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

We're counting down the best local albums of the year this week, and it's an amazing array of rock, pop, and hip-hop, but a fair amount of folk, Americana, and country made its way to the list as well. There were also a lot of surprise albums this year that didn't really fit into a regular genre that were worthy of many listens. It's been an amazing year, and I like to think this list, as all the others have been, are a testament to a wonderfully vibrant and diverse music scene in Phoenix. Here are the top albums of the year — find part one of the list here.

20. 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 have promoted this album during this year with a vengeance, as 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. Let's hear it for the Punkgrass Power Party.

19. Emby Alexander - The Sound of Phoenix

On the Fourth of July Emby Alexander released their third full-length album with Sound of Phoenix, and it is another mesmerizing collection of neurotically paced art rock. This time around the music is notably less whimsical than their previous efforts, but it's no less engaging and every bit as compelling as last summer's Behaves Like Beehives and Frontispiece from the summer before. This completes Emby Alexander's trilogy, which began with their first record and finishes here. Michael Alexander considers this album as something of the lovechild between its two predecessors, which represented the birds and the bees. It will be interesting to see what Alexander does next with this trilogy complete.

18. Red Tank! — Bio/Feedback

Have you ever listened to a band's record knowing full well that you loved their last one, with the thought that there was no way that it could be topped, and then you play the new disc and you stare at your stereo with your jaw dropped and your eyes wide in stunned amazement of the blazing sounds exploding from your speakers, losing any sense of time and space, forgetting that you even have a nervous system or that your body exists while the album wraps around your entire being, raising and lowering your blood pressure, nearly sucking the breath out of your lungs at times, controlling your heartbeat with the kick drum, while the guitars wreck your soul and every vocal laceration commits itself to your emotional memory, while sparks arc in the deep recesses of your mind until at last the challenging din of what you just heard fades from the air, leaving you feeling gratified and wholly satiated on a level that you can't quite comprehend? That's the only way I can sum up how I felt the first time I heard the Red Tank! album Bio/Feedback.

17. 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.

16. PRO TEENS - Accidentally
A surprise release if there ever was one. No one anticipated Accidentally to follow so quickly on the heels of last year's debut album by PRO TEENS. Still, it did explain where a lot of tracks from earlier in their career were relocated, with the likes of "Teen Feels" and "Puberty" seeing release and some remodeling as well. PRO TEENS makes music that crosses indie rock and pop with space age bachelor pad music, heavily indebted to the voice and vision of lead singer Andrew Phipps. If they are going for their own genre, I'd call it "indie lounge," and it's an intoxicating cocktail of sweet sounds from beginning to end. Phipps can nail an Elvis Costello croon like no other and the band behind him makes the magic through their brilliant textural tapestries of sound. This is as much music to watch clouds roll by as it is to lay on your floor losing your mind inside headphones.

15. Diners - "Three"

Last year, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Diners' third full-length album, unremarkably titled Three, and in the end they released a super cool five-track EP as a stop gap so that they could continue work on the album properly. This year finally saw the release of that long-awaited album. The popular appeal of Diners is the genuine, childlike charm that's found in both the lyrics and the vocals of Tyler Broderick, who is the mastermind behind the project. He has a knack for being able to pull off a sound like post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys without actually sounding like The Beach Boys. In "Plastic Cactus" there is a lyrical nod to that very group that is so subtle you might miss it unless you read the lyrics. The entire album is a summertime daydream and has the feeling of that one mythical summer in the suburbs of America where everything was okay. It's album for escape.

14. AJJ - The Bible 2

There was a rash of concern when AJJ released the video for "Goodbye, Oh Goodbye" that they were abandoning their folk punk roots in favor of alternative pop. Any concern over that was immediately extinguished by the release of their follow-up single "Junkie Church" and the release of the entire album shortly thereafter. While "Goodbye, Oh Goodbye" is something of a centerpiece for the album, it's nothing like the rest of it. Right from the start, The Bible 2 has the same punch and power of a Neutral Milk Hotel album, and it's just as rewarding of a journey from start to finish. It's got everything, from moving, sentimental numbers to raging guitars, nervous vocals, pounding rhythms, quirky lyrics, and infectious hooks that resonate inside your head for days.

