As we went back into the process of selecting the year’s best albums, some of the panelists expressed initial concern that there weren’t enough great releases in 2008. They quickly changed their tune after the nominations came pouring in and we whittled our way down from 40 albums to a top 12. Once again, it proved an interesting year as the final list includes a mix of relatively unknown independent releases and new bands making their national debut, as well as some more familiar names. Even our top choices are intriguing in that one of them released gradually over several months time, while another album released a couple years ago (and is still eligible for our consideration). Read on to learn more about our favorites from 2008.
Christian music has played a part in reducing punk rock to a stale and whiny shadow of its former self, so it’s truly refreshing to discover a new faith-based band that has helped reinvigorate the genre. Though there are traces of blink-182 and Sum 41 in their hook-filled sing-along choruses, Children 18:3 also echoes classic acts like The Ramones and The Clash by way of modern bands like Green Day and Panic! at the Disco. Moreover, the Hostetter siblings add their own creative stamp by varying their style from song to song and creating interplay between vocalists David and LeeMarie. But even better is the way Children 18:3 reaches deeper than the usual themes of romantic longing and heartache, cleverly joining punk’s rebel attitude with messages of fighting spiritual complacency and standing up against the non-biblical standards of our changing culture. All spoken—and yelled—with passion, attitude, and hope by a tight-sounding trio that’s off to a terrific start with this debut. Click here for the original review
Though The Myriad maintained a foothold in Christian music by opening for David Crowder Band in late 2007, they also gained mainstream prominence by winning a battle-of-the-bands contest on MTV2. Based on this impressive sophomore album, it’s not hard to see why listeners from both sides are embracing the music. Similar in scope to Radiohead, Lovedrug, Muse, and Sleeping at Last, The Myriad is consistently mesmerizing and awe-inspiring with their indie alt-rock sound, whether gloomy (“Forget What You Came For”) or hopeful (“A Thousand Winters Melting”). These songs are excellent examples of how to break from formulaic songwriting conventions without compromising the melodies. And though the lyrics are often cryptic (if not impenetrable at times), The Myriad still establishes their message with atmospheric tone and key phrases as they write about what they know and believe as Christians; they’ve also been unafraid to explain their inspiration to curious fans. It’s a tricky artistic balancing act all around, yet The Myriad pull it off expertly and live up to their name as a result. Click here for the original review
Has DecembeRadio avoided the dreaded sophomore slump after their much lauded 2006 debut? We’re somewhat divided on that question, but the best qualities of Satisfied are unquestionable. This is a rock lover’s album, clearly descended from Southern-flavored bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Black Crowes, as well as the classic pop-metal of Petra. Time together on the road has only tightened their rhythm section and blistering guitars, and it’s refreshing to hear unadorned rock instrumentation without flashy effects or studio enhancement. Plus, lead singer Josh Reedy proves again that he’s in the same league as classic vocalists like Lou Gramm, John Schlitt, and Steve Walsh. There’s also something to b said for a band such as this being so forthright with their beliefs, from the bluesy anthem “Believer” and the gospel-infused rocker “Powerful Thing,” to soulful swamp-rock of “Satisfy Me” and the string-drenched power ballad “Look for Me.” It’s all a fun throwback to the rock of yesterday, firmly grounded in Christian faith. Regardless of which DecembeRadio album you prefer, this one lives up to its title, if not more so. Click here for the original review
If you don’t recognize his name, Ben Shive has played keyboards on several well-known albums, most prominently the work of Andrew Peterson, as well as releases from Chris Tomlin and Steven Curtis Chapman. Yet as excellent as his richly textured keyboards are, they’re ironically overshadowed by his skills as a vocalist, arranger, and songwriter on this independently released debut. With shades of Ben Folds, Ed Harcourt, and Brian Wilson, the album is a fascinating blend of cabaret and alternative, united by Shive’s penchant for pop melody and bittersweet writing.A? Though his songs often begin with sad observations or tragic storytelling, they tug naturally at the listener’s heartstrings before paying off with the hope held by Christians through faith (particularly “4th of July” and the Ecclesiastical “Nothing for the Ache”). Exquisite, theatrical, pensive, penetrating, and cathartic—these words aren’t commonly used to describe Christian music, and that’s an indication of just how special this artful release really is. Click here for the original review.
