It’s the most wonderful time of the year—end-of-year list season that is! So Here is my contribution to my favorite topic—music. This post will detail 20 favorite Christian based albums of 2021 and why I liked them. In year number two of the pandemic I’ve found myself leaning even harder into the contemplative artists. Luckily, many artists seemed to have been in a more subdued and introspective mood as well, as I found much to sink my teeth into.
As always, when listening to music I’m looking for songs and albums to take me to that place of longing for home—where heaven and earth are close. Celtic Christians called it Thin Places, the German word for it is Sehnsucht, but it ultimately is the pointing out that nothing of this world will truly satisfy, because we were made for our deepest longing to be satisfied perfectly in Christ. So perhaps it is through the notes strung together or the lyrical phrases pieced together, but these albums and songs are the ones that did it for me in 2021.
I will also link my favorite 100 song Spotify list at the bottom, and be sure to check out my previous posts of honorable mentions and mainstream artists, here: 2021 Album Honorable Mentions and here: 10 Mainstream Albums & Songs from 2021
20. Five Iron Frenzy – Until This Shakes Apart (4 Stars)
“All in all, though Until This Shakes Apart has its flaws, it’s truly a good record. I just cannot fully recommend it without reservations, feeling literally torn. Longtime fans (like myself) having grown up with the band may find a lot to like, but again this will likely depend on your current headspace. If you’re anything like me and you’re sick of politics, this album may be hard to take. However, if you can hear past the anger and stray profanity, maybe you can also find yourself inspired to do something about the suffering in the world.”
My full review here: Until This Shakes Apart Album Review
19. Natalie Bergman – Mercy (4 Stars)
Truly something “other” and interesting, Bergman released a surprising debut called Mercy. Retro-pop. Soulful. Occasionally psycidelic rock vibes. Her voice can border on the “too nasally” side of things for me, but all in all, this is good, different, and well-done. Try “Talk to the Lord” and “Shine Your Light on Me” to see if this could be your new jam.
18. Andy Squyres – Poet Priest (4 Stars)
Lyrical master alert! Though I don’t always dig his musical direction (it keeps it lower on the list), his lyrics are great. “Dead Horse” “Trouble Gonna Come” “Love Never Fails” and “Kingfisher” are the cream-of-the-crop.
17. Jess Ray – Baby Take My Hand (4 Stars)
My #2 song of 2020 “Grace & Mercy” is included on this brief but satisfying singer-songwriter album Baby take My Hand by Jess Ray. Other highlights tracks are the playful “Kindness” the tender “Days to Come” and my #43 favorite song of the year, “Be There for You.”
15. Mat Kearney – January Flower (4 Stars)
Some records are just fun and pleasant and make you happy. January Flower by Mat Kearney is one such record for me. Though it also has one of my favorite lines of the year from song “Can’t Look Back” where Kearney reminds us simply, yet profoundly that, “you can’t look back/there ain’t no future in the past.” Lead song of the album “Powerless” is another good one, as well as the achingly honest “Grand Canyon” and the nostalgic leaning “Pontiac.”
15. Sara Groves – What Makes it Through (4.25 Stars)
“Musically, it’s perhaps the most understated of her catalog. But in persisting, tuning in two or three more times, and taking a peek at the lyrics, this album, like several of hers preceding it, found its home, slowly working its way into my soul. Give it the time; it is truly worthy of it. All in all, like a moth to a flame, I’m once again drawn to the warmth of Sara’s tone and her consistent ability to craft a mesmerizing tune. What Makes It Through is another masterclass of songwriting from an artist who astoundingly keeps getting better with each release.”
My full review here: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/cdreviews/WhatMakesItThrough.asp
14. Chris Renzema – Get Out of the Way of Your Own Heart (4.25 Stars)
“2021 finds Chris dropping a quick follow-up just over a year after Let The Ground Rest, utilizing the extra time while unable to tour due to the pandemic. Album three is called Get Out of the Way of Your Own Heart and features more of the thoughtful, heartfelt lyrics and singer-songwriter ethic for which he is becoming increasingly known. So how does it measure up to his previous work? In a few words, it is a good, though safe follow-up, just a step below its predecessor.”
My full review here: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/cdreviews/GetOutoftheWayofYourOwnHeart.asp
13. Future of Forestry – Remember (4.25 Stars)
“…this album of eight new songs is like a warm hug or hot beverage on a cold and rainy day. It is somehow both familiar and fresh and ultimately a comforting listen. That’s not to say that it’s a boring album at all, because there are big anthemic moments that would make artists like Coldplay jealous. In fact, what we are treated to across nearly the entire eight tracks is more of Eric’s tremendously tight string section and big drum combos that he is known for.”
My Full Review: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/cdreviews/FutureofForestryRemember.asp
12. Shane & Shane – Psalms, Hymns, & Spiritual Songs (4.25 Stars)
“If you’re a longtime fan of the Shane’s, you’ll get what you’ve come to expect: passionate vocals, top-notch harmony, and lyrics primarily pulled straight from Scripture. Additionally, for first-time listeners, this project would still make a fine entry point into their catalog and give you a good idea if they are the right fit for your taste.”
