“Through music we may wander where we will in time, and find friends in every century.” – Helen Thompson Woolley
About this time every year, you start to see an overabundance of cutesy couple photos, well dressed date night selfies and perfectly angled snapshots of crystal vases overflowing with red roses. Boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives craft paragraphs of artfully chosen platonic praises of their other half to post for their friends and followers to see. It’s all mush and kisses and baes. Everyone is head over heels and #blessed. February equals love – both commercialized and true – there’s no escaping that, so when I was mulling over what to post about this month the obvious topics came to mind: marriage, couples, relationships, blah, blah, blah. Things we’ve all heard before, right? Things I’ve actually already blogged about before. After all, people love more than just other people. I mean sure, I love Doug. I also love sandwiches. And bourbon. And queso dip. And fried cheese balls. And sweat pants. So this time around, I figured I’d spare you all the sap and sweethearts and for a little change of pace, share my thoughts about one of my other great loves – music.
Music is fantastic, right? Surely we can all agree on that – lovebirds and cold hearts, alike. Music is universally recognizable, like a smile. It can speak or silence, rally or reassure, spark or sedate. It’s as much communal as it is personal. It doesn’t even necessarily need to be in a language you understand. I remember when I was tossing around the idea of starting this blog, I was talking to my mom and she asked me what kinds of things I would post about. My response? Oh, I don’t know. Whatever anyone else posts about. Things I like, things I don’t like, things that make me happy, things that piss me off…maybe albums I think are noteworthy…you know. The usual. Well, today I hold up one end of that bargain. This Valentine Season I bring to you “Becci Martin’s List of Noteworthy Albums: 12 Solid Albums That I Love, That You Might Not Love, but That I’m Going to List and Defend Anyway.” And, here’s the thing…
I had a bit of hard time paring this list down to just twelve. I had lots of contenders, but in the end I decided that unless I could listen to the whole album top to bottom without skipping any tracks, it wouldn’t make the final cut. New albums are like a day project for me. I carve out some alone time and listen to the entire thing beginning to end with no interruptions – track A to track Z – picking up on song transitions and lyrical themes, trying to pick out the track titles before they reveal them, really letting myself sink in to the mood of the album. That may be a bit nerdy and intense, but if you think about all the work that goes into making a studio album, shouldn’t it be just as much of an experience for the listener as it is for the creator? Plus, we live in such a musically saturated world that it’s much easier to compile a playlist of singles we can’t get enough of than it is to sit down and take in an album in it’s entirety. Anyway, we’re getting too philosophical. Original point being: Twelve albums made the cut. However, participation trophies should be awarded to the following: Zac Brown Band, Alanis, Of Monsters and Men, Grace Potter, Modest Mouse, Florence and The Machine, The Killers, Vampire Weekend, One Republic, Pistol Annies and probably a few others I’m forgetting. Now. Onto the list!
#12 The Struts “Everybody Wants”
This album, one word: Infectious. Think Queen meets Aerosmith meets Rocky Horror Picture Show. I stumbled across this album last year and from the very first track I was hooked. I’m a sucker for driving bass thumps and chant-worthy anthems and this one has all that and then some. It’s more or less become my go to album for when I’m feeling self-confident and celebratory. You know, like when you’re just one hundred percent feelin’ yourself. It’s a dance around in your underwear in the hallway, sing into the back of the showerhead, belt out the chorus at a red light with the windows down type-album. I loved it so much that I actually bought an eighteen dollar concert ticket on a whim and drove to Omaha by myself just for the night so I could see them live at Sokol – #worthit.
#11 Taylor Swift “Red”
I know, I know. *Insert judgmental comment about me actually enjoying stupid, serial-dating, awkward and annoying, squad-having Taylor Swift*. Go ahead, I’ve heard it all before. But, I won’t be deterred. Love her or hate her, this album was pure professional genius. Up until “Red” came one the scene, T Swift was falling into this spiraling pit of fairy tales and princesses and boys and all of the non-teen fans were starting to yawn and eye roll a bit. This album made her an adult. Her relationship sagas were still the center of the songs, but the lyrics and delivery were all grown up. Something she definitely needed. Up until this album I really had no desire to see her live, because I didn’t want to stand amongst a shrieking mob of pre teens with sparkly lip gloss living in fantasy worlds. Now, I felt like I could go and not be the oldest one in the crowd. Plus, she was able to top multiple charts in multiple genres at the same time. The definition of career badassery…in my opinion, anyway.
