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2008 Music Awards Nominees 

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Saviours
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.

Jazz/Blues
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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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Mushroom
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.

Tussle
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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