Tune in to what Michigan musicians were listening to in 2016. Local Spins asked many from the Great Lakes State to choose the best music and concerts of the year. The choices are intriguing to say the least.
It’s a Local Spins tradition.
Last week, we asked Local Spins writers and critics to reveal what they considered the best music of 2016. You can revisit their picks here: https://localspins.com/best-music-of-2016-the-local-spins-critics-picks/
And with the year very nearly drawing to a close, this week we asked a sampling of Michigan musicians (and one record label head) to choose and list their favorite albums of 2016, as well as their favorite concerts. Not surprisingly, the artists they chose cover a wide spectrum of styles and genres and approaches.
THE MUSICIANS’ PICKS 2016
The Contributors: Joe Hertler, The Accidentals, JRob, Delilah DeWylde, Brian Samuels, Julio Gomez, Nicole LaRae, Jason Wheeler, Joey Frendo
JOE HERTLER (Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers)
1. “Malibu,” Anderson Paak – Beautiful, soaring production and Anderson’s old soul voice kept me coming back every time I turned the car stereo on.
2. “But You Caint Use My Phone,” Erykah Badu – An album completely based around Drake’s “Cellphone.” It’s totally weird and perfectly self-aware. I was in love from the listen.
3. “Epoch,” Tycho – Tycho has been my favorite producer/composer since he first released on Ghostly International (records) in 2007. In 2010, I begged my promoter friend to let me open for him (via a DJ set) at the Crofoot in Pontiac under the promise that I would retire from DJing if he gave me the gig. Anyhow, Tycho has a particularly defined sound, and it was nice to see him peek out of the box on this album while still holding true to his signature artistry.
4. “The Beautiful Game,” Vulfpeck – They’re the best band this state has produced in a long time and “Dean Town” is the best song they’ve ever written. It might not have the pop sentiments of some of their earlier music, but it sounds like the record they really wanted to make. Antwaun Stanley sang a song with us at our last Ann Arbor gig and I almost wept. It was one of the best musical moments of my life.
5. “Game Winner,” Joey Dosik – I saw Joey play with Theo Katzman (of Vulfpeck) at the Blind Pig a few weeks ago. I was really excited not only for the music, but also to get to hang with some of my fellow Michigan musician friends. The recording is good, but he’s better in the flesh. Go see him live.
Bonus Album: “Brand New Day,” Sting – Obviously, this did not come out in 2016, but for some reason I found myself listening to it over and over. All of our mothers love Sting, which is probably why he gets thrown some shade, but man, he can write a great song – and good bass playing gets me really excited. Actually, the first record I ever owned was “Ten Summoner’s Tales,” which came out in 1993. My dad bought it for me (he loved Sting, too). So did my mom. And so do I. It’s a very sexual record to listen to when you’re 7 years old, but I turned out all right. Thanks, Sting, for teaching me about sensuality.
THE ACCIDENTALS (Traverse City)
1. “A Moon Shaped Pool,” Radiohead (Chosen by Savannah Buist) – I’ve been a fan of Radiohead for as long as I’ve been alive, and this album did not let me down. Thom Yorke’s ghostly voice over the London Contemporary Orchestra is all that I’ve ever wanted to hear. I love the spidery, dream-like sound of the whole album, and the way they fuse their own musical themes of the past into a genre-bending album. Also, the artwork is pretty incredible.
2. “Stadium Cake,” Oh Pep! (Chosen by Katie Larson) – I got hooked watching this Australian duo’s KEXP session, and was later amazed at how they transformed their songs in a studio setting. I listened to their album on repeat during long rides in the van because I never got tired of their style: They are able to make a song both unpredictable yet familiar using straightforward lyrics, creative string parts and melodic lines, adventurous chord changes and blending folk/pop production.
3. “Awaken, My Love!” Childish Gambino (Chosen by Michael Dause) – After putting out two albums of rap music, I went into this album expecting something within that realm. What I heard was a full-fledged funk epic ala Maggot Brain. It’s so well done, you would think that he’s a seasoned funk veteran, yet this is his first foray into the genre.
4. “A Man Alive,” Thao & The Get Down Stay Down (Chosen by manager Amber Buist) – It’s a no-rules approach to creative song structure and production. I like that you almost have to forget what you know (technically speaking), and just allow yourself to be innovative, which requires a little bit of abandonment.
