Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top Faith Based Albums of 2011

I don't listen to a lot of so called "Christian" music. I could go into my typical rant, but it is old hat and bores even me. That said, I found a few albums that come from a Christian worldview that are marketing specifically to Christian audiences (one is more mainstream) that I liked quite a lot.

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.

listen on Spotify

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.

listen on Spotify

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.

listen on Spotify

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.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Completely agree with your top three. The other two, I have to give them a listen and respond. I've been a fan of Strumpel since Elephants. Found Josh Garrels on a random download when picking up a Jars album on NoiseTrade and it soon became one of my most listened to albums. What can be said more about John Mark McMillan. Reminiscent of early ballads by Mike Rowe and Mark Heard. Great job on your list and synopsis. Thanks for spreading the word about great music in all genres. You have a gift of discernment (seasoned with just enough skepticism to keep your reviews interesting enough I want to read them, even when I disagree)