I rarely post on this blog these days, but this is one of my favorite posts to write every year. 2012 was a year of heavy listening for me — I’ve got an hour and a half of commute both ways to work and have music playing most of the day while I’m working.
Here’s my picks for the top albums of this year. Most of these aren’t what will make most music blogs’ lists, but they’re my favorites of the year.
10. Strangeland - Keane
Strangeland is the Keane album I’ve been waiting for. This is what pop music is supposed to sound like. Songwriting in the vein of Hopes and Fears with the production value of Under The Iron Sea. Finally got to see them in Nashville this year, and even with the show being cut short (the venue transformer exploded eight songs into their set), they’re one of the best bands I’ve seen live.
9. For The Glory - The O.C. Supertones
The Supertones came out of nowhere early this year with a Kickstarter to fund this album, following Five Iron Frenzy’s success to fund their new album (out 2013). Needless to say, I was ecstatic to hear about these guys getting back together — they’ve been a favorite for many years in my life. This album goes back to the classic Supertones sound, losing some of the rougher-edged sound they developed late in their BEC career and sticking to straight-out Biblical lyricism. It’s up there with Chase The Sun. Ska.
8. Jesus Culture with Martin Smith: Live from New York - Jesus Culture
Definitely one of the best worship albums of the year, even though I’ve only been listening to it for a short time in comparison to the rest on this list. It’s pretty awesome to hear the former frontman of the band that pioneered modern worship lead alongside some of today’s most anointed songwriters. There are some really powerful songs on here, including one of the best versions of “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?” I’ve ever heard.
7. Penny Black - Further Seems Forever
This year seems to be the year of awesome old bands getting back together. I’m not complaining. Penny Black brings back the original FSF lineup with Chris Carraba fronting and doesn’t lose a step. Easily as good (maybe even better), than The Moon is Down and How To Start A Fire.
6. Anthology - Thrice
One of my favorite live records of the past few years. Recorded on their farewell tour this year, this album spans their entire career. Rather than produce the album in a studio, the band decided to leave it true to the sound of the venues it was recorded in. I had the privilege of seeing Thrice on the tour, and this is about as close as you can get to being there. Also one my favorite vinyl purchases of the year.
5. Excellent - Propaganda
It’s rare that a hip-hop album makes it on a top albums list of mine, but this one is ridiculous. Seriously. You need to brace yourself before you listen to this. One of the most challenging, thought-provoking albums I’ve heard in quite a while. As Prop explains in the opening lines of “Don’t Listen to Me,” “My tone, now, is not something that offers you a neat little bow to tie all your problems up.” The album lives up to that statement. The tracks offer hard-hitting commentary on the Church and the theme of excellence in the context of being a follower of Christ. It’s up there with Lecrae’s Rebel, in my opinion. Oh, and it’s also free through Humble Beast. Check it out.
4. Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in c [the happiest of all keys]) - David Crowder*Band
At an unparalleled 34 tracks (three LPs on vinyl), this album is easily the most complex on this list. As the last album for the illustrious DC*B, this one goes out on a big note, following 2009’s Church Music quite well. The tracks follow the order of an actual mass, both in content and musical structure, set in a modern context. A truly beautiful worship album.
3. Young Man Follow - Future of Forestry
Everything Eric Owyoung has done with Future of Forestry is great. They’ve made some of my favorite albums of the past five years. This one is no exception, as the much anticipated follow up to the Travel series. As Owyoung states in his explanation for the album, this one is “written for the fans.” An accurate statement. There’s not as much experimental or obscurely poetic lyrics on this as were on the Travel releases, but it’s up there with them in terms of instrumentation. A must hear.
2. The Peace of Wild Things - Paper Route
The most anticipated album of the year for me. A lot has happened for Paper Route since Absence (most notably the fact that they left their label to be an independent artist), as can be heard pretty immediately on this album. Way different compared to their earlier releases, but equally as good, with up-front vocals and infectious melodies. If radio stations played stuff like this, radio would be a lot better. Another heavily played vinyl purchase this year.
1. In Three Persons - Lovelite
Aside from the DC*B albums, this is the best concept worship album I’ve ever heard. Weaving through the themes of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Lovelite creates a huge landscape of sound with deep, meaningful lyricism. I listened to this album more than any other on this list this year. I also had the privilege of designing a new shirt for them this year. Definitely check this album out.
5. Waking Season - Caspian
An amazing post-rock album. There are a lot of bands in this genre these days, but Caspian stands out.
4. Keep Quiet - Sons
Davy Baysinger (of Bleach) has some awesome artists on his Slospeak label. This album is one of the best. Some really tough, thought-provoking lyrics on here.
3. Our Forest, Our Empire - Bells
Post-rock from former and current members of August Burns Red. My favorite album in the genre this year. Really good.
