The time for year-end lists has passed, but it’s not too late to call attention to the albums our staff selected as 2016’s best local releases. From funk to homegrown folk flavors, we were impressed by the records our city’s local artists produced this year. Below, hear our favorites from 2016, accompanied by descriptions from staff writers Knar Bedian, Matt Ellis, and Jon Simmons.
1. American Symphony of Soul, Swept Up
Besides the wafer-crisp drums and cool bluesiness of the electric piano and guitar, singer Kristen Ransom delivers song after song of attention-demanding vocals. With Swept Up, American Symphony of Soul’s debut album propelled the band into the ranks of Boston’s funk revival, including Ripe, Juice, and The New Review. Find a funkier song released in 2016 by a Boston band than “You Got Me Bad” and I’ll find a Pinocchio-faced fool. —Jon
Best enjoyed with: a packed dancefloor and a pink neon sign glowing in the back of the club.
2. Honeysuckle, Honeysuckle
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that prevents Honeysuckle from becoming a blend of indistinguishable folk songs and instead earns the local trio the title as one of the NPR audience’s favorite musicians of 2016. It could be the honey-laden sweetness of Holly McGarry’s voice, or the lyrical material that draws metaphors from coal mines, borrows Latin words, describes scattering pigeons, and tells stories of stealing from supermarkets. But perhaps it’s Chris “Gooch” Bloniarz’s eloquent mandolin, which remains a constant throughout the album, or the playful stomp of Benjamin Burns’ percussion. Whatever it is, Honeysuckle’s self-titled album is the golden nectar of Boston’s folk scene. —Knar
Best enjoyed with: the burning warmth of a wood stove, a greying photo of your loved one perched on a nearby shelf.
3. Juice, Juice
Juice’s ten-song debut album is a fruit salad of styles—rap verses interposed between Ed Sheeran-esque vocals, undercurrents of Old-Crow-Medicine-Show-like fiddling, Santana-tinged guitar solos. Together, they blend to make one of Boston’s smoothest records of the year. Listen to album as a whole or choose your bite; either way, Juice goes down sweet. —Jon
Best enjoyed with: midday sun and your favorite pair of sandals.
4. Bearstronaut, Telecoast
Earlier this year, Bearstronaut guitarist Paul Lamontagne told Paste Magazine, “We’re not afraid to get sleazy or cheesy in a Steve Winwood, Barry Manilow kind of way.” And that approach is exactly what is so appealing about the synthpop group’s debut album. Crooning, shimmering melodies glide like rollerbladers on Rainbow Road. It’s not a new sound, but its recollection of the 80s is more believable than Scooby Doo playing the saxophone. —Jon
Best enjoyed with: glow sticks on the front lawn.
5. Julie Rhodes, Bound to Meet the Devil
Bound to Meet the Devil is a dance between instruments and Julie Rhodes’ hearty vocals. On “Hey Stranger,” the bassline and cymbals brush past Rhodes and a chorus of voices, who is soon answered by a bluesy guitar riff. “Holes” finds the flutter of a harmonica breaking through the grit of Rhodes’ vocals, while the percussion and production are staccato, accenting the gruffness of the chorus on “In Your Garden.” “Go on and leave me” she dares us. Thanks, but we’ll gladly stay put. —Knar
Best enjoyed with: a glass of whiskey, accompanied by the creak of a rocking chair.
6. Dietrich Strause, How Cruel That Hunger Binds
“The Beast That Rolls Within” is the perfect thesis statement for Dietrich Strause’s How Cruel That Hunger Binds. The opening track immediately lays bare Strause’s penchant for spiritually-tinged Americana with literary lyrics. He veers from genre to genre throughout the album – pop folk on “So Long, So Far”, woozy blues for “Home From the Heartland”, and the liturgical doo-wop of “The Dove” – but every melody is built upon a strong foundation of storytelling. The album is a journey with many paths, the end of each path leaving you excited to see where the next one takes you. —Matt
Best enjoyed with: the memory of your latest failed spiritual journey fresh in your mind, but your heart still open to the wonders of the world around you.
7. You Won’t, Revolutionaries
In Revolutionaries, local duo You Won’t injects quirkiness into what could otherwise be tired indie folk (or, in the case of their album artwork, adds a bright burst of orange rubber chicken among the colorless, waistcoat-clad patriots). You Won’t takes us on a march across a battleground, hollering and yodeling their way through fifteen fantastic tracks, while threading sounds that are typically foreign to an audience: the quivering magic of the singing saw or the pumping drone of the harmonium. “Let me add a little yodel to your yawning,” they sing—and that’s exactly what they’ve done. —Knar
Best enjoyed with: a tattered copy of your history textbook, covered in green Nickelodeon slime.
8. Atlas Lab, Wake Up Slow
In the best way possible, Atlas Lab’s Wake Up Slow sounds improvised. At times, lead vocalist Solei sounds like she’s gathering her thoughts and using the current groove of the track to steer the direction of the lyrics. Her velvety voice caroms around funky bass lines, syncopated drum hits, and acoustic guitar to thread a line through the freewheeling of each track. The songs cover ground, ranging from gritty funk to jazz, to beautiful psych-folk on “Something Good.” Free from the rigors of one genre, Atlas Lab lets everything come naturally. —Matt
Best enjoyed with: a mind-altering substance that is now perfectly legal in this here Commonwealth.
9. Biscuits and Gravy, Young Love
It’s kinda steamy, pretty poppy, and undeniably catchy. The talent and tightness of the band make this record enjoyable even if you’re past the awkward, often-heartbreaking period of adolescent relationships. We’re down with Young Love. —Jon
Best enjoyed with: a bouquet of roses ready to hand to your lover (or throw in the dumpster).
10. Lady Pills, Despite
Despite is an album that perfectly captures the incongruous notion we all sometimes have, where we say we don’t give a shit anymore, but deep down we still care. With lyrics like “Stop expecting me to be in love / Keep your feelings to yourself” (on “Secondhand Trash”) followed by songs that lament friends always spending time with significant others (“Make Out”), or bring the problems in a relationship to a head (“Seven Days”), Lady Pills know that humans are emotional, messy, contradictory animals. Combine the thought-provoking themes with pleasant, tight indie rock and you’ve got yourself a heck of an album. —Matt
Best enjoyed with: a crisp fall day and you feel like nothing can get you down.