These could fall in any order, really, depending on the day and/or my mood, but here are the local albums that I found myself returning to most often throughout the year
10. Shad Jones: Sandals and Socks
Designed for a summer release, the rapper's perfectionist tendencies delayed the EP until winter boot season. It was worth the wait, though, with Jones bringing a unique voice and perspective to hip-hop songs about eating disorders, childhood trauma and learning how to rebuild in the wake of tragedy.
9. DANA: Glowing Auras and Black Money
Chaotic, noisy and unnervingly catchy, these eight songs from the Madeline Jackson-led four-piece pair an expected guitar squall (“El Sicko” churns like a garbage disposal) with an unexpected melodic sense (beneath the junkyard outbursts, “Cupid” is damn near dreamy). Not to say these songs are hopeful, but sometimes there is beauty in destruction.
8. (tie) Sarob: Fear and Impermanence/Carried By 6: self-titled
Existing as flip sides of a coin, the team effort of Carried By 6, a hip-hop collective featuring rappers Sarob, Joey Aich, Dom DeShawn and Trek Manifest, along with producers Soop and Snow, is all playful boasts and genial one-upmanship, while Sarob’s more studied solo album is the sound of an artist pulling back to take stock and figure out his place in the world.
7. Lo-Pan: Subtle
Most press around this crushing album has rightly noted that there’s little subtle about Lo-Pan’s sound, be it drummer Jesse Bartz’s anvil-heavy hits or singer Jeff Martin’s soaring vocals, which stretch heavenward even in those moments where he sings about feeling dead inside.
6. Happy Tooth & Dug: All In Your Head
Bleak yet playful, the latest EP from the hip-hop band headed by tag team rappers Happy Tooth (Colin Ward) and Dug (Doug Gamble) balances moments of wonder (“We’re all made of stardust!”) with crushing revelations (“All stars collapse”). But amid the numerous anxieties and spikes of depression, there remains hope of maybe possibly slinking toward brighter days.Here's Andy's year-end ranking of current Alive staffers: 1. Joel Oliphint 2. Andy Downing. Sign up for our daily newsletter
5. Matthew J. Rolin: self-titled
This album felt perfectly timed to its fall arrival, Rolin’s hypnotic, unrushed guitar notes fluttering like so many multi-colored leaves. Occasionally, the outside world intervenes (the light traffic sounds haunting the intro of “2:14 p.m."), but otherwise these songs feel gorgeously out of time and place.
4. wyd: Sick/Death/After
This beautiful, slow-building triptych of songs pairs atmospheric instrumentals with vocals that pack scorpion sting (“I wanna feel like death in your arms,” Carly Fratianne offers on “Death,” which gradually morphs into a lazy Sunday soul tune). The result lives up to the descriptor Fratianne offered early this year. “It’s almost like wrapping a porcupine in a nice, felt box,” she said of the trio's music. “Like, ‘Here you go. This will look great on your mantle. Don’t open it.’”
3. Micah Schnabel: The Teenage Years of the 21st Century
A conversational look at the divides caused by modern social and political policy, and, more important, the human toll of this growing inequality, the latest from Two Cow’s Schnabel explores everything from our broken health care system (“Emergency Room”) to the callousness and selfishness at the heart of Trumpism (the staggering “Remain Silent”).
2. Sam Craighead: Self Portrait W/ Fries
Keenly observant songwriter Sam Craighead purposely dialed back the humor on his new EP, which arrived in musical collaboration with half of the Fray (yes, that Fray). Devastating opener “S.F. Blues” sets the tone, with the musician, on the road in San Francisco, mindlessly exercising at the hotel gym, debating the quality of mid-tier fast food burgers and browsing the aisles at Target in an effort to keep his thoughts from the sick dog at home who's "dying faster than before."
1. Kneeling in Piss: Tour de Force
The first three songs Alex Mussawir penned for what would become Kneeling in Piss’ scuzzy, twitchy debut were written as a joke — throwaways designed to give him mental space from the novel he was working on at the time. But the songs unclogged something in his brain, and more followed, with Mussawir exploring conflicted characters who pine for companionship but settle for solitude, and who decry modern technology but start each day mindlessly thumbing at a cellphone. In the past, Mussawir said his songs could be more rooted in a personal despair, but it’s most often directed outward here, and usually at political targets (take your bows, Rob Portman, Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau and Bashar al-Assad). In conversation, Mussawir said he thought it was strange that rock bands so often aimed to make “timeless” music, which he said could lead to an end product that feels alarmingly disconnected and culturally devoid. Tour de Force, in contrast, remains an undeniable product of this ugly era, which is a large part of its beauty, and why I found myself returning to it more than most records I heard this year — local or otherwise.