It's been quite a year in just about every area, and Christian music is no exception. In my first full year as a staff reviewer ay NewReleaseTuesday, I got a considerably larger view of the Christian music landscape than I have in previous years. So I am even more confident than I usually am in my "Best of" picks--confident enough to write a little article about it. It's been a great year to be part of the NRT team and I'm looking forward to all the surprises that wait next year.
So here are my "Best of 2012" picks in Christian music, starting with No. 10 and going to No. 1. Some choices might not surprise you given my reviews, and some just might.
Best Albums of 2012
10. Anchor and Braille - The Quiet Life
While not something I can listen to regularly, this side project of Anberlin frontman Stephen Christian was truly a surprising summer treat. It was more upbeat and accessible than the debut album and helped define Christian as one of the more versatile musicians in the industry today.
9. Fireflight - Now
Fireflight returned with another release of radio-ready rock this year. The title track and lead single "Stay Close" were all solid tracks. Although given the quality Fireflight is known for, I do wish I could put them a little higher.
8. Sent By Ravens - Mean What You Say
Sent By Ravens released their sophomore album this year, and then said goodbye. Talk about bittersweet. On one hand, they released a very solid rock album with promise to make them one of the big names in the industry, and then they break up. It's tough being a music fan in today's day and age…
7. Thousand Foot Krutch - The End is Where We Begin
TFK left their longtime home at Tooth and Nail records and started a Kickstarter to pay for this album. Luckily for fans, the quality remained top-notch TFK. Bringing back some of the older rap sound but keeping the accessible rock sounds of their other recent releases made for a satisfying balance and a slew of new classic TFK rock tracks like "War of Change" and "Let the Sparks Fly."
6. Kutless - Believer
Kutless has always put out solid albums, and this release was no exception. While it seemed to be missing a truly memorable rock anthem, it did well at blending the rock and worship sides of Kutless into an accessible album with a lot of tunes ready to be hits. The Eastertide song "This is Love" and the emotional "Carry On" are definite highlights.
5. Capital Lights - Rhythm N' Moves
While so many other bands were breaking up, Capital Lights finally got back together just long enough to release a second album on Tooth and Nail records. Fans who feared that they might never hear any more of the band's signature rock sound were gifted with exactly what we'd expect from another Capital Lights record. While that left surprises few, it was just nice to finally get more music from the CL boys.
4. House of Heroes - Cold Hard Want
It's pretty much a given that any time House of Heroes releases a new album nowadays, it's going to end up all over the "best of" lists at the end of the year. This new album is no exception. While it still falls a bit short of their classic The End is not the End album, it's got more than enough signature rock tunes to make a great and memorable release.
3. The Classic Crime - Phoenix
Another band who exited Tooth and Nail and successfully funded a Kickstarter. The band's previous albums set the bar pretty high in terms of musical quality but their new indie status seems to have only helped them raise it again. In short, this album is amazing. It's the same deep, in-your-face lyrics the band has always been known for, but this time the music sounds even better. (Yes, that's possible.) Highlights include the contemplative "Beautiful Darkside" and the epic masterpiece of "The Precipice."
2. For King & Country - Crave
The only debut on this list, and what a debut it is. If you ask me, this goes down next to classics like Jars of Clay's self-titled and Leeland's Sound of Melodies
as far as classic debut albums go. While the Australian duo (and brothers of Christian music icon, Rebecca St. James) had put out an EP or two before (some under their former name, Joel and Luke), this was their first national full-length, and they wasted no time packing it with their best. I was first introduced to them on the Winter Jam 2012 Tour and I was immediately won over. From start to finish, be it a rousing anthem or a contemplative ballad, there isn't a wasted note here. Why isn't this band the next big thing being played all day on pop radio both Christian and mainstream? I have no idea. Hopefully 2013 will change that.
1. Anberlin - Vital
To anyone who has read my review for this album, this should come as no surprise and I do not need to even explain this choice. In short, this is a mind-blowing, epic, amazing, absolutely terrific masterpiece of an album. Anberlin had struggled to produce such a record since their last such album, Cities, dropped in early 2007. Well, I think it's finally safe to say that they've (finally) succeeded, and captured the spot of my Number 1 album of 2012.
I'm also including a list of the best songs of this year (without explanations). Well, almost the best songs. If I really included only (what I think are) the best, I probably wouldn't get past my first 2 or 3 album selections, and that wouldn't be a very interesting list. Therefore I am limiting myself to absolutely 1 song from each artist – no exceptions. So I suppose it's the best songs of the best artists, in a way? I don't know. I'll just give you the list and let you judge what you think. In order:
"Modern Age" - Anberlin
"The Proof of Your Love" - For King & Country
"The Precipice" – The Classic Crime
"Need You Now (How Many Times)" - Plumb
"Dead Flowers" - Demon Hunter
"Remember The Empire" - House of Heroes
"Save The Last Dance" - Capital Lights
"Up in the Air" - Marc Martel
"This Is Love" – Kutless
"Before I Start Dreaming" – Anchor & Braille
Best Christmas Songs:
"Baby Boy" - For King and Country
"Christmas is Coming" - Jason Gray
"Shining" - Sanctus Real
Saddest band "breakup" – Downhere
Biggest CCM surprise of the year – Audio Adrenaline sort of comes out of retirement, with an almost entire new lineup, and Kevin Max as the lead singer.
Best "new" band – For King & Country (technically not "new" to this year but I'll list them as such since this is the year they released their debut full-length)
Most disappointing delay of an expected release – New album by Skillet
Most anticipated albums of 2013:
Skillet – Untitled
Plumb – Need You Now
Marc Martel – Untitled EP
Switchfoot – Fading West
The Letter Black – Untitled
Red – Release The Panic
Sanctus Real – Run
Silverline – Lights Out
Seabird – Untitled
Hawk Nelson – Made
I am sure there is much more I could include in such a list, but I'd be here all day if I attempted that. So for 2012, that's my own personal "Best of" list. Here's to a great 2013 that is already promising to be another great year in music. What new artists will thrill us? What artists will surprise us with an amazing comeback? Who will we say goodbye to? Will highly anticipated new releases meet their massive expectations? I suppose by this time next year, we'll know the answers to these questions. Until then, let's sit back and enjoy the ride that will be music in 2013.