It’s interesting how music releases tend to come in genre waves. February was packed with quirky indie rock. March seemed like it was almost all pop. And now we’re at the end of April, which has apparently been the month of the singer-songwriter. I could’ve done an entire roundup just using folksy, intimate one man bands, but of course there were some great artists who missed the memo and released albums in the wrong genres in April. The good news is their confusion means we’ll get a little variety in this roundup. Here’s what I’ve been digging this month:
Phil Wickham – Children of God
Once upon a time, I wanted to be a drummer in a super trendy touring worship band. I’ve since learned I’m far too much of a homebody for something like that, but back when the dream was alive, I always wanted to release an album that opened with a really cool version of the Doxology. It’s a beautiful hymn, and I have a weakness for albums with simple intro tracks.
Thankfully, Phil Wickham has done what I never got around to pursuing. Children of God opens with quite possibly the best version of the Doxology I’ve ever heard, but it doesn’t stop there. On his latest album, Wickham continues to embrace the alt-pop sound we heard on The Ascension, improving on the recipe that made This Is Amazing Grace a hit. Tasteful synths and jangly guitars underscore Wickham’s signature vocals. It’s a recipe for another solid offering, and, at least in my book, the best of Wickham’s career.
Download Children of God on iTunes here
Tom Crouch – A Civil War of Head & Heart
Tom Crouch doesn’t have a particularly interesting backstory. He isn’t a former member of some metal band you’ve definitely heard of. He didn’t write and record this album in a week after seeing the Aurora Borealis for the first time. He didn’t make all his instruments out of the wood from his childhood treehouse.
Nope, all he did was release a really, really good EP.
A Civil War of Head and Heart is an atmospheric folk album, evoking Bon Iver at times while still maintaining its own musical identity. Crouch’s vocals are powerful, passionate, and unique, and they are the driving force on an already strong project. It sounds like simple singer-songwriter music at first blush, but the more closely you listen, the more you’ll find Crouch avoiding easy chord progressions and obvious rhythmic decisions. He makes unexpected musical choices, but they always sound like the exact right decision.
Download A Civil War of Head and Heart on iTunes here
Everything In Slow Motion – Laid Low
Everything In Slow Motion is the new band from former Hands frontman Shane Ochsner, but after four years, two EPs, and a full-length album, maybe new isn’t quite the best term. Everything In Slow Motion is settling in as a staple name on Facedown Records, and Laid Low only helps solidify that position. This project is a little softer and more melodic than 2013’s Phoenix, but it still hits plenty hard. The droning, melodic guitars are still there, and a few screams do find their way into the mix, though they aren’t featured nearly as much this time around. Laid Low is an all around great piece of post-rock, like a more atmospheric and moody version of Thrice’s later material.
Download Laid Low on iTunes here
The Gray Havens – Ghost of a King
Due to some sort of mixup that I still don’t understand, it took me forever to get into The Gray Havens’ 2015 release Fire and Stone. Everybody was all “Oh, man – this is great stuff” and I was all…I don’t know. That’s the thing. I don’t have a clue why I didn’t listen to this thing that all kinds of people I trusted were telling me was super good. When I finally got around to listening to it, I kicked myself for taking so long.
When I saw The Gray Havens were set to release another album in 2016, I vowed not to make the same mistake again.
And my efforts were rewarded. On Ghost of a King, The Gray Havens do everything they did on Fire and Stone, only better. Pure, beautiful vocal performances? Check. Well-written, thoughtful lyrics? Check. Folk-pop musical arrangements with a Celtic lilt? Double-check. As folk and Americana have risen in popularity in the musical world, there has been a glut of artists trying to capitalize, but The Gray Havens have managed to stay at the top of the heap.
Download Ghost of a King on iTunes here
Wilder Adkins – Hope & Sorrow
In Wilder Adkins’s Facebook bio, he says that he writes “boring folk music.” It’s clearly a tongue-in-cheek statement, but it’s easy to see where it comes from. In a musical landscape packed with heavily produced pop singles and wall-of-sound rock anthems, a guy and his guitar can certainly seem boring.
Fortunately for us, Adkins’s latest album is anything but boring. You’ll find some heavy production and intricate orchestration here and there, but it’s the moments where everything is stripped away except a voice and a guitar that you realize Adkins doesn’t need anything else. The extra instrumentation works incredibly well, but these are songs that would work even when stripped to their most basic parts. They’re simple, intimate, and beautiful. Their lyrics are poetic musings on faith and love. If this is what boring sounds like, sign me up.
Download Hope & Sorrow on iTunes here
So there you have it. What were your favorite April releases? Let me know in the comments!