The new year means new beginnings, fresh ideas, and more chances to give birth to new projects. In such a populous area, we are privy to a tremendous amount of ambition and diversity when it comes to the local music scene. The area's creative class constantly churns out new music. The city overflows with talent, from bands with members not old enough to drink to veterans with decades of music experience in the scene.
With that in mind, we present to you 16 promising local bands to watch in 2016. These bands span a range of genres, from noisy punk to electro pop to surf-tinged garage rock, but they all share a common drive to create great music and share it with the world. Don't be surprised to see these bands popping up on lineups at venues around town and filling out the local slots once festival season hits.
Give these bands a listen. We don't think you'll be disappointed.
Molly and the Molluscs
These band members are having a better time than you.
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At least that's the sense you get listening to their charming debut EP, released last fall on cassette by the 600 Collective and streaming now on SoundCloud. You can hear the joy in the group's fuzzy, exuberant pop songs, and then there's the off-the-cuff laughter that starts them, left in to great effect.
Formed in Phoenix in 2015, singer Karen Beltran (stage name Molly) and the Molluscs (Miguel Guzman on guitar and synth, Edward Valdez on bass, Diego Garcia on guitar, and Jesus Medina on drums, ranging in age from 16 to 20) initially bonded over the Velvet Underground, but gems like "Kiss N' Tell" and the instrumental "Clancy" are pure pop. Recorded by Aaron Ponzo of the 600 Collective in his garage, what sets the band's EP apart from the crowded field of Burger Records clones is its sense of dynamics. "No Voy a Cambiar" evokes the lushness of classic Britpop, while "When?" sounds cut from the K Records cloth, weirdly sentimental like the best of Beat Happening. On closing track "Bailey," the band layers careening, distorted guitars under Molly's pretty, droning vocals. "There is nothing good for me," she sings, a classic lover's lament punctuated by interwoven pop-punk guitars. The group's been playing house shows and at Trunk Space ("Those are really the only places we play," Beltran says), solidifying its garage pop sound, but Molly and crew are eager to experiment.
The group's SoundCloud page offers a hint at another direction: an instrumental electro take of "Dopamine."
"It's inspired by Bruce Springsteen and Tears for Fears — '80s pop you hear on the radio," Guzman says, noting that he's keen to explore synth pop, citing gated drum-machine sounds and Joy Division as influences. It's woozy and lovely, a strong demonstration of the sharp melodies that give Molly and the Molluscs an edge over their less nuanced garage rock peers. JASON P. WOODBURY
You can breathe a sigh of relief. Harrison Fjord is not a young joke band hiding behind what sounds like the name for a bar trivia team.
When Mario Yniguez and Dallin Gonzales are asked the obvious question of what their favorite Harrison Ford movie is, Gonzales answers quickly with The Fugitive.
"Air Force One is pretty awesome," exclaims Yniguez.
They barely mention Star Wars and the Indiana Jones films, since five of the seven band members are below drinking age.
"It feels good to be doing what we're doing at the age we are," Yniguez says.
"But it can be disheartening to miss cool acts," Gonzales adds.
Yniguez and Gonzales' early passions lie north of downtown Chandler in the choir room at Chandler High School, where many of the members of Harrison Fjord met. Most of them now attend Mesa Community College. When pressed for a word to describe their music, Gonzalez uses the term "genreless," only to have Yniguez quickly correct him on grounds that the word sounds pretentious. Gonzalez's statement isn't out of line when you hear the ambitious eight-minute opus "Approximately 906 Miles." It starts with an organ straight out of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon but ends somewhere avant-garde. Other songs from their 2015 EP, Puspa in Space, are exercises in new wave and jazz.
"The project has never been guided heavily by one specific direction," Yniguez says, while Gonzales calls it "collaborative and thorough."
The bandmates attribute their musical agility to their involvement with a cappella (both are members of the ensemble Sounds of the Mouth) and the motivation of their choir teacher, Lori Lyford, director of the Scottsdale Chorus. If there's a case for keeping music in schools, the determined ambitions of Harrison Fjord should be presented as evidence. As they create their full-length debut, Yniguez sees Harrison Fjord evolving into a collective with elements of choir, musical theater, and visual art mixed in. JASON KEIL
Upon its debut, MRCH (pronounced March), well, marched through 2015 with three stunning singles. January's charmingly twee pop "Validation" was followed in June by the rocking, aggressive "Highway Drivin'" and the mesmerizing dream pop of "Spin" in November. Each song showed off a different style, but each possessed MRCH's distinctive indie electronica sentiment.
