Once again it’s the season where music fans compile lists of their favourite albums of the past year. This year has been a bit of a mixed bag for me. A few disappointments and minor letdowns came through as well as a few truly amazing releases. I’ll be breaking this list up into releases I’ve heard great things about but haven’t gotten around to fully diving into, to honorable mentions, and finally my twenty favourite records of this year. I should also note objectivity doesn’t play the leading role here; these are the albums I found most personal enjoyment with. As some of these contain explicit language a warning will be issued below. Let’s begin!
Future Favourites (In no order):
Thrice: To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere
Young the Giant: Home of the Strange
Citizens and Saints: A Mirror Dimly
Theocracy: Ghost Ship
Honourable Mentions (In no order):
Anchor and Braille: Songs For the Late Night Drive Home. (A beautiful and lush pop album from Anberlin frontman Stephen Christian)
Audrey Assad: Inheritance. (As one who isn’t a massive fan of traditional hymns from a musical perspective I was surprised at how much I fell in love with Inheritance.)
David Crowder: American Prodigal. (Although not his best release, Crowder continues his creative streak. Give “Run Devil Run” a listen. Just do it.)
Baby Metal: Metal Resistance. (Yes, this album is great. Go in without expectations and I’m sure its infectious nature will rub off.)
Fit For a King: Deathgrip. (Although chocked full of breakdowns and crushing riffs, Deathgrip is a highly engaging release well worth checking out.)
Heath McNease: Who Knows, Who Cares. (This fantastic seven song ep from this veteran rapper is definitely worth picking up. And it’s free from his Bandcamp page).
Hope For the Dying: Legacy. (An exceptional metal release that boasts breathtaking technicality and musicianship.)
The Top Twenty:
20. Disciple: Long Live the Rebels
It’s no secret that I was a huge fan of Disciple’s last independent record Attack. It boasted an infectious metal edge and war ready lyrical content. This continues on the refined Long Live the Rebels. It’s an album that reaches for a more epic scope than its predecessor without sounding too overblown. This isn’t the band’s strongest release, but on a personal level, I haven’t enjoyed a Disciple album this much since 2010’s Horseshoes and Handgrenades.
19. The Gray Havens: Ghost of a King
Indie folk duo the Gray Havens released an astonishingly good album last year titled Fire and Stone. It would have been very high on last year’s list if I had started listening to them at that time. Thankfully I didn’t wait another year to get into this wonderful band. While Ghost of a King isn’t as brilliant as their acclaimed debut, it’s still a wonderful example of Christian music done right.
18. Britt Nicole: Self-titled
I wasn’t much of a fan of Nicole’s previous studio album, Gold. Although it found mainstream success it felt a little too tainted by the Christian market to really leave any lasting impression. However, Nicole’s newest self-titled release remedies that completely. Gleaming with 80s inspired pure pop (the most popular example that comes to mind is Taylor Swift) there is much to love here for pop fans and music fans alike. And make sure to give the deluxe a spin as “Concrete” is amazing.
17. House of Heroes: Colours
One of the most underappreciated bands out there, House of Heroes continually impress album after album. Colors is their first true concept release, centered around an engaging story of brotherhood, conviction, and betrayal. The album is a hard rock delicacy, with tracks such as “Colors Run,” “Rat,” and “Matador” leading the high number of highlights. Any music fan can find something of value here, so it gets nothing less than a high recommendation.
Explicit language warning: A muted S-word is found in the song “Colors Run.”
16. Weezer: (The White Album)
Weezer’s (The White Album) is pure summer fun. This served as my introduction to Weezer’s music when it came out back in April and I’ve been spinning it almost endlessly since. Although some songs can get a little cheesy (“Thank God for girls” being the prime example) that’s the whole charm of this release. It doesn’t care. Carefree songs such as “King of the World” and “L.A. Girls” are musical bliss. (The White Album) is hands down one of the most lovable albums of the year.
