Okay, so my “best of 2010” list is a bit late, but still…
The three best albums of 2010, at least as far as I’m concerned:
3) The Suburbs by Arcade Fire
I’m no hipster, but after reading so much of the buzz about Arcade Fire and their new album, The Suburbs, I took the plunge and grabbed a copy from Amazon MP3 when they had it on sale one day. It’s not my typical style by any stretch, as I tend toward upbeat alt/indie rock (Weezer, The Shins), acoustic/folk rock (Iron & Wine), and good worship music (Paul Baloche, Carlos Whittaker). I’d describe The Suburbs more like “baroque indie pop.” This was my first exposure to Arcade Fire, and I have to say, I was blown away (soon after buying this album, I bought their other two albums: Neon Bible and Funeral). From the weirdly compelling piano-driven opening of the first track, I was drawn into the music, and the whole album, and the overriding narrative in a way I simply didn’t expect. Maybe because I spent my childhood in the suburbs, I could relate to the way the characters in the songs strive both to escape from and retreat back to their suburban homes, and the way they lament the fluid, changing nature of the places where they grew up. I’ve also discovered that The Suburbs makes a great running soundtrack.
Standout tracks: “Ready To Start”, “Month Of May”, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
2) Hurley by Weezer
I’m one of those people who can never get enough Weezer. I have all of their albums, and I plan to buy whatever else they put out. While I adore their earlier work, which was partially the soundtrack to my college existence, you won’t find me bashing Weezer and saying, “Their new stuff is okay, but it’s no blue album.” I like their newer stuff, too. It’s been a kick watching Rivers Cuomo transform from the angst-ridden, too-self-aware, ironic geek and loner he was at the start into the angst-ridden, too-self-aware, ironic husband and dad that he is now. But while his writing has changed, I think it’s changed for the better. I mean, we all grow up, so why can’t Rivers? Such is the foundation of the opening track, “Memories,” in which Rivers conjures up images of early Weezer and the fun of the alternative music scene back in the mid ’90s (“back when Audioslave was still Rage”). If you get this album, and you should, get the deluxe version with extras, which includes some real gems, the best of which are Weezer’s cover of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and “Represent,” which Weezer recorded for the World Cup. Plus you get the great image of Jorge Garcia’s face on the cover.
Standout tracks: “Trainwrecks”, “Unspoken”, “Smart Girls”
1) Ragamuffin Soul by Carlos Whittaker
I’m a sucker for good worship music. And I’ll be honest: there isn’t much of it out there. Most of it is so vanilla and so uninspired that I can’t imagine taking the songs into my church and leading my congregation with them. As a worship leader, I’m always looking for the best worship music out there. That’s why I was so excited for Ragamuffin Soul by the worship leader, blogger, Twitterer, adoption advocate, and all around cool guy Carlos Whittaker. When he released his EP as a prelude to the album, I almost immediately had all three tracks from it in my worship rotation at church. When the full album came out, I didn’t hesitate; I pulled the trigger on that bad boy right away. This is an album of great songs, almost all of which are perfectly appropriate for corporate worship. The nice thing is that while they’re great for the band to play (two guitars, bass, drums), they translate well to the solo acoustic guy as well as the more diverse team that I sometimes have (congas, violin, trumpet, mandolin, etc.). This is flexible and fun music, but most importantly for a worship album, it’s Christ-centered and God-honoring. Plus, I have to mention that when I started doing the Couch to 5K program last spring, “Can’t Start This Fight” helped me through more than one tough mile.
Standout tracks: “No Words”, “We Will Dance”, “God Of Second Chances”