But it's not easy making music here, as local musicians all have to deal with the high cost of living and the shrinking number of practice and performance spaces, not to mention the current issues with making a living in the music business, no matter where you live. So if you or a loved one appreciate the music coming out of the Bay Area, why not do your part and direct some of your gift money toward local music, be it the new record from a current group or an archival release?
While all of these gift ideas might not be from local groups, they are all excuses for supporting local music stores -- and in one case, a local music journalist. Most importantly, they all help fuel creativity and support those still making it work here, just for the sake of the music.
Erase Errata, Lost Weekend
If I were being a grump, I’d say this 2015 record -- a reemergence from one of San Francisco’s best-loved post-punk outfits, some nine years after their last album -- is a marker of just how much the city’s changed. The angles of a needling guitar riff, the cool bluntless of singer Jenny Hoyston’s delivery, the inherent grit of a noisy three-piece making artful, self-aware noise: they paint a picture of a crowded, sweaty basement show, the kind that used to land bands opening spots on Le Tigre tours...and the kind San Francisco has all but obliterated over the past decade. I won’t be a grump, though, because this record was a much-needed breath of fresh air in 2015, from the dancey groove of “History of Handclaps” to the urgent social commentary of “Don’t Sit/Lie.” The album’s title, a nod to the long-beleaguered-but-hanging-in-there Mission District video store of the same name (where the band’s been known to practice), also helps this album feel like a triumphant final bow as opposed to a fade out: Erase Errata called it quits for good just nine months after this release. - E.S.
Sun Ra, Space is Place (2015 Reissue)
Afrofuturism is undergoing a resurgence in Oakland at the moment. The vision of an idyll for liberated black men and women as seen through a science-fiction lens, Afrofuturism runs in the work of DJ Selam Bekele, artist Mahader Tesfai, the collective Qilombo and many others. So it's a timely gift from above that Sun Ra's Space is the Place, the groundbreaking Afrofuturistic film shot in Oakland, saw a deluxe reissue this year. Sun Ra was no stranger to extraterrestrial ideas -- he claimed to have been born on Saturn -- and his wildly original jazz compositions reflected such ideology. But Space is the Place brought his philosophy down to the street level, and the scenes of Sun Ra recruiting young black Oaklanders to leave Earth in his spaceship are a must-see for any Bay Area music fan. Harte Recordings' reissue includes both edits of the film, a CD soundtrack, and a marvelous 125-page full-color hardcover book. — G.M.
Life Stinks, You'll Never Make It
It feels weird suggesting something this punk to a KQED audience but this music, both difficult to hear and easy to malign for so many, can be intoxicating for those who know they need it in their lives. For me, punk rock has always been a venue for releasing energy. The combination of bouncing drums, buzzsaw guitars and a singer with something angry or crazy to yell about can still take over my mental state -- no matter what it is -- and make me want to pump my fists and yell along.
As I've gotten older, I've moved away from the fast-as-possible, make-you-want-to-run-around-in-circles version of punk. Now I pursue output from groups that still fit under the punk rock umbrella but have also figured out that songs don't need to played at breakneck speeds to be powerful. Flipper, Pissed Jeans and especially San Francisco's Life Stinks -- they make the kind of music that makes you want to sway side-to-side instead of punching someone in the face. Life Stinks has the added bonus of being fronted by Chad Kawamura, a Hemingway of misanthropic lyrics, who even manages to insert some melody on You'll Never Make It in standout tracks like "Anchor" and "In a Place." -- K.J.
Double Duchess, All Eyes on Me
One of the great injustices, if you’re an artist known for putting on a tremendously engaging live show, is that a tremendously engaging live show is tremendously tough to translate into a record. If it weren’t? The queer electro/dance/hip-hop duo Double Duchess might have been famous five years ago. As it stands, they’re at least locally famous for their stage presence (which is a rather tame way of saying booty-popping) as much as for their gleefully raw club bangers. Their 2015 EP, the duo’s third, has the highest production value we’ve seen yet from the Duchess -- and may (maybe? hopefully?) help push them into more mainstream pop realms. If you’ve got a friend in need of some new dance grooves and they’re anything but conservative, this is a good bet. - E.S.
