Not complete, and I'm including records that may have released last year, but I only heard about and bought this year (as opposed to albums that I really like but heard of a while back, such as Brian Wilson's Smile and Israel and New Breed's Live from Another Level and pretty much anything by Mark Heard).
6. Switchfoot - Nothing Is Sound. A rock record, nice. I've followed them since the smart little surfers recorded that little demo and then went on to be produced by Charlie Peacock and then appeared on the radio. The difference between them and Jars of Clay (a band which I respect, btw)? I still buy all of Switchfoot's stuff (largely because I don't have to go to a Christian bookstore to get it), and I legitimately devoured Foreman and Co. before they ever got any press. However, both groups show a highly mature world-view and social consciousness completely out of step with the Contemporary Christian Music I grew up with (sans the Taylors Steve and Terry).
5. L.A. Symphony - Disappear Here - I've reported or discussed them a couple times. 'Nuff said. It's fun. It's a little romp. I do want to add this caveat, though: One of my youth girls was dancing to an old LAS song during a Christmas party last week. I was happy. There's hope for the youth yet. Speaking of LAS and Christmas, hear this ditty. "Call me Santa the Jerk."
4. DeepSpace 5 - Unique, Just Like Everyone Else - In lieu of a new Mars Ill record, more proof that the best thing going on in the aforementioned CCM scene is in the hip-hop movement - both the more underground and artistic side represented by the likes of DS5 and Mars Ill and the more upfront Gospel Rappers represented by the Cross Movement crew. Personally, I think both sides are necessary and great at what they're doing, and being where - seemingly - they need to be. Also UJLEE still has my lyric for the year, "I wanna touch the fans like Ron Artest." By the way, some of my misgivings about the leanings on rock in this record have been allayed. I'm liking it more.
3. Over the Rhine - Drunkard's Prayer - I almost forgot that this record came out this year. I also forgot to burn it to my laptop. Shame on me (actually, there are four on this list yet to be burned as of yet, which tells you how random I've been about this business). I talked about them earlier this year, also, but not for long if I recollect. Very raw, very stripped, sometimes sad but yet, always sweet and inviting and warm even though the subject matter (a marriage on the rocks) isn't. It helps that I know the outcome, that the sacrifices that Linford and Karen made to save their marriage work worked. But then again, my favorite album (Dig, Adam Again) did not end so happily. I shudder. I guess this is a topic for a longer post (yeah, like I'll ever get around to that!) PS, listening to the cd in the car ride home. My brother (a total hip hop head) was humming along, much like my grandma did to my second selection.
2. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois - I'm not using the pun title. One of the cleverest albums I've ever heard, only with far more substance than a They Might Be Giants LP. "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." is one of the most disturbing songs I've ever heard, so much so that I have to hit skip every time I hear it. That's a compliment. That's how much it burns into the psyche like a madman. One of my friends/co-teachers thinks it's a gip, though, that the song "Chicago" only marginally deals with Chicago. It's okay, I say. The album only marginally deals with Illinois. As cliche as it may seem, the topic here is the human condition. Illinois is just the template with which to do it, however beautifully he does it. Brian Wilson may have used Southern California (as well as his bedroom) and a beautiful and avante-garde pop orchestra to explore the turbulance of youth, Stevens is using the history and typography of Illinois as well as a beautiful and avante-garde pop orchestra (arranged solely by him) to explore the turbulance of contemporary times. Edit: NPR has called it the best record for the last few years, and Jeffrey Overstreet is all over it.
1. Arcade Fire - Funeral - I'm not so much a music head that I could accurately make the comparison, but I think Brian Wilson's mantle is being passed down. This is chamber rock at its sweetest, with plenty of grounded emotion, changes within songs, pulls and pushes, and a beautiful and short-lived Ronnettes impersonation. And, oh yeah, it rocks. Anyway, everybody has talked about this release (including Bowie, U2, etc., etc.). I just thought you should know that you need to get this album. And the five above it.