Ed. note: It has been, to say the very least, an extremely difficult week for the Bay Area music community. As we celebrate the creative work of the artists lost to the Ghost Ship fire, the exercise of crafting a year-end list -- an annual music journalist trope that can feel self-indulgent -- takes on a different sheen. There's no time like the present to reflect upon and call attention to the rich, diverse, thoroughly Bay Area contributions that local artists made to the greater musical canon in 2016. We're lucky to have these musicians here, and we shouldn't forget it.
Here are KQED Arts contributors' 10 favorite local records of the year; we'll publish one each day, in no particular order. -- Emma Silvers
By now, the story is familiar: Melina Duterte moved from the East Bay suburbs to San Francisco last year. Emboldened by three glasses of wine one evening, she uploaded nine “finished and unfinished songs” to Bandcamp as an untitled collection. Since high school, Duterte had cultivated a following online. These listeners, along with a growing network of local peers, particularly embraced the material, and the groundswell of support inspired Duterte to attach album art and an apt name to the body of work, Turn Into.
The album, which Polyvinyl Records recently re-released on vinyl, collects songs written and recorded by Duterte as a teenager in her parents’ Brentwood home. (She used to remove her bed to accommodate drums; the family noise curfew was a generous 11pm.) The lyrics, she told me this summer, reflect a time of newfound confidence and knowledge, yet there are strong streaks of trepidation and fear. It’s to Duterte’s credit that the emotional range is so broad.
As a vocalist, she has a smoky, low vocal register, plus the will to soar and the sense to do so sparingly. As a guitarist, she’s similarly poised and deliberate, using intricate fingerpicked melodies and flaring, siren-like leads at the most affecting moments. (A background in trumpet and jazz helps explain her cache of melodic ideas.) And a nod is due to the songs' subtly frayed fidelity, which feels intentional, rather than neglectful.
If you’ve heard the story behind Turn Into, that’s due in large part to Jay Som’s tour this summer, on which she supported noted indie-rock outfits Mitski and Japanese Breakfast (a lineup Duterte appreciated not least for featuring two other Asian-American women). And it helps that “I Think You’re Alright” — a quietly devastating single about the self-destructive appeal of a one-sided romance, released ahead of the tour — stands among the finest local tracks of 2016.