15. Lacey Sturm: Life Screams
When Lacey Sturm left Flyleaf it kinda left me feeling a little empty inside. Although they weren’t the most original rock hand, Lacey’s vocals were so unique and passionate it made them stand far out of the crowd. Life Screams is heavy, fresh, passionate, and at times beautiful. It’s everything Flyleaf excelled at and a little more. If you were a fan of her former band but jumped off during their transition Life Screams is an album you can’t miss.
14. Green Day: Revolution Radio.
Punk rock has never been a favoured genre of mine. A few artists have occasionally stood out to me but none have piqued my interest more than Green Day has. This intrigue led me to pick up American Idiot along with their newest release Revolution Radio this year. It’s truly incredible how a band, twelve releases in, manages to produce content this good. We’ve all heard of Green Day at this point, so there isn’t much more to say than to listen to this as soon as you can.
Explicit language warning: “Youngbloods” features two uses of the F-word.
13. Owel: Dear Me
I don’t often discover new artists myself anymore. Whether it’s through word of mouth or positive reviews from others, I find new artists only because others found them first. With the Alternative/Indie outfit Owel, this common way of becoming a fan was replaced by an independent discovery, one I couldn’t be more proud of. Beautiful, lush soundscapes dance all over this album. From the epic “Pale Soft Light,” the enchanting “Paper Hands” and the brilliant nod to Radiohead’s “No Surprises” on “Ocean Legs,” Dear Me is an exceptional record all the way through. One I fear will go unnoticed by too many.
12. Wolves At the Gate: Types and Shadows
Wolves At the Gate’s 2014 release VxV was my introduction to the genre of metal and remains one of my all-time favorite records to this day, so to say I was anticipating Types and Shadows would have been a massive understatement. Wolves show their continued maturity and familiarity with their craft on this release. Despite possessing fewer standouts and leaning towards a more subdued post-rock sound, I feel this is their best work overall. The lyrical content is outstanding as always and Steve Cobucci’s vocals continue to improve. For an example of the album’s strength “The Aftermath” is a must listen.
11. Switchfoot: Where the Light Shines Through
Although it was my most anticipated album of the year (due to being my favorite band) Switchfoot admittedly let me down at first with their tenth (yes, tenth!) studio album. It felt unfinished and a little rough. It was only when I looked back into their older releases that I realized where this album was coming from. It’s a direct nod to the earlier days and after many replays one of their most enjoyable releases to date. The feel good groove of “Float,” the hopelessly enjoyable “If the House Burns Down Tonight” and even the more reflective moments such as “I Won’t Let You Go” showcase a band who isn’t afraid to have fun and shake off all expectations two decades into their career.
10. Lauren Mann: Dearestly
Dearestly was one of the best surprises of the year for me. Releasing seemingly out of nowhere for FREE (!) Lauren’s newest release comes four years after her exceptional debut Over Land and Sea. Dearestly plays out like an unforgettable journey, an experience of hope and loss, passion and romance, and makes the breadth of the world feel incredibly close. If you enjoy folk/pop do not let this one slip past.
9. Showbread: Showbread is Showdead
Sniffs* Since the release of No Sir Nihilism is Not Practical back in 2004 Showbread has been one of the very best Christian artists there is by championing their unique genre of Raw Rock. This final release before their inevitable break-up is a masterpiece that combines the violent punk sound of their debut No Sir….. with the electronic leanings of later material. Fun, controversial (especially “Dear John Piper” which rallies against Calvinism) and emotional are just a few words to describe this nostalgic farewell. May Raw Rock kill me forever.
8. Future of Forestry: Awakened To the Sound
Imagine the most emotional moment in an epic film where the music swells through the speakers. What if that sound was made into an album? Not a soundtrack, an original album from an indie rock band. Awakened To the Sound is the result of such an ambition and it pays off magnificently well. The emotional weight of these tracks is unrivaled. From dramatic chants, magical pop melodies and despairing swells those who respect ambition should give this a listen straight away.
