Mark, Michael, Scott, and Tim's Top 20 Final Albums
Two weeks or so ago, when Michael, Scott, and I along with Wayne Myatt created a list for our top 20 favorite debuts; it was a part of the plan to create a companion list to it to talk about our favorite swan songs as well. Well, all of us could think of several great final albums of great artists off the top of our head, so we figured this would be much of the same; we’d all create our individual top-20 lists, see what overlapped, fill as much of the list as possible with those albums, and then discuss amongst ourselves who the final coveted spots should belong to. Most of the collaborative lists we’ve done during JFH20 have been created the same way. But we quickly ran into some problems that clued us in on the fact that this particular list may not be quite so straightforward.
You see, unlike a debut album which you can have a firm definition and will never change no matter what happens to the artist, a “final album” is a lot more fluid. Every album ever created could potentially be a “final album.” For all we know, Switchfoot or NEEDTOBREATHE may have just released their “final album,” because who knows for sure if either band will continue on? After all, who would have guessed back in december that The Ember Days would go on an indefinite hiatus in May? But does an “indefinite hiatus” mean that they’ve made their final album? But at the same time, even those bands that market their newest project as their “final album” are not
guaranteed that they will never make another one (Five Iron Frenzy anybody?). And if they do reunite, does that make the album that they said for so long would be their “final album,” no longer their “final album?” And what about those bands that never break up but rather fade away? The ones about whom everyone asks, “whatever happened to so-and-so?” And the list of questions could go on. So it became pretty clear that the few to making this list would have to be a flexible definition that attempts to capture the spirit of this idea of the “final album.” And as such, we made three qualification standards. We hereby define a “final album” as a full-length original release (ie, not a greatest hits collection, live album, or an EP) that…
... is publicly marketed as the last album a band or artist makes…
...OR, that was the final album a band made before officially and publically disbanding (excluding all hiatuses, either temporary or indefinite)...
...OR, the last album released by an artist if they have had no original releases (full-length or EPs) since 2008 (because, let’s be honest, if they go 8 years without releasing something new, seriously, what are the odds that more is on the way?).
Using these as our qualifications of a “final album,” and bearing in mind that none of us knows the future and any one of these artists may release (or even already have released) new material, please enjoy Mark, Michael, Scott, and Timothy’s list of our 20 favorite final albums.
David Crowder*Band - Give Us Rest (A Requium Mass in C [The Happiest Of All Keys]) (2012)
A 34-track double-album requiem mass experimental worship album with as much symbolism as the Book of Revelation? Enough said. You wanna talk about going out big? This was going out BIG! Give Us Rest was about the most fitting exit you could have imagined for a band that had made such a huge impression on the whole concept of modern worship music. While the whole was greater than the sum of the parts, many of those parts (“Let Me Feel You Shine,” “Come Find Me,” “After All (Holy),” and all the sequences) are fantastic in their own right.
dc Talk - Supernatural (1998)
I was only 15 when Supernatural released, but looking back, I can't imagine the amount of pressure that was on dcTalk for their follow-up to Jesus Freak. While expectations were undoubtedly high, the trio was able to assemble a really great record. It would be the best album in their discography if not for the monster that released prior to it in ‘95. dcTalk experimented a little more in this one and even had some pop/punk influenced tracks. “It's Killing Me,” and album favorite “My Friend (So Long),” the ballad “The Red Letters,” and the poetic “There Is a Treason At Sea” highlight the last album we would ever see from the DC guys. Intermission was a greatest hits album
that teased a return at some point, but fans were given a cruise for end of said intermission, and not more music.
Anberlin - Lowborn (2014)
Lowborn was quite explicitly a farewell album. There were nods to saying goodbye and thanking the fans throughout the album. But it wasn’t just a goodbye album; it was yet another step in the continued evolution of Anberlin as a band. Where Vital found Anberlin moving back towards a harder rock-driven sound, Lowborn further highlighted the group’s ever-present 80’s pop sensibilities, and it did so effortlessly and effectively. There was a deep sense of melancholy, both musically and topically, but it was appropriate and comforting in many ways. In the end, Lowborn showed us how much we all wished that Anberlin really could, as the closing track says, live forever.
A Plea For Purging - The Life and Death of (2011)
A Plea for Purging died well before their time, and some of the consequent anger and disappointment with the whims of the industry can be heard on their final album. The Life and Death of… is chock full of raw, visceral emotion and absolutely no punches are pulled. Providing the perfect backdrop to this emotion is the band’s most technical and creative musical work, finally coming out from the shadow of being just another Meshuggah-lite metal act. The weariness of the band is evident lyrically, but with standout tracks like “Room for the Dead,” they certainly didn’t forget to kick some butt musically on their way out the door.
