At the Bay Bridged, we always bristle at the prospect of attempting to sum up a full year of the local independent music scene in a single retrospective podcast mixtape. Such a challenge is especially difficult in a place like the Bay Area, where year in, year out, a wide variety of talented local musicians release compelling and impressive albums, a great many of which gain acclaim well beyond the Bay's borders.
Instead of trying to identify some objective list of the "ten best" albums released by Bay Area bands this year, we went exactly the opposite direction, asking our knowledgeable editors, writers and photographers to pick their personal favorite releases by local artists in 2015. As one might expect, our team's varied musical tastes meant that only a few people named the same artists; instead, it became clear that in 2015 Bay Area independent artists continued to push forward a variety of genres, including garage rock, hip-hop, indie pop, and hardcore.
This mixtape collects music from ten artists that were among the favorites of Bay Bridged staffers in 2015. The notes below offer some highlights from coverage they've received on The Bay Bridged's blog over the course of the year. By its nature, the mix is a musically diverse list that only barely scrapes the surface of Bay Area music in 2015, but it makes a compelling case that this year was another one packed with highlights.
About the Bands:
Ezra Furman - "Lousy Connection"
While Oakland-based Ezra Furman has already found fame in Europe, American audiences are starting to catch up, and this year's Perpetual Motion People provides every reason to jump on board. As Jody Amable explained in this profile, the new album, which followed after his relocation from Chicago to the Bay, marks another step forward for this talented songwriter:
On this record, he seems more self-assured than he’s ever been -- what was once a panicked stream of self-loathing asides now reads as a personal motto; a swaggering pride; a challenge. It’s the same subject matter -- insecurities; lover’s quarrels -- but backed by the the fuller band, the slicker production, and the slight serenity he's found since coming here, it sounds like it’s coming from a more confident place.
Sarah Bethe Nelson - "Uneasy"
Sarah Bethe Nelson's debut album was a strong consensus pick among Bay Bridged staffers, a testament to the killer pop hooks on Fast Moving Clouds. Formerly the frontwoman of Prairiedog, Nelson worked with Kelley Stoltz and a bunch of talented veteran locals to record the LP and her voice and words shine throughout. Russell Jelinek described Nelson's song "Paying" thusly:
Damn! Is that a breakup song or what?!? She's heartbroken and you get the feeling she hates to do what she's about to do, but dammit, she's gonna be strong. The vivid picture she paints and unique way to tell off of this no-good bum of an ex bring the story together just perfectly. And oh yeah, she and her band make some beautiful sounds in the process.
Cold Beat - "Cracks"
Arriving a little over a year after Cold Beat's debut LP, the group's latest, Into The Air, found them incorporating more electronics, with synths and drum machines featured more prominently throughout. There's a wonderful unpredictability to the band's punk, post-punk, experimental, and pop elements: you never know quite which direction the next song will go, but it's always a good one. We didn't cover Cold Beat nearly enough on the Bay Bridged this year -- here's to changing that in 2016.
POW! - "Here Comes the Spade"
After making waves with the incendiary Hi Tech Boom last year, this SF/LA synth-punk band returned in 2015 with as much or more melody and intensity. Jason Shane described one of the songs on this year's Fight Fire as "the perfect marriage of catchy pop and deliciously vicious garage rock, all played with the fervor of a band that wants to have its collective voice heard over the background noise of the class conflict present in today's San Francisco."
Loma Prieta - "Never Remember"
Self Portrait is the latest intense and exhilarating album from Bay Area hardcore band Loma Prieta. As Monste Reyes observed, a decade in, the band's members "continue to push themselves with the release of each album, steering away from their screamo roots toward a heavier sound while holding fast to the ferocity and cathartic nature of hardcore."
Dirty Ghosts - "Quicksand Castle"
Dirty Ghosts took three years between their first and second LPs, a time which included lineup changes and the evolution of the band's percolating rock and roll. Writing about the new album, Hailey Simpson observed the group's growth:
Though the angular guitar of DG past is replaced for more of a chord-heavy/soloing balance, it is still able to conjure the moody air that the band is known and loved for. And Allyson Baker's vocals are as smoky and undeniable as ever. Compared to their [prior] output, the pop perspective Baker credits to drummer Tony Sevener is definitely apparent — and we're absolutely loving it.
Monster Rally & Jay Stone - "Lake Merritt"
Foreign Pedestrians united LA producer Monster Rally and Oakland MC Jay Stone for an album that included collaborative songs on its A-side, and Monster Rally's instrumental versions of the same tracks on the opposite side. Russell Jelinek described the release as "fantastic," noting that:
Jay's rhythmic and melodic flows mesh seamlessly with the tropical rhythms on the A-side, but flipping over to the instrumentals reveals nuances, colors, and moods in the beats that you might have missed. All of a sudden you've got to flip it over again for yet another entirely new experience.
Makeunder - "What A Lovely Bandsaw!"
Great Headless Blank saw Makeunder gain national acclaim, a result that might not be entirely expected given the EP's mixture of ambitious experimental pop sounds and frank lyrics confronting the passing of bandleader Hamilton Ulmer's father. Jody Amable called them "Oakland’s weirdest band in years -- and that’s saying something for a town that prides itself on producing bands that operate outside established musical systems. Makeunder is a lilting, twisting venture into some of music’s freest forms, full of stops and starts and sometimes otherworldly sounds."
The Stone Foxes - "Cold Like A Killer"
The Stone Foxes are one of the city's best rock and roll bands, and the group reached new heights on this year's Twelve Spells. Quoting Jody Amable's profile on the band's founders, brothers Shannon and Spence Koehler:
Twelve Spells is the band — and the brothers — entering their musical adulthood. They came into the world wailing the blues, experimented in adolescence, and are now finding their footing on their fourth full-length, without leaving behind the lessons — good and bad — they learned in their early years.
Growwler - "Long Hair, Short Wits"
This local art-rock quartet released its first LP, Even Tenor, earlier this year, and our Nicholas Schneider heaped high praise on the album's diversity and ambition:
[The album] sounds like an army of talented musicians and producers descended upon the project to create a refreshingly rich and unique soundscape, incorporating everything from psychedelic head trips to bluesy rockers to folk-tinged melodies and countless subgenres in between. It’s a big, ambitious album in an age when most indie bands are scaling back due to either financial limitations or purposeful creative choice.