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Best Albums & Songs of 2013 (So Far)

posted: July 5th, 2013 by Kelly VE

As we roll into the 2nd half of 2013, we wanted to take inventory of some of the best albums and songs released in the opening 6 months of the year.  To accomplish this, we gathered our 10-member panel of UTR critics to tell us what they consider to be the best music of the year so far.  These are all the albums/songs cited by at least 1 panelist -- but are listed here in no particular order, just an overall reference guide to some terrific tunes.  [Albums and songs qualified for consideration if the artists/songwriters are believers in Jesus and was officially released between the dates of 12/1/12 and 6/1/13.]

  • Good Light - Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors ("Good Light is like opening up a familiar book filled with chapters of life, love, faith and everything in between.")
  • Citizens - Citizens ("The lyrics are theologically rich and hopeful, while the music is laced with energy and excellent guitar work.")
  • The Lone Bellow - The Lone Bellow ("A fresh newcomer to the American scene, blending stunning harmonies and heartfelt songwriting for one of 2013's best debuts.")
  • You Belong Here - Leagues ("A debut album that mixes atmospheric rock with heady, thought-provoking lyrics.")
  • More Than You Think - Ember Days ("This album took a few listens to draw me in, but has been a favorite ever since.")
  • Desire Like Dynamite - Sandra McCracken ("Feels like the album she was always meant to make, rooted in her usual indie folk style, but more exquisite in production & memorable in melody.")
  • Kings and Queens - Audio Adrenaline ("It’s a solid pop album through and through, superior to most Christian market releases these days in sound and style.")
  • Loved - JJ Heller ("Rarely has an album affected me this deeply.")
  • Black & White - Tal & Acacia ("An album with vocals and lyrics that remind me of that incredible twelve-time platinum debut album Pieces of You by Jewel.")
  • Thief - Susan Ashton ("This is a transparent and vulnerable album about finding truth and acceptance in God's faithful kindness.")
  • Originator - Brooke Waggoner ("A breathtaking collection of ambitious, eclectic and larger-than-life songs delivered with precision, skill and passion.")
  • More Than Rubies - More Than Rubies ("An authentic, spiritual journey.")
  • Pilgrim - Pilgrim ("While more ambient and electronic than The Followers, White certainly maintains his standard of excellence.")
  • Words That Fell - Michelle Thompson ("An honest batch of alt-country/Americana gems that showcase her hauntingly-smooth vocals and emerging songwriting talents.")
  • Fiction Family Reunion - Fiction Family ("Everything we love about two great artists making music simply for the fun of it.")
  • Come Back Soon - Tara-Leigh Cobble ("Infused with a personal feeling that clearly demonstrates these songs came out of her life – this is more than just another worship album.")
  • Where Eyes Don't Go - The Gray Havens ("Absolutely the most unique and creative record of the first half of 2013.")
  • Bright Came The Words From His Mouth - Matthew Clark ("A gospel-centered story arc that will be sure to please any fans of Behold the Lamb of God.")
  • The InvisibleDaniel Bashta ("A worship album that is smart, atmospheric, yet wholly accessible and singable.")
  • Outside the Wilderness - KS Rhoads ("Wilderness is a beautifully produced record with songwriting that is equally impressive.")
  • All the Way - The McCrary Sisters ("The roots-soul sistas continue to evolve into a true musical force with their second sisters-only record.")

  • "Worn" - Tenth Avenue North ("I don't think anyone has ever put into words how it feels to reach a breaking point so eloquently.")
  • "Who You Are" - JJ Heller ("This is a really vulnerable song, but it bears an incredible message of hope.")
  • "Sovereign" - Chris Tomlin ("Chris Tomlin demonstrates why he’s among the best.")
  • "Closer" - Shawn McDonald ("Hopefully this intimate, truly analog re-visitation of some of his best songs will get the attention it deserves.")
  • "Image of God" - More Than Rubies ("This is life changing music.")
  • "Grace, Grace, Grace" - Sherry Muchira ("One of the stickiest songs I've heard this year. The message and melody have lingered in my heart.")
  • "I Want it All (The Real Jesus)" - Daniel Bashta ("It goes beyond a catchy chorus into an earnest examination of the heart and priorities of real worship.")
  • "Let The Day Begin" - Black Rebel Motorcyle Club ("Lead singer Robert Been pays homage to his dad Michael, while also reimagining the song in true BMRC style.")
  • "Take Me to the King" - Tamela Mann ("One of the most worshipful recorded moments of the past several months.")
  • "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" - Hillsong United ("The female vocal is pure perfection, and the lyrics are as beautiful as they come.")
  • "Made Alive" - Citizen ("I really love the simple run on the keys and the bass grooves that drive this song!")
  • "Hourglass" - Sandra McCracken ("The music is appropriately ethereal perfectly matching the lyrics.")
  • "Thief" - Susan Ashton ("A poignant song about choices and temptations where Ashton sings yearningly for "Innocence Lost."")
  • "Set Free" - More Than Rubies ("This is front-porch Americana worship music and I love it.")
  • "Train Station" - The Gray Havens ("A song packed with adventurous songwriting, singing, and arranging that tells the story of Christ's sacrificial love.")
  • "Dynamite" - Sandra McCracken ("A sweeping arrangement with thought provoking lyrics.")
  • "This is Love" - Tal & Acacia ("This defines the new, grown-up Tal & Acacia.")
  • "Harvest" - KS Rhoads ("Rhoads shows off his composition skills creating lush sonic landscape as the backdrop to some deeply meditative lyrics.")
  • "All The Good" - Sara Beth Go ("If ever a writer could turn heartache into hope so unexpectedly, and poignantly, it is Sara Beth.")
  • "Every Good Thing" - The Afters ("Infectious, fun-loving and a sunny reminder about the Giver of all good gifts.")
  • "Prodigal" - The Ember Days ("This song is on the longer side but the journey and ultimate payoff is worth it.")
  • "If I Fall" - JJ Heller ("A poignantly written song about our calling to love those who are hurting.")
  • "Let it Go" - Hannah Miller ("Miller’s vocal and reassuring lyric go down like sweet tea.")
  • "Back Against the Wall" - Judah & The Lion ("The second half of this song is worth the price of the whole cd.")
  • "Say I Do" - Michelle Thompson ("An old-fashioned love song with the power to transport you back in time.")


