Top five local albums of 2016

Top five local albums of 2016

tip five albums 2016

Looking back at some of the best CDs released by Seacoast artists this year

This top-five list is an opportunity to direct listeners to some of the best albums this community has to offer. The music does not belong to one particular genre, scene, or audience, and these albums aren’t just songs. They’re personal stories, they’re unique visions, and they seem to service the artists as much as the audience. Amid the spectrum of incredible music that has come out this year, these are some of the albums that stood above — at least to this writer.

With the next RPM Challenge right around the corner, I couldn’t be more excited for 2017. Despite all the turmoil in the world, we can trust that artists will continue to make music, and that we can all continue to seek therapy in it.

“Mind Cook EP” by Rick Rude
Salty Speakers/Cat Dead, Details Later

Mind Cook by Rick Rude

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that Rick Rude’s energetic, mind-cooking album-release show happened a full nine months ago. The band performed at the top of its game, bringing an enormous crowd out to the Wrong Brain art space and destroying the room (figuratively, of course). At the center of it all were some brand new songs from the “Mind Cook EP.”

In just five songs, the Dover quartet created one of the most definitive works of art in the area. The band’s earlier recordings featured more lo-fi songs; a demo version of the EP’s first track, “Sap,” was recorded on a cell phone. But with “Mind Cook,” Rick Rude pulled it together and showed that underneath the low-tech recordings was a talented, unrivaled band.

The EP’s A side features a more conventional, accessible sound. “Sap” and “54 TLOC” play like radio-friendly singles, with catchy vocals, welcoming riffs, and a hybrid strain of power-pop. On the B side, by contrast, the band shows its ability to blur genre lines while creating memorable songs. “Stromboli,” a quasi-metal rocker, sounds nothing like the surf-influenced punk of the album’s title track, which sounds nothing like the album’s closer, “Little Boy,” a folk number worthy of a campfire sing-along.

Honestly, an EP can be a finicky purchase, especially when you’re buying vinyl. But since this album dropped in March, I’ve run through both sides at least three times whenever I put the record on (which has been often this year). The album showcases the band’s impeccable ability to balance between the fun and the fastidious. It’s a fascinating record full of goofiness and poetry and goofy poetry that makes Rick Rude one of the most exciting bands to see on the Seacoast.

Their next album, “Make Mine Tuesday,” is coming out soon, with a release show scheduled for Jan. 7 at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth. Listen to “Mind Cook” first to get in the proper mindset. Check it out here.

“It Calls On Me” by Doug Tuttle
Trouble in Mind Records

It Calls On Me by Doug Tuttle

When I spoke to Doug Tuttle about this record back in February, he didn’t have much to say about it. And, without the lyrics in front of you, it’s difficult to even hear what he’s saying on the record. But Tuttle’s sophomore album, “It Calls On Me,” speaks volumes, bolstering an aesthetic similar to artists like Kurt Vile or J Mascis. The expression of the self can be found in the music.

The nine tracks on the album are like the plants in a botanical garden: the individual make-up of each differs, but collected together, they create a fascinating display of unity. The Byrds-esque bop of “A Place For You” twists differently than the R.E.M.-style jangle of the title track, which flows separately from the Neil Young-ish qualities of “Painted Eye.”

Though the album is deeply influenced by the soft rock of the ’70s, Tuttle’s innovative vision features both haziness and clarity. The rubbery bass textures, the drums at a volume careful not to wake the neighbors, and Tuttle’s guitar wizardry make the songs sparkle like a river at high noon.

One of the best things about this record is that its hazy psychedelia provides the perfect soundtrack to a walk around town in every season — another “acid test” for best-of albums. Tuttle’s masterful, psychedelic work evokes bliss and contentedness, offering another damn good record to spin whenever the mood strikes. To get a copy, click here.

“The Lesser-Known Tristan Omand” by Tristan Omand
self-released

The Lesser Known Tristan Omand

As outlined in a story for The Sound back in April, this album almost didn’t happen. Struggles with funding could have very easily made it a dead leaf in the wind.

