As the title suggests, I am going to list (and briefly comment) on ten albums that I have come across in my forty-five (almost forty-six) years that made me stop and go, “Wow…that is something different.” I encountered each of these albums at different points in my life so that may explain the diversity found in the list. To those who know me or who have read any of my musical posts, most of these won’t be surprising. However, I think that a few may raise some eyebrows. Here goes nothing. These are not in any kind of order.
Electric Light Orchestra – Time
This one shouldn’t come as a shocker. I first heard this album when I was in sixth grade. It was one of my first true exposures to music outside of the church (and AM radio) and it blew my mind. Thirty-five years later it is still a unique album and quite difficult to describe to those who have never heard. It remains my favorite album of all time. I don’t know what else I can say about it that I haven’t already said.
King’s X – Out Of The Silent Planet
This one was a couple of years old when I first heard it but that doesn’t matter. I had already listened to their second album (Gretchen Goes To Nebraska) and was mesmerized by their combination of heavy guitars and lush melodies. The spiritual lyrics only added to the mix. When I finally heard the debut I realized that Christians could write original music and address their faith without resorting to cliches and Jesus Prom songs. I still enjoy their music but nothing they’ve done eclipses the first three albums and this one is my favorite.
Thrice – Vheissu
I have only been listening to Thrice for about ten years and I can thank Neil Anglen for it. We were classmates at Roanoke Bible College (now Mid-Atlantic Christian University) and he played one of their songs (Image Of The Invisible) before chapel one morning. My memory may be wrong but I think he originally wanted to play it in chapel and was denied. I can remember sitting there and absorbing the lyrics. I had heard of Thrice but they were a band that the “kids” listened to. Remember that I was thirty-five at the time. The first thing that impressed me was the musicianship. Those guys can really play. The second thing was the way in which vocalist/lyricist Dustin Kensrue addressed his faith in such a way that it felt real. Once again, this wasn’t your typical KLOVE Jesus Pop. It was intense and it was genuine. I am eagerly awaiting their new album later this month.
16 Horsepower – Low Estate
I discovered the music of David Eugene Edwards after one of the Paul twins (can’t remember if it was Stuart or Stephen…sorry guys) sent me a link to a documentary on YouTube. I was captivated by the guy and probably watched that video four or five times. Edwards, like the guys in King’s X and Dustin Kensrue, addressed faith and spiritual issues in his lyrics. What grabbed me about him was the music. I honestly can’t describe it. I’ve seen it called “alternative country” but it incorporates so many different styles that one simple description just doesn’t work. Edwards went on to form Wovenhand after 16 Horsepower and he continues to make some of the most original and honest music I have ever listened to.
John Mark McMillan – The Medicine
If you are paying attention you will notice the common theme in most of these. With the exception of the E.L.O. album, all of these are from artists who are/were addressing their faith in honest and creative ways. McMillan follows this pattern. He is the author of How He Loves (which became popular after David Crowder covered it) but the rest of this album is leaps and bounds above that song. He isn’t as cryptic as some of the others and makes very clear professions of Christian faith but the music is moving and the lyrics are thought-provoking. Death In His Grave is probably my favorite song on the album and would probably rank in my top twenty-five songs of all time.
Citizens & Saints – Join The Triumph
I don’t follow a lot of modern praise and worship music but I have friends who do and occasionally one of them will suggest an album. Matthew Lloyd told me to check this one out sometime last year when it was still relatively new. Lyrically it is closer to some of the stuff you hear on modern Christian radio but musically it sounds like it stepped out of a time machine from the year 1983. The best way to describe it is Retro New Wave. It reminds me of those synthpop bands from the early days of music video. This is one I like to play in the car when I’m driving through the hills. It showed me that there are still some people in the modern Christian music industry who are making quality music that isn’t just cookie cutter pop drivel.
Stryper – Soldiers Under Command
This is another band (and album) that I have talked about quite a bit. The reason is that is made such an indelible mark on me as a teenager. I grew up going to church and I knew music within the context of the church. I knew pop and rock music from the radio and as I hit my teen years I discovered even more. What I didn’t realize at the time was that there were Christians making music that was similar to the stuff I liked. You just didn’t hear it in church. I remember the first time I heard Stryper. It was earth-shattering. Here was a band that looked and sounded like the other hard rock bands I was into…and they were singing about God. Stryper opened my eyes to Christian rock music (for good and bad) and remain one of my favorite bands. The fact that they are still recording new music and touring amazes me.
It may surprise some people to know that I listen to some rap and hip-hop. Remember that I was a teenager when groups like Run DMC and Beastie Boys were getting popular. I even remember hearing The Sugar Hill Gang and Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five before that. Rap grew up at the same time I did so it was pretty much a constant on my musical radar. There were even some Christian rappers in the early days but I will be honest, many of them were pretty silly. It wasn’t until Frank Johnson played me Lecrae that I realized there were some really talented Christians making interesting records. I have since stumbled onto Trip Lee, Flame, and several others but to me, Lecrae is at the top of the game. I know everyone won’t dig it but for someone who appreciates rap he is definitely one to listen to.
Jars Of Clay – Jars Of Clay
Their debut album came out right as I was dropping out of Bible college in 1995. I was going through a serious crisis of faith at the time and I was shutting a lot of churchy things out of my life at the time. I was tired of things that felt phony and forced and most of the Christian music out at the time felt exactly like that. My response to Jars Of Clay because I was hoping to start a band and that was the name I wanted to use. I remember deliberately refusing to buy the album because I was so mad over the name. Once I finally picked it up and heard Liquid for the first time I got over it. Even though I liked Petra and Stryper (and tons of other Christian bands) Jars Of Clay were the first band I heard playing something unique. They weren’t copying the lasted trend on pop radio. I would suggest that they actually started a trend but that’s just me. In my opinion, this album ranks as one of the best Christian albums ever.
Rush – Hold Your Fire
Before any Rush fans march on my office and have me tarred and feathered, hear me out. I realize that this just might be the least liked album in Rush’s career but it was the first one I ever heard. I was in high school and Time Stand Still had just been released as a single. I knew next to nothing about Rush at the time but I’m pretty sure I had heard Tom Sawyer. I even recognized them as the same band who made the videos for Distant Early Warning (remember the kid riding the missile?) and The Big Money. Unlike many fans, it wasn’t Rush’s music that grabbed my attention. It was the lyrics. I had just started trying to write my own stuff at the time and to hear a rock band writing about important things was different. They sounded like they had something to say. That made a lasting impression on me and the way I try to write. That doesn’t mean I haven’t written some pretty bad stuff. What is does mean is that I try to set the bar high and at least give it my best shot. Rush was the first band to make me realize that rock guys could have something intelligent to say.
So…there you have it. If you don’t know some of those artists, go to YouTube and look them up. You may not like them all but you just might get a surprise.
Grace and peace.