Sunday, February 3, 2019

Monday, January 21, 2019

Saturday, January 12, 2019


I'm doing pretty good, thanks for asking! Why? I didn't get my annual survey out until January 26 last year, and this one is out by the 12th!  Most people get their year end "best of" releases out of the way in November, and then wash their hands of it. I'd like to say that my list is delayed because I'm waiting for any last minute stragglers to wash up on the beach in late December, and a few did, but the real reason is that I don't start working on this thing until late in the year, and if you read the whole damn list, you will see how exhaustively comprehensive it is.

Now, you may get the impression, at first glance, that this is a top ten Bay Area METAL releases list, and it usually ends up leaning towards that,  just because I'm kind of a metalhead and those are the releases that are the most on my radar. But most punk bands don't really seem to make it to LP stage nowadays anyway, the typical life cycle of a Bay Area punk band being demo in the spring, a seven inch by the fall, and broken up by winter. So the best PUNK releases of 2018 will mostly be found in the other list, the top ten new band's demos, singles and EPs.

Most of what I said last year about my motivations remains relevant, so here it is again.

…and much more importantly, no one makes a list of the best Bay Area releases of the year, because there are no magazines or blogs, as far as I know, that focus solely on the SF Bay Area heavy music scene. The East Bay Express made a top 12 list, which contained zero punk or metal releases. As one of the sole print publications covering alternative culture around here, couldn't they do a little more? As in, anything?

Once again, I don't think East Bay Express wrote about a single local punk or metal band. I eagerly await correction! The KQED top ten list DID include Adrenochrome this year, however! Congrats.

There wasn't a lot of attention given to Bay Area releases OUTSIDE of the Bay Area either, with the exception of Deafheaven and Sleep, who were honored by Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. Those two, as well as Mortuous, appeared in Decibel magazine's top 40 metal releases of 2018 list. High On Fire was thrown a bone by Loudwire and the Onion's AV club. You get the idea.

Maybe it's a reflection of our times, but there has been quite a crop of death/doom/blackened metal bands really scraping the bottom for ugliest, foulest, most desperate sounds imaginable. If "screaming at the bottom of a well naked covered in blood while being devoured by rats" describes the mood of your band, then this was your year! I'm running out of words, even with the liberal use of a thesaurus, to describe the bestial foulness of all these releases in the capsule reviews! There are only so many descriptors at my disposal.

There also was a bumper crop of dark wave / death rock / post punk in the scene. It's been building for the past few years, with the Near Dark festival being introduced, and in 2018 I think it hit it's stride with some really strong releases and new bands. I'm no expert in this genre, by any means, but I really do like the stuff. Always liked Siouxsie and the Banshees, and I'm happy to see this scene within a scene growing. It actually seems to be the dominant form of punk in the Bay these days.

Shout out to James Rauh and Josh Carman for suggestions and inspiration when I was making the list! Check out James' incredible survey of Bay Area releases HERE.

OH yeah, and fuck all this top nine bullshit. The format of instagram is gonna dictate how many bands / things you liked last year? Fack ooff.

But now, to the list! 

In alphabetical order

Ails: The Unraveling
April, 20 The Flenser
For those of us who were big fans of Ludicra, possibly the best San Francisco metal band of the past 20 years, this was a long wait! Core band members finally returned with a new project and the elements that formed the classic "grey metal" sound are present in force.

Brainoil: Singularity To Extinction
October 18, Tankcrimes
Oakland's sludge godfathers go a little more death metal / crust on their long awaited third album.

Esses: Offering
July 11, Near Dark
By far the most composed, articulate and crisp of the latest wave of Oakland post punk. Downright collegiate compared to some! Lots of cool influences poking out through the darkness here.

High On Fire: Electric Messiah
October 5, eOne 
Does High On Fire even count as a Bay Area band anymore? None of them live here. Oh, well, they get honorary status, fuck it. This is their eighth album and it might be their third best! I love how fast it gets sometimes, epic, anthemic, the type of metal album we need right now, one of the few on this list that isn't extremely dark and depressing. Now the question remains, will High On Fire ever be able to tour on this material, or will Matt Pike have to stay home and keep getting toes cut off?

Mortuous, Through Wilderness
June 22, Carbonized
Extremely heavy death metal from Bay Area experts. Reeks of that lumbering morbidity perfected by Autopsy and other sludge tomb forefathers. Mortuous takes it there, and then keeps going, almost to a place of elegance.

Nopes: Stapler
July 27, Magnetic Eye
Wow! This is great. This just all all the good points of a great heavy weirdo noise rock album! They are not following any rules here, jumping from style to style like a speedfreak channel surfing. Elements of hardcore punk and snotty alternative rock set them far apart from the rabble.

Serpents Of Dawn: Into The Garden
August 31, Doom Stew
Honestly, this might be the release of 2018 that I was most stoked on. I listened to this over and over again. Gratuitous stony heavy rock, riffs for days, elegant harmonies in just the right (few) places, glass gargling vocals. This all sounds comfortingly familiar, and yet somehow fresh at the same time. Fuck yes! 

Ulthar: Cosmovore
November 9, 20 Buck Spin
Full of weird loping musical passages that come after you like a three legged wolf. You're like, ahhh, I can outrun a three legged wolf! But then you realize you can't. Because it's still fucking faster than you. And it's hungry. And as the first bite of the fangs sink into your calf, and you stumble upon the ice in the Lovecraftian twilight, you realize you were always meant to die this way, born to die this way. It was written in the cosmos.

