Favorite Music of 2015

A few weeks ago I shared my 10 favorite books of 2015, and this week I share with you my 10 favorite albums of last year. Music has been a passion of mine since I was a pre-teen, and the drive to explore new music has never waned over the years. The gift of music is yet another display of God’s unending generosity and kindness to his creatures, and a demonstration of the truthfulness of Eccles. 3:11, that God has “set eternity in the human heart.”

Some Christians will disagree with me on this, but I don’t believe a Christian is bound to listen exclusively to “Christian music.” There are many reasons for this, which you can explore here if you’re interested. Therefore, I can’t say I necessarily affirm everything that is expressed in the music of the artists below. As far as I know, most of these musicians are not Christians (with the exception of Sufjan Stevens and Bill Fay), but just as I don’t expect my accountant or my plumber to agree with me ideologically, nor do I expect this from the musicians I listen to. To be clear, I don’t fault the person who is committed to CCM, but I do think Christian musicians could greatly improve their craft by exposing themselves to a variety of musical styles and genres.

Having said this, there is a place where a line must be drawn: my conscience won’t allow me to listen to black metal, for instance, which can be deliberately and explicitly anti-Christian in its lyrical content; nor do I care to listen to music with relentless profanity, whether it comes from hip hop artists or others who fall more into my preferred style (Sleaford Mods). Generally speaking, music that celebrates depravity, wickedness or nihilism is not something I want feeding into my heart and soul.

So, take them or leave them — here is the music I found most personally enjoyable in 2015:

  1. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell. Like U2 and Johnny Cash, Sufjan is something of an anomaly — a committed Christian who has gained acclaim in secular music circles (go here for more on Sufjan’s music). Carrie & Lowell is less experimental and ornate than previous albums, and instead features quiet, delicate and beautiful songs regarding the recent passing of his mother. Sample track: “Should Have Known Better.”

2. Grimes, Art Angels. This is a kind of candy-coated pop that I might normally immediately dismiss, but I can’t deny how infectious these songs are, all bursting forth with catchy melodies and colorful textures. Sample track: “California.”

3. Natalie Prass. Not to be confused with Jessica Pratt, who also released an acclaimed album in 2015. Natalie is tiny-voiced but has struck a refreshing balance between a 70s singer-songwriter style and blue-eyed soul. Love those tasteful string and horn arrangements. Sample track: “Your Fool.”

4. Wire. Wire broke onto the scene back in the late 70s as minimalist British art-punks and then merged into a more techno-based post-punk style to the current day. This self-titled record is actually their 14th studio release, and was surprisingly acknowledged positively last year by World magazine. Sample track: “Blogging.”

5. Beach Slang, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us. The wall of guitars and tortured vocals on this record bring to mind the Replacements, Soul Asylum and Husker Du, bands that provided the soundtrack to my college days the 80s. Sample track: “Throwaways.”

6. Hop Along, Painted Shut. The lead vocals are an acquired taste — Frances Quinlan is like an indie rock Janis Joplin, always sounding like she’s on the verge of blowing a vocal cord. But there are lots of sweet melodies buried beneath the raw singing and gritty indie-rock instrumentals. Sample track: “Horseshoe Crabs.”

7. Chris Stamey, Euphoria. Stamey led a power-pop band in the 80s called the dB’s, and he’s still producing irresistible guitar-based pop today. There is a childlike innocent charm to this record that is refreshing, especially in contrast with the jaded angst of so much contemporary music. Sample track: “Where Does the Time Go?”

8. David Byrne/St. Vincent, Love This Giant. Yes, I know, this actually came out in 2012, but it didn’t come to my attention until recently. Byrne and St. Vincent are both eccentrics, and here they continue that tradition with an album performed almost exclusively by a brass band. I always respect the musician willing to boldly try the unpredictable thing, and it’s especially gratifying when it works. Sample track: “I Should Watch TV.”

9. Freedy Johnston, Neon Repairman. Freedy had a minor hit in 1994 with “Bad Reputation” and was named songwriter of the year by Rolling Stone magazine in 1995, but has fallen off the hipster radar since then. Thankfully, he’s still making well-crafted, melodic Americana tunes about peculiar people in peculiar situations. Sample track: “A Little Bit of Something Wrong.”

10. Bill Fay, Who is the Sender? Like Sufjan, Fay is an unapologetic Christian who makes music that just doesn’t fit the CCM paradigm. This is a beautiful collection of melancholy reflections on life and spirituality, driven mostly by piano, strings and Fay’s sincere and fragile voice. Sample track: “Who is the Sender?”