10. Pacific Gold – Sing My Welcome Home
If you listen to “worship” music at all, you’ll find that you’ve got your pop-worship songs and you’ve got your rebooted hymns. A lot of times, neither subgenre is very compelling, but I gravitate towards the rich lyrics of hymns with interesting music as my favorite. Pacific Gold (previously known as Wayfarer) is a California outfit that imbues hymns with a Beach Boys-esque sheen that’s really quite something. Their arrangments are very, very fun. And that cover art is something else too!
9. Josh Garrels – Home
I’ve listened to Josh Garrels before, but I’ve never been struck by any of his albums until this one. Garrels’ voice is fantastic and the songs he’s written for this album are extremely poignant and arresting. I’ve learned and played a couple of these for our church and gained an even deeper connection to them through the performance.
8. Gungor – One Wild Life: Soul
Gungor are probably one of the more musically talented “Christian” bands right now. After taking a bit of time off to grow their family, they returned with the first in a series of LPs. This one, called “Soul”, has some really great tunes on it. Then you reach the end and are presented with the song “Vapor” and it’s a beautiful, beautiful moment.
7. Passion Pit – Kindred
This was a great summer album. Passion Pit is known for their electro-power-pop sound and the soaring vocals of lead singer Michael Angelakos. This is their 3rd album and may be their strongest overall. And the lead single “Lifted Up (1985)” is a total jam. Just a very fun, hooky album.
6. Wilco – Star Wars
The coolest thing for bands to do these days is to drop new albums without warning. Radiohead has done it. Beyonce has done it. Now Wilco got in on the act, springing this quixotic collection on the public and giving it away for free! It’s a fun, off-kilter jaunt of an album that the band clearly had a lot of fun putting together. Naming it “Star Wars” and putting a painting of a cat on the cover are just two examples of the gleeful weirdness.
5. Low – Ones and Sixes
It was good to have Low back in my life this year. I didn’t love their 2013 album all that much, but this one grabbed me right away. The chilling, thunderous resonance that Sparhawk and Parker conjure up is so lovely. And I’ve really fallen in love with the song “No Comprende”.
4. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi
I think Death Cab had their “back to the shack” moment (copyright Weezer) this year. Ben Gibbard experienced upheaval in his personal life over the last couple of years after he and Zooey broke up and founding DCFC member Chris Walla left the band. “Kintsugi” is the Japanese practice of repairing broken pottery in a way that preserves the cracks for all to see. The band re-emphasizes their knack for creating good guitar riffs (that have been missing for a few years) and creates their best album Plans.
3. Chvrches – Every Open Eye
I love this band. Their first album was great from front to back. There was some worry as to whether they could keep the momentum going for a sophomore album, but they hit this one out of the park too. It’s another gem. Lots of cool beats and melodies with Lauren Mayberry’s astonishingly vibrant vocals leading the way. They’re one of the best bands going right now.
2. Mew – +/- (plus/minus)
Full disclosure: this album’s ranking was definitely influenced by the fact that I was able to see them live this fall – and they were outstanding. Mew crafts some of the more unconventional arrangements you’ll find with choppy guitar riffs and intricate drumming. Then you’ve got the sky-high falsetto vocal lines. This album takes all of those things and explores some new territory too. After the show, I spun this album until it was dizzy. I particularly like “Water Slides” and the crushing chorus specifically.
1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Yeah, the year belonged to Sufjan Stevens. After dabbling in the spectacle that was Age of Adz and the wild circus of the Christmas albums and tour, no one knew where Stevens would go next. Maybe he didn’t either. Then his estranged mother died and he was consumed by the event. His grief gave birth to this haunting and beautiful album. Full of loss, regret, longing and hope, it’s his most blatantly personal work in a career filled with questionably fictional story songs. I’ve found that once I start listening to it, I almost have to play it out to the very end. The journey of the album is vivid and compelling. I find that the albums I really fall in love with are the ones that are born out of an artist’s story. And I fell in love with this album.