12 Notable Albums from 2012

2012 saw the rise to fame of new artists like the ubiquitous Carly Rae Jepsen and the baffling PSY through contagious singles, but the album charts saw material from a lot of veteran musicians returning to post their sixth albums (No Doubt), ninth (Cat Power), twelfth (Leonard Cohen) or even seventeenth albums (Bruce Springsteen). Artists both new and old have put out innumerable incredible pieces; here’s a sampling the year’s more successful, creative and/or influential albums:

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Celebration Rock
Japandroids
The Vancouver rockers mince no words with the title to this short, rousing anthemic record.
Grizzly-Bear-Shields
Grizzly Bear has concocted something exquisite with the disparate sounds of Shields.
thexxalbumcover
Coexist – The xx
Purposefully leaked by the British outfit to a single fan days before the official release, Coexist went viral and has enjoyed comfortable popularity since. The album is characterized by pulled-back dream-pop and R&B instrumentation with subdued anti-duets, evoking both tenderness and conflict.
bloom beach house
Bloom – Beach House
Suspicions about Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s ability to provide a follow-up to Teen Dream are put to rest with the hypnotizing Bloom: worth a two-year wait.
ARTS_Battle-born-killers
Battle Born – The Killers
The Killers play with past and present with epic Battle-Born. The synth-infused, reverberating guitar sound possesses all the arena-rock feel of U2 and Tom Petty, without tritely imitating them.
creation liturgy gungor
A Creation Liturgy
Gungor
For whatever “Christian music” is in its broadest sense right now in North America, Gungor may be the most important independent band. Producing liturgical post-rock that is equally technical, artful and enjoyable, their rise to popularity and their message disregard church walls. In October, lead singer Michael published a book on creativity titled The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse.
provincial john samson
Provincial
John K. Samson
Weakerthans frontman John Samson decided that for his first solo album, he’d write an apostrophic love letter to Canada. This album makes it onto this list partly for that fact, and partly because Samson does such an incredible job with his lyrics, examining topics from grad school to winter in Manitoba.
music_mumford_sons_babel_album_cover
The London folk-pop quartet returns with a listenable yet stylistically similar follow-up to Sigh No More, pleasing fans, repulsing others, and nonetheless attracting considerable Internet buzz. The dulcent sound of “banjolin” has secured its comeback.
lecraegravity
Gravity – Lecrae
Appearing prolific and full of potential with two albums out this year, Lecrae’s Gravity peaked at #1 on Gospel charts and #1 on Rap charts while his free mixape Church Clothes rose to #5 on the charts, featuring contributions from notable up-and-comers like Beautiful Eulogy.
satellitekite
Satellite Kite
Beautiful Eulogy
Derived from a theological analogy of a kite tethered healthily in a way that enables the kite to fulfill its true purpose, Satellite Kite brings fresh textures and fresh insights to the rap scene, intended, as stated in a lyric from the album, to “make you logically stop and think doxologically cause honestly a little bit of music and theology never really hurt anybody.”
Ten Stories
mewithoutYou
Three years after their last release, post-hardcore band mewithoutYou re-converged to begin writing again. Vocalist Aaron Weiss found inspiration in William James’ tale of a tiger that because of habit dared not leave its cage when opened by a circus train crash. Weiss finds stupendous symbolism in the story and uses his unique lyrical gift to paint allegories in tracing the stories of various animals with his characteristic spoken-word and sung vocals.

25 Albums That Redefine

Typically, unless you’re Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, no-one cares about your Top 25.

But for those hungry for great music, I’m serving bite size portions from last decade’s best independent music.

These artists, who are writing from a faith perspective, are not in the “Gospel & Religious” category assigned by the music industry. Many of them would rather not be associated with that category at all. They’re artists who produce authentic material in their own right, while not neglecting the deeper dimensions of the human experience.

1/ Misty Edwards – Relentless

Misty Edwards’ 2007 release “Relentless” absolutely rocks. It’s passionate faith sung with sonorous beauty, married with masterful guitar riffs and basslines. The quieter side of the album is just as powerful. The album comes as a double disc, with the second featuring acoustic material.

