Over the past year, I’ve listened to a lot of new music, most of which, regrettably, I haven’t liked very much. Because I have my headphones on during much of the day at work, I burn through music pretty quickly. Even though by now I should be content with the music I have, sometimes nothing in my library will do. So I get suggestions from friends, scour the list of new albums at metacritic.com, read Paste Magazine, download the podcast of All Songs Considered, and look out for “best of” lists at the end of the year. Here are a few of the albums that rose to the top of my personal playlist.
- Kelly Clarkson, Break Away: What can I say? I’m a sucker for this American Idol. She can really belt out a good tune, and her songs have major power-pop hooks. While my musical taste usually runs counter to the top-40 trends, this time I was riding the wave, listening to this album more times than I’d like to admit.
- Keane, Hopes and Fears: This band’s music is like sugar to my ea/cgi-bin/mt32/mt.cgi#rs. Not literally. They’re a Brit-pop band in the same vein as Coldplay, but their songs are even catchier, especially moreso than Coldplay’s latest offering, which to me at least was a little disappointing.
- Imogen Heap, Speak for Yourself: From the frontwoman of Frou Frou, this solo album mixes smooth vocals, laid-back rhythms, and electronic infusions. In “Hide and Seek,” which I first heard on All Songs Considered, Heap sings the entire song through a Vocoder. Cool.
- Sufjan Stevens, Come on Feel the Illinoise!: Now every critic’s darling, Stevens once went to Hope College and played in a local band at a humble little coffeehouse in Grand Rapids. This album continues his special brand of delicate and wispy vocals, goofy yet poignant lyrics, and intricate and multi-layered instrumentation. It’s hard not to love a musician with a song called “A Short Reprise For Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, But For Very Good Reasons.”
- My Morning Jacket, Z: A great album from a straight-ahead rock and roll band with lots of reverb.
- Sigur Ros, Takk…: Out of every band on the planet, this is the one that I’d most like to have with me if I were trapped inside a cocoon. Their music leaves me breathless and bedazzled with its sweeping orchestrations of shameless grandiosity. They kind of open up the universe.
- CocoRosie, Noah’s Ark: These two sisters produce a folktronica sound with startling, operatic vocals and unpredictable melodies. Just the way I like them.
Now that leaves three albums that I’ve listened to a lot and love, but don’t feel I can put in the same list as the others, because of my personal connection with the musicians.
- Peter LaGrand, Falling Down in Place: If ones and zeros could wear out, these songs would be more weathered than my favorite pair of jeans. Read my review.
- Jason Harrod, Bright As You: When he’s on, he’s really, really on. Read my review.
- Over the Rhine, Drunkard’s Prayer: I’ll never figure out why these guys haven’t become insanely famous.
So, what are your favorite albums of the past year?