YEAR-END LISTS typically hew to the comfy round number 10. And although Top 10 has a ring to it, Silicon Valley’s melting pot of musical talent fused genres, collaborated, innovated and turned out so many great LPs and EPs this year that it became a nearly impossible task to narrow it down to even the Top 15 releases, so we squeezed one more pick for a favorite 16. Here, in no particular order, are some of 2013’s best local releases.
The Bangerz: PRiSM
PriSM, the Bangerz’ second soundtrack LP for the Jabbawockeez Las Vegas stage show, showcases the crew going deeper into some amazing futuristic soundscapes. The crew has always straddled a line between throwback hip-hop and cutting edge electro-jams, but it’s all forward thinking with this release. In a sign of the times—as the line between EDM and hip-hop continues to blur—there’s a healthy dose of dubstep influence on this record, as well.
Rebelskamp: The Kill
Going into a recording studio without any written material doesn’t sound like a winning formula for an album, yet Rebelskamp produced a remarkable LP this year. They’ve gotten so good at improvisation that they don’t sound like they’re inventing the music on the spot. Yet, the spontaneity of such a freeform formula remains intact. These songs go any and everywhere, drifting through funk riffs, psychedelic space jams and crazy free-jazz. A highlight is “The Rebel,” with local rapper Dirtbag Dan freestyling a couple verses.
Philthy Dronez: Wepa Life
Up until recently, Matt Gonzales was known mostly as the go-to guitarist for local bands. (Anya and the Getdown, Raul y Mexia, Chris Reed—to name a few). Now the world gets a taste of his solo project: producing Latin-infused electro-beats under his alter-ego, Philthy Dronez. His debut EP, Wepa Life, was released on Global Bass Experience a few months back. It’s a short EP, about 15 minutes, but it’s bumpin’. It centers on the emerging new-cumbia sound, but also veers into electronic and hip-hop territory, and even some old-school cumbia.
Boboso: Grown Ass Man
There are three things Boboso raps about: food, cats and his love for the female derriere—often within the same song. Yet, he’s not exactly a comedy rapper. He can really rhyme. Plus, his production skills are top-notch: classic West Coast beats with surreal twists. The Beach Boys sample on “That Breathe In, Breathe Out Shit” is a particular highlight. Jeff Rosenstock from Brooklyn punk band Bomb the Music Industry also lays down an impressive verse on “Sartorial Panache.”
Careless Hearts: Alum Rock
Alum Rock isn’t just the latest album by Careless Hearts; it’s the culmination of five years of life-changing events. They started out a laidback Americana group, but since 2008’s Heart’s Delight, they’ve gone through some major lineup changes and played a life-changing show with punk legend, Stooges guitarist James Williamson. It shows in the roots-rock, power-pop songwriting on Alum Rock. The release rocks harder, louder and with more passion than their first two albums.
Antwon: In Dark Denim
In Dark Denim isn’t as accessible as Antwon’s prior work and takes the San Jose rapper in a new direction. His beats are grimier, the samples are darker and the lyrics are dirtier than ever. “Work 4 Me,” with its down-and-dirty hip-shaking beat and raunchy lyrics, sounds like he’s seducing the listener. All the while, Antwon’s fanbase continues to grow, with a successful run at SXSW, an appearance at Treasure Island Music Festival and two national tours during the last year.
The Albert Square: How’s Everybody’s Doings?
Last year, Sim Castro reformed his punk rock outfit the Albert Square. The songwriting is much in the same vein, subtly nuanced ’80s and ’90s post-punk-inspired, but the band’s performances are far more unhinged—a good thing. Their newfound spastic energy complements Castro’s reflective songwriting quite well. However, the strongest song, “(Proud) Parents,” is oddly the most reserved track on the EP.
The Limousines: Hush
It’s been a couple years since synth-pop duo the Limousines released their brilliant debut, Get Sharp. Despite all the views they were getting on YouTube and radio play they received, they had major problems to sort out with their label, but Hush was worth the wait: Its synth beats are dancier, the production is more refined and in place of their signature clever nihilism, Hush offers lyrics that are raw and honest. Hush was made with funds from a Kickstarter campaign that sought $30,000 but ended up raising $75,000.
Dinners: Black Rabbits
If such a thing as a San Jose “supergroup” exists, Dinners might be that band, featuring members from Worker Bee and Doctor Nurse. Dinners go into a different direction than either Worker Bee (moody indie rock) or Doctor Nurse (psychedelic folk) with lo-fi noise-pop and a heavy dose of Guided By Voices influence. At first listen, Black Rabbits sounds like the kind of four-track recording popular with ’90s indie bands, but it’s actually a quite meticulously, thoughtfully crafted album. The cover art is amazing, too.
Rey Resurreccion, M-10, Locsta Villan: First Street Sessions
Some of rapper Rey Resurreccion’s finest works are collaborations. Last year, he worked with the Bangerz to make some killer old school hip-hop tunes. This year, he got together with emcees M-10 and Locsta Villan and created the 1st Street Sessions. Together the trio has produced eight laid-back, dreamy hip-hop songs that should be on urban stations all across the country.
Raul y Mexia: Arriba y Lejos
Brothers Raul y Mexia released a fun, passionate Spanish-language album this year on Nacional Records, the current leaders of cutting-edge Latin music. Arriba y Lejos combines elements of cumbia and other traditional Latin sounds with hip-hop and electronica. The duo, who are sons of Hernán Hernández, bassist of famous Norteño band Los Tigres del Norte, has created something that both pays tribute to classic Latin music, like their father created, and all the newer American music they grew up with here in San Jose.
Sean Blak: #Basslife
Sean Blak books live hip-hop shows, puts on battle-rap events and holds a weekly Tuesday night residency, “the Trap Shop” at Johnny V’s. He’s also a prolific rapper, with a ton of lo-fi, surreal homemade hip-hop records online. His best this year is the LP #Basslife. On it, he takes some of the strangest, most intimate beats and makes them sound like outrageous club bangers.
Slime Girls: Vacation Wasteland
By the time Slime Girls came together, the chiptune scene was already well-established. Yet they’ve still been able to find their own sound within it, taking all the old Nintendo chip Gameboy sounds and mixing them with surf, punk and ska. Their latest EP, Vacation Wasteland, is a seriously fun collection of instrumental chip-rock tunes. It was originally pressed on cassette because they’re that into old technology.
David Brookings: The Maze
The Maze is David Brookings’ sixth full-length album since 2000, yet he’s still working on building his fanbase in the Bay Area. He moved to Northern California from the Memphis by way of Richmond, Virginia, in 2009, and produced his five albums before heading West. The Maze, like its five predecessors, brings together ’60s psychedelic-rock and ’80s New Wave.
Derek See: She Came This Way
The title track to Derek See’s She Came This Way is an amazing psychedelic-pop gem. At first, See, who normally plays guitar in soul group the Bang, recorded it, along with a couple other tunes, just for fun. It was good enough for an indie label to offer to release it, and they even ran out of the first pressing. It’s the kind of song that, had it been written in 1967, would have been a Summer of Love FM hit, no doubt.
Noothgrush: Split LP with Coffins
Back in the ’90s, sludge metal group Noothgrush were a pretty big deal. Along with Sleep and a few other bands, San Jose boasted a strong doom metal scene. Noothgrush just recently reformed, and they also just released a split record with Japanese metal band Coffins. The third track, “Thoth” is particularly special, as it contains spoken clips from the late, great, much beloved KFJC DJ, Cy Thoth, who died earlier this year.