It’s kind of sad or funny (or both) when you think about it. Though she’s a 15-year veteran with awards and recognition, it was only when Cindy Morgan went independent to make music on her own terms that she finally won the prestigious Songwriter of the Year at the 2008 Doves (for Point of Grace’s “How You Live”). Weeks after that, she also released one of the best albums of her career, and that’s truly saying something based on her previous work. Beautiful Bird finds the acclaimed singer/songwriter delving deeper into the roots/country music so dear to her heart while remaining true to the refined pop that has defined her last four albums. The earthy sound suits Morgan’s smart and heartfelt lyricism, touching on everyday life while remaining grounded in her faith. How unfortunate that there aren’t more outlets for Christian artists to explore outside the typical pop sound, because based on the popularity of Alison Krauss, Faith Hill, and Emmylou Harris, Beautiful Bird deserves widespread recommendation. Chalk it up to her newfound artistic freedom or simply experience gained with time, but Cindy Morgan only seems to grow in sophistication with age. Click here for the original review.
This Christian Music Today panel has always held enormous respect for Kirk Franklin and his efforts to revitalize gospel music for a new generation. But it’s been a long time (1998’s The Nu Nation Project to be exact) since he’s released an album that we could unanimously call one of the year’s best. It’s interesting that his album with the shortest creative turnaround is the one that earns him some overdue recognition, but simply put, The Fight of My Life is one of the finest in his 15-year career. From the buoyant opening of “Declaration” (making brilliant use of Kenny Loggins’ “This Is It”) to the smooth gospel ballad finale of “The Last Jesus”—not to mention his most rocking song to date, “I Am God,” featuring tobyMac—Franklin again proves himself a master of ceremonies who invites everyone to the party and leaves no detail about it to chance. The production is flawless, the arrangements creative, and the melodies are plain heavenly. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from Mr. Franklin over the years, only done more memorable and with more excellence than usual. Click here for the original review.
When we last heard from House of Heroes, the emo-rock band cracked into the bottom of our 2005 best-of list with their self-titled national debut (re-titled Say No More). The fact that they’ve moved further up our list with their follow-up says something about how much they’ve improved (and changed) in three years. Ditching their emo-rock inclinations, House of Heroes now resembles Relient K with their precise musicianship and melodic rock. In some ways they’re more ambitious, in others they’re equally tongue-in-cheek. The band goes crazy with their use of layered harmonies, tempo changes, and stylistic shifts—it’s absolutely incredible when it works, but there are times when the unbridled creativity borders on camp and threatens to derail the album. The End Is Not the End isn’t really a concept album, but there are recurring themes of war, strife, sin, and grace throughout—some of them clear-cut, others more obtuse. Nevertheless, it’s one of the year’s most interesting releases, and it’s such an artistic leap for House of Heroes, we can’t help but wonder where they’ll go from here. Click here for the original review.
Truth be told, Anberlin has come this close to making our annual list with virtually every album they’ve released since 2003’s Blueprints for the Black Market. They’ve always had a strong enough modern rock sound to be considered, but we felt they lacked the depth of lyrical content needed to rank with the year’s best Christian albums. So imagine our surprise when the band’s mainstream debut ended up featuring some of the band’s most overtly spiritual songwriting to date: from songs of purpose (“Burn Out Brighter”) and praise (“Breathe”) to an epic vision of the End Times (“Miserabile Visu”). Equally impressive is Anberlin’s growth in sound. Switching producers for the first time in four albums, the band stretched themselves, developing arrangements and thus varying their style. It’s left some fans disappointed that Anberlin has embraced pop music, but it’s not that drastic a change—and besides, the softer tracks allow the album to breathe and make the more rocking parts stand out. It’s a big step forward for this band, developing a more mature, sympathetic, and sentimental sound as they continue to contemplate life, love, and yes, faith. Click here for the original review.
