Paper Route - Real Emotion

The Best of 2016: Christopher Hardwick

By in Best of Lists 2016 | 11 Comments

1. Paper Route “Real Emotion”

Paper Route - Real Emotion

Picking a number one album for 2016 seemed impossible with so many great alternative and rock releases this year. But when I started looking at my most played songs of 2016 on Spotify, it became clear which album deserved top spot. Although Paper Route’s “Real Emotion” took a few listens to sink in, it is a great follow up to the “Peace of the Wild Things” and is deserving of being my pick for best album of 2016.

2. House of Heroes “Colors”

House of Heroes finally put out a concept album after years of teasing us with loosely themed albums. Musically, I love this album. It has some of the heaviest and most experimental songs House of Heroes has released to date. Lyrically “Colors” felt a little underwhelming to me. But given the narrative nature of the album the lyrics do still find a way to be clever and thoughtful. All and all it is an impressive addition to the House of Heroes catalog.

3. Motherfolk “Fold”

Motherfolk is my biggest new musical discovery of 2016. “Fold” is an album full of lament. From the first song it becomes clear that vocalists Nathan & Bobby have issues with God and his church. At times the album seems hopeful. And at times the album feels depressing. Either way the music on “Fold” is top notch and worth checking out.

4. Lael “Clarity”

I’ve been waiting for this album ever since I heard Jeff Schneeweis’ single “Giants” in 2015. After a name change in 2016 we now have a full album of music from the former Number One Gun vocalist. If you enjoy indie pop, electronic or just music in general give this album a shot.

5. Judah & the Lion “Folk Hop N’ Roll”

This album is my biggest surprise of 2016. I had heard of Judah & the Lion before but never listened to their music much. Then I heard their new single “Take It All Back” this spring and immediately pre-ordered this album. “Folk Hop N’ Roll” delivers exactly what its title promises. If you’ve ever wondered what Switchfoot, NEEDTOBREATHE, and twenty one pilots mashed up together would sound like then this album is for you. With their lead single “Take It All Back” reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Alternative charts this month and a tour with twenty one pilots lined up for 2017 this is a band you can expect to be hearing a lot about in the near future.

6. The Jellyrox “Bang & Whimper”

Technically this album was released on CD in October 2015, but I expect most people like me only discovered it after its digital release in February 2016. I’ve been a huge Jellyrox fan since Heta Himlen and this album has done nothing but make me an even bigger fan. With The Fast Feeling and a new eleventyseven album coming soon, I’ll be curious to see how much time Matt Langston has for The Jellyrox in 2017.

7. Rocky Loves Emily “Miserable Love”

This album seemed like it would never come. I honestly never cared for Rocky Loves Emily’s debut album on Tooth & Nail, but when I heard Hypocrite on YouTube back in 2014 I knew I was going to be a fan of this new album. And despite the long wait I was not disappointed. “Miserable Love” feels like a Christian rock album that would have been a smash hit 10 years ago. And that is a very good thing in my opinion.

8. Switchfoot “Where The Light Shines Through”

Switchfoot is my all-time favorite artist. So why isn’t this album higher on my list? Because Switchfoot is in a league of their own and their albums have to be graded on a special scale. A great album just isn’t enough to impress me anymore. It has be an outstanding album to rank high my list. “WTLST” is a great album. Probably my favor Switchfoot album since “Hello Hurricane.” But I still think Switchfoot can do better.

9. GAWVI “Lost In Hue EP”

I don’t listen to Christian hip hop so I had no idea who GAWVI was. But thankfully my more hip hop enlightened brother introduced me to his new EP this summer. At first it struck me as just another dance oriented pop EP. And maybe it is. But the when the songs started getting stuck in my head I realized this little EP was going to make its way into my top 10 of 2016 for it’s catchiness.

10. Nel “Self-titled EP”

You may not have heard of Nel, but you may recognize her distinct vocals. Nel is the newest musical endeavor of The Ember Days vocalist’s Janell. This five song EP is full of sadness as the artist deals with life after divorce and the struggles of being alone. This might not be the best EP to start off 2017 with, but if you’re looking for something sad and moody to listen to, look no further.

11. Adam Young “The Spirit of St. Louis”

Adam Young is my artist of the year for 2016. He released eleven amazing sound scores covering a wide range of historical events in 2016. All of which can be downloaded for free on his website. Since listing them all in my top 20 would eat up half the list I settled on “The Spirit of St. Louis” as my favorite. Even if you don’t have time to listen to the full score (and you should) at least give the last track “Wheels Down” a listen.

12. CAPPA “Queen of Hearts”

CAPPA is one of the few non-IVM artists on my list. I first heard her music on a Slospeak Records sampler last year and have been following her ever since. If you like pop music in the vein of Taylor Swift then do give this up-and-coming Nashville pop star’s music a try.

