Ceschi Ramos, or Ceschi as he’s been mononymously known, is quite the conundrum. I once questioned Ceschi about the two worlds he’s firmly footed in, Hip-Hop and Indie rock, and how he’s able to balance life in both. His response was limited but definitive with, “I’m a musician.” It’s clear that his ability to work in multiple genres – sometimes all at once – lies in the act that the songs and music must come first. It works. The last few years we’ve seen in go through a few changes and a few hurdles and hiccups. Last year saw the release of his fourth album, and an amazing piece of work, Broken Bone Ballads, but it was delayed through his legal troubles. A couple of years later he’s on a rise again, putting in the hard work that he’s been accustomed to, pushing his limits.
As a small label owner I’m constantly checking out new music whether it’s mainstream or one of hundreds of demos I receive every year.
This year I definitely enjoyed albums by David Bowie, Frank Ocean and friends such as Astronautalis & Sammus. None of those albums will be on this list. My 2016 best-of will be focused on artists that are probably not on anybody else’s lists because they are unfortunately under-publicized even on an underground level. In fact, I originally had Elucid’s “Save Yourself” on here – but took it off because it made it onto a couple of other top ten lists on prominent hip hop sites – deservedly. Yes, I know every musician on this list personally and the list is completely biased. Hope you enjoy discovering some of these acts that you may have never heard of.
Every December my label Fake Four releases four free EPs by under-known artists that we like & respect. This year the four hip-hop EPs we’ve chosen (by Dope Knife, Perseph One, Chisme & Ardamus) are super dope and I highly recommend visiting fakefour.bandcamp.com to download them free although they are not included on the list below.
Here is a musically diverse collection of albums that probably weren’t on your radar this year:
Andy the Doorbum and Justin Aswell – Intent
I didn’t originally want to include any Fake Four releases on this list – but I just couldn’t write this list without including “Intent”. Andy the Doorbum is a talented singer- songwriter from Charlotte who’s been doing everything from bizarro electro punk rock to doomy-art-folk for many years now.
Justin Aswell is an electronic producer who’s turned some heads with his wildly intricate finger drumming techniques. Together they made this incredibly effective, powerful work full of existentialist poetry, atmospheric soundscapes & progressive trip hop style production. It’s easily one of my favorite albums of the year & I recommend giving it a listen or many.
Siul Hughes – The Book of Iza
A twenty-something cat from Bridgeport & New Haven CT made one of my favorite albums of the year. For lack of a better description Hughes makes music that can sit comfortably next to work by Mick Jenkins, Isaiah Rashad or Kendrick Lamar but is more deeply rooted in East Coast style with clear references to boom bap without necessarily fitting into that box. The Book of Iza is an ambitious project – artfully split into 4 digestible chapters tied together through montages of Hughes’ childhood rap cassette recordings. It’s poetic, strong & technically impressive rapping and production. It’s kinda abstract but also feels very modern & bumps hard. Siul Hughes is a hip hop artist to keep an eye on.
True Deceiver – Particles
True Deceiver is the latest project by Tom Filepp of Cars and Trains. Unlike the “folktronica” Filepp is known for, True Deceiver’s music is drenched in drawn-out heavy distortion, shoegaze style atmosphere & infectious melodic repetition. It’s loud & sludgy but remains an ultra pretty listen.
Some of the music reminds me of a heavier version of the excellent Lilys album “Eccsame The Photon Band” from good ol 1994.
Lyrics & song titles seem focused on our current remote control version of modern war. It all makes sense coming from a band called True Deceiver. Other lyrics remind me of Cars & Trains’ style of analyzing humanity. One lyric reads, “There is beauty in our failures.”
That kind of writing resonates with me.
I love the direction Tom Filepp took on this project and if any of that sounds interesting to you – take a listen.
Cheap Perfume – Nailed It
I dig Riot Grrrl sounding stuff. Listening to Colorado Springs’ Cheap Perfume…it’s as if Bikini Kill time traveled 20 plus years forward to 2016. Complete with diss songs for Donny Trump & hilariously on point script-flipping of male perspectives – the lyrics are smart, strong & sometimes funny as fuck. The music is fast, loud and catchy. It’s solid, high energy, old school influenced punk rock that can help listeners laugh at the stupidity of hegemonic standards while successfully capturing some of the anger women must feel in this world of male-written rules.
Guelph seems like a pretty sweet hippy town up in Ontario Canada. That’s where Adam is from. Adam clearly enjoys psychedelics, percussion & making beats.He does all of those things well. For his first solo release he made a bizarre and refreshing little EP that somebody on the internet compared to Ween. I’m not sure what it is – and that’s why I liked it so much. As a fan of genre bending bands such as Mr Bungle – I can definitely vouch for this one.
