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.