# 5 Mercury & Lightning – John Mark McMillan
FFO Existential Songwriting, Unexpected Songwriters, Gungor
We are a little bias, but we believe McMillan to be one of the most underrated songwriters alive today. His ability to walk the delicate line between the sacred and profane, while continuing to shift his sound is top notch on his latest album. Tracks like “Wilderlove” showcase his incredible talent for making anthemic tracks that stay with you long after it is done playing. Yet, his style doesn’t necessarily fit anywhere genre wise. Too existential to be pop, yet too catchy to be post rock, McMillan continues to excite and divide fans that think they have him pegged. This album took us awhile to fully grasp, but there is great reward in letting his introspective songwriting wash over you. He has came a long way from his smash hits “How He Loves” and “Death in His Grave” and perhaps is even better as his sound continues to evolve.
#4 Sorry is Gone – Jessica Lea Mayfield
FFO Smoldering Lyrics, Women Who Rock, The Full Evolution of Alt Country Into Grunge
Full disclosure, we love everything Mayfield creates. Her latest album fits nicely between her breakout Tell Me and her previous album Make My Head Sing. On her latest release, she has seemed to find her confidence again. After a public split up at the result of domestic violence, the album takes a whole new angle with a courageous narrative of a songwriter who no longer feels bound by “sorry”. The title track is some of the most pop heavy on the album, yet still carries the weight of her trademark heartbreak well. “Meadow” showcases her guitar distortion that was so refreshing on her last release. What makes Mayfield such a talent is her achingly poignant lyrics that somehow are sung with a sweet detachment that draws listeners in. Perhaps our favorite lyric is found on “Maybe Whatever” with her ability to rhyme shotgun with futon. Yet with Mayfield, there is always more going on than what is found on the surface. Honest and brave, Sorry is Gone is definitely one of the most phenomenal releases of this year and finds a songwriter who continues to fight demons with the proper amount of guitar and melancholy vocals.
# 3 Prisoner – Ryan Adams
FFO Ryan Adams at His Best, Heartbreak Songs, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty
It is almost unfair for every other artist on years where Adams releases new material. While he continues to be one of the most prolific songwriters of his generation, he seems to be putting in even more of himself in to every release while balancing his patented songwriting style with a rock edge likened to Tom Petty. Adams is always up for a straight rock tune, and “Do You Still Love Me?” takes the prize on Prisoner. The ever-talented songwriter then breaks into one phenomenal track after another before his perfectly placed closer “We Disappear”. The title track might be one of his best, while “Doomsday” and “Haunted House” bring a little Springsteen into the album and harken back to his recent divorce. Just when we believe Adams cannot get any better, he releases Prisoner. I love this album for too many reasons to list but perhaps my most personal reason is the approval of my two-month-old son Reed who stops crying almost on demand when Adams begins to croon.
# 2 One Go Around – Jeffrey Martin
FFO David Ramirez, Awesome Singer Songwriters, The Next Great Folk Voice, Music in General
I came to this album late . . . I mean real late. Co-editor Greg told me months ago about this incredible songwriter, but I was too entrenched in the sea of music to give it a fair listen. When I was compiling my favorite albums for the year, I gave it another spin and immediately made a spot for it. It brought me back to the mission of this publication, to support underexposed artists with incredible talent. Martin is the poster boy for that statement and reminds us of an early David Ramirez. His gravel tested voice plays well with his honest and beautiful songwriting. Tracks like “Billy Burroughs” showcase his tremendous narration while “Time Away” is a straightforward and masterful ballad. There is not a dud on this album and we would be hard-pressed to find a better set of songs within this or any genre. Jeffrey Martin is the real deal and should be on any and every device you play music.
# 1 From the Sidewalk – Over the Trees
FFO Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Soaring Rock Sounds Without Limits, The Perfect Road Trip Soundtrack
If you have read us at all this year, you know our feelings for this Norwegian sky rock band. We have wrote extensively on their ability to craft soaring tracks that unfold like spiritual musings put to heartbreaking melody. The ten tracks that make up the album are all pieces of time and space that transports listeners past the limits of artistic creation. Taking cues from Radiohead and Sigur Ros, the band has found their collective sound on a release where the band chemistry is palpable. “Become” was one of our personal favorites as it incorporates a variety of sounds and moods while “Hello Oslo” has a definite folk vibe to it. The spiritual themes are present here and interwoven with a sound that uplifts as much as any collection of words ever could. When I talked with front man Elvind (read the interview here), he described the album as a “dynamic colorful soup of different vibes . . . we try to give the listener different atmospheres and feelings.” The end result is something special. From the Sidewalk stayed with us throughout the year and accompanied many a road trip through the fog and haze of this modern life.