Photo by Strangers in a Fire
For the last week of the year, I like to take the time to revisit some of the local releases that impressed me or left an impact on me in some way. I listened to a lot of music, and for a minute I contemplated including Baja California bands in addition to those in San Diego, but for the sake of making a list of the best San Diego albums of 2016, I'm sticking to the boundaries of our city (or at least county) for the time being. As with last year, I picked seven favorites, though that was tricky this time around, particularly since our Great Demo Review alone yielded some nuggets of gold. Here are my picks, unranked and in alphabetical order, for the best San Diego albums of the year.
The Dabbers | I Am Alien Now
The Dabbers are an easy band to like, or maybe I should say an easy band for me to like. They combine a lot of great elements—catchy vocal melodies, driving rhythms, pop songwriting and noisy basslines—into one deceptively simple package. I Am Alien Now showcases how much depth there is to their fairly straightforward bass, drums and vocals approach. Leadoff track "Coo Coo" is a hard-driving post-punk number with A-plus hooks, and "I Am Alien Now" is maybe the sludgiest new wave song I've ever heard. This is outstanding, noisy, mutant pop—just how I like it.
Hexa | Bata Motel
A lot of impressive bands have been born in the aftermath of Ilya's break-up, but one of my personal favorites is Carrie Gillespie Feller's formerly one-woman project Hexa, which has since expanded into a trio featuring Erika Marie and Acacia Collins. Hexa's debut EP is a dark and ominous set of goth-rock songs that evoke Chelsea Wolfe and PJ Harvey, starting off with a bang via the dramatic pulse of standout "Campo." Sometimes Bata Motel is ethereal and sometimes it's heavy and shoegazey, but it's never anything less than captivating.
The Midnight Pine | s/t
The Midnight Pine topped my list a couple years ago with their excellent album Buried, and unsurprisingly they've returned to my favorites list. Their self-titled album is an expansion of their rustic and soulful sound, with cinematic arrangements like the string-and-horn-laden "Vice" and the increasingly distorted and dense "Barricade." The Midnight Pine have lost none of their songwriting prowess; they've just added a lot of other great elements.
Monochromacy | Live Isolated
Esteban Flores can do some pretty impressive stuff with his guitar and effects pedals. On his latest cassette, Live Isolated, this means intense and deafening walls of noise, or it can mean gently floating ambient soundscapes. Everything here takes its time to truly reveal itself, but the haunting, atmospheric journey is well worth taking. And though music this abstract and abrasive is admittedly not for every listener, it's an investment that pays off well for those who dare brave its intense sounds.
Natural Sounds Trio | s/t
The first letter of each word in Natural Sounds Trio's name corresponds to one of the members in the band—Najor, Schinelli and Todd—and their debut EP is all about the chemistry between those three musicians. It's not a long or complicated release, comprising four tracks of deeply grooving funk and soul-jazz, and each one of those tracks is a winner. It's effortlessly funky.
Tall Can and Generik | Fungi.Psyche.Boots
Producer and emcee Generik has been delivering excellent hip-hop releases locally both with Left in Company and as a solo artist, but his partnership with Tall Can resulted in something truly inspired and truly weird. Tall Can's lyrics weave in and out of real life and surrealism as Generik provides an expansive, psychedelic backdrop. This is real acid rap... er, make that 'shroom rap.
Various Artists | Hardcore Matinee
Generally speaking, compilations featuring various artists tend not to factor into my year-end lists because either a.) not all the songs are new; or b.) they're not always so cohesive. Neither is the case with this Swami-released 22-track LP of short songs by great local punk bands. It's an impressive array of talent, from Hot Snakes to The Soaks, and each track is a loud, fast and snotty reminder of why we loved punk in the first place.