The 16 Best Bay Area Albums of 2016

By Adrian Spinelli

Despite what some people might lead you to believe, 2016 was NOT a “shitty year” for Bay Area Music. On the contrary, it was a brilliant one, that showcased a slew of talented artists who are finding ways to make music that pushes boundaries and doesn’t sound like it came from anywhere else in the country, besides the Bay.

The Bay Area music community came together  —again and again —in the wake of the tragic Oakland Ghost Ship fire that claimed 36 lives, to show support for each other regardless of what clique or subregion of the Bay they were from. Benefit shows for victims of the Ghost Ship Fire continue to be held (I recommend this upcoming show) and it’s a sign of this community’s unwavering support and care for each other and our art.  At the start of the APE/Noise Pop/Paradigm Ghost Ship benefit show at the Fox Theater, Geographer’s Mike Deni, who has seemingly been laying low, said it best: “There’s a reason I haven’t moved to Brooklyn or LA….because when something like this happens, this community is here for me and for us.” Preach.  This mixtape honors the artists who lost their lives in the Ghost Ship fire. Please listen to it. It’s beautiful.

I love living in the Bay and I love our local music scene. I love that there are just as many talented women making music in the Bay as men (my list reflects this big time.) I love that our artist-base is diverse (even if our SF crowds at shows aren’t always.) I couldn’t tell you how many times I felt proud to be a part of everything, even as a person who merely documents, reports and amplifies what local artists are creating.

With that, these are the sixteen Bay Area releases that moved me the most in 2016. One love.

Full Spotify playlist of all albums at the bottom of this post. 

15. E-40 – The D-Boy Diary Book 1& 2

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Dude is relentless….not one, but TWO albums?! “I played my position and delivered a bangin’ ass album that slaps,” Earl told me earlier this year. These 42 tracks do exactly that and E-40 keeps giving back to the Bay featuring a slew of local up and comers and well-established artists all over this record.

14. Con Brio – Paradise

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This is a soul record at it’s core, and the band fronted by vibrant singer Ziek McCarter really hit their stride this year. The SFers have been touring around the world, but still make time to play the Bay on the regular and totally put it down at Outside Lands this year. 

13. Fantastic Negrito – The Last Days of Oakland

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Fantastic Negrito is worth every bit of hype that he’s gotten since winning NPR’s Tiny Desk contest two years ago. Xavier Dphrepaulezz bleeds Oakland and is one of the most unique talents to come out of the Bay in years (and is now Grammy nominated!)

12. Rexx Life Raj – Father Figure

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Pay attention to this Berkeley MC if you haven’t yet. Dude is a solid rapper and pulled-in a feature from Nef The Pharoah and a crop of local producers for the fully-formed Father Figure. “Handheld GPS” was one of the year’s best tracks and the Mikos da Gawd & Julia Lewis remix is a fucking revelation.

11. Rituals of Mine – Devoted

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Formerly known as Sister Crayon, the duo of Terra Lopez and Dani Fernandez laid their roots back in their hometown of Sacramento and delivered an incredible trip-hop album. They opened for Tricky at the Indy earlier this year, which is a helluva co-sign and the Warner signees can be filed under the most slept-on local acts of the year.

10. Tycho – Epoch

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Shouts out to Scott Hansen and Tycho for their Best Electronic Album Grammy nomination. This is such a coup for the Bay and a testament to a well-established career for Hansen. Epoch doesn’t stray too far off the formula he built on Dive and Awake, but it doesn’t need to. We come to Tycho to chill-out and Epoch is perfect for that.

9. IAMSU – Kilt 3

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IAMSU has crafted the blueprint for making it as a Bay Area rapper. He dropped countless mixtapes, but saved the best for his albums and Kilt 3 is some serious shit. The Trackademics produced “iPhone & a G-Mail” is a serious banger as is “Aura” produced by Mike Zombie. Local producer Cal-A and SU himself claim a couple production credits and the HBK CJ beat on “Up All Night” was one of the most recognizable Bay Area jams of the year.  After launching his own label Su recently announced that he’s moving to Atlanta, but says he’ll be splitting time in the Bay too. Get after it!

8. Young God – …but he who causes darkness

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While atmospheric hip-hop/electronic production duo Blue Sky Black Death’s storied career is likely over, Oakland’s Young God (neé Ian Taggert; one half of BSBD) has been quietly releasing solo music on the regular. His Greenova South project with Main Attrakionz’s Squadda B and rapper Pepperboy was cool, but it’s  …but he who causes darkness — “a loose collection of beats and songs…”  — that channeled the magic  he created with BSBD for a decade. It’s an album to zone out to blissfully in the bedroom, on a plane or anywhere in your headphones. Here’s to Young God continuing a low-key prolific run in the Bay.

