What a year 2016 was for Knoxville music. We broke from our own arbitrarily set rules to share with you the Top Twenty Albums/EPs instead of the Top Sixteen in Sixteen we were going to do, and it was STILL a challenge that induced banging heads against walls and screaming into pillows.
On a personal note, I want to state for the record that I don't like ranking music. I'm only one guy with two ears, and my own sensibilities and biases are inherent here. That doesn't mean I didn't pore over and spend as much time as I could listening to everything I could to give the best effort at coming up with as comprehensive of a list as possible. It kills me that some really great records will be ultimately be left out.
With that said if there's something you think should be on there that isn't, let us know. We wholeheartedly welcome dissension. All of this is in the interest of sharing and supporting local music and getting as many new people to hear and enjoy these great albums from right here in our city. If you have other suggestions, let us know in the Facebook comments and Twitter replies. Equally important, if you hear something that you find yourself really digging, share it with your friends. Share it far and wide!
If you haven't yet, we also highly recommend checking out our list of The Top 16 Singles From Knoxville Artists In 2016.
20) Josiah & The Greater Good - Singles
Josiah & The Greater Good has had one hell of a year. They got to open up for a multi-platinum classic rock band, they played Bonnaroo, and they've put out some really excellent songs. In the interest of cheating on our own rules for this list, we're kicking off the countdown with the collection of 2016 singles from J&TGG despite them not being part of a proper EP release. We're doing this because you have to be made aware of this band. In terms of awe-inspiring musicianship, Josiah & The Greater Good are (read this carefully) the best and most complete band in town.
19) Tim Lee 3 - Tin, Man
Released for the band's ten-year anniversary and run of farewell shows, Tin, Man was the parting gift of the godparents of Knoxville's music scene. While we may have said farewell to Tim Lee 3 in 2016, Tim and Susan Lee are far from done. They're already working on the first full-length record of their other project Bark.
18) Devin Badgett - Primary Colors EP
Devin is one of the most exciting young talents in town. Devin's debut release is a shockingly polished and tight effort for a first EP. With pleasing pop melodies, Primary Colors is solid from start to finish.
17) Zack Miles - Sights We Rarely See
There is nothing and nobody out there quite like Zack Miles. His background is fast-picking bluegrass, but his musical interests and influences are wide-ranging, and it shines through on Sights We Rarely See.
16) The Young Fables - Two
Laurel Wright has been an impressive vocal talent for a while now, but joining her new partner in crime Wes Lunsford took things to a whole new level. Now performing as a duo, The Young Fables have a stellar debut record to their name with more than a few radio-worthy singles in Two.
15) Handsome & The Humbles - Have Mercy
The follow-up to their 2014 EP Halleluja, Alright and their first full-length record, Handsome & The Humbles' Have Mercy drew praise from KMW (of course) as well as No Depression. This record is full of great Americana songs with a charm that is wholly southern. It's hard to tell if it's rock music with country elements or country music that rocks, but it doesn't really matter. Just listen to it.
14) Three Star Revival - Change It Up
If you've ever seen Three Star frontman Ben Gaines perform, it's clear he has a motor that doesn't stop. It's evident with the exploding opening line of "Baby don't give me no reason!" on track one of Change It Up. Three Star Revival's funky take on East Tennessean folk-rock and Americana is something like an Appalachian James Brown. It's infectious, and it makes sitting still nearly impossible.
13) Deconbrio - Hail To The Liar's Throne
It's been a long time coming to get a new record from Deconbrio after 2014's The Art of Violation: Part One. Hail To The Liar's Throne is what you need when you're ready to rock and rock hard. The robotic-sounding synth is a badass addition, but subtle enough to let the guitar do the heavy lifting. Great stuff from the Knoxville rock veterans.
12) Daje Morris - The Bloom Project EP
Six songs and one spoken word track of one of the most beautiful voices you'll ever hear. Daje Morris's The Bloom Project EP has the power and feeling to give your arms goosebumps and your eyes tears.
