I have reached the wee hours of the last day of 2012. I am piddling away my time on the computer, listening to a variety of really good music. I got to thinking: why not blog about how much I love the music I’ve discovered this year?
I’m not going to try to put these in any particular order, because each album hits me in a unique way. Why put them in any order when they are all on the list for different reasons?
1. Gravity – Lecrae
Boy, was I glad I preordered this sucker. As soon as I put it into my CD player my subwoofers basically exploded with pure joy. Lecrae hits a gritty note with this one, rapping more confidently and honestly than he ever has before (except perhaps for his rhymes on his beautiful little EP Church Clothes). He brings along Trip Lee, This’l, and more secular artists Big K.R.I.T. Mathai (of The Voice fame), and Ashthon Jones (of American Idol fame) to feature on the album. From the opening track The Drop (Intro), to the final notes of the album with the beautiful “Lucky Ones”, ‘Crae takes the listener on a journey, inviting us along on trip through the sin-filled world while pointing out awe-inspiring landmarks of the grace of God. This is a dark album. But most notably, Lecrae shines light by revealing the source of his heavenly hope: Jesus Christ. My favorite tracks include “Fallin’ Down”, “Fakin'”, “Confe$$ions”, “Tell the World”, and “Lucky Ones”. I can’t wait to see what Lecrae comes up with next. This album marks the boldest movement in Christian music today: the hip-hop revolution shouting “One-one-six!” loud enough for everyone to take notice.
2. Night Visions – Imagine Dragons
This one came out of nowhere. With the incredible EP Continued Silence, Imagine Dragons broke into the realm of alt-rock with a bang. Almost the entire EP became radio singles, each song equally popular. Consistently good, while consistently unique, Imagine Dragons bring a unique mix of electronic and rock music to the table, and upon listening you wonder why Imagine Dragons hasn’t been around for years. Their success seemingly overnight, Imagine Dragons have established themselves (within the short period of a year) as a household name for any music lover. “Radioactive” hits hard with its deep bass and perfect vocals – no wonder radio stations everywhere have been playing it like crazy. This is a great album.
3. Excellent – Propaganda
Get ready for your mind to be blown. As soon as Propaganda starts rapping in the beginning lines of “Don’t Listen to Me”, the listener leans in. He establishes himself as a poet with his cleverly thought out lines, addressing modern issues with a wizened tone. Mix poignant spoken word with rhythms that take a backseat to the hard-hitting lyrics, and you have Propaganda. I love the live “Be Present”, spoken word reminiscent of Trip Lee’s iLove thematically, addressing Propaganda’s love for his phone and his decision to chooses to be present everyday by abandoning the technology he loves for the people he loves more. “Forgive Me for Asking” is crushingly honest. If you haven’t listened to this album, get on it. If you have, listen again. It will do you well.
4. Blue Mountain – Brandon Heath
Brandon Heath has been Christian radio’s golden boy, generating radio hits like a machine with his last three studio albums. Those hits have established Brandon as a solid songwriter, with an affinity for hooks that resonate with the masses. Brandon’s strong points musically aren’t his radio songs (big surprise there) but instead in his writing: most poignantly in his imagery. Blue Mountain comes in as a Christian-country album, a mix of genres completely foreign to the music world right now. Brandon has stated publicly that he would love to be a country songwriter, so the music stemming from him nowadays reflects strongly his changing sentiments. The title track establishes a metaphor played on throughout the course of the album, describing a fictional place (reminiscent of the Appalachian mountains) full of people who in one way or another reflect the grace of God. The albums highlights include “The Harvester”, “Dyin’ Day” (which hits hard with an anti-death penalty stance), and “Love Will Be Enough for Us” (co-written with songwriter extraordinaire Dave Barnes).
5. Walk the Moon – Walk the Moon
This album is as catchy and fun as it is musically sound. The opening song, “Quesadilla”, a bouncy track familiar to alt-rock radio stations everywhere, starts the album off on the right note. “Next in Line” describes a car ride with an attractive woman, using car metaphors to expound on the relationship. “Anna Sun” ropes you in with the first lyrics, but the catchy chorus keeps you coming back for more. This is an album full of alt-rock radio hits. If that sounds appealing to you, listen to this. If it doesn’t, listen to “Tightrope”. If that doesn’t change your mind I don’t know what will.
