1. Parker Millsap and Michael Rose
While it’s been another great year of quality Oklahoma releases, no one had quite the star-making performance that Millsap did with Palisade. The humble, 19-year-old Purcell native went from unknown to local favorite in less than half a year, thanks to his Tom Waits howl of a voice tearing through masterfully crafted ditties like “Seed” and “Farmer’s Lament.” Palisade is bare and stripped down to the essentials: a guitar, a stand-up bass and that voice. When you are this good, that’s all you really need.
You can practically hear Apocalyptic Behavior before you press play. It’s just as fiery, fierce, chaotic and concussive as the title promises. It’s also brilliant — the type of brilliance you can only achieve if you’re not trying to do anything brilliant at all. “Windshield Wiper,” “Voyeur” and “Meat By Product” harken back to Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys and Bad Brains … not a derivative, but a direct extension. Punk ain’t dead — it’s gone through hell and back, and woke up in Oklahoma.
3. John Fullbright
From the Ground Up
Oklahomans have known that Fullbright was special since the first raspy note he let out in his — and Woody Guthrie’s — hometown of Okemah, but with the newly Grammy-nominated From the Ground Up, now the whole world is taking notice. It’s a studied set of powerful and smart folk tunes, and with “Gawd Above” and “Jericho,” it felt like Guthrie was among us again.
4. Defining Times
Lots of bands reach out for that big, airy, atmospheric aesthetic of a Radiohead or U2, but crash and burn in an awkward, Grape Lady-like fall. Defining Times not only keeps its feet, but finds itself in Separate Tongues, a seven-song effort — anchored by the Bon Iver-esque “Outlaw” — that has the OKC act sounding right at home up in the clouds.
5. Josh Sallee
Much like Kevin Durant, it’s hard to appreciate just how impressive Sallee’s feats are because he makes them look so damned easy. He glides over beats like he learned to rap before talk. “Put Out” is hilariously clever; “Ew” boasts an infectious bounce; and “Big Kid Bars” is radio-ready. It is only a matter of time before OKC’s Sallee makes a national splash; he’s one “Donald Trump” away from being a household name.
6. Chelsey Cope
A Deeper Root
It’s hard to find a way to shine in a city flush with remarkable female singer-songwriters, but Cope does just that with A Deeper Root, a devastating and determined collection of Cat Power-style tunes. It’s imperfect, but decidedly so, embracing the cracks, twists and turns for all the character they reveal, best heard in “The Fall” and “Gotta Lot of Nerve.”
7. Myke Brown
Don’t Forget the Y
It was great to see Brown, more noted for his slick guest verses than own material, step into the spotlight with Don’t Forget the Y. I don’t see him willing to let it go, either, given the strength of this disc. “Atlantis” is the best local hip-hop track of the year; “Hey I” (also featuring Sallee) is equally strong; and another Oklahoma hip-hop heavyweight is born.
8. Young Readers
When an album comes wrapped in a coloring sheet and packed with a set of crayons, you get an idea of where you’re headed. Family Trees is as gentle and polite as you expect, but it’s not childish — more trying to remember, a few years and a few heartbreaks later, what being a kid was like. Songs like “Boxcar” are quaint, lovely and warm your heart like little else could.
9. Colin Nance
No one in Oklahoma is making the music Nance is, and with Warmth, he’s creating bigger, bolder and more inventive sounds by himself than most bands ever could. “Dream Cove” and “Awakening” fall sonically in line with M83 and Toro y Moi, but boasting a voice that recalls Twin Shadow. Warmth is of-the-moment, but something of its very own.
No one cut loose the way Cosmostanza did on its debut, Rad Vibes, which I’m assuming is the result of translating a pizza-fueled Super Smash Bros. tourney into tunes. Beneath the fuzz of “Dance Party” and “You Make Things Fun” are some of the catchier melodies of the year. Raw, yes, but Rad Vibes sees Cosmostanza brimming with potential.
Hey! Read This:
• The Black Jack Gypsys' 3:1 album review
• Chelsey Cope's A Deeper Root album review
• Colin Nance's Warmth album review
• Copperheads' Apocalyptic Behavior album review
• Cosmostanza's Rad Vibes album review
• Cusp's Nothing Proper album review
• Deerpeople interview
• Defining Times interview
• John Calvin interview
• John Fullbright interview
• Josh Sallee's Probable Flaws album review
• Myke Brown's Don’t Forget the Y album review
• Parker Millsap and Michael Rose's Palisade album review
• Rob Vader interview
• Young Readers interview