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2008 Music Awards Nominees 


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At a time when most rappers appeal to passions below the belt, Azeem strives to create art that feeds the mind. He's spent 2008 bending brain matter as an MC, poet, and performer. With his new album, Air Cartoons, he altered preconceived notions of Bay Area hip-hop and life in secret societies. His stage presence isn't limited to music: This year Azeem took his one-man stage show, Rude Boy, on the road, performing in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

Founded in 2001 by singer and rhymer Adam "Doseone" Drucker and multi-instrumentalist Dax Pierson, Subtle is typically filed as underground hip-hop, but the esoteric Oakland sextet stretches far beyond that categorization. Blending beats and samples with live instrumentation (including woodwinds and cellos), the group incorporates elements of experimental indie-rock, IDM, and trippy psych-pop in its strange, occasionally abstract, and often engrossing sonic landscape. Like Subtle's two previous full-lengths, this year's ExitingARM is a concept album of sorts that follows the labyrinthine travails of central character Hour Hero Yes; it's baffling and entrancing in equal measures.

Mistah F.A.B.
Despite the sputtering of hyphy, a genre he helped define, Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. actually had a pretty good year. He raised his national profile by being featured on Snoop Dogg's hit single and video, "Life of da Party," alongside Too $hort, and completed a successful U.S. tour with Zion-I. Fans are still anxiously awaiting his major-label debut — which may or may not drop in '08 — but one thing's for sure: It's far too soon to count out "Fabby Davis Jr." After all, to paraphrase Snoop, when you diss F.A.B., you diss yourself.

Kirby Dominant
A decade into the game, Kirby Dominant is continuing his path toward, well, domination of the Bay Area music scene. Over the course of half a dozen albums, the MC and producer has delved into everything from the inherent savagery of the human race to his love for white women. He has also created a sound that's based at least as much on 1980s pop and electro as it is on hip-hop. Dominant has spent the year on tour while maintaining his imprint, Rapitalism Records. His new EP, Prostitute, drops Nov. 1.

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Claude VonStroke
Traveling internationally with a Reason-loaded laptop, dirtybird records producer and labelhead Claude VonStroke can assemble crimped tech-funk on a whim, meting out cheeky filters over a 4/4 beat. Coinciding with a dubbier turn in his sound (as evidenced on recent tracks "Groundhog Day" and "Scarlet Macaw"), he spent much of the last year nurturing his long-form label, Mothership, which acts as a home for celebrating the slow build. VonStroke will never be as minimal as he is mental, however, and always brings the swing as he drops the bass.

Not to be confused with the K Records band of the same name, Wallpaper is the brainchild of Eric Frederic (aka Ricky Reed), who crafts appropriately shiny valentines to gold chains, money, and other clichés of excess. With the sweet, thumping T. Rex EP on Eenie Meenie Records leading him toward some mean remix opportunities and a gig at CMJ, the Vocoder-and-sunglasses–loving maestro is currently targeting hips from coast to coast. It's one thing to make people dance; Wallpaper wants to make them laugh, sweat, and sing along, too.

David Y. Wang, best known under the alias Mochipet, tackles everything from electro to flamenco — sometimes while wearing an adorable fuzzy dinosaur outfit. This year, the imaginative producer has remixed the Flaming Lips, worked on a new album, and thrown his hat into the design arena with his "Girls Heart Breakcore" T-shirts. Wang is also the founder of Daly City Records, a label celebrating the "gateway to the Peninsula" while displaying a diverse and international roster of artists, including Broker/Dealer, Ellen Allien, and EDit.

Under the moniker Arp, Alexis Georgo-poulos' pulsing analog synthesizer work exemplifies the best of kosmiche musik, the spacier electronic strain of early-'70s Krautrock. He established Arp in the sonic avant-garde with debut In Light late last year, and is hard at work on the follow-up. Rather than flogging Arp on tour, this former Tussle member has pulled off a limited amount of appearances, including an evening at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur with kosmiche godfathers Cluster.

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Rupa and the April Fishes
Rupa and the April Fishes are really four bands in one: a Mexican folk outfit, an Indian classical act, a French chanson group, and a Gypsy jazz combo. That's another way of saying that S.F. physician Rupa Marya and her pals have a way with words and styles, agilely jumping from smoky Indian jazz to jaunty Balkan oompah. This year, the band's debut CD, eXtraordinary Rendition, made it into the top 10 for national world music sales, alongside Manu Chao. Since then, the quintet has played Outside Lands, the Montreal Jazz Festival, and venues throughout Europe.

