Last year was a banner year for Milwaukee music. Along with the burgeoning rap scene, 2015 saw the emergence of new festivals like FemFest, Arte Para Todos and Local Coverage, events that selflessly raised money for community non-profit organizations. 2016 may not have been as groundbreaking as its previous year, but it certainly carried the torch that was passed along. The rap scene is stronger than ever before—for instance, three rap albums top this list—and those fundraisers all experienced better second go-arounds. This year also heralded a number of great records some from relative newcomers, others from established artists that refined their sound. Here are the best local albums of 2016:
10. 9 Steps to a Happier Life – Heat Death
The debut from Heat Death is a pummeling, dark and mysterious record that grows richer with each listen.
9. Ode 2 A Luv Affair – B-Free
“Love is pure/ Love is wise/ But sometimes love ain’t that kind/ But it’s all that matters/ Whether wrong or right,” neo-soul singer croons at the beginning of Ode 2 A Luv Affair, a spectacularly fun booty-shakin’ ‘90s R&B throwback break-up album.
8. Future Friction – Rx Drugs
The Championship singer Joe Crockett put together an accomplished group of musicians for new group Rx Drugs—the band consists of members from The Promise Ring, Dashboard Confessional and Trapper Schoepp and the Shades. Its debut album, Future Friction, espouses an unwavering confidence throughout these 10 melancholy tracks.
7. The Revenge of The Pukes – The Pukes
The Pukes craft an infectious cocktail of surf punk and horror movie themes that conjures ‘50s drive-in theaters and the dangers that lurk in the dark.
6. Air Guitar – Sat. Nite Duets
With each member contributing songwriting duties throughout the record, Air Guitar feels like a collection of parts, rather than a cohesive whole. But the band manages this to become a strength—as the album comes at you from all different angles. There’s the country-tinged “TAFKA Salieri,” the starry-eyed “Sober June” and the pastoral folk leanings of “Two Birds.”
5. Rangers & Valentines – Trapper Schoepp
A loose, shufflin’ rock ‘n roll record that captures Trapper Schoepp’s instinctual knack for telling a good story, Rangers & Valentines gathers the singer-songwriter’s best anecdotes from the road (“Ogallala”), familial legends (“Ballad of Olof Johnson”), and “House”-like medical mysteries (“Mono Pt. II”).
4. Sound & Light – NO/NO
Formed from the ashes of post-punk group , NO/NO showed a familiar sinister edge on its first two EPs. But, to great success, that murky attitude was eschewed on the band’s ebullient ‘80s-inspired Sound & Light, where every note on the synthesizer evokes bright neon colors at some never-ending dance party.
3. Mama Tried – bliss & alice
A somber left-turn from the sharp and audacious debut, Poetry Volume One – The Shit Talker Tape, sophomore project Mama Tried exposes the many different layers of rapper bliss & alice. Where its predecessor packed every verse tightly, this is an album that says more with less.
2. Broken Hearts & Bankrolls – IshDARR
IshDARR achieves a big, bombastic rap record that’s so accessible it could easily run modern hip hop radio. Crank the volume on this one.
1. Too Much of Life is Mood – Scallops Hotel
A cerebral, engrossing work of hip hop, deep ruminations and jazz compositions, Too Much of Life is Mood ominously floats along like a balloon that’s filled with combustible gases, one that’s prime to explode at any second.