The 10 Best Bay Area Albums of 2021



hawak, nÆ°á»›c (Self-released)

nÆ°á»›c is a multi-faceted Vietnamese word: it means “water” most often, but can sometimes mean “country” or “nation”. That’s a fitting slippery meaning for the title of Hawak’s debut album, a screamo-toned poem exploring the liminality of refugees, immigrants, and their children. It channels the pain of living an unstable and contradictory identity – “You wonder / Mày là ai?” (Who are you?) Singer Tomm Nguyen screams at the climax of a track. But the album doesn’t just wallow in Asian-American existential despair without finding a way out. The whole navel-gazing exploration of identity ultimately leads to a renewed faith in community in the last piece: “We are here with you!” / We will stay with you! / We are always with you!—Adesh Thapliyal


Miko Marks & the Resurrectors, Our country (Redtone Records)

The Bay Area is not Nashville, but our country music artists have a soul and a political conscience that stands out in a culturally cohesive industry. In fact, the country’s sole custodians nearly cost Miko Marks her career in the 2000s. Back then, labels loved her sound but euphemistically told her that she was not worthy of a contract. ‘recording, probably because of the color of his skin.

Undeterred, Miko Marks & the Resurrectors made a comeback in 2021 with Our country, his first feature film in 13 years. The opening piano track, “Ancestors,” anchors Marks in a brave lineage as she prepares to speak the truth to power. His observations are as lucid as ever on “Good Night America,” an acoustic slide guitar praise of the American Dream that accuses the nation of hypocrisy. The folkloric “Travel Light” ballad burns slowly like a smoldering campfire, and the gospel-steeped “Mercy” offers a prayer for strength. At Our country, Marks brings out tenderness and sorrow with pure emotion in his voice and words, and gives us the spiritual determination to continue the fight for justice.—Nastia Voynovskaya


Keshav Batish, Binaries in cycle (Productions of woven strands)

Coming from a famous musical clan, Keshav Batish made his way into the family business. Son of sitar and tabla virtuoso Ashwin Batish, born in Mumbai, whose parents were both renowned musicians of classical music from North India and beyond, the Santa Cruz-raised drummer and composer made a dazzling debut with Binaries in cycle. While focusing on Batish’s intricate originals drawing inspiration from her musical background in jazz and Hindustani, the album features two ring tones, the bouncy tune of Ornette Coleman, rarely played “Police People” and the standard “We See” by Thelonious Monk.

But it’s the pieces he designed for the quartet that still impress. The nearly 13-minute opening title song is a quicksilver odyssey that feigns, darts, and revolves around its clean, supple cymbal work; “Gayatri” is majestic and incantatory. Recorded in August 2020 as part of the Mondays with Kuumbwa A series of virtual performances, the album features pianist Lucas Hahn and bassist Aron Caceres, Batish’s musical collaborators since college, and Israeli-born alto saxophonist Shay Salhov, a more recent connection that is a generation older than his group mates. Intoxicating and daring, pensive and joyful, Indian and American, Batish’s music embraces duality as a path to a very personal sound that promises discoveries to come.—André Gilbert


Destroy the boys, Open mouth, open heart (Desperate records)

with october Open mouth, open heart, Destroy Boys came up with 13 tracks of cathartic post-punk, fighting angst and pointing the middle finger. The trio’s third album not only marked their transition from perhaps teenage to young contenders, it ignited an already staunch fan base into a fervent devout. And for good reason. Open mouth, open heart fearlessly combines the challenge of punk rock with the gloomy riot grrrl, and centers it all with empathetic lyrics and soulful melodies.

Each song offers an unfiltered, visceral glimpse into singer Alexia Roditis’ real-life tensions and struggles. “Drinking” is about breaking cycles of addiction. “Locker Room Bully” pushes back the toxicity of social media. “For what” defies police brutality. And halfway through the album is a 50-second interlude about life with anxiety. For the first time, the group also included two songs in Spanish – “Lo peor” and “Te llevo conmigo” – to honor Roditis’ Argentinian heritage.

On ‘Escape’ the band says, ‘I don’t see anyone asking anyone else’s profession, except artists, what their plan B is… You know, I could really do it without ever hearing that question. new. ” After Open mouth, open heart, they shouldn’t have to.—Rae Alexandra


Stunnaman02, I have to feel it (EMPIRE)

Years from now, when we talk about “getting out of our 40s,” we’ll get to that part of the conversation where we discuss songs from the era. This is when someone will mention Stunnaman02’s “Big Steppin” and chances are they will. hit dance that accompanies it.

