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2008 Music Awards Nominees 

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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.

Soul/R&B/Funk
Brought to you by Hard Rock Cafe

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.

Mo'Fone
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
Brought to you by Crunch

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
See Performers.

Girls
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.

Metal/Psych/Punk
Brought to you by EagleRider Motorcycle Rental

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.

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