7. Paper Route: Real Emotion
Unlike many, I didn’t really fall in love with the band’s previous release, The Peace of Wild Things. I liked it and thought it was a very solid release, but I never came to adore it. Real Emotion is where my adoration has chosen to land instead. The first word to come to mind when listening to this gem is “creative.” There are many sounds introduced throughout the album’s sixteen track length and this serves to create a somewhat disjointed but incredibly enjoyable pop/rock release. And that falsetto….
6. Sherwood: Some Things Never Leave You
I expected Sherwood’s reunion album to be good, even great, but Some Things…. far exceeded every expectation I had going into it. It’s a profound and introspective release of lost love, change, and reconciliation set to an endlessly enjoyable summer soundtrack. Every song is expertly executed and thought out, resulting in nothing short of pop excellence.
5. Sho Baraka: The Narrative
I have a motto that goes something like “Anything from Humble Beast Records is a good thing, ” and Sho Baraka’s The Narrative is a very good thing indeed. Rapping on relevant topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement all the way to fatherhood, this album stirs up thought and conversation like no other this year. It’s also incredibly light-hearted at times, such as in the R&B flavored “Love” and my personal favourite “30 and up.” Download it, digest it and give it time to sink in.
4. Civilian: You Won’t Believe What Privilege Costs
I discovered Civilian through the release of their independent record Should This Noose Unloosen? on Noisetrade. I thought it was a solid release with a lot of potential. Yet I still wasn’t prepared for how good their major label debut would be. You Won’t Believe…. is songwriting at its finest. Showcasing raw rock, unbridled emotion, and gorgeous melodies Civilian is one of the best Indie highlights of 2016.
Explicit language warning: The song “Michael” contains one use of the S-word and one use of the F-word spoken by a drunk character within the song.
3. Norma Jean: Polar Similar
If I were to describe this album with a single sentence I would say it closely resembles some unrestrained monster from an epic fantasy. Exploring the dark subject of male abuse Polar Similar weaves a despairing tale that grips from the first note of “I. The Planet.” Cory Brandon has some of the best harsh vocals in the industry and the accompanying music is nothing short of breathtaking. Every note rings of creativity. They have tuned and perfected their craft over time to such an extent that it’s a little unfair. This is what art sounds like.
Explicit language warning: “1,000,000 Watts” contains one use of the F-word, although it’s barely distinguishable.
2. Relient K: Air For Free
After a somewhat “bad” release with the pop-focused Collapsible Lung Ohio pop/punk band Relient K came back in a brilliant way with Air For Free. It’s….well….a breath of fresh air. The songs on here are a joy to listen to and Matt Thiessen shows us once more that he hasn’t lost his creative spark. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spun this record. Welcome back Relient K.
1. Silent Planet: Everything Was Sound
Where do I begin to describe such a magnificent album? Maybe at the beautifully dark and sombre atmosphere, or Garrett Russell’s desperate vocals, or maybe the convicting lyrical content? Wherever you choose to begin it is certain that you will be met with excellence. Describing the broken state of humanity through nine mental illnesses Silent Planet invites the listener to understand and to reach out to our fellow man. I haven’t heard an album so desperate for love and reconciliation in a very long time. It has made me understand those struggling in ways I couldn’t comprehend and relates those struggles with our own. One of the most powerful examples is the song “Nervosa.” Not only does it describe the effects of Anorexia/Nervosa through heartbreaking poetry it also shows how we don’t suffer any differently in our own ways.
As the Anorexic believes they’re fat even though everything outside screams otherwise, we too can undermine our identity and worth in our own ways. Sometimes I feel as though I’m not a good writer, even though everyone around me says otherwise. It’s this frightening relatability that makes this album so good. We often don’t understand how the Anorexic or the depressed feel or even why they feel that way. Everything Was Sound relates their struggles with our own in ways I have never heard done before. I cannot praise this album enough.
And that concludes the list of my personal favourite albums of 2016. Please feel free to share your top ten or top twenty in the comments below!