20. Lifehouse-Who We Are (Geffen)
After two mediocre follow up albums to follow their impressive debut, Lifehouse returns with their fourth studio album and redeem themselves with some pretty strong tracks. There are still a number of missteps and Lifehouse doesn’t quite escape the generic radio single shadow, but they do stretch themselves musically and lyrically, and Jason Wade’s vocals rise above droning wails.
As always, Lifehouse is strongest when their lyrics are more in depth and honest, instead of a vague clichéd collection of words that contain some trace of spirituality. Whether it be worshipful tracks like “learn you inside out” or the honest cry of “broken”, Lifehouse proves that they can mature and break out of the radio machine. Hopefully they will stray away from tracks like “First time” and “Whatever it takes” that weigh album down and prevent a good album from being a great album.
Standout Track: “Storm”- The album closes with a vulnerable confession of fear and insecurity but ultimately leads to a proclamation of faith. The understated music serves a a perfect companion and allows the lyrics to speak for themselves.
19. Deas Vail-All The Houses Look the Same (Brave New World)
This new band delivers a fresh take on indie pop which includes soft vocals combined with beautifully constructed piano melodies. The lyrics are poetic and thought provoking, traveling through an array of emotions throughout the album.
From the upbeat “Light as Air” to the reflective opening and closer, Deas Vail successfully deals with relationship issues as well as addressing their faith in a number of songs. Although they could have used a little more variation throughout the record, Deas Vail is at a great place for a young band to be. They have a solid foundation and I am thoroughly impressed with this album.
Standout Track: “Shoreline”-this breathtaking lullaby-esque track highlights the strength of the vocals as well as showcasing one of the most captivating piano-driven melodies you will find.
18. Fall Out Boy-Infinity On High (Island)
In the past two years, Fall Out Boy have invaded the radio airwaves in such a way that you will unlikely go an hour without hearing one of their songs. Most radio sensations throw away talent in favor of marketability, but the boys from Fall Out Boy continue to travel down new and exciting avenues while producing some of the dang catchiest radio hits you will ever hear.
Whether it be the heartfelt ode to fans “Thriller” or the painful lyrics of “Golden”, FOB continues to explore different outlets, instead of just constantly singing guy girl songs. Tracks like “Hum Hallelujah” and the ambitious first single “This Ain’t a Scene..” prove that FOB refuses to be pigeon holed using one type of pop punk formula. While the second half of the album isn’t nearly as good as the first, there are still enough gems to compel one to take a chance on these guys.
Standout Track: “This Ain’t A Scene…”- While there are quite a few stand alone songs that I really enjoy on this album, I am continually impressed with the structure of this one. On one hand, the lyrics take a playful look at the band’s success, reminding us that they don’t take themselves too seriously, but the music proves that these guys really are talented and willing to take a risk.
17. Jon Foreman-Fall EP (Credential)
Although only released as a digital EP, this collection of six songs deserved a place on the list of the best. I normally exclude EPs, but Foreman has too much to say to go unnoticed. These are the songs that I knew he could write and show so much more depth than your average Switchfoot song.
Rather than spit out another album full of songs on materialism and “the search for more”, Foreman provides open and honest lyrics that serves as confessionals and dire recognitions of our fallen nature. Not only are these lyrics more openly spiritual, but the music speaks more than just another rock song, most of the tracks taking on an acoustic, stripped down feel.
Standout Track: “Equally Skilled”- this song is a journey of our realization that we deserve harsh judgment and that God is amazing for sparing us. With poetic lyrics and beautifully composed lyrics, this is Foreman at his most vulnerable…and coincidentally, also at his best.
16. The Almost-Southern Weather (Tooth and Nail)
Aaron Gilespie of Underoath spreads his wings on this new project where he takes center stage as lead singer. Their more accessible and melodic sound made them a shoe-in with the MTV crowd, but there is truly a healthy amount of substance on this album.
While this album’s biggest downfall is the times when the music doesn’t deliver and sounds too much like the rest of the “scene”, but Gilespie (who wrote pretty much all the music himself) doesn’t allow that to happen too often. From the aggressive riffs that define songs like the hit single “Say This Sooner” or the title track, to the soft spoken moments like “Amazing Because It Is” which even broke into “Amazing Grace” during the chorus. This is a well rounded album that manages to connect with a mainstream crowd while at the same time, paying homage to something deeper.
Standout Track: “Dirty and Left Out”- While it’s apparent that this song sounds like almost nothing else on the CD, its lyrics are so open and honest with a great sampling of the old Bill Gaither song “There’s Just Something About Your Name”. It is one of the most deeply moving songs about redemption and adoration to be released this year.
