Every year I go through the most underrated movies and albums of the year. I couldn’t find enough movies I’ve seen that fit my criteria (on less than 3 top ten lists), so I’ll just do an albums post this year. Less work for me, less reading for you, everybody wins.
I tried to avoid albums that ended up in my Tentative Top Tens post, but I couldn’t help putting one of them here, since I was pretty surprised at the lack of recognition it’s been receiving from Christian music publications.
Colter Wall, Songs of the Plains: For someone who gets compared to Johnny Cash a lot, Colter Wall sounds very little like Johnny Cash. Those comparisons are well-meant, I’m sure, but just because an artist has a spare, low sound doesn’t make Cash the best point of reference. A better point of reference is Wall’s fellow Canadian, Gordon Lightfoot. They both have a penchant for simple melodies and casual details in their story songs. Plains is transporting, the only album from 2018 that’s likely to make you forget where you’re listening to it.
Mark Lee Townsend, 1919: The Ballad of Rexford: You may not have heard of Townsend, but if you grew up in church in the ’90s, you have definitely heard something with his fingerprints on it. He was the guitarist for dc Talk and produced a lot of Relient K’s 2000s output. He’s also had a couple of bands that he recorded with throughout his career, but 1919 is his first solo record, a tribute to his late father’s life and faith. The album plays almost like the soundtrack to a musical, and it jumps from genre to genre pretty seamlessly. If you like Relient K’s “Deathbed,” this is basically that song spread out over an album without losing any of its power.
Natalie Prass, The Future and the Past: This was a really well-reviewed record when it was released in June, but it seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle here at the end of the year. Prass’s first record, a self-titled one from 2015, leaned more into folk stylings and was more content to rest in a softer register. The Future and the Past is a big step forward for Prass’s sound, adopting a funkier style and addressing the world’s ills head-on in her lyrics. I think Future is just as bold a record as Mitski’s Nobody, an album that appears to have broad consensus as one of the best albums of the year, though I found it underwhelming. For me, Future was one of the most impressive and unexpected albums of the year.
Rae Sremmurd, SR3MM: I get why SR3MM didn’t feature on a lot of top ten lists. It’s far from cohesive, sprawling out over three distinct albums, a solo album for each of Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi with one from the duo. There’s nothing on here with the immediacy of “Black Beatles,” and the run length (almost 2 hours!) doesn’t help. But this is Rae Sremmurd at the top of their game, crafting hook after solid hook. Even if there aren’t any hits, SR3MM is ultimately rap’s best duo doing their thing for over 90 minutes, which is hard to beat.
Sandra McCracken, Songs from the Valley: There’s not really a good place to go for Christian music coverage. Christianity Today used to be the best, before they dissolved that department, but it left a void that no place has filled with anything resembling quality writing. So I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that McCracken’s Songs from the Valley had trouble competing with the likes of Lauren Daigle or TobyMac in a segment of the industry where you don’t get any attention if you don’t get played on the radio. But very few albums weighed as heavily on my heart as this one. McCracken’s always been an ace songwriter, for herself and for others, but she’s topped herself with her most intimate songwriting yet on Valley.