The Velvet Underground, The Matrix Tapes
'Tis the year of the complete master tapes. Bruce Springsteen just announced a tour themed around his completist 4-CD/3-DVD box set The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, and Bob Dylan's massive 18-CD box The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 contains a CD with seventeen takes of “Like a Rolling Stone.” So when it comes to The Matrix Tapes from the Velvet Underground, recorded at San Francisco's Matrix club on Fillmore, well, four CDs sounds downright manageable. And despite multiple versions of songs, the set is eminently listenable, if for no other reason than the band was so improvisatory and unpredictable that each of the four versions here of “Heroin,” for example, go in totally different directions. Fans will already own the cream of this crop, issued by Mercury Records in the double album 1969: The Velvet Underground Live, but for diehards (and/or those who remember when the Marina was more accepting of crazy freaks like Lou Reed), this set is pure bliss. — G.M.
Owen Maercks, Teenage Sex Therapist (2015 reissue)
Feeding Tube Records
There's plenty to hate the Internet for -- comments on YouTube alone are worth shutting the whole thing down -- but it's been a fantastic tool for unearthing lost works of musical genius and providing them to the masses. Teenage Sex Therapist is a prime example of a record that practically no one knew about until just a few years ago; when it was first released in 1978, Owen Maercks managed to avoid selling a single copy. This album speaks to fans of early Talking Heads, Devo and other New Wave bands, but it also deserves the attention of those who enjoy Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. It's catchy but unpredictable, and features some smoking guitar work by a young Henry Kaiser. And though it might not always sound like your thing, by the time you want to move the needle, it's jumped into another genre. Worth hunting down just for the ride you take during that first listen. -- K.J.
Zion I, The Rapture: Live From Oaklandia
Mind Over Matter
Oakland’s underground hip-hop scene is a sprawling, storied thing, and to reduce it to two camps would be, well, reductive. But it’s true that many people see East Bay rap as either the stuff of mean streets -- the pavement from which the hyphy movement sprung -- or conscious, activist hip-hop, with nary a misogynist slur or drug reference in sight. Zion I, a duo that burst onto the scene with a critically acclaimed debut in 2000, has managed in the 15 years since to skirt that easy categorization: Their lyrics are fiercely intelligent, sometimes literary, with a strain of social uprising never far from the surface of a song -- but never preachy, and there’s certainly never been a question about their street cred. This live album, recorded at an intimate show in October (in Santa Cruz, but we'll let that go) serves two purposes: As a best-of, it’s a compilation of fan favorites -- their performance of “The Bay,” in particular, was a thing to behold at this year’s Hiero Day -- but it also serves as a farewell (for now), as the duo announced in February of this year that they’d be parting ways. I’m curious what’ll come next for each individual artist, but this’ll do fine for now. -- E.S.
Inflatable Boy Clams, s/t 2x7” (2015 Reissue)
These days it's impossible to discover music untainted by outside influences -- or, for that matter, to create music untainted by outside influences. But in 1981, before the internet and other forms of media inundated our daily life, four young women calling themselves the Inflatable Boy Clams recorded one of the strangest and purest releases in Bay Area history. Though musically, the songs come across as unapologetically untrained, the Clams' concepts are wonderfully honed. “Marin” is a satirical dig at the relaxed, entitled atmosphere across the bridge, while “I'm Sorry” predates Riot Grrrl's in-your-face detail with spoken-word vignettes of menstruation and incest. More than anything, this double 7-inch is a document of anything-goes innocence and the true DIY spirit. This faithful reissue comes courtesy of Superior Viaduct (who concurrently reissued the only LP by the members' other, more new-wavey band, Pink Section). — G.M.
Richie Unterberger, Unknown Legends of Rock 'N' Roll (Expanded E-book)
Richie Unterberger is a Bay Area music journalist who, years before the theory of "The Long Tail" of the internet (1998), researched and published one of the best primers of outsider rock 'n' roll for burgeoning record-crate diggers like myself, Unknown Legends of Rock 'N' Roll. The book was packed to the brim with essays about lost garage pop geniuses like Skip Spence, Lee Hazelwood and Syd Barrett, and foreign rock masters who just couldn't break into the mainstream American market, including krautrock kings Can and anarcho-punks Crass. Sometimes the band's story was better than their musical output -- my expectations for the Misunderstood were impossible to meet after I read about the band's British debut -- but Unterberger's profiles made me want to hunt down a release from each of the 60 bands he wrote about.
Now over a decade old, Unterberger has returned to his underground music encyclopedia, releasing a new e-Book version that adds profiles of 15 more bands and tops out at just under 350,000 words. If you love music and learning about groups outside of the mainstream, this is a must-read. -- K.J.