In some ways, it hasn’t been the most exciting year for music. Perhaps I’m getting older, busier, or pickier. Either way, I know I statistically listen to a lot less music as a whole than I did even five years ago. That said, there were an incredible handful of releases this year that I wanted to highlight. This list is in no particular order as they all play to different strengths.
Maggie Miles – The Lack Thereof
I wanted to start with an album that we haven’t covered but that you’ll nonetheless want to check out. Like most modern singer-songwriters, Miles’ songs boast full-band production. This time around, two different producers were involved – and while the album doesn’t feel disjointed, there are a couple distinct flavors. Tracks like “Close” and “Asleep” lean toward the artsier, more emotional side. “Momentum” and “Indecent” are pop-rock anthems. The spiritual content of the album isn’t anything to pass up, either. While the lyrics might be subtle at first, Miles’ wrestle with God here ends in one of the most powerful tracks I’ve heard in quite some time.
Suggested tracks: Indecent, Close, Asleep
Former Ruins – No Creature is Hidden
This record slipped past most of my Spotify reporting since it was initially rolled out on Bandcamp. Still, that should certainly not take from its moment in the spotlight. This sophomore release instantly eclipses its predecessor, boasting fuller arrangements and continued lyrical intrigue that first made me a fan. While the genre varies from song to song, jumping between the likes of lyric-driven folk, take-no-prisoners post-punk, and whatever sort of amalgamated mass of sounds you might classify mewithoutYou as, the greatest consistency is in the quality of the songwriting and the running through of what it means to be incarnate.
Suggested tracks: Uncreated Light, False Infinities, Horses in Rough Drafts
Fepeste – What You Don’t Know
Surfy indie rock from Colorado about fighting anxiety might sound like a puzzling thing in theory, but it works. These songs boast a bit of levity alongside their serious subject matter, and the end result is very balanced in terms of its depiction of the human experience. This album ramps things up in terms of fullness, and there are guest spots from a couple friends, including members of emo band A Place for Owls. All in all, this is quite a different take on your typical Christian album, and it pays off.
Suggested tracks: Grain of Sand, New Skin
Benjamin Daniel – Home Enough for Now
There’s a quote along the lines of how it is better to attend more funerals than parties. Perhaps this is true of this latest offering from Ben Kunz, an album drenched in grief and plight that follows the death of his mother. Subject matter and songwriting aside, this album is proof that you don’t need thousands of dollars in a professional studio to get something that sounds great. Most of it was recorded on a phone and then the tracks were finalized remotely. The end result is admittedly more raw than his last record, but it’s not in a way that sounds cheap of amateur. In terms of the songs themselves, this is a pretty heavy album to take in, and in some ways it helps re-sensitize us to the realities of death in a world where it often feels like we are invincible. Gospel hope does not take a backseat, but there’s certainly no nice sense of closure, either.
Suggested tracks: Manna, Can’t Keep Up, Surgical Wound
Chase Tremaine – Accidental Days
To be quite frank, I had pretty mixed feelings about Chase Tremaine’s first attempt at his sophomore album. I apparently had reviewed it and had forgotten about it almost entirely by the time he had redone things. The second pass, however, was much stronger – and Tremaine’s work has continued at this level ever since. This is the kind of release that stretches the definition of singer-songwriter, opting for an emo/post-hardcore sound at times. This is his most overt album in terms of his faith, but it doesn’t cheapen any of his sentiments at all. Tremaine’s style definitely contrasts with the other Post Emo folks, but he’s certainly worth a listen all the same.
Suggested tracks: One Day, Settled in the Unsettled, After Love
American Arson – Sand & Cinder // Tide & Timber
I can boast that I’ve been a day one fan of American Arson, and seeing start from hand-numbering CDs to getting signed and releasing some of the heaviest songs they’ve written has been an adventure. This album more consistent than their first Facedown offering, opting to play toward their strengths far more. As typical, Evan Baker holds nothing back lyrically, speaking toward concerns in the Christian music industry, calling us to carry on in faith, and reminding us that trials are not wasted. It’s far from what I typically listen to these days, but I won’t pretend it doesn’t rock.
Suggested tracks: Low Tide, The Heat I: Run, Promises
Nick Webber – All the Nothing I Know
Nick Webber, curiously also a member of A Place for Owls, finds a unique spot on this list. It’s not lost on me that most of the acts so far have been solo projects, but there’s something about the way Webber crafts his songs that seems to throw everything “solo” out the window. These songs are serpentine, drifting through layers of dynamic and weaving through all sorts of stylistic influence and vocal technique. There’s no particular reason for me to believe a solo artists COULDN’T pull this off, but typically something of this flavor gets fleshed out with a full band. This is DIY at its finest. In terms of the actual music, the tone is a bit depressing at times (I don’t mean this cheaply – after all, this isn’t the first “sad” album on this list), but there’s a good mix of full-band, prog-tinged indie that might be comparable loosely to The Dear Hunter in some respects.
Suggested tracks: Ghost Variations, Of Certain Doubts, Longway
Dylan Case White – Remind Me Your Name
Dylan Case White previously performed under the Spoken World moniker, but apart from that, he couldn’t be considered a household name. His first record under his own legal name dropped after years of challenges, and it marries White’s love for acts like Jason Isbell with an undeniable heart of hope and pain. His vocal lines drip with honest musings of a life of struggle, while all the same he does not withhold that there is hope beyond our present momentary circumstances.
Suggested Tracks: Owning Up, On the Clouds, Swing Low
Zane Vickery – Whatever Light We Have
Zane Vickery’s upcoming album has to easily be one of my most anticipated records in quite a while. While Breezewood is incredible in its own right, it’s nice to see Vickery move boldly beyond the confines of Rabbit Roomcore into a fuller rock dynamic. This time around, there are even some gang vocals thrown in – something you’d probably never see on an Andrew Peterson album. His lyrics are on point as always, and while this track took a few plays to fully click, it ended up being one of my most-played songs this year.
Bowman – Alexander
Steven Bowman’s firstfruits of his solo career see him shift from his virtuoso violin skills for the likes of guitar and even acapella arrangements. His latest track is still very fresh, opting for a collaboration with the Hall Sisters to haunting effect. This follows several other tracks released this year, all which appear to speak toward different homes tied to Bowman’s life.
Before There Was Rosalyn – Between The Grave & The Sea
When I discovered that Before There Was Rosalyn was coming through Mobile, I had to check that it was in fact the same band from years back. It was. While that alone was enough cause for intrigue, I apparently knew people who were in the band as well. I haven’t regularly listened to metalcore pretty much since the halcyon days of the band, but man, this is such a welcome return.