2017 was my first year away from JesusWired. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave, because I truly enjoyed the column I wrote there, but as the year progressed, I knew more and more I’d done the right thing. Besides freeing up space in an overpacked schedule, shedding that obligation allowed me to get back to listening to music for the pure joy of it. I wasn’t listening to twenty to thirty albums every month, but I was truly enjoying and spending time with the stuff I did find.
All that to say this: I didn’t listen to nearly the volume of music in 2017 that I have in the past, so there’s a good chance I’ve missed some really great stuff. But that’s not to say the albums I’m about to share with you are only in my top five because I didn’t have time to find anything better. These are all solid albums that I have listened to on repeat for much of the year.
Army of Bones – Army of Bones
You will find my weakness / You will take me down / You will leave my sin there / So I can rise again
Army of Bones is a new project from Martin Smith of Delirious? fame. They’d been teasing a full-length album for nearly a year when their self-titled debut finally released, and boy was it worth the wait. Army of Bones is a Brit-rock tour de force, equal parts U2 and The Cure. The songs range from noisy, raucous fist-pumpers to moody, synth-drenched anthems, and there isn’t a bad song in the bunch.
Recommended Listening: River, Dead in the Water, Love Song for a City
John Mark McMillan – Mercury & Lightning
I built my life around someone that I thought that I was / But it turns out / All the things I do to feel young / They only make me old
Apparently, John Mark McMillan set out to write a traditional worship album for his latest project, but after growing frustrated with the commercialization of the industry, he ended up with this instead. That tension and frustration is definitely there in these lyrics. In the title track – the very first song on the album – McMillan wails “I need a new religion, or I need a new life,” and that line hasn’t stopped hitting me yet. Over and over, he asks tough questions about what it really means to follow God, and how the things we chase lead us away from Him.
To be perfectly honest, this one took a while to grow on me. The music is just a step left of center, and the lyrics are challenging, lacking simplistic answers wrapped in tidy bows. But the more I listen, the more it gets under my skin, and the less I can resist it.
Recommended Listening: Mercury & Lightning, Death in Reverse, Gods of American Success
Bleachers – Gone Now
She touched me, said “I know you’re not to blame” / What a weight to live under / What a lie that’s been covered / I’m talking about rolling thunder
Heads up: This is the only album on this list that cannot be categorized in any way as “Christian music.” If you’re not a fan of strong language in your music (which I know is the case for many who read this blog), move on to the next entry.
Gone Now is a raw album, dealing with themes of grief, specifically over the loss of lead singer Jack Antonoff’s sister to cancer when he was 18. That rawness is part of what makes Gone Now so great. You can hear the emotion in every line of every song, not just in Antonoff’s voice, but in the construction of the melodies and the choices of instrumentation. This album oozes emotion, and – at least for me – it’s impossible to listen to it without feeling.
Gone Now is an indie rock Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, complete with horn sections, playful song structures, and recurring themes. It’s simultaneously fresh and nostalgic, which works perfectly in support of the thematic content.
Recommended Listening: Goodmorning, Don’t Take the Money, I Miss Those Days
The Brilliance – All Is Not Lost
Headline breaks / We start to hate again / Calling them names again / We give our peace away
There is something incredibly healing in listening to this album. If Gone Now addressed themes of grief so effectively that I can’t help but feel every time I listen to it, then All Is Not Lost does the same with hope. It’s a fabulously beautiful album that addresses the brokenness in our world without flinching, but it also never loses hope that everything will be made right.
I don’t have a quippy description of this album’s sound, no matter how hard I try. There’s no this-band-meets-that-band-and-adds-this-flavor comparison I can think of, which is kind of how it’s always been with The Brilliance. Which is odd, because they don’t sound weird. They just don’t fit neatly into any popular musical categories. You’ll hear pianos, orchestration, synths, falsettos, and more. And it’ll all work.
Recommended Listening: See the Love, Turning Over Tables, Gravity of Love
Brady Toops – Tried & True
Without love I’m half a man / Without love I’m more machine / And it gets so hard to balance / When you’re caught out in between / It’s the work that keeps you living / But a heart that makes you bleed
Man, Brady Toops is just so dang listenable. His self-titled debut was a fantastic blend of singer-songwriter and gospel, and Tried & True builds and improves on that foundation. Brady’s arrangements are beautiful and evocative, and his vocals are deep and smooth. Every time I come back to this album, I’m sucked back in immediately.
Recommended Listening: Walk in Love, Everything Reminds Me, Carolina
Lael – Phoenix : Hyper-melodic pop from former Number One Gun lead singer Jeff Schneeweis
At the Wayside – The Breakdown and the Fall : Pure pop punk perfection
’68 – Two Parts Viper : Imagine if The White Stripes were noisier and weirder
Colony House – Only the Lonely : Stephen Curtis Chapman’s sons tackle loneliness and relationships with a timeless rock ‘n’ roll sound
Joshua Micah – 20XX : A fresh pop sound from a new voice. I dare you to listen without grooving.
All right, that’s all I’ve got for music. What ended up on your list?
Stick around tomorrow for more of the same, but with movies.