Here we go again! The descriptions are a bit lengthy this year, so I apologize for that. I found these 10 albums in particular to be works of art that I connected with more than with any other music in a really long time. All in all, I can say that it was a good year for music. Here’s to 2016 and the new melodies it will bring!
10. Midas Rise – Joseph Ruddleston
Upright piano, strings, and harmony. This album is full of these three things and all of these things make me quite happy.
I found Joseph’s music through HitRECord after he sang a song called ‘Adieu’, which was featured on the first season of Hitrecord on TV. He has an amazing way of putting thoughts into cohesive melodies that have me humming along with every listen. It’s a very thoughtful compilation of songs and it has a ‘recorded in the living room’ feel – which I personally love. Joseph said this of the album on his bandcamp site :
“The sun will set. The sun will always rise.”
‘Midas Rise’ is Joseph Ruddleston’s first studio album, with ten unique tracks of intimate, honest projections.
“It’s not just about changing. It’s about learning, developing, forgiving, knowing more than you knew before. It’s about feeling all that you’re given and letting it move you, instead of holding you back.
It’s a paradox of strength and weakness in human relationships, and of a gift and a flaw in personal analysis. But the hardest one to figure out is moving forward by remembering it all. The beauty, the beast and the broken trail you leave behind you.
King or cottier, a person not only grows from their strengths, but also from what they learn from their weaknesses.”
This is a perfect description of the album and all that it is – grab yourself a coffee and sit down for a listen!
You can find his bandcamp here http://josephruddleston.bandcamp.com and you can check his music out on Facebook as well! (seriously, make this a priority. You’ll be glad you did.)
9. Bach, Beethoven, Rzewski – Igor Levit
For fans of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations,and Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated. This album is a wonderful compilation of works from some of the greatest composers this world has known. If you need some good instrumental music – this is it!
8. Stages – Josh Groban
As a fan of Josh Groban and musical theatre, this album was (and is) a dream come true. It was everything I had hoped it to be and more! ‘Bring Him Home’ brings me to tears, ‘Le Temps de Cathédrales’ gives me chills, and the ‘Children Will Listen/Not While I’m Around’ medley makes me giddy every single time. On top of the incredible vocals and track list, the orchestration on this album is perfection. The recommendation level on this particular album is pretty high!
7. Cavaco – Aaron Randolph
I always end up with one local artist on my list and this year is no different! I saw Aaron play at a small coffee house show just last month and ended up purchasing Cavaco on the spot. I always feel a little spoiled getting to see an artist live before hearing them through my headphones, and I can happily share that in the case of Aaron Randolph, he’s awesome both live and in recording.
Cavaco is a folksy-blues album, which is a lot of fun considering it is something I don’t typically listen to on a regular basis (I love the genre, I just didn’t know where to begin within its depths!). It’s instrumentally and vocally melodic, so there’s something new to enjoy with every listen. Lyrically, it’s incredibly witty (you’re guaranteed to laugh a few times as you listen) and reflective, which is an odd, but effective combination. Overall, it’s the kind of album that makes you feel like you’re on a road trip with your best friend, talking through life on the way to your final destination. The album has been on regular rotation in my car for the past two months (roughly) and I have a feeling that it’ll be staying there for a while.
And they’ve told you science is something other than wondering what the truth is, and wondering with a plan. And yet another lie, they have told you still that to love God you can’t wonder, yet with wonder you are filled. [Artisan’s Trade]
It’s not that there’s not beauty here, but it just isn’t mine. [Southern California Sun]
I would share more, but I don’t want to spoil the stories for you!
Go check out Aaron’s website here for tour updates and album information.
6. The Wonderlands – Jon Foreman
The Wonderlands is technically a collection of 4, 6 song EP’s, each representing an hour of the day. Through this collection, we journey through Sunlight, Shadows, Darkness, and Dawn. It’s a rich album full of question asking and answer discovering – poetic and weighty. As much as I enjoy the music of Switchfoot, it’s obvious that Jon Foreman as a solo artist has much greater creative freedom and I love each of his solo projects more because of it. These are true soul songs, so be ready to smile and cry along as the hours go by.
