Best New Artists of 2005
- Compiled by Andy Argyrakis, Christa Banister, Russ Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2006 1 Jan
Artists come and artists go quickly in the music business, and many unfortunately tread the same ground covered by many others before them. But there are other artists who make a strong effort to break out of the rut with music that's more thoughtful and significant. Here are twelve such new artists (in alphabetical order) from 2005.
Stereo: The Evolution of HipRockSoul (Gotee)
An exceptionally good band that didn't quite take off in 2005 as hoped, though 4th Avenue Jones still seems destined for success. They can rap with hip-hop's best—Kanye West, GRITS, Common—but think of them more as a skilled band that blends the energetic funk of Earth, Wind and Fire with the modern urban sensibilities of The Roots. There's musicality and talent here, which is especially apparent in their awesome live show. The stage is also where the band's love for God comes across most clearly; their faith is a little more subtle in the lyrics on their albums. But 4th Avenue Jones deserves props for their strong mainstream sensibilities, and thus outreach potential. They are the freshest sound of 2005 in Christian music.
I Wish We All Could Win (Simple/INO/Epic)
After only two years riding the independent circuit in their home state of Texas, The Afters signed a deal with Simple Records and then landed co-distribution with Epic Records—before their debut even released. They found success on Christian radio with "You" and in the mainstream with "Beautiful Love." The Afters don't seem like a strong crossover candidate with their straightforward pop/rock sound and sometimes overtly spiritual lyrics, but there are hooks aplenty on their catchy debut, and anyone who's seen them live can confirm that the band's talent outweighs the album's studio polish. The Afters have handled both sides of success impressively, and their debut seems to be a springboard for greater things.
Sarah Brendel (Inpop)
This list's sole international import, Sarah Brendel has already topped the charts and played to sizable audiences in her German homeland—impressive considering that Germany doesn't distinguish between mainstream and Christian radio singles. So, Brendel isn't just finding success because she's a Christian artist, but because she's simply that good, especially at wording her faith in a way that's accessible to secular listeners. Though she launched her career with a love for coffee shop folk, Brendel's thoughtfully written songs have evolved into polished Euro pop/rock reminiscent of Plumb, The Benjamin Gate, Alanis Morissette, and Rebecca St. James. She's doing better than most U.S. Christian artists at establishing inroads in Europe; perhaps she'll inspire similar greatness Stateside.
Casting Pearls (Inpop)
You might not expect Casting Pearls to still be together, since frontman Bryan Olesen was asked to become the newsboys' lead guitarist in 2003. But instead of disbanding, the trio was signed to Inpop and allowed to co-exist with newsboys by playing the same tour schedule. It speaks well of their sound—crunchy melodic rock similar to other loud-but-catchy modern alternative bands like Sanctus Real, Foo Fighters, and Switchfoot. At times, their self-titled effort treads into familiar worship territory, but most of it is openly spiritual without sounding contrived or formulaic. At a time when many Christian rock bands are here today and gone tomorrow, Casting Pearls is poised to persevere.
John Davis (Rambler)
John Davis earned worldwide acclaim with alternative rock band Superdrag, but alcohol abuse put him on a path of self-destruction—until God intervened. Davis accepted Christ and turned his life around; he's now a devoted husband and father, as well as a solo artist. His self-titled debut is an enjoyable mix of Brit rock, '60s psychedelia, alternative pop, and straight-up gospel. With artists like PFR, Randy Stonehill, and Terry Taylor in semi-retirement, Davis takes the reins as the faith-based answer to Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney. The songs are simple, evangelical, and inspiring—an effective musical testimony from a someone thankful that the Lord turned his life around.
Room Noises (Word/Reprise)
In the '90s, Sixpence None the Richer helped transform Christian music with alternative pop/rock that was both artistic and authentic. Now, this family band—four siblings, one cousin—carries the torch for artful music that reaches beyond the Christian subculture. Eisley has been afforded some impressive accolades and opportunities, having opened for both Coldplay and Switchfoot while receiving favorable reviews from Christian and mainstream press alike. With the extremely tight harmonies of Sherri and Stacy DuPree at the forefront, the music is floating and dreamlike, like an alternative pop soundtrack for fantasy and fairy tales. The lyrics are open to interpretation—they don't lead to Christ specifically, but they do open the door to things unseen—allowing Eisley to tap a completely different audience. Still in their late teens and early twenties, Eisley is one to watch.
