Thursday, January 24, 2013

American Horror Story, Doubt, and Why I've Abandoned "Absolute Truth" in Favor of Love.

This may be the most important thing I've ever written. I understand that it’s a bold statement to make, especially given that this blog only has five previous posts and that I’m still young and (hopefully) have much more life ahead of me. I ask that you take the time to read this all the way through before commenting, but I welcome any comments or thoughts you may have (so long as they are presented in an appropriate manner).

With that being said, last night was a very important night for me and my faith. I debated internally for a long time whether I had the guts to publish this post or not, but lack of sleep and hours of deep thinking, not to mention the television season finale of American Horry Story I watched that initially sent me down this path of thinking, eventually led me to write and publish this.  

I anticipate some concerned messages from people that know me (if you take the time to read all the way through this). I anticipate this may not be well received by some. But let me assure you from the start, my intention is NOT at all to anger anyone, and it’s certainly not to call into question anyone’s faith in God. This is about my own faith. And my own faith has been struggling, has been called into question, has been teetering between what I’ve always grown up believing and the serious doubts that have been introduced in the past couple of years.

Let me first explain why last night was important for me and my faith. One of my all time favorite television shows is American Horror Story. If you’ve ever seen it, you can argue all day that it’s horrifying and disgusting, or that it graphically depicts sin in a way that Christians shouldn’t be exposed to. Or maybe you just think it’s downright stupid and unrealistic (which is the only argument I would even entertain J). It has its moments, for sure, walking the line of brilliance and stupidity.  

This season, subtitled Asylum, has been exploring the depths of mental illness and how our society (at least from the 60’s onward) has responded to the horrors of such illnesses and how it’s been medically treated. Without giving away plot lines for anyone who is interested in watching, what this season (and the finale) did for me is depict a number of characters facing many the horrors of this world—mental illness, wrongful imprisonment, unthinkable suffering—and how they dealt with it. It showed characters that were essentially blameless throughout, not deserving the suffering they were put through. It showed characters that were essentially evil throughout, absolutely deserving the final punishment they received in the end. It showed characters that were caught in limbo between good and evil—as much of us are today. These characters were thrown into the depths of evil (in this case, an asylum), sometimes responding in good ways, sometimes responding in evil ways. And some of those characters were exonerated in the end, and some of those characters were condemned for their actions.

What does this have to do with anything? Where could I possibly be going with this? you may be asking. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how the reflection of this television show could possibly lead me to where I eventually ended up, but I’ll try to explain as best as I possibly can how I got there. In all the cases I’ve (albeit ambiguously) described above, these characters were somehow marked by sin and evil—deserved or not—in the asylum. But they all responded differently. Some gave up and allowed the asylum to devour them. Some allowed the asylum to lead them to commit unspeakably evil acts against others. Some initially gave in, but were redeemed in the end. Some never allowed the asylum to undermine the good of their hearts. And still some never fully gave into the horrors of the asylum, but they carried deep scars nonetheless and never fully recovered.

I found this to be a beautifully profound description of how evil affects each of us. I don’t mean for this post to be some kind of  “new theological doctrine” about the problems of evil—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Reflecting on these characters caused me to reflect upon myself and my own faith, and exactly what kind of scars I carry from sin and evil. And what I found, not only today, but what I’ve been finding daily throughout my short adult life, is that I carry a lot of scars and deep hurt from sin and evil, but I don’t know where my faith that used to make me feel better about the pain and suffering is grounded anymore. And that scares the **** out of me. Let me begin with this quote I discovered from author Lauren Winner to preface the rest of my thoughts:
“The enthusiasms of my conversion have worn off. For whole stretches since the dream, since the baptism, my belief has faltered, my sense of God’s closeness has grown strained, my efforts at living in accord with what I take to be the call of the gospel have come undone [...] And yet in those same moments of strained belief, of not knowing where or if God is, it has also seemed that the Christian story keeps explaining who and where I am, better than any other story I know. On the days when I think I have a fighting chance at redemption, at change, I understand it to be these words and these rituals and these people who will change me. Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith. And yet I continue to live in a world the way a religious person lives in the world; I keep living in a world that I know to be enchanted, and not left alone. I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless, prone to wander. And yet glimmers of hope keep interrupting my gaze.” 1 
I’m not sure I can better describe where my faith is at this point in my life than how she describes it above. My whole life has been based upon a system of beliefs that was pumped into me from a very early age through my church, my society, my culture. And I’ve been seriously questioning that foundation for some time now. I’ve been taught that it’s wrong to believe in anything other than the Genesis account of creation. That scientists are telling lies when they speak of evolution—that men are being deceived by their own selfish desires when they put their faith in science rather than putting their faith in a centuries-old document. I’ve been taught that our modern sense of morality is evil—that Jesus would never approve of homosexuality, that those who live such lifestyles are offensive to God, and they should burn in hell for their actions.

