My Favorite Music of 2010

With 2010 about to wrap up, I’m pretty sure my musical opinions aren’t going to change in the next two days. That means it’s time to do a “favorite music of the year” post. This year, I finally started rating all of my music in iTunes to help me sort through the wheat and chaff when I’m playing music on my iPod and that’s helped me figure out which albums I liked the most this year. I took the average rating for all the songs on an album to rank the albums here. I don’t know if that’s an entirely accurate method to do rankings (standard deviation and all that) but it’s a reasonable approximation of what I liked the most this year. Take the ratings with a grain of salt…

My 5 Favorite Albums in 2010

Thad Cockrell – To Be Loved – Avg. Rating – 3.90

A short and sweet little album, but I loved every track on it. Thad Cockrell’s falsetto is effortless and his songs range in style and lyrics from Americana to old-time gospel to sweet romance. It’s a perfect combination and while it’s not a hard rocker it’s an album that’s relaxing without dripping in sap.

Derek Webb – Feedback – Avg. 3.77

Derek Webb started tweeting early in the year that was considering an album about worship and there was a lot of trepidation on my part. Would this be an album that tackled all the wrongs like Stockholm Syndrome, The Ringing Bell. or I See Things Upside Down, or was Derek simply selling out and hopping on the worship bandwagon. Fortunately, the album turns out to be neither as it is a meditative instrumental album focused on The Lord’s Prayer. I’m not sure if there’s a lot of new musical ground covered here, and yet it accomplishes its goal of bringing the listener into a reflective and contemplative mood.

Deas Vail – Birds and Cages – Avg. 3.66

I thought this would finish highest as I think it’s probably my favorite album of the year. Vocalist Wes Blaylock’s voice is otherworldly and the band is a driving force behind him. The album starts strong with “Excuses” and “Cages” and finishes strong with “The Leaper” and “Atlantis”.

Switchfoot – Hello Hurricane – Avg. Rating 3.41

The Beautiful Letdown might have “the big hits”, but in my opinion this is a much more consistent album. Switchfoot isn’t covering new ground here, mostly following the road paved by big arena bands like U2, but there’s something to be said about creating a solid album from end to end that’s intelligent and also head-nodding.

Lost Dogs – Old Angel – Avg. Rating 3.40

I’ve already written a review about this album, but it’s held up pretty good through the year. A poignant album about Route 66 was bound to capture me no matter what.

The Next 5 Albums
Eclipse Soundtrack – Avg. Rating – 3.40
Really? Really. One of the great mysteries of the world is how the Twilight soundtracks are so great when the books/movies are so blah. (Sorry, Adriene). With artists like Metric, The Dead Weather, The Black Keys, Band of Horses, and Cee Lo Green, it’s just a matter of dropping in the songs and stirring, I guess.

Sleeping At Last – Storyboards – Avg. Rating 3.36
This one took some getting used to because Sleeping At Last has been on a trend towards slower/sleepier music for years now and this album does nothing to reverse the trend, but the songs have so many layers and on repeated listenings they become so rewarding and touching.

Caedmons Call – Raising Up The Dead – Avg. Rating – 3.33
A bold change in direction in sound and delivery (internet only) for a band that’s been around for a while, even when the songs aren’t the most exciting in the world, Derek Webb’s re-connection with the band is a good thing and it’s nice to hear them still kicking.

Anberlin – Dark Is The Way, Light Is The Place – Avg. Rating – 3.30
This album was a bit of a disapointment for me coming off of such incredible previous albums, but the strength of tracks like “Impossible” and “Pray Tell” help buoy up the rating a little bit, I think.

…and for the tenth, we have a tie, so let’s make it 11.
Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz – Avg. Rating – 3.27
I didn’t like this album at all after the first listen, but seeing Stevens in concert and understanding his vision from a visual standpoint helped me appreciate the album more. It’s still a mess of beeps and boops and Sufjan getting sometimes a little too personal for comfort, but when it works, it works. And a 20 minute epic song with a dance party and autotuning smack in the middle? Craziness! Yet still strangely compelling.

The Choir – Burning Like The Midnight Sun – Avg. Rating – 3.27
A strong effort by a band that essentially retired almost 15 years ago. A good portion of the album is self-referential, so I don’t know if a new listener would appreciate it as much, but the core elements, Steve Hindalong’s quirky drumming and lyrics, Derri Daugherty’s smooth delivery and echo-tastic guitar are still there coupled with Tim Chandler’s wooly bass guitar and Dan Michaels’ saxophone and lyricon.

Honorable Mention- Quiet Science – With/Without (avg rating 3.23), Nitengale – Oh My Heart (avg rating 3.08), The Kicks – The Rise of King Ritchie (avg rating 3.00)

Imperfection on The Darkest Night of The Year

I’m not a tree-hugging cosmic hippie, mind you, but for some reason I do like to do something special around Winter Solstice. This year I had a fine day planned out. We would take the girls out for our annual drive around the nearby neighborhoods, pick up some coffee, maybe even get the girls some hot chocolate, put some peaceful Christmas music on and drive until the girls were sleepy. We’d bring them home and I’d enjoy a quiet evening writing up a summary on the year and reflecting on life a little bit.

