Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2020: Favorite Albums

Though I’m sure many of us are tempted to remember 2020 as something of a “wasted year”, I genuinely have to say that it had far more excellent music in store than I would have guessed. Given that most of my year was spent in my makeshift office at home, hunched over a laptop and sometimes not leaving the apartment for days at a time, I can only imagine how utterly unbearable it would have been without new music as an avenue for exploration. I probably racked up more Spotify streams this year than in any previous one, what with the extra time afforded by not commuting to and from work or running most of my usual errands. I feel like that led me to branch out and try new things a little more often than in a normal year, whereas much of my listening time in the car during a normal year is dedicated to music I already know I like. With that said, I do feel like I got outside and got that much-needed Vitamin D whole doing a healthy amount of activities such as hiking and enjoying local parks and scenic drives with my family (we even managed a few road trips, despite the logistical difficulties of minimizing human contact while traveling during a pandemic), and it was great to road-test a lot of 2020’s best records during some of those excursions, as a way of making sure my visual memories of them wouldn’t be tied to sitting in the same boring spot all year. Whether the music was dark and cathartic and moved me to more authentically express my sorrow and anger at the current situation, or it was lighthearted, imaginative, and full of hope for brighter days ahead, these are the records that did the most to help keep my morale up during a year when answers, hope, optimism, and faith in humanity were in extremely short supply.

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Colony House – Leave What’s Lost Behind: I want to be original material (?) for once.

Artist: Colony House
Album: Leave What’s Lost Behind
Year: 2020
Grade: B-

In Brief: The young band’s third album finds them taking risks and stretching their musical horizons, but not always putting their best foot forward. They established themselves as such great entertainers with the boisterous live band sound of Only the Lonely that it’s kind of a bummer to hear them backing off from it a bit here.

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What Am I Listening To? – January 2020

Since I was busy for most of this month writing up my Top 100 albums list for the last decade, I decided to put a moratorium on listening to new releases until I was done with that project, so that I could completely immerse myself in re-listening to all of those favorite album candidates. I made exceptions for newly released singles and whatever else Spotify’s Release Radar brought to my attention each week, just for the purpose of bookmarking new releases in order to listen to them in full when my project was done. At times it was hard to resist the temptation – especially since 2 of the artists from my lists put out new albums this month, another three surprises me with EPs, and also a member of one of the bands from my list put out a new collaborative album with a band I’d never heard of. So most of this list of new stuff I’ve been listening to for only the last week or so, ironically, covers artists I’ve already talked about in some capacity this month, with a few bands at the bottom of the list that are genuinely new to me.

Also, I realize I’ve got a slew of recommendations from others to get to, both in terms of favorite albums of theirs from 2019 that I slept on or just plain wasn’t aware of, and in terms of standout albums they’ve given kudos to from throughout the last decade that have piqued my interest for one reason or another. I’ll start on that daunting to-do list in February!

Meanwhile, here are my first impressions of the latest from Colony House, The Innocence Mission, Everything Everything, Switchfoot, John Reuben, Stabbing Westward, Sean Watkins & The Bee Eaters, Wolf Parade, and Bombay Bicycle Club.

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The Best of the Tenny Tweens, Part V: 1-20

We’ve arrived at the final round, folks. The true heavy-hitters. The absolute classics that I’m pretty sure I’ll keep going back to over and over when they’re ten years, twenty years – heck, maybe even fifty years old if I’m fortunate enough to still be around then!

The realization that I had a pretty interesting cross-section of artists ranging from household names to the downright obscure on this list piqued my curiosity about whether there was some reasonable way to measure exactly how popular each of them were. It’s honestly not something I’ve ever paid super close attention to – I can usually get a sense of when someone whose music I happen to like has achieved A-list celebrity status around the world, because I’ll hear their music pretty much everywhere when I’m out and about in public, and their concerts will usually be prohibitively expensive. On the other end of the scale, when an artist is so-small time that only a small cluster of people seem to know about them, merely acquiring their music or finding out more about them for the sake of writing a review can be challenging. Word of mouth, and recommendations from other artists I enjoy, are often my primary means of getting into an artist, so for pretty much everyone between those two extremes, I often don’t know how many like-minded fans there are, or what demographic is most into them, until I catch a live show and start people-watching.

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Switchfoot and Colony House live @ The Wiltern: Bands of Brothers

You know you’re a huge fan of a band when a friend asks you how many times you’ve seen them live, and you realize you’ve lost count. It’s funny, because I haven’t really considered myself a massive Switchfoot fan for quite a while, probably since the mid-2000s when The Beautiful Letdown hit it big, and was admirably followed up by Nothing Is Sound and Oh! Gravity. Paradoxically, that’s my favorite era of Switchfoot’s discography, and yet I got to the point where I became downright sick of the most well-known songs from those albums being must-plays in their setlists. It’s probably because I saw them live several times that decade, and when I see a band live multiple times, I prefer to hear them play stuff from their newer albums, or if they’re gonna play old stuff, I’d like to hear a few I’ve never heard live before. The Beautiful Letdown is my favorite Switchfoot album (an area where I’d guess I’m agreement with the majority of their fans), but I’d be perfectly fine never hearing that album’s heavy-hitters “Dare You to Move”, “This Is Your Life”, or “Meant to Live”, from them ever again. I love those songs. A ton of other people do too, and I guess I can’t fault someone who shows up, never having seen the band before, for wanting the trip down memory lane. It was because of this (and a string of less than impressive albums in the late 2000s/early 2010s) that I cooled off on seeing them live for a while after witnessing a just-OK live set on their tour for Vice Verses in 2011. (Even then, there were a couple of Fiction Family shows in between, and the Jon Foreman solo show I went to this time last year, because he is simply one of my favorite people in the entire universe.) This year’s Native Tongue isn’t really one of my favorite albums of theirs, either, but 2016’s When the Light Shines Through was a pleasant surprise that seemed a bit underrated among the fanbase, and I kicked myself for missing out on their tour with Relient K that year (who themselves had just put out the startlingly excellent Air For Free). When they announced a tour with Colony House slated for this spring, I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.

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Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2017: Favorite Albums (and Honorable Mentions)

Out of the increasingly eclectic list of albums that makes its way into my Spotify playlists (and eventually my physical collection, wherever possible), here’s the stuff that I enjoyed the most in 2017, and that I would absolutely recommend, with no reservations, to anyone whose favorite type of music can best be described as “stuff that challenges me in some way but that is always super catchy”. (Is that not a musical genre? it should be.)

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Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2017: Favorite Songs

It’s that time of year again where I run through the list of songs that inspired me, entertained me, or just plain got stuck in my head for amusing reasons, more than any other songs in the last 12 months. Most of these were released in 2017. Some came out in 2016 and I either didn’t hear them until this year or didn’t come to fully appreciate them in time for last year’s list. I’ve given brief explanations and YouTube links for the Top 30. For the rest… just check the reviews where they’re linked, if you’re curious.

And as always, many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2017 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.

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Colony House – Only the Lonely: These ain’t your father’s Chapmans.

2017_colonyhouse_onlythelonely

Artist: Colony House
Album: Only the Lonely
Year: 2017
Grade: A-

In Brief: I kind of outgrew Steven Curtis Chapman, but his sons’ band turned out to be right up my alley. This is a big, loud, upbeat, and massively catchy pop/rock record – hardly anything new in 2017, yet it feels refreshing due to its commitment to an energetic, live performance-oriented sound.

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