2. For the Sake of the World - Bethel Live
Not nearly as moving as last year’s Be Lifted High, but still a great worship album.
1. Cornerstone - Hillsong Live
Solid worship album. The veteran Hillsong team never releases a bad album. We’ve sung a lot of these songs at Ethos this year too.
TOP EPs OF 2012
Young Love Remix EP - Kye Kye / Rehearsals EP - The Digital Age
I couldn’t leave this list without mentioning both of these EPs. Although neither has any actual “new” songs on them, they rivaled the top full albums in play counts this year. The Kye Kye EP consists of some of the best remixes I’ve ever heard. Seriously. The Digital Age is made up of four former members of the DC*B and is just as good (maybe better). Their original full length album is out in early 2013.
This list certainly doesn’t do justice to all the great music that was released this year. If you’re interested to know more great albums that would have made a longer list, check out my Top 20 of 2012 playlist on Spotify (all of the albums listed here are present except for Jesus Culture / Bethel Live due to track availability).
An extremely eclectic assortment. Still spinning Economy by John Mark McMillan,Odd Soul by Mutemath, Major/Minor by Thrice, Aftermath by Hillsong United and a number of other great releases from last year.music
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This year’s list was one of the toughest I’ve ever compiled — most of the bands I follow released an album and almost all of them were top-notch.
Anyways, here’s my pick for the top ten albums of 2011:
10. All Things Bright and Beautiful - Owl City / Listen on Spotify
I don’t care what anyone says, Owl City is great. Maybe not the deepest or most artistic music on this list, but just good. Definitely got a ton of plays this summer and is one of the more infectious albums on this list.
Favorite tracks: “Deer in the Headlights,” “Galaxies,” “The Yacht Club”
9. Codes And Keys - Death Cab for Cutie / Listen on Spotify
Codes And Keys was one of the most anticipated albums on this list since it’s the first release since 2008’s Narrow Stairs (and notably lighter in subject matter than most of their other releases). Great album from start to finish.
Favorite tracks: “Doors Unlocked and Open,” “You Are a Tourist,” “Underneath the Sycamore”
8. Ghosts Upon The Earth -Gungor / Listen on Spotify
Amazing, fresh perspective on worship. Fully orchestrated and perfectly listened to from track one to track twelve. Definitely one of the most intricate albums on this list and fully deserving of its Grammy nomination.
Favorite tracks: Tough, since it’s best listened to as a full album (most on this list are anyways), but probably “Crags and Clay,” “This Is Not the End,” and “Every Breath”
7. Mylo Xyloto - Coldplay
No surprise that this is on the list, but it’s really, really good. In my opinion, way better than Viva la Vida. With Brian Eno producing, some of these songs have the hugest sound of any Coldplay songs ever. Awesome. It’ll be a classic.
Favorite tracks: “Paradise,” “Charlie Brown,” “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart”
6. Be Lifted High - Bethel Live / Listen on Spotify
If I had to pick an album on this list that had the most effect on me throughout the entire year, this would be it. Seriously, one of my favorite worship albums ever. There are so many prayers and anthems of praise on here that strike a chord.
Favorite tracks: All of them.
5. Vice Verses -Switchfoot / Listen on Spotify
Honestly, from this (number five) down to number one, everything’s tied in my mind. It was tough to determine these. Vice Verses is the definitive Switchfoot record and a great follow up to 2009’s Hello Hurricane (although, I still like that album better than this one). Huge guitars, lyrics in the vein of Hello Hurricane, and an awesome flow from song to song. This release was definitely a huge highlight (and even better with the accompanying Hello Hurricane Live album).
Favorite tracks: “The War Inside,” “Restless,” “Rise Above It”
4. Odd Soul - Mutemath / Listen on Spotify
So sick. This album rocks more than any other on this list. So, so much more solid than 2009’s Armistice. I had the chance to see them perform most of it live on the Odd Soul Introduction Tour this fall — their show never gets old, even after seeing them three times in the past few years. Really like the subject matter on this album too — real and honest.
Favorite tracks: Really tough, but “Blood Pressure,” “All Or Nothing,” and “In No Time”
3. Major/Minor -Thrice / Listen on Spotify
This album completely surprised me. I didn’t think Thrice could top 2009’s Beggars, but I think this does. Just as straightforward as Beggars in structure and lyrical content, but with more of the edge of some of their older albums. So good. And it’s definitely been one of the most influential non-worship albums for me this year. Dustin Kensrue’s lyrics tie his faith in Christ into the music really uniquely and the themes of this album really met me where I was this year.
Favorite tracks: “Promises,” “Cataracts,” “Listen Through Me” (but they’re all awesome)
2. Economy - John Mark McMillan / Listen on Spotify
Yet another amazing collection of worship songs with an unconventional and necessary perspective. I had the privilege to hear a lot of the songs on this album live early this year, and the album does not disappoint. Such fresh worship songs on here.
