Photo by Eric Molyneaux

With the pandemic putting the kibosh on live music, there’s unquestionably been a collective sadness within our hearts. That old world — where one could wander into a venue, order a cheap* beer, and get floored by some upstart opening act — seems like an eternity ago. It’s been interesting see to how artists and fans scrambled to find new ways connect and fill the void left by the vacant venues. But amid some questionable livestreams, social media meltdowns, or choosing to ignore it completely , artists did what they do best during times of turmoil and wrote the hell out of some new music. If this year’s releases are any indicator, the Bay Area is gonna be popping when venues finally open their doors. And hey! We’re all here for it.

Ceremony: In the Spirit World Now Synthetic Remixes

Ceremony’s 2019 LP In The Spirit World Now was a breath of fresh air within the easily claustrophobic hardcore genre. While the band spent their last few albums attempting to deconstruct and break away from the genre, ITSWN witnessed a band exploding from their own volition, culminating in a burst of technicolor synth-driven post punk.

Ceremony’s strength has always been their sheer, unapologetic intensity. Synthetic Remixes– with its synth scapes, drum machines, and hyper analog tech- cranks the saturation to radioactive isotope levels.

Bandcamp | Spotify | Apple Music

El Tee: Everything is Fine

El Tee has been globe-trotting last few years, but her North Bay Area roots are on full display on her new album Everything is Fine. Enriched by good drinks and folk glissandos, her sun-bleached tenor portrays the pains of willfully (sometimes forcibly) carving out your own identity from your old self. 2020’s official soundtrack for many long rides home riding shotgun, head leaned against the window.

Bandcamp | Spotify | Apple Music

Fearing: Shadow

SF dark wave group Fearing dropped their debut LP Shadow during that fun little window of lockdown when everyone was making sourdough and playing Animal Crossing, pretending that things would be back to normal in a few weeks. It’s a dark, moody new wave record with easy comparisons to Joy Division no doubt. Even dramatic at times. But sometimes a dose of melodrama is just what one needs when transitioning out of the ‘denial’ stage of grief.

Bandcamp | Spotify | Apple Music

Lungs and Limbs: Great Goodbye

Cynical journalists for years have been eager to proclaim the death of guitar in pop music. Apparently no one told Lungs and Limbs. Within the synth heavy tracks, guitarist Nick Tudor laces the band’s newest record Great Goodbye with loads of flourishes and countermelodies that will make turn the heads of even the most jaded YouTube guitarists.

Bandcamp | Spotify | Apple Music

Mare Island: Fortuna

Mare Island finally gives us a taste of what they’ve been up to since their self-titled debut back in 2017. With the members keeping busy with their other groups The Velvet Teen, The New Trust, and Loma Prieta, the group has understandably been fairly quiet these last few years. Their summer release Fortuna shows the band has been taking notes from Wilson and Specter, with their shoegaze arrangements to stacked to wall-of-sound levels.

Bandcamp | Spotify

Middle Aged Queers: Too F*g For Love

Winning the award for most high-concept band on this list, Middle Aged Queers would sound right at home on an old H-Street skateboard VHS. The group, consisting of Bay Area scene veterans, utilizes the raw sound and attitude of their West Coast hardcore forebears, but do so without coming off as a stale, cartoonish caricature.

Okay — maybe a little cartoonish. That’s kinda the point, right? Punk rock’s supposed to be juvenile. But for all its punk yelling and “fuck you!”s, this record is refreshingly void of tired subject matter — partly why it sounds so relevant in 2020. Leave it to a bunch of aging, queer Bay Area punks to show us that despite how far we think we’ve come, modern society still clutches its pearls when presented with the idea of actual representation.

Bandcamp | Spotify

Spice: Spice

God dammit, this record really makes me miss live shows.

The debut LP from North Bay band Spice shines with the gloss and volume modern production, and yet sounds achingly familiar to a time long past. Maybe its hooks and nostalgia of early ’90s college radio rock being channeled plugged into Marshall stacks. Or frontman Ross Farrar (also of Ceremony) delivering his most melodic performance to date. Or violinist Tori Skudlarek putting spit-shine all over these grungy guitar chords. Spice proves you don’t gotta overthink rock. Sometimes you just plug in your amps and things just click.

Bandcamp | Spotify

Sunami: Sunami

With their self-titled EP dropping this year, San Jose newcomers Sunami were poised to be the breakout hardcore band of 2020. But then COVID rolled through, and suddenly jumping into a mosh pit full of sweaty, bloody dudes is considered hazardous for your health.

I honestly never thought I would miss the unchecked aggression of grown-ass men throwing down at house shows. But as I spend yet another weekend on couch staring at the Netflix home screen while it autoplays The Queen’s Gambit trailer for the 87th time, honestly getting punched in the face by some dude in gym shorts and a Power Trip T-shirt sounds like a night at the goddamn opera. Check out the video below of Sunami’s first show and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’ve said it before South Bay: I love you but y’all are a bunch of freaks.

Bandcamp | Spotify | Apple Music

Sure, Man: Winner Lose All

Oof, how about a palate cleanser from that last entry? Y’all know I’m a sucker for surf punk. Slacker vocals, sunny day vibes, reverb-drenched guitars? Yes, this is what I need in the middle of this dark, drab, depressing winter of discontent.

Bandcamp | Spotify

Trebuchet: It’s Fine, I’m Fine

It’s been a wild year for North Bay indie rockers Trebuchet. Between COVID, newborn children, and career-threatening medical issues, no one would have faulted them for taking a year or two off. Instead they wrote, recorded and pressed a new record. Entitled It’s Fine, I’m Fine, the album finds middle ground between the folk driven harmonies of their earlier albums with the more technical rock instrument arrangements of their LP 2017 Volte-Face.

Bandcamp | Spotify | Apple Music

*14 bucks