Titus Andronicus, Duke Coffeehouse, Durham NC, 09/21/10, originally uploaded by Ash Crowe.
1. Titus Andronicus, The Monitor – This album is a masterpiece. I know it isn’t an album for everyone but, holy wow, it is excellent. Messy dirty bar punk. Long songs that keep themselves from going off the rails by the finest tightrope. Springsteen references. A loose concept album about the Civil War that uses a dramatic reading of a Lincoln speech over drone-y rock to intro the album and manages both without being heavy-handed. Songs about growing up and busting out, finding meaning. The drumming, my goodness the drumming. This lyric: “I never wanted to change the world, I’m not looking for a new New Jersey, but tramps like us, baby we were born to die. ” And when you think you’ve heard it all there are horns & bagpipes, horns & bagpipes. If you aren’t convinced, go here and watch an amazing performance of the stand out track “The Ballad of Hampton Roads”
2. Midlake, The Courage of Others – I’ve read many year end lists, and I’ve been disappointed by how few have listed this album. If you haven’t heard the album yet and are a fan of Fleet Foxes and the like, do yourself a favor and pick it up. I love every song on here, but what I love the most is that so much attention was paid to making it work as an album. It moves like a single work with each track a movement. And the flute on the album will break your heart it is so beautifully and deftly used. Stand out track: “Small Mountain”
3. Various Artists, Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows: The Songs of John Prine – This is such a great covers album. It isn’t just about showing tribute, it proves the flexibility and brillance of Prine’s songs. If you are one of the few people to still need an introduction to Prine, this works as that as well. It’s beautiful and hilarious and heartbreaking – sometimes all in the same song. It’s probably my favorite album of this sort since Return of the Grevious Angel paid the same care to Gram Parsons’ songs, and that album came out in 1999 so it’s been a while. There are a ton of things I can say about this album but for those who know me best, this will be the most amazing: this album has the power to turn me into a fan of singers I usually don’t like (if only for thier 4 minute song), which is to say Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) cover of “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” is so perfect that it makes me cry nearly everytime. Stand out track: Justin Vernon, “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow).”
4. The Black Keys, Brothers – Writing this list, I’m realizing how much albums sound like seasons, like weather, to me. This one is summer: hot, humid, sticky, sweaty, days that never seem like they’ll break until sudden there is a crack of heat lightening and a driving rain. If the opening bars of the album don’t work for you, then you are made of very different stuff than me. Stand out track: “Tighten Up.”
5. Balmorhea, “Constellations” – Beautiful post-rock. The handclaps sound like revelations. In the last track at the 3:20 mark there is a guitar strum so perfectly timed that it makes everything fall together. Stand out track: “Palestrina.”