A few months ago The Gospel Coalition published their list of the best Christian albums of the past decade, and as the humble music snob that I am, I felt that there were some glaring omissions. It’s a fine list if you’re really into singer songwriters, but I’m…not. I’m more of a band guy. So here are my picks!
The criteria for my list is as follows:
- The album has to have been marketed as “Christian music.”
- Albums from worship artists are permissible, but albums from churches or worship collectives (e.g. Hillsong) are not.
I am also omitting Christian hip hop and metal from the list, simply because I’m largely ignorant of those genres (y’all don’t need another white guy telling you that he thinks Lecrae is pretty good, right?). Because musical taste is subjective, please be aware that I am simply sharing the albums that had the greatest impact on me. If you don’t like it, feel free to make your own list. That’s what I did!
So, without further ado…
10. House of Heroes – Cold Hard Want (2012)
Cold Hard Want is a love letter to 90’s rock. From the opening riff, the album differentiates itself from its pop rock predecessor, 2010’s Suburba. It isn’t a perfect record (it starts to meander a bit on the back half), but in my opinion it’s the last time House of Heroes truly, unapologetically rocked. Hear for yourself:
9. Five Iron Frenzy – Engine of a Million Plots (2013)
Ten years after what everyone thought was their last show, Five Iron Frenzy put out the best album of their career. Everything is firing on all pistons here – for the first time, the music, the lyrics, and the production are all top notch for a Five Iron album. It’s just too bad we’ve been waiting over six years for a follow-up…
8. Jars of Clay – 20 (2014)
It feels a bit odd putting what’s technically a “best-of” album on this list, but what separates 20 from its peers is the fact that Jars of Clay completely re-recorded every song from the ground up for this project. The result is a cohesive collection of songs spanning my favorite band’s career, including several arrangements that are superior to the originals.
7. The Brilliance – Self Titled (2010)
I first saw The Brilliance open for Gungor during their Creation Liturgy tour in the spring of 2012, and they nearly upstaged the main act. While I love the music David Gungor and friends have continued to make since then, nothing compares to the indie worship vibes of their first record. Sadly, it seems that they’d rather leave it in the past, as only a handful of songs are available on Spotify as The Original Mixtape. Here are two essentials that were left out:
6. The City Harmonic – I Have a Dream (It Feels Like Home) (2011)
I point to I Have a Dream (It Feels Like Home) as the last great CCM album. The City Harmonic was a band with its feet firmly planted in the Contemporary Christian Music industry, yet they somehow were able to produce a record that is theologically far-sighted and musically timeless. If all you’ve heard from this record is “Manifesto,” you really need to check the rest of it out. I come back to this one every couple of years, and it still holds up.
5. Citizens – Self Titled (2013)
While I appreciate all of their records, the straightforward rock worship of Citizens’ self-titled debut is something special. Think about it: when’s the last time you heard a rock and roll worship album? Maybe something from Delirious? I don’t know. In any event, in my opinion Citizens is at the top of their game when Zach Bolen is leading worship with his amp turned all the way up.
4. Remedy Drive – Commodity (2014)
Commodity is a great example of a band reinventing itself while remaining true to its musical roots. As someone who’s been following Remedy Drive since the early 2000’s, it has been a joy to watch them evolve from a worship jam band into a pop rock group into what they’re doing now: abolitionist indie rock. While individual tracks from their previous two records are among my favorite Remedy Drive songs (“Resuscitate Me” might be my favorite of all time), I think Commodity is their most complete and cohesive record. Fun fact: I first listened to both Commodity and Coldplay’s Ghost Stories on a flight to Israel…I liked Commodity more.
3. Switchfoot – Vice Verses (2011)
Can you believe that Vice Verses released during this past decade? It feels like a lifetime ago, especially considering the musical journey Switchfoot has been on since then! When Vice Verses first came out I saw it as little more than a collection of Hello Hurricane b-sides, but it has quietly turned into one of my favorite Switchfoot albums. And the music is anything but quiet: out of all of their albums, Vice Verses‘ amps are turned up to eleven. For a while I considered it to be the last truly great album from Switchfoot (sorry Kevin), but this past year’s Native Tongue has restored my faith in the band. Native Tongue probably deserves to be on this list, too, but it’s such a recent release that I wasn’t sure where to put it. So here’s a song from each…
2. Relient K – Air for Free (2016)
In my mind, the best way to describe Air for Free is that it’s the follow-up to Forget and Not Slow Down that Collapsible Lung should have been. Musically and lyrically, Air for Free is Relient K’s most mature offering to date. It’s an understated album compared to their previous work, but I think that’s a good thing. After all, the Matts are in their late 30’s noawadays…who wants to hear emo breakup songs from old dudes? That would be lame. Is Air for Free their best album? No. But we’ll always have Mmmhmm, so I’m glad they decided to try something different. I sincerely hope we get to hear new Relient K music in the future, but if this is their final work, to me it feels like a proper sendoff.
1. Kings Kaleidoscope – Becoming Who We Are (2014)
The best Christian album of the 2010’s was also the biggest disruptor in Christian music. After releasing a couple of EP’s under the umbrella of Mars Hills Music, Chad Gardner’s Kings Kaleidoscope finally broke through with their genre-bending full-length in 2014. Fusing rock, funk, big band, indie, and hip hop influences together is no small feat, but when Kings Kaleidoscope does it, it comes across as effortless. The album straddles the fence between sacred and secular music well, too – and by this I don’t mean its lyrical content or even its audience. Becoming Who We Are is undeniably Christian music, but it’s refreshingly absent the decisions you expect from Christian music in terms of arrangement or production. In other words, Kings Kaleidoscope actively challenges the presumption that, if you’re a Christian artist, you have to play it safe. This is especially true of the songs on the album that are explicitly intended for congregational worship, and as a result, Kings Kaleidoscope somehow made the only cool worship album of the 2010s (just ask the kids who were in college when this one came out). There isn’t a single Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin record that came out from 2010-2019 that I’m still spinning, but I could easily see myself coming back to Kings Kaleidoscope’s songs even 10 years from now. The world of Christian music, including modern worship, is enriched by this album.
There are plenty of great selections from this album to share, but below I’ve included a song that I feel perfectly encapsulates what I’ve expressed above. It’s a bit of a slow burn at first, but I implore you to listen to it in a distraction-free environment with the volume up…it’s worth it.