nerdy dozen 2016

The Nerdy Dozen: 12 Indispensable Albums of 2016

Entertainment Geek Culture Music Reviews

nerdy dozen 2016

With the podcast now back in full swing, I’ve elected to resurrect yet another music-related project, “The Nerdy Dozen.” This (ir)regular feature sees me compile a list of 12 indispensable albums from the previous year—2016, in this case—and feature a song or video from each as well as a little write-up about what made the corresponding release such a big part of my musical diet.

While the entire thing is a pretty loose process, I do try to abide by some simple guidelines. I focus on full albums, and the occasional EP, and said releases have to be from calendar year 2016. (And let me tell you—this year saw more than its fair share of spectacular latecomers.)

With that out of the way, let us take a chronological trip through the geeky music of the year that was.

NOTICE: Some of the musical works presented below contain adult language. Please listen responsibly.

Nuclear Bubble Wrap, Multiverses

Release date: January 1, 2016
Available via: Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play
Sounds like: time and space and treble and bass
The skinny: While 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the comedy music collective that is The FUMP—happy 10th, guys!—2016 opened with a new full-length from Nashville alt-rockers and longtime scene staples Nuclear Bubble Wrap. NBR has, almost from its inception, shied away from the Dementia Music tradition of “Weird Al”-style parodies, and Multiverses takes their humorous, heartful approach to musical comedy further into the wonderfully unexpected realm of psychedelic space rock.

Meri Amber, Retro Sherbet

Release date: March 2, 2016
Available via: Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play
Sounds like: ’90s-nostalgic geek-pop from Down Under
The skinny: I’ve been blogging about nerdy music for well over a decade now, and it takes a lot to surprise me. That said, in February of last year, a submission landed in the GeekDad slush pile that really caught me unawares. While much of the music I deal with skews heavily in one direction or another—hip-hop, chiptunes, metal, etc.—Australian Singer-songwriter Meri Amber combines a myriad of rock and dance elements to create a vibrant, polished strain of indie pop that you can’t help but want to listen to again and again.

Stemage, Narrowband

Release date: March 18, 2016
Available via: Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play
Sounds like: the color out of space
The skinny: Better known as the man behind Metroid Metal, Grant Henry has long released his original compositions under the stage name Stemage. Last year’s Narrowband, a tight, six-song cycle, is likely his most accessible and easily one of his best. Its searing interstellar prog-metal instrumentals are sure to please fans of heavy music.


Snoot, Dank Memes

Release date: March 20, 2016
Available via: Bandcamp
Sounds like: perfect punk rock energy with a power pop polish
The skinny: Husband and wife duo Randy Garcia and Kayla Webb masterfully tackle everything from doo-wop to alt-country in their 2016 debut full-length Dank Memes. Alternately sparse and introspective and loud and boisterous, its undeniable consistencies are quality songwriting and stirring musical composition.


Mikal kHill, Human Disaster

Release date: June 21, 2016
Available via: Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play
Sounds like: hip-hop and heartbreak straight from the mountains of NC
The skinny: Human Disaster sees Mikal kHill‘s unique brand of geeky sadcore sharpened to a point and shoved straight in the heart of his fiercest opponent: himself. Backed up by longtime collaborators (like Tribe One and Ceschi Ramos), it’s his sweetest, most soulful, most melancholy release yet—somehow both dark and troubling and, in its own quiet way, strong and uplifting. If you’ve ever felt hopeless or isolated, if you’ve ever tested an old emotional wound by poking at it like a bruise, Human Disaster may take you back to places you’d rather not travel, but it’ll also help remind you of the value of moving forward.


Beefy, Too Big to Fail, Part 1

Release date: August 26, 2016
Available via: Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play
Sounds like: Beefy and tanner4105 make nerdcore great again
The skinny: Too Big to Fail is the Chinese Democracy of nerdcore hip-hop; long-faithful fans have heard rumblings of its coming for ages, but few of us thought we’d actually live to see the project’s actual arrival. The big difference is, unlike the pale, anemic GNR of that day, Beefy and his go-to producer Tanner arrive sounding better than ever. Too Big to Fail is everything you want from our corpulent second-generation nerd rap darling. It is a sweet and self-effacing ride through Beefy’s real life as a loving father and husband with ample layovers in the realm of his always-active imagination. Oh, and the Rusty Shackles-designed cover art features a cat. The internet loves cats!


