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Top Local Releases of 2016

From Big Star to NOTS, our music staff writers pick their favorite local releases of the year.

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This year was another great one for Memphis music. We got reissues from the Grifters and Big Star, new music from Julien Baker and NOTS, and newcomers like Beige Curtains and Jon Waltz also wowed us. In no particular order, here are our favorite local releases of 2016. — Chris Shaw

Julien Baker — "Decorated Lawns" (from the Christmas album Jingle Yay!)

No musician in recent memory touches Julien Baker's gentle ability to construct songs both devastating and unalloyed. Baker lent her one-off "Decorated Lawns," engineered by Calvin Lauber at Ardent Studio, to a recent holiday compilation. It's a heartbreaking track and reaffirms that the 20-something artist is operating in a caliber all her own. — Josh Cannon

Alicja-pop — Rats (Home Recordings 2009-2013) (Certified PR Records)

Don't let the recording origin or "some stuff I had sitting around" implication in the subtitle give the impression that Rats is lacking in the rock or anything fleshed-out, as this selection is all over the place and deserves a spot next to her better-known works. — Andrew Earles

Jon Waltz — "Riot" (single)

For as much as Memphis-based R&B artist Jon Waltz has accomplished, his output is limited. Waltz is hyper-focused on quality over quantity. Apple's worldwide Beats 1 radio show premiered his latest single, "Riot," earlier this year. On "Riot," 21-year-old Waltz sounds wise beyond his years, serving warm hooks that are prodigious and insightful. Pay attention — you'll be hearing him everywhere before you know it. — JC

The Grifters — One Sock Missing and Crappin' You Negative (Fat Possum)

Despite an unimportant handful of stylistic/aesthetic choices that have aged like a Happy Meal in a hot car, the Grifters' second and third albums define what made this band a special and important entry to the early-to-mid-'90s indie-rock sweepstakes.

A sampling of proof: the emotionally catastrophic "Dead Already" (actually one of the band's rare ventures into "lo-fi"), the aggro, urban-psych desperation of "Encrusted," the never-leaving-the-house-again hangover destitution of the infectious tease "Just Passing Out," some deconstructed power-pop rolling around in hot garbage ("Bummer," "Cinnamon"), the atmospheric dirge of pre-heroin-problem lament "Junkie Blood," or the gorgeous Sabbath-meets-Red-House-Painters anti-slowcore of "Felt-Tipped Over." — AE

Yo Gotti — The Art of Hustle (CMG)

"It's your boy Yo Gotti" is a phrase that we've heard in Memphis forever, but this year, rap fans around the world got to know Yo Gotti — the undisputed king of Memphis rap — when he released The Art of Hustle in February. The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B and hip-hop chart, and introduced the world to the phrase "It goes down in the DM," in the process. — Chris Shaw


Beige Curtains —
S/T (Self Released)

Beige Curtains landed on the local music scene last month, releasing an EP titled S/T that the three-piece recorded at 5 and Dime Recording. On "Arrangement," track one, the lyrics "I feel aimless" are repeated. Their songs feel like that, too, often falling apart midway through and building back up again. Fans of Pavement and Joy Division, or the many bands they've inspired, will dig this. — JC

NOTS — Cosmetic (Goner)

To regrettably oversimplify with a single observation, the extended (in this context) difference-makers of medium tempo and organic artistic choice that anchor Cosmetic ("Entertain Me," the title track, "Fluorescent Sunset," and especially opener "Blank Reflection") allow space for some structural secret (or not-so-secret) weapons in drumming that pounds harder, guitar that snakes around on a mission, and the reliable big hook of each song's bass line. — AE

Jack Oblivian and the Sheiks — The Lone Ranger of Love (Mony)

I wrote a feature this summer about how in love with this album I was, and my feelings haven't changed. A perfect album from a band at the height of their powers. CS

Angry Angles — Self-Titled (Goner)

One of Jay Reatard's most overlooked bands — second only to the great Final Solutions — got the reissue treatment this year. It was the biggest release of the year for Goner, and the label pulled out all the stops making this record sound and look as great as possible. A must-have for any fan of Jay Reatard, the Goner Records scene, or Memphis music in general. Jay Reatard helped put Memphis punk back on the map during his reign of terror, and this record shows why. CS

Big Star —­ Complete Third (Omnivore)

What year-end list would be complete without a Big Star album on it? The fine folks at Omnivore gave us a nice Christmas present with this three-disc collection of every session that went into the making of Third, including a ton of previously unissued material. — CS


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