Those are just two brief examples, neither of which I'm interested in debating about in this post, but they have both weighed on my faith for years. For years I was taught that I must be absolutely certain about what I believe, and that absolute certainty was found in the words of the Bible. In my particular religious system, questioning God and our belief system was met with deep, sorrowful prayers to come back to the truth. But in recent years, I’ve studied the evidence regarding human origins and how differently science has theorized it from the Genesis account of Creation that has been ingrained in my head for years. I reflect on LGBT people I personally know who have struggled to come to grips with their attractions that Christians say are evil and wonder how that can be so (side note: I’ve even been accused of being gay myself by some Christians for even advocating that Christians treat the LGBT community with love and understanding). Through all my research I’ve discovered numerous contradictions present throughout biblical texts. I’ve learned that the Bible as we have it now in fact DID NOT come as a leather-bound volume of 66 perfectly aligned books on a fluffy cloud from heaven, but that its current form was voted upon by a council of men several centuries after the death of Jesus. This, along with how I’ve seen the modern Church respond to their “less moral” neighbors of the world, has led me experience extreme doubt in my faith as I used to know it.

But I’m so thankful that I’ve experienced this doubt, because it’s allowed me to go on the greatest journey I’ve ever been on before.

My doubt has caused me to no longer blindly accept what I’ve been taught my whole life. As author/blogger Rachel Held Evans put it, it’s caused me to, instead of knowing all the answers, learn how to ask the questions. 2 Instead of being terrified of doubt, I’ve learned to embrace the mystery of it. And this mystery has caused me to reevaluate all the certainty I was so sure I had in my faith. I now believe that the evidence for evolution is far too great to simply ignore. I am no longer 100 percent certain that God condemns homosexual relationships. And, perhaps most importantly, and what some will probably find most offensive, is that I’m not sure I believe in the concept of “Absolute Truth” anymore, at least not in the way it has been presented in modern American Christendom.

Let me explain what I mean. For centuries, “Absolute Truth” has been used as a weapon by Christians, and in the name of Christ has torn apart what I believe Jesus actually stood for. But before I go on, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I don’t believe truth is out there, or that it cannot be found in the Bible. What I am saying is that I don’t believe in “Absolute Truth” the way that modern American Christendom and other historical cultures have portrayed it.  

In the name of “Absolute Truth,” entire groups of people—African Americans, women, the LGBT community—have been condemned and treated as second-class citizens. Christians justified slavery for centuries by quoting various Old and New Testament verses. Women were treated as virtual slaves to men, incapable of being educated and having zero rights in society. In modern-day culture, the LGBT community is oppressed in the name of love—“hate the sin, love the sinner,” Christians often say. More often than not, however, it ends up being “hate the sin, say you love the sinner, but continue to treat them like second-class citizens anyway.” It sickens me. It sickens me not only to see other Christians treat fellow men and women in such a way, but it sickens me to think that I’ve been guilty of the very same things.

