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2016 in review: The year in local albums

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End-of-the-year album lists have a certain sort of reputation amongst music lovers. "Arbitrary!" some cry. "Totally biased by the taste of the listmaker!" others scream.

Well, yep.

'Tis the nature of lists, and 'tis the season of list-making, readers. That's why our "best albums of the year" list isn't concerned with ranking in the slightest — just utility and goodness. What follows is simply an an alphabetical list of some of NUVO's absolute favorite albums released this year, solicited from a crop of our regular writers. Albums on this list were, generally, recorded and released right here in Hoosierland from bands that live right here in Central Indiana.

Happy listening.


AMONG THE COMPROMISED / SELF-TITLED

Real attention to dynamics, within individual songs and through the album as a whole, set this self-titled debut apart from the pack as an Indianapolis rarity. If you've felt these songs' raw power live, the raw recordings pull Eleadah Kemp's vocals even more to the forefront, singing lyrics which advocate social change on an elemental level. This is Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" re-energized as we face down Trump's America.

— Jonathan Sanders


CLINT BREEZE / NAPPY HEAD

Drummer/beat-maker extraordinaire Clint Breeze exploded into the consciousness of the Indianapolis hip-hop scene with his brilliant 2015 LP Maisha. That album blended jazzy hip-hop samples with top flight vocals from some of the city's finest emcees. Since the release of Maisha, Clint has joined forces with many of the brightest stars in Indy's jazz scene to form the live aggregation known as Clint Breeze and the Groove. Clint and company have been dropping jaws and devastating stages across the city. Nappy Head is an Indianapolis hip-hop classic that recalls the best work of The Roots and NYC's Native Tongues movement. 

— Kyle Long


DURAND JONES AND THE INDICATIONS / SELF-TITLED

When Durand Jones' grandmother decided he was singing at home too much, he was forced to join his church choir in rural Louisiana. Since then he's relocated to Bloomington, joined the Indiana University Soul Revue and released his debut album with the Indications. With the help of writers/producers Aaron Frazer and Blake Rhein, Jones put out an album that's as intimate as it is fun. Recorded straight to cassette tapes in basements around Bloomington, the eponymous LP showcases Jones' impressive vocals as well as his band's soulful groove. 

— Sierra Vandervort


FREQUENCY GHOST / MOON RABBITS

Adam Gross' (Amo Joy, SM Wolf) Frequency Ghost solo project released one of my favorite cassettes on the impactful Holy Infinite Freedom Revival label in 2015. Then, late this year, he surprised me with the six-track Moon Rabbits that was recorded in Japan, Chicago and while flying over Canada using travel-friendly synths. It's very upbeat and joyous but undoubtedly in the moment. If the musical CliffNotes of Adam's travels can be this fun, let's send him around the world more often. 

— Greg Lindberg


LANDON CALDWELL / ELECTRONIC MUSIC FROM THE RAINBOW MIND

For some time Landon has been one of my favorite musicians from Indiana, and his music and ideas constantly take you to new, beautiful places. His Creeping Pink album, Glass Castle, is narratively ambitious and subtle at the same time, but it's on his recent solo album where I feel uninhibited and captivated by the free-flowing experimental nature, especially on the 15-minute jam "Synthetic Environment ESC." There's so much peace and tranquility, but it's never overwhelming as an ambient electronic instrumental collection of reverie. Pleasant bonus: All sales of the album on Bandcamp are donated to the Hoosier Environmental Council.

— Greg Lindberg


MIKE ADAMS AT HIS HONEST WEIGHT / CASINO DRONE

I've stanned for Adams for years at this point, but it's just because every individual output is so delightful. Casino Drone is a perfect power pop record, recorded in Bloomington, released on Indy's Joyful Noise and worthy of worldwide praise.

