My Favorite Albums of 2016

I don’t know what happened, but 2016 was a year of music releases that I actually liked. Off the top of my head I couldn’t name my “album of the year” for 2015 – I had to go back to last year’s post and discover that it was Gungor’s One Wild Life: Soul (which I still stand by). Other than that, the past few years have been a blur of releases ranging from ok to downright disappointing.

Not so this year! Sure, a lot of folks hated on 2016 for a myriad of reasons, including the passing of the likes of Prince and Leonard Cohen. But when it comes to new music, it’s been a wonderful year for my ears. This post lists my top 5, along with some honorable mentions and a couple of duds.

If you’re so inclined, check out my Spotify playlist of songs that I liked this year.

5. Civilian – You Wouldn’t Believe What Privilege Costs

This was a late and unexpected addition to my musical library for 2016, but I’m so glad I found Civilian. Ryan Alexander and company have self-produced (and almost self-released, until T&N stepped in) a dark, thoughtful, musically intricate album that’s both pleasing to the ears and challenging for the psyche. Since Civilian is (kinda) marketed as a Christian band, I will add a warning that the subject matter and language used on this album is not for children! At the same time,  I praise it for being willing to tackle subjects that are often considered taboo in the church.

Standout Track: “Reasons”

4. Tiny Moving Parts – Celebrate

Holy crap this album sounds just like 2004 – in the best way. When telling my friends about Tiny Moving Parts, I’ve described them as a bunch of kids who discovered their dads’ emo records and cut their musical teeth on Relationship of Command. Celebrate was without a doubt my “windows down, volume up” album of the year.

Standout Track: The Whole Album (Seriously though…it’s great from the opening riff. Just listen.)

3. Weezer – White Album

Sometimes being a Weezer fan is like being addicted to cigarettes. I’m not a smoker, but I imagine the experience is similar: it was cool when you were 15, but now it’s miserable and you don’t know how to quit.  You know how every time a band that’s been around forever puts out something new people say things like “I wish they’d go back to what made them good in the first place” or whatever? Well, Weezer actually pulled it off! And not in the, “At least it’s better than their last couple of albums way, but in that it’s a legitimately great album.

Standout Track: “King of the World”

2. Relient K – Air for Free

This album was either going to make or break Relient K for me. I know there are a few Collapsible Lung apologists out there, but let’s be honest, it was an objectively terrible album compared to the masterpiece that preceded it. And while Air for Free will forever live in the shadow of Forget and Not Slow Down, it is a proper follow-up. It’s smart, it’s playful, it’s melodic, it’s not over-produced, it’s everything I love about the Matts. Here’s to hoping that we don’t have to wait 7 years for another good album from them again!

Standout Track: “Local Construction” (My song of the year. This song alone is worth the “price of admission” when buying the album.)

1. Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere

TBEITBN objectively destroys every other album on this list – it’s not even close. In 2016, Thrice re-emerged from their hibernation to release the strongest album of their career. And while I’m still partial to 2009’s Beggars, there’s no denying that a hiatus was exactly what Thrice needed. The songwriting is top-notch, the band is as tight as they’ve ever been, and the production complements it well. TBEITBN is an unapologetically loud, socially conscious, politically charged wall of sound capped off by the perfectly gravelly vocals of Dustin Kensrue. Can’t beat it.

Standout Track: “The Long Defeat”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Brian McSweeneyAs the Bluebird – I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for McSweeney’s voice and songwriting sensibilities, so whenever he puts anything out I’m listening. This album was probably made on a fraction of Love Me Down‘s budget, but it’s twice as good. The acoustic, produced-in-the-bedroom approach serves the songs very well.
  • Remedy DriveHope’s Not Giving Up – If you’re a longtime Remedy fan, Hope’s Not Giving Up is a special treat. The band reimagined a bunch of their older songs for this project, and I actually prefer a couple of the new recordings to their originals. If you’re a Zach Attock lifer, be sure to check it out.
  • RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool – Look, Radiohead is never going to make another album like The Bends. Even so, I’ve loved most of their albums…but TKOL was a trainwreck. A Moon Shaped Pool, thankfully, is nothing like it, capturing a cohesive aesthetic and something akin to actual human emotion. If you’re a fan of Kid A, give this one a shot.
  • Joyce ManorCody – This album had the potential to be in my top five, but man these guys are crude. I love the music but I just can’t recommend an album as flippantly licentious as Cody. Nevertheless, “Last You Heard of Me” is a love letter to the grungy slacker rock of the 90’s and it’s constantly on my playlist.

Misses:

  • House of HeroesColors – Ummm, where do I start? Fans waited way too long for an underwhelming album that received nonexistent support and whose crowdfunding campaign was mishandled. Colors tries to recapture the magic of HOH’s earlier albums with its recurring concept and musical themes, but it never gets there. Whereas Cold Hard Want was the opus of a band that was tired of apologizing for rocking, Colors is an overthought mess. There’s one or two diamonds in the rough, but that’s about it. In spite of it all, “We Make Our Songs” is a great song that made my playlist.
  • Jimmy Eat WorldIntegrity Blues – A lot of folks have praised this album as some kind of comeback, but it’s a hard pass (the baby) for me. There are a couple of almost memorable songs on it, but I can’t remember their names. I don’t think I’ve listened to it since the first couple of weeks after it came out.
  • SwitchfootWhere the Light Shines Through – There’s nothing wrong with this album per se, and I like it more than Fading West, but it’s about what you’d expect from Switchfoot at this point. There are a few standout tracks that I really enjoy, but beyond that it’s not an album I often listen to from start to finish.