This one’s no surprise since Downhere has made our best-of list with every album they’ve released—and for good reason, as more and more fans have come to discover on their own. What’s truly impressive, though, is how consistently strong Downhere has remained, continually improving with every release. The interplay between lead vocalists Marc Martel and Jason Germain is still an appealing draw, and the band as a whole gets better and better with age and experience, mixing in beautiful ballads with anthemic rockers. But what truly sets Downhere apart from other pop-inclined bands is their songwriting, and it’s not just their ability to craft a tuneful melody either. Most artists are either subtle or clichéd when it comes to expressing their faith, but this band gets it just right by openly sharing God’s Word with original lyrics that stimulate the mind as well as the heart. Ending Is Beginning offers fresh perspectives on rebirth through grace and the hope of life after death—old ideas expressed in new ways. Christian music needs more of what Downhere has to offer, maintaining a balance between artistry and ministry. We hope they’ll continue to lead the way for years to come. Click here for the original review.
What is it about this band? We’ve come to the conclusion that NewWorldSon has such broad appeal because the sound is so appealingly broad, tapping into American roots music in a fresh new way. Pop, rock, soul, jazz, gospel … NewWorldSon is a little bit of all the above with a classic sound that’s still modern, thanks to their original songwriting and distinctive musical blend. With similarities to Jamie Cullum, Stevie Wonder, Steve Winwood, and Ray Charles, this is not the sort of thing that burns up the radio charts (which just seems wrong). Nevertheless, this band has a style all their own which they call “speakeasy gospel,” with emphasis squarely on the gospel as the band uses their music to lead worship and inspire prayer. NewWorldSon is the most thrilling live band to arrive on the Christian music scene since Burlap to Cashmere, and you can get a good sense of their infectious energy and improvisational skills from this terrific album. Click here for the original review.
This is the year gifted Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman showed himself to be an equally gifted solo artist, and memorably so, releasing a whopping 26 songs over a 12-month span. We figure it’s all best viewed as a collective double album, even though some might see it as cheating. (But which is the “official” release format? You can download the individual songs or EPs a la carte, or buy the two-disc double-EP sets, or even pick up the single-disc compilation of highlights. Capitalism and democracy in action!) Besides, taken as a whole, these seasonally inspired EPs progress naturally in theme from melancholy and death to renewal and joy. Foreman’s poetic songwriting alternates between the relational and scriptural, sometimes reworking biblical passages into inventive outpourings to the Almighty. There’s a candor and brokenness here that’s perfectly matched by Foreman’s eclectic alt-folk style, evocative of Bob Dylan and Derek Webb. Some of us would even go so far as to say that Foreman the introspective, folksy songwriter is better than Foreman the rock star. Either way, this already revered singer/songwriter reveals newfound depth here, enough to warrant further solo material and perhaps even add creative and spiritual dimension to future Switchfoot releases.
Click here and here for the original reviews
Admittedly, it seems kind of strange to top our list of the Best Christian Albums of 2008 with an album that originally released in 2006 and has already sold extremely well. Of course, those stats pertain to the release in Brooke Fraser‘s New Zealand homeland and Australia. It took another 2 years for Albertine to come up from down under and finally receive American distribution—and we’re so glad it did. Fraser has been steadily gaining attention as a worship leader through Hillsong, regularly touring with the increasingly popular United band. However, the 24-year-old shifts gears dramatically for her solo material, unveiling a remarkable writer behind the passionate voice. There’s an elegance and maturity to her alt-pop style (rightfully earning comparisons to Sarah McLachlan, Nichole Nordeman, and Sara Groves) as well as her expressions of faith through song. It’s particularly astounding that this artist has found success and worldwide acclaim when most of her songs are clearly derived from her Christian beliefs. But then it helps when the music is credible, honest, relevant sounding, and created with artistic excellence. Fraser is further proof that artists don’t need to water down the gospel to be heard in the mainstream, that smartly written Christian music can find an audience outside of the church, and that God can be glorified through music that isn’t specifically intended for worship. Click here for the original review.