15. Kanye West-Graduation (Roc-A-Fella)
As one of the most innovative names in hip hop, Kayne continues to revive a genre that is too cluttered with mindless lyrics that glorify drugs and violence while degrading women. Unfortunately on songs like “The Good Life” (which is bearable) and “Drunk and Hot Girls” (which is unbearable) West stoops low and brings down the overall quality of the album.
However, it’s the raw honesty of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and the nostalgia of “homecoming” (featuring a great appearance by Coldplay’s Chris Martin) that truly make this album worth your time. With infectious beats and thoughtful rhymes, Kanye continues to prove that he is a true artist. He even humbles himself (if you can believe it) on the song “Everything I Am” while giving praise to those who paved the way for him in “Big Brother”. Ego aside, this album is another chance for West to delve into her personal struggles, offer some interesting thoughts and even provide a glimpse of his spirituality.
Standout Track: “Stronger”- this radio hit showcases the best of both worlds. Featuring probably the great beat of the year and a great Daft Punk sampling, West reminds us that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and it’s a message that will play in your head all day.
14. Ruth-Secondhand Dreaming (Tooth and Nail)
Probably the sleeper album of the year, this is not a band that probably made very many best of hits although they did receive a well-deserved opening slot for Relient K and Switchfoot this past fall. While they were unfairly represented by two mediocre CCM singles (“Cross the Line” “You Are”) which fail to offer a true sense of who this band really is, the rest of the album is chock full of acoustic and at times folksy pop gems that should not be overlooked.
While simplicity is really the key to making this album work, Ruth manages to create some musical masterpieces and develop truly poignant moments while adding the finishing touches through truly moving lyrics. This is a band that can offer openly spiritual lyrics without ever sounding cliché or fake. Through their music, their genuine devotion is apparent and these songs will speak to you.
Standout Track: “Mr. Turner”- this melancholy look at death reminds us of our faith regarding life on the other side. From a generally acoustic point to an effective build up used in the bridge, this song is sure to hit just about anyone hard.
13. Jimmy Eat World-Chase This Light (Tiny Evil)
Some of the songs will hit you right away, and others will take a while to sink in, but this album really is another collection of gems from a great and seasoned band that has withstood time. From the rousing first single “Big Casino” to the reflective title track, Jimmy Eat World understands how to write songs that will move and connect with the listener.
Songs like “Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues” remind us of why we fell in love with this band in the first place-they are not afraid to take risks and go in directions we don’t expect. “Electable” is a politically minded song with tasteful lyrics that don’t come off as propaganda while “Always Be” and “Dizzy” remind as that Jimmy Eat World first and foremost will excel at writing honest lyrics about relationships.
Standout Track: “Chase This Light”- this is one of those moments on the album where the artist seems to be sitting in the room with you and just opening up about their lives. With a positive tone, this song serves as a boost for everyone who has let themselves down.
12. Yellowcard-Paper Walls (Capitol)
Although it didn’t have quite the impact on me that Ocean Avenue did, this album did showcase a true return to form for these guys and this CD fits a great chapter in their evolution. This great collection of songs features Yellowcard at their most aggressive (“Fighting” “The Takedown”) while still revealing their emotional side (“Dear Bobbie”, “Keeper”).
The variety of songs works very well for these guys and this album will have something to speak to just about everyone. “Light up the Sky” was a great first single that never got the push it deserved with “Shadows and Regrets” serves a great spring board for nostalgia. Just as they did with Ocean Avenue these guys are great at using their signature sound to connect with their audience on a personal level.
Standout Track: “Five Becomes Four”-While Ryan Key may be the real reason that everyone keeps leaving the band, this song serves a great ode to yet another wayward members and I must say, it has got to be one of the catchiest and most well constructed songs on the cds-with smart lyrics to boot.
11. Paramore-Riot! (Fueled by Ramen)
A couple years ago, Paramore released a phenomenal debut album entitled All We Know is Falling and with their follow up, they weren’t quite able to eclipse that success, but they did garner plenty of mainstream success, so that’s a plus. In all reality though, this is the obvious next step for the girl-fronted rock band, adding more aggressive tones while at the same time, getting gutsy with some heartfelt ballads.
Haley’s vocals are dead on as usual with sick guitar riffs that hit singles are made out of. From the breakout hit “Misery Business” to the poignant moments of “When It Rains”, it’s great to see these young musicians take some chances and come out on top.
Standout Track: “Misery Business”- while I don’t necessarily condone all of the lyrics in the song, I must say they are smartly written and the music is so dead on its no wonder this song is getting so much radio attention.
