Brian Koscho is the marketing director for Stuart’s Opera House, as well as a member of Athens-based band Unmonumental and has helped operate the Ohio music collective Aquabear Legion since 2004. (Submitted)

Top Tunes ’16: Brian Koscho

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This is another installment of a year-end series that examines what Athens-centric tune heads have been jamming to all year long. Keep tabs on the series here

Daniel Bachman – Daniel Bachman

Another great record from Bachman, continuing a string of great releases the last few years. He never disappoints and always heads into different sonic territories, mixing American Primitive guitar influences with drones and more experimental textures. He’s playing an in-store at Haffa’s Records in Athens on Jan. 30 — don’t miss it.

Adam TorresPearls to Swine

I’ve known Adam since his days in Southeast Engine, and was so excited a few years back to see the re-release of his 2006 cult classic Nostra Nova and subsequent live shows and new writing. Pearls to Swine is epic. Every ridiculous expectation that I had for new Adam Torres music was exceeded. An absolutely beautiful album.

William TylerModern Country

William Tyler’s past albums have gone between a variety of sonic, folky, psychedelia and more straight ahead fingerpicking, doing both quite well. In addition to his solo work, Tyler has also played with groups like Silver Jews and Lambchop over the years. On his fourth full-length solo album Modern Country, he goes for a fuller sound that combines both of those styles. A great band doesn’t hurt either, with Phil Cook (Hiss Golden Messenger), Glenn Kotche (Wilco), and more.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

These guys have been one of my favorite “new” rock and roll bands of the past few years. Their debut Light Up Gold is an incredible dose of punk energy that I didn’t think could exist in the 2010s. Since then they have continued the streak, even getting really weird on this year’s companion release Monastic Living. Don’t start with that one — listen to Human Performance instead. A solid rock ‘n’ roll album even in these times, something that is a bit rarer than you would think.

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service 

This one is showing up on a wide range of year end lists, no matter what the source… and that is because it is really, really good. I love Tribe and have since high school, and this is a great record for them- not their best- but that is a high mountain to climb. This is a perfect example of some of the best in the game still being relevant, still pushing the envelope, and still with something really important to say. We Got It… is a record for these times with songs like “We the People”, “Melatonin”, and of course “The Donald.” Q-Tip, the late Phife and a slew of guest stars including Busta Rhymes bring some of their strongest verses in years.

Steve GunnEyes on the Lines

I feel like the past few years my year-end lists follow a pattern: noodly guitar stuff/hip-hop/psych and noise rock. Seems like I am pretty much on that same road again. At least consistency is a good thing, right? Gunn continues to be a model of consistency, putting out another solid release with Eyes on the Lines. I have never been a fan of the Grateful Dead, but this album sounds a lot like the Dead, at least to me. It made me re-visit the Dead since I liked this new Steve Gunn stuff so much. I still don’t like the Dead, but I realized I absolutely love Anthem of the Sun (their fantastic second album from 1968) where they noodle it up and then turn into Weedghost every 10 or 15 minutes. To get back on track, this is another great collection from Gunn who will be at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville on Jan. 18 with Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Heron Oblivion’s Meg Baird.

Nathan BowlesWhole & Cloven

Another find from the modern American Primitive group of folks like Bachman, Tyler, and Jack Rose is the wonderful Nathan Bowles. Bowles has played in staples of this general genre like Pelt and The Black Twig Pickers, playings drums in Steve Gunn’s live bands as of late, but his solo work stands on its own. Bowles crafts songs based often around banjo, shifting sometimes suddenly from traditional to otherworldly and foreign. Bowles spins a very cosmic take on Americana that is still firmly rooted in tradition.

Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel BandThe Rarity of Experience

Chris Forsyth is a monster on guitar. I think this is the kind of band everyone wants to be in, straight up rock and roll that never worries about the jam going on too long. The Rarity of Experience tightens things up just a little bit from the sprawling but also awesome “Solar Motel” song cycles, but never too much. I wanted to catch a few minutes of them at NMF this year but sadly did not, but next time they come through Ohio I am there.

Rangda The Heretic’s Bargain

I love this band. That makes a lot of sense because I love all three of the musicians involved. Chris Corsano is one of the most talented and adventurous drummers there is and in Rangda he is flanked by two equally supremely awesome guitarists: Sir Richard Bishop (of Sun City Girls and solo work) and Ben Chasny (of Six Organs of Admittance). They’ve put out a few records over the years and I think this is my favorite. Riffy instrumental rock and roll that flows in many different directions (sometimes all at once), this hits the sweet spot for me, especially when they let it go a bit more with the 19-minute-plus closer “Mondays are Free at the Hermetic Museum.”

