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Mark Rice Examines His Top 10 of 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mark Rice Examines His Top 10 of 2013

And yet another year in music is drawing to an end. Like any year, there were plenty of great albums released, as well as plenty of doozies and plenty of albums in between. I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone that I didn’t listen to all of them. BUT, I listened to a lot of them. In fact, at this exact moment in time, I calculate that I have listened to 87 albums (covered by this site) released in the calendar year of 2013, covering a wide variety of genres. And I honestly really liked a lot of them. To be honest, I had a genuinely difficult time narrowing it down to just ten, both in spite of and thanks to the fact that other than my album of the year (and possible #2 too), there were no albums that I fell head-over-heels in love with. But narrow it down I had to, so I did. As such these are my personal top ten albums of the year…

1. Beautiful Eulogy Instruments of Mercy

I direct you to my review. Nothing more need be said.

2. Plumb Need You Now

Prior to Need You Now, Plumb had made five high-quality records, with Chaotic Resolve being the best of the bunch. But this record easily bests all five in my book. A superb balance of accessibility and artistry that pulls my emotional strings in all the right places, Plumb’s album is pop/rock gold.

3. Derek Webb I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry, & I Love You

Another artist with a proven track-record of quality, Webb has no fear of being provocative. But on I Was Wrong…, he turns his sharp tongue on himself and he delivers his most introspective effort ever, as well as his most organic and inviting album in years.

4. Steven Curtis Chapman The Glorious Unfolding

Allow me to indulge myself by mentioning this quality record from my personal favorite artist. The Glorious Unfolding is unequivocal proof that Chapman can reach across generation lines as well no as he could twenty years ago, making high-quality contemporary pop/rock  that is still as relevant now as it ever was.

5. Audrey Assad Fortunate Fall

Last year’s offering from Assad was my introduction to her captivating piano pop, but while Heart was without doubt a quality record and I certainly enjoyed it, I personally found it less than enthralling. Fortunate Fall, however, enthralls me. Stripping all away but Assad’s voice and a piano (with sparse instrumentation), this soothing, liturgical worship record was nothing less than phenomenal.

6. Daniel Amos Dig Here Said The Angel

Seventeen years before I was born, Daniel Amos was formed while Christian Rock was still a child. In 2013, I heard my introduction to Daniel Amos through the band’s 14th studio album (and first in 12 years), Dig Here Said The Angel. Their alt rock sound is so timeless that they could sound at home in any one of the last five decades.

7. Jars of Clay Inland

When a band reaches the heights and prestige that Jars of Clay has, expectations become almost impossible, so the foursome has wisely decided to ignore them and simply make high quality music. Inland is a more melancholy album than I personally would have preferred (hence, why it’s “only” number seven), but the quality, originality, and all-around effort is undeniable and incredible.

8. John Elefante On My Way To The Sun

Having never before heard of John Elefante, I chose to review On My Way To The Sun almost by random impulse. In hindsight, I am very tempted to attribute that impulse to nothing less than divine influence. Drawing inspiration from classic and progressive rock and 90’s contemporary (among others), the former Kansas lead singer and prolific Christian Rock producer delivered my personal surprise album of the year.

9. Stryper No More Hell To Pay

I’ll be honest; I like Stryper, and appreciate their immense impact on Christian music, but I’ve never been too impressed with their music. Not until No More Hell To Pay. By far the group’s most mature and complete work, No More Hell To Pay delivers an album that is both quintessential classic Stryper metal and a refreshing update to their sound (rather than one-or-the-other like their other 21st century albums). 

10. Falling Up Midnight on Earthship/Falling Up Hours

These two albums together (along with a book) form the Machine De Ella Project, released track-by-track over a period of over four months. Though not technically related (and admittedly written for different fanbases), these albums complement each other wonderfully between the drawn-out experimental effort Hours and the more mellow, ethereal Midnight on Earthship.


Thankfully, my list of honorable mentions need not be confined to ten, and if the readers might indulge me for my overwhelming gushing, I will take great liberties with that freedom. These albums may not have cracked my top ten, but I’d be no less satisfied with it if they would have…

All Sons & Daughters Live: probably the best pure worship album of the year.

The Almost Fear Inside Our Bones: The first half of this album was album-of-the-year material.

Andy Mineo Heroes For Sale: Excellent and diverse hip-hop from Reach Record’s newest star.

Arrows & Sound Arrows & Sound: Indie experimental at its best from the former Remedy Drive member.
The Digital Age Evening:Morning: The former DC*B members deliver an excellent debut album with room to improve.

Dustin Kensrue The Water And The Blood: Creative, theologically dense worship music from the former Thrice frontman.
The Ember Days More Than You Think: Gorgeous indie worship and the last album to be cut from my top-10.

Extol Extol: I may not be the biggest metal fan, but this was too good to ignore.

Golden Youth Quiet Frame; Wild Light: To be perfectly honest, I didn’t discover this one until my list had been made.

Hillsong UNITED Zion: A phenomenal musical and lyrical upgrade to Hillsong’s usual fare

Least Of These Change Will Come: Aggressive indie rock with a offered as a free gift.

Norma Jean Wrongdoers: By far my personal favorite Norma Jean album

The Ongoing Concept Saloon: Wild, chaotic, awesome, unpredictable western influenced metalcore

Phil Wickham The Ascension: Solid modern worship even by Wickham’s high standards.

Steven Curtis Chapman Deep Roots: Organic bluegrass renditions of hymns and past hits from my favorite artist.

Tal & Acacia Black & White: Delicious bluesy pop from two sisters with phenomenal vocal chemistry

The Walking Tree We Are Instruments: More aggressive indie rock offered as a free gift.


--Mark Rice


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1. Eddie said...

Falling Up! Yes! I'm very happy to see this make a top ten list among so many other bigger name artists releasing albums this year. And nice shoutout to The Walking Tree! Its a pretty solid release, nothing to special in my opinion but I liked it.

2. Jeremy said...

You seem to be the only person on JFH who picked up on the Daniel Amos album. That is a shame, as it is a truly beautiful album. By my count, I picked up 79 new releases this year (I am CD only, so I missed out of a few "digital only"-type releases), and my top 2 would be Daniel Amos and Plumb. Both of those albums are ones that require a few listens to realize the depth of what's there. You said Plumb "pulls my emotional strings in all the right places" - trust me, it would pull them ever harder if you were 30 and married with two kids.

I didn't hear Beautiful Eulogy, because when it came out I could only find it as a "digital download" - although I just searched again and found it as a CD from the record company website, so it is now ordered. John Elefante was also really good, but a few of the songs drag on just a little bit too long which takes away from the replayability a bit. I didn't really get into the new Falling Up (and I loved their previous work, including Your Sparkling Death Cometh). Least of These would be a top 10 for me. Dustin Kensrue was really good, but I thought Citizens was even stronger. The Ember Days was disappointing to me; I really missed the male-female vocal balance from their previous releases. I had high expectations for Golden Youth since I LOVED everything else the label has put out (Blood and Water, Pioneer, Sons), but I just didn't get into that one at all. The new Norma Jean would be their second best to me (behind Redeemer), but I really need to spend more time with that one (ditto for the new August Burns Red and the new Devil Wears Prada - my wife doesn't like hardcore so that limits my opportunities to listen to those albums).

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