Boca do Rio
Brazilian music is sexier than Sonia Braga in Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. But while South American acts only occasionally come our way, Boca do Rio brings the thriving Amazonian music scene to San Francisco, adding considerably to our local level of hotness. Led by Kevin Welch (formerly of Vivendo de Pão), this sextet of Brazilian and American musicians regularly turns its Tuesday night residency at the Elbo Room into a sambafied funk-fest. The group's self-titled CD is filled with lushly syncopated dance grooves that pulse with tropical flavor.

Trio Garufa
It's hard to match Argentine tango for its combination of sophistication and sensuality, so it's no small feat that locally based Trio Garufa has made such impressive waves in the field. This year, the band members — accordionist Adrian Jost, guitarist Guillermo Garcia, and bassist Sascha Jacobsen — traveled to their musical heartland for several gigs at high-profile milongas (tango dance parties) in Buenos Aires. With a sparkling new CD, La Segunda Tradición, released this year as well, the group looks to be hitting its stride.

Brass Menazeri
Audiences need not wait for Balkan Beat Box, Beirut, or Gogol Bordello to hit town when we have Brass Menazeri right here. The nine-piece ensemble performs traditionals and originals based on the Balkan brass music of Gypsy bands from Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece. Its two discs — 2007's Brazen and the recent Vranjski San (Vranje Dream) — offer wicked hornplay, soulful singing, and wild improvisation, all of which have led to gigs at ecstatic S.F. dance parties like Kafana Balkan and Three Kinds of Stupid as well as the Hornucopia Festival.

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Lord Loves a Working Man
The Bay Area is home to music from all over the world, so why not have a good ol' Southern soul-revue act here too? Ask the members of Lord Loves a Working Man that question, and they might answer in sweet 1960s-style harmony. The Mission District–based act has been pouring its heart out in homage to the Stax catalog (think greats like Otis Redding and Booker T and the MGs) for a few years now. A busy year has seen the group touring the western U.S. and continuing work on a second album, due in January, proving that its name isn't just hypothetical.

Jennifer Johns
It isn't easy blending soul, hip-hop, dancehall, electronic, and world music into one cohesive album, but Jennifer Johns pulled it off with last year's Painting on Wax. With her ample vocal talent, the Oakland artist proved she could compete with any songstress in the game as one of the queens of contemporary Bay Area hip-hop and soul. But she didn't grace that throne only recently: Johns came up in the Oakland Youth Chorus and has earned opening slots for Lauryn Hill, Mos Def, Common, and KRS-1, among others.

A little taste of the bayou via the Bay Area, Mo'Fone brings a tight, big-band sound influenced by New Orleans and smoothed out by its local environs. This year, the trio was voted Best Jazz Group by the East Bay Express and released a new CD, Sling Shot. The first album since the band's 2003 debut, Sling Shot finds baritone saxophonist Larry De La Cruz, Jim Peterson (who plays alto sax), and drummer Jeremy Steinkoler sounding spicier than ever.

Kev Choice
Before jumping into the fray as a solo artist, Oakland's Kev Choice had already compiled a pretty solid résumé with a background in both classical and jazz, a master's degree in music, and experience as a sideman under Too $hort, Lyrics Born, Michael Franti, and Lauryn Hill. Since emerging under his own name, he has brought a fired-up energy and serious musical chops to the local live scene. His 10-piece outfit, the Kev Choice Ensemble, can swing or bebop with the best jazz combos, but when the pianist and MC grips the mike and starts rhyming about Obama, it's apparent he's a special — and potentially game-changing — talent.

Indie Rock/Pop
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Thee Oh Sees
Thee Oh Sees reached a new fan fever pitch this year with the release of album The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In, constructed on a foundation of fuzzed-out guitar jams, thumping kick drums, and reverb-drenched vocal harmonies. It didn't hurt that the band is led by John Dwyer, who has paid his dues in many a San Francisco musical project. The Dwyer factor not only helped cement these guys as critical darlings in this city, it also means Thee Oh Sees are never without a few extra musical tricks up their sleeves.

