Another year, another grouping of stellar albums. 2016 was only three years ago, yet for some reason it seems like a decade ago. When I was putting these albums together I was shocked by how many of them were released in 2016. I could have sworn most of these records were released long before.
2016 was the first full year of this blog (launched on Halloween 2015 – happy belated 4th anniversary to me) so a lot of these albums were some of the firsts I reviewed for The Metal Dad. Take that for what it’s worth I suppose, but it gives them a slightly more special meaning for me. So without further ado..
Omega Vague – Obsolescent
I’ve tossed around the term ‘underrated’ quite a few times during this exercise but possibly the most underrated act over this last decade is Omega Vague. Because this is predominantly a studio project I’m not even sure how many other CT musicians are aware of this act and his wildly progressive catalogue. This still stands as one of my favorite Omega Vague releases and I clearly remember including it on my year-end list in 2016. Mixing dream pop, shoegaze, and various synth-based influences Omega Vague also happens to be one of the more unique bands on the statewide scene.
Belle of the Fall – Earthbound
Belle of the Fall has a similar origin story as Violent Mae in that a singer/songwriter (in this case the spectacular Julia Autumn Ford) decided to partner up with her producer (in this case Tracy Walton – who we’ve already heard from during this exercise) and not only make a record but create a whole new project. I can remember booking Walton and Ford for the Glastonbury Apple Harvest & Music Festival right before they were officially a band. They played back to back sets, sharing time during each other’s 30 minutes and what we wound up with was one of the earliest Belle of the Fall gigs. It was fantastic. Ford’s voice is one of the most captivating in the scene and their songwriting has only grown stronger over time. This record still feels like two artists trying to find their way to something inextricably cohesive, yet still manages to be a wholly memorable affair.
The Brazen Youth – The Ever Dying Bristlecone Man
I can distinctly remember getting an email from Mike Hamad, then the music writer for the Hartford Courant, asking me if I had heard this record. It was the end of the year and I thought I had already heard every great record from 2016. Dear Mike, thank you so much for sending that email, because I almost missed one of the best albums of the year. As debut records go this one is light years ahead of the vast majority you’ll hear in terms of production and songwriting. It’s mature so far beyond its years it’s almost ridiculous. Emotive indie rock of the highest order, and an album that I still love to revisit from time to time.
The CarLeans – Drowning Moon
I’m not even going to pretend like I didn’t completely screw up back in 2015 by missing this band’s debut album, which in my defense they crept up on everybody with at the end of the year. I sure wasn’t going to miss out on another record by this New London area powerhouse. Featuring some of the sweetest harmonies in the state and a clear proficiency in writing folksy Americana steeped in several acoustic traditions, The CarLeans are the type of band you could listen to for hours on end, and simply hit the repeat button a couple times without ever blinking. This album is still one of the best of their back catalogue.
The Girls From Ruby Falls – Tennessee Wildflowers
What do you get when you cross two of CT’s best singer/songwriters and mix in an amazingly talented backing band? (Oh, and let’s toss in some alter egos complete with pseudonyms, a back story, and their own Facebook pages.) You get the The Girls From Ruby Falls. Prior to this act Heather Fay was a highly successful folk artist and Sarah LeMieux was a decorated jazz artist. Together they wound up delivering one of the best country/folk/Americana acts of the entire decade. The title track alone is one of my favorite songs of this decade, but the whole album is gorgeous. Here’s to hoping Laurel and Iris Caulthorn make another trip into the studio sooner rather than later.
Glass Skeleton – What Have I Become?
It was a pleasant surprise when I found out after I had gushed about this record on this blog that one of the guys in the band had replaced me at the then Glastonbury Chamber of Commerce. (Hi, Travis.) I’ll be perfectly frank in telling you I knew very little about this act when I heard this record for the first time, but I knew I loved what I was hearing. Guitar-driven indie rock with just enough punk aesthetics to keep things unpredictable. Fans of either genre will find a lot to like on this record.
Lines West – The Ghost for You
I know I literally just told you that their 2015 album might be their best, but if you asked me what my personal favorite Lines West album is, I’d tell you this one with little hesitation. There’s something immensely catchy within each of these songs, a sort of pop rock atmosphere that allows their brand of indie-infused folk rock to spread its wings. I think I had forgotten just how impressed with this record I was upon its release and going back and spending time with it has only cemented my opinion that it’s an essential record.
Olive Tiger – Until My Body Breaks
This was an album I was very much looking forward to hearing and it certainly did not disappoint. Mixing cello arrangements with a funky rock base and trippy programming, Olive Tiger are easily an entity unto themselves in our statewide scene. This album perfectly encapsulated just how far this act could stretch their sound and the boundaries of what indie rock could contain without completely bursting at the seams. This album is at its best when the songs become a little darker and a little more contemplative but don’t discount just how many danceable moments are contained herein.