Come surrender your hidden scars, leave your weapons where they are. You’ve been hiding, but I know your wounded heart and you don’t know how beautiful you are… Future gardens from all this rain. Future flowers from present pain. We’re bound together and our lives are bound to change. You don’t know how beautiful you are. [You Don’t Know How Beautiful You Are]
And nothing hurts worse than hope thats deferred, so don’t let this slip away. I see you shining under the shame. [Come Home]
Maker is unmade. Love succumbs to hate. Life himself is slain.
Is death the only way? Is death the only way?
I went looking for religion, absolutely not a friend. I went looking for ways out and you showed me the way in I went looking for a ghost and instead I found a man.
Oh, the wonderful blood of Jesus [Mercy’s War]
5. Venus – Joy Williams
I’m not a huge fan of female vocalists, but I could listen to Joy Williams all day long. I have to admit, I was quite saddened by the Civil Wars’ split last year and I was hesitant to listen to Joy Williams without her CW counterpart. However, I had no reason to worry because she released one of the most beautiful albums I have ever listened to.
What makes Venus so incredible, in my opinion, is the complexity of the melodies within each track. They have so much shape and movement to them; to say they are stunning would most certainly not be an overstatement. Paired with the haunting melodies on Venus are piercing lyrics. If I were to recommend a ‘raw’ record to someone, this would be it. There are many beautiful moments of brokenness expressed, as well as extraordinary moments of strength shown. Do yourself a favor and let yourself get a little lost in each track – it’s worth the time.
I see a ghost out on the water, I swear it has my face
I’m gonna drink the lonely down, the lonely down
There’s trouble on the river and whispers in the trees
I can feel it all around, all around
I’m gonna stand. I’m gonna stand here in the ache
Until the levee, until the levee on my heart breaks [Until the Levee]
Bow your head in silence, in shadows pray
Lay down in the darkness; let it see your face
Don’t be afraid
Every rose has its thorn; every thorn has its crown
We’re all the dying kind [The Dying Kind]
4. Atlas : Year Two – Sleeping at Last
I feel a little guilt about this being so high up on the list, as only 6 of the 25 tracks have actually been released, but they’re enough for me to say that the album is incredible.
I first heard the music of Ryan O’Neal when I learned that he was opening for Jars of Clay a few years ago. Now, I had not (and still haven’t) seen Twilight, so I hadn’t heard the beauty that is ‘Turning Page’ prior to the concert, but I was instantly hooked. The music of Sleeping at Last is pure poetry both lyrically and melodically. I may even venture to say that Ryan O’Neal is a modern-day David. He expresses the beauty he experiences so well, but he is not afraid to ask the difficult questions.
What I love specifically about Atlas : Year Two is the themes within the album. Life. Senses. Emotions. Intelligence. Enneagram. The ‘Life’ component is complete, and the first of the senses, ‘Touch’, has been released. ‘Taste’ can also be heard if you have subscribed to the release through his website. The themes are difficult to flesh out in song (I would imagine), but they flow effortlessly. If you want an auditory guide to beauty, this is it.
Favorite lyrics :
If only you knew- the sunlight shines a little brighter, the weight of the world’s a little lighter, the stars lean in a little closer all because of you. [Daughter]
Show me who I am and who I could be.
Initiate the heart within me until it opens properly…
I’ll run the risk of being intimate with brokenness.
Through this magnifying glass, I see a thousand finger prints on the surfaces of who I am.
Show me where to find the silver lining as the mercury keeps rising, ’til the glass or my fever breaks.
Show me how to struggle gracefully. Let the scaffolding inside of me be strong enough to hold this tired body up once more. [Son]
Rain or shine, I don’t feel a thing, just some information upon my skin.
I miss the subtle aches when the weather changed, the barometric pressure we always blamed.
All I want is to flip a switch before something breaks that cannot be fixed.
Invisible machinery, these moving parts inside of me well, they’ve been shutting down for quite some time, leaving only rust behind….
