This was a great year for some of my favorite names in Christian music to dig deep into God's Word for inspiration. For some of the top names in Christian music in particular, this may have been one of the best years ever. God's Word doesn't return void, and these are albums that have blessed me the most this past year.
There have been several career albums released this year by both new and established artists. One new artist, Jordan Feliz, made a debut album with an immediate impact, and he is my nominee for Best New Artist of 2016. This seems to have been the year of the sophomore album as well, as my list includes several sophomore offerings from Unspoken, Love & the Outcome and 1GN (formerly 1 Girl Nation). Veteran artists NEEDTOBREATHE, Switchfoot, Nine Lashes, Jason Gray, Tenth Avenue North and Satellites & Sirens each released their "best" albums yet in my opinion, and they round out my top 10.
I've purposely left off worship releases since I have already posted a separate list of my top albums in that area. Don't miss out on any of these great albums, along with the 10 honorable mentions, rounding out my top 20 albums of 2016. Feel free to share albums I might have missed and whether there are any surprises on this list!
1. H A R D L O V E by NEEDTOBREATHE HARD LOVE is one of the most meaningful albums I've ever heard. I can't get the catchy melodies of many of these songs out of my head, with the perfectly produced tracks and the song order brilliantly inviting listeners to join the band on their journey. I honestly didn't think my favorite band could take it up another notch, but after repeated listens, HARD LOVE is my Album of the Year. This project has something for fans of everything the band has ever done, and the pure and exceptional quality of the release should earn them new fans alongside likely Grammy and Dove Award nominations for the standout songs "HARD LOVE," "Money & Fame," No Excuses," "Happiness," "When I Sing," "Be Here Long" and "Testify."
The very relatable and transparent words of these songs perfectly depict our daily walks, wrapped around catchy songs. All of the tracks really display the musical and lyrical excellence and intentionality of NEEDTOBREATHE. This album is the most energetic and emotionally engaging album I've heard this year, maybe ever. (Vote for NEEDTOBREATHE in the We Love Christian Music Awards here.)
2. Where the Light Shines Through by Switchfoot Switchfoot has had a major impact on my walk as a believer from the time of their third release Learning to Breathe. The band's following seven releases have been a constant companion on that journey as my faith has matured. We have a responsibility to remember that "we were meant to live for so much more" than what the world tells us, and in the name of unity and as we look at all people as made in God's image, know that "love alone is worth the fight."
Considering the recent tragedies surrounding us all over the world, the band's 10th release Where the Light Shines Through is another timely reminder of those themes and arguably the band's strongest release to date. The album is full of songs about healing, including the title track, "I Won't Let You Go," "Hope is the Anthem" and "Live it Well," providing more guidance and comfort to believers trying to make sense of it all.
(Vote for Switchfoot in the We Love Christian Music Awards here.)
Lead single "Higher" includes the worshipful refrain "I'm gonna lift You higher, higher, higher, God Almighty, You are worthy." It is refreshing how in this age of lyrical ambiguity, there is no question that this band is sold-out for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With this excellent album, Unspoken is offering a great example of how you can write and sing lyrics that are unashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and reach the lost with transparent confessions of faith. Every thought and lyric in this song and this album is rooted in Scripture, which I admire.
(Vote for Unspoken in the We Love Christian Music Awards here.)
4. Ascend by Nine Lashes
After two highly-regarded hard rock releases with Tooth & Nail by Nine Lashes, albums which included the standout songs "Anthem of the Lonely," "Get Back," "Adrenaline," "Break the World," "Surrender" and "Never Back Down," the band has shifted their sound to a broader pop appeal and returned with one of my favorite albums of the year, Ascend. The exciting music and hopeful message found in new Nine Lashes single "Galaxy" mesh seamlessly.
If you like the pop-rock sensibilities of the latest releases from Hawk Nelson ("Drops in the Ocean" and "Diamonds") and Fireflight ("We Are Alive" and "Lightning"), then you'll love this new record from Nine Lashes. There is a lot of infectious energy in these great new songs, including the standout tracks "Heartbeats," "Deeper," "Ascend," "Galaxy" and "Eyes on You." Joy isn't just a happy emotion. It is also a deep peace and understanding, knowing that we are loved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Ascend shows we should not be ashamed to sing of our dependence on God and to show Him reverence.
(Vote for Nine Lashes in the We Love Christian Music Awards here.)
5. The River by Jordan Feliz
New Centricity artist Jordan Feliz's debut full-length project The River features standout songs that were co-written by Feliz, including hit single and We Love Award-winning Song of the Year "The River," which sings "We're goin' down to the river, down to the river, down to the river to pray. Let's get washed by the water, washed by the water, and rise up in amazing grace."
