Top Music Picks of 2018 (That I Actually Listened To)

2018 was a year of new music from established favorites, debut full-lengths from up-and-coming artists, and singles in advance of forthcoming releases

As 2018 comes to a close, so too does my time at KCR, at San Diego State, and in San Diego in general. Between bouts of crying and while avoiding thinking about returning to Canada (the land of arctic boredom and a much more affordable healthcare system), I’ve spent some time reflecting on the new music released in 2018 that has soundtracked my California existence.

Southern California is a melting pot for the surf, garage, and punk genres, music that’s perfect for cruising down the freeway in the sunshine to (check out the undercard for this year’s Tropicalia Festival lineup and you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about). As such, the majority of the new music I’ve been listening to and seeing live this year has come from bands based in California. However, the Golden State is almost always a stop for touring bands, so I’ve also had the chance to hear new stuff from those that hail from outside our perfect West Coast bubble.

So as a final parting gift to the loyal readers of my KCR blog posts (read: people on my Facebook friends list), I present to you: California Andrayah’s* favorite music released in 2018. As a fun bonus, I’ve included the most fitting freeways and neighborhoods to serve as a backdrop for your listening, based on my personal experiences. Let’s be real: you need a car to get around in San Diego, and since you can’t pick up AM 1610 all over the county, you’re going to need to play your own music if you can’t listen to San Diego’s Best AM/FM Radio Station according to The San Diego Union-Tribune 2018 Reader’s Poll. I’m talking about KCR here. It’s us. We’re the best.

*as an (un)interesting aside, every person I’ve met in California has pronounced my name like An-DRAY-ah. Technically, I am actually AN-dree-ah. I might stick with my new moniker, though, in an effort to try to convince myself I’m still in San Diego, going to Better Buzz four times a week and drinking alone at the Ugly Dog Bar when they’ve got a sour on special for $3 Tuesdays.

Records:

hoodratscumbags – Beach Goons

hoodratscumbags

Logan Heights’ Beach Goons released hoodratscumbags this August, and my introduction to the band was through this record on the day it came out. If you were lucky enough to catch them at The Live Wire, KCR’s new flagship concert series, back in September, you know that Beach Goons offers SoCal surf/garage rock with a Cumbia twist. hoodratscumbags marks the first release for Beach Goons in a couple years and the new record was highly anticipated by their fans. Founding member Pablo Cervantez sought to recognize Beach Goons’ Chicano/Mexican heritage with their new music, and songs like “Chunti” and “A.M.” really emphasize this influence.

Top picks: Vatos Tristes, Hrsb

Best use: Is it lame to listen to Beach Goons while driving down Logan Avenue? Maybe, but I’ve done it. Otherwise, hoodratscumbags is a good choice for driving around Ocean Beach. Consider playing it as you roll up to the Robb Field Skate Park so the skaters know you’re down with the local music scene. I recently bought my first skateboard, and this is a fact that I like to make known as much as possible.

My Own Mess – Skegss

My Own Mess

Australian garage/surf trio Skegss released their debut full-length back in September before embarking on a tour of their homeland with Chicago’s Twin Peaks. Maybe it’s Australia’s similar climate and its cultural emphasis on surfing, but My Own Mess fits right in with our SoCal music scene. It’s chock-full of slacker anthems about partying, watching TV, and fucking up. My favorite track on the record, “Margarita”, is one of those rare songs that I heard and instantly fell in love with, immediately qualifying it for Banger Status. If you’re a fan of bands like The Frights, SWMRS, or FIDLAR, you’ll probably be stoked on Skegss.

Top picks: Margarita, My Mind

Best use: Skegss is the band you want to start your day with. Not if your day consists of school or work, but when your day will be spent doing something fun, like laying on the beach or skateboarding. I have a skateboard now, so I can relate to this. My Own Mess is reserved for the 8 West (never the 8 East – this ain’t for driving home at the end of your fun day) on your way to the beach, or maybe the 5/805 North, if you’re bougie and heading to a beach in La Jolla.

