With the shuttering of The Bay Bridged and the slow, sad decline of the Bay Area’s remaining alt-weeklies, Bandcamp’s #Oakland location filter remains my go-to resource for discovering local music. But there’s a lot to sort through. Between re-releases of decade-old albums, pre-orders of not-yet-ready albums, and output by bands-from-elsewhere that happen to be on Oakland-based labels, it can be time consuming to hunt for actual new releases by actual East Bay musicians. Is anyone crazy enough to do all that work and blog about it once a month for a non-existent readership and zero compensation from Bandcamp? We shall see!
Here are six intriguing new releases by East Bay artists I discovered in January. Consider these contenders for your music-budget expenditures on Bandcamp Friday, which is fast approaching.
Medicine, Orchestra Gold
It turns out West African musical traditions work pretty well as a foundation for spaced-out psychedelic rock jams. What’s more surprising is that this mashup is happening right here in Oakland, with lyrics sung in the Bambara language by Mali native Mariam Diakite and a whole mess of horns.
Son of Rene, Pacific Yew
The biggest compliment I can pay a hip-hop album is that I listened to it from start to finish in one sitting. The latest by Oakland rapper Jeremy Williams, a.k.a. Pacific Yew, consistently surprised me. Yes, it’s primarily about growing up in the hood and smoking various things, but that overarching narrative is peppered with detailed scene setting and ruminations about family, regrets, and memory. Between Williams’ hushed-triplet cadence and the often atonal samples—you can’t call them beats if there’s no percussion involved, right?—this is music for a dark night of the hip-hop soul.
Shapes & Colors, Abracadabra
This one is for fans of groove-based ’80s funk-pop and art-rock. Tom Tom Club and ESG seem to show up consistently in every bio of the duo, who recorded in a loft over a winery in a former auto shop in Jingletown because this is 2020s Oakland of course they did.
Where’s My Gumbo At?, The Skookum Brothers
A short EP from the Oakland quartet. It’s gives me Exile on Main Street vibes, if Exile on Main Street were three songs long. Give it a listen if you’re into blues rock, psychedelic rock, and cosmic Americana. All four members are apparently skaters, so that’s cool.
I Am Here, Now, Jason M. Yu
An underrated aspect of Bandcamp is how many classically trained musicians are on there sharing new, contemporary compositions—folks like Oakland-based composer Jason M. Yu, who has released ten new free-wheeling, contemplative piano pieces influenced by everything from Ravel to video game music to his dogs.
Danza Sarda, ShellacHead
It’s not technically “new music,” and it’s not technically “from the East Bay,” but the most intriguing new music from the East Bay is a collection of vintage Sardinian folk music, full of guttural braying and frenetic accordion, collected and released by Oakland-based blog/project/label ShellacHead. A week ago my knowledge of Sardinia was limited a general inkling of a Mediterranean locale and not much else, and now I’m in serious danger of being the guy at the party saying things like, “Yeah Harry Styles is cool, but have you ever heard a Sardinian launeddas virtuoso do a minutes-long continuous drone using circular breathing?”