Using a highly scientific formula (read: spreadsheet) concocted back in 2010, the Scene has once again tabulated ballots from our ace music writers to compile our list of the 10 best local albums of the year. With another fine crop of releases, many excellent albums landed just outside the Top 10, including Rich Ruth’s I Survived, It’s Over, Total Wife’s A Blip, Peachy’s Everything Is Fine, Jessie Baylin’s Jersey Girl, Ariel Bui’s Real & Fantasy and Waxed’s Give Up. Without further ado, the Top 10.


 

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10. TSU Aristocrat of Bands, The Urban Hymnal (self-released)

Since its inception in 1946, Tennessee State University’s Aristocrat of Bands has blessed Tennessee and the world with its musical talents. In 1955, the ensemble was the first HBCU marching band to perform on national TV, and in 1961, it was the first to perform at a presidential inauguration. The excellence has never diminished, but this year the group took on a new challenge with its first studio album, The Urban Hymnal. The LP masterfully blends traditional gospel music, soulful R&B and the sheer excitement of a world-class marching band, captured in astonishing fidelity. Features on the record range from acclaimed gospel musicians such as Sir the Baptist (who produced) and Jekalyn Carr to TSU staff and faculty such as President Glenda Glover and band director Reginald McDonald. The tremendous effort has also landed the group another historic first among HBCU marching bands — a Grammy nomination, in the Best Roots Gospel Album category. KAHWIT TELA

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9. Soccer Mommy, Sometimes, Forever (Loma Vista)

Each song on Soccer Mommy’s Sometimes, Forever sounds a bit like an incantation: Singer-songwriter Sophie Allison pulls at threads of darkness, but somehow seems to conjure glimmers of hope in tough moments. Produced by Daniel Lopatin, the album sounds spacey and experimental, a mix of semi-dissonant grunge tunes and perfectly sad pop songs. A favorite track on the album, “Still,” looks at the feelings around wanting to end your own life. Allison sings: “I need someone who can relate / ’Cause I lost myself to a dream I had / And I’d never give it all away / But I miss feelin’ like a person.” There’s still a small bit of desire to remain here. It may seem odd to find hope in the melancholy, but this kind of album is the kind of company I love when I’m feeling miserable. AMANDA HAGGARD

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8. Erin Rae, Lighten Up (Good Memory/Thirty Tigers)

Folk singer and songwriter Erin Rae has long been an active figure in Nashville’s music scene, collaborating with loads of other top-shelf performers and issuing a number of strong releases, including 2018’s excellent Putting on Airs. But with this year’s Lighten Uprecorded at producer Jonathan Wilson’s studio in Topanga Canyon — Rae truly gets to showcase her range. From the boogying “True Love’s Face” to the standout Kevin Morby collab “Can’t See Stars” and the gentle, string-adorned “Cosmic Sigh,” it’s a diverse but cohesive lineup of tunes from an artist who continues to grow. Rae has a gorgeous, confident voice, and it shines on Lighten Up more than ever before. D. PATRICK RODGERS

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7. Six One Trïbe, Trïbe Over Everything (Six One Trïbe Productions)

On Trïbe Over Everything, the long-gestating debut LP by sprawling hip-hop collective Six One Trïbe, more than 20 rappers and singers make their mark on a record that’s defined by its diversity. Not just diversity in the voices you hear — which are plentiful — but in the sounds, which weave through modern trap (“Wholotta”), early Aughts Chicago (“Live in the Moment”), Hypnotize Minds-inspired cuts (“Is You Shittin’ Me??”) and beyond. The magic of Trïbe Over Everything is in its cohesion. Around every corner is a surprise, and we can’t wait for the Trïbe to keep flipping it on us. And we won’t have to wait long — they’re just getting started. LANCE CONZETT

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6. Caitlin Rose, Cazimi (Missing Piece)

If Caitlin Rose stopped making records after 2013’s The Stand-In, she’d still be remembered as one of the best songwriters of the decade in a town full of greats. Taking time to figure out how to follow it up on her terms and in her own time — partly enforced by the pandemic shutting everything down just after Rose, co-producer Jordan Lehning and the William Tyler Band finished recording her new LP Cazimi — was the best possible approach. It’s a rich, funny, often candid and occasionally heartbreaking record that sounds familiar and bracingly new all at once, with tinges of country and New Wave combined in a way that might make Rockpile jealous. STEPHEN TRAGESER