My full review: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/cdreviews/PsalmsHymnsandSpiritualSongsVol1.asp
11. Judah. – 3+7 (4.25 Stars)
Some of this is formulaic folk-build worship-based stuff but I kept coming back to it as one of my favorite worship-centric albums of the year.
“At first blush, Judah‘s debut solo album doesn’t break any new ground lyrically or musically, but a quick perusal of his life would reveal that this is purposeful. Needing to process grief at the sudden loss of a friend to suicide, Judah uses these seven simple expressions of hope in the face of pain as a personal catharsis. While there is still an over-dependence on the folk music staple of starting slow and building to a big rafter-raising-conclusion, he more than makes up for it with his sincerity. Enlisting the help of several friends as guest vocalists, the biggest highlights are on opener “Just Because,” the Jon Foreman assisted “Don’t Know if I Believe It” and the Jon Guerra feature on closer “You’ve Done the Rest.”
10. Chase Tremaine – Development & Compromise (4.5 Stars)
Full disclosure—Chase is a fellow JFH staffer known predominately for relaunching the JFH Podcast, his oh-so-hot takes, one of the two staffers I’ve hung out with in person, (Michael Weaver being the other), and the staffer I can count on to not match my music opinions or taste the most. Which I’m totally fine with, haha. While we playfully disagree on a lot, we can atleast agree that his sophomore album Development & Compromise is an excellent slice of indie pop/rock, rife with killer guitar licks and interesting vocals. Ultimately I liked but didn’t love his original version of the album that released in early 2021, but after reworking a few songs and adding some new ones later in the year, I’m all in. Nothing has changed my opinion of his song “Madison” though, it’s still my favorite that he’s written so far. Also highly enjoyable are “Saturday A.M.” “Roethke (First Lonliness)” “Fear Not Want” “Work Together” and Hello, Zunyko.”
Scott Fryberger’s review: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/indiemusic/DevelopmentAndCompromise2.asp
9. Glowing Moses – Event Horizon (4.5 Stars)
This album was one of my biggest surprises of the year. Scott and John’s reviews below and Scott’s recommendation to check it out got me started, and I just kept coming back to it. It’s a short 30 minutes across 9 tracks but there’s a nice mix of Muse-like rock vibes and Radiohead piano-led moments. “The Fix” is my favorite song and it definitely made my Top 100 songs of the year landing at #21.
JFH’s Scott Fryberger and John Underdown’s reviews: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/indiemusic/EventHorizon.asp
8. Smalltown Poets – NWxSE (4.5 Stars)
Without a doubt the catchiest set of songs since the debut, and it comes pretty close to supplanting it as their overall best album. “Love is the Ocean” and “Couldn’t See it” are my two favorites, but you should spin the whole thing a few times.
Here’s an excellent and detailed Full review from JFH’s Evan Dickens: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/indiemusic/EventHorizon.asp
7. Twenty One Pilots – Scaled & Icy (4.5 Stars)
“Ultimately, there’s something here for those just here for some catchy tunes, or those wanting to dig a little further into the expanding narrative. Either way, neither type of fan should feel bad for enjoying Scaled and Icy, nor should others who don’t care for it at all feel bad for skipping it as they wait for a more direct follow-up to Trench. This album isn’t for everybody, and that’s okay. Overall, SAI doesn’t quite measure up to the three albums preceding it, but neither was it trying to.”
My full review here: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/cdreviews/ScaledandIcy.asp
6. Benjamin Daniel – Shelterheart (4.5 Stars)
“This is an album made about community and for the community we live in, specifically for the present time. In short, it’s a record in service of the need of the moment, and it’s a fine one at that. Building upon his already above-average lyrical musings, Benjamin adds musical nuance to his sonic palate shoring up the one small critique I had with his debut. Remarkably, there’s something worthwhile about every tune — perhaps a catchy melody, a stop-you-in-your-tracks lyric, a vocal delivery, or an interesting instrumental part. Overall, Benjamin and his latest project artfully sidestep the dreaded sophomore slump and leave this reviewer excited to hear more as he keeps getting better.”
My full review: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/indiemusic/Shelterheart.asp
5. Young Oceans – You Are Fullness (4.5 Stars)
“I’m happy to report to fans that this is vintage Young Oceans. It’s spacious, ambient, reverb-soaked, soothing, vertically-focused, worship-inducing. For those uninitiated, think slow-burn ambient music with whispered vocals, and be prepared to linger. Nothing on this project, much like the ones preceding, it happens quickly, or even overtly. Most of the track times exceed five minutes each, unfurling ever so gently. It will require patient listens to uncover the nuance across the eleven tracks. But repeat listens thru headphones will slowly reveal a piano flourish, a bass line, a whispered lyric that hits your heart full-force, or even the use of space to induce wonder.”