I Don’t Run – Hinds

I Don't Run

This April, Hinds released I Don’t Run as a follow up to their debut record, 2016’s Leave Me Alone. Their sophomore effort is similar to Leave Me Alone musically, but it’s not a carbon copy. The all-girl garage rock group from Madrid, Spain digs a little deeper on I Don’t Run, and lyrically the songs get personal and serious at times. That’s not to say the music is slow and sad – the record still largely consists of the irresistibly fun and catchy songs Hinds is well known for.

Top picks: Tester, Rookie

Best use: Take a girls-only day trip to Los Angeles and put on I Don’t Run as you roll down Melrose Avenue scoping out your next Instagram photo op. Otherwise, a fun and semi-manipulative idea is to play “Tester” when driving with a guy who you suspect could be cheating on you, particularly for the lyric “Should I have known before you were also banging her?” I’m not actually speaking from experience here (give me a little credit), but I could see myself doing this. Or at least considering it.

Onion – Shannon and the Clams

Onion

I think Shannon and the Clams is one of the most underrated bands of our time. They blend doo-wop, surf, and garage rock into a unique sound that’s perfectly nostalgic, a sound that’s not often heard these days. I’m usually more of a music person than a lyrics person, but the lyrics on Onion‘s tracks stand out with their raw emotion and poignant themes. Set to the Clams’ signature retro instrumentals, the result is foot-tapping, danceable songs that are painfully beautiful underneath.

If I had to pick one record from this list to recommend to someone who hadn’t heard any of them, in the hopes that they would discover a new band to obsess over, it would be Onion. Send tweet.

Top picks: If You Could Know, The Boy

Best use: I like to listen to Shannon and the Clams during the rare times when I’m in 5:30 PM traffic, because I can be safely reckless and dance along to it while driving. A favorite spot is getting off the 163 and onto the 8, near Fashion Valley. It takes fifteen minutes to move half a mile – you can dance through the first five songs on the record while you wait.

The Dream and the Deception – The Aquadolls

The Dream and the Deception

Like Shannon and the Clams, I think The Aquadolls don’t get nearly the amount of recognition they deserve. The tracklist for The Dream and the Deception features nineteen songs that span the emotional spectrum, from sad to silly to pissed off. Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Melissa Brooks’ commitment to The Aquadolls is admirable – she self-released this record online in October and has plans to press it in on vinyl via her own label in the new year.

Top picks: Cigboi, Communicationissexy/Idkhow2communicate

Best use: My top picks above are fitting for driving home on the 94 East on a moody, rainy Friday night. You’ve left-swiped through everyone on Tinder and you’re feeling hopeless and lonely. “Why am I so alone?” you cry, as you ignore everyone and make no effort to meet people. Switch over to something more upbeat and positive, like “I’m a Star”, to remind yourself that you are, in fact, a star.

3 – Sextile

3

Good god, do I love Sextile. I love getting into music that’s a lot different than the usual things I listen to (see every other record on this list), and Sextile stands in stark contrast to the reverb-heavy surf rock that’s so popular in Southern California.  The Los Angeles based duo is not like anything I’ve ever heard – all the headbang-inducing and moshpit-inciting energy of punk with the added twist of a new wave dance beat. If you’ve ever wanted to go to a club and dance all night amid cool visuals, but you’re a bit too punk rock for something like that, check out Sextile.

Top picks: Spun, Paradox

Best use: Don’t listen to this in your car. See them live! Dance around in the strobe lights! Inhale the smoke machine smoke! Get slammed into and have your front row spot taken by a psycho ex! It’s all part of the experience.

Hypochondriac – The Frights

Hypochondriac

The Frights put out their third record, Hypochondriac, on Epitaph Records after signing with the punk label earlier this year. It’s quite a departure from 2016’s You Are Going To Hate This, and an even farther trip from 2013’s The Frights. Many of the songs are a lot softer and sadder, with the exception of the pop-punk/emo track “CRUTCH”. The new sound is good in its own right, but if you’re looking for the same surf-inspired tunes that put The Frights on the map, you’re going to need to look elsewhere.

