The sheer volume of releases by the artists in our area is as pleasantly confounding as their level of quality is astounding. And seeing as how I suffer from a brain full of slowly-moving thoughts, it’s impossible for me to get to them all. That doesn’t mean I haven’t listened or enjoyed them. Quite the contrary and so hopefully this will be the start of my own annual tradition where I list off a few of my favorite albums of the year that I didn’t get a chance to review. This is not a ‘best of’ list and I’ve kept things in alphabetical order to avoid the trappings of numerical rankings. Here’s what I missed…
- The Burns – Splenderson – August – An ode to late summer, Splenderson is friendly and inviting without ever overstaying its welcome. The Burns are a crack band and they’ve helped their leader Joey Henderson craft a perfect back porch record.
- Cook Thugless – Money – April – The New Brunswick art/hip hop collective follows its dynamite 2016 EP Vacation Blend II with an edgy, timely, sometimes-desperate account of aging in today’s fractured culture. Songs as concrete-hard as “Net Worthless” bump up against slow jams like “All Alone” to create a rap kaleidoscope that no one else is even coming close to.
- Tara Dente – The Gleaner – June –Few sing with the conviction or sturdy authority of Tara Dente and she captures those sentiments exceptionally. The Gleaner isn’t so much dirt and grit as it is wood and warmth; sitting next to a cabin fireplace with a cat on your lap. It’s the crossroads of sentimentality and ambition and Dente mixes both with the expert precision of a musical alchemist. Too much of one or the other can turn heavy-handed and cumbersome. But with just the perfect balance, you get The Gleaner.
- Rachel Ana Dobken – Music at the Gallery – Every Saturday – Okay so this isn’t an album but there’s never a bad opportunity to mention it. Rachel is an Asbury Park-via-New York singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who curates and hosts artists at the Asbury Hotel’s Transparent Clinch gallery every Saturday. The gallery showcases the work of famous New Jersey photographer/musician Danny Clinch. Sometimes Clinch brings famous friends like Bruce Springsteen or Gary Clark Jr in to mingle with local stalwarts. It’s an engaging series that gives our homegrown artists a sense that that next level isn’t as far off as they might think it is. And in between all the people that pass through – locals and well-knowns – Rachel Ana Dobken stands smack in the middle, gluing it all together.
- The Mercury Brothers – In Retrograde – August – Dan Apy’s beloved trio made its debut this year in eclectic fashion with In Retrograde. Between the blistering powerpop of the title-track, grunge callback “Safe” or the stony “Steal Away,” The Mercury Brothers accomplish a lot in just 22 minutes: they manage to give us a little of everything they do best!
- Avery Mandeville – Salty – January – If I had to make a short list of artists most likely to break out of the NJ music scene, Avery Mandeville would be close to the top. Salty does everything to validate that sentiment with songs like the desperate, yearning “A Quarter to Four,” or the game-changing “No More Dick Pix.” Even at just five tracks, this collection of “just a fraction of what [she’s] been writing since High School,” hits all the emotional highs and lows you’d expect a great debut to hit…because that’s exactly what it is!
- Ruby Bones – Ruby Bones – May – The former Boxed Wine head honcho Chris Nova christens his new band with a high-octane debut good enough to hit #7 on the Billboard charts! Whether it’s the new wave-infused “No Fun” or the sweaty singalong chorus of “You I Want,” Ruby Bones is scratching the itch I get every time I realize Interpol hasn’t released an album this good in over a decade.
- We’re Ghosts Now – Until Death – August – New Jersey’s favorite band of brothers returns with a bittersweet sendoff to longtime violinist (and only non-blood-relative) Alex Iannone. Packaging up five longtime set list staples, We’re Ghosts Now prove themselves masters of hook-laden, punk-influenced rock and roll. And while it marks the end of an era for Iannone (often the band’s lead instrument and primary backup vocalist), Until Death cements We’re Ghosts Now as one of our best local acts. And if recent live shows are any indication, their future is still bright as ever!
- Zaritza – Zaritza – September – Zaritza is the solo project of Russian-born, Monmouth Beach-residing songwriter/model/artist Anastasia Moiseeva. Across Zaritza’s eleven tracks, Moiseeva coats her ruminations on relationships with a modern pop sheen that turn songs like “Diseased” and “Walk Away” into arena-sized singalongs. But it’s the orchestral centerpiece, “Burn Into Me” where Zaritza – where Anastasia – does her best work. Not many local acts dare to make a song (and an album) this big-sounding but Moiseeva leans right into it and the results are often-astounding.
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