#10 Sara Bareilles “Kaleidoscope Heart”
I’ll admit that I have a bit of a crush on this chick. She’s one of those artists whose personality really comes through in her music, like when you can hear someone’s smile in a song. She’s goofy and serious all at the same time with creative melodies and lingering lyrics. Imagine a really awesome host at a piano bar – witty and engaging with a voice that can belt and who kills on the keys. That’s Sara Bareilles. “Kaleidoscope Heart” is a solid emotional album – you laugh, you cry, you get fired up, you decompress – it taps into all the feels. Bonus? Creative lyrical nuggets abound.
#9 Imagine Dragons “Night Visions”
I found out about these guys when asking my cube mate for good songs to add to my cardio playlist. He played me the song “It’s Time,” and mentioned that if I liked what I heard that they were playing a live show in town in a couple of weeks. He put me on the guest list and when Doug and I showed up there couldn’t have been more than fifty people there. But, when those guys took the stage – dude – so much energy. They oozed passion. I only knew one of their songs and I stood there in that tiny crowd completely captivated and emotionally engaged. During one of the songs, the lead singer rolled out this giant marching bass drum and just beat the hell out of it. It was sweaty and primal and totally awesome. They rocked the shit out of that place. Possibly one of my favorite live shows to date. Everything from the uniqueness of the lead’s vocals to the different compositions and instrument choice, it all works creating one of those killer debuts whose themes resonate with a lot of different crowds.
#8 Kacey Musgraves “Pageant Material”
This chick is all about authenticity and individuality and doing your own thing, and that is an attitude that I most definitely rally behind. I almost chose her debut album over this one, but I remember listening to this one at our old apartment. Everything had been cleared out, but I was doing a load of laundry over there because we didn’t have a washer and dryer at our new place yet. There wasn’t really anything to do for the duration of the spin cycle, so I put my ear buds in, laid on the floor and listened to “Pageant Material,” and halfway through the track list this song comes on with this gorgeous – almost bagpipe-like – violin intro and these simple vocals about human imperfections and I just closed my eyes and soaked it all in. It was beautiful. And comforting. And when any music has that kind of effect on a person, I consider that “noteworthy.” P.S. The song was “Somebody to Love.” Give it a listen. You won’t regret it.
#7 fun. “Some Nights”
As the name implies, fun. is, well, fun. Not everyone can pull off gratuitous amounts of auto tune and keyboard sound effects, but these guys can. Much like The Struts, they have a Queen vibe to them, a sort of quirky theatrical-ness that draws you in. Their songs are catchy and anthemic and for as sleight as the lead singer is, he has some powerhouse vocals with a surprisingly high range. They’re stompy and clappy and chanty and just an audible treat. They are also way cool live.
#6 Miranda Lambert “Revolution”
Much like T Swfit’s “Red,” “Revolution” was Miranda Lambert’s big career album. She proved she was more than just a hotheaded, gun wielding, revenge seeking female psycho. Her reputation up until that point was all “I’m gonna shoot you,” or “I’m gonna burn your house down,” or “I’m going to stalk you and your new girlfriend and make you fear for your life.” With this album, her gooey emotional center is more exposed and she proves that she’s just like the rest of us. It’s a reflective album with a notable vibe of maturity and while her signature “crazy” was still present, it didn’t overpower the softer notes that made this album so great.
