Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Jimmy Eat World, Empire of the Sun, The Digital Age, Norah Jones, Future of Forestry, and Owel.
It’s that time of year again, when I arbitrarily sort through the list of songs I’ve been obsessed with over the past 12 months, and try to whittle it down to a semi-reasonable list of 100 favorites. A lot of these were released in 2013, and a few even in 2012, but as usual, I was late to the party.
Music videos and some live performances are embedded for most of the Top 30. I didn’t want to go too far beyond that, for fear of crashing your browser. I’ve also created a Spotify playlist that explores a number of these favorites, more or less chronologically in the order that I discovered them.
I decided to get this month’s “What Am I Listening To?” column out of the way early, since December is a slow month for new releases and I’m mostly busy reviewing my favorites from the year gone by, in order to get those all written up by December 31st. So here are all two of the new records I’ve managed to check out this month, from Falling Up and The Digital Age.
Artist: The Digital Age
In Brief: Several members of the David Crowder Band have soldiered on without Crowder… and while the results aren’t terribly surprising or deep, this is still a pretty solid, rock-oriented worship album, and I say that at a point in my life where I’m not at all easily impressed by such things.
You may have gotten the impression from the Gungor review I just wrote, or really anything I’ve written in the last ten years or so that discusses contemporary Christian “worship” music, its perennial popularity in the marketplace, and its apparent acceptance as the default musical style in a lot of Protestant churches, that I’m not a big fan of the genre. That really isn’t true. Sure, I make fun of a lot of the artists who produce such music, when I’m not busy leveling more serious accusations against the quality of their music, but my issue is really the repetition of it, with so many artists all scrambling to copy “what works” and not really thinking outside the box much, which is sort of built into the genre since the whole idea is to create songs that a worship leader can easily pick up, teach a team of amateur musicians to play, and get a congregation singing along to without too much hassle. In theory, I don’t have any theological issue with this. In practice, I think it’s becoming an issue of pouring new wine into old wineskins in a lot of cases. It’s the biggest example of people being willfully blinded to the actual merits of the music simply because they deem its intent to be the most noble thing that music could ever do. That’s what also makes it the most challenging thing to do well – to really help us meditate on and offer thanks to God for some aspect of His character, rather than just to lull us into a comfort zone where a catchy song we can sing back from memory doesn’t require us to think very much at all. But when it is done well, I’ll be among the first to say so (at least, if I can pick it out from the increasingly nondescript crowd of artists all vying to be the next Chris Tomlin).Continue reading
For the third and final entry in this long-winded look back at the music that mattered to me this year, I present the cream of the crop – the albums that provided me with the most satisfying listening experience from beginning to end, which is a much more difficult feat than simply hooking me with a catchy song or two, and arguably a feat many artists have given up on in the age of digital music that can just as easily be released for bite-sized consumption on a sporadic schedule, rather than thought through as a fully-formed artistic statement. These albums don’t have that much in common with one another, but taken all together, they represent the weird snowball of influences that make up my musical tastes these days, ranging from old favorites who have resurfaced after lying dormant for many years, to buzz-gathering indie artists who have begun to break out of the blogosphere and into some version of “the mainstream”, to those who have given up entirely on mainstream fame and are content to Kickstarter and Indiegogo their way into fans’ hearts with no traditional support structure whatsoever. It’s all a very weird mix, but it’s all quite delicious.
It’s time to kick off my yearly obsession with counting things that it really makes no sense to put in order. More detailed write-ups on the full lengths albums that captivated me this year are to follow, but for now, here’s a haphazard list I’ve compiled of 100 songs that moved me this year… some physically, some emotionally, some both.
For those who’d like to follow along and listen to some of my picks, I’ve compiled a playlist (limited to one song per artist, because it’s crazy long enough already), that hits a lot of the year’s highlights, in roughly the order I came to discover them.