December is here and that can mean only one thing: lists.
Gift shopping lists. Baking lists. Best-of-the-Year lists. You name it, it probably exists in bulleted form for the season. Chalk it up to our collective desire to make order out of a messy world.
We know there are a ton of choices when it comes to your yearly music digests from top national music critics. This list is emphatically not that.
Instead, we at The Bay Bridged figured we’d assemble our local favorites. The ones that made us bounce across the dance floor, cry, and feel alive.
This collection of 25 tunes is as diverse as our thriving, vibrant scene (and our contributors). From local hip-hop favorites to folk, to queer artists carving necessary space, these musicians are making the case for a unified community full of ideas, talent, and passion. It can be hard to see the forest for the trees (especially when our view is diminished by sky-high rents), but there is still a beating heart beneath the fancy window dressing and upscale cafes.
We hope these spark joy. You can worry about tidying your life another day. See you next year!
-JD Bray, your resident playlist nerd.
JD Bray, Playlist Editor
- Mahawam, “Hoping No One Notice”
Don’t ask me how, but this year was the year I first discovered Mahawam. Oakland has a storied queer hip-hop scene and Mahawam is both carrying that torch and claiming their own crown, too. Malik Mays’ debut album “Is an Island” is a fluid breeze of a listen, anchored by soothing vocal tricks and witty, sharp-tongued verses. What artist do you know that can invert an HIV diagnosis and create life-affirming club bangers? Mahawam’s unique perspective is a beautiful lens, indeed.
- 8ULENTINA, “Doesn’t Always Work”
Continuing and deepening the queer scene in the Bay are 8ULENTINA (Esra Canoğullari) and FOOZOOL (Lara Sarkissian), the co-founders of dance collective Club Chai. The duo marries Western sounds with Middle Eastern club music, birthing something entirely new. Their tunes are downright bonkers, and “Doesn’t Always Work” is no exception. I’ve found myself listening to this one on more than a few occasions getting ready for a night out.
- Quinn DeVeaux, “Spend Some Time”
Blame it on my South Carolina roots and a healthy diet of John Lee Hooker, but any time I hear a soulful tune, I just want some comfort food and good company. On “Spend Some Time,” Mr. DeVeaux delivers on just that. This one is as smooth as butter.
- Cuture Abuse, “Goo”
Culture Abuse are my punk hometown heroes. 2018’s “Bay Dream” had some truly toe-tapping power-pop tunes about struggling to justify staying in a place with skyrocketing rents, lessons of being kind to yourself, and calling your loved ones. On “Goo,” lead singer David Kelling is earnest without being cloying about his affections. The Bay dream may be as elusive as ever, but it’s hard not to be optimistic with a tune like this.
- Club Night, “Path”small>(photo: Mariah Tiffany)
I caught Club Night for the first time during the Noise Pop festival at the beginning of the year, and was totally blown away at their prowess and arrangements. This band begs for you to see them live. Their math-rock is baffling, and vocalist Josh Bertram would make an ideal candidate for a Built To Spill cover band.
- Ah Mer Ah Su, “Little Bird” (Orchestral Version)
The queerest thing about my childhood is most certainly the Mariah Carey Daydream cassette my grandmother gave me as a Christmas present when I was seven. That lyric sleeve was dog-eared and the case was in shambles in less than a year’s time. Honestly, though, part of me wishes it was Ah Mer Ah Su instead. Star Amerasu is a true powerhouse with a vocal range that communicates fragility and triumph often within the course of a single note. Far too few trans women have visibility in the arts, and Star’s dynamic and varied projects this year (ballets and an orchestral rendition of her self-titled album, for starters) were a joy to see. Star’s performance at this summer’s Phono Del Sol was my highlight of the festival. On the orchestral arrangement of “Little Bird,” she soars, sounding more like like a beautiful bird of paradise instead of a wounded dove. In an ideal world, this is the song that would be in the end credits of a Disney film. Oh, and for what it’s worth, “Always Be My Baby” is the greatest Mariah Carey song of the 20th century. Christmas can take a seat.