Dogwood - Seismic (2003)
Dogwood was a really underappreciated punk band from San Diego that released several great albums throughout the span of their career -- Through Thick and Thin, More Than Conquerors, and Building a Better Me really highlighting the best of the best. Dogwood was a harder style of punk (and had a lot of hardcore friends) more akin to a band like Pennywise stylistically. Seismic may not be the greatest swan song ever penned, but it's still a really solid album for fans of the band and punk music. Dogwood faded away more than went out in a blaze, but they are still missed. Tooth and Nail commemorated the
band with a greatest hits album in ‘04, but Seismic was the last time we would hear new music from these Cali punk rockers.
Bleach - Farewell Old Friends (2005)
Davy Baysinger is one of my favorite vocalists in Christian music and Bleach’s similarity to Weezer made me an instant fan. The group continuously released solid alt/rock music throughout their career (though their self-titled was a little weak for my taste), but announced their break-up before the release of their aptly titled Farewell Old Friends. The album plays out as more of a gracious and thankful bowing out, it's still became one of my favorites from the band. “Clear the Air” carries that strong Weezer/Rivers Cuomo vibe and is one of the album's best. While Bleach did get back together for some shows, we never got the follow-up to Farewell that so many hoped to eventually get.
Five Iron Frenzy - The End Is Near/Here (2003/2004)
This is how a band goes out properly. Five Iron Frenzy didn't just dissipate, but rather, they planned everything out, gave us a tour, and one last studio album paired with a recording of their final concert. So not only are the songs on The End Is Near some of their best (“See the Flames Begin To Crawl,” “Wizard Needs Food, Badly,” “On Distant Shores”), but the album is representative of a band saying “thank you” one last time to their loyal fanbase. It still stands as one of my favorite releases of all time.
Dead Poetics - Vices (2006)
The release of Vices is one of the great untold tragedies of the music industry. With Dead Poetic essentially breaking up before the album was even released, virtually no promotional effort was made when the time came and the album quickly faded into obscurity. Consequently, many listeners missed out on the chance to hear Dead Poetic’s most mature and profound work. Moving away from the post-hardcore sound of previous albums, Vices somehow manages to be even darker and more hard-hitting. Vocalist Brandon Rike is consistently on point as he documents the struggles of the Christian life in brutal honesty, and the melodies are rich and darkly beautiful. The album, and Dead Poetic’s career, fittingly ends with an all-time favorite lyric of mine: “Jesus, I’ve got vices
like any other man/Vices that you’re so used to/Vices that won’t make you think less of me.”
Staple - Of Truth And Reconciliation (2005)
I first heard Staple on a small Bettie Rocket Records sampler called Building A Better Monster II: The New Era of Hard Rock. When Flicker Records signed them in 2002 or 2003, I expected big things. Their debut was solid, and then Of Truth and Reconciliation was even better. “Gavels From Gun Barrels” and “Final Night” are terrific hard rock gems, and their live show was phenomenal. Then they got real quiet. And suddenly, in 2008, they released a three-song EP and called it quits. Darin Keim, their vocalist, had plans for a side project called The Hand That Feeds, but, as far as I know, nothing came of it. It's a shame, as these guys had such potential to make it in this industry.
Cool Hand Luke - Of Man (2011)
I had been a fan (of sorts) of Cool Hand Luke before their final release, but Of Man really made me listen and pay attention. The album didn't have the big bang I hoped for, it made up for it with substance. Largely piano based, the album tells the story of Jesus’ life from the point of view of the people in it. I'm not sure if Mark Nicks’ call to seminary led to the lyrical content, or if something else inspired it, but either way Of Man is a pretty intense listen. The music plays out like a movie score matching the story and crescendos with “His Eyes.” If you missed this one back in 2011, do yourself a favor and give it at least one listen.
brave Saint Saturn - Anti-Meridian (2008)
I doubt we’ll ever see anything quite like brave Saint Saturn again in the Christian music industry. Bundled inside the grandiose, sometimes-silly concept of a space mission to Mars, Reese Roper managed to perfectly capture the everyday struggles, fears, and occasional triumphs of life as a believer, and he capped it all off perfectly with Anti-Meridian. Coming a seeming eternity after the triumph of The Light of Things Hoped For, Anti-Meridian probably never got the attention it deserved. It’s melancholy, it’s conflicted, and it’s ultimately hopeful in a way that doesn’t seem forced or naïve. It almost seems impossible to listen to “These Frail Hands” and not understand in a deep way that while life may never be easy, the love of Jesus always has the final say.
Showbread - Showbread Is Showdead (2016)
I'll be honest: Showbread’s ending has me kinda disappointed. No final tour and an almost out-of-nowhere final album make for an underwhelming exit from the music scene (though time and money constraints are completely understandable). However, this final album wasn't just haphazardly thrown together; Showbread Is Showdead is a purposeful album. It makes no bones about the death of the band, with several songs pointing toward a sense of defeat and laying something to rest, even with a lack of grace. It's honest and heartfelt. And perhaps their best album.
The Chariot - One Wing (2012)
The Chariot released an album in 2010 called Long Live. Ironically, their next album was their last. One Wing wasn't advertised as their final album, but the band announced their demise shortly after its release. It was disappointing, because they had release perhaps their best album to date. One Wing was brash and unpredictable (as The Chariot is), and it worked so well. One song can be pummeling your ear drums, and then they would insert a 2-second snippet of a song from the 30s. Another time, Josh Scogin screamed alongside a somberly-played piano, while another song took you to the Old West. It was nothing short of captivating and is probably at the top of my list for best hardcore albums.
