Tag: Tenth Avenue North

Top 20 Christian Albums of the Decade: 2010-2019

The Top 20 Christian Albums of the Decade

Jonathan Faulkner

After I left ARLCMG in 2013 it is true that I have not been as up to date on the Christian Music Scene outside of the bands I regularly listen too. That is not to say I do not still get updates and am not still on the mailing lists for several of my old music industry contacts. I still get their pre-releases and have even occasionally released reviews of various albums. Still, I want to post a top 20 of the decades (and some honorable mentions) because this has actually been a great decade for Christian Music across the spectrum. In fact, from Lecrae, to Third Day, to Demon Hunter to Thousand Foot Krutch to Tenth Avenue North, and across all sorts of genres from Ska to Metal to CCM to Rap, it has been an incredible decade. So let’s lay out the criterion, or dust it off as it were, for what makes an album worthy of a top 20 list, or even for a top review.

  1. It must have staying power: It must be one you come back and listen to over and over
  2. It must show the creativity of the band: No cookie cutter albums here
  3. It must be relevant to the times: This is the hardest category
  4. It must have clear Christian themes and messages: Like, from the Bible.

So, with these in mind, let’s start working through our top 20 of the Decade. They are listed as Album, Title, Year.

Honorable Mentions: “I Quit Church” Matt & Toby, “Love Letter Killshot” Disciple, “Come In” Children 18:3, “The Things We’ve Been To Afraid to Say” Tenth Avenue North, “The Mountaintop” The City Harmonic, “Good News” Rend Collective

20. Between Pavement and Stars, Five Iron Frenzy, 2015: This EP really makes the list for one reason, it is the only time in Christian Music when an artist has properly addressed the problems with Westboro Baptist. Well…that’s not the only reason, but “God Hates Flags” is one of the few songs of the decade that tries to deal both in grace and truthfulness with the so-called church in Topeka. Every song on this EP except for the fun “To Astoria!” addresses some issue of the culture which they have seen in abundance at their church in Denver called “Scum of the Earth Church.”

19. Blacklight, Tedashi, 2011: One of the many albums I reviewed at ARL still makes its way into my CD player (an old music listening device) today. The album has not only increased in relevance as times have changed, “Burn This House Down” feels more relevant than it did when it came out as Tedashi and other Christian Rappers both Black and White have moved away from cultural Evangelicalims/Christianity. This album is a work of art from start to finish with few exceptions (there is actually only one), the more you listen the more you learn.

18. How to be Human, The Classic Crime, 2017: Some might be surprised to find this album here given that it actually moves away from American Christian Orthodoxy, but in this case, that is a good thing as the band wrestles with their move away from simple faith to one of people questioning faith and even questioning all that they’ve been told. This is relevant for the same reason Matt and Toby’s “I Quit Church” is, it reflects the feelings and thoughts of the current generation. Helping us better understand the culture into which we are ministering. Authors note:“I Quit Church” is an honorable mention.

17. Extremist, Demon Hunter, 2014: There have been six Demon Hunter albums between 2010 and 2019 and two of them make this list. “Extremist” first because it addresses Christian Music’s tendency towards easy, irrelevant answers that point people to conventional, feel good, wisdom, not the truth of the Gospel. It starts with out “Artificial Light” and ends with the natural resting place of worldly wisdom: “The Heart of a Graveyard.” It addresses our modern religious western Pharisaic (“Cross to Bear”) and shows the bands ability to transition their sound while staying true to what makes them Demon Hunter.

16, Neon Steeple, Crowder, 2014: Another artist with two albums making this list is Crowder. I am not sure any of us expected such a solid first outing from the man once he left The David Crowder Band, and yet, here we are with two. Crowder shows he is not just a pawn on the industry, that he can speak to issues within the Christian Community. He does so in a way that points us to Christ and to the Scriptures. Something sorely missing in CCM today.