Comeback of the Year: John Reuben
You’d think that with the high praise I had for Thrice that they’d be my “comeback of the year,” but you’d be wrong! Back in September, John Reuben surprised everyone and released the completely unexpected single, Old As Religion. It captures an energy and a sense of urgency that wasn’t present on his last couple of records. I’m pulling for a full album in 2017.

So there you have it. If  you actually read this entire article, thank you. And if you disagree with me, that’s ok…there’s plenty of great music to go around 🙂

 

Song Explanation: Redirection

Redirection
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
– 2 Corinthians 5:17

2012 was a watershed year for Flight Metaphor, and it started with Redirection. I recorded an acoustic demo of the song in December of the previous year, but it wasn’t until we started working on it as a band that things really came together. The result is one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written, and I think it’s the best representation that exists of Flight Metaphor 2.0 (Me, Bill, Cody, and Brad). Bill’s drumming plays off of Brad’s bass line, and they carry the song as Cody’s lead guitar dances on top of everything. What I’m playing on rhythm guitar takes a backseat to what the band is doing, which really isn’t something I could say about our earlier work.

We started playing the song at shows the following spring, and it was incredibly well-received – more so than any new song we’ve ever introduced. We had just started planning for a full-length album, but when people started asking us how they could get ahold of Redirection, we knew it couldn’t wait. We changed our plans and recorded the Redirection EP right away.

Lyrically, Redirection is a snapshot of who I was five years ago. I look back on those days and see a lonely, clingy mess; someone who was unwilling to accept change, someone who kept coming back to the same wells long after they’d run dry. By the grace of God I can sing this song in hindsight, but I think one of the reasons I still enjoy it is because throughout my life I’ve found myself asking God for mini resurrections. The joy of knowing Christ isn’t that I was “saved” only when I first asked Jesus into my heart – his salvation is as real and as necessary for me today as it was over 20 years ago. His Holy Spirit continually works in and on me, redirecting and sanctifying me all the days of my life. I may mess up from time to time, but my hope is in Jesus’ resurrection. The old has gone; the new is here!

BONUS: Listen to and download the original demo of Redirection below.

Lyrics:
Where did I go wrong?
I’m off the beaten path once again
I need a redirection
A tiny resurrection in my soul
‘Cause I get so distracted
I find myself attracted to what I
know will never pay off
But still, I always come back to it

Redirect my heart
Resurrect my soul

Give me better vision
Help me see what matters in this life
‘Cause there is no division
Between the so-called sacred and profane
I need to learn to let go
But man, I’m used to holding on so tight
When everything is changing
But you have never left me to myself

And I know that every empty feeling passes
In time you’ll do your healing
And I’ve put my hope in who I know is steadfast

You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify.

Song Explanation: Echoes

Echoes
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.
– Isaiah 59:1

Echoes is a simple song of devotion that I wrote in one sitting on January 18th, 2013 (I only remember the date because I originally posted the demo to soundcloud with the title “New Song 20130118” 🙂 ). I had observed that whenever I sit down to write a song, I’m generally drawn to more melancholy themes and lyrics – I blame all the emo and indie music I listened to in high school! This time though, I intentionally chose to write something a little more hopeful.

Sometimes life can feel like a steady progression of disillusionment, but I like to believe that innocence and youthful optimism are still locked away in our souls somewhere – and they’re actually accessible. Echoes is a song about reclaiming that innocence. There are plenty of reasons to be cynical or jaded towards the world, but all of it is conquered by the blood of Jesus. In this world we will have trouble, but take heart, for Jesus has overcome the world! Where, o death, is your sting? With these themes in mind, Echoes acknowledges the pain and struggles of life, but like any good Psalm it ends by proclaiming hope and confidence in what God has promised.

Recording the song was a dream come true. Charlie Lowell of Jars of Clay lent his talents by contributing a subtly tasteful Wurlitzer piano to the piece. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been a hardcore Jars fan for nearly 20 years, so I’ll openly admit that I had tears in my eyes the first time I heard the keyboard track – before it was even added to the mix!

By the way, Charlie has a new project of musical collaborations called Hollow // Hum. If you like the work he did on Echoes, you’ll love what he’s doing now. Click here to check it out.

Lyrics:
Somewhere in the corners of my wildest dreams
I hear your whispers and their lingerings
The echoes of your voice still calling me
Return to my first love
Remember what it was

Hope, she calls,
cutting through the noise
of every lie I once believed
Promising a reason
and a purpose for my days
And so I sing

There’s such a loneliness that sticks around
So many things that could have brought me down
But I’m not giving up, I’m not far from
Your saving arm’s reach
This broken heart still beats

(I still hear you; I still hear you, Lord)

You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify.

Song Explanation: Every Hidden Thing

Every Hidden Thing If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. – 1 John 1:6

Back in 2013, I originally imagined the new record as a concept album called Light Songs for Heavy Souls, and I wanted … [Continue reading]

Summer Sermons

I recently had the privilege of filling the pulpit at Community Covenant Church for four weeks. Rather than creating a series of topical messages, I preached from the Revised Common Lectionary. You can listen to each message below or subscribe to CCC’s sermon audio podcast.

May 22nd, 2016: Suffering and Hope Primary Text: Romans … [Continue reading]