I don’t feel like ranking things, but here are some Bay Area highlights for 2013, limited to artists I wrote about:
John Murry – Graceless Age: I tried to listen to Graceless Age in the background while doing some work on the computer. It didn’t work. Murry punched me in the gut and took me away from whatever I was doing and totally consumed me. The standout “Little Colored Balloons“, about Murry’s heroin overdose in the Mission, may one of the most heartbreaking songs ever recorded, but there is so much more to the album than one song. There is redemption found both on the album and in Murry’s real life, and at the album’s heart, it’s basically an album about being in love. Graceless Age is an incredibly deep album both lyrically and sonically that leaves new gems to be uncovered with every spin.
John Thill – Greatest Hits Volume II: At first glance, Thill’s album seems like a joke. And in a way it is: how does a folk-singing librarian who has released most of his albums on cassette and “CDR labels” put out a “greatest hits” album on vinyl and call it Volume II even though Volume I doesn’t exist? But then you start listening – there is a lot of humor in Thill’s lyrics, to be sure, but there is also intense sadness, hopelessness, and love in the Inland Empire setting Thill vividly recreates with just his voice and his guitar. Buy the vinyl for more hilarious and touching notes about each track.
Cool Ghouls – Cool Ghouls: Cool Ghouls blew me away the second I heard their joyful, screaming harmonies and jangly, muddy guitars. Their debut full-length didn’t disappoint. Their sound is distinctly Californian with a definite retro twist, but somehow feels completely fresh and new at the same time. Sing along, smile, and have fun.
WOOF – The Thrill of it All: I enjoyed a lot of Bay Area hip hop this year, but WOOF’s debut is the most complete album. The production from Robert Pera and Patrick Brown deserves to be compared to Run the Jewels – in my opinion Brown and Pera are operating on El-P’s level here. The Thrill of it All is a rewarding album whether you’re casually listening in your car or paying close attention on headphones.
My favorite artists that came to my attention via the submissions page are Magic Fight, Scary Little Friends, and Sea Dramas. I also loved releases this year from Bill Baird, Antwon, 100s, Sugar Candy Mountain, Cocktails, and Primitive Hearts.
Favorite Local Band Sets:
Magic Fight at the Rickshaw – Beautiful, intense harmonies.
Shannon and the Clams at Bay Brewed – They are the tightest band around.
John Thill at a Berkeley basement – Also probably the strangest show I saw.
Cool Ghouls at that cave – Hopefully a band you like does something similar and you can go.
A Million Billion Dying Suns at the Stork – Five absolute pros just shredding faces off in a tiny space.
John Murry – “California”:
Opski Chan – “Stay Gold”:
sayknowledge – “Art Goons” (ft. Cashius Green)
100s – “Hemsworth Outro”
Cool Ghouls – “Natural Life”
Chrystian Rawk – “Famous”