15. Inland, Jars of Clay, 2013: Can you believe this is the only Jars Album to come out this decade? It just confirms I am pushing 30…. Anyway…. Jars of Clay was known for their relevancy and Inland does not disappoint. From “After the Fight” to “Loneliness and Alcohol” which addresses our cultures isolation and alcoholism to the haunting “Human Race” and the need for a “Reckless Forgiver” This album speaks into the darkness and dissolution of our lives in ways lost on much of CCM.

14. American Prodigal, Crowder, 2016: There are certain albums you start to listen to and realize you need to wait because by the end you are going to be crying. This was one of them, and if you got the Deluxe Edition, well you were probably crying even harder when “Praise the Lord” came on and you realized that all your cultural Christianity had failed you. For Crowder this album seems like an unworking of all he worked to build, his next album feels more so, but this one knocks down the foundations to take us “Back to the Garden” when Christian Music was good and God was the focus. This album challenged Christian Music’s fundamental assertions and for that it did not get quite the credit it deserves.

13. You Were Never Alone, Emery, 2015: It’s hard to think of a band more accomplished in the last decade than Emery or a musician more accomplished then Toby Morrell who has gone unnoticed by the wider market. The first independent record from Emery was quite a showing and in true Emery style, completely different than what they had ever done before. “Rock, Pebel, Stone” was probably one of the best songs of the decade, as were “Thrash” and “To The Deep.” I should pause here and say that a lot of bands could learn from Emery’s business model. I have never been part of a community of fans were the artists connect better and address topics better than the BadChristian brand does. Forget Christian music learning something from this, the Church as a whole should.

12. Blurryface, Twenty-One Pilots, 2015: From one of the most underappreciated bands of the decade, to one of the two most appreciated. I had to catch myself one day recently when I almost referred to Twenty-One Pilots as a “new phenomenon.” I forgot that they have been around for over 10 years now and have only grown in popularity. Blurryface, a record about the artists inner mental health struggle and sins speaks to our generation in a way we understand and can identify with while seeking to point us to God, even when we feel He is absent.

11. Move, Third Day, 2010: This wasn’t the best Third Day Album of their long and historic career, but it was the best of the decade and deserves a spot on this list, it also holds the distinction of being the only album from 2010 on the list. This was a return to Third Day’s Southern Rock roots which made them famous. Yet it showed they could blend their propensity for worship with scripture-based encouragement. Oh and the beginning of “Lift Up Your Face” still grabs my attention and kind gives me chills, ten years later. Third Day may be gone, but their music is not forgotten.

10. Until We Have Faces, Red, 2011: Back in the day I stood in the front row and covered the Redvolution Tour with TFK, Manafest, Kiros and Nine Lashes. RED’s “The Machine” still stands out in my mind as the greatest stage prop I have ever seen and whenever I listen to this album now I still see that thing, I mean, it was incredible. That being said, of all the RED albums released this decade (5), and I know some will disagree, it was probably the best of them all in regard to message and cohesiveness. It also became the launching point for the next two or three albums. It was also the best balance (in this decade) of RED’s incredible rock and string arrangements.

9. Mansion, NF, 2015: Has it really been four years since a friend popped this album into the car CD player on our way to a “The Classic Crime” concert in Wichita? Or better question, has it really been an album a year since then? The first album by NF is the album that launched the career of one of the greatest wordslingers the world has ever seen (yes, he is better than M&M). I know a lot of parents complain about NF and his music, but maybe they should be asking why their kids identify so completely with the songs he is writing on everything from depression to trauma to the fallout of the Opioid Crisis. Mansion started a journey for Nate’s fans, and we all feel we have grown with him on this journey.

8. Anomaly, Lecrea, 2014: I have jokingly referred to this album as the one that woke up the “Gospel Coalition” but as one who has sat at the feet and learned from people like Lecrae Anomaly only shows how much more we have to learn, and that is okay. The weightiness of the issues discussed on this album are issues we need to make a greater effort to discuss and talk about with biblical truth and love in mind.

