Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for the 7th annual edition of The List, or my ranking of the top ten albums of the year. I have been doing this in some form since 2006, when all I did was post a simple list which was headed by My Chemical Romance’s classic The Black Parade. Since then my list has grown to be a full-on review with commentary, which I have posted each year* to my blog on MySpace, or more recently Facebook. This year The List will realize it’s best presentation yet, as this blog on WordPress gives me the opportunity to include pictures, video, and other formatting wonders (welcome to last decade, huh?). Actually, as excited as I am to have The List finally looking both thorough and official, the best part to me is that it’s now public, and people who don’t know me in any other way than through this blog will be able to peruse it and maybe find some great new stuff, as well as discuss why or why not the albums I pick should be here, and what might have deserved a place instead.
Yes, I love to talk about these things. If you disagree with my list, tell me! Comment below the article. Tell me why you didn’t like what I picked, or what is out there that was better. (But please, make the comments thoughtful. Don’t just tell me something sucks. No one cares to read that.) Likewise, if you like something I picked, comment about that too. I love talking about my reviews about as much as I like giving them, so bring it on.
The year 2012 was a good one for music. Unlike some years, I had no trouble filling out this list. So without further adieu, here are this year’s choices:
10. Bear Creek – Brandi Carlile
Coming in tenth is Brandi Carlile’s Bear Creek. Carlile is perhaps best known for her song “The Story” from the album of the same name. She has been around since 2005, and her honest folk rock has steadily grown in both popularity and quality since then. With Bear Creek, Carlile reaches the pinnacle of her career thus far, and earns her first inclusion on The List.
Most of Bear Creek deals with the struggles of love and knowing where you came from. This is a great album to play when you want to relax or reflect a little. The best song on the album is the beautiful and longing “That Wasn’t Me”:
Other standouts on the album are “Hard Way Home”, “Raise Hell”, “Keep Your Heart Young”, and “In The Morrow”.
9. The World From the Side of the Moon (Deluxe Edition) – Phillip Phillips
The ninth entry on this list is the winner of the latest season of American Idol. But that’s about where the comparisons end to past victors. Phillip Phillips is truly an artist. This is not to say that none of the previous winners were, but those who were successful were such because they already more or less fit into AI’s desired Pop Superstar mold (think Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood). Phillip Phillips does not fit that mold, and unlike some of the less successful winners, he did not change upon winning. The results of Phillips staying true to himself have brought us what is, without a doubt, the best debut album by any Idol winner or contestant.
With that in mind, let’s stop talking about Phillips as an Idol winner and focus on who he is as an artist. If you’ve heard Phillips on the radio, it’s probably via his hit “Home”, which sounds ripped from a Mumford & Sons album (that’s not to take a shot at Phillips – Mumford is amazing), but overall, Phillips sounds more like Dave Matthews. He might even be mistaken for him at times, what with his similar voice, his well crafted guitar playing and his inclusion of instruments like the saxophone – if not for the catchy, swooping choruses of most of his songs, which he is given to much more than Matthews himself.
That was “Man on the Moon”, the lead in track to Phillips’ album. It is not the best track on the album, but it is a good lead in that gives you a feel for where you are going. Other stand out tracks include: “Gone, Gone, Gone”, “Get Up, Get Down”, “Where We Came From”, and “Wanted Is Love”.
Note – The deluxe version is explicitly recommended above for a reason. Often the bonus tracks on deluxe albums are unnecessary and sometimes even take away from it’s cohesiveness, but the two included here are among the better tracks on the album.
8. The Good Life – Trip Lee
Trip Lee marks the second person ever to make The List that hails from my home area of Dallas, Texas (the first was Luis Dubuc, a.k.a The Secret Handshake, for his album Night & Day). Trip began his professional career as part of the Christian rap group 116 Clique, along with fellow Texas native Lecrae among others, and has maintained his own solo career alongside continued membership in the group. As far as Christian rap goes, Lecrae gets most of the press, but I prefer Trip, and on The Good Life he makes it easy to see why.
Trip is a breath of fresh air most of the time, who is not afraid to talk about controversial issues but whose message of love and forgiveness is doubtlessly sincere. His rhymes are as clever as many in the business, without relying on too many puns or obscure references. Within the confines of this album, Lee talks about how he tries to live “the good life”, along the way tackling the issues of money, sex, power, inner conflict, marriage, and abortion, and managing to do so with a surprising grace. Trip Lee is a voice that is desperately needed in the arena of hip-hop, and The Good Life announces that he is here to stay. Here is “I’m Good” (Featuring Lecrae):
Other standout tracks on the album include “Robot”, “Fallin'”, “Heart Problem”, and “Good Thing”.
7. Strange Clouds – B.o.B
The boy from Decatur, Georgia that swept the hip-hop scene with his debut, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, is back with his sophomore effort Strange Clouds. Strange Clouds is not quite as good as the first one, but it has a bevy of well-written, catchy songs that perfectly blend hip-hop, and pop, and include (somehow) even more famous guest stars than his last album. Despite the crowd, B.o.B does not get lost amongst the heavy hitters and his message remains fresh.
As far as album themes go, if Trip Lee was showing us the way, B.o.B is not quite there yet. Then again, Bobby Ray is a lot more famous and doesn’t seem to be as heavily anchored by his beliefs. What results is an at times sad, at times really fun, and often thoughtful journey through B.o.B’s life of fame, which is perhaps best summed up by the fantastic closing track “Where Are You? (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray)”:
Other standout tracks on the album include: “Both of Us” (Feat. Taylor Swift), “Strange Clouds” (Feat. Lil’ Wayne), “So Good”, and “Play For Keeps”.
Well, that’s it for today folks. I’ll be back tomorrow with entries 6-4. Until then, happy listening!