The group began as a spinoff for Prowling Kind members Mickey Pangburn, Jesse Pangburn, and Erin Beal. But it seems the side project's momentum has surpassed that of the Prowling Kind. Most recently, "Spin" was featured in Ford's Pitchfork-produced "In Focus" series, in an episode in which Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells and Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast interviewed each other.
Last year was only the start, and 2016 should see the release of MRCH's first EP now that the band has grown into its sound.
"We spent the first year of our existence allowing ourselves to organically discover our sound, often playing unfinished tunes and tweaking, changing, even completely overhauling songs until we love each one we play," Mickey Pangburn says. "Now, we're finally at a point where we feel good about tracking several tunes and releasing them as a unit. We plan on getting into the studio in March to track an EP of four or five songs."
MRCH toured the West Coast last year, and the band will head out on the road again in February to Seattle and back, then it plans to explore the Midwest and, ultimately, the East Coast to promote its debut record. Keep your ears peeled. MITCHELL HILLMAN
The Hill in Mind
My introduction to the Hill in Mind came in 2014 via Flying Blanket Studios owner Bob Hoag, who put the group's self-titled debut EP in my hand and told me it was his favorite recent project. It clearly must have been because why else would he drive around with copies of it in his car to give out?
The group is led by Joshua Hill, who writes in a classic pop style, mixing an almost vaudevillian music-hall piano over bouncy rock tunes that swing from nerd rock to mid-period Bowie histrionics. Some stingier writers might balk at Hill's tendency to cram two, and sometimes three, potential songs into one four-minute opus. But anyone who loves pop with lots of twist and turns hardly could come away dissatisfied from a song like "Spider Shirt." The tune, with its lyrics' failed messianic tendencies ("You're not dying for me but I'm listening to you"), combines psychedelia with new wave and prog rock before ending on a "Spider Man's playing at the mall tonight" refrain that's sure to bring a smile to the listener.
Last summer, the Hill in Mind released Thimble, Needle, and Thread, a quieter, folkier album than the group's previous EP. Thimble's heaviest track, "Touria," contains a men's choir section amid electric guitar bombast. The record's beautiful, baroque pop concludes with autobiographical nods to distant relatives and their tales of woe. Subtle, stirring stuff.
By year's end, the Hill in Mind turned in a Christmas EP, and Hill recorded a solo album called "Hill Never Sing Again," filled with ambient sounds recorded outside Flying Blanket Studios in Mesa. But fear not that Hill replaced his bandmates with a few stray birds and the occasional passing airplane. This year, the band is planning a more tours and a few music videos for its previously released music. SERENE DOMINIC
You can tell Twin Ponies is barrelling down an uncharted trail when you watch its members get bent out of shape trying to describe the band's trajectory. They trot out all the usual suspects — post-rock, post-grunge, post-punk. They even mention dreaded math rock, a term people use to denigrate music that's working harder than they are.
Twin Ponies is all and none of these. Yes (no pun intended), they're progressive, but they're aggressive, too — imagine XTC at its most agitated coexisting with Pavement at its most reflective. And Twin Ponies is funny, in a wry sort of way. I can't think of another local band that could serve up a spine-tingling song about a mental breakdown while name-checking breakfast treats and Aunt Jemima and not sound overreaching.
That's just one track off Twin Ponies' stellar EP from last summer, Friendly Pet Mass Graves. If 2013's Pores was your point of entry, the band took on a darker edge and elbowed out jazzy chords in 2015 with songs like "Griff," which closes the EP much the way "The Dreamer's Dream" finishes Television's Adventure — a regal progression of guitar riffs from Wayne Jones and Jacob Lauxman takes a few aggro detours with dissonant chords before ending in relative calm. On "Rock and Roll Cough," you have the synth bass of Phillip Hanna and the timekeeping of Jordan Tompkins beating beneath it like an irregular heart.
