RVA Magazine's Best Music Of 2016: 10 favorite Richmond releases

Posted by: brad – Dec 28, 2016


2016, despite all of its faults, might go down as one of the best years for Richmond's local music scene in recent memory. Exciting home demos, expansive EPs, stunning full-length offerings; Richmond heard it all from a wide variety of acts who grew the local scene exponentially this year. With even more bands on the rise and the explosion of record labels in town, it seems 2017 is poised to be even bigger, but before we become overwhelmed with that thought, let's look back on 2016 in terms of local music.

As always, it's hard to narrow down the best of the local scene (even with one or two local artists appearing on our overall countdown), but here are ten Richmond releases from the past year we feel represent the best of our vibrant scene:

Avers - Omega/Whatever

On my short list of favorite 2016 lyrics is "We're all just children doing the best we can" which appears in the chorus of Avers' "Insects." The layers of meaning you can pull away from that one line are numerous, from fatalistic questioning -- Is whatever you're doing always the best you can do? -- to the empathetic idea that everyone you see is carrying around scars acquired during formative years that might have been stormier than your own. The irony here is that Avers' "best" is so enviable. They can crack off a breezy summer jam like "Santa Anna," power through a charged rocker like "Everything Hz," or sink into moodier tunes like "Don't Care" with ease. That's one reason Omega/Whatever is such a gift -- we get the clearest glimpse yet of the plurality of Avers' abilities. --Davy Jones

Butcher Brown - Virginia Noir

The extraordinary thing about Virginia Noir is that it's not extraordinary. Even at its flashiest moments like "Flat," you can tell the quartet is still restrained in their playing, content to serve each other and the song than try and stand-out. It's selfless harmony that lets the listener put a song like "Headlights" on and just drift away into the groove, freely bouncing between the bass pops and drum hits cushioned by the conversant keyboards and guitar. There's never a wrong time to put on these soulful fusions of jazz and funk, and as the album "Fades To Black," you'll find yourself yearning to play it again so you can get lost in Virginia Noir all over again. --Doug Nunnally

Camp Howard - Camp Howard

2016 might belong to Camp Howard in terms of crafting one of the strongest local releases of the year. Ten tracks that jump around heavy psych to Spanish dream pop to whimsical soliloquies. The journeys ahead for each listener are exciting throughout and realizing that this is the group's debut makes it feel like that much more of an achievement. "She Doesn't Mind" and "Heavy Blow" are strong favorites for how they glisten and shine throughout with catchy melodies and exciting arrangements, yet the crunchiness of "Dog" and "Holding Her Tight" are quick reminders that the band can flip the switch from subtle nuanced pop to loud, thunderous grunge. The band is already working towards a follow-up for 2017 and it's definitely something to keep an eye out for. --Shannon Cleary

Clair Morgan - New Lions & The Not-Good Night

Math rock can be a divisive genre, one that's never cared much for its accessibility opting to focus more on building intricate melodies that feed off each other. Clair Morgan does this as well, but the difference is that in their quest for intricacies, they also found accessibility. The album's stand-out "Rogue Island" is the most obvious example with its improbably catch guitar line, but even songs like "How To Set Your Bed On Fire" that seem to dabble more in dream pop end up making math rock catchy, with the intricate rhythm and cadence being delegated to the vocals as opposed to the instruments. Simply put, if the world had more bands like Clair Morgan, math rock would be as popular and available as electronica. --Doug Nunnally

Cough - Still They Pray

Shaking off the six year old dust, Cough quickly asserts themselves as one of the top doom outfits going today with Still They Pray, a visceral onslaught of sludge and despair. Hallmarks of the genre are peppered throughout with H. P. Lovecraft and underworld references abound as well as scathing guitar tones and a gravelly voice that roars from behind thundering reverb, but the band also offers much more here. The musical despair of "Shadow Of The Tortuer" is one that transcends metal genres, while "Haunter Of The Dark" offers textbook rock highlights that would excite fans of any classic alt-rock band. Cough's musical relative Windhand may soak up most of the metal world's praise, but Still They Pray is a blatant reminder that Cough itself is one metal's premier groups today. --Doug Nunnally

Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows

Paradise Gallows is a punishing epic of Inter Arma's unique hybrid metal sound taken into a deep space of reverb and echo that lends itself towards the psychedelic in spite of the brutality of the instrumentation and near death metal vocals of the group, at times evokng the early '70s psych of groups like Hawkwind and Deep Purple in their music; feeling like the worst kind of acid trip in the best kind of way. At over 70 minutes, the record is an expansive and experimental journey into darkness with many revelations along the way, showing the group has evolved far beyond the formulaic limitations of their peers and the boundaries of genre. --Alex Criqui

Night Idea - Breathing Cold

Night Idea are part of the Subterranea Collective (Way, Shape, or Form, Houdan The Mystic, Brother Rutherfor) and could be labeled, just like any band, with a number of combined words that would come off way more pretentious than the band's actual sound. Is it progressive-post-indie-math-rock? Who cares!? Breathing Cold challenges your senses with complex rhythms that reveal tons of melodic hooks. Start with the cinematic music video for "Silver Understanding." Watch from a bird's eye view as the band performs on the back of a moving vehicle that is slowly driving through a beautiful Virginia farm and you'll get it. --PJ Sykes

The Wimps - The Wimps

There is a warped sense of self throughout The Wimps' self-titled debut that is absolutely charming and seductive. Lush keys will find a perfect home within the garage rock tapestry that the rest of the band throws in the mix. At the same time, they'll find room to throw in a few surprises with rhythm dynamics that help hone their natural unpredictably. The confessional lounge ballad "Foxhound" is as heartbreaking as they come while "Sour Peaches" could easily be considered The Wimps' nod to nineties grunge favorites. The closer "Dream Girl" is a perfect example for how the band can craft a number of pop tropes and spin them in favor of unique delivery. In the instance that vocalist/guitarist Brent McCormick imagines the dangers of blending cinematic expectation with real life, you realize that this song and perhaps the entire album is about the dangers of losing your romanticism and the dangers of losing yourself in unrealistic expectations. Bravo. --Shannon Cleary

Vexine – Little Sin

Soulful blues rock band Vexine is one of the hardest working acts around. The group's latest release Little Sin features the sultry voice of lead singer Sarah Gleason and uses its various sounds to create a rock-fueled anthem of a record. The title track, "Little Sin," is a fun little number with gypsy rhythms, and it's not without its tender moments. "Tantilla Gardens" is a slow number that tells the story of Richmond's Most Beautiful Ballroom before being demolished in 1977. Listening to Little Sin is the right recipe for a party. --Andrew Cothern

Young Scum - Zona

The bounce of Young Scum's jangle pop alone is worthy of acclaim, but it's the crisp and clean way the band presents this sound that really makes Zona a remarkable EP. It lets the trickling drumming cut through the noise on songs like "Sun Drop," while still letting the flighty guitar tone dominate the music like as heard on the title track. Though smooth in execution, there is still plenty of fuzz pop to go around, making it appealing to both fans of lo-fi and glossy production styles, something that twee and its descendants rarely ever excel in simultaneously. A short offering among the best of Citrus City's robust releases this year, Zona is an EP you'll find yourself revisiting time and time again. --Doug Nunnally

Concept By Doug Nunnally