#5 Maren Morris “Hero”
This one is pretty fresh out there in the musical world still but, man, it’s a heavy hitter. It’s great to see all of these new females coming out of the woodwork in the country music world and so refreshing to hear this chick’s soulful and unique vocals. Seriously. Maren Morris deserves both the hallelujah and the amen. If you’re ever looking for the perfect album to sing in the shower, this is it. It’s such a big sounding album. I mean, she can bring down the house just as easily as she can get a ridiculously poppy verse stuck in your head, and make you pine for a lost love just as easily as she can make you want to choreograph a super sexy bedroom strip tease (Listen to “Let Me Show You How It’s Done” and tell me I’m wrong). She is just one of the coolest new voices out there and I can’t wait to see what she puts out next.
#4 Kip Moore “Wild Ones”
Kip Moore is probably one of the most underrated vocals in mainstream country music. He’s one of those artists with a huge following despite less than a handful of hits on the charts and singles getting actual airplay. Which is wholly impressive. He’s got this growly voice that makes him equal parts swoon-worthy and badass. Think Steve Earl with laryngitis. If I’m belting Maren Morris in the shower in the morning, then I’m belting Kip Moore in the car during the commute to work. Every single track on this album is live show-worthy and I’ve kicked myself multiple times for missing him when he comes to town (which, since I’ve lived here has been twice). It’s all the energy you love about 80s rock melodies narrated with country music’s core story-telling lyrics. To quote my father, this album is “the cat’s ass.”
#3Mumford and Sons “Sigh No More”
I read an album review one time about these guys where the author described them as a medley of banjos and strings that met out back behind the barn and exploded. Spot on. From the first chord to the last note, this album is like a non-stop folk train blowing through a hipster hoedown. And I mean that in the most flattering way. The feelings that these guys can stir up and the energy that they bring with all of their musical dynamics and builds is just incredible. Mumford and Sons is an experience, to sound totally nerdy. They run that gamut of love and revenge and despair and redemption and wrap it all up with a folky, little bow. Plus, their live shows will leave you sweaty and out of breath.
#2 NEEDTOBREATHE “Live from The Woods”
Yes, their band name is actually in all caps. I wasn’t trying to yell it at you. I heard these guys five years ago in the basement of a radio station that I worked at in Omaha and at the time they had one single on Top 40 radio – “Keep Your Eyes Open.” They didn’t really do all that much after that, but recently they had a pretty big song “Brother” that Gavin DeGraw actually tagged along onto and snuck them back onto my musical radar. I did a little Spotify creeping and stumbled onto this gem. Good rule of thumb: If a band can kill a live album, they earn a place among the “noteworthy.” Live albums are my kryptonite. It’s like being at a concert with out the overpriced beer and lack of elbowroom. Their southern charm and the lead’s soulful, raw vocals are the deal sealers. “Live from The Woods” is equal parts energy and authentic emotion. I recommend.
#1 Say Anything “Is a Real Boy…”
Everything you love about the misunderstood generation. Moody angst and pent up aggression alongside screaming outbursts of defiance and resentment. At the time, front man Max Bemis had a generous amount of mental problems and social anxieties that manifested into some of the most psychotic verses and sweetest serenades – equal parts entertaining and dark. Is there unnecessary profanity? Yes. Is there yelling? Lots. Is this a guilty pleasure album? One hundred percent. “Is a Real Boy…” came out in 2004, and when 2014 rolled around they announced they were doing an anniversary tour, playing smaller venues and singing their iconic album front to back. Every Say Anything fan’s dream. When does a show like that happen? Essentially never. Tickets were dirt cheap so I bullied my husband into tagging along with me. We stood in the middle of a sweaty, packed auditorium floor and I sang every single word of every single song at the top of my lungs. This album is hardly life changing, but it is eclectic and rock-heavy and belt-worthy. The perfect album for shameless off-key sing-shouting and spasmodic steering wheel drumming.
So, there you have it! “Becci Martin’s List of Noteworthy Albums.” Twelve solid musical compilations to add to your queue! Or dismiss completely. Your choice. Kudos for making it all the way to the end! That kind of turned into a bit of a long post, huh? At any rate, I suppose I’ll leave you to your regularly scheduled Valentine themed programming of cutesy couple photos and date night selfies *wink*. Cheers!