Top picks: Alone, Whatever

Best use: The Frights will always remind me of driving on the 8 East and taking the College Avenue exit to get back to State (shoutout to “Cold” from The Frights for being my spring 2018 anthem). Otherwise, the driving vibe can vary: sometimes I’m shouting along angrily to “Over It” as I drive to the Taco Bell at University/College, sometimes I’m crying to “Goodbyes” on the 5. It’s a spectrum.

Singles:

“Drip” – The Marías and Triathalon

Drip

A definite outlier on this list, but if Statistics 101 taught me anything, it’s that…outliers exist? They validate your data? I don’t know. Anyway, this is a cool song. The Marías call themselves a “psychedelic soul” band, and Triathalon makes lo-fi R&B. The union of the two results in a multi-layered song that coalesces flawlessly – The Marías come in first with their signature funky-yet-smooth sound, Triathalon enters with a slowed-down, dreamy verse, and they link up in the outro. It is, in a word, a vibe.

Best use: This one’s a bit tricky. It’s definitely a nighttime song, but it’s not a party song. Play this at the end of the night, when you’re winding down and driving home after drinks at Sycamore Den in Normal Heights. The freeway is nearly empty and you can really feel the groove.

“Are You High?” – FIDLAR

Are You High?

Where can I download this damn song, FIDLAR? One of four tracks released by the band in 2018 (together with “Alcohol”, “Too Real”, and “Can’t You See”, from their upcoming third record Almost Free), it seems “Are You High?” was only released along with a music video on YouTube. It’s a shame, as this song is catchy as hell. It’s FIDLAR through and through, with strong guitars and lyrics referencing struggles with addiction. Guess you’ll just have to catch it at one of their live shows.

Best use: I’ve only ever listened to this on my Macbook while sitting in bed. So that, I guess.

“Glo Ride” – Hot Flash Heat Wave

Glo Ride

When I asked Nathan Blum and Ted Davis of Hot Flash Heat Wave (flex) if “Glo Ride” was indicative of what was to come for the band, Davis confirmed that their next record would be full of “headier, but still pop-oriented songs” like it. That appears to be the case, as they’ve since released two more songs that are in the same vein as this one. HFHW definitely seems to be heading in a more psychedelic direction, and “Glo Ride” is leading the way.

Actually, now that I’m listening to it again, this song is more similar to “Drip” than it is to the other music featured in this list. I’m not sure how this data affects the validity of my claims here. Oh well. Who really needs statistics? Just kidding. Stay in school, Aztecs.

Best use: I don’t really want to say this is a good makeout song, but… this is a good makeout song. Find a spot to park, and I’ll leave it at that.

Check out this Spotify playlist for all of the songs mentioned here.

Written by: Andrea Renney

Black Lips at Marty’s on Newport

Black Lips @ Marty's on Newport

Black Lips return to their wild roots with a rowdy, intimate bar show, showcasing new country-inspired songs and old favorites.

Atlanta’s “flower punk” rockers Black Lips are currently on the road on a co-headlining tour with Danish punk band Iceage, supported by Brooklyn-based punk band Surfbort. The tour kicked off on November 5th in Vancouver, British Columbia and continued down the west coast, including five California dates. As is apparently customary for me (I did the same thing in 2015), I chose to see my favorite band twice: first in Tustin, then in San Diego. While the San Diego show was sufficiently fun and memorable, the show in Tustin felt like the kind of special night that I might not get to experience again anytime soon.