Instead, after a boost from local production company Bright & Lyon made it a reality, parts of Omand’s fourth record have lingered with me since its release in the spring. Riffs such as “Thirty Days of Darkness” and “A Letter Home” inspired me to introduce the album to friends who are fans of folk and Americana.

What really drives the spirit is Omand’s brilliance as a lyricist, with lyrics like, “I bet all the sand in Hampton Beach / that the life you wanted is within reach,” and, “If livin’ was so damn easy / you’d get to heaven doing half the work.” The words bring clarity to relatable, sorrowful moments, like the sun peeking from behind cloud cover.

Omand comes from the school of folk singer-songwriters who believe the stories told are just as important as the music. Artists like Bill Morrissey, Hank Williams Sr., and Tom Waits shine through in Omand’s songs. Themes of downtrodden loneliness are balanced by the admirable ability to find hope. Songs like “Welcome to the Lonely Lanes” and “Night Time, East Side” give you the feeling of trying in vain to start a beat-up old pickup truck, while in tracks like “Old Straight Six” and “A Letter Home,” the engine roars to life, though uncertainty still looms.

This is Omand’s most intimate album to date (hence, the title). While his previous album, “Eleven Dark Horses,” demonstrated his ability to create tall tales, “The Lesser-Known Tristan Omand” feels more personal. But, in turning inward toward himself, Omand makes his music even more relatable to others. Listening might help you learn a little more about the lesser-known you, as well. Have a listen here.

“Groove Lounge (feat. Bria Ansara)” by Groove Lounge
TVP Records

Groove Lounge

It’s no secret that funk thrives in the Seacoast music scene. I went into the University of New Hampshire as a punk-rock fan, but changed my tune after hearing local bands like Harsh Armadillo and the Feel Goods, and hanging out at places like The Stone Church in Newmarket, The Press Room in Portsmouth, and Fury’s Publick House in Dover. There’s something to see every night of the week that’ll get you in the mood to groove into the wee hours.

One of the best and most interesting records that came out this year built an orchestra of danceable, funky tunes with one producer. “Groove Lounge” has the kind of groove and swing that is the perfect fix for the “Saturday Night Fever” crowd, and yet the album is suitable for times of relaxation as well. The downtempo flavor of the music would work well in a weekend party atmosphere or a laidback lounge at cocktail hour.

Extracting elements of pure acid jazz from the likes of the Brooklyn Funk Essentials and Thievery Corporation and melting it into a pot of trip-hop built from the Nightmares on Wax sound, Groove Lounge bumps the beat for the head as much as the feet. From smooth psychedelia (“Intro”) to soft bossanova (“Keep Up”) to full-on funk (“S.N.L”), “Groove Lounge feat. Bria Ansara” is the go-to soundtrack for those late-night hours.

The album is also exciting because it serves as a gateway into exploring the Seacoast DJ scene, which, according to fans, has been kept underground far too long. Find it on Spotify or iTunes.

“The Smallest, Darkest Things” by Guy Capecelatro III
Burst & Bloom Records

The Smallest Darkest Things by Guy Capecelatro III

Guy Capecelatro III is a master of sorrowful folk, and his latest release lingers with an even heavier heart than usual. The album is a touching tribute to the late Dave Lamb of Brown Bird, and Lamb’s influence is heard all over the record; Capecelatro even covered one of Lamb’s songs on the album.

But “The Smallest, Darkest Things” touches on a grander theme, the constant push and pull of life and death. Each song is like a short story, written in a blue mood, about coping with the struggle of life. The beautiful, mournful music hangs like an overcast sky throughout the album. But there’s also diversity: From the sexy swagger of the guitar riff on “Late of Day” to the haunting melodies of “How to Begin (for Dave),” the album incorporates alternative rock, downtempo folk, and even a bit of jazz.

The sadness and sorrow of this November release draws up powerful emotion at first listen. I spun this record at least 10 times in the first week after I acquired it. The collection adds to Capecelatro’s already ridiculously impressive catalog of music. But this album stands out because of its raw emotion, which is often the best thing to get you through the creeping crawl of the dark winter months. More info here.