Down my arms, a thousand satellites suddenly discover signs of life. [Touch]
We’re nothing less than a work in progress
Sacred texts on post-it notes
We only speak of a world in pieces
Let’s make a map of what matters most
Where every fracture is a running river
Leading us back to our golden coast
Here’s to show…
to fears (fists?) unravelling
to glass unshattering
to breaking all the rules
to breaking bread again
we’re swallowing our ache
we’re swallowing our pride
we’re raising our glass
‘til we’re fixed from the inside [Taste]
3. Medicine – Drew Holcomb
I first heard Drew Holcomb a few years ago when he opened for NEEDTOBREATHE at The NorVa. His music was straightforward -what you heard is what you got both live and on album- and I’ve been listening ever since.
Medicine is an extremely easy going album. It’s my go-to for stormy days when all I want to do is curl up with tea and a book. I don’t know if I can describe how this took the third slot on the list, but I just love everything about it that much.
2. Smoke + Mirrors – Imagine Dragons
I was late to the Imagine Dragons party when ‘Demons’ and ‘Radioactive’ took over the radio a few years ago, but I joined in a few months prior to the release of Smoke + Mirrors. I have to say, I’m really glad I did!
Smoke + Mirrors is a diverse album. It’s complex and haunting both musically and lyrically. The three years between albums obviously held a lot of growth for the band because their sound pulled together and gained a new depth in this album that was not heard on Night Visions. I think this album speaks for itself, so I’m just going to highly recommend that you give it a listen or two as soon as you have a free hour in which to do so!
Statues and empires are all at your hands,
Water to wine and the finest of sands.
When all that you have’s turnin stale and its cold,
Oh you’ll no longer fear when your heart’s turned to gold.
Who can you trust? When everything you touch turns to gold. [Gold]
Mocking birds and diamond rings
Oh I have thought of greater things
All the things that fly by me
All the lives that I could lead
Maybe I was born for that
Or maybe I was first to last
You could call it cowardice
But leave me to my studied bliss
Am I just a shadow you drew? [It comes back to you]
1. Blurryface – Twenty One Pilots
It’s no secret that Twenty One Pilots is my favorite band. I love that their sound can’t be defined by anything specific in the market today. It’s different, and in many ways, brilliant.
When they released the first single, Fairly Local, I was a bit hesitant. It was different from anything on Vessel – it had a grit and weight to it that I hadn’t heard previously from them. It didn’t take long for it to grow on me though, especially the lyrics. When the entire album dropped, I couldn’t stop listening. As demonstrated on previous albums, Blurryface was full of diversity and showed TØP’s lack of regard for following the ‘pop single formula’, which was (and is) refreshing to hear.
It’s a little less piano driven than their previous albums, which was a little saddening, because I really enjoy Tyler Joseph’s piano melodies. However, there are a lot of cool layers and the rapping on the album was more melodic, which made it really fun to listen to. On top of all of that, I’m a sucker for concept albums. While Tyler did come out and say that it’s not a fully conceptual album, it’s incredibly conceptual and relatable. I highly recommend reading Brandon Rike’s words here to learn about the character that is Blurryface and how the artwork came about (it’s really, really cool).
There’s an infestation in my mind’s imagination || I hope that they choke on smoke ’cause I’m smoking them out the basement || This is not rap, this is not hip-hop ||Just another attempt to make the voices stop ||Rapping to prove nothing, just writing to say something ||’Cause I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t rushing to sayin’ nothing ||This doesn’t mean I lost my dream ||It’s just right now I got a really crazy mind to clean. [Heavydirtysoul]
But I’m not good with directions and I hide behind my mouth || I’m a pro at imperfections and I’m best friends with my doubt || And now that my mind’s out, and now I hear it clear and loud ||I’m thinking, “Wow, I probably shoulda stayed inside my house.” [The Judge]
Polarize is taking your disguises, separating them, splitting them up from wrong and right, it’s deciding where to die and deciding where to fight, Deny, deny, denial. [Polarize]
So your brain knows to keep going even though hope, is far from this moment, but you and I know it gets better when morning finally rears it’s head. Together we’re losers, remember the future, remember the morning is when night is dead. [Message Man]
That’s it for this year. If you made it to the end, thank you for reading through all of my rambling. I would edit it further, but I wouldn’t post it until it was time for next year’s list if I didn’t give myself a deadline. What are your top 10 albums of this year? Did you discover any new, exciting music? Let’s discuss!
Until next year!
Also, if you’re interested, my brother has compiled his own list, which includes one of my honorable mentions – Florence + The Machine. Check it out here!