Beach Daze and Shoe Gaze

We recommend the best local bands to check out this summer.

Space Ghost

Dig through the music of local DJ, producer, and bedroom musician Sudi Wachspress. You won’t find a “summer anthem.” There’s no “party rock” or “beachy sing-alongs.” But summer is still Space Ghost’s wheelhouse. Since he’s also a student at California College of the Arts, Wachspress spends his summers focusing on beatmaking. His source material is diffuse — found sound, looped water noises, movie and television clips, not to mention the most synthetic electronic buzzes and bleeps. His most notable releases to date, Wallflower, Pyramid Dreams, and FSCK all lend themselves to an insular headspace, illustrating the fuzzy daze of cool, quiet nights with nothing to wake up for in the morning. Space Ghost has become a frequent DJ at many Oakland parties, and he’s cooking up a whole new batch of songs. Singles have surfaced on the Internet (beautifully crackling, pillow-soft R&B such as “Lately” and “Stuck”), but he’ll undoubtedly have a more complete release sometime soon. Space-Ghost.Bandcamp.comW.B.


Nate Brenner — maybe not a name you immediately recognize, but he’s a crucial force behind one of Oakland’s proudest acts. That is, he’s the rock-solid, virtuosic jazz bassist always found side by side with Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs. Stepping out on a new solo venture, Brenner released a self-titled EP May 8 on Plug Research (the same label as his friend and fellow Oaklander Elephant & Castle), and has a full-length LP completed and in the can, as well. The EP is deadpan; electro-jazz-weirdo-funk that has traces of tUnE-yArDs but takes things in a different direction — perhaps more toward his other band, longtime experimental trio Beep. In any case, Brenner is one busy bee, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. His forthcoming LP is even more focused, honing the EP’s explorations into more straightforward song structure and even more satisfying psychedelic fusion. Naytronix.comW.B.


When this six-piece jungle-pop band, fresh out of UC Berkeley, released the “Constellation” single a little more than a year ago, it was pretty hard to believe. It was the kind of thing that only happens once in a while: a band gets together and almost immediately self-records and releases a near-perfect pop song. In fact, at the time it was too new — its members were too preoccupied with school and work and unaware of the unexpected chemistry they had together. A year later, it seems that their moment is here. They’re hitting the indie circuit with a re-solidified lineup, new songs, ample rehearsals, and an enthusiastic live show, which has allowed them to break into blogs, local radio, and make the move to more reputable billings. Their sound is a graceful fusion of pop and rock music, old and new, innocent and knowing. Boasting instrumentation that includes flute, tinkly synths, and bongo drums, they’re a never-fail for summer playlists, at the very least. WaterstriderMusic.comW.B.


You know Main Attrakionz (uhh, hopefully, that is). This summer, it’s time you get to know Friendzone, the two-dude producing team behind some of the more arresting songs on the rap duo’s recent album, 808s and Dark Grapes: The open, gorgeous “Perfect Skies,” and the hypnotic, contemplative “Chuch.” But as great as these songs are, James Laurence and Dylan Reznick may be even better when they’re fully on their own, left to chart the synthed-out terrain of their music without interruption or competition. This is soupy, spacey, ambient electro at its best, the soundtrack to foggy day barbecues and playing hooky to smoke weed in someone’s backyard — in other words, it’s perfect for a Bay Area summer. Friendzone is part of the loose conglomeration of Oakland DJs and musicians affiliated with Sick Sad World, which means you’re likely to find Laurence and Renzick playing warehouse shows and downtown dive bars all summer, but all their music — and there’s a lot of it — is also available free online, perfect for sinking into alone or accompanied.

The St. Valentinez

The average age of The St. Valentinez’ nine members is somewhere around eighteen, which is remarkable for at least two reasons: First, because the band traffics in genres — old-school soul, funk, and R&B, reimagined both faithfully and creatively — that not only predate its members, but in some cases may even have come before their parents. And secondly, because these kids are good, all airtight instrumentation and blazing horns, cut through with Elise Go’s goosebump-inducing vocals and a cohesive, commanding stage presence that bands twice Valentinez’ age have yet to master. They’ll be playing the Great American Music Hall (859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco) on May 26, and hopefully elsewhere over the summer, seeing as this may be your last chance to catch them in their current incarnation — after all, Go’s got a berth at Berklee College of Music in the fall.

