2015 saw a lot of great things happening for Bay Area music; new spaces and accommodating houses have popped up across downtown and West Oakland, a slew of new bands have appeared out of San Francisco’s outer sunset despite the technocrat insurgency, and just about every band I can think of put out new material this year.
I really enjoyed the dissonant debut by Oakland’s Mansion, the couple of new Crush and Unity songs that snuck out, Mall Walk‘s 7″ and the Dick Stusso tape that came out on Rob’s label Vacant Stare, just to mention a few. I’ll keep this brief, but below are my thoughts on Oakland’s Toyota, and the ‘debut’ record by San Francisco’s Jay Som, which I apparently can’t stop talking about.
Best New Band
All October I kept hearing about this new band that sounded like everyone’s current musical obsession The Coneheads. A band who not only worshipped Devo but whom we could all count on actually enjoying live, as the likelihood of getting Indiana’s Coneheads to the Bay was slim due to the some of the members’ aviation fears. I caught Toyota‘s first show opening up at a house in Oakland; tight drum fills, and goofy, sassy vocals punctuated with the occasional electronic flurry from a korg kaos pad strapped to vocalist (name removed by request)’s strat confirmed the hype – this band rocked.
A week later Toyota released their EP, entitled “Concept Model(s) I-V”, five songs contained in one track, demanding listening from start to end. My favorite moment is a section in the third track where, after a clunky riff, Oka mumbles “real tight” and the band descends into a tense jam with conversational voices fluttering in and out, the sound of the band dismantling their own song.
The group shares members with San Francisco’s Fish Breath and Stucko, and also contains ex-members of Dennis and GRMLN, but it’s worth noting that Toyota is the first project by the group’s central songwriters. When asked about influences, members sell the band sort, explaining “we’re just a Coneheads ripoff”; true, the influence is obvious, but where Coneheads lean towards pentatonic, classic rock riffage, Toyota plow ahead, exploring bouncy atonal arrangements. Refusing to play power chords in favor of dissonant, clunky harmonies, the songs, and the live performance are simply fun, with members coordinating outfits, sometimes as a group of assembly line workers, poking fun at their intentionally mechanical music.
Although clearly inspired by one of 2015’s most popular punk acts, Toyota have their own thing going. The end of “Concept Models” strays from the jumpy opening tracks, opting instead to experiment with call and response jams over plodding drums. I’m looking forward to what they’ll be up to in 2016.
Best New Release
After a couple of disjointed singles on Bandcamp and Soundcloud under the pseudonym Jay Som, Melina Duterte released her first full collection of songs, the 9 track “Untitled”. The record sees Melina experimenting with bedroom production and a variety of different musical styles, from powerpop to shoegaze, but she’s not approaching the genres in the same way lesser contemporaries do. There’s something unique about her songs that feels more universal, the feeling you get when you just hear a really good song, and that feeling’s all over this record.
“Untitled” is an album where your favorite song changes after every listen, as new pieces reveal themselves and something that seemed previously inconsequential becomes your most anticipated sonic moment. The way the first chorus in Next to Me has an extended section at the end that’s not repeated when the chorus comes around again, or the awesome pickup of Why I Say No‘s central riff.
Since its release in November, I’ve found myself coming back to “Untitled” more than any other Bay release this year, and I’m not the only one. Interviews with Impose and a lot of attention from UK blogs has put some momentum behind Jay Som and crew, and 2016 is looking to be a great year for the San Francisco songwriter.
It’s hard to believe tracks like Ghost and closer Turn Into were recorded in a bedroom and not a professional studio, and speaks to how unnecessary that environment is for realizing Melina’s vision. In the Impose interview, she details her recording process and explains that most of the material on “Untitled” is old, and that she’s actually serious about the new stuff. The casual greatness of these songs is perhaps this informal records most endearing quality; I know I’ll be coming back to it regardless of how amazing the next record is.