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Josh Balogh's Top 10 Albums of 2018

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Josh Balogh's Top 10 Albums of 2018

 Another year of music is in the books, which is hard to believe as it seems the years fly by faster and faster. This was a different year for me, as I felt that a lot of the mainstream Christian music scene failed to deliver on my expectations. Perhaps I expected too much, or maybe I’ve just been around far too long, but I felt a little let down by several highly anticipated albums. It seems as though a good majority of Christian music is in a rut. So, I endeavored to look to the fringes and independent music more than I typically would. Not all of my “finds” could make this list, but I will highlight a few honorable mentions at the end. In the meantime, here are the ten albums, and ten songs that I returned to the most often this year. I’d also love to hear where you agree or disagree, and what your favorites from the year were. Happy listening friends!


1.     John Van Deusen – With Every Power Wide Awake

John Van Deusen 

I have been effusive in my praise of this one since it first captured my attention in January of this year, and for good reason. It’s easily more most listened to album of the year at more than fifty times through in various formats. The album sounds great on all of them, and would be the rare album worth owning on vinyl is my opinion. Heartfelt, earnest, worshipful, and moving, John Van Deusen has crafted my favorite album of the year, and it wasn’t even in doubt. Favorite overall track is “Calling All Cowards,” but you need to make the time to soak in the title track, letting the message wash over you. It’s epic in all the right ways. Other highlights are “None Other,” and “I Will Praise You Name, Yahweh.” Lyrically deep, without being inaccessible, and musically interesting without falling into common worship music pitfalls, this one is highly recommended. If you didn’t happen to catch this one, check out my further thoughts on the album in the indie review section, as I go into more detail on why I loved it so much.


2.     Twenty One PilotsTrench

Twenty One Pilots, Trench 

There is much that I could say about the backstory of the album, but suffice it to say, I think that Tyler Joseph is a master artist. If you’ve dug into the layers of this one you know what I mean. Not only is their incredible attention to detail in the lyrics and music, but a vast story that you can spend hours dissecting. Or, if you prefer, as my kids do, just bop along to some catchy tunes. Also, these fellas know how to do a live show, proving that the fan and critical praise heaped on them is more than justified. There’s a strong reliance on hip-hop on Trench and it makes for a cohesive listen, which was greatly assisted by Paul Meany of Mutemath with his co-producing credits. The bass heavy “Jumpsuit” is my overall favorite, but the trip along hip-hop of “Chlorine,” the eerie statement song “Neon Gravestones,” and the reggae influenced “Nico And The Niners” are all terrific as well. Also, don’t miss the weary, yet hopeful closing song “Leave The City.”


3.     The Gray Havens - She Waits

 The Gray Havens, She Waits

I quickly became a fan of indie husband and wife duo The Gray Havens after being introduced to their album Fire & Stone from 2015. I enjoy their narrative folk/pop approach to making music, and had high hopes of this one prior to its release. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. Fans of their previous folk sound may not love the new pop/hip hop vibes that it employs, but I for one enjoyed the musical direction. I think that “Three Birds In Babylon” is a fantastic song, and I claim it as my overall favorite song from the year. I spent much time examining the lyrics to figure out the meaning of the song, and though I was ultimately wrong in my interpretation, it made for a rewarding experience not ruining the song for me at all. If you enjoy lyrics that may require some study, this one may just be your jam. Along with “Three Birds In Babylon,” “She Waits,” “High Enough,” Storehouse,” and “Forever,” are my favorite songs. It is a short, but sweet listen that kept me coming back again, and again.


4.     Rivers & RobotsDiscovery


Silky smooth vocals, worshipful lyrics, ambient tones, and a combo of organic and electronic music, make this a match made in heaven as far as I’m concerned. There’s an occasional Mutemath vibe, mixed with an Explosions in the sky guitar tones that hits the spot. Some would call it sleepy, or perhaps boring, but as far as worship music goes, I think this is near the top of the best of the year. “Author And Protector,” “Burn For You,” “Overflow,” and epic closing track “Forevermore” make up my favorite songs. Great background music to absorb at work, or chill to with a cup of coffee.


