Written by Isaiah Wilson & Riley McShane
2019 was a huge year for the local scene, with a strong slate of releases from newcomers and stalwarts alike. We’ve narrowed it down to 10 of our favorites, in no particular order. This list does not capture all of the great music that came out of San Jose this year, which makes us incredibly excited for what is to come in 2020!
Peach Tree Rascals – Plus, Summa, Mariposa, and Mango
The immensely talented south bay collective only released one song at a time this year, but each one felt like an event. Starting with February’s sweet & mellow “Plus”, the group churned out 3 of the year’s most memorable singles between July and October. The strongest of the batch is Mariposa, a propulsive end-of-summer anthem about letting one’s true colors shine through insecurities. The accompanying music video is a goregeous demonstration of the growth of PTR’s visual brand.
The group garnered some attention from Ones to Watch, NME, and other outlets this year, signaling the next phase of their meteoric rise in 2020.
Knowmadic – Departure
Perhaps no figure in the scene was as deserving of some time off this year than SJ’s most prolific beatmaker. After 7 releases in 2018, this year was somewhat quieter for Knowmadic, but the 3 we got were nothing short of phenomenal. Not wasting any time with January’s unforgettable single “Faces”, he followed with the lush 5-track Drifting in the spring and Depature at the close of summer. Collectively, Knowmadic’s output this year is some of the best in the beatmaker’s young career, and reinforced his position as one of the city’s most singular and important artistic visionaries.
Ian Santillano – 1856
One of the most long-awaited projects on this list, 1856 was as confident and emotionally resonant a debut as we could have hoped for from the multi-hyphenate known as Ian Santillano. Compact and sonically rich, 1856 shows off Santillano’s musical chops and inventive production style on tracks such as “Luv” and “Do You” but also opened an avenue for the artist to discuss the difficulty of losing his father at a young age. It was the balance between authentic vulnerability and outright fun that made this project so memorable.
The release show for 1856 at the Art Boutiki remains one of the Come Up’s favorite memories of the year. Santillano, along with his band The Housewarmers have quickly become one of the must-see live acts in the city. We only hope they don’t plan to slow down anytime soon.
Planttvibes – Nip it in the Bud
We did already discuss this project at length earlier in the year, but our love for Planttvibes’ (aka Julia Bozzo’s) debut album has not changed. Upon repeated listenings, the quiet, lovelorn beauty of Nip it in the Bud becomes surprisingly expansive; the engine of the album’s distinct sound powered by the timeless timbre of Bozzo’s voice.
Lucky for us, Planttvibes was not done for the year after Nip it in the Bud. Her single “I Like” released in late June, is a dreamy and impeccably-constructed continuation of what made her debut album work. It also sees the artist opening up considerably, standing on the power of being true to herself.
Swells & The Lünatics – Moonstruck
This is a special one for us. Back in October 2018, the Come Up reached out to a talented local artist, Austin Avila, about putting a show together for his project “SWELLS”. He did us one better and assembled a band of supremely talented local musicians and the show remains one of our favorites. Fast forward almost 1 year, and that same band set out to make a record.
Moonstruck arrived at the height of summer, and it was well worth the wait. Impeccably produced and wonderfully original, it signaled the arrival of a powerful force in the San Jose scene. Immediately capitalizing on their release, the boys of Swells & The Lünatics went on to headline our first-ever South by South Bay festival in August and open for Shannon in the Clams in the fall. We have it on good authority that the group is taking a well-earned break while each of its supremely talented members (Austin Avila, Ryan Wall, Mitchell Licata, Kristian Buenconsejo, and Henry Stein) focus on their individual projects. But we’re not worried. They’re a Band, in the truest sense of the word. And we can’t wait to see what’s next.
William Corduroy- Wilson
After a stream of infectious singles including “Mustard” and “Neutral” Stockton-based William Corduroy proved he can form his various sounds into a cohesive project.Primarily produced and written by Corduroy himself, this project is a groove that perfectly blends the retro pop of Prince with neo-jazz, and more contemporary soul and indie pop. This work is a sonic kaleidoscope that manages to feel fresh and exciting with every listen.
From the washed-out funk anthem “Damnage” to the slow synth-ladened ballad, “Virgin Boi” featuring a rap verse from Solyscott, Wilson is eclectic but not scattered. Every choice feels intentional.
William Corduroy and his band brought down the house at our SanJoChella show and continued to impress the San Jose scene at his own feature during July’s Waxxx Wednesday. We cannot emphasize this enough: listen to Wilson.
Casey Cope- Dancing
Casey Cope’s Dancing is an act of rebellion. In a landscape of Bay Area hip-hop that can be overly-reliant on contrived production or overdone subject matter, Casey is a breath of fresh air. It is the reason why Cope is one of our favorite live acts, having been featured at our first Sound José show at Garden At The Flea in May.
The album cover itself depicts a jovial Casey in a suit against a magenta background, which perfectly captures the feel of the album. It is a carefree, bubbly project from a carefree artist who still arrives best dressed. With help from producer and partner-in-crime Big Soda, Casey Cope injects the project with his signature clever metaphors and references. Despite Casey’s typical cheekiness, the album feels serious in its fun. Cope is authentic in his upbringing, his sexuality, and the sound he has crafted. This album feels more like an affirmation of self than anything. Casey Cope raps ferociously in a project that feels effortless.
Mild Monk- Radio Summer
On his Soundcloud, Mild Monk graced us with a few lofi hip-hop beats that are just as immersive and giddy as his other singles this year. These tracks are easygoing instrumentals that embody the grace and execution of a Miyazaki film. Monk creates his own universes with sound and his ventures into beatmaking are another universe we are happy to exist in.
Dante Escher- Loomer
Loomer is the debut solo project from Dante Escher of the alt-rap collective Barefoot Gen who had an impressive 2019 full of interesting releases. Much like the artist Mauritius Cornelis Escher, Loomer feels like a methodical and surrealist creation that pulls you in.
Dante bravely ventures into the fringe sounds of modern hip hop, layering them over the framework of a pop song. Tracks will have auto-tune harmonies over production that feels like Death Grips then switch the beat into a jazzy sample.
Songs like “Nimbus” take the insane samples and auto tune and allows them to collapse into each other while “Clementine” is a palette cleanser, stripping the sound to mostly guitar, with vocals that build into a truly beautiful piece. If Escher’s release is any indication, Barefoot Gen is an incubator of serious musical talent.
KIEDA BORDEAUX- Now Keep In Mind That I’m an Artist Vol 2.
San José transplant Kieda Bordeaux has had a busy year releasing several projects, but Now Keep In Mind That I’m an Artist Vol 2. stands above. Named for an Erykah Badu quote Now Keep In Mind Vol 2. is a soulful piece of black artistry from an individuals comfortable in her talents and willing to stretch into new sounds. Each track has memorable sample-heavy production that is accompanied with Kieda’s mastery of cadence and flow. The production, voice pitched raps, the clever bars, is reminiscent of a TDE project. This project is fun, thoughtful, and challenges the listener to sit in the passenger seat as Kieda takes you for a ride in her work.
Kieda Bordeaux performed tracks from this project and others at our Halloween show this year. It was her first performance in California and needless to say, she felt the love. Bordeaux is an artist to look out for in 2020. Her releases of 2019 should serve as a challenge to the local rap community to elevate their game.
We invite you to listen for yourself! Check out our playlist featuring our favorite local artists below: