Continuing Awesome of the Year: Music Edition with some more favorites of 2011.

Christian Music Doesn’t Have to Suck

When I tried to sum up the records I listened to most over the past year, I noticed a really strong return to Christian music, not just in a “it’s my job” way. I suppose it’s because if you dig hard enough, beneath the sound of the radio charts is a thriving world of artistic, deep, faith-based music. Once again, John Mark McMillan and Gungor infused life in the worship scene with amazing albums. Gungor’s Ghosts Upon the Earth is epic in scope, a sprawling sonic journey through Creation, the Fall, and Redemption that’s even stranger and more beautiful than their last record. (Highlights: Let There Be, Crags and Clay, When Death Dies, Ezekiel) JMM didn’t change it up too much with Economy, but his gritty, moody Southern rock style and stunning lyricism is a step forward from last year’s The Medicine, and perfect the way it is. (Highlights: Sheet of Night, Daylight, Love You Swore)

This was also the year I figured out that I really, really like Downhere. They’ve been around ten years, and I’ve known about them almost that long, but mostly in the sense of hearing a song, thinking “yeah, that’s nice,” and forgetting to really check them out. When I picked up a review copy of On the Altar of Love for JFH, I realized just how much I’d been missing. Downhere is a bit of an anomaly; they’re almost too different and good musically to fit in the Christian music world, but they’re writing is so ministry focused, it’s hard to imagine them anywhere else. (Highlights: Rest, Let Me Rediscover You, For Life, Seek)

Of course, with one of their lead vocalists Marc “Hey You Sound Like Freddie Mercury” Martel on the upcoming Queen Extravaganza tribute tour, I doubt the obscurity will last for long…

Returning Favorites

There are some bands that can simply do no wrong, that you look forward to every new release just on principle. Switchfoot is one of those for me, a band I’ve been following for over a decade that consistently puts out great music, whether they’re pop or rock or somewhere between. Vice Verses has yet to take over the “best SF ever” spot in my mind, but it’s easily the most solid rock project I heard this year and is every bit as infectious and anthemic as it should be. (Highlights: The War Inside, Restless, Dark Horses, Where I Belong)

And Needtobreathe… I got hooked on their music maybe 3 or 4 years ago, and fell completely in love with their last record and incredible live shows. So it was a bummer to find The Reckoning slightly disappointing at first, because I wanted it to blow my mind. Over time though, it continues to grow on me and just may be a new favorite in time. It’s musically adventurous, simultaneously carrying a darker tone while reaching to bigger arena rock heights, but it doesn’t lose the Southern rock charm. If nothing else, get “Oohs and Ahhs” for their experimental best. (Highlights: Oohs and Ahhs, White Fences, Drive All Night, Keep Your Eyes Open)

Kiss My Cred Goodbye

Sometimes, playing the snob can get exhausting. You know what, Internet? I like Coldplay. I like their subdued classic Parachutes, I get choked up listening to “Fix You,” and even though it’s big and pretentious and rips off approximately 22 other artists (or three), I freakin’ LOVE Viva La Vida. While it doesn’t measure the epic of Viva in my mind, I am totally on board for Mylo Xyloto. They have this exuberance that’s lacking in a lot of the more “important” music of the year, and when I listen to it, I smile and dance inside. (Highlights: Hurts Like Heaven, Paradise, Every Teardrop is a Waterfall)

And while I’m confessing my uncool tendencies, I really dig All Things Bright and Beautiful from Owl City. I didn’t want to like it, but I was convinced to give him a chance, and this album caught me off guard with how delightful it is. Sometimes cheesy, always fun, bubbly synthpop that highlights a quirky personality. His songwriting is a little weird (“I swear / There’s a lot of vegetables out there…”? And what the heck is an “alligator sky”?), but it’s part of the charm. It just makes me happy, and sometimes, that’s all you need. (Highlights: Angels, Dreams Don’t Turn to Dust, Galaxies)

In Part the Third (and Final… I swear!)… my three most listened and loved albums of the year and a few late discoveries.