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Lust For Local: The Bay Area Releases That Made Our Musical Honor Roll In 2014 

Tuesday, Dec 23 2014
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Ah, December: that time of year when music critics everywhere look back through their most-loved records and throw caution to the wind, ignoring everything that's true about the meaninglessness of hierarchy in art and the limits of genre to declare some version of "Hey! Are you not capable of forming your own opinions? Here are my opinions, which are being published because that's my job. Come, fight about them in the comment section."

Truly, 2014 felt like a mammoth of a year in Bay Area music. For an attempt to wrap it all up in a bow, see next week's Year In Review issue. For a seasoned take on the electronic and dance music scene in 2014, check out Chris Zaldua's column in this issue. Just want to get your list on? Below you'll find teasers of SF Weekly music writers' favorite local releases from the past 12 months, in the very academic categories of rock, electro-ish (did literally everyone get a synthesizer for Christmas last year?), and hip-hop. You'll find the complete lists online at sfweekly.com. Come, fight about them in the comments section.

ROCK

Sun Kil Moon – Benji

It's not right that Mark Kozelek made more headlines this year for talking shit about The War on Drugs than for his sixth solo record, but from the depths of his trolling the past few months (see: releasing an actual song called "War On Drugs: Suck My Cock"), that's maybe what he was going for. Which is a damn shame, because Benji, a gorgeously difficult and deeply personal opus even from a man known for his personal songwriting, is undoubtedly the former Red House Painters' frontman's best work. Between a precise account of his sexual history and stories of family members' untimely deaths, we get snippets of grumpy-about-aging Kozelek, trying to park near the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, or eating ramen as he hears the news that James Gandolfini died. In an overwhelmingly dark record, beauty is in the mundane on Benji, and we only wish Kozelek would let it do more of the talking. Emma Silvers

tUnE-yArDs – nikki nack

Oakland's Merrill Garbus has made quite the name for herself in the indie-music scene. Critically acclaimed, she's also one of the most incredible live performers in the bizness, mesmerizing crowds with live loops of instruments and her signature banshee-like voice. On her third LP, nikki nack, she continues to tinker with the "tUnE-yArDs concept" of complex arrangements of layered sounds. The single "Water Fountain" got serious play as one of the top singles of the year. But for me, this album's crowning moment came on "Wait For A Minute." It's a seemingly effortless production of Garbus not trying to get too intricate with the loops and layers. It's a simple drum beat and Garbus just letting loose and showcasing her divine voice. Moments like these, where Garbus doesn't seem as concerned with the normal twists and turns of her arrangements, allow us to experience the rawest product of tUnE-yArDs and the talents of one of indie's most unique voices. Adrian Spinelli

Ty Segall – Manipulator

Ty Segall is nothing if not prolific: Fans of his work over the past eight years can count on a new project, with a distinctly different feel from a seemingly completely different decade from one release to the next — which wouldn't be that impressive if he didn't tend to release three or more records per year. Manipulator, Segall's longest album yet at 56 minutes, represents a departure from that breakneck pace — it took him 14 months to complete — and the payoff is immeasurably satisfying, with an immersive, '70s psych-tinged mood that swells over the course of its 17 tracks. We're generally game for whatever Segall has up his sleeve, but if this is a sign of things to come, we're excited to watch him keep maturing as a songwriter and guitar player, and we hope he keeps taking his time. (P.S. Segall wrote this record in the months before leaving for L.A., and recorded it a SOMA apartment. So yeah, we're still claiming it as ours.) ES

Cold Beat – Over Me

The resurgence of post-punk in the Bay Area music scene could be portrayed as old hat for some. Enter San Francisco's Cold Beat, a band led by Hannah Lew of Grass Widow fame. This year the band released its debut album, Over Me, on Crime on The Moon (Lew's label) and brought a little more life to the forlorn subgenre. With the airy and fragile vocals some have come to expect from Lew amid punchy, perfectly orchestrated instrumentals, the album serves as post-punk guide for catharsis. Lew's lyrics take you on a ride through loss, anxiety, love, and identity. And shining tracks such as "UV" and "Mirror" are excellent pit stops on that insecurity-ridden ride. Over Me is one of this year's better post-punk albums, and it can be hard for any unsuspecting person who listens to this album to get over. Erin Dage

Chuck Prophet – Night Surfer

If Prophet's 2012 release, the restrained-yet-sweeping Temple Beautiful served as an elegy for a lost San Francisco, Night Surfer, which the ever-articulate singer-songwriter released this past fall, is a wary-yet-hopeful eye to the future: With songs like "Countrified Inner City Technological Man," Prophet takes a piss out of the toy-filled world around him, while the presence of chunky, arena-ready guitar hooks (courtesy of REM's Peter Buck) and '70s Rolling Stones-esque riffs and backing vocals make it very clear he's having too much fun for the record to be intended as straight social commentary. Prophet's pseudo-spoken lyrical style, too, is ripening as he ages; while there have always been Petty-ish undertones, Night Surfer has him sounding like an alternate member of the Traveling Wilburys. Which is to say, timeless. A changing San Francisco couldn't ask for a better musical documentarian. ES

ELECTRO-ISH

Tycho - Awake

Tycho frontman Scott Hansen's first musical instrument was a drum machine. Tycho is a byproduct of the digital age; a producer that embraced the electronic revolution head-on with his debut release Past is Prologue and really made a splash with his second LP, Dive, on avant-garde electronica label Ghostly International. But on his third effort, Awake (also on Ghostly), Hansen introduced more live instrumentation and it brought new life to Tycho. On the album's opening track, "Awake," a simple, yet atmospheric guitar riff opens up into a lush bass groove and we're transported into a comfortable ambient world. The production leads into electronic intricacies, new-form sounds and another continent on Tycho's planet. One of the genre's most consistent innovators, Hansen is leading the charge on San Francisco's lo-fi electronic music scene. AS

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Emma Silvers

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Emma Silvers is SF Weekly's former Music Editor.

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