Just as hard as it was to choose the five best songs of 2016, it was just as difficult to whittle down the list of album releases. This year, bands and artists from the Lehigh Valley did not disappoint when it come to putting their best musical foot forward. Here are, in no specific order, my top five local album releases of 2016:
Summer Scouts, Furthest Reach
Whether it's the anthemic "Olympic White," the fist-pumper "Vessel" or the bedroom stereo-tailored "April,' Furthest Reach is pure power-pop bliss. The band perfectly meshes lilting melodic vocals with (at times aggressive) staccato guitars and rambunctious beats. Furthest Reach hits all the emotional and structural points it needs in order to achieve maximum effect. Singer Katherine De Menno's impressive pipes are a delight, backed by equally strong vocals from guitarist Ross Huber. In fact, there is nary a weak song here. Bluntly speaking, Furthest Reach is darn near perfect.
There is jazz and then there is the kind of sound Shawn Cav Ensemble is crafting. Bucking the traditional jazz framework, SCE's Glass Houses is built on a foundation of funk, rock and free-form. And it works. More Weather Report than Miles Davis, there are many layers -- some obvious, others more subtle -- flowing smoothly underneath the musical current. Cav's bass work is, unsurprisingly, top-notch and further evidence as to why he is one of the most in-demand musicians in the Lehigh Valley.
Pentley and the Lucid Dreamers, Rip Out My Heart
Singer-songwriter Pentley Holmes delivers an earnest and soulful collection of tunes that put his vocal prowess and lyrical craftsmanship front and center. While Rip Out My Heart tackles the emotional fallout of saying goodbye, Holmes does it with such aplomb and laid-back ease that you may find yourself not catching the sound of a heart breaking underneath his infectious brand of bluesy folk.
VoirVoir's There Are No Goodbyes captures the energy and spirit of a band creating music on their terms. This is rock 'n' roll on the fringe, without the frills; a trippy blend of We Are Scientists and Cage the Elephant. From the breakneck opener "I Wanna," to the plucky, melodic "Be Your Machine," VoirVoir sets their turbine engines to full speed and stays high in the stratosphere with spacey blasts of garage punk.
You may be reading this and thinking to yourself, "What is a comedy album doing on a list filled with mostly music acts?" Or you may not be thinking that at all. But if you are, well, there is good reason for Glen Tickle's inclusion. Not only is he a genuinely funny guy, but Tickle's album was able to crack the top 20 of Billboard's Comedy Albums chart, landing at No. 13. Tickle shares tales of navigating the mysterious waters of parenthood and displays a natural charm when it comes to self-deprecation (take, for instance, his bit on the social ripple effects of being an adult with the last name "Tickle"). Yes Really is a hilarious debut from one of the Valley's brightest talents.
Honorable mentions: Slingshot Dakota, Break; Doug Hawk, Songs for Humans
What album(s) made YOUR best-of list? Leave a comment below!