PDX Broadsides, Something’s Rotten

Release date: August 30, 2016
Available via: Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play
Sounds like: acoustic geek rock from a bygone era mysteriously transported into your iPhone
The skinny: When the earliest recorded nerds crawled forth out of the primordial muck, they quickly gathered together for safety and warmth in primitive enclaves called “fan conventions.” The music of these early tribes blended the folk of the 1950s and ’60s with the themes and characters of the science fiction and fantasy of the day: filk. While this music of our geeky ancestors still lives on in the filk circles of today, it’s the work of acts like the PDX Broadsides, who blend the classical aesthetic with that of modern geek rock, that is really helping to bring this music of the ancients to a wider audience. Whether your passions lie in the works of Shakespeare or the glory of web memes (or you’re simply more concerned with Nathan Fillion’s ass), Something’s Rotten‘s toe-tapping rhythms and charming harmonies touch on whatever brand of dorkery matters to you most.


Release date: September 9, 2016
Available via: Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play
Sounds like: your Game Boy and your old Commodore 64 getting down and dirty in a darkened discotheque
The skinny: Somehow Michelle Sternberger, between her various other bands and musical projects (not the least of which is as one-half of 8 Bit Weapon), found the time in 2016 to release her third fantastic solo album. ComputeHer’s BLIPTASTIC! pushes various vintage sound chips into overdrive to deliver 9 tracks of sparkling electro in one delightfully satisfying package.


mc chris, mc chris is dreaming

Release date: September 30, 2016
Available via: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play
Sounds like: yet another dirty dalliance inside the mind of your favorite cartoon rapper
The skinny: Swears and scares abound on this Nightmare on Elm Street-themed concept album—which, like most of mc’s other recent work, is only a concept piece in the broadest of strokes. The fun (and filthy) spoken interludes tie the album together, but the main attraction is the songs themselves. While other OG nerdcore rappers may feel content to let their lyrical fields go fallow, mc chris has been pairing faster flows with bigger beats… while also rapping about Freddy Krueger and the Muppet Babies… because, y’know, mc chris.


Sammus, Pieces in Space

Release date: October 28, 2016
Available via: Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play
Sounds like: clever, confessional, and challenging
The skinny: You can’t talk about Ithaca NY’s PhD student, producer, and rap powerhouse Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo without first acknowledging that hip-hop culture (or nerd culture or, well, culture in general) hasn’t always been particularly receptive to female talent. But since the release of her 2012 full-length M’Other Brain and subsequent collaborations with Mega Ran, Sammus has blown up in a way that only the truly talented can. She’s been featured at SXSW, toured with nerd-folkers The Doubleclicks, and occasionally even steps away from the mic long enough to guest blog at The Mary Sue. If you’re new to all things Sammus, though, there’s no better jumping-on point than Pieces in Space. Whether you’re an old school head or a gamer geek, her fierce delivery—from bombastic sci-fi narratives to sharing her own darkest thoughts and insecurities—and sparkling production can only lead you to one conclusion: Sammus is a genuine force of nature.


More or Les, Blow the F–k Up But Stay Humble

Release date: November 25, 2016
Available via: Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play
Sounds like: the very height of cerebral Canadian hip-hop
The skinny: Despite my lowly existence in the lower right-hand corner of the US of A, I am fortunate enough to have a number of musical connections to our neighbors in the North. Canadian MCs like Jesse Dangerously and Wordburglar have long been favorites, and the crew at Toronto’s Hand’Solo Records always makes it a point to keep me in the loop concerning the latest and greatest from the Canadian underground. With stellar releases like 2012’s Mastication and 2013’s Bigger On The Inside: A Time Traveller’s Mixtape already under his belt, I was anxiously awaiting the latest from the brunch-obsessed More or Les, but nothing prepared me for the musical tour de force of Blow the F–k Up But Stay Humble. Its 19 tracks of all-killer/no-filler rap certainly aren’t always kid-friendly, but they are always strong and satisfying.


D&D Sluggers, [why are you like this]

Release date: December 9, 2016
Available via: Bandcamp
Sounds like: bitpop to soothe your troubled soul
The skinny: A one-man band armed with an electric guitar, a Nintendo DS, and just the right blend of awkwardness, angst, and artistry, D&D Sluggers is inevitably a world apart from any other act on the bill. And I don’t think he’d have it any other way. A surprising year-end arrival, [why are you like this] channels his jangly garage rock into 7 tight compositions that make a perfect soundtrack for processing your own emotional wellbeing… or driving around at night to pick up take-out.

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