2018 is coming to a close and with that comes year-end reviews and ratings of albums. Here I’m going to be listing LPs and EPs in three categories: My Favourites in Christian music from this year, Other Notable Releases that will probably top other people’s lists, and finally Most Disappointing Releases. These ratings are, of course, subjective and reflect a lot of my own personal opinions, but that’s what you are usually getting in these kinds of lists. If you disagree, that’s what the comment section is there for.
These are in no particular order!
EDIT: Also feel free to enjoy songs from each of these releases via this Spotify playlist!
My Favourite Christian Music Of 2018
Elevation Collective – “Evidence”
While culture wars between CCM and Gospel are peppered across the Christian landscape, Elevation Collective managed to bring together big Gospel music names to put genre-bending spins on some of the most popular Elevation Worship songs, to phenomenal effect. These progressive arrangements travel through styles seamlessly and create a really cross-cultural statement without shortchanging either side of the equation.
Tori Kelly – “Hiding Place”
It’s a great Tori Kelly album and a really good Kirk Franklin album. Vocal chops, songwriting, instrumentation that seamlessly blends gospel and pop with hip hop production styles. Good revival of some classic gospel music tropes without sounding dated. Musicianship is impressive at every turn.
Jonathan McReynolds – “Make Room”
We’ve recently seen a spike in people crossing over between the “acoustic singer songwriting” and gospel genres, and Jonathan McReynolds might be one of the best among them. His vocal performances are absolutely soaring and crystal clear, and the songwriting is as thoughtful as we would come to expect from McReynolds.
Silent Planet – “When The End Began“
I don’t think that anyone ten years ago would have guessed that the most socially conscious voice in metal core would be a Christian spoken word poet, but Garret Russel and company have made this a reality. Who would have guessed that breakdowns and lyrics with footnotes would be such a winning combination? While not being a Christian market band, faith, scripture, and Jesus are the clear reference points across all of these songs. The atmospheric, ambient passages are as haunting as ever, and the heavy sections are delivering everything the moshpit could want. This is also the strongest album for Silent Planet vocally – with both sung and screamed vocals sounding mature and well-developed.
Hillsong Young & Free – “III”
Y&F is the most underrated Hillsong group and their songwriting is top tier. It’s amazing that they get written off by worship leaders, since they have way more than just their turn up anthems. Their slower paced worship songs sometimes outshine the output of United, and they even re-did “Jesus Loves Me” in a way that actually added something valuable to a classic and successfully modernized it. That is a tall order, but Y&F did it. And they’re maybe the only “worship” group right now that is still intentionally and purposefully writing congregational fast songs.
Fit For A King – “Dark Skies”
This band has come a long way and delivered their best album since Slave To Nothing, sometimes even coming close to surpassing it, which is saying a lot. Dark Skies sees FFAK achieving new levels of heaviness and new melodic highlights. That might be a generic set of goals for a metal core band, but it does mean that they do excel at what they set out to do.
Koryn Hawthorne – “Unstoppable”
In my initial review of this album I was really warm towards it. Repeat listens have revealed that overall the album is a little on the short side and has a lot of room for growth. But the content that is there is good. It’s enjoyable, represents a forward-looking take on gospel music that integrates seamlessly with current hip-hop production techniques, and of course has one of the biggest Christian hit songs of this decade – Won’t He Do It. With one song, Koryn Hawthorne has managed to bridge together worship and a meme into a song so darn good that it still manages to outside its downright awful music video.
Thrice – “Palms”
This is a solid rock release with post-hardcore trappings, and the songwriting is social conscious, spiritual, introspective, honest, and poetic. The best thing that Dustin Kensrue and his bandmates have done with this album is write every last musical detail in service of the needs of each song. There is very little room for superfluity. To use a line from the album, “everything belongs.” It might not be the most ambitious album of the year, but it is honest and fresh.