This year seems to be a consolidation of last year's strengths. As it did in 2015 at this time, the band played a January residency at the Time Out Lounge and will release another split single.
"We just finished a seven-inch split with Dent to be released around March or April," Hanna says. "We are also working on new material for a full-length record to be released later this year." SERENE DOMINIC
From the suburban void of Gilbert comes RNA, a fuzz-driven post-rock mammoth complete with well-disciplined technical elements and catchy left-field guitar hooks. The brainchild of drummer/vocalist Zebadiah Scibelli-Gotlieb and guitarist Jeremy Peterson, the duo manages to achieve more power and dynamic acuity than most large-roster heavy ensembles.
Pulling off a two-piece outfit is a difficult task, regardless of genre. That's what makes RNA's ability to produce a Load Records-level of volume and dissonance all the more impressive.
Becoming a two-piece happened naturally for them: "We've been jamming together for years, and it went from a casual project to something more serious," says Scibelli-Gotlieb regarding the choice to remain solely a guitar-and-drum duo.
This said, you'll find comparisons to bands like Melvins and Sonic Youth just as easy to justify as is Lightning Bolt or any other power duo. RNA effortlessly falls into the doing-something-new-without-trying category that so many aspiring musicians fall flat on their face trying to reach. The band alternates heavy-handed pummels and bluesy (and at times psychedelic) riffs driven forward by galloping breakbeats and solid, in-the-pocket rhythms. It's capped with Scibelli-Gotlieb's reverb-drenched vocals, which are far more fine-tuned than they seem at first.
Over the past couple of years, RNA has drifted through the underground, playing DIY house shows and small venues, most notably sharing bills with Seattle's Health Problems and Minnesota's Animal Lover.
The band quietly released its debut demo, Living, Not Alive, on Bandcamp last spring and followed up strongly with Deltas, released on New Year's Day. Deltas solidifies RNA's sound in a big way and is set to see a physical release before February. "We have tapes coming out soon," Scibelli-Gotlieb says. "And we'll hopefully release something on vinyl when we have the means to do so." ROGER CALAMAIO
"We're like a chili, you know?" says Orin Portnoy, singer/guitar wrangler of new metro Phoenix band Skink. Speaking in hushed tones with a smirk on his face, the bespectacled frontman compares himself and his bandmates to meat, beans, and spices simmering on a stove. "You come back, like, six hours later and there we are."
The group has been around only for about seven months, but its members' pedigrees are those of well-established scene veterans. Portnoy has played with a number of notable Phoenix bands, including Odds and Sods, Automatic Erasers, and Hi Fi Lo. Michael Parkin usually is known for playing guitar — as he did in The Sport Model and Blanche Davidian — but in Skink, he's seen and heard destroying the four fat strings on a Fender Precision bass. Rounding out the trio is a timekeeping wizard, drummer Eric Guthrie, who also played in Hi Fi Lo and Fluidrive.
Parkin describes the band's sound as "fast, loud, aggressive, and mean" before getting shot down by his bandmates.
"You're the only one who is mean," Portnoy says.
"We're not particularly fast, either," Guthrie adds.
Regardless of its inability to describe its sound, the band is heavy, noisy, stony, and full of piss and vinegar. Think of Skink as part Kyuss (with which Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age got his start), part Girls Against Boys ('90s New York indie rock giants), and part classic desert punk. When you mix it all together, you get the chili of the local heavy-rock scene.
In 2016, the band plans to record. In fact, this seems to be the plan for these three scene vets, who bring a load of talent to the table. Like many of their peers in the burgeoning over-40 Phoenix rock scene, they are relatively choosy about when and where they play, with only one gig on the horizon: Saturday, January 30, at Pho Cao in Scottsdale. TOM REARDON
The Christian Family
Sometimes, Daniel Shircliff likes it rough and raw. Garage rock, that is.
The raucous 1960s style of garage punk is one thing that gets him excited. One of his bands, Freaks of Nature, exemplifies the sound and has amassed a following of fans who like it gritty, too.
Other times, he doesn't mind sweetening the pot. He'd had it in his head for a while that he'd like to do a two-piece garage punk band with harmonies.
"I was already a big fan of Cherie Cherie, and when I ran into Ann [Seletos, Cherie's drummer], I immediately saw what was possible," he says.
