Hot Flash Heat Wave
Indie rock band Hot Flash Heat Wave recounts stories of heartbreak and miscommunication using blithe vocal harmonies and clean electric guitar chords. Reminiscent of Cage the Elephant’s Thank You Happy Birthday or perhaps a pre-AM Arctic Monkeys, the album Soaked is a collection of melancholy musings transformed into a pleasant listening experience.
Best to listen to when: riding a bus that drives by your ex’s house.
Andrew St James
When listening to The Big Ole Veronica Apology Record, words like “jangling” or “folksy” come to mind, but these descriptions are misleading, making the album appear discordant and dated. Rather, Andrew St James interweaves cheerful drums and piano with soulful vocals to make music that sounds effervescent yet honest.
Best to listen to when: berry-picking while wearing a sundress.
Kat Robichaud was on Team Cee Lo when she was a contestant on The Voice, though that is not immediately obvious from the dark, wailing sound of her latest album, Misfit Cabaret. Her sonorous vocals are haunting in both the gritty anthemic songs that dominate the first half of the album, but also in her mournful ballads like “White Snow, White Dress.” Robichaud drifts between pure rock and theatrical whimsy on this album, but she sure demonstrates unrestrained vocal power on every track.
Best to listen to when: burning your old belongings to leave your past behind.
NRVS LVRS seemed, upon first listen, to be a standard indie electronic band, given their heavy use of synthesized beats and instrumental fade-ins. But then there are glimpses of raw emotionality, such as the despairing call, “Is no one coming back for me?” in “Sparrow & the Sea,” that bring thought-provoking substance to their electronic groove. A hybrid between Of Monsters and Men and Erasure, NRVS LVRS is an oddity, but an oddity that has created a fascinating, indefinable sound.
Best to listen to when: not leaving a friend of a friend’s party even though almost everyone else has gone home.
Midnight North exemplifies the warm, calming, and optimistic voice that makes country music shine. Throughout the album, the band combines clear guitar chords and earnest vocal harmonies to count their blessings, open their hearts to loved ones, and reflect on the wild journey that is life.
Best to listen to when: walking your dog under a clear blue sky.
A relatively new band out of Oakland, Mare Island is four dudes who make confessional tunes that are a mix of bedroom-pop and prog-rock. Their self-titled, debut EP is full of cavernous, love songs, filled with driving guitars and an overall elated, hopeful mood. It’s not so much introspective as it is celebratory, and the album artwork — of abstract wavelengths — is a good indicator of the many highs and lows you’ll hear instrumentally.
Best to listen to when: you’re debating if you should get up out of bed or not.
Formed in the Bay Area, Delta wires makes snazzy, upbeat blues, replete with lots of harmonica and horns. Led by vocalists Ernie Pinata and Tom Gerrits, the sevenpiece band has won plenty of awards and was inducted into the California Blues Hall of Fame five years ago. Born in Oakland is the band’s seventh album since forming in 1991, and it’s just as crisp and buoyant as their early stuff.
Best to listen to when: riding BART or driving through Oakland on a bright, sunny day.
Oakland musician Meklit’s new album When The People Move The Music Moves Too is an upbeat medley of soul, pop, and Ethiopian jazz. Produced by Grammy Award-winning artist Dan Wilson, the rollicking album sees Meklit on vocals, guitar, and the Ethiopian harp, krar, and has features from the likes of Andrew Bird and Preservation Hall Jazz Band. “I Want to Sing From Them All” is a particularly strong, celebratory cut, filled with playful melodies and lyrical odes to Meklit’s teachers, which include Leonard Cohen and Mulatu Astatke.
Best to listen to when: you’re getting dressed for a party.
San-Francisco-to-L.A. musician Mars Today brings sincere R&B to the forefront in his new EP, Bits & Pieces. The 9-track, self-produced record marries sparse instrumentation — mainly piano and guitar — with plaintive, silky vocals, making for an intimate and provocative project that sounds similar to something you’d hear from fellow Bay Area artist (who also relocated to SoCal) Marc E. Bassy.
Best to listen to when: you’re swiping through Tinder.
The American Professionals
Husband-and-wife band The American Professionals have been making guitar-forward rock-fusion music since at least 2004. Their new album, Sympathetic Overdrive — the band’s first record in four years — is a study in the complexities of rock and roll, with songs veering from pop-rock and alt-rock to prog-rock and psych-rock. The heavy, clunky sounds and reverb-thick production of their earlier works are gone, replaced instead with harmonized choruses, hand clapping, and the occasional zooming synth.
Best to listen to when: cleaning out your closet.