It was a great year for music, especially for corporate worship music. So many great worship albums came out that pushed the musical envelope of creativity both sonically and lyrically, without alienating the church from congregational participation. I am grateful beyond words. The church really was the winner this year.
From the pop side of things, it seemed that so much just sounded like the exact same dance club remix with a different voice on it. Yet a few artists really stood out and made some great music. Being that I am a sucker for a great hook and killer melody, I am not afraid to be the guy who loves pop music. I want something I can sing along with that will stick with me.
I also can’t help but fall for some killer production. While much of the world is like, “Let’s dress like old people in suspenders and sing out of tune folk music,” I am just not going for it. I love raw and stripped back, but I don’t subscribe to that junk that says if it’s not, it isn’t good. Good music is good music. And this is my take on what my top 5 favorite “good music” albums of 2013.
#1 ZION by Hillsong United
It should come as no surprise that a worship leader’s favorite album would be a worship album, but this one really earned it. This isn’t just a great worship record. It’s a great record. United has been a favorite for years, but this record was so fresh and it really re-defined their sound in many great ways. Most of their previous records have had 5 or so great songs on it and I just kinda skip over the rest. Not so with Zion. Every song is amazing. Not only is this easily their strongest lyrical offering to date, but Zion marks a much more mature sound, moving beyond the old youth group hype music into multi-layered interesting originality that I hope to see inspire many worship leaders to step into.
#2 Pure Heroine by Lorde
I don’t know if I would have believed it last December if I told myself that one of my favorite albums the following December would be by a 17-year-old girl. I think the only reason that it didn’t make it to the #1 slot is because there are definitely a few times that her lyrics show her age. Yet the simplicity of the production (often just a synthy pad and a simple programmed drum beat) layered with some of the coolest vocal textures I have ever heard made this one of the fullest, most appealing records to listen to over and over. Combine that with the catchy melodies singing witty lyrical sarcasm, and this album is the perfect storm.
#3 The Water & The Blood by Dustin Kensrue
I don’t know if any other album this year has made me want to worship Jesus as much as The Water and the Blood has. Many will know Dustin as the frontman for the band Thrice, but this was my first introduction to him. I am obviously impressed. On top of being a highly creative and skilled musician, this record proves that Kensrue is a deep theologian and master lyricist. But not just that. He has somehow found a way to write an album that doesn’t conform to what much of the church has come to think worship music should sound like, and yet it engages the heart and head more fully and effectively than any corporate worship record I have heard in a long time. It is chock full of angst, hope, joy, celebration, and it’s sometimes hard to know whether to weep or shout with joy. This is a homerun and I think if every worship leader memorized this entire album, they would love Jesus more.
#4 Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend
In addition to boasting one of the smoothest, coolest, most unique voices out there right now, this album is just plain fun. I can’t help but smile while listening. It kinda feels like I’m a kid again playing on a sunny day with the ice cream man rolling by. The sound is simple, yet full, with a really nice warm vintage quality that’s hard not to love. The unique ways they employ various instrumentation and tones from song to song keeps the album interesting. Just when you think you have their sound pegged, they throw something new at you and keep your ear glued to the airwaves. Basically what I’m saying is, if you like great melodies sung with a killer voice over super interesting music, you’ll love this record.
#5 Halcyon Days (Deluxe) by Ellie Goulding
I have loved Ellie Goulding’s voice and sound since I first heard “Lights” last year. It was my jam then, and she hasn’t put out a bad single since. So I was pretty stoked when this album released back in August. It is everything I love about really good pop music: super catchy melodies, fun grooves, massive production. Add all that on top of her super cool British voice and you have a winning combo.
** Honorable Mentions include: Citizens by Citizens, Native by One Republic, Glorious Ruins by Hillsong, and The Death of Death by Charlie Hall.
So that’s my take. What were your favorites of 2013? What am I missing?