Turns out, Seletos was a big fan of his, too, so when he told her about the idea and asked her to get together and give it a try, she didn't hesitate. And Christian Family was born — Shircliff on guitar, Seletos on drums, with both handling vocal duties.
Shircliff's overarching idea was to put something together that could sound like a blend of longtime Detroit garage rockers the Gories, Memphis garage punk trio Oblivians, and the sounds of '60s girl groups, with a little bit of the Saints' aggressive guitar sound in the mix.
The duo has crafted a style out of the sounds they love, maintaining a stripped-down nature and stark effect. "Mad-A-Lyn" is a catchy, stompy track that gets edgier as Seletos screams, while "I Got Problems" features Ramones-esque hooks and sensibilities. The duo's voices blend together well, hinting at innocence but also soulful sass.
When asked if the band's name has a specific meaning or message, Shircliff says, "We are the Christian Family. We have a perfect message of love. We love love and we hate hate. It's like a gospel group. We just want people to come together, hear our message of love, dance, and have fun." AMY YOUNG
Bear Ghost has been active for a few years, but it seems the group fully realized its sound on its 2014 EP and gained even more momentum last year when it began to stun its ever-growing fan base with high-energy live shows. This year, the group is set to release its first full-length album, Blasterpiece.
"Blasterpiece is the most ambitious attempt at music we've ever made," guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Thomas Knight says. "There are four-part harmonies. There are video game sounds, super-colorful melodies, manic riffs galore. There's even a little rapping. I guess in many ways, it's like a bigger and better version of our first record."
The combination of indie rock mixed with prog rock and even a little hip-hop is one of the most captivating and invigoratingly refreshing sounds to come out of Phoenix in the past few years. The band also adds an amazing "fun factor" to its songs, prompting fans at its concerts to break into spontaneous dancing and wide smiles. Sure, Bear Ghost also plays a handful of Disney covers and a killer take on Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," but the band's deepest passion lies in its originals. Most recently, the group released two singles: last year's "Necromancin' Dancin'" and this month's "Funkle Phil," whetting fans' anticipation of Blasterpiece, which will be celebrated at the band's Saturday, February 20, show at Last Exit Live.
There is much more in store.
"We're psychologically preparing ourselves for a tour, hammering out details for a music video and greasing the gears on a collaboration with one of Phoenix's coolest artists," Knight says. "We're certainly going to be getting in everyone's faces." MITCHELL HILLMAN
The Breaking Pattern
Rising from the ashes of Ezer after a lineup change, the Breaking Pattern quickly emerged as one of Phoenix's most ambitious acts. In the last half of 2015, the group released three fantastic singles: "The Rapture," "Alaska," and "Pretty on the Outside." Each one was progressively better than the last, as the band took to creating its own take on emo. Earlier this month, the Breaking Pattern released a video for "Let Love Go" in advance of the debut full-length There Are Roadmaps in Our Veins, set to be released in March.
"The album is four years in the making, with over a year in the studio perfecting the songs alongside our producer, Cory Spotts," singer Derek Hackman says. "Despite the pressure on new bands to put out EPs, we felt a full album would help establish our sound and give us the freedom we needed to explore the various aspects of our album's theme of romantic loss."
Most recently, the Breaking Pattern was featured in the Huffington Post, which touted the band as "the face for the 'emo revival' movement in Phoenix." It may not be far from the mark, judging by the band's social media following and ticket sales. Before the band starts sowing seeds in other cities, though, members want to further establish themselves locally.
It will be interesting to see just how far the Breaking Pattern go this year, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them invited on tour with some big names by the end of 2016. The proof is sure to be found in the album the band unleashes this spring. MITCHELL HILLMAN
Fuzzy atmospherics, soaring melodies, heavy crescendi, riffs tinged with djent and jazz, sludgy breakdowns, vocals ranging from guttural to operatic — these are only a few characteristics you'll find in a track by Phoenix metal quartet Animus Complex.
The members hesitantly define the music as progressive metal, but while their ever-evolving style is cutting edge, their influences and technique are classical in style.
Animus Complex is a name that aptly describes the group's sound and vision (and, of course, it was inspired by a book about Carl Jung).