— Katherine Coplen


OREO JONES / CASH FOR GOLD

That synth swell that starts us off: I'm a certified sucker for its swelter. Everything on Cash For Gold does. It's a cool can of drink on a hot summer night and thick beads of condensation are dripping off and down to the pavement. There's a warm pressure to this pack of bangers, an expectant pulse that everything's about to pop off. And Oreo Jones, consummate emcee, most hospitable host, carries us all the way through on his tight-knit flow. For every summer night edging into morning spent with car wheels grinding Indianapolis' surface streets, there is no album other than Cash For Gold.

— Taylor Peters


REHEMA MCNEIL / MOKO

This has been an incredible year for Indianapolis hip-hop. I could have easily filled this list with a long list of names, from Oreo Jones to Flaco to Human to Drayco to Ejaaz to Poindexter and on and on. But the charismatic vocals of MC Rehema McNeil left a big impression on me. I also admire her ability to balance club-oriented tunes with more conscious lyrical material. 

— Kyle Long


SIRIUS BLVCK / NXGHTCRAWLR

A dark, sprawling masterwork from Indy's most gifted hip-hop voice. Producer Bones of Ghosts has composed a brilliant set of cinematic instrumentals for Sirius Blvck's introspective lyrical examinations. A brilliantly paced and sequenced LP that commands attention and demands repeat spins. 

— Kyle Long

STAY OUTSIDE / OKAY, FOR NOW

A six-track EP which transforms their frantic live set into deeply realized sonic paintings, aided by the relatively unheralded production touch of Jonathan Class at Anderson's Varsity Recordings. These guys were in the finals at Birdy's Battle Royale this year, and this EP easily stands with the upper echelon of albums I've heard this year from anyone, local or not. If standout track "Lt Dan" doesn't win you over, I don't think any song will.

— Jonathan Sanders


TASHI DORJI AND TYLER DAMON / BOTH WILL ESCAPE

You wanna hear the sounds of physical space blurring into the bottom of an aluminum coffee can? Then crank Tashi Dorji and Tyler Damon's Both Will Escape — an explosive, improvisatory duo recording — because its title is ironic; neither escape. Nothing escapes. Everything's rendered Charybdis; Dorji's guitar burns down entire forests; Damon's drums clobber like a 20-foot giant mid-sprint; the whirlpool is the maw of a monster; none of us make it home.

— Taylor Peters


THE BEAUTIFUL NEW AGE RELAXATION TAPES / THE MAJESTIC HEAVENS REMASTERED

Earlier this year I discovered an artist from Avon, frequently releasing mysterious ambient albums on Bandcamp as The Hypergiants ASMR. I mean a lot of albums. Like 82. I became friends with this practically unknown artist, whose name is Eric Marijan Radulovic, and he told me once, "Making music is the only thing that stops the madness from returning." That haunting serenity transformed into The Beautiful New Age Relaxation Tapes, which brilliantly plays with your expectations of transcendental meditation. The Majestic Heavens Remastered grabs your psyche, forcing you to confront repressed pain and sadness and hope. It's all meaningful and meaningless.

 — Greg Lindberg

THE SLAPPIES / ROCKUMOCKERY

They sound like they've been rocking Indianapolis for years, because they have, in other bands! Rockümockery opens with a three-song slap that gets things going, and it never lets up. And the cover version of "Torchlight," featuring a memorable guest appearance by Toni Bennett, is worth buying a copy on its own. I'm amazed this album hasn't caught on in a much bigger way. Make it happen, 2017!

— Jonathan Sanders


VOLLMAR / OPEN WINDOW

It's spring (again) and there's something fragrant on the stove and the window's open and the breeze tufts at the curtains and the sun's oranging everything but the shadows are still thick enough to shiver a spine and, then, Justin Vollmar's voice is whispering in from somewhere down the street over the sounds of skateboard clacks and, then, the shuffling drums, too, they're coming in like blowing out a birthday candle, and we, all of us, will sometimes find a gentle melody like these to call home when we're wise enough to keep the window wide open.

— Taylor Peters


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