Political Animals – Egobese
If pressed and forced to choose I’d have to say that this may be my favorite hip hop album of the past decade. Maybe it’s the fact that they perform and record with a live rhythm section (who are fantastic)? Maybe it’s because Sotorios Fedeli is one of my favorite local MCs or because they employ arguably the best DJ in the state? Maybe it’s their heavy influence from Boom Bap and old school funk rhythms? Whatever it is I think I listened to this album more than any other hip hop record this decade. “Man The Mic” is still one of my favorite tracks of the decade and when my 13 year old wanted to listen to some local hip hop it was one of the first tracks I pulled out for him.
The Right Offs – Quiet Down
This album completely knocked me on my ass the first time I heard it and it still stands as one of the best punk records I’ve heard over the last ten years, geographic location be damned. I took a huge risk and booked these guys to play a nighttime gig in the pub at the Glastonbury Apple Harvest & Music Fest in 2016. I thought they were going to be way too loud, way too rowdy and everyone would lose their minds. They were rowdy. They were loud. And everyone loved them. Still one of the best sets from that festival over the last six years, and proof that their sound, while a punch in the face at times, is also highly accessible for anyone who likes to live life on the wild side even if only in their deepest imagination. “Hard Work” is one of my all-time favorite garage/punk songs and every time I see them play it live I get chills. I also want to burn down the establishment and everything they stand for, but we’ll save that for another post.
Sun Dagger – American Night / Invisible World
This collective of Southern CT musicians may be the only act to release two albums in the same calendar year and have both of them wind up on one of these lists. I’m cheating by including them both here but Invisible World (January) and American Night (September) were certainly born from the same womb, and when played back-to-back roll right into each other. For someone who has never smoked a joint or taken any psychedelics before I amaze even myself sometimes in my penchant for unwieldy, and in this case improvised, space/psych rock. There’s something so captivating about a band that can just allow their music to go for this long walk, like a dog unleashed in the forest, knowing it’ll find its way home at some point. Sun Dagger absolutely find their way home after some very cacophonous journeys.
Them Damn Hamiltons – Smoke from the Well
With the demise of Paper Hill Casket Company, Them Damn Hamiltons were ready to usurp the throne for rollicking, alt folk, complete with plenty of sea chantey love, and their first full-length album was a triumph. Incorporating a distinct indie rock edge to their sound and draping it in a slew of other sonic influences made this album something of a smorgasbord worthy of feasting on until there was no meat left on the bone. Parker Hu also delivers an exceptional performance on vocals.
Apathy – Handshakes with Snakes
For over two decades now New London’s Apathy has been one of the biggest and most prolific names in Connecticut hip hop. Going back to his work with The Demigodz there are a slew of albums that Apathy has lent his talents to and if you wanted to choose a favorite you really can’t go wrong. For me his two most recent full-lengths, which includes this one, are the albums that I keep coming back to. I’ll be perfectly honest with you and say that mainstream hip hop more often than not drives me nuts. Apathy stands tall on a mountain of pretenders and is not afraid to make sure everyone knows it.
The Lost Riots – The Stories Are True
One of the hardest working bands in the history of Connecticut punk rock and a band that deserves every ounce of respect they get. Their brand of punk is a dirty, gritty sound that hearkens back to the industrial towns of the UK in the ’70s and ’80s and the mean streets of New York and L.A. when punk rock wasn’t a fucking fashion statement. I love it to death and this album was a breath of fresh air. O.k., maybe it was more like a breath of polluted air? Either way I think you’re picking up what I’m putting down. Punk is at its best when it’s delivered with malicious intent and The Lost Riots specialize in just that.
AQMNI – The Rise of AQMNI
I was a late comer to Hartford area duo AQMNI, but thanks to a select few people in the know I was able to finally come to the table. CrissB.amazing and TyHookz create hip hop that seems to continually buck every trend and convention in the best way possible. This album is hands down one of the most intriguing releases of 2016 and every time I listen to it I pick up some nuance I never noticed before. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving.
Kala Farnham – Samadhi: Home Is Where You Are
Playing a brand of folk music that mixes in elements of pop, indie pop, and even neo-classical and Celtic influences, Kala Farnham is not your average folkie. As much as I liked the previous album, this was the one where I felt Farnham really hit her stride as a songwriter and it still stands as some of my favorite work she’s produced. If you’re going to start investigating Farnham’s back catalogue I highly recommend you start with this album.