That first smash hit single was followed-up with "Never Too Far Gone" and "Best of Me." The energy and infectious enthusiasm of the musical feel and celebratory message of these songs cause me to worship along loudly "in Spirit and in Truth." The combination of the stellar vocals, up-tempo melody and OneRepublic-like musical inflection really brings home these solid Gospel messages. God's grace washes us clean in the River of His Holy Spirit, and we become a new creation in Christ.
(Vote for Jordan Feliz in the We Love Christian Music Awards here.)
6. These Are The Days by Love & the Outcome Love & the Outcome is made up of husband and wife duo Jodi King and Chris Rademaker. They made an immediate mark on the CCM scene with their debut album, featuring hit songs "He is With Us" and "King of My Heart." That album chronicled their journey of having departed their homeland of Canada and risking it all to pursue their musical dreams. Many of the songs reflect the need to rely completely on God's sovereignty to guide their "outcome."
As new parents of a baby boy, Milo, the duo returned with their upbeat sophomore offering These Are the Days, which was preceded by the hit song "The God I Know." It is a great way to thank Jesus for our undeserved gift of grace. We are called as Christians to believe in the freedom that we have in the cross of Jesus, and to "throw your hands up, worries down."
(Vote for Love & the Outcome in the We Love Christian Music Awards here.)
7. Unite by 1GN
Being a dad of three young daughters, it is difficult to find role models who are making edifying and exciting pop music. You hear pop music everywhere you go, and most of the time the songs are fairly hollow when it comes to life application and promoting a positive self-image.
For that reason, 1GN (formerly 1 Girl Nation), now a trio comprised of Carmen Hadley, Kayli Robinson and Lauryn Taylor Bach, is an important band to me. After a successful debut album featuring the hits "While We're Young" and "In the Eyes," 1GN is back with their energetic, fun and more mature sophomore album Unite, featuring "Get Hype" and "Guard Your Heart." This album is loaded with positive, grace-filled messages of hope. The upbeat and heavily produced musical arrangements on this album perfectly accentuate these great songs.
8. TANKS by Satellites & Sirens
Satellites & Sirens are back with TANKS, one of my top alternative rock albums of the year from both the Christian and mainstream music markets. Their list of influences includes Jimmy Eat World, The Killers and 80s music, and they are a fantastic blend of those musical styles.
I truly enjoyed their first three albums and the stand-out songs "Jump Start My Heart," "Anchor" and "Take Me Back." If you liked those songs, you'll love this new album. TANKS is one of the catchiest, most energetic and emotionally engaging alternative rock albums I've heard this year, and a reminder that "love is the new fight."
If you like singer-songwriters who wear their hearts on their sleeves and sing about the truth of what it means to walk with God and work out their salvation with fear and trembling, then don't miss out on one of Christian music's most treasured artists. Jason Gray has once again invited listeners into his story of faith as each song features his unique brand of gourmet lyrical phrasing embedded with the truth of the Gospel for those "with ears to hear."
(Vote for Jason Gray in the We Love Christian Music Awards here.)
10. Followers by Tenth Avenue North
Tenth Avenue North's albums have been highly anticipated since their first release Over and Underneath, which included the Dove Award winning "By Your Side" and "Love Is Here" and led to them winning New Artist of the Year. They followed that up with a string of hits including "You Are More," "Strong Enough to Save," "Losing" and "No Man is An Island." By all accounts, they have been a leader in terms of recognition in the music industry, but the band is completely aware that that is not necessarily God's definition of what it means to lead.
Followers is the fifth full length album by Tenth Avenue North and is based on the concept that in God's Kingdom, servant leadership is best displayed by following the example of Jesus. Our Savior displayed leadership by washing His disciples' feet, and He asks each of us as Christians to follow Him. Followers is a great collection of confessional and authentic expressions of faith, yet another "best" album from Tenth Avenue North. Once again the songs are poignant and powerful, and in recording the new tunes the band brings a more seasoned level of musicianship, intensity and intentionality.
(Vote for Tenth Avenue North in the We Love Christian Music Awards here.)
Here are ten more albums worthy of consideration:
11. American Prodigal by Crowder
12. The Very Next Thing by Casting Crowns
13. Giving Over by Consumed by Fire
14. Love be the Loudest by Ginny Owens
15. Live On Forever by The Afters
16. As Long As I Can Breathe by JJ Weeks Band
17. 2.0 by Citizen Way
18. Dead Man Walking by John Tibbs
19. Resonate: A Ripple to a Wave by LoveCollide
20. Mighty by Beckah Shae
NRT Lead Contributor Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.
NEW! NRT LISTS 10 Songs for Teen Girls These are important (and catchy) songs about life!
NEW! EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
ANNETTE Finds Strength She's proclaiming Jesus in song from Singapore ...
NEW! BEHIND THE SONG DEVOTIONALS
LOVECOLLIDE + Ellie Holcomb Get the heart behind "I Don't Want It" + "He Will"