2013, soon behind us, was a musical year of confusion. It’s too early in the decade to define the “sound of the 10’s”, so we have an industry without a label. Rolling Stone’s top 5 albums of the year include one from a Parisian electronica duo (Daft Punk) and a 71-year-old (Paul McCartney). Billboard’s number one song of 2013 was by a collection of characters called “Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Wanz”, and the highest charting album of the year was by a former boy-band singer (Justin Timberlake).
Christian music tends to lag behind the mainstream curve, so there was not so much confusion as, well, what’s the word? Mediocrity is too strong, because there were a few excellent standouts. Lack of Impact is a term I stay away from, because I’m not one to marginalize the way God can use music in the lives of His children. But as I reviewed a year’s worth of music to develop my top-ten list for another site, I did a lot of shoulder-shrugging, and I had trouble coming up with ten really exceptional albums. Want to know Billboard’s number one Christian Album for 2013? “WOW Hits 2013”. Maybe Christian music could use a little confusion.
So, here’s a non-standard, possibly confused, list of 2013 superlatives in Christian music:
Chart topper: Commercially, and in terms of airplay, this was Chris Tomlin’s year, hands down. He was Billboard’s Artist of the year in the Christian genre based on both songs and albums charts, and he topped the album chart with “Burning Lights” and the songs chart with “Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)”.
Comeback award: Two comebacks many never saw coming: Audio Adrenaline and Hawk Nelson. Audio A followed the Newsboys in adding a former member of DC Talk as lead singer, and when Jason Dunn left Hawk Nelson, they looked around the room at the remaining members and said, “Yeah, we got this.”
Most Underappreciated: My pick for the single best album of 2013 is one you probably haven’t heard. It’s called “Beyond the Frame” by Andy Gullahorn. It is everything Christian music can be. It engages and ministers. It helps you laugh and cry, but is never trite. Bravo, Mr. Gullahorn.
Reenergizing Worship: It’s still a dominant genre (see my column from two weeks ago), but two particular albums brought it to new places this year. Citizens made a strong eponymous debut that proves you can set old, literate hymns (and modern offerings too) to accessible rock music and not be cheesy. And if you haven’t heard “I Am Mountain” by Gungor, listen, and ponder, and grow.
Biggest head-scratcher: I’m a huge Relient K fan, but I think I literally scratched my head when I first heard “Collapsible Lung”. Their foray into eclectic co-writing resulted in an uneven string of lyrics mostly devoid of hope.
Best album cover: Bethel Music’s “Tides” features the group resting comfortably in living room sofas and chairs, in the middle of a churning ocean. I was impressed, but skeptical, so I asked Brian Johnson about the cover, and he assured me that’s real water and real furniture, and that the shoot was quite difficult to pull off. It’s stunning, and it captures the theme of the album beautifully.
Noteworthy anniversary: Finally, a quick nod of thanks to Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary Beth. 2013 was the tenth anniversary of the founding of Show Hope, their adoption awareness and orphan care ministry. Show Hope has provided medical care to more than 1,000 orphans in need and has given more than 4,000 financial grants to help bring orphaned children from over 50 countries into families.
Here’s to 2014, and all that it holds. May your days be merry and bright, and filled with good music.