We should start by making it clear that the album selection process went a little differently than the “Best Single” process. For one, not everyone was involved in this stage. Time was definitely a factor. When we decided to go forward with this, we had to move quickly. Asking folks who are up to their eyeballs in family and professional lives to listen to at least five years’ worth of records was kind of a lot. For what it’s worth, as we move forward, we plan to be more immediately responsive, listening to each single, EP, and album release over the course of 2020 as they come out. So…thanks for your patience.
We also took a different approach aesthetically as well. We made it a POINT to look at each album as a complete work, not a collection of individual singles. We considered all the factors one being thematic value. Even “non-concept” albums have such an element to them. We also considered “listener commitment level.” By that we mean: is this a record you can easily spend an hour listening to? Records defined by a lot of “skipping to my favorite tune” produced a different experience than records which felt like “full engagements” from the dropping of the needle to that clunky movement of the rocker-arm 18 minutes later.
The results may seem illogical at a glance. Wait…? some might ask. “None of this record’s songs made the ‘Best Singles’ list, but the album itself did…?” Or, “This band’s ‘Best Single’ nomination is from Album X, but you guys picked Album Z?”
Here we shrug our shoulders. Different criteria. And we’re talking about different criteria which we care about. So yeah…that happened, and we’re cool with it.
Like the “Best Singles” process, this was hard. Some records were on the list, then slipped off. Others were just under the cut, then clawed their way onto the list. The goal, of course, isn’t to say “these are the only five albums worth listening to.” The real goal is: “Here are five great records, and there are dozens more like them, totally worth your time.”
The lifeblood of the music industry isn’t happening on the Grammys, anymore. The future of music is local and regional. The talent is good. The songs are good. The recording quality is often very good. The future is your neighbor who slings a six-string, tosses out some brilliant alternating rhyme schemes, and knows how to run an extended metaphor through a hard four-count beat.
#5 Open Up Your Eyes by Brandon Tinkler
“When I sit down on a hot summer day and soak in that Hoosier humidity, I find myself repeatedly turning to Brandon Tinkler’s Open Up Your Eyes. I stare into the emptiness of the deck around me and imagine my parents and their friends, grilling burgers, drinking Blatz, and talking about Nixon. Everyone talks about how the music of the 60’s influenced them, but nobody actually tries to replicate it. Brandon Tinkler did. It’s a hell of an achievement, and the record is worth a few hundred listens.”
NRM Founder, Donovan Wheeler
Ever the taskmaster, ever the frugal budget-master, when Brandon Tinkler walked into Postal Recording’s studios he knew exactly what he wanted. It was something he had constructed painstakingly for years. So when he plunked down his hard-earned cash for that precious time behind the microphone he was ready to make it count.
As we said of the record back in the summer of 2018:
“The degree to which Tinkler’s endeavor wins over listeners will depend largely where they’re coming from when they hit ‘play.’ A Baby Boomer who grew up listening to the British Invasion catalogue in ‘real time’ may admire the work, but hold off on Beatles or Stones comparisons.
That, however, is the wrong way to look at it. For all of the album’s retro panache, Open up Your Eyes is still a 21st century production. And here…in this century…in this indie music landscape, Brandon Tinkler has decided to set aside worn down labels such as ‘Americana’ and ‘cross-genre’ and instead create that record all his musical friends urged him to do for years. By those standards, the album is a refreshing change of style, pace, mood, and content. It’s a project worthy of a $15 CD purchase, worthy of a trip to a live performance, and most definitely worthy of respect.”
Hat’s off to Brandon Tinkler. Number five on our Roadie Award, Album of the Decade.
#4 Memories Are Rolling Credits by Carmichael
Carmichael’s 2017, self-titled debut album was one of those records that won over listeners with its ability to tap into one musical trend without giving up on rock-and-roll. The result was a brilliant collection of tracks which melded smoothly from one song to the next. By the time you slipped the record back in its sleeve you knew you’d listened to a band that wasn’t finished experimenting–a band which had a hell of a lot of innovation to unfold.