7. Long Live the Rebels, Disciple, 2016: Disciple has been making scripturally based, relevant music since creation…or so it seems…and their new role as an independent artist has only made them more so. Not only that, but they have become the epitome of Christian Rock bands, that is, all the veterans of the industry have played with them or been a part of them. Just when you think they are done, they come back with another one. That is the case with LLR, it shows again their staying power and ability to move seamlessly between themes while incorporating new sounds into a tested and true formula that keeps them relevant and on top.

6. Cathedrals, Tenth Avenue North, 2014: Maybe worthy of a top 5, but coming in here at number six is Tenth Avenue North’s 2014 outing “Cathedrals” which began the move towards albums with more relevant content rather than just the fun “Uplifting and Encouraging” anthems that made them famous. Songs like: “We Won’t Number the Pain and “For Those Who Can’t Speak” which features one of our top 5 artists, helped CCM gain back a small amount of relevance on modern social issues while addressing them in a gospel centric way. We need a lot more of that and Tenth Avenue is heading in the right direction, especially with their brave follow up EP that came out this year “The Things We’ve Been Afraid to Say” which was is among the honorable mentions.

5. The End is Where We Begin, Thousand Foot Krutch, 2012: I know, I get flack all the time about my bias towards the Canadian Rockers, but I really think that TFK’s reinvention as they moved from Label to Independent deserves to be here. Especially since they continued a trend of Christian Artists going independent and then releasing the best music of their careers. The fact that this album thrust TFK back into the spotlight and headlining tours again only makes it more important. The entire premise of the album, that we end before the throne of God and also begin their as new creatures, is profound in a world desperately trying to be somebody relevant even though Christ bids us to come and die. The album also shows that TFK’s reinvention was really a rediscovery of the very style that made them famous. Rawk on guys!

4. True Defiance, Demon Hunter, 2012: I do not think this album would have been here if I had not been listening to it a few weeks ago (by the way I reviewed this when it came out and did not catch this) and realized how cohesive the theme is from “Crucifix” to “I Am A Stone” the haunting ballad that closes the deluxe edition. The True Defiance Demon Hunter talked about in their return to “true metal” was the defiance of the Cross, yet we are defiant when we blaspheme the cross by continuing to live as if the Crucifixion did not happen. We mock Christ and Christ’s work when we continue in sin. The end result of a lifelong rebellion of the person who claims Christ is “A stone, unaffected, rain hell down onto me” a person worthy of judgment because they have claimed Christ and His cross but not been changed by it. This is theologically powerful, and it only makes the album more powerful once one picks this up. This is interestingly enough part of the message of 1 John 1:5-10, go look it, and this album, up.

3. Today We Rebel, KB, 2017: While one could maybe argue that Tedashi, Lecrea and NF have a bigger share of the spotlight than KB, this list isn’t about the number of albums sold alone, nor is it about how many awards the album or artist won. But about how the album has impacted the Christian Music Scene and how relevant the album is. KB may not have sold the albums the other rappers or artists on this list did, but Today We Rebel, with its stinging critique of White Evangelicalism (“New Portrait”) to the haunting and honest (“Art of Hope”) to the anthems for the rebellious against the world and the status quo, especially the quo of white-nationalism, like kB (“Rebel, Rebel 88”) This is an album worthy of a deep listen and its themes worthy of deep consideration by those outside of KB’s traditional listener base.

2. Resurrection Letters Vol 1, Andrew Peterson, 2018: When I worked at ARL I was not allowed to give a perfect rating, but if there were albums in the top 20 of the year that would have earned perfect ratings, the top three on this list would have perfect ratings, were I allowed to give them. That being said, Andrew Peterson is CCM’s best kept secret, and when I say that I mean you have undoubtedly by now heard “Is He Worthy” sung by Chris Tomlin or Shane and Shane and not know that the song originated on this album. Not only that, the album brings out the fullness of the resurrection and all its implications for Christianity both historically and in our present times. Have you ever considered what happened at the time Jesus awoke from the dead? The full implications? Andrew Peterson has, and its entrenched here in just under an hour of music.

