I warned you I was gonna do it. Last month. I said I was gonna start cycling through different adjectives in the headline each month. And this month I am feeling captivated by these newly released albums and EPs out of Oakland, Berkeley, and the East Bay.
This is an alternately twangy-and-laid-back and groovy-and-danceable and noisy-and-unhinged playlist this month. Just press play and treat yourself to the perfect mix for having your mind blown by the vastness of the night sky as you get ready to hit the clubs for a night of ranging against the machine.
Dust Kingdom, Aux Meadows
Genres are becoming increasingly useless as descriptors of music. I spend more time than I’d care to admit trying to suss out whether to tag new purchases as “alternative” and “indie,” as if that told you anything about what the album sounds like. But then you come across a category like “ambient country” and you know immediately what the band is up to. I discovered this Oakland-based trio late last year, a little too late for them to get anything but a passing mention in my end of the year list-making, but their August 2022 self-titled release has become my go-to zone-out album. And here they are back already with a new collection of seven chill instrumentals combining synth sounds with slide guitar.
Companion Piece, Rob I. Miller
It’s another month highlighting the musical projects of Oakland’s Rob Miller. When he’s not busy serving as the driving force behind Blues Lawyer (featured in February) or playing in the Dick Stusso band (featured in March), he is apparently putting out fuzzed-out power-pop solo material on his own label. Phew! That’s a lot of material in less than half a year, Rob. Go ahead and take next month off.
Feed the Clones Pt. 1, Shrinkwrap Killers
Transylvanian Recordings is one of the entities that makes compiling this monthly feature … challenging. A prolific Oakland-based label, it keeps posting new releases by metal bands from around the world, but they all get tagged with an Oakland location in Bandcamp’s browsing interface, which I have to sort through each month to figure out if this album cover with freaky apocalyptic occult imagery and indecipherable lettering is really a East Bay band or a Chilean deathcore group that’s just releasing a cassette on Transylvanian Recordings. Ah, but Shrinkwrap Killer really is a local group that also happens to be releasing an album of dystopian new wave punk on Transylvanian Recordings.
Shasta, Levi Thomas
And we’re back to spacey alt-country. Folks, Oakland is killing it when it comes to spacey alt-country. For those of us who are into spacey alt-country (there are dozens of us!), Oakland is where it’s happening. I will die on this twangy, woozy, awe-inspiring hill.
More Than a Crush + Drive Me Crazy, Ion the Prize
Not so much an album as a single and B-side plus remixes of both. Not so much a composition as a perfectly executed re-imagining of classic pop songs by The Jets and Britney. Not so much gay as a sex-positive celebration rooted in the house-music tradition of queer culture. Not so much a stage name as a fantastic pun. Yes, this is all of those things.
Also a couple of shout-outs to Oakland musicians Louiza and ADMO, who released singles this month that I really enjoyed. Louiza, I have to say, reached out to me via blog-comment and email, and I get a fair number of those pitches and never write anything about them because this is a hobby at this point and I don’t have time for music doesn’t quite connect with me; but Louiza’s incisive, layered-harmony bedroom pop is right up my alley. Anyway, I’m trying to reserve my Top 5 spotlight in this dinky monthly feature to releases that are more than just singles (although Ion the Prize is pushing that self-imposed limitation this month), so here’s hoping both Louiza and ADMO have EPs or full-length albums coming out soon that I can properly highlight. And in the meantime, please give their singles a listen.