5.     Lauren DaigleLook Up, Child

She’s been all over the mainstream market this year, and deservedly so, as Look Up, Child is a step up from her stellar debut How Can It Be. Adele comparisons aside, there is plenty here to like from Lauren. Yes, vocally she does sound like the aforementioned songstress, but she also can just flat out sing. The first half of the record is the most immediately accessible, but she takes some artistic chances on the back half, so I encourage listeners to hang longer there. “You Say” is as strong of a pop song that’s come along in a while, and its worlds better than much than the mainstream pop world is producing message wise. As I mentioned, the second half of the album is worth extra attention starting with the soaring “Love Like This,” continuing with the smoky “Losing My Religion,” and ultimately culminating with a Lauryn Hill-like cover of “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Everything on this album is bigger, and grander sounding, which does not always equal better, but ultimately Look Up, Child is a step forward for Daigle, and deserving of all the praise heaped on it.


6.     Andrew PetersonResurrection Letters Vol. 1


Full disclosure, this album would have likely made my top ten of the year for the songs “His Heart Beats” and “Is He Worthy?” alone, but there are plenty of things to like about Peterson’s labor of love project Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1. With a few electronic flourishes in the percussion, this plays less like his folky beginning, though it retains enough of that sound that longtime fans will still find much to enjoy. I could see this album being utilized to great effect for Easter services all over the world in 2019, and I surely hope that the call and response of “Is He Worhty,” makes a few services at the very least. The joyous “Maybe Next Year” and the earnestly hopeful “Rise Up” are two additional highlights worth checking out. All in all, this is one of my favorite Peterson Releases, and I’m grateful that he endeavored to make it.


7.     MAEMultisensory Aesthetic Experience


Another band that I haven’t spent much time with since their classic The Everglow album in 2005. I have no real excuse, but since hearing this one I’ve gone into their back catalogue and it’s all fantastic. For Multisensory Aesthetic Experience, I enjoy it most with my earbuds in. I spent several late nights listening to and loving songs like “Sing,” “5 Light Years,” “No Promises (10001001100) and “Let It Die.” With each listen I found a different musical nuance to appreciate, and this is an album I would say I can “feel” more than understand if that makes any sense. I’m not totally certain why I like it, but I know that I do.


8.     Matthew Thiessen & The EarthquakesWind Up Bird


I was insanely curious to hear what Thiessen would come up with after the more than ten years of teasing a side project. I was expecting more piano based pop, but I was pleasantly surprised to get more guitar driven songs. “Forest” is easily my favorite song, with its playful tone and Ellie Schmidly’s charming guest vocals. But “Man of Stone,” “Wind Up Bird,” and “Climb” are also ones I return to often. Though it ultimately took me by surprise the musical direction he took, I’m not mad at all, and I hope that there ends up being more of Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes. Just not at the expense of new Relient K please!


9.     Kevin MaxAWOL


At first listen, I wasn’t sure I could follow Kmax into the 80’s new wave musical direction, but over repeat listens it only grew on me more. That is always the sign of a great record. He was born to make an album like this, which includes odes to his heroes from the era, without aping any one of them fully. I tend to revisit the back half of the album most, with tracks like “Brand New Hit,” “AWOL,” “Irish Blood Up,” and “Cornucopia Of The Soul,” but “Melissa” is a fine opening song, and “Prodigal” is a highlight as well. Very cohesive and artfully crafted, AWOL might not be for everyone, but it should be.


10. Mewithoutyou Untitled


Okay, so I have to admit that Mewithoutyou isn’t a band that I’ve kept up with well. I enjoyed 2006’s Brother, Sister and haven’t checked in on them until several JFH staffers recommended checking this one out. I went into it with no expectations, and left highly impressed. This one was teetering on the cusp of being replaced by a few other albums, but I ultimately decided to include it in my top ten because of the musical intensity. Typically I need to dig into lyrics to really enjoy an album, but for whatever reason I’ve suspended that requirement for this album and just allowed the sheer force of the musicality alone to draw me in. Favorite song is “Julia (or ‘Holy To The Lord On the Bells of Horses’) and though the middle of the album starts to lull, it’s the right amount of calm before the fiery conclusion of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” and the calm of “Break On Through (To the Other Side) {Part 2}.” This one needs to be close to your ears in headphones to fully immerse yourself in the rage-quiet-rage dynamic that they pull off flawlessly throughout the album. 


Honorable Mentions: 


1. Matthew Perryman Jones - The Waking Hours

2. Chris Renzema - I'll Be The Branches

3. Future of Forestry - The Union

4. For King & Country - Burn The Ships

5. Adam Watts - When A Heart Wakes Up



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