I have always had a love for music and listening to my favorite bands, but several years ago I made a shift to really seeking out new music and listening to full albums rather than only the most popular singles. Especially now, spoiled by streaming services like Spotify, I try to constantly find new artists I might enjoy and keep up to date on new album releases of artists I follow. Besides the fact that music boosts the enjoyment of life in general, it also is a creative medium of its own. And much like movies, I believe that creative people in any medium can learn a lot and draw inspiration from any other creative medium. But enough with the justifying the topical link to creative living, here are the new (to me) albums that rose to the top for me this year (in alphabetical order).
Culcha Vulcha – Snarky Puppy
I first discovered Snarky Puppy when a friend pointed me to a few of the YouTube video performances from their live album We Like It Here (such as Lingus and Shofukan). I quickly watched all the live videos for that album and was hooked on their jazz-inspired jams. I was excited to hear this past year that they were releasing a new studio album (their first purely studio album in 8 years). While We Like It Here probably still holds the spot for my favorite Snarky Puppy album, Culcha Vulcha is not far behind. I had the opportunity to watch them perform much of the album live last year as well, and it remains one of my favorite concerts that I have ever attended. This one is a bit of a cheat entry as I technically listened to this album in May of last year, but I didn’t have this blog at that point so I am giving it a pass. Plus, it’s that good.
Divide – Ed Sheeran
This album will forever remind me of the trip that my wife and I made to the UK this past February (which also led to a post about my creative reflections from the trip). The night before our flight back to the States, I saw that Ed Sheeran released his new album, and I was able to download it to my phone in Spotify to listen to on the flight. In addition to listening on the plane, my wife and I also listened to it again on our drive home. Nostalgic associations aside though, I have enjoyed both of Ed Sheeran’s previous albums, so it was no surprise to me that Divide ended up as one of my favorites of the year. Ed is a talented songwriter and his unique loop-station style is one that I really enjoy. Hard to say a this point how Divide compares to X (his previous album) in my overall preference, but I can say for sure that they are pretty close.
The Horse Comanche – Chadwick Stokes
One of my favorite bands of all time has to be Dispatch, and something tells me that this time next year I will be writing this top albums post again with the inclusion of the album they just released. For now, I am only including favorite albums that I listened to before June, and one of those would be The Horse Comanche. Chadwick Stokes Urmston makes up one third of Dispatch, and has done a lot of solo work (as well as work with his other band State Radio) during the decade-long hiatus from the Dispatch. I am a little late to the party with this one as the album as it came out in 2012, but better late than never. It is clear to me that I am a huge fan of Urmston’s songwriting as I have enjoyed pretty much every project he has worked on, and this album is one of my favorites.
How To Be A Human Being – Glass Animals
Without a doubt, this album was my favorite find of the year. Most of the other entries here are from bands of which I was aware and enjoyed, whereas I had never even heard of Glass Animals. From the first song I listened to, I found their distinct sound refreshing and super groovy. A while back, I wrote a post about productivity-sparking rituals and mentioned how “putting on high-energy music” that made me move can be a huge catalyst for me getting things done. This album has probably filled that role more than any other in the past year, as every time I put on Glass Animals I can’t help but get absorbed in the grooves and rhythmically chip away at my work. Getting a new album from a favorite artist is always awesome, but there is something even more special about finding a completely new artist to add to your favorites, and with Glass Animals, I am certainly now a fan.
La La Land Original Soundtrack
This one almost feels like a guilty pleasure to put down. I already made it clear that I enjoyed the film La La Land when I highlighted my top films I watched this last year, and it makes this list for what is largely the same reason. I enjoy the foundations the soundtrack has in jazz and I find the songs very catchy and fun, but I am sure some of my enjoyment of the soundtrack comes from its connection to the movie itself. Whatever the case, there is no denying that I have listened to the soundtrack many times since seeing the movie (and even learned some of the songs on piano), and I still thoroughly enjoy it. Kudos to Justin Hurwitz for creating a memorable soundtrack, a worthy follow-up to the (also fantastic) soundtrack from Damien Chazelle’s previous film, Whiplash.
One Wild Life: Soul – Gungor
I have enjoyed Gungor’s music for a while, but some of their recent work has really impressed me. 2013’s I Am Mountain was probably my favorite Gungor album to date, as I felt like they made some really cool moves towards a more atmospheric and original sound, as well as creating an album that flowed really well from start to finish. Somehow I missed their recent work and discovered that they had released a trilogy of albums over the course of a year. The three One Wild Life albums took what I liked about I Am Mountain and executed on it even more effectively. For purposes of this entry, my favorite would have to be One Wild Life: Soul, but both the Body and Spirit entries are solid as well. Gungor certainly challenges the assumptions that their genre of music tends to carry, and I appreciate that as well as the creative work they are pushing out (which is quite a bit; 38 songs released over a year!).
There is no doubt that I listen to a lot of music, and I now take the same approach with music that I do with other creative mediums such as movies and books. That is, I more actively seek to experience new works and reflect upon which ones rise to the top for me personally. I believe life is much more rich when it is immersed in the creative work that you truly enjoy the most, and I also it find it very energizing and inspiring for my own creative pursuits as well.