Tis the season for giving thanks. And here in Phoenix, we have to admit we’re pretty spoiled — especially when it comes to music. Here are 13 Valley-based bands we’re thankful for.
It’s just as well that the trio Shining Soul didn’t win the three Native American Music Awards they were nominated for this year. It would have put a label on the rhymes and rhythms of DJ Reflekshin and MCs Liaizon and Bronze Candidate. And, frankly, that’s not something they’re interested in. The Chicano/O’odham hip-hop group relish making music that’s both universal and socially conscious. Want proof? Watch Shining Soul’s powerful video for “All Day.” It was filmed along the U.S.-Mexico border, and shows they have the courage and passion to make personal and political statements. Jason Keil
It’s easy to root for a band like Fairy Bones. Led by Chelsey Louise, whose howling alto has notes of Karen O. and Marisa Paternoster, this rock outfit is a force live — and on social media. Armed with garage-rock guitars and a decidedly punk outlook, they know exactly what they want, and they aren’t afraid to ask for it. Fairy Bones mobilized fans in a push to get the catchy AF single “No One Can Suffer Like I Can” on the Billboard charts. They didn’t quite make it, but damn, what chutzpah. Rumor has it Fairy Bones’ new record is due in 2018. Cheers to that. Becky Bartkowski
“Are we demons or are we dust?” SunPunchers leader Betsy Ganz asks on “Brown Metal Box,” the opener of the Americana trio’s latest LP, Levity. There’s a devilish humor coursing through the album indicating the former. But Levity’s sepia-toned soundscapes — with swelling pedal steel, chiming 12-strings, mariachi horns, and twangy, reverb-drenched guitars — evidence a sandiness evocative of the band’s Sonoran desert home. Joined by drummer Dominic Armstrong, bassist Lindsey Cates, and “honorary SunPuncher” Jon Rauhouse (of Neko Case’s band), Ganz pens songs about regret, dark impulses, and desire, cloaking deep empathy in sly wit reminiscent of John Prine, Freakwater, and Howe Gelb. Jason P. Woodbury
Even when it’s a Tuesday night at The Rebel Lounge after a long day of work, Father Figures can shake you loose. The energy from this self-dubbed “post-skate-punk” trio is infectious. Just try to watch them play without tapping a foot or bobbing along — it’s tough. Father Figures’ members have deep roots in the Phoenix music scene, with careers stretching back to the ’70s and ’80s, and their message continues to feel fresh. With angst-fueled songs about the dangers of fascism and email scams, Father Figures remind us to stay alert, keep moving, and fight on. Meagan Mastriani
Body of Light
Cowboy boots and honky-tonks may come to mind when people think of Arizona, but you’re just as likely to find work boots and Depeche Mode tribute bands out here in the desert. When it comes to the darker side of our state, there’s no topping Tempe’s Body of Light. Part of the sprawling family of Ascetic House artists and bands, Body of Light is the work of brothers Alex and Andrew Jarson. The duo’s blend of pulsing 808 beats and bewitching ’80s synth sounds is intense and danceable, the perfect soundtrack for goth nights and warehouse parties. Ashley Naftule
You know that feeling when you sink to the bottom of the swimming pool and sit on the floor for a few moments, while the rest of the world is muted and distant? That solitude? Putting on a pair of headphones and pressing play on Kolezanka’s record, Vessel, has the same effect. When life gets harsh, the band’s music offers an escape hatch to a softer place where tenderness and vulnerability are strengths. Frontwoman and writer Kristina Moore captures the unique struggle of how femininity can feel both powerful and stifling, and her words are a comfort to anyone wrestling with that dichotomy. M.M.
For more than 30 years, rock/“carny” metal band St. Madness have been all about the gratitude: for the art of rock music, for the opportunity to guide younger bands in the industry, and for the fight against injustice. The band have overcome trials, such as frontman Prophet’s testicular-cancer diagnosis in 2005 and a recent family tragedy. And they’ve humbly embraced triumphs that include winning multiple awards and being featured in museum music exhibits. Many local bands have looked to St. Madness as a guide — and to Prophet in particular, an artist who builds up everyone he meets with a glowing generosity and infectious love for music. Lauren Wise
House of Stairs
House of Stairs’ songs are a perfect place to get lost. Each one is its own inviting and heady dreamscape to float through, as you soak up its beauty. First, there’s Holly Pyle’s lush voice, which drips with a sticky combo of sweet and soulful depth. Her singing is hypnotic, guiding you through each song from the beginning to end as the band’s layered backdrop of jazzy beats and provocative instrumentation takes your mind on intriguing little side journeys. Amy Young
Phoenix has several reasons to be thankful for surfy-pop group Pro Teens. The band recently released their latest album, Philistines, with seven tracks befitting the languid holiday moods ahead. “Bloomin’ ” makes for an obvious post-family-feast de-stresser: “Sink into the casserole, let them know you’re awful / War was waged that day, and a difference was never made.” Pro Teens just came home from a cross-country tour, so they’re back on stages around town, making audiences dance away existential crises and continuing to foster the local scene. If they’re on the lineup, it’s going to be a good show. M.M.
Generally, we don’t care about award ceremonies. But seeing Meat Puppets — the original lineup! — inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame brought some salty water to our eyes. As Midwestern punk-rock kids in the ’80s, ordering a Meat Puppets record from the SST label’s catalog was one of our smarter decisions, and we dove in for more. Meat Puppets are one of the reasons we fell in love with the desert. And from the band’s hardcore sounds to the more country-influenced tracks, we still love every bit. A.Y.
Comedic music has long been the province of Weird Al, Jonathon Coulton, and snarky dudes with acoustic guitars. But that’s changing, thanks to the work of such artists as Rachel Bloom and Garfunkel and Oates. On the local scene, Sex Lasagna are serving up humorous songs about ice-cream socials and Captain America having a crush on his buddy Bucky. The lineup shifts around core members Margo Brookover and Sara Jehad, who use boisterous vocals and earworm guitar parts to sell the hell out of their jokes. A.N.
Electronic dance music isn’t always our go-to. But if we’re gonna crank up the high-octane, beats-driven tunes, we put on Terminal 11. Michael Castaneda is the man behind this electro-music project, and he threads his tracks with a relentlessness that locks you in place while a sonic assault hits from all directions. It’s a wild ride for the mind, trying to follow and identify the massive amount of sounds in each track. No drugs needed. A.Y.
Being a Playboy Manbaby fan is a lot like being a ska fan. There’s the band’s insanely high energy, which they use to deliver a blend of punky sounds, B-52s nerviness, and catchy music that’s the aural equivalent of ants-in-your-pants. Also on the ska tip, Playboy Manbaby are unconcerned with being cool. Which, of course, makes them that much cooler. They aren’t the kind of band that hides enthusiasm; it overflows. But unlike ska groups, you won’t have to deal with 15 people playing horns — or pretending that you like No Doubt’s early stuff. A.N.