At this point, it would be easy to write me off as an unbeliever, or worse yet, “one that has fallen away from truth.” I’m not there. I still massively struggle with my faith, and I’m not sure that’s ever going to change. But I can honestly say that I feel like I have a deeper sense of what it means to truly be Christian than I ever have before, even though I’m still greatly struggling to live up to that meaning. Through my doubt I’ve made it my mission to wade through the doctrines and the dogma that have been so ingrained in my worldview to this point and try and discover what it means to truly follow Christ. Folks, let me tell you something. I’m really really really far from it.
“You must love the Lord your God,” replied Jesus, “with all your heart, with all your life, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment, and it’s the only one that really matters. The second is similar, and it’s this: you must love your neighbor as yourself.” 3
I have doubts about the Bible as we have it today. It’s been translated hundreds of times by men; it’s lost some of its original meaning because we aren’t reading it in Greek; it was written in a vastly different cultural time period, in a completely different historical setting, complete with a totally foreign set of political and religious issues; it was written by men who had opinions, men who weren’t perfect, men who were undoubtedly influenced by their society, no matter how good their intentions were.

But despite all these doubts about just how “absolute” the words I read are when I open the Bible, I do not doubt the beautiful story I read about the failings and sufferings of men and women, living in an imperfect, sinful world, and that Jesus was the place where heaven and earth intersected, showing all men that love is the answer to evil. Jesus’s love for all men caused him to submit to terrible agony, suffering, and death. And the only “Absolute Truth” I can really believe in is this, direct from the mouth of Jesus:
“I am the way and the truth and the life! Nobody comes to the Father except through me.” 4
If Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, then Jesus conquered death, evil, sin. So what does that mean for me and my faith? The only timeless truth I’ve been able to clearly discern is love. Love. Love. Love. I cannot believe it has taken me so long to see this. Did the men that wrote the New Testament suddenly become perfect because Jesus died and was raised from the dead? Wasn't Paul still a man? Is it so ludicrous to believe that maybe he had opinions just like we do? Is it crazy to think that maybe ancient culture played a part in the words that Paul wrote to encourage and teach a group of people that lived 2000 years ago? Is it crazy to think that MAYBE we cannot assume that everything we read in the Bible is meant to be taken as literal “Absolute Truth” in the way that modern American Christendom believes it to be?

I don’t think it is crazy, and that’s OK. Maybe the 1st century wasn’t the right time for God to allow the New Testament writers to start a massive revolution against the culture of the world. After all, the proclamation that Jesus is Lord, the upside down logic of the cross, and the unconditional love for all men and women of all nations was probably enough of a revolution at the time. I don’t know. But what I do know is that men and women are imperfect, and that Jesus is perfect love. The love that Jesus embodied has never been destroyed, and has stood the test of time. Yes, we as Christians have distorted what that love is supposed to be, what it symbolizes, and what it does in the world today. But for all that is imperfect about the Bible and about the men who wrote it and about the men and women who read it today, we can see, or at least I’ve come to see, that the story of Jesus is perfect: the story of love for all mankind. Man or woman, slave or free, gay or straight, white or black, Jew or Gentile, rich or poor—Jesus loves everyone.

Now, how we respond to that love is entirely our decision. But if love isn’t the greatest reason to trust in Jesus, I don’t know what is. Being a Christian doesn't mean adhering to some set of “doctrinal truths” or believing in church of Christ, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Calvinist or WHATEVER version of “Absolute Truth” you’ve been subscribed to. Being a Christian means embodying Christ and loving like Jesus did. And I know for damned sure that loving like Christ doesn’t mean persecuting the LGBT community, the scientific community, the atheistic community, the Democratic party, or whatever community happens to be in discord with the 2013 version of modern American Christendom "Absolute Truth". And it damned sure doesn’t mean condemning another human soul in the name of  “love” because they are struggling with their faith in God.

One final note before I conclude. I don’t want anyone who has made it this far to think I am generalizing about all Christians today. I read stories everyday of the great love shown to the poor and marginalized, to the oppressed homosexual, or just simply to the child living next door. I see it in my community every day. Just yesterday I spent time with a man who has such great love and concern for the special needs adults of my community that he and his wife have created an organization that provides a safe place for such adults to interact and work in peace, and is in the process of building a community where they can be loved and cared for once their parents or guardians pass on. I see Jesus in men like this. There are many millions of men and women in the world today who quietly love like Jesus did. Thank God for these people. But unfortunately, the percentage of modern American Christendom who has forgotten the love of Jesus is incredibly vocal and that’s what many of the world hear. You’ve been guilty of this, I’ve been guilty of this, we’ve all been guilty of this at some point in our lives. We've, in effect, been guilty of fostering our own religious American Horror Story, inflicting deep pain and leaving scars that don't easily go away.

