Dec. 26 2012 03:46 PM

My favorite San Diego albums of the year

The Gaslamp Killer
Photo by Theo Jemison

I've listened to tons of music this year. For weeks, I've pained over my top choices. Now, I give you the six—actually, seven—best local albums of 2012:

6. It's a tie! 1977, The Black Sands (self-released); Awake Now, The Midnight Pine (self-released): With his clanking homemade percussion and endless pages of lyrics, songwriter Alfred Howard is one of the finest musicians in San Diego. But things wouldn't be the same if he didn't have so many other fine musicians to work with. Thus, we get these two lovely Howard efforts— both feature wonderful singers (The Black Sands' Heather Marie Janiga and The Midnight Pine's Shelbi Bennett) and a host of skilled players who play reflective, brooding country-folk.

5. Brushbloom, The Tree Ring (self-released): When it comes to making beautiful folk music, The Tree Ring know how it's done. With help from the Camarada chamber group, the band gets extra-gor geous on Brushbloom, delivering thick, harmonious layers of strings, woodwinds and piano. Want some advice? Put on "Hummingbird Pause" when you're about to propose to your lady or man, and bust out the ring as the ensemble goes aflutter like a flock of doves. I'm sure you'll get a "Yes." 

4. With Us, The Burning of Rome (Surfdog): For a band as crazy as The Burning of Rome, With Us might initially come across as surprisingly normal: Their songs are tight and polished, boasting honed melodies, big riffs and sing-along choruses. Listen closer, though, and you'll notice an obsession with madness and murder (see: "Norman Bates," "Why Can't I Stop Killing My Friends?"). Taking a cue from Mr. Bungle, the quartet has conformed to pop convention just enough that their shocking weirdness can attract a wider audience. The unsuspecting listener might have no idea what he's being injected with until it's too late.

3. Kill Your Present Future, Left Handed Scientists (2012 Dynasty): Orko Eloheim can't be stopped: A father of the city's underground hip-hop scene, he's dropped three albums in the last year or so alone, including the ambitious Kill Your Present Future. The album finds Orko and fellow rapper Bazerkowitz performing as a duo (and joined by a number of other locals), conjuring futuristic, intergalactic, politically charged visions over dense beats that shift between mid-tempo string samples and breakneck drum 'n' bass. While it may take multiple listens to unpack lines like, "I'm laughing at the Mayan calendar on acid in a spaceship," the album's visceral energy hits you right away.

2. Strange Heaven, Mrs. Magician (Swami): These guys may be a Godless bunch of hipsters—their song "There is No God" once made a little girl cry—but they sure as shit care about pop songwriting. Every song on this debut full-length is a potential hit, with the band's brisk beats and muscular surf-punk licks offering more indelible hooks than you'll find in a fisherman's tackle box. Of course, Mrs. Magician doesn't reach Beach Boys levels of genius, so don't even go there. But in a crowded field of youthful garage-pop efforts—many of them forgettable, some downright insufferable—Strange Heaven is bound to remain a tart, unsparing delight through many listens to come. 

1. Breakthrough, The Gaslamp Killer (Brainfeeder): This wild-haired DJ and producer probably wouldn't have gotten to where he is today without leaving his hometown of San Diego eight years ago. His personality is too big, his skills too insane, to be contained in this laid-back city—he needs a global stage, and L.A.'s famed beat scene has been the perfect launching point. Still, this Killer, William Ben sussen, keeps San Diego close. Breakthrough, his debut full-length, features contributions from several current and former locals (most notably the wizardly singer Gonjasufi and the mysterious drum genius MRR), who bring soul to a dark-yet-playful sound. Of course, most Gaslamp club-goers would probably cover their ears if they heard these beats—just as they did with the Killer's DJ sets a decade ago. But you know what? Fuck them. In many ways, Breakthrough clarifies and advances the dirty aesthetic that San Diego's underground has long nurtured, and it's about time we recognize what we have.

Email or follow him on Twitter at @peterholslin.


  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • The former local boy and creator of the highly influential blog, Advanced Style, will be signing and discussing his third book, Advanced Style: Older and Wiser, which features inspiring pictures and stories...
  • C.J. Chenier and Bonsoir Catin headline this annual Cajun inspired festival. Also enjoy 10,000 pounds of crawfish, dancing and cooking demonstrations. Held at Spanish Landing Park, across from the...
  • A Cinco de Mayo party featuring $2 tacos, cocktails and live music from Bostich+Fussible, Javiera Mena and Gepe
  • A spoken word showcase hosted by English instructor Karla Cordero and her City College students. There will also be a special reading from poet Mercedez Holtry, as well as an art and photography show....
  • Widely known as host of "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live and for his role in the Showtime dramedy Weeds, Kevin Nealon brings his unique humor back to the stand-up stage
  • New works from over a dozen UCSD undergraduate students. Participating artists include Charity Algarme, Richard Lin, Joseph Maas, Ignatius Nguyen, and more
  • This video art exhibition from UCSD MFA candidate Stefani Byrd features two installations that explore the themes of breath, mediation, and the nature of time. Takes place in the VAF Performance Space,...
See all events on Thursday, May 5