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5. Robyn Hitchcock, Shufflemania! (Tiny Ghost)

Robyn Hitchcock broke out of a years-long songwriting slump with a brilliant record, Shufflemania! The album’s material artfully blurs the boundaries between the seen and the unseen and is populated by a colorful cast of characters, including the imp of change, the feathered serpent god, a Scorpio private eye, a noir novelist with two graves, a murdered Greek philosopher, an English lord and fish swimming in the grass. Co-produced with Hitchcock’s partner Emma Swift and recorded remotely during the height of the pandemic, the album features long-distance contributions from a number of Hitchcock’s celebrated musical friends, including Johnny Marr, Brendan Benson, Davey Lane, former Soft Boys bandmate Kimberley Rew and Sean Ono Lennon. DARYL SANDERS

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4. Amanda Shires, Take It Like a Man (ATO)

An album doesn’t have to hit you like a ton of bricks to be good; what makes the difference is when an artist is making the work they need to make. Amanda Shires’ Take It Like a Man is indeed an intense record, in which the poet, fiddler and songsmith examines working through a period of conflict in her marriage. It’s compassionate and nuanced — by turns smoldering, brooding and soulful — but it also doesn’t give an inch to the idea that the topic has to be addressed on someone else’s terms. Shires’ records have never sounded timid, but she spoke in interviews about how previous bad experiences in the studio had convinced her that her time as a musician was over. Thankfully for us, and seemingly for her as well, collaborator and producer Lawrence Rothman encouraged her to try again. STEPHEN TRAGESER

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3. Negro Justice, Chosen Family (Six One Trïbe Productions)

If Music City hip-hop is to ever fully unveil its talent to the outside world, it will not be due to the machinations of the music industry, but rather in spite of them. Negro Justice might be the best example of that, as he offered Chosen Family to the world in March. He and his community of Tennessean rap luminaries came together to put out one of the best stacks of tracks this town has to offer. On this release via his Six One Trïbe Collective brotherhood — a fully DIY effort — the MC covers a broad spectrum of sounds rooted in Southern flavor and touching on jazz and soul, brimming with brilliant wordplay. P.J. KINZER

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2. Twen, One Stop Shop (self-released)

The pandemic blunted momentum for many bands, but not Twen. In 2019, the pop-rockers’ debut LP Awestruck came out on noted NYC indie Frenchkiss, but didn’t seem to have a massive impact outside Boston, where the band formed, and Nashville, their home since 2017. Evidently, this motivated singer Jane Fitzsimmons and guitarist-producer Ian Jones to level up for round two. If Awestruck‘s definitive versions of Twen’s first batch of songs hinted at the group’s potential, One Stop Shop — written and finessed during lockdown — realizes it. The duo’s optimistic, streamlined spin on Britpop and pre-Nirvana alt-rock doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but takes it on a joyride through our dystopian present. Engineered in-house by Jones, the tones on One Stop Shop are pristine, the hooks enormous and relentless. The maturing band remains a secret too well kept, but that shouldn’t be the case much longer. CHARLIE ZAILLIAN

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1. Namir Blade, Metropolis (Mello Music Group)

Of his many talents, Namir Blade’s ability to build worlds through song is one of his most striking. On 2020’s Aphelion’s Traveling Circus, the masterful MC and producer immersed listeners in a futuristic sideshow of sorts, one with ample room to showcase not just Blade’s storytelling but also his well-honed technical skills as a rapper and studio wizard. Metropolis is Blade’s finest work yet, borrowing its title from the 2001 anime, which itself draws from a 1949 manga inspired by a 1927 experimental German film. It’s those complex, sometimes surprising layers of touchpoints that make Blade’s projects such rewarding listens — as elements of, say, Blade Runner or Akira brush up against Afrofuturist philosophy and cyberpunk aesthetics. And if decoding allusion isn’t your thing, Metropolis is bursting with hooks and killer flows too, with features including Gee Slab, Jamiah Hudson and Jordan Webb. BRITTNEY McKENNA

Talking with rising roots star Sierra Ferrell, counting down the year’s top Nashville albums and more

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