The One21 Essential 100 is a collection of albums that represent the best in creativity, innovation, and originality in music. This is not a “best of” list, nor is it influenced by album sales, or even popularity. Our attempt with this series is to highlight the gems, those rare albums that push boundaries and encourage new ways of thinking; both musical and philosophically. In our opinion, the music highlighted in this series is the “good stuff”.
Simply what this is going to be is a list of 100 albums from Christian music artists that we think you should own. Like our website, most genres will be represented, and some of the albums will be from as far back as the 60s, to as current as 2009. Each week we will post five albums, in no real order, with descriptions, album artwork, and places to buy the music.
The Alchemy Index Vols. 1-4
Buy these albums: (Vol 1-2) Amazon, iTunes; (Vol 3-4) Amazon, iTunes
Before I can gush on this album, I feel like I need to explain the concept. In 2005, the post-hardcore powerhouse known as Thrice announced that they were leaving their cushy major label record deal to strike it as an independent band once again. This came as quite a shock to their fans, considering they had released two monumental albums on during that time, and many were wary of the apparent step backwards. Was this the end of Thrice? Could they survive on their own?
In 2007 the band answered with a resounding yes, and monster collection songs now known as The Alchemy Index. The concept is this: The Alchemy Index is actually four, 6-song EPs, each one designated as a elemental force, and the music of the individual EP corresponds with the element. Confused? Think of it this way, the Fire EP is Thrice at their most familiar: heavy, loud, and abrasive. The Earth EP is Thrice embracing their folk influences, and the Water EP is atmospheric electronic music.
For most bands, this ambitious of a project would bury the key song writers, and would either require help from a producer or end up with the band never really fulfilling the original intent of the EPs. Thrice not only excelled on each style of music they choose, but every aspect of The Alchemy Index is Thrice, as they self-produced AND self-recorded the WHOLE thing. They didn’t create parodies of their favorite genres of music, they digested them, and made them their own. Each EP has so many gorgeous songs, simple displays of Thrice’s ability as a band, and then when you listen to them back to back, you can’t ignore that all of the different elements work as A WHOLE as well.
This is what true creative control sounds like.
Find me another band that undertook this kind of project, completed it, self produced and self recorded it, and THEN made four gems out of the EPs…..go ahead…..find me the band…..
Highlights: The Messenger, The Whaler, Broken Lungs, Come All You Weary
Rebel Poet, Jukebox Balladeer: The Anthology
Buy this album: Amazon, iTunes
I struggled with putting an anthology as an essential recording, but it was such a revelation for me that I must include it. I had missed Larry Norman altogether. I had heard of Larry Norman as the father of Christian rock music and I had heard his songs on tribute albums, but I had never heard Larry Norman until Rebel Poet, Jukebox Balladeer.
This music is as edgy and compelling as anything by Dylan, Lennon or Young. We did not hear of Larry Norman’s greatness because his answer was not to drop out, sit-in or riot. Larry Norman admonished us all to follow. His message to America in the 60’s and 70’s was to simply follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Neither the counter culture nor the establishment wanted to hear that impossibly simple admonishment, so Dylan is revered and Larry Norman is underground.
Highlights: The Great American Novel, Reader’s Digest, Without Love, You Ain’t Nothing (Righteous Rocker), Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?
Everything Is Wrong
Buy this album: Amazon, iTunes
For those of us who were listening in 1995, this was the breakthrough. This is when electronic become more than sound and dance music. Moby likes for us to dance and he wants to be the DJ guiding us around the dance floor, but on Everything Is Wrong he used our exuberance against us. He got us going with driving house beats only to change styles and beats so quickly that he made us stop and listen. Then Moby expresses his bewildered and desperate view of modern life by periodically yanking away the escape of blind, danceable ecstasy, using that discontinuity to express the eyes-wide-open ruminations of a furious idealist.
The desperate industrial plea of “All That I Need Is To Be Loved” rips back the cover right from the beginning. “All That I need is to be loved, can’t you take that out of me, all I want is to be near you, of my God how can I love thee” is shouted over a grinding industrial sound board. You can dance to this, but you must stop and listen first. “God Moving Over The Face of The Water” is one of the most beautiful seven minutes of instrumental music of the past 50 years. The ambient masterpiece “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die” breaks your heart with deeply longing lyrics matched with crushingly sad music. The remix companion Everything Is Wrong Mixed and Re-mixed adds to the fun with multiple arrangements of these great songs.
Highlights: Feeling So Real , All That I Need Is To Be Loved, God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters
Buy this album: Amazon
Ramsie Shick’s voice is a force of nature, capable of touching tenderness and wild, unruly abandon. In another’s hands it could be Grace Slick, Joan Osborne, Patti Smith, or Melissa Etheridge, but this is something all on her own. She delivers the songs of Personally There with a pleading, almost manic fervor that draws you into the lyrics. Ramsie Shick has something to tell us and we want to listen.
Ramsie Shick’s dense, passionate lyrics are like the ramblings of a stream of consciousness preacher/poet – and maybe they are – but coupled with the music of her mind, the touch of her fingers on her guitar, and her muscular, competent band, they are transformed into living, breathing pieces of art and ministry. The sound is modern yet the tone is ancient or maybe timeless. It is almost as if an unpublished prophet has returned to deliver first hand insight into God’s word.
Highlights: Broken Down, Unashamed, Testify
Buy this album: Amazon, iTunes
The modern face of hip-hop is a sad one. We have seen a truly creative and viable artform has become a machine that celebrates mediocrity and debauchery. Emcees willing to talk about ANYTHING that means anything has become a rarity, and when it does happen, most artists lose site that their music supposed to also entertain. In 2008, creative, meaningful hip-hop proved that it was still alive and well with Kaboose’s Excuse Me.
The balance of fun and earnest is evident in every track. Kaboose is aware that even if you have something good to say, you still have to make sound good. On some tracks, he talks about his past, on some he addresses his culture (Kaboose is half Native American), but it is Kaboose‘s faith that shines like a spotlight on every track. You can tell he is a man, with flaws and faults of his own, that is desperately trying to live for God, and be a light to all around him.
Let us not forget for one minute here that Kaboose is also a PHENOMENAL emcee. He would seriously be able to rival Eminem, RedCloud, and Kayne as a word smith, and he is flawless on his delivery. This is truly one of those guys that would succeed in the mainstream rap game, if that was what he desired. Fortunately, Kaboose will never be part of that machine, but he will always let his faith dictate his art. Excuse Me is a must have for anybody who wants to know what hip-hop is all about.
Highlights: Goin’ Outta Control, Build It Up, Be First, Intercontinental Grand Dragon