When Black Lips announced this fall tour in June, I researched the venues for other Southern California dates to decide if the House of Blues in San Diego on November 13th would suffice as the lone date I’d attend. Marty’s on Newport in Tustin, California on November 11th stood out to me. I’d never heard of the place, and my only connection to Tustin was stopping at a Denny’s there on the way to Los Angeles in February. Some Google searches quickly revealed to me that Marty’s has a capacity of 150, and is basically just a bar that somehow manages to book pretty well-known touring bands. I bought my ticket the minute they went on sale.

Fast forward to November and I was curious about what this show at Marty’s would actually be like. Upon arriving to the venue just after 8:00, I realized that Marty’s is, in fact, just a bar. It’s located in an old strip mall next to a nail salon and an Indian grocery store. Parking is scarce, and various Yelp reviews warn that parking in the other businesses’ spots will result in a tow and a $375 charge. Yikes. Once inside, however, Marty’s felt intimate and homey. The u-shaped bar takes up a decent amount of the already-small space, and there are four or five booths along the back wall. It reminded me of the single bar in my small, northern British Columbia hometown, where classic rock cover bands rule the stage and you know 75% of the people on the dance floor. Throughout the night, members of all three bands on the night’s bill could be observed wading through the slowly-growing crowd. I pulled up a stool at the bar and kept a careful watch on “my” (mentally reserved for me, by me) front-row-center spot in front of the stage, which stood at knee-level for me and shin level for taller folks. There were no barricades or security in sight – be still, my heart.

Just before 9:00 I took my spot against the stage, and Surfbort began shortly after. Lead vocalist Dani Miller’s sequined hot pants and suit jacket covered in pornographic images were immediately eye-catching, and the photographers descended upon the front row (no photo pit here, either) to get their shots. Surfbort’s music is loud and effervescent, pure punk fun complemented by Miller’s dancing and gesticulations. The band recently released their debut full-length record, Friendship Music, and we were treated to a lot of their new songs during the half-hour set.

After a short break (quick turnaround between bands, a major benefit of a small venue), Iceage began their set. I think the sound was a little off, as Elias Ronnenfelt’s vocals were sometimes difficult to make out. Regardless, the music sounded great, with Iceage’s vaguely post-punk sound getting the crowd moving. The area directly in front of Ronnenfelt was somewhat of a danger zone, as the lead vocalist slipped a few times and nearly fell into the crowd. There was also a close call with his mic and my face towards the end of their set, but thankfully I was uninjured and Ronnenfelt made sure of this before continuing. All in all, Iceage provided an exciting experience to go along with their music. What’s a punk show without a little danger?

Around 11:15, Black Lips took the stage amid cheers from the tightly packed crowd. Vocalist and bassist Jared Swilley addressed us with his usual greeting, “We’re the Black Lips from Atlanta, Georgia. Thank y’all for coming out!”, as the first notes of “Can’t Hold On” (from 2017’s Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?) rang out. The moshpit opened up behind me soon after and it remained there for the rest of the night. I’d spend the next hour getting jostled around by the 21+ crowd that could still bring the rowdiness I usually only see at all-ages shows.

“O Katrina”, “Dirty Hands”, “Family Tree”, and “Stranger”, all staples at a Black Lips show, were met with the expected enthusiasm and singing along. Songs from their upcoming country record, including “Delia”, “Georgia”, and “Gentleman”, were well-received and gave some indication of the new sound Black Lips is exploring. In the end, songs from seven of the band’s eight full-length records were played, leaving out any selections from 2009’s 200 Million Thousand. It’s not their most well-known or commercially successful record, but I’d love to see “Drugs” make its way onto their setlist again. Also curiously missing from the night’s setlist was “Sea of Blasphemy” from 2005’s Let It Bloom, which the band often opens with. However, I suppose as more songs get added to the rotation, some unfortunately have to be retired.

Throughout the night, the band seemed to be in very good spirits, and I had a feeling this was the closest I would ever get to the wild, messy, sloppy Black Lips shows of yesteryear that I’ve only read about. Mic stands fell, caught by the hands of fans and the feet of the band. Necks of guitars swung out dangerously close to faces in the front row. Beers on stage were spilled, beers in the crowd were thrown. I was propelled forward onto the stage countless times, landing in a push-up position with my knees slamming into the sharp edge of the stage. Over a week later and I still have the bruises.