13. Some Magical Animal - Some Magical Animal

This was another surprise release of the year, at least for me. I knew Some Magical Animal was up to something and had been forever, then all at once this album fell into my lap. This self-titled masterpiece has been a long time in the making, and while they've been one of my favorite rare live acts to catch on stage, their performances could only hint at, well, the magic they've put down on wax. The entire album is absolutely intoxicating. It runs the gamut from indie rock songs to other tracks that recall Gram Parsons, Ryan Adams, Poco, and even The Eagles at their best. Make some time for this album, pour yourself a drink, sit outside and watch the sunset or a storm and just listen to this masterpiece. You won't regret a moment of it.

12. Citrus Clouds - Imagination

As far as I'm concerned, Citrus Clouds are the local kings of the shoegaze scene that doesn't realize it's a scene. Seriously, there are a good dozen shoegaze bands playing all around town and they don't seem to know each other. Either way, Citrus Clouds is leading the pack, and if last year's EP debut didn't make that clear, their live shows this year sure did. Their efforts were all topped off by Imagination, their debut full-length album. The title track is worth the price of admission alone, I would have bought the album just to have that. Unlike their debut EP, Imagination goes toe-to-toe with matching the hurricane swirl of their live shows and brings it to life on record accurately. Perhaps it's the result of so many live shows in the last year and this one-time side project becoming a full-time thing. Citrus Clouds have come into their own and Imagination is the proof.

11. RØÅR - Impossible Animals

This is indie pop at its finest, in line with the Elephant 6 Collective from the turn of the century, with a reliance on Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, Rubber Soul-era Beatles, and every band influenced by those sounds since. It's not difficult to see why this took Owen Evans four years to make. It also features a who's who of some of the greatest local pop musicians either playing on it or behind the mixing board, with Evan Bisbee, Jef Wright, Robin Vining, Ryan Breen, Lonna Kelley, Stephen Steinbrink, Jim Adkins, and more contributing. Not only is this a wonderful pop album, it's also a very beautiful work in total.

10. Nanami Ozone — Desire

You ever have a band that you adore so damn much you just want to put them in your pocket and take them everywhere you go? That's how I feel about Nanami Ozone. Nanami Ozone is Colson Miller (The Thin Bloods), Sophie Opich (Numb Bats), Mo Neuharth (Numb Bats), and Chris Gerber (Sun Ghost), and they put out some of the best indie rock of the entire year with their debut album, Desire. Part of it is the musical foundation that varies from surf vibes to twee pop to early alternative recollections of The Blake Babies and The Breeders. The vocals are passed for the most part between Miller, Neuharth, and Opich. It's another stunning debut album for 2016 and an essential album for your summer soundtrack. To be honest, this should be the kind of music I hear when I turn on the alternative radio station — not corporate bullshit, but the indie-as-fuck aesthetic of Nanami Ozone.

9. Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra - PAO!

There was great debate on whether this record was an EP or an album, I went so far as to confer with David Marquez on this and we agreed, with the bonus track intact, PAO! crosses the threshold into full-length album. Still, with Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra's debut record, many years in the making, you just want it to be twice as long. At the end of the record you yearn for it to be as long as their longest show. Nevertheless, PAO! plays out like something of a greatest hits from their live show, which has been refined across six years. On one hand you could take this as an amazing party record. With the opener of "Oppression Scatter" they make an anthem of devastation danceable. Wearing the Afrobeat influences on their sleeve, from Fela Kuti to Tony Allen, every bit of it moves. Camille Sledge's vocals are stunning amidst the vast tapestry of horn-laden, polyrhythmic sounds surrounding her. She makes every show a ritual, and her voice somehow conveys that on the record.

8. Saddles - YOKE

The first echoes of YOKE began over a year ago when Saddles released their sole release of the year with the single "Comfort." I had, at the time assumed it was a Shell Art leftover, because it was Saddles as the duo of Charles Barth and George White once more. Saddles has expanded to a five-piece for live performances, so I assumed they would be a part of the new album. YOKE, however, is made entirely by the core duo once more, and frankly, I love the dichotomy between the recorded Saddles and the Saddles you see on stage. Both singles also showed a bit of progression in their songwriting. YOKE is a slightly schizophrenic affair, pulling Saddles classics like "Comfort" and "Lottery" while also showing off affections for trip hop and studio chops. "Red Carpet," though, is probably the outstanding, second side gem that may be the best thing they have ever committed to record — just wait for the explosion a minute in. The entire record is as stunning as its predecessor.