5. “Blackstar,” David Bowie (Chosen by sound engineer Jeremy Chereskin) – I vibe with Blackstar because I know that if I made one last project before death, I’d hope it could be as impactful as this. It’s like witnessing someone make the album of their lifetime in front of your eyes on the largest platform anyone could ever be given. David Bowie did that.
Sav Buist: The Decemberists at Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, Lyons, Colo. – These guys blew it out of the water. Complete with dry humor, historical fiction-tinged lyrics, and a slew of instruments on the stage, every minute of their set was awesome. We got to open for them that day and met with them afterwards. They are super cool people. One of my favorite concerts I’ve ever watched.
Katie Larson: That 1 Guy at TC MicroBrew & Music Fest, Traverse City – This year I finally got to watch an entire set by That 1 Guy and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. From a technical and musical perspective it’s fascinating to watch him interact with his instrument/invention…but the groove and his humor make the show entertaining on its own merit. He is completely in a league of his own.”
Michael Dause: Ben Folds w/ yMusic at Bass Concert Hall, Austin, Texas – My stomach hurt from how hard I was laughing. Ben is able to make you feel like you’re in on some grand joke. He would play wonderfully arranged pieces for a chamber ensemble, and then, once done, would make jokes and curse at you for a few minutes. The juxtaposition is awe-inspiring. You can tell that he’s having just as much fun as you are.
Amber Buist: Buddy Miller w/ Dominic Davis at AmericanaFest, Nashville – There are some performers who just get what it is to truly entertain. Watching Buddy share his personal self with a room full of strangers and connect on such a base level, and being drawn into the energy that he and his bandmates create in a very organic way, is what makes a live concert an experience.
Jeremy Chereskin: The Accidentals at Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, Lyons, Colo. – Mixing on the same [sound] system used for the super bowl and working with that same team was insane.
JEFF “JROB” ROBINSON (The Great Ones)
1. “Insomnia,” Joose The Conqueror – This album was great from start to finish, and I must say a little different from other local hip-hop albums I have heard. The opening track,”Insomnia,” gives you that feeling of wanting to listen more and more to see what this artist and album have in store.
Very Good. Plus, he’s from Grand Rapids.
2. “Untitled Unmastered,” Kendrick Lamar – As a Day 1 Kendrick fan I was super excited when this bonus album came early 2016. Starting up right where “To Pimp a Butterfly” left off, this album became one of my favorites for the year. The song “Levitate” literally makes you levitate. Shout to Kendrick for this one.
3. “Malibu,” Anderson Paak – Mr. Paak quickly became one of my favorites with this album. One of the best to do it in 2016 and you can say it was his major debut. Soul, hip hop, R&B: This album has everything, and if you haven’t heard it, you are losing right now.
4. “The Great Ones,” The Great Ones – Sorry, but I cannot make this list without including a great duo that I happen to be a part of. This album had a voice and a meaning, and it is and was something everyone who has life can relate to. Shout out to Lady Ace Boogie and Hot Capicola Records.
5. “Coloring Book,” Chance The Rapper – What can you say about this album from Chance The Rapper? Well, I’ll give you one word: Dope. Takes you to church with this one, and it was really a highlight of summer 2016.
BEST CONCERT: Kanye West at Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids – It has to be the “Saint Pablo” Kanye West tour. Didn’t think Kanye would ever even come to GR and especially not the Van Andel Arena. The floating stage was one of the best ideas I have seen for a musical act thus far. I almost went to go see him again in Chicago a couple of weeks later.
1. “Newaygo Sound Machine,” The Concussions – I could listen to these guys all day. In fact, I’m sure there have been days when I HAVE listened to them all day. All of their albums are favorites of mine! Catch this Grand Rapids band live if you can. You won’t be able to wipe the silly grin off your face, nor stop your feet from dancing.
2. “Dig In Deep,” Bonnie Raitt – Bonnie’s voice is just timeless and she never fails to deliver. Thought it was great she covered “Need you Tonight” by INXS. That was unexpected. Her own songwriting is always great though, and the opening track “Unintended Consequence of Love” is probably the stand out one for me.