10. Vanessa Carlton-Heroes and Thieves (Motown)
While she started out as kind of a guilty pleasure and then transformed into an artist that showed potential, Carlton has turned into someone that I will take some ridicule for and admit that I absolutely love this album. She has grown so much as lyricists and the piano riffs are so much more than happy pop songs at this point.
While Vanessa Carlton’s music is not unrecognizable from her “Thousand Miles” roots, it’s so much more mature and evolved at this point. The lyrics, aside from a few weak moments, are also so much stronger and don’t feel like they were stripped from a teenager girl’s diary. There is some haunting and dark moments mixed in with the pleasant pop tunes this time, and there isn’t really a low point on the disc.
Standout Track: “Home”-this reflective, somewhat melancholy, glance at the search everyone embarks on to find happiness leads to a grand finale that can’t be missed. Aside from great lyrics, this has got to be her best piano work to date.
9. The Wedding-Polarity (Word)
This band breaks out of its shell so much on this album that it’s just insane. Their debut was enjoyable, but nothing to get too excited about apart from some standout moments. This album is a different story, constantly taking the music in different directions from some unexpectedly heavy moments to a few piano driven ballads thrown in.
Their lyrics have also improved as they boldly tackle subjects that some Christian artists may shy away from. They also write about everything from life on the road to the fear to the dangerous life of a soldier, while reflecting back on blissful wedding days and tearful divorces they witnessed as children. This album is relevant to believers and non believers alike, and it goes places musically that more Christian artists should be willing to go.
Standout Track: “I-540”-They’re all really good so it’s hard to choose, but this one usually gets me every time. Maybe it’s the brief appearance by Bleach’s Davy Baysinger or the vulnerability of the lyrics, but this one always stands out to me.
8. Dashboard Confessional-The Shade of Poison Trees (Vagrant)
Dashboard combines elements of all their releases, reigniting the personal acoustic feel of the first few albums with the maturity that has been reached on the last few albums. No longer is this a whiny emo band, but they also aren’t writing top 40 hits that will only get plays on VH1.
While Carabba continues to pen songs that tend to deal with relationships, he is able to write for his age instead of trying to recapture the tone he had in his youth. And the obvious influences from all different eras of Dashboard makes for an impressive sound.
Standout Track: “Where There’s Gold”- this great warning against adultery and materialism is also the catchiest and wittiest track on the album.
7. The Rocket Summer-Do You Feel? (Island)
Bryce Avary is a masterful young musician who continues to improve upon his sound with infectious pop melodies and amazing hooks that hit you from all angles. This album continues in the same addition that begins with dance-y “Break it Out” and ends with the reflective “So, In This Hour.”
While there are a few weak tracks (“Waiting” Hold It Up”), it still has plenty of instances of improvement. What is great is that Avary can switch seamlessly between great pop songs like “So Much Love” to social commentary on “High Life Scenery” and even worshipful moments such as “Run to You.”
Standout Track: “So, In This Hour”- In the end, this is the most impressive moment on this album. A beautiful depiction of the struggles of a believer trying to get a better grip on faith while discovering his purpose in life.
6. Falling Up-Captiva (BEC)
With their third album, Falling Up matures their sound and improves upon their winning formula with some challenging lyrics and brave musical choices. Rather than just churning out an album full of ready to radio songs (which they seemed to do with Dawn Escapes), Falling Up does their best to create a unique sound, which is why I fell in love with them in the first place.
Although it has more melancholy moments than any of their other work and certainly keeps a slower pace, it has some brilliant moments and some unexpected twists. While “Goodnight Gravity” contains that recognizable energy we’ve come to associate with these guys, I never expected something as captivating as “The Dark Side of Indoor Track Meets” to make its way onto a Falling Up album. Standout Track: “How They Made Cameras”- this is an indefinite choice because the best thing about this album is that there aren’t a few good tracks packed in with a bunch of “ok” ones, they’re all solid. But this song has some of the most beautiful lyrics that really highlight the desperation of man without a savior.
5. Relient K-Five Score and Seven Years Ago (Capitol/Gotee)
While I was vocally let down by this album on many levels because it didn’t live up to the standard set by MmHmm, these songs really grew on me with repeated listens. After seeing how far Relient K can go, there are strong tracks such as “I Need You” that I feel could have been even stronger, but the material is still solid and enjoyable.
This is probably the most varied collection of Relient K songs, as “Give” serves as a prayerful CCM style songs and “Devastation and Reform” showcases their harder side and “Must Have Done Something Right” proved to be a great pop single. There are plenty of great Relient K moments and they continue stretch their boundaries and take their music in different directions.
Standout Track: “Deathbed”- this is honestly probably the greatest song of the year. This dark yet beautiful tale of a man’s life full of failures and eventual redemption includes so many awe-inspiring moments and Relient K takes their music to new depths, taking risk after risk and composing a true epic in the end.