That innovation reveals itself in the band’s sophomore album, Memories Are Rolling Credits. While the record’s first two tunes draw from styles established in the first album, Carmichael swaddles these new songs in a rich production value, creating a full and warm listening experience.
Then comes track three. As much as Brandon Tinkler answers the question, “What happens when a modern artist tries to mimic a 60’s sound?” Carmichael does the same thing…but add a decade. After listening “Apollo Falling” and “The Socratic Method” it’s hard not to grab that Supertramp record in your collection (pre Breakfast in America, please)–or maybe some vintage ELO, and notice the stylistic parallels in play.
Memories Are Rolling Credits is a full listening experience because it knows when to give us what we want and expect from Carmichael, and it knows when throw all of that out the window and be something we didn’t think any regional band could be. Yes, this record (and several others) are testaments to exponentially growing achievements happening in studio development and post-production. But a great production has to start with a solid musical chops, an evocative conceptual vision, and the wherewithal to put those two assets in the right sound booth and make it happen.
#3 Front Page of the Modern Age by Fort Frances
Fort Frances’ second album, Alio, established the band (fronted by native Hoosier and DePauw Alumnus David McMillin) as the sort of rock-and-roll band that knows how to lay down a beat, layer it with a gripping melody, and leave us tapping our toes the rest of the day. Alio was a transitional record of sorts. In that collection we saw a trio of young single men using music to have a good time into three adults working their main shifts as husbands and fathers.
The band’s third record cements the idea that Fort Frances has grown up. Yes, the band still knows how to rock and crank out songs that exude “fun,” as our reaction to “Double Take” illustrates. But that third album, Front Page of the Modern Age, is loaded with a range of tempos, and much richer themes. The relationship challenges in Alio are now full-on LIFE challenges in the new album…as they should be.
Front Page captures not just anxieties of parenthood and growing old, but unique challenges of latching onto those anxieties in the age when the world’s future feels murky. Front Page for the Modern Age wants to let us know that everything is going to be okay, but it also doesn’t want to bullshit us. An honest record has to earn its audience by letting us know that it really has no idea how the hell anything is going to play out. The future is kind of intimidating at best. For the world, for a family, for a father, for a rock-and-roller, even. Knowing that we can share that collective stress through art matters.
This is a fantastic record. Period.
#3 Hills by Bigfoot Yancey
“[The album] is both a combination of Bigfoot Yancey’s patient development as a group of musicians as well as a testament to their appeal as a group of people. And it’s the latter, more than anything which sells the band. As good as the record is (and it’s very, very good…after about six dozen sessions on my computer I still can’t turn it off), it’s the band’s cosmic allure in person which makes becoming a fan worth the experience. Not because they cast the glitz and aura as a set of Kliptch-level superstars (but if that happens, they could pull it off), but because they stand before you as authentic human beings.”
Three years, and another full-length record, later Hills stays viable for all the reasons that beautiful moments do. It’s like a perfect date, the one you replay in your head for the rest of your life. Hills helped many of us who where indoctrinating ourselves into the local music scene conceptualize and embrace that thing that is Americana music. Keep in mind that many of us were finally putting away those plastic CD towers for good. You know…the ones that framed each side of our “big” 27″ TV sets? How we stumbled upon them isn’t the most important thing. Maybe we found them the second week we started using Spotify. Maybe we heard them when the explosion of bars and brew pubs suddenly expanded local music faster than a Coronavirus.
What matters is that for a lot of us music suddenly became something we never thought it could be. Hills offered such a range of talents, from Mike Angel’s steady vocals to Loran Bohall’s work on the saw. The album proved to many of us middle-agers that “genres” were all but dead. Good music was good music. Good music was the stuff that made you feel. Made you think. Made you want to put away the vinyl after the last song, step out your door, and try something new you had never done before. Hills did that. It still does that.