The 16 Best Albums Released by Phoenix Artists So Far in 2016
2016 has been a banner year for local music and it's only halfway over. This year feels like the year where a lot of the old-guard bands from the scene have passed the torch to new, up-and-coming bands, with dazzling results. It's refreshing to find all these new sounds being made and watch these bands pursue their passions to the fullest. Sure, there have been a few seasoned veterans putting out good records too, but the new crowd is gathering the audiences, and it's an exciting time.
These are the best local albums of 2016 so far, listed chronologically. This is an impressive list, sure, but there are still many more releases slated for the rest of the year. One note: Due to the fact that KONGOS are on Epic Records and tour the globe, I did not include that band's 2016 release, Egomaniac, in this list. It is one of the best albums of the year, but I thought it best to leave this list to the bands still trying to make it.
Joshua Hill — Hill Never Sing Again
Joshua Hill is the visionary behind the esoteric chamber-pop combo known as The Hill In Mind. At the start of the year, he released the uniquely intimate solo album Hill Never Sing Again. Six months later, I still put this album on either in the later hours of the night or the early hours of the morning. Like his work with The Hill In Mind, it's an eclectic affair, but it's also a stark record, with sparse arrangements of Hill's voice, his acoustic guitar, and the sounds of the street outside of Flying Blanket Recording. This album is a bit like comfort food for the soul, gentle on the ears yet provocative for the mind. While little pop gems like "Little Boy Liar" and "Little Sparrow" are found throughout the album, it is the powerful lyrical story of the finale, "All That I'll Ever Need," that remains on my mind whenever I think of this charming album. Looking for the perfect album for a soft wake-up over coffee and breakfast in the morning? Look no further than Hill Never Sing Again. It takes a lot for me to love a solo acoustic album, but this album keeps it weird enough to be thoroughly engaging.
Ruca — This Garden
It feels like I was waiting forever for this album (and a few others on this list), but Ruca has been doing so much with Scattered Melodies and other projects that her own releases faced a bit of a delay. To be fair, the band that is found on this recording is virtually no different than the band found on many of my favorite Scattered Melodies songs, with Haley Grigatis singing and slinging her guitar, Jake Johnston on bass, Josh Montag on drums, and Jack Howell on guitar and keys. That said, while this same band did perform key tracks as Scattered Melodies, it's great to hear an entire album of that amazing lineup. The entire album is one of the most consistently feel-good records I've heard in a long time, with no downtime, no filler, and lots of love across all 11 tracks. The entire album is a delight, and there are fantastic moments on every single song. It's also nice to see Grigatis taking the reins of the band, because this is entirely her show. Recommended tracks include "Get It Back," "The Leavin'," "We Are All One Love," and "Sirens," though you'll just want to start at the beginning and let it roll to the end.
Painting of Cait Brennan by Blake Chamberlain
Cait Brennan — Debutante
If you are looking for an album that puts a new spin on the songwriting styles of the early 1970s, you absolutely must check out Cait Brennan's fabulous debut record, Debutante. If you admire the kind of tunes that were penned by Harry Nilsson, Elton John, David Bowie, Linda Rondstadt, Queen, and Stevie Nicks, I can't urge you enough to pick up this record. It's like the very aural poptopia I was raised with, as though Brennan has channeled a radio station from an alternate universe where it's always 1972 and the sound keeps you buzzing with smiles for miles. While it may have been released in the dead of Arizona winter, this album has such a magnificent springtime feel to it that I have found myself giving it repeated listens over the last few weeks. The album is so impressive that when a friend of Brennan's gave it to Seymour Stein at Sire/Warner Bros., he offered her a demo deal to be produced by the legendary power pop maestro Andy Paley.
Wyves — Spoils Of War
Last year, right from the start, Wyves quickly became one of my favorite live bands in town. Its members are frontman Corey Gloden, joined by Nick Sterling, Brenden McBride, and Evan Knisely, and together they form a kick-ass, straight-up rock 'n' roll band. Every show of theirs got better and better with growing, visceral intensity until at last, in February, they released their debut album, Spoils Of War. It was far greater than I had anticipated, and it has honestly been in my heavy rotation of albums. Loaded with singles like the title track, "Bitch Has Got Problems," "Jump Into The Water," "Puppycat," and "Bad Reputation," it's a rock 'n' roll juggernaut that never lets up once. It's also one of those great rock albums that actually captures the energy and drive of a band as they are found live in their native habitat on stage in a club. That's difficult to come by these days, when albums are often something of a letdown compared to a live show. Wyves have no issues kicking just as much ass on a record as they do on stage.
Bear Ghost — Blasterpiece
If you are a fan of great local music and you haven't heard Bear Ghost's full-length debut album, Blasterpiece, I'm going to assume that you've spent the first half of this year in a cave. First of all, Bear Ghost is probably the most fun band in town to see live or listen to on record. "Fun" is an element that seems to be lost on a lot of indie bands, and it's damned refreshing to be excited about going to see a band for the sheer sense of joy they will impart in their performance. Luckily, for Bear Ghost, they were able to translate the fun factor into every moment of Blasterpiece, and it's a lot like their stage show come to life. I feel like I should always keep a spare copy of this album around for those occasions when someone tells me they've never heard of them. Their blend of pop, rock, prog rock, punk and even hip-hop defies the senses, and the assimilation of these styles creates something wholly unique that is all their own.
i.am.hologram — Rejecting The Program
I'm going to say right up front that I have no love for one-man-bands. The exception is Richard Nihil, aka i.am.hologram. Not only does he pull off the one-man-band concept with a drum machine, synthesizers, pedals, and other gear, he does this while slinging guitar and singing his heart out. Favorite weird record of the year? Easily. So it must be said that while he's doing all that crazy shit with his hands and feet, he's also using his voice in a way that no other local singer can or will. His voice is one of the most fascinating elements to his music, and the greatest asset he has in his arsenal of musical madness. His neurotic uncertainty controls you as he guides you through the album, which culminates in the finale of the near nine minute "Osiris (Remind Us)." Rejecting The Program is one of the most challenging albums of the year, but once you get inside it, it's also one of the most rewarding.
The Haymarket Squares — Light It Up
The Haymarket Squares released their finest album to date with Light It Up in February, and in light of the political climate this year, it's been on blast for me from the start. Seriously, this the most politically astute and hilariously wry local album for those leaning to the left since, well, maybe since the release of their last album. Musically, the band's patented punkgrass sound is as strong as ever, espousing the virtues of their working-man causes with sardonic wit scattered liberally throughout. My only issue with this album is that The Haymarket Squares should be promoting this album during this year with a vengeance, because it is the perfect soundtrack to all that is occurring politically. This should be sent out to every public radio station and liberal media stronghold, if for no other reason than to provide a fitting soundtrack to the decline of the American empire. Every song could be used to emphasize its own worthy cause, and while it's probably against The Haymarket Squares' ideals, the licensing money for these songs would be simply obscene.
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