House of Heroes (Gotee)
Contemporary Christian music has evolved in such a way to force a lot of bands into the growing indie rock scene—too spiritual and raw sounding for mainstream radio, too abstract and loud for Christian radio. Like Mae and Jimmy Eat World, House of Heroes strikes a balance of emo, alternative, and heavy melodic rock that's hard to put in a box, yet still just right for the college scene. This trio from Columbus, Ohio exhibits superior musicianship with a debut album that's polished in production, yet not too clean. They're not particularly outspoken with their faith in their songs, though there are hints of it here and there. House of Heroes is seeker-friendly, planting seeds of truth in an enticing modern rock sound that should impress even those who consider "Christian rock" too stale.
And So It Is… (Soul2Seoul)
Most of Christian music's attempts at legit R&B-flavored pop have sounded too watered down, too second-rate, or too derivative of gospel music. Well, at long last, here's someone with a project of nearly the same quality as Usher, Justin Timberlake, and Frankie J. Jontez first lent his smooth and soulful voice to God's Property (featuring Kirk Franklin) as a teen. Now in his mid-twenties, he offers an eclectic solo effort that bridges pop, urban, funk, Latin, and even Asian influences with thick beats, melodic hooks, and clear expressions of faith that aren't contrived. And though the production is thoroughly modern, there are some retro sensibilities to his sound, reminiscent of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and George Michael. It all adds up to a fresh new talent, proving that good Christian R&B need not be an oxymoron.
Days of My Life (EMI Gospel)
Antonio Neal thought himself destined for basketball stardom with a full scholarship to Texas A&M University, but an injury cut those aspirations short. So he pursued music instead, and you'd be hard pressed to find a stronger urban-pop offering in Christian music from 2005. Neal sang backing vocals on the albums of heavy hitters like GRITS, Stacie Orrico, and ZOEgirl before teaming with production wizard Tedd T. (Orrico, Rebecca St. James, Mute Math) to craft his varied debut, a broad fusion of styles as rhythm and rhyme abide side-by-side without outshining each other. R&B, soul, pop, even a little bit of hip-hop—Neal does it all, and does it well.
Better Days (Sparrow/EMI)
Stemming from the same college music ministry as David Crowder Band, Robbie Seay Band has been patiently floating in the sea of independent artists for nearly ten years. They seem to have finally found their footing and developed an identifiable sound that was strong enough to land a record deal with Sparrow/EMI. Better Days is the perfect nighttime album, drenched in the same mellow-yet-dynamic Brit pop of The Normals, Travis, and Coldplay, while Seay's soothingly raspy voice draws listeners in to lyrics that are both worshipful and conversational. It's the sort of music that appeals to regular churchgoers and fringe seekers alike, blending hymnody and modern worship with introspection. Robbie Seay Band's pursuit of deeper artistry pays off here.
"Hello, Good Friend." (The Militia Group/S.R.E. Recordings)
The Rocket Summer (aka Bryce Avary) is in essence Ben Folds with spiritually influenced lyrics in place of the expletives. Granted, his unique voice is an acquired taste—even more high-pitched and whiny than Folds or Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional). But he also has the same take-no-prisoners approach to piano rock and tender emo pop that characterize both those artists. It's a thrilling sound that makes him all the more relevant to teens and the college crowd—the fun, summer album of 2005 their unsaved friends can also appreciate. The Rocket Summer is also one of those rare "reverse crossover" acts, initially signed to the mainstream and then asking to be made available to the Christian scene too. Avary wants to remain true to his God and his art, acknowledging his spiritual roots while playing wherever he's called to be.
Made to Shine (BHT Entertainment)
John David Webster was a breath of fresh air in '05. When Christian artists are promoted as "piano pop," it typically means a piano is used to carry the requisite AC pop ballad, or else that a piano is being played somewhere in the mix underneath all the guitars. But this multi-talented singer-songwriter rightfully earns comparisons to Gavin DeGraw, Michael W. Smith, and Mark Schultz. A product of grassroots development through his church in Indiana, Webster has much experience as an entertainer and worship leader, having toured with Point of Grace and performed at a number of Billy Graham crusades. While it would be nice to see Webster develop lyrically with future efforts, the guy clearly understands pop hooks and how to make a song instantly catchy.