My Favorite Albums of 2011

Last year I started rating all of my music in iTunes and I’ve found that is a useful way to find out which were my favorite albums of the year. Sometimes the results surprise me because I guess one star and two star songs really drag an album down. I don’t know if this is actually how I would rank the albums in order but the Top 5 and Top 10 are probably close to what I would pick.

One glaring omission from the list Adele’s 21 which is probably on everyone’s list. I do like what I’ve heard from the album. Adriene has it but I keep forgetting to borrow it from her. With that said, on to my picks with the average stages included:

The Top 5
The Violet Burning – The Story Of Our Lives (Avg Rating 3.74)
This collection is massive, stunning, raw, and powerful. Sometimes the songs blend together and it really requires a lot of attention span to make it through all three albums but there really are very few weak links and that’s something to be said about a collection of 34 songs. Michael Pritzl teased us with saying there would “not be one more Violet Burning album” when in reality there were three, telling a complete story arc. Favorite tracks: “Imminent Collapse”, “Breakdown”, “Finest Hour”

Quiet Science – Dark Words on Dark Wings – (Avg rating 3.7)
This one was a surprise but it’s well deserved. I didn’t have big expectations for this sophomore effort from the space rock group from central Florida, their first album was good but I felt they still were untapped potential. Potential tapped. Nice hooks and insightful lyrics. Favorite tracks: “The Dust Storm”, “Speak To The Dark”

Over the Rhine – The Long Surrender – (Avg rating 3.53)
I got the pre-release in 2010 and said I’d save this for the 2011 list, so here it is. This is a smoldering slow burn of an album pondering deep topics like aging, marital fidelity, and learning to let go. Joe Henry’s production really adds to the songs. Many of the songs didn’t impress me when I heard them as demos, but the finished products sound great. Favorite tracks: “Rave On”, “The King Knows How”, “Days Like This”, “All My Favorite People”

Gungor – Beautiful Things – (Avg Rating: 3.46)
I’ve almost given up on “Christian music” as a genre, but artists like Michael and Lisa Gungor give me hope that there is still creative talent writing corporate worship music. Alternatively calming and stirring, their show at Cornerstone Festival this year was one of my favorites. Favorite Tracks: “Beautiful Things”, “The Earth Is Yours”

Deas Vail – self-titled – (Avg rating: 3.416)
A slight downturn from their previous album, but only a slight one. That’s more a testament of just how good Birds and Cages was, not neccessarilly an indictment on this album. It doesn’t deviate too much from their previous album so there’s not much new ground broken here, but there’s nothing wrong with continuing a good sound. There’s good stuff here and I suspect the more I listen to it the more I will like it. Favorite Tracks: “Pulling Down the Sun” “Bad Dreams”, “Meeting In Doorways”

The Next 5
Josh Garrels – Love and War and The Sea In Between – (Avg rating: 3.4)
Best effort yet by this young unconventional artist. Meandering and ponderous and intelligent. It’s a little long with some tracks that don’t hook me, but when it’s good it’s really good. Favorite tracks: “Ulysses”, “A Far Off Hope”, “Bread & Wine”

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs – (Avg rating: 3.375)
I’m late to the Arcade Fire bandwagon, but here I am. Adriene and I listened to Suburbs a couple times during her business trip to St Simon’s earlier this year, so I’ll always think about that when listening to the album. I’m glad I borrowed the CD from her. Favorite tracks: “Ready To Start”, “Modern Man”, “City With No Children”, “Sprawl II”

Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto – (Avg rating: 3.28)
I love how everyone has such strong feelings about this album and band…except for me apparently. I … like it? I don’t hate it? I don’t love it? I’m kinda ashamed that I love the Rihanna collaboration? Favorite tracks: “Paradise”, “Major Minus”, “Princess of China”

Eisley – The Valley – (Avg rating: 3.25)
I didn’t love this album as much as their first two releases, but it’s still pretty good. It’s not quite as creepy and gothic as their previous stuff and a little less precocious, but that happens with growing up I guess. Favorite tracks: “Smarter”, “Please”,”Ambulance”

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow – (Avg rating: 3.07)
I wanted to love this album, really I did. It had all the hype and everyone gushed over it when it came out and it’s just ok for me. It feels a little too forced, a little too overdramatic, like they are trying too hard. Favorite tracks: “20 Years”, “I’ve Got This Friend”, “Poison and Wine”

Just missed the cut:
Andrew Peterson – Counting Stars, The Choir – deplumed, House of Heroes – Suburba, Wilco – The Whole Love

Darkest Night of The Year 2011

Adriene took a new job this year so she did not have very much vacation time. The girls are in preschool so this week I’ve had the whole house to myself during the day. I gotta admit, selfishly, it’s been incredible. I love my family but I don’t get much time to myself anymore to stop and reflect so I’m finally taking some time, on this darkest night of the year, to look back a little bit.

Halfway through this year, I was pretty sure it was going to be a bad year. Things were not going well in multiple aspects of my life. Thankfully, autumn arrived and with some changes my outlook on life improved. During the first half of the year, I didn’t do very much socializing and I started to let my job and caring for children start to smother me. I’m such a paradox, I don’t really like doing stuff with people every night, but it’s also emotionally damaging to spend too much time alone. I’ve tried to balance things out a little better in the second half of the year and it has been beneficial.

Raising two three-year olds was not easy this year, but it was a whole lot easier than raising two two-year olds last year and in September they turned four. So far, four has been even better. I hear we are entering the “golden years” for little girls where daddy is their hero and they haven’t become teenagers yet and boys and phones and makeup all become bigger priorities. I hope so. I’m not going to lie, the last years have been hard. Maybe one child would have been easier, but twins have felt like riding out a hurricane. It has gotten steadily easier year after year and I like the trend, but make no mistake, I still haven’t fully recovered from the first couple years. I am still very tired most of the time. We’ve had some fun but I’m hoping for even more fun in the next few years.

I miss some of my big Christmas traditions. I used to go see Over the Rhine or Andrew Peterson in concert, but neither came near Atlanta during Christmas and travelling is not as practical as it used to be. We tried to drive around and look at Christmas lights, but the girls were over it within ten minutes. What they really love most is to put Christmas music on the stereo and dance around the room. Each Christmas has been one of firsts and this is the first year that the girls have started to get a grasp on Advent. The Incarnation is still a little above their minds. They know that Christmas is birthday of Jesus but right now God is somewhere on the same plane at Santa Claus. I don’t want to blow their minds too much, there’s plenty of time for philosophical discussions in years to come.

So, for the time being we’re starting new traditions. Rocking around (quite literally) the Christmas tree, lighting candles, and drinking tea with my little Snow Princesses. Next week I’ll be home alone again and we’ll renew the annual Playstation Smackdown, I’ll rundown my favorite albums of the year, and clean out my office which will no doubt spur nostalgic moments. The year is slowly closing to a good end and we’re going to try and start 2012 as well as 2011 is ending.

The Days Only Become Brighter From Here
December 21, 2011