Brandon Heath – “What If We”
Sev Statik – “Shotgun”
Death Cab For Cutie – “Narrow Stairs”
Braille – “The IV Edition”

…a list or two

Current Tunage: Underoath – The Only Survivor Was Miraculously Unharmed
Lost In The Sound Of Separation is incredible.

So. There’s about a month and a half left in the Oh Eight, which may be a bit early to do this, but I feel like doing it now.

TOP TEN RECORDS RELEASED or discovered by me IN 2008 (mostly no particular order):
x LOST IN THE SOUND OF SEPARATION – underoath
x II – maylene and the sons of disaster
x BAKESALE – deepspace5
x CURB APPEAL – sintax the terrific
x SLOW FLAME – mars ill
x THE ALCHEMY INDEX VOLS. 3&4, AIR & EARTH – thrice
x THE SILVER CORD – the classic crime
x THE IV EDITION – braille