13. Sherwood “Some Things Never Leave You”

I love this album cover. The music is pretty good too.

14. Lacey Sturm “Life Screams”

I was expecting this album to make my top 10, but it just never really clicked with me. I love Lacey’s vocals and I’m so glad to have her making music again after Flyleaf. Maybe this will be one of those albums I look back on in 2017 and wonder why I ranked it so low.

15. Relient K “Air For Free”

I’ve never been a huge Relient K fan and this album hasn’t really changed that. That said, the lead single “Bummin'” is in my top 3 favorite songs of 2016. It just has that pop punk sound that I miss.

16. Exile in Aberdeen “Keys”

The first time I heard this EP I found myself wondering whether these were modern adaptations of Hymns I’m not familiar with or original songs. After a little research I concluded it must be the latter. And in my mind, it is a great compliment to have your music compared to the timeless music of the church. If you enjoy modern adaptations of old hymns you’ll enjoy this EP.

17. The Rocket Summer  “Zoetic”

I have something of a love-hate relationship with this album. On one hand, I like rock and this is the rockiest album The Rocket Summer has ever released. On the other hand, I also like The Rocket Summer and this sounded very little like The Rocket Summer. Even after 10 months of listening to this album I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. But hey, I’m still listening to it, so it must not be all bad.

18. Anchor & Braille “Songs for the Late Night Drive Home”

This would be one of my biggest disappointments of 2016. The lead single “Watch You Burn” set my hopes high, but the rest of the album failed to live up to what that song promised. Nevertheless, as the title suggests, this album has a very practical use, which is why I keep this CD in my car.

19. Danger Scene “Futures EP”

Never heard of these guys until I heard them on the radio. Much to my surprise they actually weren’t half bad. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to twenty one pilots but to me their music is still distinct enough to call it their own. “Drive” is by far my favorite song on the on the EP.

20. Nikol “White Lies EP”

I discovered Nikol several years ago on IVM. Since I hadn’t heard any updates in a few years I assumed the group was no more until a new single crossed my path this year. If you are fan of female-fronted rock bands like Flyleaf and Fireflight, you should listen to this EP. It’s actually pretty impressive. The sound quality is a big step up from the debut EP I heard on IVM a few years ago.

Honorable Mention:

The Ember Days “Valitus”

This album was released in December 2015, too late to make my Year-end Best of list for last year and too early to make my Best of list for this year. So it’ll have to settle for being my honorable mention. But don’t let that stop you from listening to it. It could easily be in my top five from this year or last year. “Valitus” is not the same indie worship album for which the band is known. Instead it is an album of laments. While the album by itself is great, it’s even better when paired with the stunning visuals of the music videos and accompanying book by vocalist Janell.

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January 9, 2017 5:54 pm

I actually thought Watch You Burn was one of the weaker songs on Songs for the Late Night Drive Home tbh, though I did love the album.

January 7, 2017 9:43 am

Thanks for the list! I listen to a lot of heavier music, but I’ve acquired the taste for indie over the last year or two and have started listening to some folksier things as well. I had never heard of Motherfolk before, but I’m enjoying Fold quite a bit so far; some of the lyrical themes remind me quite a bit of Over the Ocean. Lael and Judah & the lion have also caught my eye for the first time.

January 4, 2017 9:24 am

Wow, thanks for the heads up on Lael! Had no idea he had new music, thank you! Also, I feel like GAWVI is going to surprise people with how great his full length will be this coming year. As we’ve seen with what he’s done for Lecrae, Reach Records and now his own stuff, the guy can craft a song! Great list though, saw a lot I shared with you in my list of favorites!

Benji Kunz
January 4, 2017 9:00 am

Great list Christopher. I was actually pretty disappointed with Colors, but it’s good to see it high on someone’s list.

Aaron Cavanaugh
January 2, 2017 6:30 pm

Hi All, Based on the albums I am aware of currently here are my top 9 in no particular order: Tasan – Live, TAL – The Great Struggling, Lindy Conant – Every Nation, Exile in Aberdeen – Keys, Cristian Padraru – Letter for Disciples, Circle of Dust – Circle of Dust (Remastered), Chris Quilala – Split the Sky, Blanca – Not Backing Down (Remix) EP. Thanks. God Bless. Aaron

January 2, 2017 8:21 pm

TAL was a very pleasant surprise. His stuff is very earnest and a little nerdy, but I dig that. Very obvious 21 pilots influence, but I dig that too

Aaron Cavanaugh
January 2, 2017 3:31 pm

Hi, Thanks for sharing. God Bless. Aaron

Casey Gallenberger
January 2, 2017 12:56 pm

Glad to see we have a couple in common!

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