7. Xiomara – Seven Nineteen

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This is some straight “Where the hell did this come from?!” shit. San Francisco’s Xiomara is an R&B songstress, whose Seven Nineteen — co-produced by SF’s Brycon and Xiomara— was one of the most complete local records of the year. She’s funky, but elegant. She’s emotional, but sharp-toothed. This is can’t miss stuff.

(Note – Shamelessly plugging a show I’m putting on at Rickshaw Stop on January 24th, with Xiomara opening for the wonderful Bells Atlas and a DJ set from Anthony Ferraro  of astronauts, etc. — The man behind my #1 Bay Area album of 2015. Full details here. Come hang!)

6. Elujay – Jentrify

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The word “phenom” comes to mind when thinking about 20-year old Oakland rapper Elujay. I love this dude cause he can fucking sing. He’s clearly studied up on the R&B/hip-hop crossover classics and I see the same star rising in Elujay that I saw in Caleborate two years ago. “Google Maps” is velvety smooth and flat-out beautiful. Elujay will be the next big Bay Area hip-hop artist. I believe that shit with everything I got. Mark it down.

5. The EP’s – Rayana Jay – Sorry About Last Night/Day Wave – Hard To Read

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Two for one  on this entry: First off, Rayana Jay’s excellent concept EP featured impeccable production from Mikos Da Gawd and showed Jay to be a controlled force on the mic. “Sleepy Brown” might be the Bay Area’s song of the year and there’s a bright future ahead here..

Day Wave’s Hard To Read is merely the precursor to Jackson Phillips’ upcoming album, due out in 2017 on Harvest Records. But he followed up on last year’s Headcase EP with 5 new tracks that build on his library of unique daydream-pop that’s soaring worldwide.

4. Jay Som – Turn Into

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Melina Duterte is the auteur behind Jay Som and with Turn Into, she became a critical darling following its re-issue on Polyvinyl Records. The album harkens back to some of my favorite female-fronted 90’s acts like Mazzy Star, shades of Tonya Donnelly and beyond. Duterte is a clever songwriter and there’s a radiant flow to Turn Into that rallied a lot of people behind this record. More importantly, Jay Som is one of the acts who’s helping define the Bay Area’s transitional sound in the post-garage rock era.

3. Caleborate – 1993

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I’m proud of this dude. Straight up. When I first met Caleborate two years ago, he had a distinct vision for his music and his career and he’s stuck to his word to a fucking tee. What’s always defined him for me, is what he continues to do, and that’s surrounding himself with talent that helps the whole succeed. 1993 is easily his most polished work to date and features production from some of the Bay’s best producers in The Julia Lewis, P-Lo, Cal-A and Mikos Da Gawd, Ian McKee and more. “Options” with Pell and Sylvan Lacue is fun as hell and one of my favorite songs of the year. On it, he sings: “Had to call my Pops and let him know his son’s about to blow.” True. Wishin’ Caleborate nothing but the best as his star deservedly continues to rise.

2. Kamaiyah – A Good Night In The Ghetto

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Queen of the Bay. If there was ever any doubt, her second  set at the quasi-disastrous Treasure Island Music Festival in the pouring rain was the most powerful performance by a Bay Area artist in 2016. Her feature on YG’s “Why You Always Hatin” along with Drake raised Kamaiyah’s profile immensely and A Good Night In The Ghetto did a fine job of staying true to The Bay (“How Does It Feel” will be a Bay Area anthem for a loooong ass time) as well as it did showing an artist who’s ready for nationwide recognition. The Trackademics produced “Freaky Freaks” is a G-Funk era throwback, tailor made for Oakland’s post-hyphy era and shows that no matter how far Kamaiyah’s promising career goes, she’ll always be from the Bay.

Number One: Thao & The Get Down Stay Down- A Man Alive

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What could easily be my overall album of the year, A Man Alive saw Thao opening herself up to her past and the intense emotions that came with living a life in the shadow of her estranged father. I had the pleasure of reviewing A Man Alive for Paste Mag earlier this year and it gave me an opportunity to dig into what I feel is the best lyrical album of the year. I remember on my final listen before I started writing, I lost my shit three times: On “Guts,” “Millionaire” and then “Hand To God.” These types of powerful music moments don’t come around too often and when they do, you’re probably staring an Album of The Year candidate in the face.