Jody Amable, Content Director
- Various Text Me Records Artists, “PESOS”
This is just fun. Fun, fun, fun. I’m gonna listen to it again.
- Makeunder, “In Between My Dead-End Jobs”
Can you make it through this song without instinctively busting a move? No. No you can’t. It’s physically impossible.
- Spence Koehler, “Angels”
Full disclosure: I’ve known Spence and his brother/fellow Stone Fox Shannon for ages (we went to college together) but I do genuinely love the bouncy twang on the opening track of Spence’s solo album here.
- Oona Ruin, “Don’t Look Down”
Speaking of the Stone Foxes, I first heard Oona sing as a back-up vocalist at one of their shows. Her voice and songwriting smarts continue to floor me.
- Smokin Ziggurats, “Boysenberry Mind”
This song takes me right back to when I first joined TBB in 2012 (!), just emerging from a pretty embarrassing punk phase and coming to terms with the fact that it’s totally OK to like rock and roll and more pop-influenced sounds at the same time.
Victor Valle, Executive Director
- Mike Blankenship,“I Can’t Help It” (feat. Sy Smith)
Anything that’s jazz/soul/R&B inspired typically just has a place in my heart. I absolutely loved Living For The Future when it came out in 2015 and I’m more than excited to hear more coming out from the touring keyboardist.
- Tia Nomore, “Affirmation”
This track has such a Chicago feel to me, but with a Bay Area twist. I couldn’t stop listening when it first came out. Tia really blazing the scene and making a name for the Bay Area rap scene. Pumped to see what else her and Text Me Records have up their sleeves.
- Olivia Prado, “Hey You”
Sulty vocals and a pop sensibility that is raw and uninhibited. I love this track.
- Jjaahz, “Girl$”
This spiteful, heavy, and melodic song got me all in my feels. Jjaahz been around the scene for a while, so hearing music from her now is a damn blessing. I’m ready for more.
- Still Woozy, “Ipanema”
The featured are A-100. Still Woozy is so groovy and fun and his live show is out of this world. Shouts to East Oakland Sven.
Nina Tabios, Managing Editor
- Rayana Jay, “If You Won’t”
If I were to hypothetically make a simpin’ R&B mix, I already know Rayana Jay’s “If You Won’t” is my opening track. And that’s not to say Rayana is in her bag; rather, it’s quite the opposite. She’s floating over these dudes the same way her vocal glitters over the sleek drums in this production — this R&B singer know what she wants, and she knows how to get it too.
- Tia Nomore, “Nu Chain”
The way Tia Nomore raps on “Nu Chain” is the same feeling when you know that direct deposit hit. Tia’s arsenal of flows is as polished as a set of fresh Cuban linx thanks to the assist from producer Mikos Da Gawd.
- Peach Tree Rascals, “Summa”
These dudes have lowkey been San Jose’s best-kept secret since they started making music together just a year ago. And the Rascals’ seemingly meteoric rise owes itself to songs like “Summa,” a soulful track that well, feels like its seasonal namesake.
- Elujay, “Leisure”
The opening to Elujay’s “Leisure” bears hints of Usher’s “My Way” but the singer-rapper voice bears a suave that can only come from The Town. We’ve kept an ear out for new Elujay since 2016’s Jentrify and he definitely made it worth the wait.
- Nate Curry, “Temporary Fix”
A little outside of our jurisdiction, but someone once described Sacramento’s Nate Curry’s “Temporary Fix” as “a banger, but kind of depressing.” And this is the kind of music that hits in 2019: Sonically pleasing to the ear, but raw in its truth.
Michelle Kicherer, Editor
- Hectorine,”Well of Fortune”
- Boy Scouts, “Get Well Soon”
- Meernaa, “Better Part”
- Luke Sweeney, “Moondreamer (I Could Pass for Nobody)“
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- Olivia Prado, “Hey You”