In my third annual “top albums of 20XX” post I wanted to change things up a bit. How could I make a list of my most played albums from the year more about me? How can I make a typically throw-away and cut-and-paste end of the year article take way too much time. What if I play a few minutes of a song from each album on the piano instead of just posting a video of the actual artist playing?
“That’s a ridiculous idea! It would take hours just to upload the 30 two-to-three minute videos to YouTube”, I said right before I shut up and just did it.
I chose the songs carefully; often one that would make a relatively simple solo-piano piece and not necessarily my favorite song. Folk and rock albums are easy, but metal albums can prove more challenging. Luckily the few on this list had some slower ballads. I’m thankful I didn’t listen to the Meshuggah album more than I did.
Most of the criticism will come on the my YouTube page but I’ll centralize my responses (and apologies) here. Songs are not always in the original key. If the band plays in Ab minor, I’m playing in A minor. My playing is often faster than the recording. I get nervous, sorry. These are not the whole song, and sometimes, it’s just a very small piece from a larger suite. Chords choices are my opinion, and sometimes chosen for convenience. There are sour notes. If I set a standard for perfection I’d never get this done.
1) Sara Watkins “Sun Midnight Sun”
Sara’s sophomore release further distances her from her Nickel Creek roots and redefines her as a mature solo artist (Rolling Stone Magazine, tweet me, I’m available). My only critique is that “When it pleases you” lasts a good minute too long. It pleases me up until around the 4 minute mark.
2) Brandi Carlile “Bear Creek”
This album became a popular selection while cooking after work. I can’t say it’s my favorite Brandi album but it deserves the #2 slot. It’s solid modern folk without the over-used reverb and Ahh chanting popular in alt-folk today.
3) Missy Higgins “The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle”
I first discovered this Australian cutie when she opened up for Ben Folds many years ago. It was interesting enough for me to pick up her album “On a Clear Night” but I admit the album didn’t stick. This new album makes me want to give the older ones a second chance. “Temporary Love” could have been on an 80s Peter Gabriel album.
4) Arjen Lucassen “Lost in the New Real”
Arjen has said he didn’t make this one for the fans, which is a ridiculous thing to say. Why release it? I understand it’s just a different way of saying “not that good”, but that isn’t the case here. “Lost in the New Real” is what happens when all of Arjen’s friends are too busy to make another Aryeon album. Arjen gets lonely and just sings the whole thing himself. Surprisingly here, it just sounds like a less-heavy Aryeon album proving Arjen to be the metal genius I wanted to believe he was.
5) Old Crow Medicine Show “Carry Me Back”
I’ve recently discovered my love for modern lyrics in old-timey sounding music. It doesn’t happen often and most lyrics by OCMS could be considered timeless. Replace “Walmart” with “Bob’s General Store” in the lyric below from “Mississippi Saturday Night” and it’s a Bill Monroe standard.
Drive through the Ball Park,
Out by the Walmart
Park on the levee, drinking 40’s in the skylark
6) Flower Kings “Banks of Eden”
This is classic Flower Kings. They’ve more than made up for the terrible Adam & Eve.
7) Sonata Arctica “Stones Grow Her Name”
The title of this album, along with many of the lyrics, makes you think (that this band doesn’t really speak English very well). The album isn’t much of a departure from anything else they’ve done, but that’s not a bad thing. The addition of the banjo on “Cinderblox” doesn’t stand out as much as one may expect and reminds me of the Nordic Wuthering Heights.
8) Between the Buried & Me “The Parallax II: Future Sequence”
I shouldn’t like this band as much as I do, but there’s something interesting about them that separates them from the standard death metal group.
9) Epica “Requiem for the Indifferent”
I have become a huge fan of growling vocals paired with hot female vocals. It’s not for everyone.
10) Neal Morse “Momentum”
Neal Morse is a musical beast that has created his own brand of christian prog-rock. He has yet to release a dud. My only complaint is with iTunes as they didn’t carry the album until about a month after its release. I saw many tweets to Neal asking about this and the response was always “buy on my website”. This is a fine idea, but it’s a bit optimistic. iTunes is the easiest way for most of us to buy music so adding a layer of difficulty will push many to simply steal the album.
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