2/ Shad – TSOL

One of Canada’s best rappers, witty and eloquent emcee Shad is Rwandan-born and Ontario-raised. He articulates plenty of his spiritual insights within his clever and humorous lines of social commentary.

3/ Kye Kye – Young Love

Kye Kye’s Young Love is a gorgeous rippling indie glitch-pop wonder that’s equally performed in clubs and sanctuaries.

4/ Gungor – Beautiful Things

The album title refers to the beautiful things that God creates, but in a way it is self-referential; this is a truly stunning album. Lyrically, it is a celebration of many central and tender tensions in the Christian faith. The vision of this album seems equally inspired by the beauty of God’s works and the realization that there is yet much restoration to take place. Doubt, faith, joy and solemnity are all given their due as the listener makes his or her way through the tracklist. The heart and mind come away nourished.

This is Christian music at its finest. Gungor employ a multiplicity of styles and master them. What Gungor presents to their listeners with this release is an album that is sophisticated but unpretentious, deeply refreshing and reflective with meditation. It expresses the band’s growing understanding of a grander God and it dares the listener to open their mind.

5/ John Mark McMillan – The Medicine

For all of his lyrical and musical prowess, John Mark McMillan is not the sort of musician to produce just any song. He wrote on his blog at the time of his second album’s release, “the world has enough songs… if you have to write a song, write something that no-one’s said before”. He puts his money where his mouth is with this album as he paints rich allegory over stunning blues-rock backdrops.

6/ United Pursuit Band – Found

7/ Amber Brooks – Still I Rise

Amber’s debut album, Still I Rise, is passionate, beautiful, and a cry of the heart, personally and collectively. Find a love story in the lyrics about the mutual divine pursuit. Read my interview with her here.

8/ Audra Lynn (Hartke) – Vow

http://craigdanielketchum.tumblr.com/post/14205441934/adorned-audra-lynn

9/ Sean Feucht & BURN 24-7 – Sacred Mountain

Imagine what ambient progressive instrumental music would be if it was inspired by God, then find it in listening to Sacred Mountain.

10/ John Mark McMillan – The Song Inside The Sounds of Breaking Down

The album with the song that took the world by storm, “How He Loves Us”, is filled with all kinds of good stuff. McMillan is a poet of rare calibre.

11/ The Listening – The Listening LP

With the experience of former band Rock ‘n’ Roll Worship Circus behind them, musicians Gabriel Wilson, Josiah Sherman, Chris Greely, and Eric Lemiere return as The Listening to release this creative and beautiful debut album.

Confident musicianship (You’ll hear them play in 3, 4, 5, and 7 time) paired with yearning lyrics fills The Listening LP and highlights not just the bands’ musical and lyrical maturity but their very passions and dreams. The album is filled with diverse sounds, melodies, and textures, revisiting the same echoes which could be heard in The Worship Circus’ music – Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Doves, Radiohead, and more. Each song is fresh and different, yet there is an unmistakable unity to the album. Each part articulate yet seamlessly woven together with the others; the work compliments the artistic sensitivity behind it and reminds this author of Paul’s demand of the church in 1 Corinthians 12. Whether it is the delightful metamorphosis of sound on “Triple Fascination” and “Be In Your Eyes” or the haunting musical narrative of “Lovely Red Lights”, each piece contributes to a greater vision, a vision the band has laid open to their listeners, an inspired message of hope. The Listening weave a musical story rich with contemporary insights as well as biblical allusion indicative of their spiritual convictions. One song on the album, “The Factory”, is a parable that, like the parables of Jesus two thousand years ago, followers do not always grasp immediately without explanation.

The innovative sound, honest lyrics, and oftentimes unusual instrumentation on The Listening LP blows a fresh breeze into the alternative rock world as well the sphere of Christian contemporary music. Overall, a fantastic record on multiple levels and should appeal to a wide audience.

12/ Brock Human – Come Away

Returning to the States from a trip with Iris Ministries in Mozambique and with the intention to record an album, Brock Human had a puzzling fall into depression and a complete creative block. With his desperate need for God to be real, God spoke to him in a dream. Brock writes, “in six days he showed me greater love than I could have imagined”. Within a week six songs were complete and the album was finished.

