By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
On the California Honeydrops' 2008 debut, Soul Tub!, the band — Nansamba Ssensalo and Ben Malament on homemade tub bass, washboard, and drum kit; pianist Chris Burns; and vocalist-trumpeter-guitarist Lech Wierzynski — plays Chicago blues, New Orleans soul, and gospel-tinged pop. The combo really shines during live sets, when it delivers one of the best dance parties in town.
Kev Choice Ensemble
Nearly a dozen members strong, the Kev Choice Ensemble is the brainchild of its namesake, a singer, rapper, composer, and classically trained pianist who has worked with Lauryn Hill, Lyrics Born, and Michael Franti. Amid the horns, guitars, keyboards, and percussion of his ensemble, the gifted Choice draws from hip-hop, soul, jazz, and funk for a spirited sound that's big on both musicianship and passion.
Most contemporary R&B tends to be formulaic and lacking in innovation. Not Jennifer Johns' music. Blending soul with hip-hop, reggae, and electronic elements on her most recent release, Painting on Wax, Johns is that rare siren who effortlessly transcends stylistic genres. "Nice and nasty, sweet and sassy, keep it classy," she sings on "Move wit It" — which describes her to a T.
The Downer Party
Formed by Sierra Frost (ex-Elephone) and Sam Francisco in 2008, the Downer Party follows in the tradition of Romeo Void and the Waitresses, mixing clever lyrics with hiccupy girl vocals and raucous guitars for a sound that straddles the line between New Wave and punk. Having released one of 2009's catchiest, most kickass local discs (the Ego-Driven Lust Creatures EP on Pop Smear Records), the quartet is currently recording a follow-up.
There are plenty of bands named Girls around the country, but none sports a member raised in the scary Children of God religious cult. That'd be singer-guitarist Christopher Owens, who fled at age 16 and is still working things out. Merging '50s rock 'n' roll (through a Lynchian lens) with shoegazer atmosphere, Owens' duo is his surprisingly warm and inviting vehicle for reconciling the past and holding out hope for the future. The group's debut, this year's Album, has already become a critical favorite, making Pitchfork's "Best New Music" list.
The Morning Benders
The Morning Benders have endured and endeared this year, performing gigs from Outside Lands to London. The band lived up to its reputation for quixotic covers with a standout "Strangers in the Night" on the Sinatra tribute compilation His Way, Our Way, and is of course still plying so many peppy original tunes.
Sleepy Sun doesn't waste any time reviving vintage psych on this year's bold debut, Embrace. But beyond the lengthy songs and ferocious jams, the Santa Cruz–formed, San Francisco–based six-piece makes the most of quiet moments, leaving off from outright squalls to reflect on a lonesome piano or the hushed drawl of vocals. It's not the power of Sleepy Sun that's most impressive, but the band's vast range and intuitive transitions along the way.
The Fresh & Onlys
For a band not even two years old, the Fresh & Onlys have had a phenomenally fruitful year, touring behind a fistful of LPs, EPs, and singles. They've hit the road on their own, in support of Stephen Malkmus, and as the occasional backing band for resurrected underground psych-folk artist Rodriguez. Purveying a unique brand of surrealist, acid-soaked garage rock, leader Tim Cohen adroitly draws the line between avant innovation and retrospective reinvention.
Hunx & His Punx
Hunx, aka Seth of Gravy Train!!!!, makes retro-conscious garage-punk pop with very funny, blatantly homoerotic lyrics. "Hey Rocky" and the hilarious "You Don't Like Rock 'n' Roll" split the difference between Shonen Knife and T. Rex, sonically speaking, with a first-take amateurism and juvenile sense of humor — plus plenty of handclaps, which are always a plus — that give them an immediate appeal where other, superficially similar acts miss the mark.
Garage-spawned fuzz has become cool all over again, but don't accuse Ty Segall of jumping on some bandwagon. He's been toiling for years, since departing the trashy trio Traditional Fools to go it alone. A self-titled debut on Castle Face and the recent Goner Records follow-up, Lemons, have excavated his throbbing psych nuggets for the world to hear, but there's still an outsider feel to Segall that's as thrilling as his primordial kicks.
Since forming in 2005, psychedelic avant-punk quartet Triclops! has firmly established itself as one of the Bay Area's most compellingly corrosive bands. Extensive touring in the States and Europe this past year further spread the gospel of the outfit's hallucinatory, neck-snapping live shows. With a new album in the can, it's only a matter of time before the masses are singing along to its latest warped anthem, "The World's First Recreational Crack Smoker."
This exuberant Gypsy jazz sextet has been whooping it up at Amnesia every Wednesday for seven years — an extraordinary achievement that has earned the band quite a following. The kicker is that Gaucho's repertoire mostly comes from way back: Tin Pan Alley, backwater blues, Depression-era pop, and early New Orleans– and Django Reinhardt–inspired swing. Featuring hot guitarist Dave Ricketts and virtuosic wind instrumentalist Ralph Carney, Gaucho could be the greatest dance band in town.