The Key's Year-End Mania: Mike Vasilikos' top musical discoveries of 2016 - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals @ The 9th Annual Roots Picnic | photo by Wendy McCardle

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2016 incredible. Today, XPN assistant program director and New Music Show host Mike Vasilikos recaps some of the best new music he heard in 2016.

I’ll be honest … a big part of me wants to just kick 2016 to the curb. For all the great music we enjoyed, the year will most likely be remembered for the losses of Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones … and sadly, I can go on. So as I reflected on the past 12 months, I really tried to focus on the music that energized me. And that led me to what was really a list of my favorite discoveries of 2016. I hate trying to rank these sorts of things, so in no particular order here are my Top 5 Musical Discoveries of 2016 (plus some honorable mentions).

OJR (Oliver John-Rodgers)

First I heard his album. Then I saw him live. Then I saw him live, again. Each time I was more and more convinced that this kid is something special. His fiercely independent spirit and devotion to his craft is such a rare thing in an economy of Spotify streams and Apple Music exclusives. In a Dylan-like way his music is a constant evolution. The songs on his album Nashville Demos, led by rollicking psychedelic “Numb”, are more of a blueprint than a final product. The final product is when Oliver hits the stage and brings these songs to life, sometimes in almost unrecognizable ways. He’s a true artist with limitless potential.

Anderson .Paak

Anderson .Paak released Malibu back in January and as soon as he did, he made this list. Some people aim to be cool, some people just are. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Anderson is the latter. What you have to respect about Anderson’s vision is that it isn’t steeped in one genre. He’s got big musical ambitions on Malibu and draws from soul, R&B, rock, jazz and beyond. I love artists like Anderson .Paak and I love this album.

Brent Cobb

Simplicity wins sometimes. And that’s not to call Brent Cobb a simple man. But his album Shine On Rainy Day is a breezy, back porch affair that proves the importance of a good singer-songwriter. It an album that begs you to just sit back and listen. Songs like “Country Bound” and “Solving Problems” prove that to make an impact sometimes all you need is a guitar and some compelling stories.

Chance the Rapper

Ok, so this isn’t really fair. Chance wasn’t as much a discovery this year as he was an emergence. Coloring Book is rightfully in discussion among many music fans as the album of the year. But the real reason Chance makes this list is because he was a revelation. It’s a travesty that more artists don’t make albums like this anymore. It truly is. While Coloring Book is technically a mixtape, it’s a collection of songs that has more heart and soul and guts behind it than ANYTHING else I heard this year. Good albums are NOT meant to be product, yet too many artists treat their music as such. Chance used Coloring Book as an avenue for artistic expression. So it doesn’t matter to me that it’s a hip-hop album or a gospel album or a soul album or all the above. The guy is transcendent and if not for him 2016 could’ve been a bust.

Sofi Tukker

This is my guilty pleasure band of the year. The New York based duo hypnotized me with their first single “Drinkee”. The independent duo of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern followed it up with the release of the EP Soft Animals which features an bunch of other infectious tunes like “Hey Lion” and Awoo”. It’s dance music at its core but it’s fun, it’s sexy and it’s stylish. I felt somewhat alone in my fandom for this band until they received a surprise Grammy nod last month.

Honorable Mentions:

Margo Price – the Nashville based country artist made a splash in 2016 with her debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. In fact, it was a year that saw a major resurgence in the independent country and Americana worlds, and rightfully so. I wish I had enjoyed the album more. At times I felt like the record wasn’t as genuine as the stories she was telling. But that all changed after seeing Margo live. She’s 100% the real deal and a bright, bright star.

Leif Vollebekk – Ok, so his album won’t be out until 2017 but he makes this list purely on the strength of the first single “Elegy” (which is out now). The Canadian songwriter is someone to keep an eye (and ear) on in the new year. Singer-songwriters aren’t hard to find, but this guy is beyond typical and his music proves it.

Middle Kids – There is a lot left to be seen and heard from this band. The Australian trio haven’t even been a band for a full year! That said, it didn’t take them long to get on our radar. And with songs like “Your Love” it’s not a surprise. But 2017 looms as a big year for them. They’ll be a U.S. tour and hopefully a full album soon.

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