At the conclusion of any show, literally the only thing in the world I ever want is water. The leftover, unopened bottles of water that littered the stage called out to me as beacons of hope. Perhaps my adoring gaze was obvious, because as Black Lips’ tour manager Matt Williams cleared the stage of bottles and cans before the encore, he handed a full bottle of water right to me. I’ve never felt more VIP (and hydrated) in my life. I then reached over and took a setlist, because I’m a selfish person. You have to go after what you want, you see.

As I enjoyed my free water and ignored the throbbing in my heavily bruised knees, Black Lips returned to the stage for a couple more songs. As the crowd shouted out their requests, I was in the perfect position to make mine to Jared. “Wild Man!” I called out, referring to the 1967 single by the Tamrons – it’s one of my favorite songs that the band plays live. “Yeah, we’re going to play that one!” he replied, to which I visibly swooned (hand against chest, eyes up towards the sky). Be still, my heart. After “Wild Man”, which was as fun as I’d remembered, the band launched into “Bow Down and Die”, a song they’d recorded and released as The Almighty Defenders, a garage rock/gospel supergroup with King Khan and Mark Sultan of The King Khan & BBQ Show. And with that, they were gone, likely off to Los Angeles to prepare for their show at the Regent Theater the following night.

I’m usually happy with the size of venues that Black Lips plays, and their shows are always a great time. However, I don’t know that a band that’s reached the level of success and notoriety that Black Lips has will play many more 150-capacity bars. For this reason, their show at Marty’s on Newport will forever hold a special place in the already-large part of my heart reserved for Black Lips.

Black Lips Setlist Etc.

KCR recently spoke to vocalist and bassist Jared Swilley in advance of this tour. Check out that interview here.

Written by: Andrea Renney

KIM PETRAS at Cal Coast Credit Union Amphitheater

Just in time for Halloween, Kim Petras and Troye Sivan set hearts racing at the Cal Coast Credit Union Amphitheater

The arena was quiet awaiting the up and coming artist Kim Petras. Kim Petras recently released an album— Turn Off the Light Vol. 1. which was released October 1st. The album is themed around the spookiness of Halloween, which is such a memorable way to introduce herself to new fans. Currently Kim Petras is touring with Troye Sivan on his Bloom Tour, and opens the show for him.

Right away, Kim Petras came out onto the stage prepared to make the crowd dance right along with her. Sporting a black jacket, shorts, and sparkly tall sneakers, the artist looked equal parts serious and fun.  Accompanying her was Aaron, the designated hype man of the night who mixed and controlled the music of the performance, all while still making sure to make active connections with the audience.

Photo by Aya Nelson

A super memorable aspect of Petras’ performance was that in between songs, Kim made sure to check in with the audience and talk to them. I feel like a majority of artists stop doing things like this after getting big. At best, it oftentimes feels like a scripted part of their performance, whereas with Kim, it was personal, authentic and refreshing. Additionally, her performance was amazing. While her sound is mostly electronic based, what distinguished her was that you could actually hear her hit the long high notes, and she wasn’t fighting with the volume of the track. Her voice was strong and she was definitely not afraid to belt and show her talent to the arena. She is definitely a must see live and radiates empowerment with her upbeat music. Some standouts from the night include “Tell Me It’s A Nightmare,” “I Don’t Want It All,” and “Heart to Break.” Arguably, the best song she performed was “Can’t Do Better,” since Kim’s energy was so contagious that you couldn’t help but scream the lyrics along with her. You could even feel the lyrics resonate within her. She is a unique artist, and it will be so exciting watch how she grows as an artist.

Written by: Dominique Torres
Photos by: Aya Nelson

Interpol @ Open Air Theater

People thought rock was dead; Interpol showed us otherwise.

