Best of 2012: A baptism by fire in Bay Area music
December 31, 2012
Written by Jason Shane
Despite amounting to nothing less than a watershed year in my life, 2012 feels like it went by in the blink of an eye. Joining The Bay Bridged in May, I was tossed headlong into the Bay Area music scene, everyday making multiple new musical discoveries and adding countless bands to my list of acts to cover. Writing about everything from psych-rock, garage rock, and “cloud rap” to indie-folk, country-punk, and Afro-Caribbean-influenced indie rock, I found myself immersed in a community of unending musical productivity, experimentation, and collaboration, and loving every minute of it.
My coverage took me far-and-wide in the Bay’s sonic landscape. I interviewed a bunch of great local acts, both scene veterans (Bart Davenport, Tea Leaf Green) and up-and-coming acts (The Buttercream Gang, Oceanography). I visited bands in the studio (that’s me above, dutifully texting with my wife while hanging out at Radical House with Coo Coo Birds). I even assisted in the production of a few of The Bay Bridged’s live events, including The Bay Brewed, where I found myself chilling in the green room with Bear In Heaven‘s Adam Wills, talking not about the show or the fact that he was set to perform in less than 20 minutes. No, the Atlanta native was more concerned about the score of the SEC Championship Game, which featured he and his dad’s favorite team (‘Bama) against his home state Georgia Bulldogs. Wills went onstage happy, as the Tide edged out the Dawgs (naturally), and the band’s set went off without a hitch. 2012 was a whirlwind, for sure.
Consistently awestruck by the devotion of our local music community’s members – not only the artists themselves, but also the fans, producers, engineers, show promoters and production folk, PR people, local media, hell even the bartenders – I only want more, still a relative newbie trying to chart my path through the best local music scene west of Brooklyn.
It was not easy paring everything I listened to over the course of the year down to a list of my favorite tracks, but I think this is a pretty good representation of the best stuff I heard coming out of the Bay Area during 2012. The list is admittedly (super) heavy on the fuzz, distortion, feedback, and just about any other loud and potentially grating noise that our local acts harnessed into a beautiful cacophony during the course of the past year, and there’s definitely a common psychedelic element among most of the tracks. But that’s the way I’ve always liked my music – loud and a bit spacey.
1. Golden Void – “The Curve”: Quite simply, the best Black Sabbath track that Ozzy, Tony, Geezer, and Bill didn’t write. “The Curve” is the apex of Golden Void’s 2012 psych-rock debut, which we described as “a lost seventies classic — raw, heavy rock and roll driven by extremely tight musicianship”, after its November release. (SoundCloud)
2. Oceanography – “Reggie Jackson”: Oakland’s Oceanography – the pet project of Brian Kelly, Production Director for The East Bay Express – dropped its second EP Parachutes of Plenty in November. The album kicks off with this soaring and emotionally-gripping track that calls to mind early U2, and which is the best track you’ll hear all year about a collections agent who uses the name of a Hall of Fame baseball player as an alias. (Bandcamp)
3. Thee Oh Sees – “Lupine Dominus”: John Dwyer and company released their fourteenth album, Putrifiers II, this year, and led off with this single, a swirling, intoxicating, and beautiful psych-rock mess with a video that will, um, leave an impression. (YouTube)
4. Two Gallants – “Broken Eyes”: The San Francisco duo stormed back onto the scene in 2012, released The Bloom and the Blight, with lead single “My Love Won’t Wait”. But it was the album’s second single “Broken Eyes” – the gentle, folk-rock track that sounds like it could have been written by Shannon Hoon – that caught my attention. (SoundCloud)
5. Social Studies – “Terracur”: My biggest (music-related) regret of 2012 is not attending the Noise Pop Holiday Party that featured this SF quintet playing the company’s tiny office space on Bryant Street in the Mission (office space shared with The Bay Bridged). (SoundCloud)
6. Ty Segall – “Thank God For Sinners”: The venerable Mr. Segall had something of a prolific year, releasing not one, not two, but three full-length albums, plus a handful of smaller releases including a recent 7″ from a new project with Charles Moothart called Fuzz. Ty’s third record of the year started with this track, featuring repeated blasts of fuzz and feedback amid an all-out guitar assault that barely takes a break for the song’s impossibly-catchy chorus and somehow-irresistible melody. “The Hill” may be getting most of the pub in most end-of-year lists, but it was “Thank God For Sinners” that Segall chose for his late-night TV debut on Conan back in October. (YouTube)
7. Future Twin – “Getting Theoretical”: The third in Future Twins’ Summer Singles Series, “Getting Theoretical” evidences the continuing metamorphosis of the band’s sound, confronting the listener with the beautiful tension between the track’s softer moments and thunderous, riveting chorus. (SoundCloud)
8. Moon Duo – “Sleepwalker”: It was a quiet year for Wooden Shjips, but guitarist Ripley Johnson’s side project Moon Duo continued to make waves in the psych world, releasing their third LP Circles. “Sleepwalker” is the album’s entrancing first single, accompanied by an eerie, jazzercise cult video featuring King Khan *of King Khan and The Shrines) as the creepy, spandex and cape-clad leader. (SoundCloud)
9. Le VICE – “Find You”: One of the Bay Area’s more unique sounds this year came courtesy of Le VICE and their album Neverland. “Find You” is perfect representation of this SF-via-the-831 “urban indie electro hip-pop” band. (SoundCloud)
10. Dirty Ghosts – “Katana Rock”: I caught two gigs by this SF-via-Ontario (Canada, not California) outfit during 2012 and, at both, this track stole the show with its deep groove and furious guitar riffs, confirming the power of Allyson Baker’s songwriting chops. (SoundCloud)
11. Satellite High – “That Hat Makes You Look Like George Lucas”: Jay Friedman, aka Satellite High, is a one of the Bay Area hip-hop’s best-kept secrets, despite having a ridiculously prolific 2012. Hailing from the City’s Portero Hill neighborhood, he produced seven releases this year, including the, well, rad album Radd Axxion and this anthemic nod to the creator of Star Wars. (Bandcamp)
12. Main Attrakionz – “Cloud Body”: MondreM.A.N. and Squadda B dropped Bossalinis & Fooliyones this year, cementing the Oakland hip-hop duo as a fixture in the national rap game. “Cloud Body” calls to mind the the ’90s with a chill world of sounds that transport you back to the heyday of American hip-hop. (SoundCloud)
13. Ty Segall Band – “Wave Goodbye”: Slaughterhouse, the first album from the Ty Segall Band, found its way onto many a best-of list this year, and “Wave Goodbye” was the album’s highlight (for me, at least). Taking cues from Sabbath, Nirvana, and everything loud and heavy in between, Ty and his mates nailed it on this track, a ripping four-and-a-half minutes of pure psych-rock glory. (SoundCloud)
14. Synthetic ID – “Between The Lines”: Releasing two records in 2012 (a self-titled EP and the full-length Apertures), Synthetic ID burst onto the scene with an aggressive and frenetic post-punk sound that brought many a critic to their knees, and “Between The Lines” encapsulates that pure fury in a mere 102 seconds. (from the EP) (Bandcamp)
15. Violent Change – “Feeding In The Dark”: When I bought Violent Change’s Such On The Gun EP at Amoeba on Haight back in early November, the cashier remarked that they already ordered more copies of the record because their first shipment sold out quickly. “Feeding In The Dark” is one reason why. (SoundCloud)
Here’s to 2012, and see you in 2013…