I love end of the year “best of” lists, because they help you to find worthwhile things you may have missed, or rediscover things you may have too quickly dismissed. Here’s my pick of the best rock music of the past year, to encourage your musical exploration or rediscovery.
All of these lists are subjective, reflecting personal taste. But as Christians we are called to expand our musical palate and appreciate some objective criteria. Basically I am looking at three things: musicianship, message, and aesthetics. Musicianship refers to the quality of musical artistry, skill, and craft evident in the music. Message is the lyrical content: asking whether the artists have something coherent and interesting to say with that (for these purposes then excluding instrumental music–could be a different list). By aesthetics as distinct from musicianship, I mean what is pleasing, accessible, enjoyable to listen to. I suppose these criteria could be compared to terms used by Paul in recommending our engagement with culture for its creational goods (Phil. 4.8): whatever is excellent, true, and lovely (or beautiful). In the case of music, what makes it particularly good is a combination of each of these qualities. For example, you do have avante garde productions of great technical skill, but are unlistenable, at least for most ears. On the other hand, much pop music may be superficially tuneful, but there’s no depth of craft. And again, the lyrics of much otherwise quality music reflect no significant ideas about life or meaning. The best music combines all of these to some degree, though albums also make my list even though weak in one area, because they excel in others. Anyway, this approach makes my list a bit different than some typical media outlets.
This list includes a wide range of the subgenres of rock music: classic rock, so-called indie or alternative rock, folk, electronic, post-punk, experimental, latin, pop, and some of the best combine features of several styles. What is not represented here is rap/hip-hop and even R&B, because its typical crude language and violence can make it a difficult listen for discerning Christians (Lecrae being one obvious exception). Yet there were amazing records in that category from breakthrough artists like Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and others. We should remember of course that Christian discernment is called for with all contemporary cultural expressions, and on the albums below there are cases of language and content where a critical ear is especially called for. There was a lot more great music this year that didn’t make the cut here. See me if you’d like to know my top 26-50 albums of the year.