Sound bites from some of the Bay Area's best upcoming musicians.
The music scene is on its head. What used to be a select few radio stations dishing out the latest and greatest new music from a handful of big league record labels, has transformed into a world of DIY creatives writing music in their bedrooms, and getting their big breaks on Youtube, Spotify, or playing behind your favorite episode of West World. Here are seven hand-picked independent artists from around the Bay Area that are doing something truly unique.
Malina Duerte, aka, Jay Som reels you in to her world. Her bedroom pop numbers permeate your being with her profound sense of hope; but despite how strongly her music resonates, her songs are not forceful, but rather inviting and organic. Every sound comes from her—the writing, recording, playing and producing. Unsurprisingly, the songstress' 2017 album Everybody Works earned her the #1 spot on Pitchfork's "Best New Music" list with a notable 8.6 rating. Playing every instrument on her recordings, Som displays a large range of sonic delights—psychedelic synthesizers, hard-hitting and raw guitars, dry and layered vocals that vary from innocent, sanguine and haunting depending on her mood and subject matter. Her tunes sway with movements and motifs; reminiscent of times passed—nostalgic as the sensation of watching a montage of VHS scenes before you were born, or viewing childhood sepia-toned photos through an old look-in slide viewer. There's an intimacy and quirkiness that's hard not to love; an ice breaker that invites you into her world. Inhale, hold, and release. She spans multiple influences and styles, yet there's a distinct connection that ties each ballad together—Som's space.
Trails and Ways
There's a certain feeling when you reach the top of a mountain—the end of a long journey that has brought you exactly where you need to be. The fog clears to reveal a lush landscape with a blanket of steaming mist hovering over the sea and a vibrant, apricot sunset urges you to leap. The sounds of Oakland-based Trails and Ways inspire, and are evocative of living in a daydream. They captivate with dance-heavy drums and percussion; and repetitive, pop-catchy guitar leads that are mantric and circular in nature. Saccharine, Local Natives-inspired vocals are delivered with a softness, while female and male counterparts offer an inviting balance. They could easily fit into the indie-rock category, but there's a world music element that is ever present. At that, the group is well-travelled and openly politically democratic. Just last month they played at The Fight For Medicare For All, an event procured to shed light on issues with the current healthcare system; and before they made their way to Mexico to rally support for food and housing for a small town hit by the earthquake. // hiketrailsandways.com
If Astronauts, etc. sounds familiar, it's because you've likely heard the sounds of frontman Anthony Ferraro, who cut his teeth touring as the keyboardist for Bay Area's own Toro y Moi. With piano and keyboard-driven songs and sensual vocal harmonies, the group presents intelligent songwriting through and through. Recollective of Steely Dan production, Astronauts, etc. writes with precision, but with just enough room to stretch out and breathe. The vocals call to mind sounds of The Whitest Boy Alive with a similar dry, coffeehouse vibe fused with Beach Boy-esque melodies and sonic motifs. Tasteful and simple guitar leads are arresting with a soothing locomotion and elegance; entirely devoid of abrasion or pretense. // hitcityusa.com/astronautsetc
Hard-hitting electronic drops make up the primal, dance-inducing sounds of San Francisco's Manics. If there's any music that is going to make you want to flail around in a club, this will be it. Their hefty waves of energy are procured from heavy drums and percussion redolent of LCD Soundsystem, and massive bass, both monstrous and gritty. The duo's songs are teeming with vocal samples, utilized as rhythmic sequences and drop-queuing—as recognized in older Skrillex songs. A dynamic brew of 80s bass-heavy grooves and old school drum machines that are part deep house, part nu-disco, Manics will leave you with dual sensations. At times you'll be floating on a cloud, while other instances will propel you into careening through space, plummeting to earth, but enjoying every minute of it. // popgangrecords.com/manics
Oakland's Hazel English presents deeply intimate dream-pop, evocative of lazy afternoons in bed with the warm glow of the sun flooding the room. Brimming with 80's synths, vocals that swell, surfy bell-tone guitars, and gated-reverb drums, her music radiates ethereal vibes. There's a developing nature to her tunes, mnemonic of the the melodious atmosphere created by the War on Drugs. English's tracks maintain a sonic quality and vintage sheen, embodying the sound of older tape recordings that the Beatles displayed—where vocal harmonies and sounds melt together. Separate sounds fuse together to create new timbral characteristics, a life of its own; new DNA if you will. That analog nature is ever present in English's sound, liberating listeners from judgement or concern. // hazelenglish.com
Hailing from South Sacramento, but now a resident of Berkeley, Caleborate blends beats and verses together that are certified fresh. He performed at this year's Heiro Day, and has shared bills with Kehlani and collaborated on tracks with G-Eazy. In a world of hip-hop currently king-pinned by the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper, Caleborate brings a flow and ardor to his craft that places him in a similar regard. The tracks are filled with electric piano, ducking synths, funky and cascading bass lines, and older hip-hop grooves—two parts Pete Rock, one part Kanye. His voice and flow brings an on-top-of-the-world feel, with the energy of LA's Vince Staples, yet remains distinctly Bay Area. He hits hard on topics of gentrification in the East Bay, and being broken and ambitious in San Pablo. There's an organic feel to his recordings, constantly pausing to take a quick phone call, coughing and saying that he messed up the last verse, or stating—before starting the song—that he thinks he could record the whole song in one take. It's these kind of minute details that exude a certain level of acquaintance and make you feel like you're casually sitting in the room with him. It embodies breaking the fourth wall in a film, providing insight into his inner workings and the man behind the curtain. // caleborate.co
The Seshen embodies empowerment through spiritual grounding and inward exploration. With Lalin St. Juste and Akiyoshi Ehara at the helm, the band has a rich list of notable shows, supporting the likes of Hiatus Kiayote, Tune-yards, Thundercat, Petite Noir and more. They've also recently signed with the booking agency 13 Artists (who also works with Tame Impala and Alabama Shakes). The six-piece shares strong vocal connections to the likes of Little Dragon and Erykah Badu, with the musical complexities of Tune-Yards and Hiatus Kaiyote. The band defies categorization, and pulls inspiration from music all across the spectrum, spanning hip-hop, indie-rock, R&B;, and electronica. With infectious grooves and percussion, bass lines that pull you in and toss you around, and dilating climaxes that continue to blossom beyond the initial crescendo, The Seshen is undoubtedly one of the strongest bands currently permeating the Bay Area. // theseshen.com