11) Matt Woods - How To Survie
Matt Woods' brand of heartfelt bluejeans and boots rock n roll is the soundtrack of East Tennessee, and his record How To Survive is something to behold. They're songs for heartbreak and hard times so eloquently boiled down and delivered in twelve tracks of greatness.
10) Adeem The Artist - Kyle Adem Is Dead
Adeem has quickly become one of Knoxville's premier singer/songwriters. His writing style is as unique as it is splendid. His 2016 full-length record Kyle Adem Is Dead is the first under his new moniker Adeem The Artist, and is an alluring indie-pop work of art.
9) Benjamin iii - They Lied To Us
There were a lot of hip-hop tracks on our 2016 singles list, but few rappers (at least this year) have put together such a conceptually and aesthetically coherent full album of this quality. This guy is just on the ball constantly. We have yet to reach the depths of Benji's midas touch, and They Lied To Us is a record full of gold.
8) Shriek Operator - The God Who Answers By Fire
The God Who Answers By Fire remains mysterious, and Shriek Operator continues to be one of Knoxville's best kept secrets. The entire record is hauntingly beautiful, jarring at times with its shrieking, and altogether an unmatched experience.
7) Sweet Years - Tough Season EP
In under fifteen minutes of runtime, no release packs more of a punch than Tough Season by Sweet Years.
6) Blond Bones - Few Of Days EP
Few of Days is a gorgeous EP. It's somber in tone and has rich guitar tones as well as vocals with heavy reverb It also features Jubal's Bonnie Simmons as a special guest for the final track "Tula's Song."
5) Yung Life - Soft / Divide
Yung Life continues to be the go-to band for indulgent synth-pop. Their most recent campaign Soft / Divide continues the band's tradition of throwback sound and good-time vibes and has several songs that stick with you.
4) Mathien - C.A.L.M.
Mathien is a cyborg. He must be. It doesn't make sense that one guy can do all this. He enlisted a couple dudes for drums, some folks here and there for strings and wind, and the wonderful Brandon Bowman for one song on the sax, but for the most part, C.A.L.M. is a one-man show. It's so incredibly funky and soulful and clever and fun. What's even more amazing is that there is not an ounce of filler on this thing. Every single song is a banger. Be on the lookout for more from Mathien in 2017. Pay attention to what this man is doing.
3) Cereus Bright - Excuses
Cereus Bright, surprisingly enough, had not put out a full-length record until this year. Excuses was worth the wait. It still has the band's usual folk-pop bent, but they've expanded on it since their last EP with more rock, more effects, more everything. The harmonies between Evan Ford and Tyler Anthony are unbeatable, and the permanent additions of Matt Nelson, Luke Bowers, and Jake Smith give the band a fullness that works incredibly well. Every song on this record is a winner, and they've even revisited and beefed up their signature, self-titled song.
2) Crumbsnatchers - Big House
Controlled chaos and insane amounts of fun are to be had on Crumbsnatchers' Big House. I'll forever have the memory of all four members playing these songs sweaty and shirtless in the Hops & Holler garage. It was an all-time album before that, but that personal memory really drove it home for me. Knoxville has its own character in a few different sub-genres and Crumbsnatchers do a lot to define the raucous garage rock that you can't really find anywhere else. This is often the first record I point to when people ask me what's some good Knoxville music they need to know about, and that won't stop in 2017.
1) William Wild - Steady Now
There can not be enough good things said about William Wild's Steady Now. It's one of the most beautiful, graceful, heartbreaking albums I've ever heard from here in Knoxville or elsewhere. Garrett Sale's voice is one of a kind, and his songwriting keeps reaching new heights with each new release. Through no fault of the band, Steady Now is no longer available on Spotify or Apple Music, which is a bummer but actually kind of builds on the legend of it all. To hear the actual studio album, you have to stream it on Soundcloud or pick up a physical copy at one of their shows. 2016 has been a big year for William Wild performing over 100 tour dates with the likes of Joseph, Lera Lynn, and Cereus Bright. If you haven't heard this record yet, drop what you're doing press play now, and don't stop until you're done.