20. Rush – Clockwork Angels
Rush has a very long career. I, for better and for worse, know of it all because my wife is one of those special people who seem to think that this band can do no wrong. This means every year I get to see them play their tour as they pass through whatever city we happen to be in. Over the years I have come to enjoy parts of Rush quite a lot, more than I could have ever thought. My personal favorite era of Rush is their old prog rock days. Back when they wrote killer science fiction and fantasy epics about Necromancers and space and snow dogs. Now, if you know anything about Rush, you know that they abandoned their prog roots long ago and have yet to pick up the old kimonos and release an album on the same level as Hemispheres. So, when they got picked up by Roadrunner and started talking about their new album in the form of a concept and not a collection of songs I got excited. I got more excited when I heard Neil talking about his drum parts being the most challenging he has ever done. The nerdgasm reached critical mass when I found out that it was not only a concept album, but a steam punk concept album. Clockwork Angels is by far the best album Rush has released in nearly 30 years. No, it is not the valiant return to their prog rock greatness, but it is really damn good. Tight jams, odd moments of time, and some of the most compelling string parts I have heard a modern rock band use. The story is a bit complicated, but if you read the book that Neil Peart and Kevin J. Anderson wrote to accompany the album, I hear you get a much clearer picture of the complex steam-punk world that has taken over this drumming god’s mind. I feel like this is the album that I wanted Snakes and Arrows to be. If I let go of the dream that Rush will ever do a Cygnus X-1 Book 3, I can be content with this album. It is harder than anything they have done. It has their Led Zeppelin style rock roots. It has a slow song by Rush that I don’t hate and to top it all off, Geddy Lee’s voice is actually finally reaching a range that is listenable. So, whether you gave up on Rush in the 80’s or never got into them because up until a few years ago, it was not cool to like Rush, this is a great album to check out.
19. The Soil & The Sun – What Wonder is this Universe!
I love the age we live in. A world where technology has become so accessible that it does not take a million dollar record contract and the loss of at least part of your soul to make a quality record. Yes, this means that the internet is teeming with wanna-be “artists” releasing terrible music. But, if you learn to wade through the endless sea of mediocrity you can find some incredible, independent artist doing absolutely amazing things. Bands that make you sad that people are listening to Taylor Swift’s producer’s latest album, instead of giving bands like The Soil and the Sun the light of day. It in the same moment encourages you, inspires you, and makes you lose hope for the society that makes Honey Boo-Boo a celebrity, but refuses to listen to something as inspired as “What Wonder is this Universe”. This album has the varied instrumentation of Sufjan Stevens, the harmonic excellence of Seryn, and the musical styling of a more Post-Rock Anathallo. The songwriting, for whatever reminds me of Seven Swans, with the massive collection of instrumentalists, drum clicks, and harmonies of A Floating World. I feel bad though, for even though I feel the comparisons can be flattering, I don’t want it to seem like this band does not occupy their own space in the musical world, because they absolutely do. This album is absolutely incredible, and if we start giving bands like this the admiration and time they deserve, the world of music and the world in general will be a much better place.
18. The Welcome Wagon – Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices
It’s rare that such a straight forward worship album catches my attention like this one did. So after the last bombshell that David Crowder dropped on the world left me ultimately underwhelmed and bored I was happy to find that The Welcome Wagon had knocked it out of the park with their latest album, Precious Remedies. This album manages to accomplish several extremely difficult tasks. First and foremost they make their unique brand of worship music not seem stale and overdone. It is hard to make worship lyrics profound. Mostly because the art of Sacred music has been dumbed down to an industry that pays money for simple, unoriginal music. On top of that, there are only so many ways to compare G-d to light without your lyrics becoming tiring. This album is fantastic, because although the lyrics are at times, very simple, they are profound and earnest. At all times you feel like this album is exactly where Presbyterian minister Vito Aiuto was at. It is honest, simple and beautiful. Another great task is making an album that is musically, quite simple, sound as good as this album does. This album is simple, but it doesn’t need to be complex. It’s honest, profound, and intimate. It is a shining light in a world, otherwise made cold and impersonal by endless chants of “How Great is our God” remakes.
17. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
Speaking of perfectly executed simplicity, if you haven’t you should check out The Lumineers. Riding on the new wave of folk popularity, The Lumineers are very fortunate to be making the music they are making, in the time they are making it in. 10 years, a band like The Lumineers would have never been played on the radio. Just as The Avett Brothers. But, thanks to the aforementioned brothers dedication and folks sudden rise to popularity with bands like Mumford and Sons, bands like The Lumineers are able to play their simple and beautiful folk pop and have it be heard by many. It makes me feel good when a band who puts their heart out there gets rewarded with the attention of an otherwise ignorant mass of people. I love The Lumineers because they conjure a simpler time in the musical world. A time without over-dubs and auto tuning. When you listen to this album, you feel like you are sitting in their living room, listening to them share their thoughts through song. It is the heart of folk, and it is desperately needed in this world. It makes me very happy that they have achieved the success they have. My only complaint is that this album isn’t nearly long enough. But, with that being said, I have yet to get sick of it, and I have listened through it many, many times.
16. Dave Matthews Band – Away From the World
This was the year I became a Dave Matthews fan. I have always enjoyed Dave Matthews. Before These Crowded Streets was one of my favorite albums growing up. That being said, I was never a Dave fan until recently. I found myself listening to the live albums over the studio albums because that’s when there music really shines. I found that my best mixes would have at least 3 different versions of Grey Street on them. I found myself getting bored with the pop hits and looking more for the “Deep Cuts”. Then came Away from the World. I was very excited for this album. I have known Jeff Coffin for a long while, and I was excited to see him shine a little more on this album and Groogrux King was absolutely incredible. I will say, this album could have been more. It could have had a little more of the magic (read trumpet) that made Groogrux King that ultimate album it was. I wish this album could have been in my top ten, but alas it was not quite what I wanted. Thankfully, Dave at 85% is like most of the world on overdrive. This album is extremely solid, and has some incredible moments. It flows beautifully, and only has one song that has not grown on me. It is a bit more simple than Groogrux king, but that is not a bad thing. I think I am just gonna have to wait for a new live album to come out for the songs to really become what I want them to be.