Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Top 14 Albums of 2014

The Top 14 Albums of 2014
By James Morovich

14. The War On Drugs- “Lost In The Dream.”

This debut album from The War On Drugs was easily the best indie release of the year. Imagine if Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers joined up with Coldplay and they wrote songs in both their styles as well as traveling over to Pink Floyd’s section the world once in a while. That is what they sound like to me. The title track and “Eyes To The Wind” are straight up Americana and perfect for the car, while “An Ocean Between The Waves” is Coldplay in their more adventurous musical soundscapes, while “Under The Pressure” sounds like prog rock circa 1974, not 2014! A unique release that has me excited for what this band does for years to come!

13. Coldplay- “Ghost Stories.”

A highly anticipated release last spring, “Ghost Stories” had a terrible lead single in “Magic,” that fortunately didn’t reflect what was overall a solid project from Coldplay, but certainly not their best effort. It boasts only nine songs and lasts just over 42 minutes, which just feels too short! As always they give us some highly energetic numbers like “A Sky Full Of Stars” and “Ink” though the ballads like the acoustic guitar driven “Oceans” and extended musical landscape “O” almost steal the show! Coldplay announced a couple of month’s back that they will record only one more album before calling it quits. I look forward to what that encore will hold for a band that is easily one of the most important parts of music culture this past decade.

12. Kye Kye- “Fantasize.”

While I am not as big a fan of electronic music as some, there are always those few artists who do it really, really well, and thus I can’t help but respect and yes, like what their muse may be. New Zealand natives Kye Kye seem to have grabbed the best of the electronic influenced American rock of the 80’s and charged forward with it full steam ahead! The lyrics often can buried under lush synthesizer drones, but upon multiple listens the listener picks up more and more. They reflect both parts of relationships, the woes and wonders, over the course of 12 songs, the highlights of which are “Honest Affection,” “Scared Or Selfish,” “I Already See It” and my favorite the guitar layered, perfectly at home on the radio in 1985 “Softly” which is by far the best song that was never played over the airwaves anywhere this year!

11. Ellie Holcomb- “As Sure As The Sun”

Ellie Holcomb is best known as a part of the band fronted by her husband Drew (Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors), but on “As Sure As The Sun” Mrs. Holcomb shows us that she is quite an artist in her own right. The songs are all beautiful piano driven poems of brokenness, uncertainty and doubt, tempered beautifully by the hope of Christ. In many ways these songs call to mind a lot of the Psalms written by King David, where both joy and pain sit side by side. She reminds us that “His mercy will never end” on the title track which opens the album and that sets the overall tone of the album.  It is one person’s journey ‘out of the darkness and into the Light” (“Marvelous Light”) and a realization that there is such a predicament as “The Broken Beautiful.” She reminds us that ultimately His “Love Never Fails” without sounding cliché and reminds us that we need to look to Jesus as “My Portion And My Strength.” It all culminates in “The Valley” which is easily one of the best songs I have heard about the struggle of depression and darkness against a Christian’s desire to Hope in Jesus who is the only One who can ‘make [us] whole’

10. All Sons & Daughters- “All Sons & Daughters.”

This is a quieter worship project, but one that is beautiful. While not quite as musically stripped back as Audrey Assad’s masterpiece from last year “Fortunate Fall,” this album fits similarly under a file of ‘good albums to listen to while seeking God in prayer.’ “God With Us,” “Christ Be All Around Me” and “Great Are You Lord” are fantastic examples of the emerging modern folk worship scene. This duo from Tennessee are showing no sign of slowing down either, as they continue to tour as well as lead worship at their home church as often as possible, which is where many of these songs were born in the first place.

9. John Mark McMillan- "Borderland."

John Mark McMillan has continued to push the boundaries of modern rock and roll since his career began independently in 2005. "How He "Loves," became an international worship sensation, and launched his career. However, McMillan as a whole doesn't craft songs in the same vein as that anymore. He now writes songs that express some doubts and struggles  ("Love At The End," "Guns/Napoleon" the title track) and others about affirmation on God's presence in our lives ("Future/Past," "Visceral"). It is an album that gets better and better the more listens you give it!

8. Steffany Gretzinger- "The Undoing."

This is easily one of the most personal worship projects unleashed to the music world in quite some time. Gretzinger writes songs about "Letting Go" of her control and letting God take over her heart. "Morning Song," "Out Of Hiding" and "No Fear In Love" are reminders to all of us that Jesus desires intimacy in our hearts, and these songs, with their often sparsely instrumented accompaniments, are a perfect partner in helping one who seeks such intimacy to find it.

7. American Authors- "Oh, What A Life."

Every once in a great while a pop/rock album is just plain good, and no matter how much I try to rationalize to myself that I should hate it, I simply cannot get any of the songs out of my head! "Oh, What A Life" is an album full of such songs! It truly is impossible not to want to tap your foot or even dance around to songs like "Best Day Of My Life," "Believer," "Hit It," and "Think About It." There is also an overwhelmingly optimistic tone to all of the songs, which fit the upbeat tempos. The unique part of American Authors is their ability to incorporate mandolins and banjos into their music without ever really sounding like Mumford & Sons or Rend Collective. While those bands straddle folk and bluegrass, American Authors are rock and pop exclusively.

