We talk a lot at Plugged In about the influence of screen-based entertainment on hearts and minds—both our own and our children’s. The funny thing is, however, one of the most influential forms of entertainment doesn’t necessarily involve a screen at all: music.
Sure, these days most of us are using some kind of digital, screen-based interface to access our favorite tunes. Still, music occupies a fundamentally different space in the entertainment world. It doesn’t prod and shape our emotions through images, but through notes and lyrics that have the unique potential to touch our hearts.
That potential is born of the very medium itself. Music, more so than any other form of entertainment, is a medium we engage repetitively. Think about how many times you’ve seen your favorite movie versus how many times you’ve listened to your favorite song or album. I have a friend at work, for example, who just hit the 20,000 listen mark for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” on her Spotify counter. That’s a lot of listens—and a lot of opportunity to be moved by whatever lyrics and ideas are coming through a particular song. But it’s not hard to listen to a favorite song thousands of times over the course of a lifetime.
That’s why even as the music world continues to fragment into more and more diverse genres and outlets, Plugged In continues to cover this medium. Below you’ll see our picks for our favorite music this year.
Life After Death
I can’t even begin to comprehend what it must be like to lose a child. But that’s the road that TobyMac has tread since the death of his son, Truett, in October of 2019. And his most recent album, Life After Death, gives us a window into walking that path of grief while clinging to faith. Gospel-tinged “Help Is on the Way (Maybe Midnight)” reminds us of God’s guidance and presence amid darkness. Other songs reflect honestly on TobyMac’s heart-wrenching brokenness (“I’ll never be the same man,” he confesses on “Faithfully”) even as he lifts his heart and eyes heavenward (“but when my world broke into pieces/You were there faithfully”). Life After Death graciously gives fans a glimpse into what it looks to keep the faith even in the darkest of days.
What Are We Waiting For?
For KING & COUNTRY
The music industry is a fickle thing. “Here today, gone later today,” Van Halen’s original frontman, David Lee Roth, once famously joked. Well, I think it’s safe to say that For King and Country, comprised of brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone, are in it for the long haul. They’ve been delivering their signature brand of alt. rock (think OneRepublic and Imagine Dragons for a sonic comparison) for more than a decade now. And on the duo’s fifth album, What Are We Waiting For, their perspective and musicianship continue to mature in ways that should connect with longtime fans and new ones as well. Plugged In reviewer Kennedy Unthank said of What Are We Waiting for, “The songs on the album explore various means of coping with pain, whether that be through family and friends, unity and growth or trust in the faithfulness of God.”
Look, I’m just going to get this out of the way: I love Skillet. I love John Cooper’s raspy voice and pounding bass; his wife, Corey’s, rhythm guitar work and backing vocals; Jen Ledger’s relentless attack on the skins and her plaintive vocal additions; and Seth Morrison’s shredding wizardry on the guitar. But you know what I like even more? For more than 25 years, Cooper and Co. have kept the faith. As I wrote in my review last January, “Fans know that Skillet never sugarcoats the reality that the world is full of brokenness and devastation. Yet amid that uncertainty, Skillet calls listeners over and over to lift our eyes to the heavens, to walk in faith-filled determination, fortified in the knowledge that the God we love and serve is good, and He is sovereign.”
Kane Brown and Katelyn Brown
Country singer Kane Brown’s work isn’t all squeaky clean. But on this song, he’s joined by his wife, Katelyn, for a beautiful tribute to their mutual commitment to each other. We get pictures of intimacy that are tender without being explicit: “So thank God/I get to wake up by your side/ … And thank God/Your hand fits perfectly in mine.” Plugged In reviewer Kristin Smith noted, “The track … praises God for marriage, places a high value on forgiveness and intimacy, and speaks of how wonderful it can be when two people work hard for their relationship.” Country fans might look a long time before finding another recent song that praises marriage so heartily.
Up-and-coming singer Montell Fish sings from a Christian perspective. But his ethereal tenor paired with both acoustic and electric guitar, as well as piano, yields a sound that feels well outside the typical CCM formula. In fact, it’s a lot closer to an artist like Bon Iver. “I didn’t want to make gospel or contemporary Christian music, so I began experimenting,” he told Billboard. The haunting result here explores emotional jaggedness in the wake of a breakup. Admittedly, it’s a really sad song. Ultimately, though, Fish gets to the point where he says, “I’m finally letting you go.” “Darling” is about as far removed from our other choices on this year’s list as you’ll get. But Fish’s unique sound just might inspire young, would-be musicians to explore new musical paths instead of retreading familiar ones.
-My favorite albums of the year are:
Arcade Fire We
Steven Curtis Chapman Still
Elton John regimental sgt. Zippo
Train a.m. gold
Prince the gold experience
Cat Stevens catch bull at four
Casting Crowns healer
Jordan st. Cyr self titled
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