This Is the Correlation of Salvation and Love: My Top 20 Anberlin Songs

There are favorite bands that I’ve known all along I felt a special connection with. Then there are bands that become favorites much later on, either because I didn’t know they existed until several albums deep into their discography, or I just didn’t think at first that they were for me. Anberlin is one of those weird cases where I was into the band from pretty much the beginning, but didn’t realize how deep of a connection I felt to their music until almost the end. I also didn’t realize how much it meant to certain other folks in my life until the clock was running out on our chances to actually enjoy the band’s music as a communal experience.

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Music in Every Sound: My Top 20 Iona Songs

“Ah, so that’s where murlough23 got his screen name from! I just assumed he was really into wine or something.”

Out of all the bands I’ve ever been truly fanatical about, Iona might have been the one that was the toughest sell for friends who I hoped I could convert to fellow fans. For starters, their music generally got tagged as either “Celtic rock” or even “new age”. That generally made folks think more of Enya, and I don’t know, the Titanic soundtrack or something, rather than the more complex and often long-winded style of progressive rock that they actually made. Here in the U.S., they were marketed as a Christian rock band, which I suppose is technically correct since a lot of their music was inspired by the history of Celtic Christianity, and a the band’s members were mostly Christians, but stylistically, they were a pretty lousy fit for Christian radio in any era. And from the perspective of potential American listeners, they were an import band, with their primary audience in the U.K. and rather limited exposure in the States, carried by a Christian record label that really didn’t know how to market them, and with their albums generally having a limited print run in an age when you couldn’t simply download an album from anywhere in the world with the simple click of a mouse.

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A Love with Intuition: My Top 20 Vienna Teng Songs

If I could write songs like anyone in the world, I’d want to write like Vienna Teng does.

I’m sure I’ve echoed this sentiment many times in all of the reviews I’ve written of Vienna’s music over the years. And while there quite a lot of songwriters I’ve admired enough to consider them influential over the years, she seems to be the one I come back to the most consistently and remain in awe of, somehow still finding interesting little nuances I hadn’t considered before in songs of hers that I’ve loved for nearly two decades now. I knew pretty early on that I had stumbled across something special when I first heard her music – all it took was two songs performed on solo piano at an intimate live show way back in the spring of 2003 for me to first feel that tug deep within me, telling me I wanted to write something that communicated such powerful imagery wrapped in curious metaphor, and yet she was so intimidatingly good at it that I was pretty sure I’d never be able to come anywhere near it. But perhaps that’s the point. Vienna is such a restlessly creative individual who constantly challenges her own status quo. So maybe the best way to be inspired by her is to not try to mimic her at all. And therein lies the paradox.

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Taking the Scenic Route: My Top 20 Jars of Clay Songs

“Jars of Clay? Are they still around?”

I’ve gotten that reaction from a lot of people when I tell them that Jars of Clay is my all-time favorite band, or when they notice me wearing one of the old, raggedy shirts I bought at one of their concerts ages ago. I try to take it in stride, because to most of the world, the band is considered a one-hit wonder. (Heck, there’s even a YouTube show about one-hit wonders that I got into because they did an episode on the band’s mid-90s crossover hit “Flood”.) Even to folks who were super into Christian rock and came of age around the same time I did, who are more familiar with the band’s work than just the one song, they tend to like the band’s first album and not really know or care about much of their work after that point. It gets difficult to explain to folks that: (a) Yes, they still make music after all these years, (b) Yes, they’re all still Christians, (c) No, they never had another mainstream hit and they were probably better off not angling for one, and (d) They’ve massively improved as artists since that already excellent first album.

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Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2018: Favorite Albums (and Honorable Mentions)

This is the list I look forward to writing the most each year, and yet that I seem to always agonize over until New Year’s Eve arrives and I have to click the “Publish” button and freeze these opinions in time. Coming up with a good, solid list of album recommendations at the end of every year seems to be a harder and harder task as time goes by, owing to a lot of artists seeming to lose interest in the album format, perhaps putting out excellent singles or EPs, but with the full-length LP becoming almost an afterthought. Even some of the top entries here were records I got to know at least half of as pre-release singles, or as a collection of EPs, before the full listening experience was made available, and thus I regard them more as strong compilations of songs from the latest phase of an artist’s career rather than as cohesive “albums” in the traditional sense. Still, a few holdouts are doing great things with the LP format, making a case for why it’s worth roughly 40 to 60 minutes of a listener’s time to take in a collection of songs in the order presented. I think that’s an art form that is still worth pursuing, even if the state of the music industry makes it an uphill battle to keep doing so.

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Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2018: Wait, That’s Not an Album! (and Last Year’s Leftovers)

It feels like this year brought along a massive hodgepodge of acoustic remake EPs (and some full LPs), remix projects, live albums, etc. from artists whose studio work I tend to enjoy. A lot of it felt hastily rushed out the door in order to generate more streaming revenue, to be honest. But these few holdouts containing all original material (or covers of a single artist, in one case) were of such strong quality that I found myself wishing each one could be expanded into an album in its own right. (Or in one instance, wishing it could have actually been part of the album it was released as a prelude to.) Here are the EPs that I enjoyed the most in 2018, as well as a pair of actual full-length albums from 2017 that I didn’t get around to in time.

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Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2018: Dishonorable Mentions

Here are the albums that I had the toughest time making it all the way through in 2018. At the top of the list are the merely mediocre records that I almost wanted to rescue from the “dishonorable” pile, but that just didn’t have enough good to outweigh the bad. As you get further down, the list gets more and more abysmal, to the point where I can’t even come up with a track highlight to make a case for why it’s not all bad.

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