I listened to a lot of great albums by San Diego County artists this year, which made picking my favorites particularly challenging. But these seven releases stood out above the rest:
7. The Natalie Rose EP, 10-19 the Numberman: This was a short one, but a good one. The Numberman, half of hip-hop duo Parker and the Numberman, went solo with this noisy and psychedelic four-track cassette, which marks a sign of great things to come in San Diego hip-hop.
6. Tank Tracks, The Stalins of Sound: Named for Shawn Nelson's infamous tank ride in 1995, the debut by noisy machine-punks The Stalins of Sound is just the soundtrack you'd want for your next tank rampage. The group balances laugh-out-loud punk pranksterism on tracks like "Meatbag" and "Monkeys Attack" with pulsing anthems like "Truth to Power," making for one of the year's most weirdly enjoyable listening experiences.
5. Dreams in the Witch House, Eukaryst: San Diego metal ebbs and flows, but thanks to bands like Eukaryst, local heavy music is reaching another new peak. The Ocean Beach death-metal outfit's latest is packed with venomous riffs, crushing rhythms and even a catchy melody or two. A beatdown of this magnitude deserves two horns up.
4. Basic Instincts, Island Boy: It's easy to find good synth-based music in San Diego, but one of the best new sample-based artists in town is Richard Hunter-Rivera, whose debut as Island Boy finds a unique hypnotic and exotic blend of sinister darkwave and Latin rhythms. Never before has reggaeton sounded so appropriate for a goth club night.
3. Night Blooms, Barbarian: "Last Call Withdrawal," the first track on Barbarian's debut album, sounds like a slowed-down version of New Order's "Age of Consent," and it's hard to do better than that for an opening track. On this densely layered and lushly arranged post-punk album, the band explores a wide range of styles, from seedy disco-funk ("Phantom Vibrations") to druggy torch songs ("Into Thin"). Night Blooms is a fine document of how far Barbarian has come as a band.
2. In Blood, Ilya: Ilya emerged last year from hibernation with a couple of new members and some new songs and put out their first album in nine years. In Blood marries the trip-hop influenced Ilya of yore with an even darker, more atmospheric streak that occasionally sounds like Sigur Rós rising up from the depths of the underworld. It's an accessible and seductive kind of darkness—which makes it all the more appropriate for everyday listening.
1. Buried, The Midnight Pine: I've always preferred my folk and Americana on the darker side—more Springsteen circa Nebraska, less Mellencamp. No act in San Diego better strikes that reverb-heavy minor chord than The Midnight Pine, whose singer, Shelbi Bennett, has one of the prettiest voices in town. The minute-long à cappella "Lavish in Bloom" is her crowning moment, and that voice pairs nicely with the band's chillingly rustic arrangements, like the stormy "Mother of Amends" or the atmospheric "Hey There." It's simple, earthy music made transcendent.