After a surprisingly positive 2014, this year was a bit thinner when it came to positive stand-out tracks and albums. But I’ve still managed to sift out five terrific musical moments (some albums, some tracks) that span quite a bit of stylistic and thematic territory. (They’re listed in no particular order.)
Twenty One Pilots, Blurryface: If you’re hip and in the know—which is to say you’re in high school—Twenty One Pilots is already on your radar. For the rest of you, let me set the stage. This stealth group defies easy sonic categorization because it seamlessly smears and smooshes bits and pieces from a whole bunch of genres. It’s no wonder fans have dubbed it schizophrenic pop. If the style is hard to pin down, however, the substance is not. Twenty One Pilots isn’t technically a Christian band, but you don’t have to listen long to realize that frontman Tyler Joseph is responding to life’s struggles and conundrums from a solidly faith-formed perspective. “There are myriad anxieties swirling in shadowy recesses on Blurryface,” I said in my review of the album. “But the band’s consistent response to them is to cry out for salvation and redemption.”
Sam Martin, “Song for My Unborn Son”: Normally when someone’s gushing about their baby in a pop song, it’s in a romantic sense, not a literal one. But this poignant piano lullaby from singer-songwriter Sam Martin really is about his baby. Namely, one who hadn’t yet been born when he penned this beautiful tribute to the little one growing in his wife’s womb. “Can you hear me?” he asks at the outset of the tender track. “I’ve been singing to you/With every day, I’ll be meeting you soon.” The balance of the song quietly bursts with Martin’s hopes, dreams and promises for the baby boy he can’t wait to meet. “Someday you’ll grow up to be your own man/But while you’re small, I’ll help you stand,” he promises.
TobyMac, This Is Not a Test: Every now and then, someone asks me what I’m listening to these days. For the better part of the last year, my answer has been TobyMac’s latest effort, This Is Not a Test. It’s a staple in my car, and my kids and I sing it almost every day on the way to school. The former dc Talker is a master at melding the sounds of the moment, from pop to rap, melodic rock to dubstep stylings. (His former bandmates make a cameo appearance here, too.) And TobyMac’s knack for crafting catchy lyrics is absolutely on display on this disc full of songs that are a blast to listen to even as they unabashedly blast praises to God’s goodness. “For the rest of my days/I’ll lay it all on the line/ … It’s Your name I’ll glorify,” he vows on ”’Til the Day I Die.” Lyrics like those—and there are plenty more where they came from—declare that TobyMac’s still just as passionate a Jesus Freak as he ever was.
Rachel Platten, “Fight Song”: So many artists these days pander to cynicism, sensuality or both. Not Rachel Platten on her first big hit which majors in unbridled, unapologetic pluck and spunk. She proclaims, “This is my fight song/Take back my life song/Prove I’m alright song.” Empowering themes continue when she sings about her determination to follow her calling, no matter what anyone else thinks of her. “I’ll play my fight song/And I don’t really care if nobody else believes/’Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.” Here’s hoping Platten’s future hits keep channeling her fight in the right direction.
Coldplay, A Head Full of Dreams: If Coldplay frontman Chris Martin ever goes solo (and perhaps he will, since this album with the whole band is rumored to be their last), he should go by the moniker The Unsinkable Chris Martin. Despite weathering a devastating, high-profile divorce from actress Gwyneth Paltrow last year, not even that heartbreak was enough to dampen Martin’s spirts for long. The aptly titled A Head Full of Dreams swirls and swooshes with hope and optimism, all delivered with Coldplay’s trademark blend of chimey, ethereally anthemic rock. “I think I’ve landed where there are miracles at work,” Martin proclaims in the title track. Other references to God, prayer and angels turn up elsewhere on a release chock-full of clear-eyed wonder and an irrepressibly upbeat perspective that insists the best is yet to come.