1. On the Altar of Love, Downhere, 2012: Like Jars of Clay’s Who We Are Instead in the late 2000’s every decade there is an album that qualifies as an absolute gem. As in, yes it deserves a perfect rating and it often ends up being the one that the radio stations overlooked. Downhere’s “On the Altar of Love” is one such album, musically, message-wise, this is one of those albums that though under considered at the time of its release, gets better with every listen and though it did not produce a hit, it holds a special place in the Downhere fanbase

 

So, there you have it, the top 20 albums of the decade, you may disagree with my placements and choices, but you’re allowed to do this, it’s a non-essential issue. Still I hope you will give these albums a fair listen if you have not already, they are worth the time and energy you can put into them. Now, if you’re not a fan of some of these genre’s that okay too, I have extremely eclectic music tastes, I own that, just enjoy what you enjoy and we will maintain the bond of peace and the spirit of unity.

Christian Music can have a bright future, provided we listen to the people who God has given a voice too. Here is to another decade of great music!

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Tenth Avenue North & Returning Relevancy to CCM

Jonathan David Faulkner

There was a time in Christian Music when the writers of the songs addressed real matters, wrote deep songs about everything from raising teenagers to the struggle of those living in poverty. A multitude and plethora of topics with the occasional praise chorus mixed in. That was a great day when the flock could be genuinely challenged and confronted with the truth of God in the midst of the most hopeless situations. To some extent this has continued today in the Christian Rock/Metal arenas where bands continue to address everything from pornography addictions to sexual assault and abuse to racism and so much else. Bands like Petra and Stryper not only addressed the culture war, but often delved into hard and difficult subjects.

But with the industrialization of the industry a shift occurred, likely in the 1990’s from music that actually addressed issues and needs in peoples lives to music. What happened is this, Christian Music and the Christian music industry got comfortable, and when it got comfortable it moved away from challenging the believer to being positive and encouraging to eventually writing itself into total irrelevance. Matt Bronleewe, formerly of CCM band Jars of Clay has said that: “There was a time when you might hear a song about God, but you could also expect something else to be brought to the table.” Tyler Huckabee in The Week wrote that at its height CCM was selling 50 Million copies of a record, at the time he wrote the article sales had dipped below 17 Million. If you talk about CCM with people who listen critically you hear the complaint that over and over again they hear the same songs and while the music is upbeat and positive, it often leaves them feeling like something is missing.

That is not to say that there is anything wrong with praise and wowho rship, we need people to write worship songs. I am indebted to Keith and Krystal Getty, Laura Story and others, modern hymn writers with a full depth and breadth, but if God made us to be creative and has given us His gospel then we need to hear more than surface level. If Christians are creators who have access to the full bible and biblical teaching then we should be addressing touch issues in our music. One of the reasons I fell in love with one of my first bands, Jars of Clay, was because they touched on many issues that were relevant to me. To this day Who We Are Instead is one of the gems of CCM, the same with the band Downhere whose album On The Alter of Love is another of those gems. Unfortunately, these are the exceptions, not the rule.

My parents often wonder why I gravitated towards Christian Rock and Metal, why the bands I often listened to were bands like Disciple, A Hope for Home, Demon Hunter, Emery and others. The truth was that those bands were speaking to the pain and struggle I was experiencing in my life, they were helping me process the bullying, the self-rejection and so much else. So, as I became an adult I have continued to listening to those groups because God has used them so deeply. Yes, he used bands like FFH, Jars of Clay, 4Him & Downhere or artists like Rich Mullins and Andrew Peterson, but those were really the only CCM bands God was speaking to me through. It wasn’t through Matthew West, Michael W. Smith and others, though I had their albums. I found more encouragement and challenge in the heavier bands than in what my parents were listening too.

These days, if I do listen to popular worship music it is extremely limited to David Crowder (Neon Steeple & American Prodigal) The City Harmonic and Rend Collective. I would include The Getty’s in that list, but they do not get air play unless someone is doing a cover of “In Christ Alone.” I struggle with how skin deep so much of the current CCM music is, especially the worship music. My soul craves deep and theological worship, something that engages my heart and my mind. I also want Christian Music that engages the issues in the world around me, I want music that will also bring actual comfort to people and challenge them to live and rest in Christ. But I also want Christian Music to address major issues in a way that is sensitive and nuanced.