4. Linkin Park-Minutes to Midnight (Warner Bros.)
This album was different than anything Linkin Park had ever released before and I’ve ultimately decided that it’s my favorite album of theirs yet. Aside from their unfortunate decision to now include some strong profanity in a few songs, the rest of the lyrics are solid, showing new depth and transparency than anything they’ve ever released before.
They can their disagreement with the war in “Hands Held High” without sounding like pretentious whiny rockers (even if they are misguided) or search for redemption in “What I’ve Done” without sounding clichéd. This disc has some tragic moments, some angry moments but also includes “Bleed It Out” which is one of the most fun tracks of the year.
Standout Track: “Shadow of the Day”-I love the new level of honesty and vulnerability that is evident on so many of this songs and this song truly captures that feeling of loss and grief. It’s beautifully composed and one of those rare moments where the music and vocals are absolutely perfect together.
3. The Fold-Secrets Keep You Sick (Tooth and Nail)
This album was unbelievable because of the simple fact that it was a great summer album full of great, fun, carefree tracks that you could blare with your windows down, but it also tackled issues of death, regret and fear. It never tiptoed around issues that some Christian artists decide to sugarcoat and the blatant honesty worked incredibly well.
While this CD did not receive the praise I think it deserved, I think some of that is due to the fact that the Christian music industry embraces great music that speaks of those issues that we wrestle with regarding our faith. But this album is not all doom and gloom, “Hey Rebekah” and “Down in Doubt” are confidence boosting encouraging tracks, and “Medicine” begins the album by telling everyone to get to their feet. There is a wide range of topics address in album that keeps that perfect balance between tons of fun and incredibly bold.
Standout Track: The death of lead singer, Dan Castady’s, mother was an inspiration for a couple of these tracks, but this song which is written from the viewpoint of his father on the day of her funeral was just beautifully composed. Although tragic and sometimes hard to listen to, the music and lyrics are so beautiful. This song is a bittersweet love song that is fleshed out through mentions of old memories and the end result is absolutely amazing. This kind of open expression is what music was made for.
2. Eisley-Combinations (Reprise)
In so many ways, this record is way different than Room Noises and for that reason I didn’t like it right away. In fact, I kind of ignored for a couple months after the first few listens. Since then, it has become practically an obsession and I can rarely make a playlist that doesn’t include at least one of these songs.
From the folk influence to their harder edge tracks and especially on the softer moments of the album, this band is full of young musical geniuses who know how to create divine melodies and complement them with beautiful lyrics. Although Eisley tends to use lots of metaphors and stories to express themselves, somehow the songs always speaks for itself and you know just what they mean. I cannot praise this album enough, nor can I find words to really define it, but I must urge that you all check it out.
Standout Track: “Come Clean”- Again, this is a hard choice because it’s hard for me to choose just one song that stands out above the rest. This song, however, always catches my attention with such vivid imagery and a breathtaking bridge, it’s just very memorable.
1. Anberlin-Cities (Tooth and Nail)
After two great releases, Anberlin returns with a nearly flawless effort that is absolutely amazing from start to finish. With some of the most aggressive moments partnered with some stripped down tracks, Cities is a wonderful collection of songs that tackles important issues while speaking truth about life’s biggest dilemmas.
Whether it be relationships or social justice causes, Stephen Christian continues to pen moving and memorable lyrics. “Unwinding Cable Car” is a stunning proclamation to someone who has lost their faith while “Godspeed” is an aggressive dark tale of those who choose sex and drugs and their lifestyle. “Hello Alone” speaks boldly about the desperation on third world countries (even offending a CD reviewer on pluggedin.com who can’t appreciate vivid language in songs, apparently) and “Reclusion” paints a picture of the daily battle against of flesh.
The continual growth of this band continues to impress me and I wish them all the success. It is great to see such intelligent and thought provoking lyrics from a band of strong faith and convictions. They are not ashamed of their beliefs, but they are not looking to fit in any bubble, but rather make great art that can connect with an audience, and they succeed. They are bold enough to include a Psalm inspired song like “A Whisper and a Clamor” but also explore some dark corners of humanity that sometimes CCM would rather ignore. They end up with what I believe the best album to be released this year.
Standout Track: “Fin”- the album ends with a nearly 9 minute long epic that is as haunting and convicting as I think they intended it to be. While it is musically very beautiful, Christian’s vocals and lyrics are bold speaking about the church’s duty to serve the broken and starving people of this world. It is a song that conjures up images of those suffering in Darfur and the Sudan, and hopefully stirs up a passion inside all of those who are in earshot of Christian’s passionate