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Best Of 2016

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2016 was an interesting year, wouldn’t you say? So interesting in fact that I still haven’t fully processed it — emotionally or mentally. You’ll notice my end of the year coverage is a little late this go ’round — a respectable three weeks — but I hope you’ll write this tardiness off as a slight casualty of a blood-thirsty calendar year. Plus, it’s not like I’ve been living in a cave all this time. Tomorrow morning, everyone should have close to a day’s worth of music to shift through on a new project I think you’re really going to like. Until then though, let’s briefly look back on 2016 and what was actually good about it: the music!

You can check out my full list of the best albums and songs of 2016 here (equipped with some links so you can sample things here and there) and the Sound Gaze podcast episodes counting down the songs will be up later today. If I had time, I’d love to talk about each song and record that made these lists — with extra room to fawn over the brilliance of SLØTFACE’s social commentary — but time is something that definitely got away from me last year so I’ll keep it brief. Here are five things that really stick out from last year as worth talking about.

Richmond Music

Okay, I said I’d be brief so I’m going to really try here, but Richmond music was completely killer last year thanks to some returning acts and strong debuts. Outside of Lucy Dacus, I think The Talkies really won the year here with their three EPs, each dramatically better than the last. “Graner Cards” is one of the best songs of the year, swirling together a healthy mix of alt-rock styles into a stirring generational anthem. Sammi Lanzetta blew me away with only one song last year, the simple “House Plants,” thanks to her endearing snark and her ability to make it relatable and melodic. Angelica Garcia’s debut record, Medicine For Birds, was full of the type of roots rock the world desperately needs with both “Orange Flower” and “Little Bird” being among the best of the year. Clair Morgan finally released their sophomore album, with “Rogue Island” being a great track that doubles as a weapon against anyone who dare disparage math rock. Also on the Egghunt side, records from Avers and White Laces were complete successes in my book, with the latter being bittersweet now that the band is no more. Egghunt wasn’t the only label who killed it last year either — Citrus City had two of the year’s best local releases, Camp Howard’s self-titled debut and Young Scum’s Zona. Doll Baby released Polliwog and blew my mind with their thundering sound and Storey’s impressive snarl. Butcher Brown’s instrumental Virginia Noir perfectly soundtracked many a busy day toiling over work this past year, as did Doin’ Nothing and Night Logic, the two drastically different EPs from Pete Curry who is quietly becoming one of the town’s best songwriters. Same could be said of Dazeases thanks to C R U M B S and Welcome Back, though her approach is vastly different and completely vital to the local scene. Lightfields and Vexine impressively improved on their sound, while My Darling Fury returned with a smaller line-up, but bigger sound which is actually more rewarding than their past work. There were tons of good releases that didn’t get a lot of attention last year too: Hannah Goad’s Kinds (seriously, how are people not obsessed with “Don’t Follow?”); Captive’s A Lost Dream; The Dreamer Lost (love the blend of post and prog rock on “Kaleidoscopes“); Atta Girl’s Fuck The Sun (“Jamie Lee Curtis” deftly defies genres); Big Baby’s Dumb Guys (the title track is endlessly charming); and Cam Girard’s Where The Moon Meets The Lake (the structure of “Dying Dreams is absurdly good). Yeah, I wasn’t brief here. Sorry.

Feral Conservatives

I’ve written about Feral Conservatives more than any artist in any year ever. Despite still listening to Here’s To Almost at least five times a week, I sadly have no new thoughts to offer on their music other than it is just plain great. Instead, here are links to some of the pieces I wrote on them last year. Trust me though — none of these scratch the surface on how great this record is:

Sound Gaze blog post from March

Off Your Radar Issue #32 from September

RVA Magazine‘s Best Music Of 2016 from December

David Bowie

It’s just impossible to really talk about Blackstar without relation to Bowie’s death now. His death was a black mark on the year from the start, something that only got worse when Prince passed away and I watched Purple Rain about a dozen times in a weekend. Both were taken far too soon from this world, but at least Bowie went out on a glorious high note, days after the release of a record full of massive ambitions and heartfelt revelations — things Bowie will always be remembered for. As bold as these arrangements got though, the best piece from the record came at the end with “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” a song that should have rightfully ended Bowie’s career even if he had survived his bout with cancer. It’s this song alone that makes me confident in saying that I would have ranked this record just as high had he not passed away so surprisingly. A five minute microcosm of his discography, this might be the best song Bowie has released in the last twenty years and certainly the best swan song my ears have ever heard, and it closes out a record that truly has the best claim to the phrase “instant classic.”