Trails and Ways

Back in November, I wrote in a profile that Trails and Ways’ sophomore EP, Temporal, was “unique and ambitious and freighted with potential, at once dense and delicate, deftly combining disparate genres and dozens of instruments to create a sound that’s hard to categorize and equally hard to forget” — all still true, of course, but that was before they dropped “Tereza,” which easily blows all those old descriptors out of the water. The first single off the upcoming Trilingual LP, the track is the breeziest, catchiest example yet of what the band calls, aptly, “bossa nova dream-pop” — mellifluous as ever but somehow more focused-sounding, with a driving chorus, the faintest hint of bossa-nova guitar and even fainter hint of New Wave-style synths, plus the very-welcome addition of new member Emma Oppen’s high, clear vocals. This is a band that’s never content to stay in place, and that seems to get better every day. It’s a thrill to watch. TrailsandWays.comE.C.

Trails and Ways play Milk Bar (1840 haight St., SF) with Growwler on Friday, May 11. 8 p.m., $5.


Shoegaze has a long history in the Bay Area, but a recent crop of bands indicates that the genre is seeing another wave of renewed interest locally. Among the most promising is Whirr, a San Francisco band that’s being labeled as “post-shoegaze” but also draws comparisons to such forebears as My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Slowdive. Indeed, the band hits all the marks: the noisy, dreamy, reverbed-out, hypnotic swells and aches, but there’s also a propulsiveness that goes against the drowsy boringness that often afflicts its peers. Its debut full-length, Pipe Dreams, was released this spring by Tee Pee Records, and features such electrifying tracks as “Junebouvier,” “Bogus,” and “Home Is Where My Head Is.” As is typical in this genre, the band’s sound doesn’t change up much — hazy vocals are buried in the wash of distorted guitars and live drums — but in this case, it’s a plus. WhirrBand.Tumblr.comK.R.


Whatever guitarist Nick Bassett is eating/drinking these days is apparently working, because he’s in not one but two local bands getting dizzying amounts of buzz right now. There’s the shoegaze-y Whirr (see above), and then there’s the black metal outfit Deafheaven. The latter clearly borrows from the shoegaze aesthetic with a noisy distortion glaze over the blast beats and wraith-like screams, in addition to more atmospheric, quieter, melodic parts. That’s a good thing, because black metal in orthodox form has been stale for years now. Bands like Deafheaven show that the foundation is still relevant but that tinkering is necessary. And the response has been enthusiastic: The band has been on a monster tour for months (playing a Pitchfork showcase at SXSW and hitting Europe with Russian Circles) and its Roads to Judah made it on many critics’ year-end lists of 2011. Containing just four songs, Roads is an epic listen, with intense, minutes-long buildups packed into 37 minutes. Deafheaven will perform at Great American Music Hall on June 28; good luck getting tickets. Deafheaven.Tumblr.comK.R.


Probably the most prolific member of local rap crew Heart Break Gang (HBK), Richmond emcee Iamsu! has nearly perfected the art of the boast. He tends to rhyme in couplets, usually over lean, catchy dance beats like the snare-and-clap that undergirds his radio hit, “Swaggin’ All Day” (which also features verses by Kool John, Skipper, and LoveRance — Iamsu! apparently produced it himself). The Richmond emcee’s croaky voice, perfectly timed punch lines, and ability to stay in the pocket of a beat have won him fans throughout the Bay Area, even among people with a fairly jaundiced view of local hip-hop. He’s also caught the attention of elder statesmen like E-40, who featured Iamsu! alongside fellow up-and-comers YG and Problem on his radio hit “Function.” Iamsu! bested the others, easily. He also trounced Kreayshawn with his own “Gucci Gucci” freestyle, performed over the same ubiquitous beat that landed her a lucrative contract with Columbia Records. Iamsu! is fond of saying that, unlike his peers, he’s managed to build notoriety without the aid of a record deal. Judging by his output thus far, he’s probably more deserving. Iamsu.Bandcamp.comR.S.

The Seshen

Fusing four or five somewhat related genres is a holy grail for local musicians, particularly in the underground hip-hop and electronic scenes, which are already built on pastiche. Equally important — and romantic — is the notion of making your band as big as humanly possible. That stands whether or not your music actually requires a ton of personnel. Even bands that are primarily the work of a single producer tend to embrace the rule — after all, it’s always nice to list your oud player in the promo materials, even if he plays an ancillary role in the proceedings. It’s hard to say whether or not local seven-piece outfit The Seshen has an equal division of labor, given that the band is fairly top-heavy: It has all the accoutrements of a traditional combo, plus a sampler, a full battery of percussion, and two warbly female vocalists. But you’d never tell from the band’s recordings, which are clean and resplendent. Moreover, The Seshen artfully combines worldish, Afro-Caribbean percussion with modern studio effects and classical balladry. To mix so many elements is impressive; to retain clarity is divine. TheSeshen.Bandcamp.comR.S.

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