God forgive me of ever doing this in my life. I pray that from here on out, I never judge or condemn someone, because in all likelihood I’ve been in the same place myself. I pray that my life be filled with grace and love for all men and women, and that I will have no semblance of condemnation for my neighbors who, by all accounts, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God no more than I have. I pray that the scars of sin and evil be healed not by some absolute certainty we’ve subscribed to, but by the love of Jesus. Thank God for love. What else is there?
“As the father loved me, so I loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my father’s commands and remain in his love. I’ve said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and so that your joy may be full. This is my command: love one another, in the same way that I loved you. No one has a love greater than this, to lay down your life for your friends. You are my friends, if you do what I tell you. I’m not calling you ‘servants’ any longer; servants don't know what their master is doing. But I’ve called you ‘friends,’ because I’ve let you know everything I heard from my father. You didn’t choose me. I chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. Then the father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command to you: love one another.” 5

1 Lauren Winner, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis
2 Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town (
3 Matthew 22:37-39
4 John 14:6
5 John 15:9-17 [emphasis added]

Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 25 Albums of 2012

Here are my Top 25 albums of 2012. Enjoy.

Other Albums Considered:
These might have made it had I gotten a chance to listen to them a little more (except for Band of Horses, which I just didn't like).

HOSPITALITY - Hospitality
AMANDA PALMER - Theatre Is Evil
KENDRICK LAMAR - good kid, m.A.A.d city
FRANK OCEAN - Channel Orange
CLOUD NOTHINGS - Attack On Memory
BAND OF HORSES - Mirage Rock
SIGUR ROS - Valtari
BEST COAST - The Only Place

Time’s All Gone

If you loved Fitz and the Tantrums, check out Nick Waterhouse.  I haven’t had much of a chance to get really deep into this album, but I loved it the first listen through, and it immediately conjured up the Fitz and the Tantrums in my mind.  The first track drew me in, with heavy use of saxophones, trumpet, and general R&B sound.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this was a new release from Fitz and the Tantrums, but I think this one actually might be better than their debut release.  Check it out.

Check these tracks out:
Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices

The Welcome Wagon’s debut album, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, was one of my favorite albums in 2008.  The product of a Presbyterian pastor and his wife, and produced & heavily influenced by Sufjan Stevens, the first album was a unique take on traditional sounding gospel music. It was “Sujfanized,” which I loved.  Their second album is somewhat of a departure from the Sufjan style of music.  His influence is missed (in my opinion), but this is still a great non-traditional gospel album.  This album moves away from the Sufjan style of music to a more rock mixed with country style, which works for the duo (FYI, Sufjan was still involved in this record, it just isn’t dominated by his style of music like the first album was). Lyrically, their songs are better than almost any other gospel music out there, which tends to be dominated by cheesy, substance-less feel-good pop rock (sorry if that’s your style...there are still some songs I like from those artists, but generally, I have a hard time getting on board).  If you are looking for thoughtful, beautifully written gospel music, this is for you.

Check these tracks out:

Fort Atlantic

I probably love this debut album from Fort Atlantic a LITTLE more because they are from Birmingham, and I love to see local Alabama bands succeed and put out quality music. This is a quality album.  I heard it described as “melodic dream pop.” Songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Jon Black, who’s the main guy behind this band, called this first effort a “compelling mixture of heartbeats and hard drives.”  One of my favorite songs of the year came from this album, “Let Your Heart Hold Fast,” and I was pleasantly surprised to hear it played in the mid-season finale of How I Met Your Mother this past week.  A truly excellent song.  Support this band, check them out.

