It’s bound to happen. So much music crosses our desks and infiltrates our lives, that we’re sure to miss out on much that is worthy of attention. We do our best to stay alert and focused, to keep our ship tidy and organized so that we may guard against leaks, but there’s still a considerable amount that slips through the cracks in our coverage. As such, this post is our attempt to take a look back and shine a light on a few of the records that deserved to be heard, but went unmentioned by us in 2016. If you’re looking for some sort of ranking or standard of measurement, don’t bother. These are simply eight records the majority of our staff could agree on, conveniently listed in alphabetical order. The fact that the list tends to skew slightly towards electronic solo projects is likely an anomaly, or just the reality of what bedroom DIY has evolved into in recent years. In any case, we expect there will be something on the list you like, and we can only hope you’ll take the time to spread the word to your friends and fellow music lovers. As always, we’ll continue to keep our ears to the ground, and do the best job we can to expose our readers to what’s next in Atlanta and Athens music. – Guillermo Castro
Dog Lover 420 – DGLVR
Release Date: April 29
There’s something emotionally disarming about DGLVR, the sophomore release from Dog Lover (fka Dog Lover 420). How can a record that spends so much of its time unfurling mournful melodies and assembling disjointed beats sound so giddy with possibility? Indeed, if there is an overriding sentiment on this LP, it’s one of unfettered curiosity — of how the juxtaposition of various textures and sounds color our perception of a song, of how the simple strike of a hi-hat or the dissolution of a chord can alter the trajectory of an arrangement in unforeseen ways. Madelyn Bailey isn’t as interested in exploring pop and hip-hop tropes as she is subverting them. As such, her compositions forego simplicity and basic structural norms in favor of a dense layering of dreamlike sounds.
Experimental has become something of a blanket descriptor for music that thwarts the familiar, but Bailey’s restless tinkering and poking around remains true to the term. Whether she’s riding out a majestic jazz-tinged groove (“S.C.U.B.A.”), erecting an icy palace built of crystalline synths and brittle beats [“Sunset (Brilliant)”], or simply churning out an immersive head-nodder (“Speed // Victory Lap”), she does it with an eye towards discovery and the unexpected. In the world of electronic music, playfulness and the ability to surprise are underrated commodities. Fortunately, Dog Lover has them both in spades. – Avery Shepherd
Kudzu Kids – Adolescence
Release Date: April 29
Label: Four Letter Records
Despite the shimmer of aqueous guitars and Krista Williamson’s captivating vocals, the heart of Adolescence is formed from pleasantly restrained pop songs. When music is delivered so delicately and understated as it is here, there’s a real danger of it sounding dull and listless, but throughout the course of seven stirring cuts, Kudzu Kids expertly avoid that trap. There is an ebb and flow of melancholy and joy, pain and defiance, expressed throughout this record, and the beauty is that it never exalts one over the other. In a lot of ways, Adolescence reminds me of the Cranberries’ 1993 debut Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, which is also to say that it reminds me a lot of the Smiths. Not so much in terms of sarcastic lyrics or black-clad romanticism (although there’s plenty of the latter lurking here), but more so in the way the trio are able to mix dreary pop dirges with youthful punk exuberance. Depending on your mood, these are songs that will make you want to sulk alone or jump up and dance, albeit with deep sighs and a heavy heart. – GC
Mad Ace – Clever Girl EP
Release Date: February 14
As an accomplished cellist and bassist for Athen rockers Big Morgan, Andrew Cleveland has proven to himself to be a versatile musician that feels comfortable playing within a variety of styles and genres. But rarely does he sound as loose and contented as when he’s wearing the mask of Mad Ace, his lo-fi R&B alter ego. His latest EP, the seven-song Clever Girl, is a well-unified effort that spends most of its running time maneuvering through atmospheric backdrops — pastel tones, airy synths, billowing soundscapes that swell and recede like ocean tides. There are direct nods to hip-hop and indiepop, but he also finds inspiration within unexpected sources, filling the gaps in his narratives with scratchy answering machine messages, offbeat samples, and field recordings. Despite the EP’s DIY production values and bedroom pop aesthetics, you can imagine Cleveland belting these songs out, transforming them into anthemic singalongs. Instead, he remains coy throughout, choosing subtly and shadow over declarative boldness. Lyrically, Clever Girl is a mix of lovelorn romanticism and existential yearning, which helps provide a streak of darkness to the record’s bright, windswept palette. The end result feels sensual and intimate yet still somehow raw, a convincing portrait of a young working through conflicting emotions. – AS
New Wives – Hi I’m Alive
Release Date: August 5
Label: Marching Banana Records
There’s enough meandering rock bands in Athens to last a lifetime’s walk on the greenway, but New Wives’ debut LP, Hi I’m Alive, is an exhilarating effort worthy of the two years it took to reach public ears. The trio self-describes as “bedroom doom pop” and though inherently contradictory, the label is reflective of the group’s intimate nature and often jarring arrangements.
New Wives might be comprised of half of Athens’ breakout band Mothers, but there’s very little crossover in sound, and to relegate the trip to side project status would be to ignore the fact that the band had been working on songs for Hi I’m Alive since 2014. Even though Mothers’ touring schedule was one of reasons the album took so long to drop, the nine tracks don’t sound like dusty relics at all. Instead, the arrangements are vibrant expressions of three musicians attempting to harness the zenith of their creativity. From the igneous cacophony of “Cascades” to the driving rock and roll of “Don’t Wait,” there’s too much on energy on this album to be shoved into a closet in favor of new material.
Hi I’m Alive is the closing of a chapter for New Wives, who promise to forego “the traditional ‘live band’ setup in search of a more ethereal, long-winded and multi-faceted approach to pop songwriting” on their next album. What that transition means in practice is still unknown, but Hi I’m Alive is more than a bookmark in the band’s history, it’s a snapshot of a band at their most insistent, a bridge between the linear and the experimental. – Russell Rockwell