TC Top Ten: Albums

10. Bhiman, Bhi Bhiman

Born to Sri Lankan parents, but raised in St. Louis, Bhi Bhiman owns one of the most unique and incredible voices in modern American music. Combining elements of pure American folk with soul and pop, Bhiman crafts a debut project that earns him a space on the shelf next to Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Van Morrison, Ryan Adams and Amos Lee. His lyrics, full of humor, soul and brutal self awareness, feel spiritually connected and grounded in a way that most artists’ words never do.

9. The Laughing Stalk, Woven Hand

David Eugene Edwards gets it. If there is a God as the Bible describes, and if sin really does mean bloodshed, and if there is a reckoning day, then this whole Gospel thing really is frightening. Edwards’ latest, The Laughing Stock, offers an occasional peek above the gray clouds and rainstorms - just enough to bring the listener to worship despite the cold hard rain of reality pelting his face.

8. O’ Be Joyful, Shovels and Rope

Shovels and Rope are a relatively new duo comprised of indie artists Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent. The two play stripped down country-folk-rock and roll with redneck abandon. Hearst veritably channels Loretta Lynn and it sounds like the late Gram Parsons could have produced this, their debut, full-length project. Hymns and scriptures are etched throughout these songs literally and emotionally.

7. Departure Songs, Hammock

Hammock, the ambient post-rock group based around the core due of Andrew Thompson and Marc Byrd (formerly of The Choir and Common Children and composer of the worship classic “God of Wonders”) expands their palette on the double LP Departure Songs with more melody, a few actual lyrics and a generally more cheery disposition than previous outings. It’s still Hammock, though; artful compositions to accompany the breaking down. Gorgeous stuff.

6. Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen

The Boss gets more dark and unraveled than ever on Wrecking Ball, but he also manages to capture the hopeful spirit that made classic protest folk so attractive to previous generations. This is the musical equivalent of an 18-wheeler deconstructing as it careens down a mountain pass in the Smokies.

5. Tempest, Bob Dylan

He’s been on a tear for the last decade, cranking out some of his most finely crafted work ever. Tempest is no exception. Incredible production frames wryly crafted songs that bounce off of a 19-minute long folk dirge about the sinking of the Titanic. As with so much of his best work, Tempest is full of God-haunted poetry and a sonic picture of absolute mortality.

4 . Babel, Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons returned to the well that they inadvertently tapped with their debut and we should all thank them. They are moving the cultural pendulum toward human music and away from samples and auto-tune, and they are exploring the really important questions of the communal and personal effects of sin as they do it.

3. Blunderbuss, Jack White

His “solo debut” is every bit as stellar as we all expected it to be. Jack White plays freely with image and bends the facts to fit his decided narrative. He just might save mainstream rock and roll in the process.

2. Delta Spirit, Delta Spirit

Produced by Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear, TV On The Radio) and featuring a college hit single “Tear It Up,” Delta Spirit injected some much-needed humanity and good, old-fashioned songwriting discipline into the overly random and ramshackle indie world this year. “California” got some well-deserved attention, but the whole LP is really a study in what is right about modern American indie rock.

1. Hit Me Back, Michael McDermott

On his latest labor of love, Hit Me Back, Michael McDermott returns with his most lushly recorded and unapologetically redemptive work since 1993’s Gethsemane. The scars from 20-plus years of demon-haunted self-destruction make the beauty of his current renaissance even sweeter. This is a record full of romance, regret, religion and reawakening.

To hear all of these records and many others that I, in my wisdom, feel are the best of 2012, visit this playlist on Spotify.

TC's 2012 Top Ten series also includes Drew Dixon on video games, Matthew Pittman on television and Josh Larsen on movies.

Comments (4)

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I’ll make the first comment here, hopefully to fend off impending rage at albums that were excluded.

First - this was an amazing year for music - probably the best in a LONG time. There is practically zero difference between how much I loved #1 and #10 on this list… or the next 10 for that matter. Derek Webb? Charlie Peacock? Band of Horses? Wow.

So, join in and leave your favorites in these messages and, unless I think you’re completely NUTS, I’ll add yours to the Spotify playlist too.

Also, my “Under The Radar” Top 10 will be out soon too. That list is more focused on Christian music and includes some notables that you are possible surprised not to see on this list. Be patient… it will come. Follow me on Twitter (@JohnJThompson) for updates.

So - your faves?

The new album that got the most plays around my house this year was Of Monsters and Men My Head is an Animal. I love the sound of it.

My favorite record of the year was A Church That Fits Our Needs, by Lost in the Trees. It’s a powerful work about dealing with tragedy - lead singer Ari Packer’s mother killed herself on the day of Ari’s wedding - rendered in gorgeous, complex, sweeping songs. I couldn’t stop playing it this year. I also really liked records by Marillion, the Punch Brothers, Bryan Scary and Husky.

The only ones on John’s list I responded to were Hammock and Woven Hand. I was bitterly let down by the Mumford and Sons - along with Aimee Mann, it ranks as my biggest disappointment of 2012. Just goes to show how different tastes can run!

Some artists’ music serves to entertain. Some, to help pass the time, and raise the mood of things. But the good ones, the special artists, offer music to enlighten, to enrich, and in certain rare instances, to save. Michael’s music offers comfort, the hope of redemption, the example of endurance through suffering to live again. To quote from a favorite (there are many) McDermott song, “Just say the word, and I shall be healed.” And that’s what this CD is all about. The healing.

Your choice of making this #1 validates the magic of his music. His life, now, validates his faith. Here’s to another year of continued creativity, success, and love. Way to go, Michael!

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