Beyonce

From social issues to gossip news, Lemonade is going to go down as one of the most examined records of the modern age, so there’s nothing new or groundbreaking I can really offer that a thousand articles and reviews haven’t done so already this year. Honestly, there should be no question this is the best record of 2016 since it has six songs that could all be considered the song of the year — “Hold Up,” “Sorry,” “Sandcastles,” “Freedom,” “All Night,” and “Formation” — but even the lesser tracks are amazing in their own right. I’m convinced country fans got upset at her performing at the CMA’s because “Daddy Lessons” is a better country song than anything nominated that year, and eight months later I still can’t get the title line to “6 Inch” out of my head. Of all the songs though, it really comes down to “Formation” and “Sorry” for me, both uncanny compositions. The ability of “Formation” to uniquely celebrate black culture is astounding when you pick apart each section of the song, but “Sorry” really takes the cake for me. It displays every theme that makes Lemonade work from the forceful sonic choices and radiating empowered attitude to the guarded intrigue and relatable wit. Not just album of the year, this is a strong contender for album of the decade right here.

Lucy Dacus

I’d like to share what I wrote for RVA Magazine‘s Best Music Of 2016 because it really does sum up what I feel about this timeless artist who not only had one of the absolute best record last year, but also had one of the best debut years an artist could possibly hope for in music. Below it, please enjoy “Troublemaker Doppleganger” from her No Burden record, my pick for the best song Of 2016.

How quickly things can change in a year. Early last November, I ventured over to J Kogi on a Wednesday evening to chat with an emerging local musician named Lucy Dacus. She had been building substantial buzz around her captivating live shows and the quiet Bandcamp release of her single, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” earlier that year was stunning anyone and everyone who heard its affecting profession. “This is my first real interview I think,” she remarked moments into our chat for an article that would come out in RVA #23 the next month. Five blocks away sat The National, something that surely seemed like a lifetime away for the musician but would become a reality in October 2016 when she headlined a show there. In fact, it wouldn’t take her long into 2016 to become one of the most discussed and lauded new artists, a reputation that continues to grow even now as music publications look back on 2016 (with NPR’s legendary Bob Boilen listing it as one of the top records of the year).

We’ve written so much this past year about Dacus’ glorious record No Burden and her timeless sound, as have many other extremely talented writers and esteemed publications, so words about the record just feel flat right about now. Instead, I just think back to that first interview back in November, weeks before “I Don’t Wanna…” had its official release on Stereogum. It was a time when news of her debut release was limited to word of mouth, with most expecting big things from the young musician with a humbling sound. Ahead of me sat a true artist who candidly discussed her new record, while also gushing about Bernie Sanders, travelling, and, of course, Richmond. In fact, of our hour long discussion back in November of 2015, Dacus spent considerably more time discussing Richmond music than her own music with her face nearly blushing while expressing her admiration for sharing a stage with bands like Lobo Marino and My Darling Fury. Several months later, deep into the biggest year of her life, Dacus would continue this trend sipping out of a Virginia Is For Lovers coffee mug with a matching shirt on countless stages and appearances while telling her growing fanbase “to keep your eyes peeled for” for Spooky Cool. She’d find time to play in Richmond in the few gaps in her crazy schedule, even performing in the alleyway next to Deep Groove almost a year to the date after her Stereogum single premiere. “Richmond shows are always the most special,” she said then with stalwarts of the local scene looking on, each marveling just how far she had come in 2016 yet also how much she had remained unchanged. Things can change quickly in a year, but not when it comes to the connection Dacus shares with Richmond, a connection the city clearly reciprocates.

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