Our five panelists each choose one CD they wish made the final list.
Freelance writer for Christian Music Today
Buzz for After Edmund started building in early 2007, but the group’s national debut didn’t officially hit streets until the top of 2008. That delay only built up anticipation for the group’s ambitious artistry, blending Euro-pop and distorted alternative rock with lyrical intelligence. It’s an ideal mix for fans of The Killers, Interpol, Keane, and yes, on occasion, even Wilco. However, the band also demonstrates a sound all their own with their entrancing “Like a Dream,” the gorgeous “To See You Leave,” and the ferocious “Fighting for Your Heart.” With all that, After Edmund is unashamed when it comes to expressing their faith in song, striking a near-perfect balance appealing to core believers and seekers alike. Click here for the original review.
Managing Editor for Christian Music Today
Hard to believe these modern worship pioneers are calling it quits (though I have a feeling they won’t stay in retirement). At least they finish strongly with an album that ranks with their best. So much is made of the band’s stylistic similarities to U2 that people forget that they’re nearly on equal footing with musicianship and production. Delirious also successfully blends their worshipful inclinations here with social awareness and a desire to provoke listeners out of their comfort zones to become God’s ambassadors to the world. It would have been even more effective if the lyrics delved more deeply into the specifics of the band’s mission field experiences. Still, in challenging themselves creatively, they more effectively challenge us spiritually. Please don’t stay away too long, Delirious? Click here for the original review.
Freelance writer and critic for Christian Music Today
So many great albums to choose from, but I ultimately had to surrender to my worshipful instincts. I Have a Hope is the epitome of worship music, all-at-once congregational, soulful, and biblical—not to mention chock-full of exhortations that the church needs to hear and sing as it calls us to rise and shine in troublesome times. Award-winning producer Ed Cash (Chris Tomlin) helmed the project, but don’t expect it to go through the typical motions of modern worship. The arrangements and vocals are so exquisitely rendered that the album’s seamless marriage of pop, gospel, and soul sounds second-nature—as if those styles (coupled with Walker’s incontestable way around a melody) were meant to coexist all along. If this doesn’t make you Hopeful for the future of worship music, nothing will. Click here for the original review.
Freelance critic for Christian Music Today
Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the 80’s or that I’ve seen the band live and have never been more entertained—or maybe I’m just a sucker for fun. Whatever the reason, Family Force 5 had me up on my feet with their sophomore album. Their unique mix of hardcore, dance-pop, and organized chaos is ahead of it’s time, allowing the band to build an underground following among both Christian and secular music lovers. The inventive ideas and crazy hooks in tunes like “Dance or Die” and “Fever” have quickly established Family Force 5 as the mad scientists of our music scene, and have somehow managed to make “good clean fun” truly fun. No, you won’t find too many lyrics that are outwardly Christian here, but sometimes Christians just need something to dance to. Click here for the original review.
Managing Editor of Ignite Your Faith magazine
I appreciate Krystal Meyers‘ first two albums, but it’s on her third album that the 20-year-old truly discovers her niche and establishes herself as a major force in the industry. Amidst a shift to retro dance pop, everything comes together: Krystal’s vocals are alternatingly fun, adventurous, and passionate. The album’s production and overall sound are top-notch. In fact, this is one of Christian music’s most culturally relevant albums in that it excels in a genre that’s currently very hot, plus it more than holds it own in mainstream playlists next to the Katy Perrys and Gwen Stefanis. And Krystal’s lyrics are honest, personal, inspiring and comforting as she proclaims God’s real love in a broken world. Click here for the original review.
To see our picks for Best Albums from previous years, be sure to check out our Best Of archives.