I have a love/hate relationship with these end-of-the-year lists. On one hand, I remember poring through lists from my favorite writers while growing up to see if there were artists I should check out; but, on the other hand, putting this lists together takes a lot of time. I'm not one to simply spit out a list either from memory or by glancing through my notes over the year. No, I'm one of those idiots who actually relisten to everything and grade each release before coming up with the list...
It may be late, but I made it before the clock strikes midnight on the close of the year, so I'm happy. Nobody really needs another list, but if you're curious about what was played on The Penguin (thepenguinrocks.com) this year and which albums stood out for me, here goes...
Note: In this list, albums are considered to have 6 songs or more. Anything less will be considered for the list of Top EPs of the year. (And, as always, this is just one guy's opinion - that it for what it is.)
1) Red Wanting Blue - From The Vanishing Point -- This release from the lads in Columbus, Ohio was among my favorites from the moment it first came out (it's actually the album I usually listen to while working out and is always good for a five-mile run). Red Wanting Blue has consistently put out great rock and roll records for a decade, but I've got to admit I was a little worried about how this release would sound since it was their first new album as a “signed artist". I shouldn't have worried. Not only was this a truly brilliant record, but it just might be the band's best.
2) Kyle Adem - Armour -- I was simply blown away the first time I heard this release by Kyle Adem, a singer-songwriter from Syracuse, NY. If you like folk music or Americana, check this release out. Apparently, this is his seventh release. Where have I been?
3) Arlan Feiles & The Broken Hearted - Weeds Kill The Wild Flowers -- Arlan adds to his burgeoning legacy as one of the greatest songwriters along the Jersey Shore with this release, which took home an Asbury Music Award. Pure Americana at its finest...
4) The Killers - Battle Born -- The Killers returned after a few years off with a tremendous release that ranks among their best in my opinion. Apparently Nevada is known as the "Battle Born" state, which is where the band is from. It's also the name of the band's home studio where most of the record was recorded.
5) Little Barrie - King Of The Waves -- This was the show that would haunt me throughout the year. I had debated going to the Saint that night, but wasn't feeling up to it. A few days later, I noticed a couple copies of their CD still lying around for people to grab. I grabbed it and, upon listening to the entire disc, kicked myself even harder for missing that show. Simply... awesome... rock and roll. You know, the kind of stuff people say isn't made anymore. They're wrong, this band is the real deal and this disc should be in every rock fan's collection.
6) The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten -- The guys from New Brunswick, NJ continue to put out amazing record after record. People may complain that they sound like some of the rock bands who inspired them, I don't care... I love the bands who inspired them, but none of them are putting out records as good as Gaslight.
7) Ingram Hill -- I've followed this band from Memphis, TN for several years now ever since seeing them on CNN in the middle of the night, hours before they were set to play Asbury Park. They've always straddled the line between flat out rock and roll and country twang. On this record, they finally accept their country roots. The result is a great country rock record that will appeal to fans of both sides of the musical spectrum.
8) Tony Tedesco & Full Fathom 5 - Full Fathom 5 -- Those who follow the Asbury Park music scene have long known that Tony Tedesco was a brilliant songwriter, but that fact may not have stretched beyond the local area because he's never really put out a full album... till now. This release not only pairs Tony's wonderful lyrics with an amazing band, but one that piles layer upon layer of musical instrumentation and additional vocals to create music that fans of The Band will absolutely love. Tony may have waited a long time for his first true release, but the wait was worth it.
9) Kevin John Allen - Life's Lonely Rodeo -- At its best, this album provides some of the best moody music south of Leonard Cohen. The album features an all-star cast of Jersey Shore talent that helps transcend his songs even further. This record was definitely the surprise release of the year for me. While I've enjoyed Kevin's work before, I was entirely unprepared for the giant leap he took with this release. It's nice to be caught off guard like that...
10) Zak Smith -- I may have been caught off guard by Kevin John Allen's disc, but tremendous discs by Zak Smith are becoming the norm. He's easily one of New Jersey's most underrated artists and this disc continues his trend of mixing rock and roll, soul, blues, and singer-songwriter tunes.
11) Shovels & Rope - O' Be Joyful
12) Bruce Tunkel - Draw The Line
13) Mike June - Talkin' Revolution Blues
14) Small Room 9 - Sr9
15) Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
16) The Hunger Games (soundtrack)
17) The dB's - Falling Off The Sky
18) The Stamps - Jackson County Fair
19) The Deadfields - Dance In The Sun
20) Bob Burger - The Day After
21) Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us
22) Anthony D'Amato - Paper Back Bones
23) Mike June & The Wilson Street Refugees - The Exile On Wilson Street
24) Jack White - Blunderbuss
25) John Eddie - Same Old Brand New Me
26) The Shins - Port Of Morrow
27) Minnesota - Are You There
28) John K. Samson - Provincal
29) Shoebox Letters - Nowadays
30) Pat Guadagno - New Jersey Material
31) Jason Myles Goss - Radio Dial
32) The Great Unknowns - Homefront
33) Nina Yasmineh - Strange
34) Glen Hansard - Rhythm And Repose
35) Metric - Synthetica
36) Val Emmich - Bulldozzzer
37) The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter
38) Said The Whale - Little Mountain
39) Justin Townes Earle - Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel
40) No Wine For Kittens - Not Ready Yet E.P.
41) Secret Powers - More Songs About Her
42) Smalltown Poets - Under The New Sun
43) Hey Rosetta! - Seeds
44) Langhorne Slim - The Way We Move
45) Japandroids - Celebration Rock
46) Roger & The Rockets - Dirty Stuff
47) The Darkness - Hot Cakes
48) Bill Lloyd - Boy King Of Tokyo
49) Stellar Corpses - Dead Stars Drive In
50) Tom Brislin - Hurry Up And Smell The Roses
51) Fun. - Some Nights
52) David Myhr - Soundshine
53) The Strange Avenues - Bacchanalia
54) The Dirty Panties - I Am A Robot
55) JD McPherson - Signs & Signifiers
56) Southside Cindy - State Of Mind
57) The Bergamot - Static Flowers
58) Elevator Art - Tent City
59) Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Here
60) Hotel Chelsea - El Pee
61) Fleet Walker - Morning Void
62) Snow Patrol - Fallen Empires
63) Lo Kloza
64) Of Monsters And Men - My Head Is An Animal
65) The Successful Failures - Here I Am!
66) The Lumineers
67) The Holiday Electric - Ripper
68) Steph Macpherson - Bells & Whistles
69) Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
70) Radio Drive - This Is Our Time
Listen to great tunes like these every day on The Penguin
Gary Wien is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist. He writes for NewJerseyStage.com and Jersey Arts, and serves as Program Director for ThePenguinRocks.com, an online radio station spinning indie rock and roll.