Welcome to the penultimate section of the Top 100 list! We’re looking at nothing but A-grade material from here on out, folks. Before we dig into the next 20 albums I’ve chosen to highlight, let’s talk about what genres are represented on this list.
Admittedly the concept of “genre” is a tricky thing to define, and I’ve played fast and loose with it as I’ve reviewed albums over the years, sometimes not applying genre tags consistently to the same artist making more or less the same style from one album to the next. or they’ve undergone a radical change in their sound, and yet I still consider them part of the old genre in my mind because they’re still associated with that scene. It’s more of an art than a science, and often the records that excite me most will dabble in a wide array of genre influences, making an accurate descriptor for their sound as a whole rather difficult to nail down.
Alright, so it’s 2020, and it’s time to look back on the best music from the decade that is now behind us. Most of us will simply refer to that decade as “The Twenty Tens”, “The New Tens”, “The Teens”, etc. I’ve decided to label them “The Tenny Tweens”, mostly for the delight of how that silly phrase rolls off the tongue and because I wanted a unique nickname for it after coming up with “The Ought Nots” for the 2000s, but also because it felt very much like a decade of between-ness and transition, where I ended up in a different place both personally and in terms of my musical tastes than where I started.
Anyway, before I get to the proper list of what I’d consider my favorite album releases of the 2010s, I wanted to give honorable mentions to a hodgepodge of releases that don’t really fit into the conventional album format – generally because they’re too long, too short, and/or are mostly comprised of previously released material. Plenty of songs from these releases perked up my ears and lifted my spirits over the last several years, and it didn’t feel right glossing over ’em entirely simply because the artist didn’t choose a conventional LP as their method of releasing ’em.
It’s inevitable most years that some of the best music I listen to either isn’t going to fit strictly into the album format and thus won’t be eligible for my Favorite Albums list, or else it’ll have been released the previous year, and thus get added to that year’s list retroactively. In 2019 in particular, there were enough cases of this that I’m basically willing to consider this rundown of EPs, live albums, re-releases, and/or seasonal albums as my “Honorable Mentions” list for the year. 2018 also proved to be the gift that kept on giving, as I got turned on to several strong releases that I hadn’t known about yet when I wrote up last year’s countdown.
I’m doing this column a few days early this time around, so I can talk about a few holiday releases I’ve been taking in before Christmas actually arrives for a change! There are also a few non-seasonal stragglers I’ve managed to squeeze in this month, despite how busy I’ve been re-listening to the best of the year and the decade.
Here are my first impressions of the latest from Jax Anderson, Joe Henry, and The Flaming Lips, plus seasonal music from Jars of Clay & SHEL, Future of Forestry, Andrew Peterson, Plumb, Sara Groves, and Nichole Nordeman.
I’ve gotten that reaction from a lot of people when I tell them that Jars of Clay is my all-time favorite band, or when they notice me wearing one of the old, raggedy shirts I bought at one of their concerts ages ago. I try to take it in stride, because to most of the world, the band is considered a one-hit wonder. (Heck, there’s even a YouTube show about one-hit wonders that I got into because they did an episode on the band’s mid-90s crossover hit “Flood”.) Even to folks who were super into Christian rock and came of age around the same time I did, who are more familiar with the band’s work than just the one song, they tend to like the band’s first album and not really know or care about much of their work after that point. It gets difficult to explain to folks that: (a) Yes, they still make music after all these years, (b) Yes, they’re all still Christians, (c) No, they never had another mainstream hit and they were probably better off not angling for one, and (d) They’ve massively improved as artists since that already excellent first album.
This is the fourth and final (for now, at least) part of a series chronicling each year of my life as viewed through the lens of a song that was meaningful to me in some way that represents a significant aspect of my life experience in that year. This segment covers the fourth decade of my life. Be sure to catch up on Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first.
This is part two of a series chronicling each year of my life as viewed through the lens of a song that was meaningful to me in some way that represents a significant aspect of my life experience in that year. This segment covers the second decade of my life. Be sure to catch up on Part 1 first.
The next order of business as I relive some of my favorite music from the past year is to give credit to the odds and ends that I really enjoyed, but considered categorically ineligible for my “Top Albums” list, either because they aren’t full-length albums, they were re-releases of older material, or they were released in 2014 and I just didn’t catch up to them in time to put them on last year’s list.
As always, I’m closing the year out with a summary of my favorite records from the year gone by. The only qualifying factors to make this list are that they must be full-length albums consisting of new material (I have a separate section for EPs and collections of previously released material), with a release date in 2014. Everything I really enjoyed this year that falls outside of those boundaries still gets a mention, just not a ranking.
It was really hard to pick a clear #1 this year. I love the top four albums on this list just about equally. Two are more “baroque” pop records that lean toward the electronic and experimental, and two are more in-your-face rock records. They’re the only “A grades” that I gave out this year. Which one is my favorite among them changes based on my mood, so I basically gave the #1 slot to the one I’ve enjoyed for the largest chunk of the year. I can’t imagine very many other people who would ever actually listen to all four of them, let alone like them all, but they all come with my highest recommendations for anyone into the types of music these individual artists are making.