As the year comes to a close, the time has come to start thinking about my favorite albums of the year. 2019 has been a year of great discovery for me as I listened to nearly 1500 hours of music on Spotify alone. While many of these wonderful discoveries are from this year, many more came from years passed. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of my favorite albums by artists that I uncovered this year that I won’t be able to include on my end of the year list. I will be doing this list instead of an in depth “Best of the Decade,” as it feels slightly more personal to me. Without further ado, here are my favorite albums of the 2010s that I discovered this year.
10. Exquisite Corps – Exquisite Corps (2012)
With a beautiful cover and a 33 minute run time, Exquisite Corps were able to draw me in to my first listen with relative ease. This album is fascinating in it’s ability to juggle a driving energy with an almost funereal atmosphere. This is set up in the first song, fittingly named “Tone Poem,” and continued through until the final song “Selah,” which perfects the dichotomy. It is an oppressive song, but it also digs deep and takes hold of the listener so thoroughly that you want to listen to the album again. This is where the run time becomes a major strength and it certainly doesn’t hurt that “Tyger Wine” in the middle of the album is a stellar anthem.
9. Toby Driver – They Are the Shield (2018)
I’ve mentioned in past reviews how important album covers are, but I want to take another moment to highlight them. The striking cover of They Are the Shield inspired me to save it to my library months before I ever listened to it, despite the fact that by all accounts I had seen it was a genre I wouldn’t be interested in. Seeing it scroll by frequently grabbed my attention until I finally dove in headfirst and heard what might be my favorite song of the decade. “Anamnesis Park” is a masterpiece, plain and simply. There are multiple sections that are brilliant on their own and then flow together perfectly to craft one of the finest opening tracks I have heard. The rest of the album doesn’t stick out quite as much, but that’s not to say that it isn’t great in its own right. This album makes me want to write a futuristic dystopian film just so that it can be scored by Toby Driver due to his talent for crafting a living world through music.
8. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015)
Breaking News: guy who likes prog rock likes Steven Wilson. I think the most surprising thing about my appreciation for the most important man in the past 30 years of Prog is that it didn’t start until two weeks ago. I had heard about Porcupine Tree for a long time, so I bought Stupid Dream on vinyl on a whim right before my current semester of uni started, but I never got around to listening to it in full. It was over Thanksgiving Break that I had the opportunity to give it a spin, but since then I haven’t looked back. In the past two weeks I have been thoroughly entrenched in the wide discography of Wilson’s career, but I’ve barely even cracked the surface. I’ve listened to Stupid Dream, Lightbulb Sun, In Absentia, Blackfield I, The Raven That Refused to Sing, Head. Cannot. Erase., and To The Bone multiple times each and all of them have become personal favorites. While I’m a big fan of all of them, I’m still so new to Wilson’s catalog that I can’t put him any higher on this list. When it came to picking which album should represent Wilson on this list, it should come as no surprise that I chose the one with my favorite cover.
7. Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile to the Surface (2017)
I always appreciate when artists are able to pair a powerful melody with strong imagery and Andy Hull knows how to write both. Unapologetically cinematic, A Black Mile to the Surface is a dark trip through a broken town with the music and lyricism to match the topic perfectly. The first time I listened to this album I thought the first three songs were brilliant and the rest was alright, but every time I listened again the number of brilliant songs before growing dull increased. Now I can confidently say that every song is brilliant and none of the songs are just alright. While it can be a depressing album, it is also an incredibly rewarding listening experience. Of all the albums on this list, ABMTTS has had the most mainstream success by far. There have been multiple times when I’m out and about and hear “The Gold” on the radio and there is perhaps no better example of how, despite the melancholy, Manchester Orchestra manages to deliver an album that can make you smile whenever you hear it.
6. Barock Project – Detachment (2017)
The Italian prog rockers delivered a fantastic album this year and everything I loved about it is on display on their previous release as well. While Seven Seas is more impressive musically, Detachment delivers a series of unmatched melodies and choruses. It’s equally hard to explain what makes this album great, but it is undeniably incredible.
5. treesreach – Some Night You Will Hear Me Crowing (2018)
This album is too long. Alright, now that we’ve discussed all the issues with this album, lets talk about how amazing it is. This debut record is comprised of a ridiculous 23 tracks and I honestly don’t know where I would trim it. All of the songs on this album are deserving of their spot on the album and I don’t know that it would work if split into two separate albums. This is because the work is strung together by a sequence of “movements” that each have their own culmination. These culminations can be recognized on the track lists as the names that are full sentences and feature more orchestral instrumentation and soundbites related to the Peter Pan story. While the album clearly has a concept tied to it, I personally find it most enjoyable to listen to as a series of beautiful individual songs that flow in and out of each other perfectly as a musical work rather than necessarily a story. To this end, the music itself is stunning and the songwriting is at all times catchy, heartwarming, and rewarding to deep listening. All the songs are strong, but “Lover, Lover!,” “Sunchasers,” and “Timeless” stand a head above, with “I. Some Night You Will Hear Me Crowing.” being the best of the culmination pieces. treesreach’s debut effort is extremely ambitious and it manages to result in a fantastic record.