6. Break it Yourself – Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird is a true artist. From the first track, the complexity of the music takes the foreground. Multiple instruments are incorporated here, blending to create a chill, layered masterpiece. Bird’s vocals blend in perfectly with the instrumentals. I love the swirls of violin that just take you away. There’s really not much else to say about this album except that it’s really, really, REALLY good. My favorites include the ethereal “Near Death Experience Experience”, the short instrumental “Behind the Barn”, “Orpheo Looks Back”, “Sifters”, and “Fatal Shore”. The violin drives this album, and I love it.
7. Wrecking Ball – Bruce Springsteen
In his umpteenth studio album, Bruce Springsteen makes a political statement for this generation. His signature sound, raspy vocals and heavy guitar, coupled with straightforward lyrics to produce a collection of songs made for 2012, right where our nation is in this moment. Ringing with patriotism, Wrecking Ball just feels American. My favorite notes of the album are the cheery sounding “Death to My Hometown”, the honest “This Depression”, and the title track, with its lovely message of perseverance:
Now when all this steel and these stories, they drift away to rust
And all our youth and beauty, it’s been given to the dust
And your game has been decided, and you’re burning the down the clock
And all our little victories and glories, have turned into parking lots
When your best hopes and desires, are scattered to the wind
And hard times come, hard times go
8. Loft Sessions – Bethel Music
Worship music that doesn’t involve screaming crowds recorded live? That’s always a plus. Bethel Music hits a nice chord (quite literally) with this one. This album just sounds warm. These are the kind of songs you’d sing around the campfire with just one acoustic guitar. The first song is a beautiful, surprisingly unique version of One Thing Remains (because, guess what, THEY WROTE IT!). The worshipful “Come to Me” is a favorite for chapel band worship leaders at Cedarville. “You Know Me” expresses the incredible intimacy existing in a relationship with Christ. The romantic sounding “My Dear” snuck onto my infamous wedding playlist. No wonder they made a vinyl of this album – it sounds good now – on vinyl it will sound like ‘MURICA.
9. An Awesome Wave – alt-J
This album snuck up on me – and I was so glad it did. I meandered across Spotify’s Emerge app to find alt-J battling out Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for the title (which they honestly should have won, Thrift Store shoots itself in the foot with all the unnecessary profanities). As I began listening, I got taken away, coincidentally, on an awesome wave. From the tentatively building intro, to the lovely “Tessellate”, alt-J captivates the listener and guarantees them a front row seat to the rest of an awesome album. alt-J is quoted in Relevant magazine as saying they didn’t believe anyone would like the album. They were pleasantly surprised, and rightly so. Check out “Dissolve Me” and “Breezeblocks”.
10. Cold Hard Want – House of Heroes
When I first saw these Christian rockers with tobyMac and Brandon Heath, I was unsure how to feel about them. A badly mixed sound system made the lead singers voice disappear behind the heavy guitars, and the audience quickly lost interest. House of Heroes gained a fan (me) with this album. “Out My Way” reminds us what good rock sounds like. Reminiscent of Anberlin, House of Heroes strikes a good chord with this album, producing a collection of songs both unique and well-done. It’s no wonder tobyMac signed them onto his own record label, Gotee. Notable tracks include the anthem “Remember the Empire”, the more chill “The Cop”, the radio song “Touch this Light”, and heart cry “Angels of Night”. The final track “I Am A Symbol”, reminds me of Batman. And that’s always a good thing.
Other notable albums:
The Lateness of the Hour – Alex Clare
If I hear “Too Close” one more time, I will pull my hair out. Despite his overplayed hit single, Alex Clare has concocted a beautiful album of throbbing bass lines and thoughtful lyrics with The Lateness of the Hour. The album pulls you back and forth between ponderous, careful melodies that mediate on romance and dance worthy tunes that threaten to explode your speakers. I love “Relax My Beloved” – here Clare hits a more soulful vibe and his voice seems to find its proper home. The piano-driven “Hummingbird” is delightfully catchy. My other favorites are “Tight Rope” and “Sanctuary”.
Current – Sarah Macintosh
Why have I never heard Sarah before this? Complete worship wrapped up in beautiful instrumentation, this album sounds NOTHING like anything you’ve heard on Christian radio or on previous worship albums. That’s partly what makes it so incredible. Sarah’s voice is angelic – it swirls above the melody and orchestrates the music. I love the heavenly “Current”, the passionate heart cry “Hope”, the unique (and properly outer-space sounding introduction) of “Galaxy Former”, “Laughter Comes Upon Us”, and the intimate “Hiding Place”. This is a worship album, but it’s also a venture into the musical unknown. We need more Sarah Macintoshs in Christian music.