That’s where Tenth Avenue North comes in. I have often said that some bands, such as Demon Hunter, have often gotten better with age, Tenth Avenue North is one of those bands. They started out by addressing things like Isolationism and talking about the organic nature of the church. Then they started talking about sex slavery, about political divisiveness. As the review on Jesusfreakhideout.com points out: “Mike Donehey has always been subversive in his songwriting, addressing issues in songs and elaborating on those issues in sermons during shows.” Their Australian Counterparts have done much the same, especially with their song “O God Forgive Us” but what Tenth Avenue North, a band that comes out of the same White Evangelicalism that Lecrea left, is doing is truly different and needs to be respected and heard. Their new EP The Things We’ve Been Too Afraid to Say EP is everything that the industry has failed to talk about in six songs. Though they do not touch on Ethnic reconciliation here, as they do on their song “For Those who Can’t Speak” They do address typically taboo Christian topics.

Like in “Covenant” where they deal with what happens when someone else catches your eye after you are married and how you should respond, reminding us that marriage is a covenant that needs to be maintained in the good times and bad times. “Secrets: (Light Shines In)” deals with the secret sins such as pornography while “Counterfeits” deals directly with the idea that porn can fill the gap as some form of fulfillment. Meanwhile “Love Anyway” addresses the sin of our political divineness and the call to actually love as Christ loves instead of fighting with each other. “Afraid” touches on the topic of reoccurring mental health issues and the hope of Christ.

“I’m Listening” the last track, is probably the most prolific and most timely given recent events in America. The song addresses the #MeToo movement, following the story of a mother, daughter and brother who were all victims of sexual assault and who had no one to hear their stories. The first chorus sets the tone for the others “Mother, mother, how many tears have you cried? Mother, mother, I will listen to you tonight to the truth, Mother, how many years before you could breathe? Mother, I won’t turn away when you speak, I’m listening, I’m listening” Tenth Avenue North does a good job here addressing the victims of sexual assault and even with the effects of Toxic Masculinity which says that to men: When you are hurt, do not talk about it. Donehey wonders of the boy at the end of the song: “And brother, where could you run? Shame to the silent and made a prison, Could you learn to speak again, If we were only listening?” Upon first hearing this song I broke down in tears, not because of what I have experienced but because so many times we have shouted down or rejected people who have been victims of sexual abuse and then wonder why people wait so long to come forward. So many Evangelicals have looked at #MeToo and #ChurchToo as something to be rejected or of the world when we should be listening to these stories and working for restorative justice and healing.

This is an example of the turn we need CCM to take, especially white Christian artists and all-White bands who can speak on these topics in white spaces. Until Tenth Avenue North and For King & Country it was hard to find CCM bands that talked about these issues and the people who have been hurt. The heavier bands have done this, Emery has talked about the consequences of secret sins, pornography, extra-marital affairs. Lecrea, even before leaving white evangelicalism wrote about ethnic reconciliation and healing and now does more so talk about these things openly. Otherwise, we do not get to hear about these issues from bands that have traditionally been considered “safe” by white evangelicals.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Tenth Avenue, when Lecrea moved in this direction his fan base grew exponentially. I do believe that God is moving us to actually discuss these issues in our music and in our churches. I also think people are longing for deeper conversations, relatable music that they just are not finding in CCM right now. Perhaps Tenth Avenue North can be the catalyst to start moving us in this direction. I know it is a challenge for my own music where I’ve addressed the Opioid Crisis and Suicide and Depression/Mental Health but can speak on so many more topics than I currently do.

Something does have to change, we have a lot of work to do, there is a lot of tough, hard conversations we need to have, but maybe we can have them, maybe we can work some things out….maybe…just maybe…we can heal and music like this can help us do that.