3. “Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin,” Willie Nelson – This one is kind of under the radar for releases of 2016, but it’s nicely done. I like the jazzy feel with the twangy elements (steel and harmonica) thrown in. You can tell he really loves these classic tunes.
4. “Blue & Lonesome,” The Rolling Stones – Twelve cover tracks of straight-up rockin’ blues, and some slow grooves, too. It opens with a great Little Walter tune, “Just your Fool.” The Stones are finally the old blues guys they were always trying to be.
5. “Angry,” Jesse Ray & The Carolina Catfish – Love the high-energy of these local guys! Jesse has a great voice, and they are fantastic live. All their songs are catchy, but “Old Glory” and “Gasoline” are my favorite two on this album.
Honorable Mention: “Blackstar,” David Bowie (Plus all the previously unreleased songs, “best of” packages, and new/old vinyl that has been coming out over this whole crazy year.)
BEST CONCERT: Paul McCartney at Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids – I’m not able to attend many concerts, but hands down the best one this year was Paul McCartney at the Van Andel. I went with my dad and we had a blast. He is the one who introduced me to the Beatles and Wings as a kid, so I grew up listening to them. It was a thrill to hear Sir Paul live, and sing along with Paul and thousands of others that night. And if I can have a favorite festival of 2016, I’d have to say Wheatland. It had been six years since we played there, and this year was as magical as I always remembered it to be.
BRIAN SAMUELS (Ultraviolet Hippopotamus)
1. “Beathoven,” Reed Mathis & Electric Beethoven – As said by Reed Mathis, this is “an exploration of what we’ve forgotten about Beethoven’s music.” One of the most unique albums I’ve ever heard, dubbing the sound as Classical Dance Music or CDM. This band turns Beethoven symphonies into danceable rock and funk songs. You can hear the classical melodies from centuries ago with a beat underneath more relatable to our time. The band features members from bands such as Primus, Further, Tea Leaf Green, JFJO, RAQ, Kung Fu and more. “Amazing” doesn’t quite cut it.
2. “Stop Watch Time Drop,” The Turnips – The new album from this Michigan band tickles me in all the right places. Classic rock ’n’ roll, dirty funk, great vocal harmonies and a ballad worthy of tears.
3. “The Beautiful Game,” Vulfpeck – I can’t help but smile when listening to these Ann Arbor guys’ cheesy ’80s elevator funk fusion with catchy pop hooks. A perfect album if you’re looking to dance and giggle.
4. “Totem,” The Motet – This band’s sound is always evolving but they are never lacking the funk! Totem is more on the pop side than their usual Afro-beat sound. Plenty of hooks and incredible instrumentation. Garret Sayers still remains one my favorite bass players of all time.
5. “Scary Blankets,” Mungion – These young guns from Chicago are out there reminding the world that progressive rock is still alive and that you CAN dance to it. Scary Blankets is an awesome representation of their diversity and technical abilities.
BEST CONCERTS: Medeski, Martin & Wood at Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Morrison, Colo., and Phish at MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. – It’s a toss up. Jazz fusion may not be for everyone but Medeski, Martin & Wood can still get the younger generations to boogie! I swear John Medeski has a brain in each hand on the keys. And Phish on Halloween performing David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” in its entirety with a 10-piece string section and three backup singers: The band nailed it! The energy in the room was unlike any concert experience I’ve ever had. The audience sang along to ever tune, there were smiles on every musician on stage, and the crowd was decorated in costumes. What a sight!
MUSICAL MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Performing an entire set at Hyperion Music Festival with a good friend and hero Fareed Haque of Garaj Mahal, Math Games and many other groups. Fareed played his guitar/sitar and learned some of most challenging pieces of music in our repertoire. It’s tough to make me blush yet he pulled it off when he told the audience “I haven’t had this much fun on stage since Garaj Mahal!”
JULIO GOMEZ (I Believe in Julio)
1. “Care Less,” Flushed – I have this tape in my car and I sing along to it every time I listen to it. Lena is an incredible artist and continues to captivate me with her songwriting. Care Less is fun and fresh every time I hear it. FLUSHED is the most punk band in Grand Rapids and these songs are just beautiful. It’s sweet like frosting yet it’s tough and cynical and paranoid. Producer Pat Wieland makes some bold choices throughout these 8 songs that really allow the songs to take you away to places you forgot you used to love.
