TC Top Ten: Albums

Sure, there have been plenty of "Glee"-esque moments of soul-crushing, cringe-inducing shlock this year, but amidst the detritus have landed meaningful, thoughtful and even spiritual new albums - many of which are defying all sales expectations. Looks like the fire started in 2010 by Mumford & Sons is burning on.

1. "Ashes & Fire," Ryan Adams This stunning album reveals much about Adams that has seemingly been clouded by addiction and underlying demons thus far. Rich, warm, soulful, honest and ultimately inspiring, "Ashes & Fire" points to the new growth of a personal forest of emotions after the necessary but painful fire it took to clear the brush out. In order for a seed to grow first it must fall to the ground…

2. "Wasting Light," Foo Fighters Absolutely the best rock album of the last year - or two - Foo Fighters are in their prime and are showing all other bands what the new standard in the genre is. Every song on this disc matters. They may be doing for rock what U2 did for alternative music 30 years ago. Clearly the band of the '00s, at this rate the Foos may be making a run for the teens as well.

3. "I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow," various artists Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Duane Eddy and others recorded this tribute to Hall’s classic 1974 album "The Songs of Fox Hollow" as a tribute for his 75th birthday and I smiled like an idiot the first several times through it. If you have kids, or ever were a kid, you really need to hear this record, and the one that inspired it. Remember childhood before video games and Sponge Bob? I do.

4. "The Whole Love," Wilco If there is a better 2011 argument for the survival of the LP as a format I don’t know what it is. Wilco is simply amazing and "The Whole Love" may be their best yet. Cold, dead religion may be on the chopping block here, but something much better waits to be born.

5. "Mission Bell," Amos Lee The first time I heard this record it wrecked me. Lee has perfected his unique blend of folk, blues and gospel and has unleashed some of the best songs of the year. “Windows are Rolled Down” might be my favorite individual song of the year, but the disturbed meditation of “Jesus” comes in a close second. I just can’t tire of this album no matter how many times I spin it.

6. "Ghosts Upon The Earth," Gungor Definitely the most artistically excellent album to be released in the Christian market this year, Gungor’s "Ghosts Upon The Earth" should be heard by any fan of atmospheric, progressive, modern rock. The music is intrinsically spiritual and creatively jaw-dropping. Yes, it’s that good.

7. "Barton Hollow," The Civil Wars I’ve said it all before. Though certainly not the first to draw upon this formula (I hear Over the Rhine and Richard and Linda Thompson echoing in the background), John Paul White and Joy Williams really captured lightning in a bottle with this stunning LP.

8. "Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns," John Hiatt "Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns" sees Hiatt in his best element. The lead track, “Damn This Town,” is as good a meditation on personal pain and self-destructive blame as I have ever heard. When it comes to matching wit, wisdom and faith with the best of American roots rock and country, no one can touch Hiatt.

9. "Move Like This," The Cars Sadly overlooked by all but their most avid fans, Ric Ocasek and the surviving members of The Cars released a fantastic collection of modern pop-rock gems this year. Smart, catchy and emotionally true, it’s frustrating that so few noticed this one.

10. "O Black River" (and accompanying singles), Hannah Miller Hannah Miller’s textured blend of classic pop and Americana is developing rapidly as she releases indie EP after EP. "O Black River" is a slow-burning collection of soulful, southern Gothic meditations on sin, redemption, failure and solace that may be my favorite indie record of the year and should win Miller many new fans.

What were your favorite albums of 2011? Share your thoughts/lists below.

“JJT” has been chasing the thread dangling between eternal truths and temporal creative experiences for nearly three decades. He is a writer, a businessman, a father, an artist and a seeker. His Best of 2011 playlist on Spotify can be heard here.

(Illustration by Schuyler Roozeboom.)

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I commend any artist who can produce an entire album of quality songs. I find myself gravitating to the singles lately. I love Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” from her 21 Album but probably wouldn’t listen to most of the rest of the album more than a few times.Alas ... when it comes to poetics my heart still belongs to Leonard Cohen so I’m waiting for his “Old Ideas” Album to come out the end of this month.“Show me the place where the word became a man”  - Leonard Cohen

Lady Antebellum’s “Own the Night” is nothing short of amazing. Two cuts are on the radio now—“Just A Kiss” and “We Owned the Night.” Honestly, I think that those might be two of the weaker tracks.

“Heart of the World” is a beautiful song, and my wife and I might have adopted it as our new song.

I agree about the Tom T. Hall tribute, by the way. I love Tom T. Hall.

I liked Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math & Switchfoot - Vice Verses. Though I couldn’t put the albums in their entirety on a top 10 list it I liked a lot of what I heard from Mutemath, Coldplay and Angels & Airwaves.

I’d add a shout-out to Josh Garrel’s Love & War & The Sea in Between (which is free on his website at the moment). I discovered this artist this year, and was really impressed with this album. Singer-songwriter stuff with a certain hip-hop sensibility. Also the new Black Keys’ and Florence& The Machine album’s are both excellent. Did anyone mention Bazan’s new album? That was this year…mmm….so much good stuff!

Garells was definitely right there in the mix, as were The Decemberists. I toiled over those but had to settle on ten, so there you have it. Other faves: Buddy Miller’s Majestic Silver Strings, Switchfoot’s “Vice Verses” (which was on my UnderTheRadar list,) The Farewell Drifters “Echo Boom,” Over The Rhine’s “The Long Surrender, Leeland’s “The Great Awakening” and more.

Good stuff, but where’s M83 or Feist or Bon Iver!? Top ten lists are just too hard to make! :)  p.s. best new band I discovered in 2011: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.  More here (http://videoaudiodisco.blogspo… LOVE.

Love this list. Plenty that I agree with, and plenty more new music for me to check out.

I’ll admit, though, that I’m surprised at the omission of Bon Iver. I was a bit late to the Bon Iver party, and I ended up liking (not loving) For Emma, Forever Ago. The new album, however, has completely won me over. It’s not only my favorite album of 2011, but it contains 3 of my top 5 favorite songs of the year. Perth, Holocene and Calgary all play like a perfect mix of hipster folk and atmospheric, emotional soundscapes, ala Explosions in the Sky.

I won’t even begin to claim I’ve got enough musical knowledge to compete with most people, but there were two major albums I couldn’t get enough of this year. They were “The King is Dead” by The Decemberists (and their complementary EP “Long Live the King”) and “Bad As Me” by Tom Tom Waits. A transitional album by The Decemberists and a sortof full-spectrum blast by Tom Waits, they stayed in my CD player for long stretches of this year.

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