The Morning Benders
Fresh off tours with the Kooks and Death Cab for Cutie (and currently crossing the country with Ra Ra Riot), the Morning Benders are getting plenty of play from last spring's rainy-day pop debut, Talking Through Tin Cans. Even more heads turned when the band gave away an album of bedroom-recorded covers, with songs ranging from girl-group classics to the Smiths and the Velvet Underground. That's a mighty fun detour, but it's bouncy originals like "Waiting for a War" that should soon catapult Chris Chu and company into the same weight class as Delta Spirit and Cold War Kids.

The Heavenly States
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Girls are on a meteoric rise. Their local shows sell out, Pitchfork and Spin rave about their singles, and while we're at it, it's just plain freaky how perfect the song "Lauren Marie" is. Recent months have seen the group — Christopher Owens and Chet JR White, plus friends — play a string of buzzed-about New York shows, land two tunes on RCRD LBL and the video for "Morning Light" on Urban Outfitters' blog, and sell all 500 copies of July's "Lust for Life" 7-inch. Not bad, but then no more than you'd expect from a band that expertly merges Ariel Pink's twisted AM pop, the Pixies' quiet/loud dynamic, and My Bloody Valentine's experimentation with sculpted feedback.

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Wooden Shjips
Psychedelic warlords Wooden Shjips deliver an echo-drenched, guitar-heavy drone pairing the earsplitting repetition of the Velvet Underground with elements of Krautrock and psych. This year, the band has toured Europe and melted faces stateside at the Terrastock and ATP festivals. The Shjips' Volume 1, compiling way-out-of-print EPs, was released in June. A limited split 7-inch with U.K. tourmates the Heads followed in July. The group has a second full-length for Holy Mountain slated for early next year.

The Traditional Fools
We're proud to tip our hats to the city's young and furious neo-garage rockers, the Traditional Fools. The trio has been crashing parties, alleys, art galleries, and clubs for some time now, and the buzz is catching on. They're led by Ty Segall, whose solo project — featuring the singer flying around on a kick drum while holding his electric guitar for dear life — similarly gives the kids raw, pop-conscious, acid-dosed punk rock. This year saw the release of the Traditional Fools' highly anticipated full-length, available on white vinyl from the fresh-faced and locally built Make-a-Mess Records.

Furthering our proud legacy as a hotbed of cutting-edge metal with brutal riff architecture, local juggernaut Saviours nods to the East Bay's pioneering thrash forebears Exodus and Testament as well as headbanging local contemporaries High on Fire. Punishing ears and speakers since its formation in 2004, the quartet pushed its corrosive sound to new heights of dueling-guitar savagery this year with its crushing sophomore album Into Abaddon. Logging a solid eight months of hard-core touring across the globe in '08, the band is building a rep as one of the Bay Area's leading ambassadors of heaviness.

Hank IV
San Francisco quintet Hank IV pulls no punches when delivering anthemic, twin-guitar rock. The band's new sophomore album, Refuge in Genre, on Philly's Siltbreeze label proffers 11 tracks of full-bore roar. Expect to see the album named on best-of lists at year's end, as songs like "Celebrity Virgin" and "Dirty Poncho" bring sneering humor to its caustic commentary. Live shows feature the amusing and/or disturbing spasmodic gesticulations of frontguy Bob McDonald, who helped wow 'em at South by Southwest in March. In September, Hank IV was invited by legendary Boston band Mission of Burma to open its California shows.

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Devin Hoff
Devin Hoff plays the acoustic bass, as well as its electric sibling. For those who haven't seen the instrument, it resembles a violin with a glandular aberration; he plucks, strokes, strums, and bows this peculiar beast with the élan of a pro and the zeal of an anarchist. Hoff has employed his acumen in several combos, local and otherwise, including Good for Cows, Redressers, Odessa Chen, and the Nels Cline Singers. Through his curvy temptress, he channels inspiration from a wide range of influences (Ornette Coleman, the Carter Family, Black Sabbath) that show this musician has few, if any, genre boundaries.

Ben Goldberg
Ace clarinetist Ben Goldberg got his master's in composition at Mills and studied under jazz sax giants Steve Lacy and Joe Lovano. Since the late '80s, he has been a major contributor to the Bay Area's fertile creative jazz scene, starting with the New Klezmer Trio, wherein the music of his Hebraic heritage was infused with holy strains of free jazz. Aside from leading his own groups, Goldberg has been making wonderful noise lately with homies Tin Hat (formerly Tin Hat Trio), Beth Custer, and esteemed guitarist Nels Cline.