4. Ruen Brothers – All My Shades of Blue (2018)
I recognize that this list is heavily skewed towards newer albums, but that’s why I decided to do my decade roundup in this manner rather than trying to do a true “Best of the Decade” list with even representation. These are the albums that defined my year and perhaps no album has been as prevalent this fall as the Ruen Brother’s debut record from last year. At just 33 minutes long, this album is extremely easy to put on repeat and the songs themselves make me want to do just that. This album feels timeless with clear inspiration from older ages of music but also running with its own unique flair. The sound is incredibly warm and welcoming with lush vocals and full music that makes a home to settle down in as the songs take up permanence in your mind. I don’t believe that I’ve gotten “Evening Dreaming” out of my head for longer than two days since first hearing it and I frequently hear my roommate humming the title track for days on end whenever I play it. While the Ruen Brothers are able to write a nice slow song, it is their soaring choruses and lovable energy that makes All My Shades of Blue so special.
3. Haken – The Mountain (2013)
I like to tell myself that I have a fairly diverse music taste, but realistically I am extremely limited in certain aspects. I don’t really enjoy rap or hip-hop and I have little to no experience with electronica. My least favorite genre of all, though, would have to be heavy metal. In theory it should be one I can enjoy as it relates to so many of my loves, but I think this relationship actually makes it harder for me to enjoy it. When I was getting into more modern prog rock I was frustrated to see how much of it was inspired by metal, even though it is perfectly logical. I probably would have been limited to bands such as Big Big Train (who I do still enjoy) if I hadn’t heard “Pareidolia” off of The Mountain. This song helped me to shed my apprehensions and delve more deeply into the rich well of modern prog. Despite this, for a long time I was uninterested in hearing anything else Haken had to offer. That all changed when I heard “Cockroach King” for the first time. Making use of both strong guitar work and extremely interesting harmonization, this song opened my eyes and inspired me to finally climb The Mountain. While I have yet to get invested in their other works, I have grown to appreciate Haken’s third album as the masterpiece it is as I listen to it with unhealthy regularity now.
2. Southern Empire – Civilization (2018)
This album might be the best Prog Rock album that I have ever heard. I really have no serious negatives about this album. While I might have changed the ordering of the third and fourth track, I don’t think it was a critical mistake or even necessarily a drawback at all. “Goliath’s Moon” is extremely fun and has an incredible harmonization breakdown, “Who Cries For the Lonely” is a phenomenal prog epic, and “Innocence and Fortune” is delightful in a more relaxed manner while also featuring a fantastic piano section at the end. Then there’s “The Crossroads”. The first fifteen minutes of this behemoth might be my favorite fifteen minutes of music I’ve ever heard and the back half is almost as strong. I’m a massive fan of prog epics and “The Crossroads” is probably my favorite I have ever heard. I have listened to this album so frequently that I know a good amount of it inside and out, yet every time feels like a new discovery. That feeling is what always brings me back for more and keeps the journey constantly fresh.
1. Hotel of the Laughing Tree – Terror and Everything After (2010)
What an album. It’s hard for me to believe how good this album actually is. Part of the reason that I opted out of making a true ranking was because I couldn’t separate the top three, with this being one of them. I don’t know how to express my appreciation of Terror and Everything After without doing an in depth track by track breakdown, but this isn’t the best place for that. Instead I’ll just give some examples of the stand out elements:
- Terror and Everything After is probably my favorite album title of all time
- The songs are all strong, but they also frequently feature a section that changes the equation and make the song significantly better overall – the best example of this is on “Another Harvard Renaissance” with the haunting chanting of “When you die”
- The instrumental at the end of “Winchester Devil Grass” is fantastic, with the brass swell and riff constantly inspiring me to rewind just to hear it again
- “Bad Canterbury” should have been a radio hit
- “Noah” should have been a radio hit
- The defining moment of the album is a guitar riff that comes nearly 6 minutes into the title track, or an hour into the 64 minute album. While it is a fairly simple riff, it might be the most climactic moment I’ve heard in a single album
- Album closer “Lazarus” is on par with “March” by The Dear Hunter as a song that revives elements from the best songs that come before it to create a satisfying finale.