On Thao’s best record to date, she’s joined by producer Merrill Garbus of tune-yards, who helped Thao explore deep self-reflection and make music that spans far beyond her folk-leaning roots. I love this album, because it poked through the Bay, when hip-hop is really dominating the area for me in terms of quality and showed how good rock and roll can still be made here. It showed what an incredibly talented songwriter Thao is, who is still expanding her musical boundaries. But most of all, it showed how a San Francisco artist (Thao) and an Oakland artist (Garbus) can come together to create the best local album of the year, and it’s a microcosm for what we can all accomplish together if we bridge both sides of the Bay. This was the record that drove the point home of how we’re much stronger artistically if we look for ways to merge the creative hub that Oakland has become, with the inspirational beauty, infrastructure and musical history of San Francisco.

Can’t wait for 2017 y’all…much love and Bay Area stand up!!!

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Best Music Video of 2016: Jamie XX’s “Gosh”

From the moment I first watched it, Jamie XX’s “Gosh” video directed by Romain Gavras grabbed me. It successfully depicted a world I never knew existed, but wanted to know everything about when the video came to a close. Watch the video and read my entry for Paste Magazine’s 20 Best Music Videos of 2016 feature from 12/15/16 below. 

Romain Gavras never takes the easy way out. The Greek-French music video director, who is most well-known for directing M.I.A.’s provocative “Born Free; and flamboyant “Bad Girls; videos, doesn’t just make music videos as much as he makes musical short films for his signature stamp on the video he conceptualizes and directs. Gavras often creates post-apocalyptic worlds like with “Born Free” and Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “No Church In The Wild;” And on Jamie XX’s “Gosh”” video, Gavras’s setting is a utopian ghost city, which in fact, isn’t a utopia at all, but rather the Tianducheng development in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, which was built to look like Paris and house 10,000 residents, but is now is sparsely inhabited (The story of Tianducheng itself is one of the internet’s most glorious rabbit holes by the way. Feel free to start here.)

The world of “Gosh” sees Hassan Kone — an albino of African descent — as its focal point, traversing the city amidst hundreds upon hundreds of Chinese boys, whose soldier-like choreography and visual and mechanized uniformity is masterfully portrayed by the Xiaolong Martial Arts School. Kone comes across as the last hope for the decrepit cesspool of Tianducheng, as he races through the film in a Subaru and ends it standing beneath the 300 foot tall Eiffel Tower replica, while the Xiaolong boys circle him in patternized movement. It’s what Busby Berkeley choreography would look like in the year 2100.

All the while, Jamie XX’s opus founded on elements of ragga drum and bass, is hypnotically in sync with the movements of the characters. Mattias Rudh’s drone cinematography pans out to show the sullen buildings of Tianducheng, creating a CGI feel, which adds to the eerie, futuristic feel of the video.

Gavras tosses out his usual violent themes in favor of a different type of fear. The fear that this utopian city from the future is actually from the present. Kim Chapiron and Iconoclast’s “Behind The Scenes” mini-doc (watch it below) is a welcome companion to Gavras’s “Gosh” video and a look into the method behind the artistic madness of one of the most intriguing music video directors in the business and one of the best videos of the year.

The Anderson .Paak Features Playlist

If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of the soulful rasp of Anderson .Paak’s voice. AP broke through with 6 features on Dr. Dre’s Compton album and built some serious momentum before dropping his own latest release, Malibu. If you haven’t given that a spin yet, consider it a top priority, as it’s one of the early highlights of 2016.

But beyond the magic of Compton and Malibu, Paak is tireless and seems to keep popping up as a featured vocalist on a number of other artist’s tracks: Kaytranada, Tokimonsta, Milo, Hiatus Kayiote and Snakehips to name a few. So I compiled a 32-track playlist of some of the best featured appearances by Anderson .Paak. When you’re as prolific as Paak has become though, not everything is gonna land, so I vetted this list thoroughly to only feature certifiably bomb shit. You won’t find any of AP’s Watsky features, or that abrasive track he did with A$AP Ferg and I had to cut out one of his tracks with The Game, cause Game is straight up insufferable sometimes. Here you’ll gems like Milo’s killer “A Day Trip To The Nightosphere” and Elements of Music’s “Get Along” with Blu. (And yes, I even included a couple cuts from his NxWorries project cause it just wouldn’t have felt complete without ’em.)

Hear the business below, check out my feature on Paak in Paste from last December if you need to get yourself up to speed on the man and peep some words I wrote in Forbes about how Paak was the proverbial “big winner” at SXSW 2016. Dig it. One love.

AS

Drop Everything And Go Listen To The New Brass Bed Album Now

The word “FLAMES” comes to mind when spinning In The Yellow Leaf, the 4th LP from Lafayette, Louisiana psych band Brass Bed. This is guitar rock of the highest order and the trio teamed up with producer/engineer Chris Woodhouse (Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall) at his The Dock Studio in Sacramento to create a fantastic album.