Like any list of music, it's a good conversation starter.  So here are our main 2 questions:
  (a) What albums/songs are you in totally agreement that it's some of the best from the first half of 2013?
  (b) What albums/songs do you think got snubbed and deserve to be cited as some of the best?


Comments (10)

Well, my comment didn’t make it by 6/20/13, but I have to heartily agree on several things. 

I was a Kickstarter supporter for TaraLeigh Cobble’s album, but I was expecting a well-done worship record.  Instead what I got was possibly my favorite album of 2013.  Long story short - this album moved me to worship, which has been a major struggle for me this past year.  I cannot thank Tara-Leigh enough for this.

Also, Hannah Miller is indeed great - that song and others.

gollumsmeagol 01:37 PM Fri, Jul 05, 2013

Gollumsmeagol, that was an error on our part, the article didn’t even post until July 5.  So we’ve changed the date and added a week, so it’s now “comment by 7/27/13.”  Also we just posted an interview with Tara-Leigh on our site that you’ll be sure to enjoy! Thanks.

Dave Trout 04:14 PM Mon, Jul 08, 2013

Although I’m not familiar with much of this music, I want to lend a hearty “amen” to the selections from JJ Heller.  “Who You Are” poignantly expresses a hard-won confidence in God’s goodness.  I love the music video.

Karisa 04:12 PM Tue, Jul 09, 2013

Great list!  Several to check out, several I know.  smile

A couple additions off the top of my head… Several good ones this year so far, though!

Shane and Shane, Bring Your Nothing
Rend Collective Experiment, Campfire

Shane and Shane: You Loved My Heart to Death

mckel 03:35 PM Wed, Jul 10, 2013

I agree about Rend’s Campfire and it was nearly one of my picks. This record crackles with energy and emotion, especially the song “Bring Your Kingdom.” “Bring Your Kingdom” is in essence a song prayer we should all join in with.

Thanks for you comments.

Larry S 12:40 PM Sat, Jul 13, 2013

I’m in total agreement on Leagues and the Lone Bellow. I’d also throw Eisley’s “Currents” on that list.

Waltrane 10:20 PM Sun, Jul 14, 2013

I totally agree on Judah & the Lion! Phenomenal music. Good calls on Drew Holcomb and Fiction Family especially, among others. I haven’t listened to the full album yet, but I really enjoyed the single from Audio Adrenaline’s new album, as much as I wanted to be a purist (given my extended history as a fan of the original band) and hate their new stuff. It really is solid for a pop-CCM hit.

Also, I’d at Death of Death by Charlie Hall. The album is kind of strange at times and features some songs on previous albums, but the title track is solid and enjoyable, and I think it’s worth it just to have a version of “Jesus My All In All” besides the live version that came with the downloadable bonus content from Passion 2012.

Aside from that, thanks for all the great music suggestions!

jcaudill7 11:39 PM Sun, Jul 14, 2013

While I cannot speak to which albums got snubbed as I am seriously behind and just now catching up on newer music due to various reasons; I can say that including K S Rhoads is brilliant. I have not heard the entire album yet, but Harvest is what Christian musicians should strive for. This song would have been played on secular radio back when there were actual djs.

One of the reasons I have not been keeping up with newer music is radio in general, even Christian radio, seems to be following the corporate model of syndication and repeating the same 40 songs that all sound identical. This is why Under The Radar is needed so badly. Without outlets like this no one would be able to have access to these artist so readily.

Thank you Under the Radar, and please keep up the good work and good fight.

harp_medic 09:16 AM Mon, Jul 15, 2013

I couldn’t agree MORE about the Citizens CD… goodness, gracious… we introduced “Made Alive” 2 weeks ago to our congregation & it’s already a fav!

And, personally, I was pretty proud of our latest worship single, “Your Will”, though technically it was released 4th quarter ‘12. wink

SaintLewis 05:09 PM Fri, Jul 19, 2013

Congratulations to mckel and harp_medic who each were randomly picked to win a $15 iTunes gift card.  We’ll be in touch via email soon.

Dave Trout 04:36 PM Fri, Aug 02, 2013

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