While they are not making my list of top albums, coming out in the next couple of days, I want to emphasize their inherent quality, especially for those that listen to such music.
5) Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets- Go and Sell All of Your Things
A beer soaked folk rock album full of praise songs for drunken revelry and open questioning of faith. You have heard it all before, but that doesn't make it any less fun... or thought provoking. Suomi stands in a long line of deeply afflicted, yet strongly Christian musicians, including Larry Norman, The 77's and Bill Mallonee. Here is a good review from Paste Magazine.
4) Gungor- Ghosts Upon the Earth
The opposite of beer soaked, this honest and quite beautiful endeavor is Michael Gungor's best set yet. Mis-classified as a worship artist, most of Gungor's songs are too complex for the average church setting desiring Chris Tomlin's last copy of every Coldplay trope in the book. Gungor's lyrics are refreshingly honest and the music is definitely in the Sufjan Stevens meets Sigur Ros at an Arcade Fire concert hymnal presently employed by most "Indie-Rock." I love his voice, mostly because it reminds me of one of my best friends, Michael Johnston of the criminally underrated Smalltown Poets.
3) John Mark McMillan- Economy
Hopefully, this is what worship music will sound like in the coming years in churches, as people grow tired of the same old sanitized lyrics and melodies of Tomlin, Redmon and Crowder. In fact, this is what Crowder should sound like (even if he changes the lyrics of McMillan songs to refine and popularize them, robbing them of their power in the process). McMillan obviously genuflects before Bruce Springsteen, like some of the best young bands in America, owing as much to Gaslight Anthem and Brit Rock as to the Boss. While the melodies stand out, it is the lyrics that I would love to hear in church, deeply embracing grace while flirting with darkness and depression. It is rock and roll and it is refreshing, to say the least.
2) Josh Garrels- Love and War and the Sea in Between
First of all, just click the link above and get this album for free. While the previous albums are best appreciated by those that share some faith interest with the musicians, this stands out as an albums I recommend to anyone that likes soulful indie-folk. While in the ultra-serious vein of Ray Lamontagne and Iron and Wine, Garrels stands out from the crowd with his arrangements. He is the best mainstream artist operating in the Christian marketplace at this time. I could go on, but since it is a free album, I see no reason. Just get the darn thing.
1) Aaron Strumpel- Birds
As I said when it was initially released, if there is anyone more compelling and original in the so called "Christian" market, I have yet to hear it. Wondrously off-kilter, Birds reminds me of the best Indie films, at once oft-putting and impossible to resist without the obvious narrative we expect from Hollywood (or Nashville). While this album and Garrels' are equally good, Birds gets the nod due to its originality.