It’s currently streaming on NPR First listen here, but go ahead and give “I Am Just A Whisper” a play below. It’s a crisp recording that has every element in check. A jangled guitar driving the melody, fast-paced drums and more guitar goodness on top of that. Have I mentioned how badass Brass Bed’s guitars are? Check it:

Top image by Allison Bohl DeHart for Makemade.

New Playlist for 2016: Jubilation

Another year means a new progressive playlist (one that’s constantly updated with new tracks.) You might remember last year’s Everything Ecstatic playlist, Indian Summer or 2014’s Random Musings. And now for the last couple months, I’ve been adding tracks to Jubilation.

Peep Jubilation below and subscribe to it on Spotify to be updated whenever tracks get added (usually a handful a week or so.) You can expect Jubilation to be a mix of everything from indie rock, chilled out electronica, conscious hip-hop, some timely classics, etc… Artists like Taylor McFerrin, Jessy Lanza, White Lung, Kendrick Lamar and more.

Enjoy y’all!

AS

Saul Williams Drops New Video Filmed in Ferguson

Saul Williams’ musical flame was recently re-ignited for me in The Cipher Podcast’s brilliant interview with the New York based poet, rapper, playwright, actor and all-around hip-hop Renaissance man.

The interview between host Shawn Setaro and Williams centered on Williams’ latest release, Martyr Loser King. It’s a dense, ambitious and nothing short of cinematic album that magnifies modern sociopolitical issues within the world of a cyber hacker living in East Africa…shit that’s right out of a graphic novel (of which there also is one.) But there were certain comparisons that were drawn in the episode between Williams and David Bowie (Williams dropped a 2008 release entitled The Inevitable Rise And Fall Of Niggy Tardust) and a new interest in Williams was piqued.

His art is dense and complex. He oozes idealism and activism and his work is manifested in many mediums. Discovering Saul Williams’ body of work is a thrilling endeavor and today, he released a powerful video for his latest single “The Noise Came From Here,” directed by Anisia Uzeyman. In it, Williams walks through Ferguson, Missouri and tip-toes around the epicenter of where Michael Brown was brutally gunned down by a police officer in 2014. Do yourself a favor and watch this gripping piece of art and hop over to The Fader for more details on the making of the video. One love.

My São Paulo – A Photographic Essay

I’ve been going back to my birthplace of São Paulo, Brazil every year since I first left Brazil in 1989. And the place where I was born, is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been in the world.

When I come back home to the US following a visit, everyone always asks “How was Brazil?” And there’s only so much I can convey with words. I feel like everyone’s idea of Brazil is forged on images of Rio De Janeiro, yet São Paulo is a much different place. I sought to provide a glimpse into My Brazil and My São Paulo.

With these photographs, I looked to juxtapose the old and new parts of the city of São Paulo with the beach getaways of mid-to-upper class families from the city. The city and the beach are very different places and holiday weeks at the beach are comfortable refuges for city-dwellers like my family. Where daily life is filled with the grandeur of skyscrapers and the urban sprawl & accompanying poverty of the city, weekend homes on the coast of the state of Sao Paulo seem a world away. With these 3 galleries, this is My São Paulo.

(Click anywhere on the tiled mosaics below to open the full gallery)

Old São Paulo

These photos were all taken in the Republíca area of São Paulo. It’s the historic central part of the city and just feels like a mish-mash of every aspect of São Paulo in one place. This is where poverty is the most prevalent and homeless kids riddled the streets amongst open shops, buildings, restaurants, the Municipal Theater and a major artery into the city’s core.

The Beach 

I looked to highlight themes of the typical Brazilian family and male/female roles within the household. Hopefully, you can feel the difference between one house and the other and the moments of relaxation versus potential conflict. Technology as a theme is reflected on the outer edges of the frames, reminding us that no matter how far outside of the city the family may be, technology remains ever-present.

New São Paulo

Avenida Paulista is the most important thoroughfare in São Paulo. The wide 6-laned avenue houses major financial institutions, museums, parks, shopping malls and is towered over by giant radio antennae on the top of it’s many tall buildings. New and polished public transportation is peppered throughout it’s nearly 2 mile stretch and it’s been developed into a modern hub to showcase the cosmopolitan city.

Parque Ibirapuera is the city’s largest urban park. It’s the Brazilian equivalent to Central Park, showcasing the country’s rich history, smack in the middle of a metropolis.

Ending awkward silences since 1983.

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