Wild Hunt: Afterdream Of The Reveller
April 20, Vendetta
Blackened metal, elegant in it's chaos, like a ballet dancer swerving in a hurricane. If it's a hurricane though, it's is one with many eyes, like Argus. Between each malevolent burst there is some kind of interlude, not to put you at ease, but to set you on edge as you know that there is another blast coming.  Wild Hunt rebounded from tragedy in their lineup and made a career defining album. 

Yarrow: Rebirth
September 11, Transylvanian Tapes
It seems like the Bay Area doom scene is pretty much a race to the bottom, who can be the most miserable, disgusting, wretched, horrible, pulverized band of them all? If Yarrow isn't at the bottom of this heap, they're pretty darn close! Augmented with choice samples ala Eyehategod. Despite the horrifying nature of the band, Yarrow actually somehow comes across as the most FUN or the whole crop, they don't actually seem to take themselves quite as seriously as Abstracter or Body Void. Maybe that's what put them over the edge and got them onto the top ten. 

In alphabetical order

Adrenochrome: Buzz Or Howl Sessions
February 26, Near Dark
Well, there's a lot of new post punk / death rock out there right now, and it all kind of sounds the same to me, but I don't know what the common influence is, because I'm just not very educated on this style. That being said, I really do like this! The mood is great, and this is especially cool because it's more on the energetic end of things when it comes to dark, bleak-ass music. Hoping for an Adrenochrome album soon! 

Altars: s/t 7" 
August 24, Sentient Ruin
God what a ripper of a seven inch. Utterly unrelenting and pulverizing. Blasting death metal grind.

Deseos Primitivos: Existir
October 23, Self Released?
Chorused out anarchy liberation punk en español

Evulse: Call Of The Void
October 22, Transylvanian 
Extremely heavy DM with a fat low end. The dive bombing guitars add a fun old school element to the proceedings!

Glowing Brain: Demo
September 22, DOD Records
Downtuned, punchy noisy hardcore. This kicks ass! This might be my favorite new band of the year, and I finally got to see them play a show last week too.

Psychic Hit: Promo 2018
October 3, self released
Really cool old school rock metal with soulful vocals and tight songwriting. I see a bright future for them.

Riita: Absolut Santa Rosa
December 30, self released
Hardcore punk from Santa Rosa, Sweden

Shit Coffins: The Continuous Pleasure Of Living
July 8, self released
Competent hardcore played by scene veterans. Three quick-ass songs!

Terry Gross: Shameless Imposter
April 5, Valley King
One of my favorite new local bands, intense psychedelic noise rock

These Bastards: Old And Pissed
December 6, self released
Pissed indeed! Frantic hardcore with a sense of humor!

List of other Bay Area releases after the jump!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


Time marches on. We struggle to quantify our parade of struggles and small victories in whatever way we can. 365 days. A year. Four seasons. A blink of an eye, or an eternity?

To the best of my ability to keep track, I attended 75 shows in 2018 as an audience member, which is up from 56 last year. I think I actually made a conscious effort to make it to as many live gigs as possible, in spite of my multiple band practices, and (sometimes) insane work schedule. Also, there is a new urgency to see certain legendary performers before they die. Because I work in the entertainment industry, some of these bands I saw while I was at work! As the Bay Area starts to suck in a lot of ways, I decided to just enjoy the hell of what's still around, and there turned out to be quite a lot, even in the face of rampant gentrification, multiple venue closures and the general trend of society to "Netflix and chill" instead of going out at night.

Some highlights included seeing one of the greatest drummers alive, and one of my personal heroes, Billy Cobham playing at Yoshi's. There was also my first trip to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and seeing David Byrne from the talking heads doing an extremely avante garde stage show, while I was working at Civic Auditorium. But for the most part, it was business as usual, tons of death metal, hardcore punk, sludge, psychedelic rock and maybe an odd Nintendo band.

As a drummer, I played 63 shows with six different bands, which is down slightly from last year  (when I actually played more shows as a drummer than attending as a punter). Although I played with six different bands, most of them did not play many local shows, and there were only two tours. Here's the breakdown:
Owl: 27
Isaac Rother And The Phantoms: 15  (European tour)
Isotope: 9
Cronander: 6
High By Night: 4
Hazzard's Cure: 2

Accounting for nights when I played or attended more than one show in the same night, that adds up to 128 total nights spent out during the year, or 35.34% of all nights spent out, which although is a slight rebound from last year's dismal tally (the lowest ever), it's still the second worst since I started keeping track, and well below the average of 39.8%.

In some of the early years of this project, I did a list called "venue graveyard," documenting the closures and burnouts of the local scene's live music establishments. Eventually, I stopped doing it, maybe because it was depressing and morbid, maybe because the scene stabilized somewhat in those middle years, or maybe because it was too tedious to document every little fly by night punk venue that came and went. But anyway, 2018 was a humdinger of a year for venue closures, with some real heavy hitters biting the dust; a few words must be spoken for the deceased.

The Elbo Room closed it's doors after 27 years in business as of December 31, 2018. In a rather science fiction type move, it manged to transfer it's soul into another, smaller venue in Oakland, where it lives on. The Hemlock Tavern, the ultimate small bar venue, closed it's doors in October, after 17 years, and will succumb to the wrecking ball sometime in 2019. Gargoyle might have to take the cake for shortest lived new venue. Though it appeared to be a fully functional and legal club, it closed after a few weeks and a few shows, and was revealed to have no permits of any kind. Whoops! Downtown Oakland stalwart Golden Bull, though it didn't shut down, pulled a kind of Pet Semetary move, when it temporarily died as a live music venue, then it came back, but it wasn't the same.

Percentage of total nights spent out:
2018: 35%
2017: 32%
2016: 39%
2015: 37%
2014: 38%
2013: 48.5%
2012: 46%
2011: 43%


Wednesday, December 26, 2018