I don’t like a lot of hodgepodge in my year-end lists of favorite albums. But sometimes the good songs don’t end up on full-length LPs, or else they do and I just don’t discover them in time to put them on that year’s list. This is where all of that stuff goes.
Sleeping at Last – Atlas: Emotions
“Joy” might as well personify the character from Inside Out, it’s so shiny and bubbly and delightful. “Sorrow” is a subdued but meaningful rumination on the things sadness can teach us about ourselves. “Anger”is a startling little earthquake of a song that became an instant classic for me. And “Fear” is a mildly haunting instrumental to round things out. All that’s missing is Digust!
Sleeping at Last – Atlas: Senses
While not every human sense is personified as well as the aforementioned human emotions , I’m especially enthusiastic about the delicious acoustic celebration of “Taste” and the solemn, choral closing number, “Sight”.
Mumford & Sons feat. Baaba Maal, The Very Best & Beatenberg – Johannesburg EP
I took a while to warm up to Mumford & Sons’ collaboration with several African artists they were touring with at the time, but now I think these five songs are some of the most surprising and fulfilling sonic detours that the band has ever taken. At times there’s so much going on with the African percussion and chanting in various foreign languages that you’ll forget Mumford & Sons are even part of it.
Live Video: “There Will Be Time”
LAST YEAR’S LEFTOVERS:
Andrew Peterson – The Burning Edge of Dawn
Peterson’s musical style usually isn’t terribly flashy, but his lyrical style tends to strike just the right balance between confessional honesty and spiritual wisdom, making him feel like a kindred spirit when I’m going through dark times. Despite writing much of it while going through a depression, he finds solace at various points throughout this album – in nature, in his wife, in Scripture – and I find a lot of solace in just being invited to listen in.
Listen: “My One Safe Place”
Flint Eastwood – Small Victories EP
I just covered this one in my December “What Are You Listening To?” column, so I’ll just say “Delightful female fronted indie-tronica” and leave it at that. I really hope she has a full-length in store for 2017.
Music Video: “Find What You’re Looking For”
Timbre – Sun & Moon
A strongly classical-leaning chamber pop effort that emphasizes the vocal pop and percussion a little more on the sunny first disc, while diving into much longer choral and instrumental positions on the nocturnal second disc, all culminating in a sixteen-minute overture that brings a lot of the musical themes together. Often times I feel like I’m listening to Mother Nature herself, as she gently brings dense forests and blossoming hillsides out of their winter slumber.
Live Video: “Night Girl: Nycteris Sees the Sun”
Lauryn Peacock – Euphonia
This Philadelphia-based songstress brings a little bit of Regina Spektor and a little bit of Tori Amos to mind as she winds through a set of wonderfully weird (and occasionally chaotic and long-wided) piano-based pop and folk songs, which often veer into arrangement-heavy theatrical asides that you wouldn’t normally expect from the genre.
Listen: “All My Mind”
Marah in the Mainsail – Thaumatrope
If pirates made edgy folk/rock music that wasn’t quite metal, it would probably sound a lot like this gruff Minnesota band. There’s a specter of grace and forgiveness lurking underneath the themes of travel, temptation, and occasional bloodlust that recur throughout these ten tracks.
Listen: “The Traveling Man”
The Gray Havens – Fire & Stone
Clearly I have a soft spot for homespun folk/pop duos based around a husband and wife. Their follow-up album Ghost of King came out while this one was barely a year old, so I’ve been listening to a lot of Gray Havens this year overall. Their debut is a little more loosely structured and more playful in a lot of places (even to the point of being deliberately cheesy), and while I think they upped their storytelling game on record #2, I didn’t want to overlook the charming little album that first got me hooked.
Music Video: “If the Walls Move”
Out of the Grey – A Little Light Left
Of course, I can’t forget about the very first married singer/songwriter duo I fell in love with, way back in 1994 when I knew almost nothing about modern pop music. The Dentés have been mostly dormant in the 21st century, but this crowdfunded effort, released late last year, finds them still in good form (if you can forgive the rather slow start the album gets off to), taking a few chances by letting Scott Denté take the lead on a handful of tracks, making them a true vocal duo for perhaps the first time instead of just “Christine sings, Scott does guitar and BGVs and leads on the occasional oddball track”. His song “Dropped Off” is by far the most left-field thing the couple has over done with its edgy lyrics about a teenage son being tuned out by his parents, while Christine’s “The Distance” is a breathtaking ballad about the rediscovery of a couple’s affection for each other via the music they both connect with during a road trip. The couple’s duet on the title track may be one of the most understated but beautiful things they’ve ever done. This ain’t the wall-of-sound pop of their glory days, but if you don’t mind the folksier backdrop (occasionally veering into country territory), there’s a lot to love here.
(Wow, I couldn’t find a single solitary video to embed here. Nor is the album on Spotify. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.)