2. “Lambo,” Lambo – This feels like it was made for me. The interplay between Rob Froh musing on midwestern post party epiphanies and Erin Lenau’s sultry hooks is engaging and natural. This pop punk and garage rock influenced record feels really, really good. It’s catchy in that “every line is a chorus” sort of way. This could have been the record of the summer but was not released until October of this year. We’ll crank it on the way to the beach next summer.
3. “Green Star,” Pears – I didn’t really like this band when I first heard them. I gave Green Star a listen when it first came out and it really grabbed me. Progressive and angsty. Great for listening to over and over again. Emo harmonies and hardcore beats but not cheezy? But sometimes is on purpose? Are these guys messing with me? Who cares it’s good.
4. “Teens of Denial,” Car Seat Headrest – I didn’t hear about this band til recently and I really like this record. I’m just now digging deep into it and it’s making me think about my own songwriting. Should I be writing songs like this? This band makes me feel extremely self conscious. They have a ton of previous records I need to check them out, too.
5. “Nonagon Infinity,” King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – This is my kind of psych rock! Fast and intense. Less drone and doom; more destruction and dancing. Some really great instrumentation on here and I love the way the recording sounds.
BEST CONCERT/FESTIVAL: Marina 2016 – An all day, all night free music festival that happens every summer. All the best local bands and the coolest friends in the world. It was a blast, just like it is every year.
NICOLE LARAE (Dizzybird Records)
1. “A Seat at the Table,” Solange – “A Seat At The Table” is a record about being black in 2016; what Solange calls her “project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing.” A conversation between two white men (New York Times writers) mentioning that “(she) shouldn’t ‘bite the hands that feed her'” on their podcast inspired this amazingly strong record.
2. “Coffin Problem,” Coffin Problem – An expansive and graceful debut from this Grand Rapids-based band. “This is the kind of debut that bands dream of making. A moody, mesmerizing monster of an album that feels like the soundtrack to a nightmare, though with enough glimmers of light to make it at times feel like a bizarre daydream.” (Blue Collar Songwriting)
3. “We Got It From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service,” A Tribe Called Quest – With the passing of founding member, Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor earlier this year, fans were chomping at the bit for the group’s sixth (and rumored final) record. It’s fresh, forward, political, poetic and direct: just as great as they’ve ever been. Rest In Power, Phife.
4. “Singing Saw,” Kevin Morby – Is it me or does this guy just keep getting better? Piano and choir singers are used to create more layers and warmth: something slightly different for Morby. “You find yourself on a much bigger, more lavish experience, a sort of “concrete Americana,” where the dust is in the cracks of the sidewalk, not the fields rolling by in the distance.” (Aquarium Drunkard)
5. “Mangy Love,” Cass McCombs – This is the record I listened to most this year. Cass is an incredible writer of cosmic folk songs that are chock full of dark truths, wit, resistance and beauty. He truly stands out in the sea of white guys with acoustic guitars.
6. “Blackstar,” David Bowie – A true artist: Bowie turned even his death into a work of art. Released just days before his death (which he knew was approaching, but fans did not), co-producer Tony Visconti described the album as Bowie’s intended swan song and a “parting gift” for his fans before his death, and what a parting gift it is. “Because as much as Blackstar shakes up our idea of what a David Bowie record can sound like, its blend of jazz, codes, brutality, drama, and alienation is not without precedent in his work.” (Pitchfork)
7. “Lemonade,” Beyonce – On her sixth studio album, and second “visual” album, Beyonce powerfully tells a story of infidelity, strength, jealousy and reconciliation all in one brilliant piece. The visuals are as stunning as the songs: goosebumps, tears, fist pumps, and dancing are sure to find you.
8. “Visions of Us on the Land,” Damien Jurado – The album is the final installment of an informal trilogy Jurado began with 2012’s “Maraqopa” and then on 2014’s “Brothers And Sisters Of The Eternal Son.” The concept album sprawls over 17 sad, psychedelic, lush songs. Richard Swift, a close friend of Jurado’s, once again shows up as both producer and guest instrumentalist.
