You never get the chance to listen to every release in a given year, whether it is on the national scene or the local scene, but these are the local records that wouldn't leave me alone over the last 12 months.
- Those Lavender Whales – Tomahawk of Praise
One of the things I always try and think about when making one of these year-end lists is whether or not, five years from now, I can pull a record off the shelf and feel the same way about it. Of the albums listed here, this might be the only one I really feel confident will pass that test. It’s a quirky, ramshackle album that never seems like it should hold together as well as it does, yet it is, truly, endlessly loveable. “I’d like to invite you / to break into my chest,” Aaron Grave sings in the opening moments here, and that’s where you stay for the next 40 minutes, with all the vulnerability, fear, warmth, and intimacy such an invitation suggests.
- Josh Roberts & the Hinges – Might Old Distance & Murky Old Time
With a reputation largely derived from their live act, this latest full-length from singer/songwriter and guitar god Josh Roberts is the first to really take full advantage of the studio, something which is apparent throughout. Check out the crazy, vocally layered coda of “Cobwebs” and the Radiohead-groove of “Rabbits,” as well as the quietly epic guitar chords of the two ballads, “Just in Time to Lose” and “Steady As We Can.” Also, this tight, well-thought 8 song LP also features the year’s best local rock song, hands down, in “It’s Just Like This Love.”
- Can’t Kids – Brushes Touches Tongues
I’ve loved every project I’ve heard from Adam Cullum, but with partner-in-crime Jessica Oliver in Can’t Kids, he’s truly found the sound and synergy that best demonstrates his talents. This band balances cacophony and melody, cynicism and humor, and shit-kicking and twee, in a way that so many indie bands strive for and fail. It’s also importance to note that, for this debut album, the band smartly added bassist Henry Thomas and cellist Amy Cuthbertson in the months leading up to the recording, ensuring a pummeling, full-bodied low end and the swirling, tumultuousness string parts that invigorate these tunes.
- Sunshone Still – ThewaytheworldDies
Chris Smith’s third record under the moniker Sunshone Still, this Calexico-influenced LP sees the Nick Drake devotee strapping on the electric guitar for a number of tunes here as well as penning some of his most personally harrowing material yet. Songs about his brother’s suicide and a general sense of mortality are lifted up by a couple of equally good tunes about his newborn son.
- The Restoration – Honor the Father
Daniel Machado & company’s follow-up to their gloriously complicated concept album Constance, Honor the Father tackles hypocrisy and religion in the mid-20th century in this noir-influenced crime story-album. Machado shines throughout as a storyteller, but the real draw here is how the band itself has shifted it sounds, drawing on some of the Dixieland music popular during the time period as well as a more stripped-down, bare-bones ethic in lieu of their first record’s grandiose string arrangements. Special props go to guest vocalist Lisa Stubbs, who takes a star turn on the gorgeous torch ballad “I’ll Stay.”
- Parlour Tricks – Self-Titled
Death Becomes Even the Maiden is no more, as this muscular post-punk trio shed its unwieldy name and threw in a slick, more dance-friendly vibe on their new songs, tunes which are still jaw-droppingly tight and propulsive, but even more catchy and sticky then before. [Full disclosure: Guitarist Heyward Sims is Jasper's graphic designer]
- Marshall Brown – High Noons
Brown’s records are idiosyncratic affairs, mixing the lo-fi experimentalism of Elephant 6 bands with more direct nods to the psychedelia and hyper-melodicism of Donovan and the Beatles. When you know that he’s also recording all of the instruments (save the drums) at home, creating layers of reverb-heavy piano and guitar parts that create a woozy, dreamy bed for his wafting vocal parts, then you just walk away flabbergasted. And then you come back.
- Fat Rat da Czar – Inglorious Basterds mixtape
The more logical here is Mr. Johnson’s just-released Da Cold War 3, which completes a trilogy of records which establish his modus operandi more directly and dramatically. This mixtape, however, features some of my favorite rap songs of the year, from the bluesy “Be Strong” (featuring a killer verse from Ben G) and the hustle of “Tryin’ to Make it” to the emotionally vulnerable “Need Someone” (featuring Lalisa) and “Dust in the Wind” (featuring a Kansas sample!). Oh, and the only country-rap song I’ve even kind of liked.
- Latenights – Self-Titled
The second band on this list to have launched a re-imagined version of itself with a new moniker and sound, the guys in Hello Tomorrow established themselves as the Latenights this year, an indie rock band whose groove and riff-inflected sound has echoes of garage rock bands like Les Savy Fav and the rocking pop of The Shins or Weezer, but retains the ethereal, Beach Boys-like vocals that the band built their early reputation around.
- Hollerin’ River Talkers – Self-Titled
A humble record featuring a big smorgasbord of local musicians that would take too long to list, this record features fun, amped-up versions of traditional folk and blues songs from some of the edgier roots-rock acts in town. Lap steel player Jake Garrett (of Mason Jar Menagerie) shines throughout, particularly on his own electrifying take on “Wish My Baby Was Born.”
Honorable Mentions: Deveraux - Cacti Pace EP, Chemical Peel - Bad Cream, Rival Brothers - S/T, Pandercakes - Paint By Numbers EP, Elvis Depressedly - Mickey's Dead