The album comprises simple, profound statements of faith and truth set against the backdrop of sweeping guitars, rich piano, and pulsing African drumbeats. The middle tracks are an encouragement of God`s good plans for each life, and a commitment to wait on the Lord. The album closes with a sung Apostles` creed and an instrumental progression. Let Me In is a flowing album filled with the real hope and inspiration of a real God. It is a true testament to the words of Jesus in Luke 18:27, “What is impossible with man is possible with God”.

13/ Matt Gilman & Cory Asbury – Holy

Two virtuoso voices come together to create one astounding album rich in scriptural allusion and prophetic insight.

14/ Will Reagan & United Pursuit Band – In The Night Season

Honest and unpretentious; this album set up the United Pursuit Band to become an influential force in contemporary worship music.

15/ Branches – Everything You’ve Ever Done Has Been Beautiful

Electronica wizard Jonny Hughes’ fantastic side-project called BRANCHES is ambient electronica that is peaceful and phantasmagorical all in one, well-fit for soaking (listening/meditative) prayer. This, his sophomore EP has been called a “heavenly slice of electro indie-pop” and described thus by XLR8R: “Throughout the instrumental affair, Hughes implements a bath of ethereal synths and arpeggios which is built upon using a seemingly endless supply of delicate melodies with interlocking rhythms that precisely play off each other. The first blown-out drum loop enters the procession just after the one minute marker, eventually disappearing only to pop up again in short spurts between a number of incredibly melody-washed breakdowns. In customary electro-pop fashion, the biggest burst of energy is saved for the track’s climax, where giant, glitched kicks and snares fire at will as Hughes’ melodies soar above, unscathed by the tumultuous sounds below.”

16/ Josh Garrels – Jacaranda

Sublime lyricist and instrumentalist Josh Garrels’ breakbeat folk album weaves lyrical poetic tapestries that challenge and clarify.

17/ Jon Foreman – Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter EPs

Jon Foreman (lead singer of Switchfoot)’s solo project brought forth an EP for every season, and did not shy away from allowing us to peer into his own wonderings and wanderings.

18/ Extol – The Blueprint Dives

Extol’s technical musicianship earned the band a Spellemannsprisen nomination for best metal album of 2005. The progressive extreme metal band writes music in subgenres including death metal and thrash.

19/ Jason Upton – Between Earth And Sky

Have you ever heard an angel sing? At the recording of Jason Upton’s album “Remember”, there were full grown men on their faces on the ground. Between Earth And Sky contains live versions with a studio quality of some of Jason’s most powerful songs.

20/ Jesus Culture – Your Love Never Fails

Jesus Culture’s 2008 CD/DVD release featuring Kim Walker, Chris Quilala and Melissa How (Wise) helped bring fresh spirit-led worship to the forefront of CCM by using material from the likes of Misty Edwards, Sarah McMillan, Chris McClarney, and others.

21/ Nina Landis – Fly

Nina’s clarion call to the church carries the urgency of a modern prophet, calling us back to our senses and to God’s heart. It’s incredible how strong the responses one album can provoke. “Fly” is as likely to have you weep on the floor of your bedroom as to rock out in your car.

22/ Phil Wickham – Cannons

The song “Beautiful” of this album is a diamond in a field of gems.

23/ Jeremy Enigk – World Waits

Jeremy Enigk, one of the founding fathers of 90’s melodic punk, became a Christian during his time as lead singer of the Seattle emocore band Sunny Day Real Estate and made a bold move in the punk community by opening up about how he had come to love Jesus and wanted to sing about him. His conversion to Christianity was met with mixed reactions and Enigk’s faith journey continued to be a point of contention in his fanbase. He has since released a handful of albums, carrying a change of tone from his old songs with Sunny Day Real Estate. A biographical account can be found here: http://www.explorefaith.org/music/enigk.html

24/ MewithoutYou – Brother, Sister

Masters of the modern parable.

25/ Rock n’ Roll Worship Circus – A Beautiful Glow

Pioneers of Christian indie music, the Rock n’ Roll Worship Circus’ bizarre name clues you in to the fact that they weren’t afraid to be different. Speaking powerfully of hope for humanity, A Beautiful Glow radiates joy via Moog Synth. Rock n’ Roll Worship Circus now exists as music collective The Listening.