9. “22, A Million,” Bon Iver – The first album in five years takes an interesting turn to more sparse, electronic arrangements. The gorgeous number-titled songs are about pushing forward, even when we are uncertain of what may lie ahead.
10. “A Weird Exits / An Odd Entrances,” Thee Oh Sees – These two records were only released three months apart, and they sort of fit together so I’m including it as one release. They mark the San Francisco-based band’s 17th and 18th studio albums. While “A Weird Exits” shreds, “An Odd Entrances” is more gentle (and much shorter), though there are still plenty of throbbing riffs. The best live band out there, IMO.
Rounding Out the Top 20:
11. “The Mystery Lights,” The Mystery Lights
12. “Baptistina,” Heaters
13. “And The Anonymous Nobody,” De La Soul
14. “The Visitor,” Kadhja Bonet
15. “Inner Journey Out,” Psychic Ills
16. “A Moon Shaped Pool,” Radiohead
17. “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” Sturgill Simpson
18. “Light Upon the Lake,” Whitney
19. “IV,” BadBadNotGood
20. “Wildflower,” The Avalanches
JASON WHEELER (Fauxgrass)
Top 5 Favorite Albums of the Year
1. “Family, Friends & Heroes,” Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
2. “The More I Learn,” Brian Sutton
3. “A Moon Shaped Pool,” Radiohead
4. “Arclight,” Julian Lage
5. “Storyman,” Sam Bush
BEST CONCERTS: I loved the Greensky Bluegrass sets at Hoxeyville 2016. I loved seeing Sound Tribe Sector 9 at Electric Forest and I loved seeing Bill Kirchen and Red Volkhart do an unplugged private show in 2016 at an event that Fauxgrass opened — it was incredible and they told stories from the road about Red’s 30-plus years as Merle Haggard’s Telecaster player. They played old Bob Wills tunes and a bunch of Kirchen’s originals – a pretty magical show indeed.
JOEY FRENDO (Watching for Foxes)
1. “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” Sturgill Simpson – Storytelling-through-song at its finest, “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” takes listeners through an equally beautiful and treacherous nautical world with allegory abound. The sounds achieved in this record, some through traditional country means like pedal steel and others by less standard means (such as analog synth and pulsating horns), push the sonic elements past just mere sounds, but become the setting within which Simpson is orating his journey, making it impossible to be immersed in it all. This is a concept album done as flawlessly as it gets.
2. “22, A Million,” Bon Iver – Not much can be said about this album that hasn’t already been stated. Layered and complicated, this record took a LONG time to digest, but great rewards were yielded after every listen. Justin Vernon is a genius and this is a timeless record that delves so deeply into a great many topics, but never strays away from the soul and passion that unites all of Vernon’s work. Simply put, “22, A Million” is a ballsy release that hits the mark and goes beyond convention. Bravo.
3. “Cardinal,” Pinegrove – Heady and literary, but grounded in the human experience, seeped in emo, but with alt. country tinges, “Cardinal” surpasses genre boundary and creates a catalog of stories that is just plain worthy of praise… (hey, if it’s good enough for Bob Boilen, it’s certainly good enough for me). The songwriting is top notch, as songs like “Old Friends” are hooky with the depth to not pull any emotional punches to the gut, i.e. “I should call my parents when I think of them, I should tell my friends when I love them …”
4. “Why Are You OK,” Band of Horses – Band of Horses is the type of band that never seems to reinvent their wheelhouse, if you will, but is always growing into new territory with each coming release. Still present is their Southern-drawl-meets-West-Coast-chill, but the divide between their vocally-driven, folk tunes and their rock songs is growing wider, yet the band is using some interesting post-production tools and varying sounds to stitch them back together with common sonic footings with some really excellent results. “Why Are You OK” features some tunes (such as “In A Drawer” and “Solemn Oath”) that I believe will stay in the BOH lexicon for as long as they are a band.
5. “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” Margo Price – A record not unlike our top choice in that the storytelling itself is exceptional. Margo Price’s seminal release on Third Man Records mainly differs only in scope; Instead of being set at sea, Price’s story takes place in the toil of the Rust Belt. While this record doesn’t break as much sonic ground as Sturgill’s release does, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” is still a damn good country album, period, and a timeless gem in country music landscape that seems really overall devoid of such art.
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