Tin Cup Serenade
Quick, name a jazz band with a hat endorsement! Tin Cup Serenade can claim that honor — it's backed by the San Francisco–based Goorin Brothers. It's a fitting match, as the group's brand of classic swing sounds as if it could soundtrack a film noir where every actor has a stylish accessory cocked on his head. Tin Cup's rhythm section churns out Count Basie–style four-to-the-bar swing and gives vocalist and guitarist Rolf Wilkerson all the room he needs for his Chet-Baker-by-way-of-Harry-Connick croon. But these guys don't subsist on jazz alone: Tin Cup dips into blues and some countryish nods to Hank Williams along the way.

The Nice Guy Trio
Who says nice guys finish last? The Nice Guy Trio takes three of the Bay Area's leading lights — trumpeter Darren Johnston, accordionist Rob Reich, and bassist Daniel Fabricant —and disproves that axiom with original music that offers an innovative take on jazz, klezmer, Caribbean music, and more. This year the group further displayed its flexibility in a "Nice Guys +1" residency at the Red Poppy Art House, where it collaborated with clarinetist Ben Goldberg, guitarist John Schott, and percussionist Sameer Gupta, among others. Wrapping up with a finale at the de Young Museum, the series pointed to a higher profile for these Guys in the months to come.

Experimental, Etc.
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The word "experimental" has different connotations — brave new sounds may emerge from this category, but so, too, might aimless wank. Local ensemble Mushroom walks the correct side of that line with style and grace. Its members can jam with the best of them, laying Krautrock or Miles Davis–like improvisations over tasty funk grooves, but they also appreciate the impact of a great three-minute song. An ever-evolving crew with a steady core of players — including Pat Thomas, Patrick O'Hearn, Erik Pearson, Ralph Carney, and Josh Pollock — Mushroom uses the best vocal talent from the Bay Area. Next year, Mushroom will join forces with Naked Barbies singer Patty Spiglanin for its version of the Who's officially unreleased Lifehouse album.

In its seven years of existence, minimalist instrumental funk quartet Tussle has soared far beyond the "dance-rock" scene into which it was first lumped. With no guitars, a double-drum attack, sinewy basslines, and adventurous keyboard atmospheres, the group has fostered a distinctively artful take on the propulsive motorik style informing bands as disparate as Krautrock gods Neu! and punk-funksters Liquid Liquid. Tussle's newest album, Cream Cuts, finds the band rinsing its grooves with extra synthesizer ambience and more spontaneous arrangements.

Uni and her Ukelele
A vaudevillian vision of beauty with a set of powerful pipes to match, Heather Marie Ellison (aka Uni) has become a true champion of her oft-ignored instrument. Though she gets a lot of play for putting a neonostalgic twist on modern pop songs (check YouTube for her stunning take on Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams"), Uni is no kitschy cover artist. Her original songs reveal a talented tunesmith with a gift for crafting indelible melodies that range in emotion from playfully sweet to heart-wrenching melancholy.

Borts Minorts
Experimental-jazz, drum-machine-friendly, what-the-hell-is-this musician Borts Minorts evokes fear and laughter with his performance art pieces. He inspires some dumb comparisons, too. Like this one: Say you get stranded on the roadside. Dude who picks you up is wearing one of those spandex suits right out of the "We'll cut off your johnson!" dream sequence in The Big Lebowski. He tells a joke. You laugh, but are scared shitless by his appearance and demeanor. That's Borts for you. Vaguely sinister, altogether innocuous, and completely freaking out the populace. This year saw him putting miles on his spaceship, heading to New York City to play at such respectable venues as the Knitting Factory and Union Hall.

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Sean Hayes
As far as folk music Helens go, Sean Hayes' Elizabeth is relatively inconspicuous, but no less affecting. In "Elizabeth Sways," from 2007's Flowering Spade, lust-tinged aches go global: "When Elizabeth sways her hips, the whole world goes mmmmmmm." With Hayes, primal, everyday passion is transformed into something epic. His characters don't take deep breaths when life boxes them in — they aim high and consult the Icarus cookbook (one example: "She found a recipe for flying/And he's growing flowers to understand dying," from Flowering Spade's title track). But this songwriter also delivers a sense of levity in frisky guitar and banjo melodies, bits of baritone and bass clarinet, and wheezy accordion lines.