Check these tracks out:


I’ll admit I haven’t listened to much of The Walkmen’s previous catalog of music—the only of their other 6 albums I’ve listened to is 2010’s Lisbon.  But The Walkmen have a very recognizable sound that I love.  I don’t know how to describe it, just check out some of the tracks below.  This album has gotten me a lot more interested in checking out the rest of their albums.  All in all, a great record that might have been higher on my list had I listened to it more (which can probably be said of a number of the albums I have in the latter half of the list).  Check them out.

Check these tracks out:

A Wasteland Companion

M. Ward’s A Wasteland Companion is the first solo album from Ward I’ve ever listened to, and I liked it a lot.  I’ve loved M. Ward as the other part of She & Him, and I’ve heard his work in various other compilations, but I never got around to checking out his solo work until this album.  Some of the reviews I read of this album criticized it for being too much like his earlier work (considering this is his seventh LP), and I’m sure that’s a valid criticism, but considering I haven’t listened to those previous releases, I really enjoyed it.  “Primitive Girl” is one of the catchiest songs I heard all year, and I loved Zooey Deschanel’s appearance on a couple of the songs in a backup vocal role.  Check it out.

Check these tracks out:

There’s No Leaving Now

This is a great release from The Tallest Man On Earth that probably would be higher on my list had I listened to it more.  There’s something unique about Kristian Mattson’s voice that makes his music great.  However, this album seemed to kind of blend together more so than his last one did, making it somewhat boring and tedious at times.  But overall, I really enjoyed it, especially the title track, which departs from his usual sound, being entirely piano-based.  I think it’s the best track on the album, and I wish more like it would have appeared this time.  Overall, worth listening to.

Check these tracks out:

Port of Morrow

I love The Shins, they’ve been one of my favorite bands since I really started getting into music.  I was very excited about this LP, especially after their single “Simple Song” came out.  Very catchy, easy to listen to.  It got a ton of listens in my iTunes.  However, the LP wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be.  I was just never able to get into it like I did with their previous releases.  I still think it’s good, thus why it’s appearing on this list (another of my all-time favorite band’s newest LP, Mirage Rock from Band of Horses, didn’t even make my list of 25 best albums this year...).  If you’ve been a fan of the Shins in the past, you’ll like this record.  If you’ve never listened to the Shins before, I’d recommend starting with Chutes Too Narrow before getting into this one.

Check these tracks out:


I first saw this band live at Bonnaroo a few years ago.  Their music feels very light, very bare, and I like it.  This album takes that concept even further.  This album is very mesmerizing, and if you aren’t careful, it can put you to sleep.  Some might question the legitimacy of an album that can put you to sleep, but I promise it’s not boring.  It’s just...calm.  Nothing wrong with that.  Check it out.

Check these tracks out:


The band’s second album hits a lot of high points, but is a bit of step down from their first album.  I’m not sure what it is about this album that doesn’t allow it to live up to the first one.  I think it might be that a breakout track like “Home” is lacking from this release.  However, it still has a lot great tracks, and I very much enjoyed this album.  If you liked the first one, check it out.

Check these tracks out:

Homemade Worship By Handmade People

It’s rare that I even give listens to bands labeled “Christian & Gospel,” since the quality of that genre overall has just been lacking in my opinion—very cheesy, very Nickelback-like, very little substance.  Even rarer still when such an album makes my top albums list of the year.  Unfortunately, albums like this are the exception rather than the rule in this genre, but I really gravitate to those few that come along (The Welcome Wagon was another).  One might listen to this album and describe it as “the Mumford & Sons of Christian music”—I’d say that’s fairly accurate since that’s how I’ve been describing it to people.  It has the greatest renditions of “Be Thou My Vision” I’ve ever heard, updated with modern words (“You Are My Vision”).  I listen to this album and find myself thinking, “Wow... wish the worship at churches I go to would be this powerful.”  If you find yourself wishing there was a good Christian band out there with some substance, this is it.