Falling Up - Falling Up (2015)
Falling Up was one of the first bands of a big wave within the Christian music realm to make a big impression as independent artists after fulfilling their record contract. And few bands have taken as much advantage of that independence by creating spectacular listening treats as Falling Up. Last year when Falling Up created their swan song, it captivated audiences like no other project they had done. It was JFH’s album of the year for both staff and fans, and deliciously incorporated all the sounds fans of the band have loved and experienced from Crashings on. “Flora,” “Flares,” and “Boone Flyer” are among the finest songs Falling Up has done too, and I personally have heard few albums that I have been able to listen to repeatedly and hear something new and captivating each time.
Mars ILL - Pro*Pain (2006)
Pro*Pain has a bit of a storied history. Most probably know about the copyright issues involved with the initial version of the album, which led to it getting out on hold as Mars ILL and Gotee tried to work out the issues. When it finally came out, man, it was worth the wait. It's a terrific album, and no one at the time would've guessed that it would be their last. There is an album in the works, but it has been for some time, and the guys have made no mention of any sort of timeframe for its release. So, for all we know, this is their last album. And if so, what a way to go out! Beats and raps for days.
Audio Adrenaline - Until My Heart Caves In (2005)
The writing wasn’t on the wall yet when Until My Heart Caves In was released, but there were definitely signs within the band and the album itself, and Audio A announced a few months later that the band would be ending due to Mark Stuart’s ongoing vocal challenges. Until My Heart Caves In was truly a stellar release. Though it may not be as flashy as many other albums on this list, or even as beloved as other albums in Audio A’s catalog, many of these songs are easily among the band’s best, from the rousing opener “Clap Your Hands,” to “King,” to “Undefeated,” to the title track. A greatest hit collection and a live farewell concert followed before Audio Adrenaline became history. Of course we all know about the band’s resurrection and the various reincarnations since,
but for all time, Until My Heart Caves In will remain the end of an era.
Keith Green - Songs For The Shepard (1982)
Of all the final albums on this list, truly none are as tragic as this one. Keith Green only released his first album in 1977, at the age of 23, and at almost that same instant he became a legend and an icon of the Jesus Music movement. But only five years later Green died in a plane crash, along with two of his children, several members of his church, and the pilot flying the plane. Just three months earlier, Green released this father-figure of all worship albums with many of his most memorable songs, including “There Is A Redeemer,” “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” “How Majestic Is Thy Name,” and his rendition of the hymn “Holy Holy Holy.” While Green certainly had more creative and interesting projects in his short career, the beauty and simplicity or this ahead-of-its-time project wasn’t lost on his listeners or the music world at large, and the world of modern worship music would never be the same.
Petra - Jekyll & Hyde (2003)
Jekyll & Hyde is a tantalizing little bit of music history. After a long and storied career as an ‘80s rock act, followed by a stint making pseudo-worship music, Petra finally updated their sound in a heavier direction with the help of Peter Furler on the drums and producing. The album is crunchier and a lot rougher than many of the band’s previous releases, but the sound works flawlessly with John Schlitt’s unforgettable vocals. There’s a lot of underlying aggression that had been missing from Petra’s discography for a long time. It’s enticing to wonder where Petra could have gone in this new direction, but the band was already coming apart before the album was recorded and they ultimately broke up a couple years later with no further new music.
Children 18:3 - Come In (2015)
Children 18:3 announced their impending break-up prior to the release of Come In… and then delayed that release. Some fans were on edge and expectations were high. Thankfully, C18:3 released a really solid closer that is, while it's only my opinion, their best to date. The title track, “For This We Ride,” and the touching “Long Ride Home” are album favorites. While the details are now a little less clear as to if the band is actually splitting up, we've included it because it was announced as a final release by the band. I'll be happy to see more Children 18:3 music in the future if they do in fact decide to continue, but they'll also ride off nicely into the sunset if Come In is indeed their final effort.
Earthsuit - Kaleidoscope Superior (2000)
I pushed for this album to be on our list of greatest debuts, but since we didn’t end up doing that, we might as well put it on the final albums list! While technically The Rise of Modern Simulation is the last full-length album Earthsuit released, we’re gonna go with Kaleidoscope Superior as a final album since the latter was less than half original and mostly consisted of b-sides, live songs, and other random stuff. Earthsuit’s only commercial album was an immensely interesting and entertaining album with an ethereal industrial alternative sound not quite like anything else in Christian music. All ten songs were memorable, from “One Time,” to “Against The Grain,” to “Schizopheniac” and their biggest Christian hit
“Whitehorse.” Unfortunately, the very fact that Earthsuit was marketed as a “Christian band” is what led to their downfall, and they parted with their label in a messy fashion, and after the band itself broke up, several members reformed themselves into the secular act Mutemath.