As much praise as I’ve given here, I cannot even begin to do this album justice. Hotel of the Laughing Tree is criminally underrated and I implore everyone who reads this to listen to Terror and Everything After and see how good they truly are.
As this list is standing in place of a proper “Best of the Decade” list, I also want to include five albums that would likely make the list for various reasons. These albums are not only extremely good, but also important to me, making them truly representative of the 2010s as I experienced them.
5. Nothing But Thieves – Broken Machine (2017)
It’s not always the case, but with Nothing But Thieves the deluxe version of an album is the definitive version. That’s why I included the deluxe cover of their sophomore album. The reason that this album is important to me is because it’s the first I had ever waited for and listened to on the day that it came out. I grew up with my father’s music and didn’t start forging my own path until late 2016. Nothing But Thieves was one of the earlier bands I came across and one of my teachers was a big fan of theirs, so I stayed after class the day that this came out to hear the first song. That was the first time I got to experience the joy of hearing an album for the first time alongside everyone else rather than 40 years later and I have never looked back.
4. Typhoon – White Lighter (2014)
Kyle Morton is the best lyricist I have ever heard.
White Lighter is a big, bombastic album that weaves through death, despair, and inadequacy with aplomb. Its gorgeous instrumentation is led by a powerful horn section that strikes a daring path forward alongside Morton’s extremely poetic lyricism. These two elements, considerably strong on their own and seemingly detached in tone, play off each other so perfectly that they can barely be thought of separately. Interestingly enough, Typhoon’s follow up album Offerings accomplishes a similar effect despite the instrumentation being so incredibly different from White Lighter. Both are stunning records that equally deserved a spot on this list for different reasons. In the end, though, the advantage falls to the earlier with it’s album opener “Artificial Light” being one of the stand-out songs of the decade.
Kyle Morton is the best lyricist I have ever heard.
3. Skysketch – Fox Wedding (2018)
This debut album from the Turkish four-piece Skysketch might be my all time favorite debut record. Blending instrumentation, vocals, electronics, effects, and background atmospheric noises to a masterful degree, Fox Wedding has an incredibly lush soundscape to build off of. The stellar production value is paired with stellar songwriting that goes as deep as it needs to without ever getting too pretentious, such as the guitar riff that defines the title track. It is a simple enough act, but it gives the song enough character to help the band stand out. Skysketch never quite sounds like anything else out there, making them a truly special act to follow. I look forward to their next full length effort, as I know it will have the same attention to detail and production that makes Fox Wedding such a special album.
2. The Dear Hunter – Act IV (2015)
When looking at all the albums above, it should come as no surprise that The Dear Hunter would rank so highly for me. In the past 13 months, TDH has gone from a new discovery to my most listened band of all time, with a majority of the time spent listening to The Acts. While Act III is probably my favorite single album, Act IV is the one that stands out most as part of the overall project. It’s the first one where I could actually visualize the story as I was listening, which allowed me to appreciate the series even more than I already did. Furthermore, it has two of my favorite moments in the entire series as Crescenzo shouts “I was in the wrong place at the right time” on “A Night Upon on the Time” and the hair-raising, jaw-dropping, awe-inducing bridge of “If All Goes Well”*. The other reason that Act IV had to be the album to represent a band that has meant so much to me so quickly is that it is the only album I own two copies of on vinyl. I am also eagerly awaiting my boxed set of the acts, so it will soon be the only album I own three copies of.
*I felt as though I was speaking in hyperbole, so I listened to it again and my opinion has only been solidified.
1. The Family Crest – The War Act I (2018)
It’s always an interesting experiment to think about the most influential albums in your life as far as the development of your musical taste. Sometimes it can be difficult, but other times the answers are as clear as day. Lunasa – Otherworld was the first album I remember listening to as it would play before I went to bed every night, The Fratellis – Costello Music is what made me start listening to modern music and start to form my own musical personality, and The War Act I caused my music listening to explode in variety, listening time, effort put into finding new artists, and just about every other conceivable metric. Simply put, this album changed my life. I love it as much as I love Hotel of the Laughing Tree’s Terror and Everything After, so I will make the same request as I did for them: please listen to this album. Now is the best time to do it as well, with Act II coming out early in 2020. End this decade and start the next one right.
Beyond my love for this album, I have such an appreciation for The Family Crest as a band. Beyond being wonderful as artists, they are wonderful as people. I had the privilege of meeting them briefly in Prague early this year in one of the many unbelievable moments I have been blessed with this year and they were an incredibly genuine and kind group. They run a discord full of equally incredible people, as well.
As I sit here rambling about the music I love, it’s nice to recognize that all of these bands are made up of people who took the time to take their talents and give the world a work of art that represents them. To anyone from these bands or anyone else who puts themselves out there in any way, be it art or anything else, thank you.