7. — 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 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 his guitar and singing his heart out. His voice is a weapon of creation, destruction, and distraction. 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 of 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. While has put out no less than four records this year, this is still my favorite of the bunch.

6. Dadadoh - RADICAL

I knew this was going to be good before I ever heard it. What I didn't count on is that I would listen to it non-stop for a month. This was one of my favorite summer albums and it went everywhere I did from August to September, in fact it still does. Every song here could be a single of some merit, barring the opening skit which makes us know for sure that Dadadoh is seriously unserious. The amount of collaborations on here are stunning as well with songs featuring MC/DC, Mr. UU, Dirty Dalla$, Kali Kal, WOLFZiE and Curt Flow. The album is also constructed perfectly, paced like a complete production. Whether it's the singles like "Do It" or "What I Got" that grabbed your attention, you're going to love album tracks like "Kowasahki Trappin'" or "Never (Invite Whack People To My Shows)," two of my personal favorites. On the other hand, it's on songs like "Just What You Like" and "Get You Away" where Dadadoh delivers his best songwriting and shows off some super smooth R&B performances. Brilliant from beginning to end.

5. No Volcano - Dead Horse Power

I had high hopes for No Volcano's follow-up to last year's Who Saved the Party, and I was in no way disappointed. I remember being amazed at the release party for their first album that they were unveiling new songs for their next and they repeated that same move this year. Still, No Volcano continues to be one of my favorite bands in town whether it's live or on record. They simply have a great post-punk art rock vibe that I dig and honestly, if I was to put together a band, this is the kind of sound I'd go for. It's a post-punk package that takes the sum of their influences and produces music that is 100 percent No Volcano's own unique identity. Dead Horse Power proves that No Volcano weren't just a one album pony, and they seem to be readying their set with their next release already.

4. Genre — Legendary Rock Act

Zac Markey and Corey Gomez of Genre have released their first full-length album, and while the title Legendary Rock Act may be delivered with a grin, they're not far off the mark. Every time I've listened to it I cannot believe how good it is, how fully realized it is, and how consistently exciting it is, as it makes wry commentary on society, metaphysics, crass commercialism, soulless capitalism, and many more hot topics that are of subversive concerns. It's also apparent on this album that Markey is captain of the Genre ship at this stage in the game, and the addition of Trevor Denton to their lineup was essential to the biggest bang this band has ever made.

3. Snake! Snake! Snakes! - "Tranquilo"

Depending on how long you've been into Snake! Snake! Snakes! you've been waiting anywhere from four to nearly six years for their full-length album debut, which is a hell of a long time to stick with any band. Nevertheless, in this case the wait was well worth it. There was a feeling of both anticipation and secret dread that occurs when you've been waiting six years for a band to release its sophomore record. Will it live up to the hype that you've created in your mind for more than a half-decade? Even though I've been mindful of Snake! Snake! Snakes! from the start and watched their transformation as they traded their synths in for more guitars and their indie pop sheen for garage rock madness, cheering them on every step of the way, rarely missing a show, there was still the question of how it would translate to the album. The proof is in the pudding with Tranquilo. Snake! Snake! Snakes! have finally found their sound, and it's a tremendous blend of proto-punk and indie rock with plenty of garage rock snarl and lyrical vitriol. Luckily, we don't have to worry about how many years it will take to follow this up; they just dropped a new EP called Wait Up last week and it's a killer. If you happen to be looking for a soundtrack to the apocalypse, this would be my pick.

2. 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 ever since. 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 rare rock albums that actually captures the energy and drive of a band's live shows. That's difficult to come by these days. Wyves have no issues kicking just as much ass on a record as they do on stage.

1. Bear Ghost — Blasterpiece

Mo matter how many times I reviewed local albums this year, regardless of what my favorite of the moment was, it always seemed clear that Bear Ghost's Blasterpiece was the best album of the year. 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. This isn't solely about how catchy, hook-heavy and how inventive their sound is either; the pacing and construction of the album is inspired, making it a veritable enchanting experience when taken as a whole work. If you have not yet heard Blasterpiece, I would catch up on this year's best album pick right now.

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Mitchell Hillman