"Animus is the inner feminine and masculine archetype that is projected onto others. It has a lot to do with attracting people or things based off of thoughts and psychological functioning," says founder/guitarist Jeremy Davis.
In 2011, Davis had left his former band to find his own sound. After a friend sent him a Killswitch Engage cover fronted by local vocalist Matt Turkington, Davis reached out to the singer and started to form a musical vision. Eventually, Davis, Turkington, drummer Mike Ohlson, and bassist Steve Poff became Animus Complex, playing their first show together in November 2012. While the band's 2014 debut, Animus Complex, provides fresh perspective, this month's Immersion is a living, breathing testament to the beauty of Arizona metal. The album's nine tracks work together as one cohesive, flowing river, surging from rapids to undertows to reflective pools, lacing together tracks ranging from totally instrumental to packed with energetic, soaring vocals.
"I don't think we are necessarily reinventing the wheel, but we're certainly not easily lumped in with other bands," Davis says.
Animus Complex's album release at Club Red in Mesa drew more than 450 people, and for 2016, the band is focused on pushing its music and fan base to the limits.
"We added a light show with two light-reactive 3-D tapestries, with glasses sold at our merch booth to view the show in a different perspective," Davis says.
With this 2016 band to watch, you're sure to experience music from a different perspective — glasses or not. LAUREN WISE
Usually when a couple starts a musical project, you expect to hear romantic love ballads. Electro-punk group Couples Fight formed with a different concept in mind. The group's digital dance party doesn't just make you want to bust out your rainbow-colored wardrobe and candy jewelry but also bust at the seams from the hilarious content of the tunes. Travis James and Alaynha Gabrielle (featured on this week's cover of New Times) already have successfully spread their message, despite not having played a single show yet.
"My roommates all tried to record couples' fights in the house," James says. "But everyone just ended up having actual fights about everyone trying to catch each other fighting. It was glorious."
Such antics are to be expected from this kind of riffraff. James is known for throwing underground punk shows in unusual yet intriguing locations, from friends' houses to squats and bridges and tunnels. Couples Fight aims for a similar eclecticism.
"We're going to play around town but also try to branch out to play raves," James says.
It'll be an interesting transformation in style to see this kind of electronic/punk crossover. A slimmed-down poppy dance-punk duo is an interesting outlet for a pair usually involved with punk bands.
"Being in a band is like being in a relationship," Gabrielle says. "You think you want it, but you know it's too much work and is going to end badly."
Couples Fight has been keeping busy setting up its debut show/album release party, the "Broken Hearts Ball." A few songs exist on the duo's Bandcamp page, including "Whatever You Want," an in-your-face dance tune about an argument over what to eat. If James' other project, cabaret-influenced post-folk punk band Travis James & The Acrimonious Assembly of Arsonists is any indication, the entertaining electro-punk of Couples Fight will leave everyone dancing their asses off. GARYN KLASEK
Blaine Coffee considers himself a community-oriented individual.
"Community is the combination of communication and unity," says the 33-year-old Tempe native.
As founder and head engineer at State of the Artz studio, the aspiring MC has mixed and engineered some of the best-known hip-hop artists in Arizona. This includes recent releases from rising stars like Mega Ran and the Stakes to lyrical beasts like Roq'y Tyraid.
Connections like these allowed for Coffee to create State of the Artz Vol. 1 in 2014. The well-received compilation LP provided a unified soundscape of talent from across the Phoenix area and set the stage for Blaine to build up his brand in 2015, including a multi-state campaign to plaster the Southwest with 75,000 stickers featuring a picture of Coffee's face. He also kept his name out there with dozens of shows, and he released music from rising producer FK (2 Chainz, Travis Porter, and Mac Miller). Coffee also has worked with Warner Music Group to get out a few publishing placements and hopes to parlay that into a full publishing deal with Sony.
All in all, Coffee is set up for a stellar 2016, with State of the Artz Vol. 2 slated for a spring release and a solo project called the Grey Area aimed at taking his community-based philosophies to the next level. JARON IKNER
At first listen, Red Tank!'s I Want You to Crowd Surf My Body at My Funeral is a fun, upbeat punk record with a lot of attitude and a lot of fuzz. But underneath the loud and sometimes incomprehensible screaming of frontman Clipper "Danger" Arnold, there is real lyrical genius going on, and he and his compatriots spent the latter half of 2015 spreading their good words to the West Coast.
