I used to be skeptical of Christian music. To some degree I still am, but in recent years I’ve become less curmudgeonly—and more optimistic—about the state of music that might be categorized as “Christian.”
Things shifted when I stopped thinking of “Christian music” mostly in terms of the “industry” (CCM) largely based in Nashville. To be sure, much good still comes out of Nashville! But increasingly the boundaries of quality Christian music are broader—both geographically and stylistically. It’s the more unexpected, daring, authentically soul-stirring stuff that interests me most. And there is a lot of it being released right now.
It’s hard to keep up with music today. There’s so much. It’s so accessible. That’s why curators and lists are helpful. We need to help each other sift through the glut for the gems. It’s in that spirit that I put together this year-end recap of Christian music released in 2021.
Then, for a more selective list, you can see some of my favorite Christian music releases below. Lists like these are subjective, of course. You’ll probably agree and disagree with some of my selections. But I hope there’s at least one or two things that weren’t on your radar before today—music that might bless you and stir your heart to sing God’s praise.
6 Best Christian Albums
These are my picks for the six best overall album releases under the broad umbrella of “Christian music” (plus 10 honorable mentions).
1. Andy Squyres, Poet Priest
From the first lines of this album’s opening song, it’s clear Poet Priest will bear no resemblance to radio-friendly, “inspirational!” CCM (“Here is my harvest of heartbreak / Here is my threshing of tears”). But even if the through line here is grief and lament, it’s not a navel-gazing celebration of brokenness. Squyres weaves Christ-centered hope throughout. “I have nothing else but the promises you’re keeping,” he sings to God on one song—characteristic of the album’s poetic mosaic of belief, doubt, despair, and praise.
2. Young Oceans, You Are Fullness
An early 2021 release, this album accounted for more minutes on my Spotify in 2021 than any other. A collection of low-fi, Brian Eno-esque minimalist psalms, You Are Fullness is a quiet but richly textured listening experience. Put it on in your headphones. It’s a haunting experience—an ambient worship album that will draw you out of the noise and disenchantment of contemporary life, and into the nearness and presence of God.
3. Natalie Bergman, Mercy
I still struggle to fully categorize this album. On one hand, Mercy is authentic to the core—folk gospel tunes that channel real spiritual wrestling, recorded at a New Mexico monastery after Bergman (one half of the sibling duo Wild Belle) lost her father and stepmother in a car accident. On the other hand, the album renders God and faith through a retro-kitsch, lounge singer aesthetic that risks trivializing substance amid bizarre stylization. Either way, it’s an example of how the transcendence-seeking spirituality of art is inescapable—even in a secular age.
4. Taylor Leonhardt, Hold Still
You might know Taylor Leonhardt for her songs with Jess Ray as part of the indie worship duo Mission House, but her solo work is also noteworthy—especially this 2021 album. With an alt-country Nashville sound and lyrics that beautifully reflect on patience and process in the life of faith, it’s one of the better Christian singer-songwriter albums I’ve heard in years.
5. Antoine Bradford, Light Will Find You
I’ve been a fan of Bradford’s EP releases, Dear Struggling Christian (2018) and Even in the Dark (2019), which serve as the first two parts of a trilogy of sorts, now completed with Bradford’s first full-length album: Light Will Find You. This is soulful, honest, God-centered music for pilgrims hobbling forward in faith; music that reminds struggling Christians everywhere that even in the dark, light will find you.
6. Land of Color, Show Me What It Means
For me, Land of Color is 2021’s breakthrough Christian artist. Land of Color is the duo of Gary Rea (from South Africa) and Thomas Ewing (from Colorado). Together they create a fascinating hybrid sound unlike anything I’ve heard in Christian music. Think African and American folk influences, with some echoes of Sting and Vampire Weekend, all in a worshipful key.
Mark Barlow, Hymns & Soul; Caroline Cobb, A King & His Kindness; Future of Forestry, Remember; Ellie Holcomb, Canyon; Hulvey, Christopher; IMRSQD, Encantado; J Lind, The Land of Canaan; JUDAH., 3 + 7; Jess Ray, Baby Take My Hand; Kanye West, Donda.
5 Beautiful Albums of Hymns
One of my favorite pandemic-era music trends is the revival of comforting old hymns as inspirational fodder for contemporary artists. Here are five of my favorite 2021-released collections of hymn covers.
- Keith & Kristyn Getty, Confessio: Irish American Roots
- LOVKN, Hymns I (TGC interview)
- Poor Bishop Hooper, Hymns and Hymns II
- David Ramirez, Backslider
- Paul Zach, Hymns
4 Solid ‘Straight from Scripture’ Releases
We continue to see a surge of Christian music that simply puts the Bible to music. Unsurprisingly, these Bible-based songs turn out to be some of the most effective in leading the listener to a posture of worship.
- The Corner Room, Psalm Songs, Vol. 3
- Poor Bishop Hooper, EveryPsalm (TGC interview)
- Psallos, Philippians (TGC review)
- Shane & Shane, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, Vol. 1
3 Excellent EPs
For good measure, here are three EPs that figured prominently in my music streaming this year.
- Justin Bieber, Freedom.
- Colorvault, Until I Dream Your Dreams
- Tenielle Neda, What Is My Hope? (TGC interview)