Legendary post-punk band Interpol came to shred underneath the disco ball at the CalCoast Credit Union Open Air Theater, just one of many stops on their North American tour promoting their sixth studio album, Marauder. Completing the night’s bill were indie-rock trio Sunflower Bean and punk duo The Kills – a lineup which had several of my friends drooling with envy when I told them I’d be in attendance. Which, if I’m being honest, left me more than a little confused. Who listens to rock anymore? Punk hasn’t been cool since the Arctic Monkeys abandoned ship and indie-rock is teetering on the edge of irrelevance post-Mac Demarco. Although these claims may border on outrageous, it cannot be denied that the rock genre has been eclipsed in recent years by pop, EDM, and hip-hop.

Clearly none of the groups on stage got that memo.

Kicking off the night in outfits that would make any art hoe scream “yassss queen,” Sunflower Bean came to rock n roll. Straying from the Fleetwood Mac-influenced sound of their studio recordings, the trio amped up the energy with ripping solos from guitarist Nick Kivlen and raw, throaty vocals from singer/bassist Julia Cumming. With their blonde heads a-banging and trousers a-sparkling, Sunflower Bean’s entire existence pays homage to the genre which birthed them. Unfortunately, the band did suffer from the Indifferent Crowd Syndrome (ICS) that commonly plagues opening acts. Despite seemingly fazing the band, they still left the stage with this bold statement: “We’re Sunflower Bean and don’t you forget it!” Don’t worry, girl, I won’t.

Tunes to scope out: I Was Home, Twentytwo, I Was a Fool

Up next came the skinny-jean clad duo The Kills. The most notable aspect of their performance was the “the strut;” considering it’s been 15 years since their first LP, singer Allison Mosshart’s ability to own whatever stage her leather boots find themselves is downright impressive. Limbs rolling, long blond hair flowing, her control and ease over the environment is almost enough to compensate for the incomplete sound produced by the two guitars and drum kit. With moody, analog interludes, experimental guitar synths, the Kills are looking to take the genre somewhere. Where exactly, they have no definitive answer.

Tunes to scope out: Doing It to Death, Baby Says

At this point in the show, I was still inclined to believe that rock n roll is dead. Sunflower Bean and the Kills were both great bands, but neither seem to have the potential to revive the ailing genre. But as I furiously typed notes into my phone, I heard it. Life. The audience roars and rises to their feet as Interpol arrived to save us all.

Photo credited to the San Diego Union Tribune

Let me paint the scene for ya. A dark stage. Simple white spotlights cast light from behind the band, creating an eerie shadow of a band already dressed black. Then a single white light behind center stage rises to meet the disco ball, splaying light out to the crowd. It’s a simple set-up, but effective; Interpol’s music can speak for itself. You get the feeling they are at the service of the music. The band has mastered a suave rock sound that seduces you with every melancholy lyric singer Paul Banks wails with his haunting twang, and I am hit by a wall of sound, filled with textures and colors I’ve seen before, but perhaps not in this combination. Every song “bangs” and I can’t help but move my body to the beat, swaying my head back and forth so that I could hear every note. You can listen to Interpol’s entire set with your eyes closed, the music is a show in and of itself. And then it’s over, and I feel as if I’ve been abruptly woken from a sweet dream. The band humbly exits, it’s duty to the music completed: “We are Interpol, and that’s what we got.”

So, much to my chagrin, rock does live! It has bands like Interpol to keep its heart beating, and an audience desperate to consume it. The problem is that we’ve heard all these sounds before. Interpol’s music is superb, but the band has done little experimenting in their long career. I guess it’s true, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, but sticking with a sound that just works isn’t enough to compete with pop and hip-hop artists who cater to fans with an incessant appetite for new content. Interpol’s Marauder is enough to keep rock alive, if only just alive.

Tunes to scope out: If You Really Love Nothing, Evil, Pioneer to the Falls

Review by: Michaela Alejandra