This was a great year for some of my favorite names in Christian music to dig deep into God's Word for inspiration. This was overall another great year for Christian music, and for top bands in Christian music in particular, this may have been one of the best years ever. God's Word doesn't return void, and these albums have blessed me the most this past year. There have been several career albums released this year by both new and established artists.
Veteran artists Unspoken, The Afters, Tenth Avenue North, Switchfoot, Citizens, Jason Gray, Big Daddy Weave, Skillet, Mike Mains & the Branches, and 7eventh Time Down each released one of 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. Feel free to share albums I might have missed and whether there are any surprises on this list.
1. The Reason by Unspoken
Unspoken has returned with The Reason, following up on the success of their debut eponymous album Unspoken, and sophomore album Follow Through, which featured the hit songs "The Cure," "Higher," and "Miracle." Both albums ranked in my top 5 albums of the year and The Reason is a worthy follow-up and my album of the year. It is chock-full of hits including “Reason,” “Help is on the Way” and “Just Give Me Jesus.” 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. "Reason" is a very convicting and sobering reminder that God brings trials to remind us how much we need Him. The song, as well as the album itself, gives many glimpses of the authentic reality of life and its experiences--good and bad. Things don't go as we want or even how we pray for God to work in our lives. For me, I like to listen to this song in the context of the order of the songs on the album. The album's music celebrates God's sovereignty, and professes that He's the ultimate ruler over our lives. 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.
2. Fear No More by The Afters
Fear No More is a great collection of confessional and authentic expressions of faith, and yet another "best" album from The Afters with the standout songs, “I Will Fear No More,” “Well Done” and “Lightning.” 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. This album challenges me to think about how I’m living out my faith. Every song released by The Afters completely focuses me as a listener on joining in praise, worship and adoration. These are very passionate songs sung with vocal sincerity and reverence, with biblically-based lyrics. These songs will certainly connect with listeners and showcase the multi-talented band’s trademark balance of vocal tenderness and lyrical intensity, beautiful and stirring musical arrangements and, above all, songs with a sense of hope and inspiration. This is sure to be one of my top albums of the year and it is truly “well done.
3. No Shame 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,” “Losing,” “What You Want,” and “I Have This Hope.” 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. No Shame 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, especially the standout “Greater Than All My Regrets.” It 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.
4. Native Tongue by Switchfoot
Switchfoot has had a major impact on my walk as a believer from the time of their third release Learning to Breathe, which features the songs "Love is the Movement," "I Dare You to Move" and the title track. The band's next eight 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 11th release 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 “Native Tongue,” “Let it Happen,” “Voices,” and “The Strength to Let Go,” providing more guidance and comfort to believers trying to make sense of it all.
5. Fear by Citizens
After three highly regarded worship releases, which included the standout songs "Made Alive," "You Brought Me Back to Life," "The Mighty Hand of God," "Relent" and "Day By Day," the band has refined their sound to a broader pop appeal and returned with one of my favorite albums of the year, Fear. The exciting music and hopeful messages found in these songs mesh seamlessly. Fans of rock, pop and electronica will enjoy this band's sound, which is infectious and approachable. It has quickly become one of my most played and favorite albums of the year. There is a lot of infectious energy in these great new songs including the standout tracks “Fear,” “Everything for Nothing,” “Out of Sight” and “Looking Up.” Joy isn't just a happy emotion. It is also a deep peace and understanding, knowing that we are loved without a shadow of a doubt which these songs perfectly capture.
6. Order EP by Jason Gray
I'm always excited to hear new music from Jason. His songs "Laugh Out Loud" and "With Every Act of Love" showcase Jason's gifts as a songwriter. His last album, Where the Light Gets In, includes the standout songs “Glow in the Dark,” “Learning,” and “Sparrows." That album was one of my Top 10 Albums of 2016. Now, Jason has returned with his latest project, Order, the first of three five-song EPs releasing over the next year, addressing the themes of Order, Disorder, and Reorder. If you like singer-songwriters who wear their hearts on their sleeves who sing about the truth of what it means to walk with God, then don't miss out on one of Christian music's most treasured artists. Jason again invites listeners into his story of faith. Each song on Order including the standout, “I’m Gonna Let it Go,” features Jason's unique brand of gourmet lyrical phrasing, embedded with the truth of the Gospel for those "with ears to hear.
7. When the Light Comes by Big Daddy Weave
Known for their energetic and worshipful live shows, as well as their hits, "Redeemed," "The Only Name (Yours Will Be)," "The Lion and The Lamb," and "My Story," the band returns with a new project, When The Light Comes. Every song on this stellar collection displays the band's heart behind what they do, leading people in worship. The new album demonstrates, once again, the passion and energy that have made Big Daddy Weave one of Christian music's most compelling acts. True to form, When The Light Comes reflects real life and emotion, from longing and struggle to breakthrough and gratitude. It reflects lead singer Mike Weaver's forthright songwriting and intimate and unmistakable vocals backed by powerful arrangements. The album derives its power from the fact that life and music intertwine so fully. Big Daddy Weave can really write a hooky and truth-filled chorus. And, "Alive," their new album's lead single, is catchy, relevant and worshipful, like their previous hits. The song is an upbeat worship declaration sung with a stirring passion and filled with prayerful lyrics.
8. Victorious by Skillet
Skillet is back with Victorious, one of my top rock albums of the year in both the Christian and mainstream music markets. The album includes standout recordings like the sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs anthems “Legendary,” “You Ain’t Ready” and “Save Me” as well as songs with a reflective vibe like “Victorious” and “Anchor.” From my first listen, I wanted to tell others about this great new album. If you’ve always liked Skillet, you'll love this new album. Victorious is one of the catchiest, most energetic and emotionally engaging rock albums I've heard this year.
9. When We Were in Love by Mike Mains & the Branches
The very relatable and transparent words of these songs perfectly depict our daily walks wrapped around catchy songs, especially “Live Forever,” “Endless Summer,” “Holy Ghost” and “Around the Corner.” All of the tracks really display the musical and lyrical excellence and intentionality of Mike Mains & the Branches. You'll enjoy the emotive vocals, musical excellence and harmonies layered over one catchy and meaningful song after another. The musical and lyrical excitement of the band's engaging live performance is perfectly captured in these recordings. This album is one of the most energetic and emotionally engaging I've heard this year.
10. Brand New Day by 7eventh Time Down
Following the success of their hit singles, "Just Say Jesus," "The One I'm Running To," "Promises," and "God is on the Move," the BEC Recordings band 7eventh Time Down returned with their newest release, Brand New Day. 7eventh Time Down is composed of Mikey Howard (vocals), Cliff Williams (bass), and Austin Miller (drums). Each band member is fully focused on letting their songs be ministry, highlighted by the standout songs, “I Have Decided” and “The 99.”
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.
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