Heron OblivionHeron Oblivion

This band mirrors Rangda a bit for me in the concept of a solid group of amazing musicians from other established and important projects who get together and melt brains. Heron Oblivion made up of folks from Comets on Fire and Espers which is already probably an instant spot on the list alone, but they take psych to a whole new level. That riff from “Oriar” is unreal, go listen to it right now. These guys went crazy late night at NMF this year, playing an unbelievable set. I am also very excited that Meg Baird will be at Stuart’s on Jan. 18 to open for Steve Gunn and Lee Ranaldo. You all really need to come to that show, because all three of those people are great.

Kendrick Lamar untitled unmastered

I listened to a ton of hip-hop in high school and early college and drifted away for years and years until rediscovering my love for it a couple years ago. Kendrick Lamar is one of those MC’s who brought me back into listening to new hip-hop and discovering new artists and beatmakers I hadn’t heard before. Kendrick is so good right now that even this collection of demos recorded around the same time as last year’s masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly makes everyone’s year end lists. It’s because of how good he is with his instrument, his verses, his writing — the way these songs come together is perfect. I hope he is recording as much as humanly possible right now, because this dude is on the top of his game at the moment.

Emma Ruth RundleMarked for Death

Every year I enjoy the music that comes out of nowhere for me, things that were not on my radar that I know nothing about. Usually it happens because of Andrew Lampela (my friend, bandmate in Unmonumental, and co-owner of Haffa’s Records), who will continually bring up something numerous times over a period of months. Then one day, I am looking for something to listen to and I hear him say “That new Emma Ruth Rundle album is really, really good,” in my mind. He’s right, it is. I had no idea about this L.A.-based musician, she’s put out a couple solo records (those are good too) and some with bands including the group Marriages. But on Marked For Death she is coming into her own, beautiful and dark lyrics and epic, swelling, music to match.

ConnectionsMidnight Run

I love Ohio music a lot. Connections are from Columbus and have put out four incredible records of perfect Ohio rock ‘n’ roll in the past few years. Midnight Run went into heavy rotation immediately and has stayed there since, “Kate” is among my favorite songs of the year. Lots of Guided By Voices and Dinosaur Jr. all over this one and that is just fine by me. The Columbus institution Anyway Records put this one out and continues to lead a path for us with the best rock ‘n’ roll in the Buckeye State. We are going to need a lot of this brand of rock ‘n’ roll in the next four years.

Swarming Branch – Surreal Number

Speaking of great musicians from Columbus; Andrew Graham and his band Swarming Branch are really fantastic. Surreal Number is a great record start to finish and covers a lot of sonic territory, but at its heart features some of the most refreshing and catchy music I have heard in years. We are really excited to have Swarming Branch involved with the upcoming Aquabear Legion Volume 6 vinyl compilation.

Run the JewelsRun the Jewels 3

Glad I had a spot left for this one, dropped as a bit of a surprise on Christmas Eve. Run the Jewels is comprised of rappers Killer Mike and El-P. I still have to spend more time with this one but even after a few days I can’t stop listening to it. Plus guest spots from Danny Brown and Kamasi Washington, that is fine by me. Some of the best songs in hip-hop the past five years come from these guys, and their third full-length follows right along.

And some more:

Dinosaur Jr.Give Em A Glimpse Of What Yer Not
Car Seat HeadrestTeens of Denial
Margaret GlaspyEmotions and Math
Charles BradleyChanges
The Village BicycleFits and Starts

Brian Koscho lives in Athens with his wife Sherri, their cat Maggie and dog Bosco. Brian has worked at Stuart’s Opera House and the Nelsonville Music Festival since 2007 and has helped operate the Ohio music collective Aquabear Legion since 2004.

Aquabear is working on their second vinyl compilation (and 12th release) with over 20 Ohio bands right now and are raising money with pre-orders and more on Indiegogo. He plays bass and makes noise in Athens band Unmonumental, and hosts a couple podcasts on including one all about Ohio music called “The Western Reserve.”

In his spare time enjoys being constantly disappointed in the Cleveland Browns, even more so this year.