Emily Jane White
Emily Jane White's smoldering voice and whispering-in-your-ear candor invite close inspection, even if her wording warns you to keep her at arm's length. Song titles from her 2007 debut album, Dark Undercoat, include "The Demon," "Two Shots to the Head," and "Dagger." The latter track depicts a poor soul as fragile as the song's guitar melodies: "Oh, when you stumble/Every time you walk/Oh, when you stutter/Every time you talk." White's exploration of our hardscrabble existence — all done, fittingly, over blues and country tropes — forces listeners to indulge in self-analysis. "Everybody's got a little hole in the middle," she intones — yes, indeed, but music this beautiful closes those gaps just a bit.

Two Sheds
The cover of Two Sheds' self-titled EP is pretty telling. It features an anonymous 1970s desert scene with a young couple on the side of the road, looking nonchalant but trendy and presumably in no rush to get anywhere fast. On the five-song disc, Caitlin Gutenberger sings lazily in the foreground, foregoing enunciation for style, backed by slow-strummed guitars and heaps of Fender Rhodes keyboard flourishes. Put on your favorite vintage cowboy shirt, grab a PBR and a pair of headphones, and get ready for therapy: Two Sheds is sensitivity training at its finest.

Goh Nakamura
Goh Nakamura is a Berklee Music grad who has played in goth bands and can shred like a motherfucker, but he's best known these days for crafting wistful acoustic pop, as far from rockstar riffery as possible. On his 2003 debut Daylight Savings (rereleased this year) as well as new album Ulysses, the honey-voiced singer chases the ghosts of Elliott Smith, Elvis Costello, and Matthew Sweet, offering lyrics of longing alongside chiming guitars and delicate arrangements. It's no wonder his song "Weight of the World" was included in the rom-com Feast of Love — Nakamura's tunes have just the right amount of romance and melancholia.

Club Night
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Lights Down Low
When it comes to electro-age debauchery, the name of the game is Lights Down Low. For the past two years, resident DJs Sleazemore and Rchrd Oh?! have brought a decadent twice-monthly mix of dance-rock, disco, electro, blog-house, booty funk, mashups, and party jams to fashionable twentysomethings in the sweaty basement of the 222 Club (which recently closed). They've hosted performances by internationally known guests like Juiceboxxx, Krames, and Guns N Bombs. Earlier this summer, Lights Down Low became a global franchise, launching at Amsterdam's Club 8 to much acclaim.

The Saturday Night Soul Party
Every first and third Saturday of the month, the Elbo Room plays host to the Saturday Night Soul Party, when resident DJs Lucky, Paul-Paul, and Phengren Oswald pack the dancefloor to capacity. In this digital age, it's refreshing to still see those old 45s — a mix of vintage rarities and classic hits — spin on the turntables to such enthusiasm. This year, the party grooved to a new sartorial splendor as the Soul Party's dress code of swanky and soulful attire was not only encouraged, but also rewarded with half-price admission.

Tormenta Tropical
While living in Buenos Aires last year, Bay Area DJs Disco Shawn and Oro11 fell in love with electro-cumbia, a new club sound that mixed traditional accordions and guitars with house and techno beats. Upon returning to San Francisco, the duo started a new night, Tormenta Tropical, that showcases the Argentine music alongside electro, hip-hop, and postpunk. Over the past year, the club night has moved from 222 Hyde to Rickshaw Stop to its current home at the Elbo Room, offering wild DJ sets and live performances from such like-minded acts as Miami's South Rakkas Crew, Vancouver's Paul Devros, and Lisbon's Buraka Som Sistema.

Detroit and Berlin may be the world epicenters of techno, but monthly party [Kontrol] is the premier spot for quality minimal techno in San Francisco. Whether it's based at the Endup, Mezzanine, or Rx Gallery, the club night regularly attracts clued-in crowds. Launched in 2005, [Kontrol] has consistently brought top names in the genre to San Francisco, often for the first time; this year's coups include Dutch producer Speedy J and Germany's Triple R.

2008 Music Awards Program Guide
Casting Votes
The Host, Performers, DJ and Special Attraction


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