"We just finished up our second West Coast tour, and we're putting together a new album. We are still working out some of the material for it, but we are going into the studio with [Mesa recordist] Jalipaz at Audioconfusion in early March," Arnold says.
The album doesn't have a solid release date yet, but Arnold said the working title for the forthcoming record is Biofeedback. Arnold says the title works on two levels. It highlights the band's affinity for heavy feedback in the guitar sound, and it also refers to the medical procedure in which a patient monitors his own vitals with the intent of lowering blood pressure and reducing anxiety.
"Listening to the album could be a cathartic experience, serving the purpose of most art and fiction: to find commonalities with it in your own life. I know it's a source of catharsis for myself and the band," Arnold says.
To go along with the new record in 2016, Red Tank! intends to make a return appearance in Austin for this year's South by Southwest, as well as a loftier goal of an East Coast tour later in the summer.
"This is like one of the most honest ways that I know how to do things, having this kind of outlet and playing this kind of music. There are a lot of easier ways to make money. There are a lot of easier ways to make music," Arnold says.
But, for him, it needs to be real. JEFF MOSES
While Corey Gloden focused on playing guitar for Dry River Yacht Club, one of the most captivating frontmen in Phoenix was away from the mic for three years. When Wyves rose from the ashes of Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special, Gloden stepped back into his rightful role as rock 'n' singer. To Gloden (also of Strange Young Things), it was a welcome challenge to begin crafting lyrics again for a new project.
"It feels great to get back into that. I kind of didn't write lyrics for three years. A few things would pop out here and there, but with Dry River, I was more arranging songs. I wasn't writing lyrics, so it's cool to dive back into that. I didn't know if I could," Gloden says.
Despite his initial apprehension, the band already has rocked most of Phoenix's premier venues, made an appearance at Apache Lake Music Festival, and has a release party for its debut full-length, Spoils of War, scheduled for February 7 at Crescent Ballroom. According to Gloden and drummer Evan Knisely, they began recording even before the band played its first show.
Gloden and Knisely say the record is a coming-out party in a lot of ways for everyone involved. Gloden says he missed the freedom that having a microphone in his hand offered him as a performer, while Knisely says Spoils of War is the first time in years he and his bandmates from the Midnight Special — Brendan McBride and Nick Sterling — really have been able to play music that they wrote and crafted specifically for their taste.
The group doesn't intend to rest on its local laurels or soak in the glories of previous projects. The group intends to branch out to other Arizona cities and Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Fe, and Denver. JEFF MOSES
Sometimes you're in the mood to put on music that blows the fucking doors off the place. Next time the feeling hits, you would be well-served to grab Resinator's full-length, Brutus (named after a member's dog), turning it up, and enjoying its sonic power.
The band, which includes Dan "Chinga Tu Carne" Dominguez on vocals, guitarists J. Brown and Andreas Walden, Mike Anderson on bass, and drummer Shane Collie, recorded Brutus at Jalipaz Nelson's Mesa studio, Audioconfusion, in 2014 and released it digitally via Bandcamp.
Resinator came together after the death of Reverend Doom's drummer, Jarrod Ray Small, in 2011. All the current members, except the singer, were involved with that project. Small was more than just a bandmate; he was a longtime close friend of these guys, and his departure hit them hard.
"It inspired me to write a bunch of music," says Anderson. "In 2012, J and I started putting some of my riffs into context and getting them organized while he got everyone else together and started to flesh out my songs and write some new ones, eventually finding our groove."
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They had everyone but a singer, and that came when Anderson ran into Dan at a Today Is the Day show, and it happened that he wanted to sing.
"We knew he was the right fit from the start. He gave us that old school hardcore sound that pulled everything together," Anderson says.
The band plans to record a follow-up full-length album this year. It's got a lot of the material already but is working hard on whipping the material into the shape the band's members want it to be in before they lay down the tracks. They don't have any extensive tours planned but do intend to hit some other Arizona cities, including Tucson and Flagstaff, with their noisy onslaught. AMY YOUNG