The track has been performed in clubs and brunches, and remixed for the 49ers. The Warriors even danced it on the court. Beyond the motivating lyrics and the upbeat rhythm, it was the dance that really carried the song. (For 170 straight days, Stunnaman02 posted “Big Steppin ‘” videos of himself everywhere from the East Bay Hills to Hawai’i.)

While many artists are flooding the market album after album, Stunnaman02 has abandoned two projects this year. “Big Steppin ‘” was on the album produced by QuakeBeatz I have to feel it. Granted, the first single tends to eclipse the rest of the track list, but songs like “Buzzin ‘” and “Chimmy Wit It” with Gunna Goes Global are slapping nonetheless. It is however for “Big Steppin ‘” that this album will be known. And if we are talking about music that came out of the Bay Area in 2021, it is mandatory that this track be mentioned.—Pendarvis Harshaw


Bachelor, Cursed sun (Polyvinyl Record Co.)

If only more than 2021 lived up to the experience of listening to this album. Both intimate and expansive, Cursed sun has a track for every mood. Full of pent-up energy? Sing along with “Stay in the car”. Need four minutes of dreamy introspection? Proceed to “Aurora”. The story of Bachelor (Mélina Duterte, from the Bay Area of ​​Jay Som and Ellen Kempner of Palehound) and their first outing is one of long-term musical admiration, culminating in a series of recordings of two weeks in January 2020. Written before lockdown and posted amid pandemic, Cursed sun is anything but dated. Duterte and Kempner’s songs about ecological collapse, queer love and the endless scroll of online life alternately sparkle and yelp, their warned and easy harmonies testifying to a musical collaboration I hadn’t realized that I was desperate to hear.—Sarah Hotchkiss


The Russell, Cooking together, eating together (Good Compenny / Corite)

Some rappers brag about their success. At Cooking together, eating together, LaRussell discusses it, analyzes it, calculates it. In a constant stream of one-liners containing more truth than comedy, rapper Vallejo has his eyes peeled to the world, not as surprised by his success as satisfied with the results of his work. “Look how it went,” he rapped on the E-40 “Sprinkle Me” flip, “They offer you a spot when you stand out / You have a handful without a document.” (The boss himself shows up for an anointing guest verse.) As the album title suggests, LaRussell is putting on the stage for his town, most notably with his video series Good Compenny, which features young talent from the Bay Area. Like his peers, LaRussell is always hungry; on the other side Cooking together, her voice breaks at times in despair. But he also growls with determination. It’s cultured rap from a young star in the making.—Gabe Méline


Joël Saint-Julien, Empathy (Earth and sea)

In the hour of national accounts, Haitian-American composer and sound artist Joel St. Julien offers listeners the gift of compassion. On release in 2021 Empathy, the instrumental music of the San Francisco-based artist takes listeners on a healing journey.

With its ambient sounds and lush synthesizers, the music of St. Julien plunges us into the present, a bit like meditation. On the first track, “Empathy I,” the song’s sonic synths and bouncy tempos echo the rumbles of unresolved conflict. On track six, “Where I am,” the rich sounds and calming tones convey catharsis.

Like therapy, Empathy invokes a contemplative state, and St. Julian’s compositions become the catalyst for introspection, emotional examination and resolution.—Juli Fraga


Kevin Allen, Nothing lasts eternally (Great Nationxl)

Nothing lasts eternally tells a lot of different stories about Bay Area hip-hop in 2021. For starters, it represents the complete rebirth of former rapper hyphy Erk Tha Jerk as Kevin Allen. Next, it shows Allen as a master orchestrator who thoughtfully positions a group of ascendant artists. Among them, Ian Kelly, who jumps on “Radio Raheem” with jazz accents. Guapdad 4000, who made noise well outside the Bay with his album 1176, is on the masterful canvas of “Unwind”. Jane Handcock, who featured prominently in Dame DOLLA’s two underrated films Different on the levels the Lord has allowed and on the stars of Snoop Dogg Algorithm, raises both “Childish” and “Oh, The Irony”.


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