written by Isaiah Wilson
edited by Riley McShane
San Jose has had an astounding year of local music, shows, and performances. There are several artists to list- some of which will have their own spotlight pieces in future Come Up wrtie-ups. For now, the following makes up the most original music to come out this year and the songs, EP’s, and albums I found myself listening to over and over again this year.
Bedroom Tapes EP
The creative love child of singer and multi-musician Austin Avila, Swells is the coalescing of modern lofi hip hop and the current shape of the indie sound brought on by genre heavy-hitters Connan Mockasin, King Krule and Ariel Pink. Swells’ take on indie pop is a dreamy project that has the feeling of a sultry indie pop song on a worn cassette tape. The guitar is sexy and coaxes the track with reverb that is akin to surf rock, and his breathy ethereal vocals mesh well with the hip hop grooves brought on my the drums and bass. The live variation of Austin’s solo project, Swells and The Lunatics, comprises of several great solo acts and takes the down-tempo of Swells’ solo work and adds a surf-rock-meets-rockabilly excitement to it. I have had the pleasure of seeing the talents of Swells first hand and I have no idea what his next project is going the sound like. And that is the excitement of it.
For production “You Ain’t Loyal” , “Highs & Lows”, and “Rage”
In the shifting landscape of modern hip-hop, there is a revitalization of the importance of the producer within the genre. Acts such as Zaythoven, 40, Metro Boomin, and Knxwledge are becoming household names, even releasing commercial and critically successful projects themselves such as Not All Heroes Wear Capes and NxWorries. Because of this dynamic shift in the genre, and the greater accessibility of music producing software and midis, producers are attempting to distinguish themselves from the other beatmakers by their unique style and the artists they choose to collaborate with. Dreamawake has stood out among the South Bay producers by being the mastermind behind some of best local releases of the year. He excels in creating slick production, instrumentation, and samples, for an array of rappers and performers from Kylah Symone, Dima, and more. Dreamawake’s mastery is his ability to make content that is dark and emotionally potent, and collaborating with artists who bring his production to life.
Kindness and Here’s To You singles
Mild Monk’s “Kindness” and “Here’s To You” is fairly stripped down from his typical layered, quirky bedroom-pop influenced production. Mild Monk offers laidback textures akin to Homeshake, while embodying a fun-loving indie rock sound that’s part Mac DeMarco, part George Harrison. Monk isn’t tied to any particular sound, providing a smorgasbord of sonic diversity from adding synths, acoustic guitars, trumpets, all over his whimsical vocals. A peak inside his downtown studio apartments reveals a music studio set up with keyboards, drums, guitars, bass, and software to satisfy his appetite for experimenting sounds. He seems primarily focused on creating music, taking down his social media presence, and utilizing Funnybone Records to promote his releases.
“Kindness” and “Here’s To You” act as two halves of the same creative coin. They both sound like a moment of creative clarity, Monk’s choice using more subtle synths and allowing the guitar and a sparse drum and bass that feels like demo from The White Album. The songs are full of gratitude, the beauty of existence, and a choice to pursue a greater self. It feels like when your face catches a moment of sunlight in an otherwise cloudy winter day. These tracks are a fascinating indicator of where Mild Monk is headed; be sure to watch for the sunlight when it arrives.
Natasha Sandworms’ Single-Celled is a proper first album from the local indie rock artist: like a coming-of-age project themed around isolation, self-reflection, love, and loss. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lyrics and concepts that made up Single-Celled have been written over the course of years. The guitars are droning and melancholy on the majority of the album, only occasionally opening the door to more bedroom pop sensibilities. Natasha’s writing, singing, and guitar talents are on full display, but also her restraints; she allows the guitars to carry the songs at points to establish a tone, sometimes using her voice sparingly but effectively such in tracks like “Talent Show”. The aggressive self-deprecating track “My Partner” is the standout track: a raw lamentation of a broken romance carried through harsh vocals and a acoustic guitar. It’s the one moment where she does not pull a punch and it works. The closing track “Single-Celled” which feels most like the album’s lead single is a beautiful finale to a project that feels like Natasha’s story.
This may be my favorite local project of the year. It was released in July and it feels like something you listen to in the quiets moment of the Summer. I am glad we were able to catch up with Natasha so far, I’m looking forward to hearing more stories from her.