Check these tracks out:

The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Fiona Apple wins the longest-ever-album-title fact, I was several listens in before I even read the entire title because it was always cut off in my iTunes.  This album might have been higher on my list if I had given it more listens.  Despite the advice from those who professed to love this album, I only checked it out a few weeks ago.  Oh well, better late than never.  I absolutely LOVE the first track on the album, “Every Single Night,” (probably one of my favorite tracks of the year).  If you listen to no other track on this album, at least listen to this one.

Check these tracks out:

Fear Fun

Father John Misty is J. Tillman, formerly of Fleet Foxes.  You can definitely hear some Fleet Foxes-influence in these tracks, perhaps some John Denver as well.  I don’t have a lot to say about this album except that it’s folk-ing great.  If you loved Fleet Foxes, you’ll love this one too.  Also, the video for Hollywood Forever Cemetery features my favorite Parks & Rec actress (Aubrey Plaza).  It’s weird, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from something she stars in.  Check it out.

Check these tracks out:

The Carpenter

The Avett Brothers entered a new chapter of the band’s life with their last release, I and Love and You, which was rated #1 by Paste Magazine that year, but left a lot of fans disappointed because of how different it was from previous releases (ironic, since we complain about bands sounding the same album to album [Mumford & Sons], yet complain when they change things up too...).  This album, to me at least, returns a little bit to their previous sound.  It’s a bit more stripped down than I and Love and You, and features a few of their best tracks from any record (“The Once and Future Carpenter” and “Through My Prayers”).  It also features my LEAST favorite Avett Brothers song ever, which is sad to say (“Paul Newman vs. The Demons”).  I don’t know what it is about that song, but I skip it every time.  Despite this, The Avett Brothers still put out a solid release in The Carpenter.

Check these tracks out:

Break It Yourself

I’ll always be a big Andrew Bird fan, so it will take releasing total crap for me to dislike one of his albums, however, this one just doesn’t quite do it for me like some of his earlier works.  Don’t get me wrong though, this album is great, and still features some incredible violin coupled with world-class whistling.  You won’t be disappointed.  I do think this album was a step up from his last LP release, Noble Beast.  He released a companion album (which I didn’t consider for this list), but it might be just as good as the album.  The man is talented, give it a listen.

Check these tracks out:


One of the greatest things about seeing Ben Folds Five live this year was Kate Miller-Heidke.  She opened for him, and I was blown away by her voice.  I immediately went down to the merchandise table and bought this album, and promptly listened to it multiple times on the way back from Atlanta.  This album features some entertaining and detailed narratives, including a song about flying at night and the annoyances that come with it.  She’s a woman after Ben Folds’s heart with song titles like “The Tiger Inside Will Eat the Child” (don’t let the title fool you, this is an excellent and beautiful song).  I would highly recommend Kate Miller-Heidke if you’re looking for a woman with a strong voice.

Check these tracks out:

The Lion’s Roar

I confess to only discovering this band after checking out Paste’s top 50 of 2012, but I’ve listened to it probably a dozen times since then, and it cracked my top 10.  This Swedish girl-duo got its start a few years ago and released an incredible cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.  This album, their sophomore effort, is phenomenal.  These two young girls create an impressive sound, backed by a full band, and write some beautiful lyrics.  Don’t miss this one.

Check these tracks out:


Mumford & Sons sophomore album is...strikingly like the first in many many ways, which led me to have a hate/love relationship with this album.  At first, I really didn’t like this album as a whole very much, purely because of HOW MUCH it sounded like the first album.  And with more and more listens...well, it still sounds like the first one, but I’ve gotten past that because I think the songs are just better than those on their first album (kinda wish this would have been their first album).  There are a couple of songs on the first album I still tend to skip, but I don’t find myself doing that on the second one.  Many will criticize this album (and rightly so) for Mumford’s lack of variety in their songs—they each have the same formula, and you can always pinpoint musically where each song is going.  For me, I’m ok with that—for now.  Eventually, Mumford & Sons is going to have to do something new to keep my attention, but for now, I still love their sound, and this album is worth listening to.