Then one of my children somehow broke the TV. The new TV that is my birthday gift, anniversary gift, and Christmas gift all combined, broken. I don’t know what she did but if you have toddlers in your house, you know you only have to look away for thirty seconds and somehow your nice expensive thing is ruined. I spent over an hour on the phone with technical support with no help (well, at least they are fulfilling their obligation with the warranty and replacing it.) By the time I got off the phone, it was too late to go out. The girls were miserable and upset that their promised trip out was canceled. I was in a foul mood and sent them straight to bed. A fine evening ruined.

Unfortunately, that’s the way things seem to work out with small children. Much like going to war, plans with small children are usually thrown out after the first sortie. Adriene and I spent a great weekend in Chattanooga away from the girls while they spent time with the grandparents. We had such a good time and I would’ve thought when I returned I would have more patience with them but it seems like I’ve had even less. Maybe they are just hopped up on too much candy around Christmas, I don’t know, but there have been a lot more tears and punishments in the last couple of days than I can remember in a while.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the reasons for my discontent lately and I think much of it comes down to the fact that due to either the workload of work and children or my general laziness I feel like I’ve only been putting out 80% effort into everything. I get things done “just enough”, but not really up the quality that I would expect it done. “Good enough” is a phrase I unfortunately use a lot. The guy who lived in the house before me was the father of four children under the age of 4 and I used to wonder why every house-repair job in the house was done so, ahem, halfway (I have a word that I like to use for this, but this is a polite blog, you see.) Now, I totally understand. In the new year, I hope I can push forward and exert a little effort, even if it is tiring, but still recognize when “good enough” is indeed good enough.

Imperfection has been on my mind a lot lately, particularly around this Christmas season. I’m sure when Mary and Joseph trudged into Bethlehem tired from the long trip that being forced to sleep in a stable was far from the perfect homecoming they imagined. Yet, that is exactly the way God wanted it play out. Christmas is all about imperfections. We all have that perfect Christmas planned out with the happy family sat before a table bursting with food and presents while a perfect little snowfall happens outside. (By the way, the weather man is predicting snow on Christmas day this year? Nothing like the whole city of Atlanta freaking out on a holiday. Dreaming of a White Christmas? More like a nightmare if people get stranded on icy roads trying to get to their holiday events.) We don’t get perfect little Christmases, however. We get ungrateful children and arguing family. We get a load of work waiting for us when we return to our jobs. We get credit card bills. We get disappointment because our perfect little Christmas was not so perfect. And yet… yet, the hope of perfection lies there in the manager, that some day every sad thing will become untrue. It’s easy to get lost amongst our own personal expectations that we are celebrating God working in His own perfection. There is perfection on Christmas and it is already here and not yet here.

The days only become brighter from here.

A Decade Doesn’t Seem So Long Anymore

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago today Adriene and I were married. We were married in a large, old, historic church in Savannah on a misty evening. It may have been a little warm in Savannah, it was freezing at home where everyone who drove down to our wedding found upon their return that Atlanta was covered in ice and snow. So many things have changed since then and yet some things are still the same.

When we came home from the wedding, we lived in an apartment that was something akin to a bunker. It sat on a bluff and overlooked the Chattahoochee River, but it was the bottom floor of a building dug into the bluff, so it felt like living in a cold basement. Now, we live in a house between Kennesaw Mountain and Lost Mountain. We’ve made some changes to the house since moving in, but it more or less looks the same as our first day in the house.

I actually did put something on my website after our wedding. This was before the term “weblog” was in common usage, but that’s what it was. We didn’t have high-speed internet in the apartment, we only connected every now and then over the phone. High-speed internet usage was done at the office, before companies really cared or knew what their employees were doing on their computers at work. The ability to surf the web without wires was a dream that only became real after we moved into our house.

Before our first anniversary, we watched planes crash into skyscrapers in New York over and over again on an endless loop on the news until we were so emotionally exhausted we fell asleep on the couch. There has never been an illusion of safety in our country since and yet nine years later here were are. Adriene has been through three jobs and starts her fourth at the start of 2011. I’m still with the same company though I have moved through a variety of projects.

Music is still a big part of our lives. Some of our favorite bands in 2000 are still our favorite bands in 2010 (U2 and Over the Rhine, for example) and we’ve added several new ones since. We didn’t do mix tapes for each other, but we did occasionally burn a CD for each other to listen to. These days it’s easier to show a little love and share music just by passing the other one a USB stick and saying “you really ought to listen to this.”

Most of the time, however, when we first were married the house was quiet. It was only us and our cat, acquired not long after we were married, who is still here and mostly the same only fatter. The house is no longer quiet, however, with two three-year olds singing, playing games, and asking question after question after question. It’s a cacophony of joy until they go to bed and the house goes quiet again. The evening is a short time to recharge usually spent watching TV or browsing the Internet. Most importantly we are just physically present in the same room so we can laugh about something we found on the computer together or figure out how to solve all of the world’s problems.

It’s been a good 10 years and a good ride. The next ten years will bring about even more changes and some other crazy technological advances that change how we spend our days, I’m sure. We will have teenagers in the house. That’s scary. But hopefully some things will stay the same, such as our determination and tenacity to work together and make this thing we call a family keep moving on. Happy ten years, love, here’s to many more to come.