The 10 Best Bay Area Albums of 2017: 1-O.A.K., 'Riding in Cars With Girls'

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1-O.A.K.'s 'Riding in Cars With Girls' dives deep into the nuances of fleeting situationships.

"Lost & Found" by 1-O.A.K. should be taught in a master class for crafting the perfect pop song.

Between the way the track's bouncing bass line ebbs and flows to create tension; 1-O.A.K.'s effortless switch-ups from rap-singing to climactic falsetto; and lines like "My baby sneaker game wet / But she heartbreaking in a dress," the Oakland artist nails the golden ratio of familiarity and surprise that can take a track from catchy to anthemic. Were it released by a major label, it'd easily have made it onto a lot more year-end lists than this humble local one.

The lead single isn't the only captivating thing about 1-O.A.K.'s Riding in Cars With Girls, a sophisticated sophomore album that dabbles in various R&B tendencies to create forward-thinking sounds with just the right dose of warmth and nostalgia. There's the dreamy sway of "It's Time," which rocks along to an Aaliyah sample, and "Nature," with its plucky guitar evoking the jazzy instrumentation of Sade. The entire album, in fact, has a retro, sepiatone sheen, steeped in a strong tonic of Curtis Mayfield and Zapp & Roger records. But electronic flourishes -- like the tiny chorus of high-pitched "heys" in "Lost & Found" -- make it feel very of-the-now.


Lyrically, the tracks on Riding in Cars With Girls paint vignettes about different lovers, their sonic palettes as varied as the women 1-O.A.K. describes. "In the Moment" savors a deep appreciation for someone the singer can't commit to. She's frustrated that he dodges her questions, but 1-O.A.K. gets a taste of his own medicine in "Dead Wrong / Naima," where he's audibly vexed that he can't get the woman he's interested in to settle down.

Throughout Riding in Cars With Girls, 1-O.A.K. dives deep into the nuances of these fleeting situationships, and emerges with thoughtful observations about human connections -- both physical and emotional. He leaves behind R&B archetypes of the hypermasculine playboy or the pathetic, scorned lover, instead reveling in the tenuous romances, furtive glances, and mixed signals that make the process of falling in lust -- and maybe even love -- so damn exciting.

We'll be posting our top ten local albums of 2017 everyday through Dec. 22. Check back here to see which other albums made our list.