The 40 Best Albums by Phoenix Bands in 2016, Part One

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30. Joe Vito
State Street
State Street is the debut album from young talent Joe Vito and it's a fascinating study in chamber pop. "Be Something" was the first single from the album, and I was immediately drawn in by the fascinating percussion that starts the track, then bowled over by the good, easy vibe of both his acoustic guitar line and his warm, vocal lilt. What was even more surprising is that Joe Vito is only 17 years old. He is, without exaggeration, an actual prodigy who started with bassoon and sax at age 10 and now plays guitar, mandolin, keys, bass, and drums. It's one of those albums you can just walk inside of and find yourself staying there for days. Check out the intense, intelligent delivery on "It's Okay," where he comes on like a younger, gentler Elvis Costello. His lyricism is wise beyond his age and his talent is hard-coded into every song. If Joe Vito has the ambition, I'm pretty sure he can go as far as he wants.

29. The Gentle Hits
The Gentle Hits
To tell you the truth, I was beginning to think that the one-off Gentle Hits show back in 2014 was a dream. The Gentle Hits are Metzger and Mark Kulvinskas from Dear and the Headlights, James Mulhern (What Laura Says), and Wayne Jones (Twin Ponies), which is to say that they are something of a local supergroup. To my ears, Metzger's voice has never sounded better, and it's been far too long since we've heard him on record. It must be said that if you've been in tune with local music for the last decade, there is a strange, wonderful comfort in hearing Metzger's voice coming across the stereo once more. It's not something that can necessarily be placed, other than that it's great to have Metzger back. And with the Gentle Hits making that possible, it feels like he never really left at all.

28. The Breaking Pattern — There Are Roadmaps In Our Veins

The Breaking Pattern are bringing emo back, and they are doing a damn fine job of it. I've never verified whether their debut album, There Are Roadmaps In Our Veins, is supposed to be a concept album, but damned if it doesn't sound like one. The songs certainly have enough connective tissue between them that if you allow your mind to wander enough, a full-fledged story emerges across its 11 tracks. Still, their mix of explosive guitars, ambient orchestrations, and full-on, hook-heavy indie rock just sits right with my soul. The album is supremely single-heavy, and they already have culled four songs in that regard. Still, even the songs that aren't obvious singles bolster the breadth and the depth of the album as a whole.

27. SURF
Intentions For Intimacy
Aaron "Surf" Tijerina is experiencing something akin to his own personal music renaissance. In April, he released his finest album to date with Islands, has since followed this up with an entirely instrumental album called What You Wanted, and then topped all previous efforts with Intentions For Intimacy. Surf's music is the aural equivalent of always carrying a couple Xanax with you, and his third album of the year is only a slightly edgier time, but also slightly better. This record takes it up a notch on all fronts and includes collaborations from actual bandmates. Still, "New Ocean" is a song that could have fit on nearly any of Tijerina's previous releases and it would have still stuck out like the single in the bunch. And while each album has had a clear single, this one is full of them.

26. Qais Essar
Tavern of Ruin
I haven't listened to this much sitar music since I went through a psychedelic raga phase in college. When Qais Essar was set to release the new album, I checked out 2014's The Green Language to get an idea of what was approaching. I couldn't stop listening to Tavern of Ruin for about three weeks straight this summer. At the time, I didn't think there was a single to be had. But hindsight is 20/20, and the harpsichord-laden "Poppy Flowers Bloom in the Springtime of My Love" is literally the centerpiece of the album. This is an album to simply get lost in and enjoy the sonic effect it has on your soul as American and Indian traditions meet in fascinating ways.

 Paradox Valley
Wolvves has proven to be the most charmingly unpredictable band in the entire Arizona music scene. Last year, they immediately broke up upon the release of their full-length debut album, Whatever. Then Aydin Immortal said they would be calling themselves Paradox Valley. Then, at the start of the year, they started releasing singles as Wolvves from the forthcoming album Paradox Valley. Then they released an entire EP called Songs before Paradox out of the blue with none of the singles from the year so far. Finally, with no announcement or hype, they released Paradox Valley, and it's one of the finest albums of the year. That's the brief history of why they just seem to be constantly full of surprises. The finale is that upon releasing this album, Wolvves have relocated to New York City. At least they left us with this stunning parting gift that is as much indie rock as it is hip-hop. Brilliant.

24. Painting Fences
Through Glass
Painting Fences recently released an amazing full-length album this year, and when I got it, I figured I'd give the first few tracks a spin, and then went through the album twice. Painting Fences is Seth Norman (bass and vocals), Johnny Norman (guitars), and Nick Martin (drums). At first, my go-to track was "Here I Stand," because it crosses KISS with Cheap Trick, with wonderfully strident vocals by Norman in the vein of Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks or Feargal Sharkey from the Undertones. Now, I just play the album on repeat. Still, right from the opener of "Southwestern Feel," there is just an immediate ease with which this band blends metal and power pop. Simply a fantastic debut.

23. Soft Deadlines
Go Dark
I totally have a thing for the post-punk, art-rock sound typified by bands like Wire, Gang of Four, Mission of Burma, and many others. Soft Deadlines hones in on that sound and makes their own synthesis with it. Go Dark is a fantastic showcase of neurotic rock that keeps you on edge the entire time. Soft Deadlines is exploring weirder territory within the confines of their sound. And that makes this pretty damn exciting. It may not be as catchy as last year's Critic, but it's a far better album, as Soft Deadlines really start to come into their own. It's a dark record for sure, but it's a damn rewarding one.

22. Young's Modulus
Young's Modulus released one of the best debut records of the year last summer, and the entire Somnabulist album is a fantastic romp through modern takes on the band's influences from the '90s. The opener "Laces Untied" is the obvious single, and an easy second single is "Selfish." The band's name refers to a mechanical property of elastic solids that defines the relationship between stress (force per unit area) and strain (proportional deformation) in a material. Math aside, what they do is play some damn good post-grunge alternative rock in the vein of the earliest Kings of Leon records. If '90s music comforts your soul, you will want to get a hold of Somnabulist immediately.

21. Dogbreth
Second Home
Dogbreth's new album dwells in indie pop, lo-fi glory. Once more, national press pounced on it immediately, and the AV Club debuted "Steeping." Previous songs from the album have been featured in Spin, Stereogum, NPR, and more. It's not surprising that so many bastions of "new music" are quick to alert their readers to anything Dogbreth releases these days. They make laid-back slacker rock for indie kids, songs filled with undeniable hooks, wavery vocals, quirky lyrics, and a pop sheen that doesn't sound overproduced. This album was three years in the making, and in retrospect, it was well worth the wait, but I really hope that they don't make us wait that long for the next one. Dogbreth, along with erstwhile partners in crime Diners and ROAR, have cultivated a strange niche for some of the most clever indie pop in this town.

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Mitchell Hillman