Check these tracks out:

O’ Be Joyful

Coming from South Carolina, this band has a similar kind of history as the (currently-defunct) Civil Wars have.  Shovels & Rope is guy/girl duo that both had solo careers going, with Carry Ann Hearst having a bit of country background, and Michael Trent having a rock background.  And that combination comes out wonderfully in their sound.  I’d say the country part comes out a bit more, and for some reason I love it.  Not to mention, the first and most popular track is entitled “Birmingham”... so that’s pretty neat.  I only recently heard of this band...but the quickly jumped up my list.  It’s a good one.

Check these tracks out:


This is Beach House’s fourth LP, coming two years later from their breakout album Teen Dream that was so good, it seems like it would be hard to top.  I’m not sure if this one is as good as Teen Dream, but I’d say it’s almost there if not.  Most of the time I spent listening to this album came with headphones, laid back with eyes closed, falling asleep.  The album almost always seemed to put me in a dream state, having a kind of ethereal quality.  Don’t miss this one.

Check these tracks out:

The Sound of the Life of the Mind

If you know me at all, you’re first thought here is probably, “What!? A Ben Folds album is not in his top 5??”  Alas, friends, it’s true.  As much as I loved this album, it just didn’t quite bring the magic as the Ben Folds Five of old did.  This is the first Ben Folds Five album in 12 years, since The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, which some would argue is Ben Folds’s best LP overall.  Ben Folds has put out a number of solo works since then, some outstanding, some lacking in areas, so I was extremely excited to hear the old trio would be getting back together to write some music and release an album, and while it didn’t quite live up to Ben Folds Five in their prime, it’s still very good, and ranks as one of Ben Folds’s best LPs since the breakup of the Five.  The first track, “Erase Me,” recalls Ben Folds Five in the Whatever and Ever Amen era, and gives promise to the rest of the album.  Some tracks live up; some just don’t quite get there.  However, I was very pleased with this album overall, and look forward to the possibility of the trio making another album in the next couple of years.

Also...they are still incredible live.  This was my second time seeing the Five play, and it was every bit as good as I remembered the first time, perhaps better.

Check these tracks out:

The Lumineers

There’s a trend upcoming for my top 5—all debuted full-length LPs for the first time as a band or solo artist.  I guess 2012 was just a great year for first time bands to release albums.  Starting here with the Lumineers, this band had the same effect for me as Head and the Heart did last year, and Mumford & Sons the year before—instant connection with a couple of songs on the album with it’s lyrics or it’s upbeat melody.  For Mumford & Sons, it was with Little Lion Man, and the incredible harmonies and stringed-instrument craziness.  For the Head and the Heart, it was with Rivers and Roads, and the increasingly sad sentiment of how fast life changes and the pain of leaving friends and family behind.  For the Lumineers, it was Ho Hey, and the incredible joy found within it’s words and music—“I belong with you, you belong with me / You’re my sweetheart.”  The album has a number of happy as well as somber tunes, a good balance of joy and pain, and every bit worth the listen.

Check these tracks out:


Full disclosure—I love this band even more because he’s related to @Michala Moses, and because so, he sent me a personal video via Facebook.  But don’t worry, that didn’t influence my ranking THAT much.  However, I absolutely love this album.  It starts with one of my favorite songs of the year, “My Life In a Cave”... about living out the rest of his life out in cave, to the hilarious song about stalking his ex-girlfriend and playing tricks on her, to the epic 8 minute long “Winchester,” complete with syncopated drum-gunshots, and the repeated promise “When I find you / and, I’m gonna find you / I won’t let you go.” Let’s make this guy a big name so he will come over from California and tour down south, would really love to hear him live (@Michala?).

Check these tracks out:

Boys & Girls

Hailing from good ole’ Athens, Alabama, Alabama Shakes have skyrocketed onto the national stage in a short amount of time, landing themselves critical acclaim from a number of music publications, and deservedly so.  I’ve been fortunate enough to hear the Shakes live three times this year, first in Tuscaloosa for a tornado relief concert, again opening for Jack White at the Ryman, and finally in a jam-packed crowded little bar called Egan’s on the Strip in Tuscaloosa under the pseudonym “Boys Room”.  All three were mystifying rock experiences.  The first time, I only knew one song, but was blown away by lead singer Brittany’s incredible range of voice.  The second time, I was amazed seeing how early the crowd showed up for an opening band, how quietly they sat listening, and the long, loud standing ovation given following the chilling ending to the incredible “I Ain’t the Same.”  The third time, jam-packed inside a tiny bar where I couldn’t even see them—but worth it all the same.