Highs and Lows single
Dima’s music occupies two worlds; in her live performances, she plays with a full band where she hones in a r&b, neo-soul sound. The second world Dima occupies is where her studio work mirrors a contemporary pop that covers the ground of modern r&b and hip-hop. Her live performances, discography, and circle of artists she chooses to collaborate with, prompted The Come Up to book her for a show and interview her. From “Coffee” to “Sick and Tired” she carries a unique vocal style and confidence behind her style, even in tracks that showcase her insecurities. However, it is her Dreamawake produced track “Highs and Lows” that is a high for her and SJ music. It indicates a more mature tone, combining lyrics of a distant lover, dark moody well mixed production, and utilizing autotone and pitched vocals to add another a layer to the final product. It is composed with sonic highs and lows, which complements the content of the song itself. I do not think Dima is going develop ‘one’ distinct sound. The through line for Dima’s sonically diverse output is Dima herself.
Canned Worms EP
A succession of hard rock demos from SJ based artist Mitchell caught our attention this year with a indie rock sound with an almost California rockabilly swagger to it. Then Mitchell surprised folks with his Canned Worms EP, an fitting title of his condensed four song project with aggressive chords, straightforward lyricism as unchained as early Fidlar. Canned Worms is short, sweet, aggressive fun that makes you want to skate through back alleys downing tallboys with your homies. Mitchell channels the spirit of a lot of talented contemporaries- The Growlers, Wavves, with a smattering of The Descendants and Cherry Glazerr. This revival of a skate punk sound comes from an artist who has concentrated all of his various talents into a cohesive project. Alongside Austin Avila in Swells and the Lunatics, the two acts on this list create a whole unique sound of their own. Mitchell is poised to be a significant presence in the SJ music scene, and we’re excited to see where he goes after such a big year.
6 Months of Grind
I am not sure if any artist can compete with Normtronic’s output this year. Releasing about 160 songs this year alone, the New Jersey born artist creates immersive beats that blend together elements of house music, jazz, and new age lofi that follows the veins of fellow New Jersian producer Knxwledge. While a lot of beat tapes nowadays can feel a bit stale, confined by formulaic techniques meant to create a rhythm to study-slash-chill to, Normtronics demands attention by melding synths, smooth bass lines, unique and hard-hitting drum patterns, and samples that move him into the realm of of DJ Shadow or RJD2 or as far as complexity and execution is concerned. Currently residing in Oakland, he has pulled in influences from several genres of music, making his work a sonic kaleidoscope of sounds that have no business melding together . All of his tapes are worth listening to, but a standout for me is 6 Months of Grind, a compilation of 6 months of work over this past year. The tape provides the listener a look into how much heart and work ethic is molded into a cohesive project. 6 Months of Grind is a modest title, years of musical training, studying, beat making, and appreciation for several genres make this project. I’m assuming Normtronics will be on to bigger and bolder works come 2019. Favorite tracks: “Experiment 3” and “Can’t.Take.It.Anymore[Love Ain’t Coming]”.
Any self-proclaimed lover of lofi hip hop who has not come across the work of SJ based artist Knowmadic needs to stop what they are doing and queue it up this second. Providing his instrumentals for various labels, being part of countless instrumental and lofi playlists, and contribution to compilations such as acclaimed behemoth beat tapes BLESS Vol 1. and Vol 2., Knowmadic has made a name for himself as one of the most prominent beat makers in the game right now. A standout project for me was Hydrangea, a beat tape that is textured with low pitched kicks and snares, samples that are dreamy with a vinyl analog touch, and basslines that balance all of the parts that make up each track. Hydrangea feels vintage with the care and attention to detail and overall originality propel this tape from the saturated “lofi” genre. It is a treat to hear the tape in its entirety.
These are great notable works that are worth your time and attention. Who knows, some might end up being a piece later.
Reign- Days Before Winter EP
Sam Ruckus- The Dedicated
Quigs- My Feelings
Kamiko ft. Vudaje- Underwater
Craig White & BcGot Bars- Real Player Hours
Bird and Willow- Cloth
Chine Slender- Know Who
Matinee – Breathe
Cultbusters – Stop Being So Dumb
DJ EMz and Nate
Pink + Flourish Mix
DJ Emz has been the resident DJ for a lot of Come Up events for the better half of this year. One of her best projects is a collaborative mix she made with producer and artist Nate. The ability to curate and mix various artist into a cohesive project is a skill. There is a unique talent in mixing and properly curating a decent collection of songs to invoke an emotion and to create a vibe. From remixes from Frank Ocean, Thugga, Kevin Abstract, Travis Scott, MGMT, and much more this is a love letter. Notably this mix creates a through-line for multiple artists who have no business existing on the same mix. It is a noteworthy mix and one of many from both artists, which is worth checking out.
So that is our list! Want to be on our next ‘best of’ list? Be sure to submit your work to us and tell your friends about The Come Up. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay updated on our upcoming shows. You may end up playing for one of our shows in 2019! Thanks for an amazing year everyone, be safe, and good to each other!