Alyssa Kai – Contingency
I first saw Alyssa when she played with a 20 piece folk punk orchestra called Speaker For The Dead. Then…then I saw her do quiet Mountain Goats covers in a living room. Then saw her play drums for the incredible Mallory. When I finally saw her play her OWN acoustic tunes in a North Hampton, MA record store – I could not stop listening. She is one of my favorite newer singer-songwriters. The lyrics on “Contingency” are profound & often sound like somebody reading prose or poetry. There is a darkness to it. There is an openness. There’s humor. These songs are written from the perspective of a person feeling like an outsider growing up within the Catholic Church.
“Being raised catholic gave me divine authority to say whatever I like in an exclamatory manner.”
I definitely relate to Alyssa’s words and style & feel what she’s saying.
UZOO – Do Not Feed The Animals
I don’t think any hip hop group gets me as hype as UZOO these days. They are like a traveling mosh pit. The 13 person crew is an amalgamation of Hartford’s brightest young rappers, mixing & matching crew members & styles – spearheaded by, Hartford teacher of the year, Joey Batts. I’m not going to name them all. That will be difficult to do. There’s an underlying “professional wrestling” element to it all. One of the members, Jobo, even decided to name his solo band “Heel” after the villainous characters we love to hate in wrestling. UZOO is having fun. They’re not taking themselves seriously but they’re all seriously dope rappers (& singers in Qusharia’s case) representing an exciting young Hartford CT scene.
Political Animals – EgoBese
I put three CT hip hop groups on this list because I feel our state is deeply slept on and has some top notch talent. Political Animals is a live staple out here in New Haven and beyond. They’ve been doing their thing for many years now. It’s throwback / live band hip hop and that’s not the easiest genre to tackle – but I think PA does it really well. It’s high energy, technically tight and EgoBese is the most impressive recorded material I’ve heard from them. Songs like Bang Bang & Ultraviolence showcase PA perfecting the sound they’ve been developing over a decade. I can’t imagine how hard these guys would have crushed shit if they came out 20 years ago. As a young teen I was a fan of diy hip hop bands that played punk clubs such as Shootyz Groove & 2 Skinnee Js back in the mid 90s – I love hearing that style updated for now. PA does it well. Catch them live. Check EgoBese.
Death Has 1000 ears
Banjo & Tuba punk from Pittsburgh. That’s what this is. Douglas Fur is a virtuosic banjo player who’s howling voice sounds something like if John Darnielle liked hardcore more, had tons of energy & cared a lot. Mika handles the low end beautifully on Tuba. Accordion & horn also add to this beautiful ruckus of Eastern European folk / Klezmer influenced punk. There’s nothing quite like these guys and I love what they’re doing. If you like heavy stuff done with acoustic instruments – must check.
Ramshackle Glory – One Last Big Job
Although almost completely ignored by press outlets throughout their career, this WAS probably one of the best known anarcho-folk-punk bands of all time. For that reason alone they probably don’t belong on this list. Still, I wanted to end the list this way. This is Ramshackle Glory’s final album…ever. It dropped December 30th 2016. Lead songwriter Pat The Bunny is done with music for a while. Erik Petersen of, seminal acoustic punk band, Mischief Brew passed away this summer – and the album is dedicated to his memory. That makes this album a bittersweet goodbye to 2016 & to folk punk in some ways.
Still, it’s mostly happy, upbeat punk & indie pop music written by a young curmudgeon who loves people but doesn’t want to get too close. In Ramshackle fashion, there are songs about resilience, fighting back, taking care of friends & addiction. There’s also a little gem written against Christmas “Religion is fine…I just hate Christmas. Theories are great, but I hate when you say them. I understand my heat bills, I still don’t pay them.” Haha. Good stuff.
Pat the Bunny is one of my favorite songwriters because he has a way of breaking down complex topics into simple, pretty morsels of highly quotable punkisms. This is the “most produced” I’ve ever heard this band and I like the overall sound of the project. The band sounds awesome on here. Their second album “who are your friends gonna be?” was so lo-fi that it was very difficult to hear the words. I’m glad they’ve gone the clean, pop route on this one. “One Last Big Job” is super short record. 9 songs. Soaring horns & clarinets on most songs. This bittersweet little collection ends on a giant, epic version of the beautiful “the hand you reach out is empty (as is mine)”. I’m happy they got their shit together and made this final album. Will miss this glorious band. Goodbye 2016.