My full review: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/cdreviews/YouAreFullness.asp
4. Jon Foreman – Departures (4.5 Stars)
“Overall, Departures is another album in a long line of fine releases bearing the mark of Jon Foreman. Laudably, he puts his storied career to use in reminding us all that every departure ends with a new beginning, just like the mercies that come with each new day. This reviewer has been impacted deeply by his creative output, benefiting from his honest questions, doubts, and stubborn grip on belief despite it all. Jon balances well the fine line of pointing out the problems of this world and admitting his culpability while also turning his gaze (and in so doing ours as listeners) toward the Savior who remains faithfully the same.”
My full review: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/cdreviews/Departures.asp
3. Switchfoot – Interrobang (4.5 Stars)
“Interrobang has an overall bright feel due to the use of vocal harmony, so it actually feels “other,” a direction they have yet to explore. The best musical comparison I can think of is their surf-rock filtered through the psychedelic 60s with a heavy emphasis on the glorious harmonies of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. They do all this without losing the core of what has defined them as a band: introspective, philosophical, yearning lyrics and fantastic guitar work, while adding some of the musical atmospheres and left-turns that featured on albums The Beautiful Letdown and Oh! Gravity.”
Several reviews including my 2 Cents: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/cdreviews/Departures.asp
2. The Gray Havens – Blue Flower (4.5 Stars)
This concept album centered around longing and heaven hit that sweet spot I’ve really begun to gravitate toward in the last 3-4 years. It directed my focus upward and beyond current circumstances to the end of all ends.
“Overall, this is remarkably The Gray Havens’ most cohesive album both musically and lyrically. The Radford’s are operating with confidence yet unseen, likely due to the time spent honing their craft while off the road, literary influences, and even friend and producer Ben Shive.”
My full review: https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/indiemusic/BlueFlower.asp
1. Taylor Leonhardt – Hold Still (4.75 Stars)
For whatever reason I could simply not put into words my love for this album in review format this year. I sat down several times and just couldn’t do it—and that’s not because it isn’t excellent, because it absolutely is. Its just a weird thing. Am I just burned out on review writing? Kinda, but that’s not really it. Maybe I’ll finally get there in the new year, or maybe it’ll just be one of those anomalies without explanation—all I know is that this record is warm and inviting. Every listen felt like an invitation to a deep conversation with a hot drink in hand. In another hard year, it just hit the spot. It’s the kind of slow burn album I’ve gravitated towards these last two years specifically. I urge you to give it a few spins. Take in the lyrics. The stories. The relatable storytelling. Then check back in! I’d love to hear your thoughts after you’ve spent some time with Hold Still.
A terrific Review: https://rabbitroom.com/2021/10/a-review-of-taylor-leonhardts-hold-still/
100 Songs I loved in 2021:
2021 Album Honorable Mentions, 10 Mainstream Albums & Songs from 2021
I’d love to hear your favorites of the year and why you love them so please let me know in the comments!
Happy Listening in 2021 and beyond! – Josh
OK. So I heard enough hype about Taylor Leonhardt that I had to invest 40 minutes into listening to the album front to back uninterrupted. mmmmm. I have thoughts. Many of them and I’m just not gonna take the time to type them out.
There’s a lot going on there for such a stripped down project. I hear a little Sara Groves, some Trisha Yearwood, a touch of Bethany Dillon? You could probably tell me this was a country album and I’d believe you, but–whatever it is–it’s powerfully honest.
Two tracks went on my playlist before they even finished playing: “Happy or Whatever” and “Keep Me Around”.
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Nice! Love that album so much. Played it probably 50 times last year.
Thank you for the recommendations over the past year. My list is pretty similar to yours, but my top spot is one of the rare ones that didn’t make your list…
#15 Shane & Shane, PH&SS
#14 Smalltown Poets, NWxSE
#13 Ellie Holcomb, Canyon
#12 The Choir, Deep Cuts
#11 Five Iron Frenzy, Until This Shakes Apart
#10 Future of Forestry, Remember
#9 Needtobreathe, Into the Mystery
#8 TwentyOne Pilots, Scaled & Icy
#7 Chris Renzema, Get Out of the Way of Your Own Heart – no other lyricist writes songs that so closely reflect what’s going on in my heart (though Jon Foreman comes very close)
#6 Switchfoot, Interrobang – really enjoy their experimentation here, though it’s not quite in my top five Switchfoot albums
#5 The Gray Havens, Blue Flower
#4 Glowing Moses, Event Horizon – a few extra tracks and this would probably be album of the year… hits my rock sweet spot
#3 Jon Foreman, Departures
#2 Young Oceans, You Are Fullness – so glad I took the time to let this one sink in, it’s been my go-to contemplative album of the year
#1 Dens, Tamed Tongues – the unique theme and track titles, creative instrumentation, and passionate lead vocals make this an immersive experience that somehow just works for me (I’ve only listened to a couple of songs from the original Taming Tongues album, enough to know it wouldn’t have made the same impression on me)
Nothing has pushed for 5 stars here yet (those are rare), so top spot is still up for grabs… I’ll let you know in a few weeks’ time whether Taylor Leonhardt is up there 🙂
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Nice! So many similarities! I was really torn on the NTB album into the mystery, I usually dig everything they do, and though I liked it I really only loved the title track s one or two others.
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