Favorite tracks: “Economy,” “Who Is This,” “Chemicals”
1. Aftermath - Hillsong United / Listen on Spotify
Picking a number one album for this year was super tough. Really, the top five are all the number one album, but this one makes it simply due to the play count it received over the course of the year. I listened to this album more than anything else this year. Awesome worship album with a ton of layered intricacy since it’s a studio release. These songs have been anthems for this year, especially along with Be Lifted High. I also had the chance to finally see United live at the end of the summer — definitely one of the best worship nights I’ve been a part of. There’s nothing quite like singing praises in the midst of thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Favorite tracks: I honestly couldn’t pick a favorite on this one.
Since this year had so many good releases, I couldn’t leave these out. They only barely missed making the list.
5. Kingdom - Micah Massey / Listen on Spotify
I’m biased because a lot of friends of mine played on this album, but it’s great. Definitely check it out. Solid songwriting.
4. Dive - Tycho / Listen on Spotify
So good. Somehow, I hadn’t heard of Scott Hansen’s design work or music until this year, but it’s awesome. Some of the best instrumental electronic music I’ve ever heard.
3. The Great Awakening - Leeland / Listen on Spotify
Really solid album. There are some tracks on here that really have some of the same energy from Sound of Melodies and the album as a whole is more expansive than their past two releases. Leeland’s always been one of my favorite worship artists.
2. Anthem Song - Aaron Gillespie / Listen on Spotify
It’s really cool to see what Aaron Gillespie has done since leaving Underoath a couple years ago, and this album is no exception. Great collection of worship songs.
1. Yearbook -Sleeping at Last / Listen on Spotify
It was a difficult decision to leave this off the top ten list, but it made it last year too. One EP every month for a year. If you haven’t heard any of this, you need to.
And yet, there’s more. These are a handful of other 2011 releases that have gotten a lot of plays and are worth recognizing.
(from left to right)
Labor Pains - Sinai Vessel / Newly discovered artist of the year. Seriously, you should check it out. Solid lyrics over great, simply recorded music. Grab a copy from his Bandcamp while it’s free until the end of the year and donate if you like it.
Pala - Friendly Fires / Second only to All Things Bright and Beautiful in catchiness. Such a great album full of retro new wave/dance melodies and tons of (good) pop sensibility (not the top 40 kind…)
Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. - M83 / One of my favorite M83 albums. Expansive and eclectic. In my opinion, better as a whole than Saturdays=Youth.
Emergency - The Ember Days / Great worship album. Tough to beat the Finger Painting EP from last year as far as spontaneous and instrumental worship goes. Still, some of my favorite Ember Days songs and a solid release.
Love, War & The Sea In Between - Josh Garrels / Definitely one of the most eclectic and unique albums in this post. Everything from folk to electronic and rap. You just need to check it out for yourself. He’s giving it away all year on his Bandcamp.
Leveler - August Burns Red / Heavy album of the year, for sure. Right now, probably my favorite album of theirs. The lyrics are solid.
Self-Titled - Deas Vail / A good release, but pales in comparison to the thematic mastery of Birds and Cages. Still worth a purchase for sure. Great music for driving.
Long Story Short - Jonathan David Helser / Another awesome North Carolina-based worship leader. Most of these songs have appeared on earlier releases of his, but these recordings are really great. Some of the most real, pure worship music I’ve heard.
Young Love - Kye Kye / Produced by Eric Owyoung from Future of Forestry. Best electronic worship music I’ve heard.
NOTABLE NON-2011 RELEASES
Finally, these are albums that didn’t come out this year, but got a lot of plays.
Tourist History - Two Door Cinema Club / Can you say infectious?
All The Bright Lights - All The Bright Lights / Number one non-2011 release, easily. Got to see them with John Mark McMillan in March. Awesome.
In Character - Blood and Water / Found out about this band when Bleach announced their reunion tour this year. So good.
The Art of Letting Go - AJ Cheek / Technically both a 2010 and 2011 release, but awesome nonetheless.
Dosage - Collective Soul / Hey, 1999 still sounds good.
TRON: Legacy Official Motion Picture Soundtrack - Daft Punk / One of my favorite soundtracks, for sure.
Glo - Delirious / Rediscovered this album this year. Pretty sure it was underrated for its time.
Twilight - Future of Forestry / Never gets old.
Beautiful Things - Gungor / Nuff said.
Rehab - Lecrae / Represent.
Home - Mike Mains and the Branches / You need to hear this album.
The One and Only - Plankeye / Still rocking like it’s 1998. But seriously, I don’t think I ever appreciated this album as much as I did this year listening to it years later.
Antidotes - Foals / Math rock.
Beggars - Thrice / One of my all-time favorite Thrice albums
Props to you if you made it all the way to the end of this list. Definitely my most exhaustive one to date. Such a good year of music though.music top albums 2011