6. Crowder- “Neon Steeple.”

 It was easy for fans to wonder what David Crowder would do after his Band went their separate ways in January of 2012.  It was certain that he wouldn’t be done with music forever, but what would his sound be like. Would he gravitate towards the bluegrass and folk stylings, or the more electronic tones we had heard on a few of the later David Crowder Band albums. The answer was, simply, that David Crowder would continue in the vein of merging both the roots sounds with the digital sounds. This album is a mix of both, and it is done very well! “Here’s My Heart,” “My Beloved” and “Jesus Is Calling” carry on the roots sound, while “I Am” and “Come As You Are” fuses both the folksy with the electronic. “You Are” and “Ain’t No Grave” are high energy, while “This I Know” is a quieter reminder of the simplicity of our Faith and Hope. All in all, this is a fantastic re-launch of an already stellar career!

5. Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil- “Goliath.”

It has been twenty years since Steve Taylor last took a tour of duty behind a microphone! In that time he started and operated a small Christian label (“Squint”), wrote many lyrics for two Newsboys albums (“Going Public,” “Take Me To Your Leader”), and produced two films (“Second Chance,” “Blue Like Jazz”). Now he has returned to music with new band The Perfect Foil, and it is a fine, fine piece of 2014 rock and roll. Never have three-minute high-energy rock songs sounded so good. The themes range from our current desire to be seen on social media (“Rubberneck”), corrupt politicians (“Sympathy Vote”), and lethargic attitudes (“Happy Go Lazy”) all through the snarky eyes of the “Comedian.” If you are into witty lyrics and current events, you will love this album!

4. Mike Mains & The Branches- “Calm Down, Everything Is Fine.”

Mike Mains is another example of a thinking man or woman’s songwriter. He is a Christian, but he lyrically sings about things like doubt, and uncertainty which at times can come across as a bit challenging or even mildly offensive, particularly on the title track where he expresses frustration towards Jesus’ use of parables to illustrate Kingdom concepts. However, similar to Bono of U2, Mains’ honesty can also be refreshing and thought provoking. He can also give us reminders that we need to “Slow Down” sometimes from our fast paced lives. Give it multiple listens and you will glean more each spin cycle, I can guarantee it.

3. Rend Collective- “The Art Of Celebration.”

I first heard of this English band back in 2012 on their sophomore release “Homemade Worship By Handmade People” and was hooked immediately by their incredible energetic bluegrass influenced worship songs! This album continues in that vein, as songs like “Burn Like A Star” and “Create In Me” burst with musical speed and excitement that is sure to make you dance in your seat! “My Lighthouse” is a wonderful testimony to God being a guiding light bringing us ‘safe to shore.’ “More Than Conquerors” is straight out of Romans chapter eight, and my personal favorite on this project; a project born of a band that is sure to have a very bright future in the worship music scene!

2. NEEDTOBREATHE- “Rivers In The Wasteland.”

Back in April as “Rivers In The Wasteland” was about to hit the record store shelves, RELEVANT magazine published an article where they interviewed NEEDTOBREATHE. There, the band recounted how they had strayed away from their Christian roots and knew God was calling them back to those roots on their new project. Needless to say, they did just that. “Multiplied” is the most explicitly Christian song they have written since “Signature Of Divine (Yahweh).” “Wasteland” is a song written by someone who is emerging from a dark period in their life and finds hope in paraphrasing Romans 8, “If God is on our side, who can be against us?” Then there are the single ready tracks like “The Heart” and “State I’m In” which are going to easily get caught in your head for hours after you listen. This album is great because it meshes both the fun with the serious, and does so with instrumentation that rivals any roots rock band you can find currently making music.

1. The Choir- “Shadow Weaver.”

The Choir is one of my favorite bands in the history of Christian music, that is, Christian music that may not always explicitly say Jesus or quote scripture in every song, but music that is written out of inspiration by a worldview steeped deeply in Christianity. They started in the mid-80’s and have soldiered on as indie artists for over 15 years now, taking hiatus’s here and there, when needed. Derri Daughterry’s voice paired with drummer Steve Hindalong’s lyrics is a thing of beauty, and on ‘Shadow Weaver,” The Choir have made their best album in over a decade. The songs vary in theme, but “It Hurts To Say Goodbye” finds Hindalong lamenting the fact that three of his four daughters have now moved away from home to different places all over the country. On one of my favorite love songs of 2014, he writes that “True love is the antithesis of blue” (“Antithesis of Blue”) in reference to his many, many years of marriage to his wife. “Get Gone” is about the need we sometimes have for solitude, written with some creative imagery might I add. “Rhythm Of The Road” as you might expect is about touring, and “We All Know” is about something we don’t like to talk about very much, suffering. If you haven’t heard this album, you really need to hear it soon.

Honorable Mentions:

JOHNNYSWIM- “Diamonds”
Johnny Cash- “Out Among The Stars”
Colony House- “When I Was Younger”
LIGHTS- “Little Machines”
Anberlin- “Lowborn”
NONONO- “We Are Only What We Feel”