Their debut album was much anticipated, and it lived up.  It was hard to see how the Shakes would match the intensity of their hit single “Hold On,” but I don’t even think that’s the best track on the album.  I love how Brittany can go from screaming to beautiful high range vocals song to song.  The only “complaint” I have, which isn’t much of complaint, is that the intensity of their live performances is lacking on some tracks, but that doesn’t bother me too much—it just gives me something to look forward to when I get to see them live.  GET THIS ALBUM, you won’t regret it.

Check these tracks out:


Jack White’s first full-length solo debut is one of his best works, in my opinion.  This is now his eleventh (I think) LP, along with his releases with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather.  This album is best heard live, which I had the chance to hear the majority of at the Ryman this past summer.  White plays with two bands, one all male and the other all female.  I got to hear the all male band, which was incredible.  No offense to Meg White, but his current backup band(s) are way better than Meg could ever hope to be.  They absolutely killed—I’m certain the couple of White Stripes song performances were way better than they ever were in the White Stripes touring days.

As far as Blunderbuss goes, I couldn’t have asked for more in Jack White’s solo debut.  It feels familiar, harkening back to the old White Stripes days, yet it is no reproduction of those albums.  The best way I can describe this album is that is brings the best of all three of Jack White’s previous bands together under one LP.  I had a hard time choosing between Blunderbuss, My Head Is an Animal, and Boys & Girls as to which one would actually be #1, #2, and #3, I honestly think any of them could have been my #1, it merely came down to number of listens from all three.  However, this album is worthy of a #1 ranking.

Check these tracks out:

My Head Is an Animal

This is Of Monsters and Men’s full-length debut, and it is a doozy.  Led by a guy/girl duo (Nanna Bryndís & Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson) from Iceland, this is folk-rock at its finest.  It features alternating vocal leads between Nanna and Raggi and beautifully meshed harmonies, but some of my favorite moments come when they sing in unison (in different octaves), which happens frequently—my favorite moments come in “King and Lionheart”, where the entire song is sung in unison.  It’s also my favorite, because the lyrics scream “zombie” when I read them (check out the lyrics below, maybe it’s just me...) Their voices match so perfectly, and are backed up by excellent ensemble of various instruments, with a number of extremely upbeat, dance-worthy tunes and a number of slow selections as well.

I generally judge my favorite album of the year purely by the number of listens it gets, this one got the most.  There was a period of about two months during the summer where this was the only album I listened to.  If you listen to no other new album this year, make it this one.  I still haven’t seen this band live, but I’m looking forward to catching this show more than any other in the near future, hopefully.  You try blasting this album with your windows rolled down driving down the highway and not feel irrepressible joy.

Check these tracks out:

“King and Lionheart”

Taking over this town, they should worry
But these problems aside I think I taught you well
That we won't run, and we won't run, and we won’t run
That we won't run, and we won't run, and we won't run.

And in the winter night sky ships are sailing
Looking down on these bright blue city lights
And they won't wait, and they won't wait, and they won't wait.
We're here to stay, we're here to stay, we're here to stay.

Howling ghosts they reappear
In mountains that are stacked with fear
But you're a king and I'm a lionheart
A lionheart

His crown lid up the way as we moved slowly
Passed the wondering eyes of the ones that were left behind
Though far away, though far away, though far away
We're still the same, we're still the same, we're still the same

Howling ghost they reappear
In mountains that are stacked with fear
But you're a king and I'm a lionheart.

And in the sea that's painted black
Creatures lurk below the deck
But you're a king and I'm a lionheart

And as the world comes to an end
I'll be here to hold your hand cause
You're my king and I'm your lionheart
A lionheart