2020 reminded us that music, on its best day, remains the most effective way to enhance change and see positivity, even during the darkest days. I’ll take a Josey Rebelle mixtape over Prozac, Celexa, or Lexapro anyday. Irreversible Entanglements can get me up, moving quickly, in the morning, moreso than a strong cup.
2021 already has some strong records on the slate. Which is good, methinks. Even with the ongoing White House cleansing, we still don’t know when live music is coming back. (As I put this together, this year’s Glastonbury and Coachella festivals got canceled and the Pitchfork Music Festival director applied for a Chicago permit to host the event in September—but I have reservations about that happening.)
Point is, released music is the only version that has remained non-stop during these quar-times.
48hills is a progressive platform. So we didn’t focus on upcoming releases by Adele, Kendrick, Drake…. Essentially the big kahuna tentpole artists with upcoming releases you can see on the mainstream “Most Anticipated 2021 Albums of Note lists.” We’d rather focus on the lesser-known up-and-comers you need to get familiar with—those who are changing the culture, creating the trends those superstars may be lifting from the underground on their next project, homegrown Bay Area artists on the verge of international acclaim, and the stuff that gets lost in the Foo Fighter pixie dust. (That doesn’t mean we aren’t amped for some Sade, however, who are said to be recording new music.)
Just like we found Eki Shola and Xyla last year, bold women of color making serious electronic music that received international acclaim. Maybe Oakland’s Brijean could be that next global discovery, repping The Bay. The possibilities are all before us. Enjoy our list of 2021 finds so far.
Kikagaku Moyo, Live at LEVITATION, out now
Japanese psych heavyweights Kikagaku Moyo’s progressive, folk-influenced take marked them out from their peers, helped revive Japan’s psych-rock scene, and soon brought them international acclaim. Fast-forward a few years, and you find the band crushing headline sets at festivals, embarking on sprawling international tours, and maintaining their creative freedom and DIY ethos.
The Reverberation Appreciation Society’s “Live at LEVITATION” series features performances recorded over the history of the world-renowned event, capturing key moments in psychedelic rock history and live music in Austin, Texas. The artists and sets showcased here have been chosen from over a decade of recordings and capture key artists in the scene performing for a crowd of their peers and fans who gather at Levitation annually from all over the world. This setting is designed for Kikagaku Moyo, who were recorded there in 2014, to flourish. Purchase here
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Yu Su, Yellow River Blue, out now
Kaifeng-born, Vancouver-based artist Yu Su makes electronic music for different settings, almost on the fly, pertaining to the environment. Her debut album, Yellow River Blue, is a musical autobiography, constructed around stories of chasing something inconceivable. Written and recorded in different continents in between August 2019 and March 2020, all songs seek to musically translate years of moving and touring, temporarily settling, and the feelings of both being turned away and accepted. It is an homage to her home beside the Yellow River.
Lead single “Xiu,” heavily influenced by drum and bass but also a myriad of other textures, finds this producer comfortable mixing up the pot. It’s a refreshing presentation. Opening a window on the electronic dance floor, creating some air circulation, is very important. Purchase here
Madlib, Sound Ancestors, out now
Anytime Otis Jackson, Jr. decides to release music, things get just a bit more special. Dance floor her Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, sussed out Sound Ancestor‘s 16 tracks from over a hundred unfinished ones sent from Madlib. Cosmic, insular, and uniquely exquisite, we get snapshots from the sharpest beat music composers of our generation. The only thing missing… MF DOOM, RIP. Buy here
Arlo Parks, Collapsed In Sunbeams, out now
Anything and I do mean anything, I could say about this talent about to take over, could not touch the knowingness of what she says about herself. Parks gets major props from Phoebe Bridgers, Florence Welch, and Billie Eilish to boot. So here is a quote from her website and then please dig on this dope ass tune. “Arlo Parks is a singer-songwriter from London. In her words, she spent most of school feeling like that Black kid who couldn’t dance for shit, listening to too much emo music, and crushing on some girl in her Spanish class. Her songs are confessional and tender, mainly inspired by Portishead and Earl Sweatshirt”. Buy here
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, I Told You So, out now
Boy, howdy! This is a group that generates those soul-funk-jazz vibes from a previous era but is still able to arrange the contemporary references, so it remains dirty thick good, without collecting dust. If you enjoy your organ licks from Jimmy-Smith-meets-The-Meters, on this side of Saturn with a touch of Hendrix cosmic blues tossed in for the fun of it, this band shall speak to you.
There are only two times—TWO—that I thoroughly enjoyed George Micheal’s “Careless Whisper.” The brief millisecond Nick Robinson covered it in a flashback in the 2010 comedy classic Hot Tub Time Machine and Delvon Lamarr’s rendition here. It’s so full, rich, loaded with that weighted bump… You actually believe this time, shit, not only may this couple get back together, they may actually fuck as well. That’s right. This cover is so good, it made me say fuck, twice. Quote me. Buy this.
Olivier St. Louis, “Matters Of The Heartless EP,” out now
This Washington DC native, of Haitian and Cameroon heritage, finally gets his opportunity to present a full-length EP, built with a classically-structured selection of soul-funk with a rock edge, and a touch of jazz. It is by no mistake that Olivier St. Louis had Oddisee, a revered hip hop producer/artist in his own right, produce his first EP back in 2011 and started collaborating with Hudson Mohawke, C2C, Laura Mvula, and German rockers AnnenMayKantereit around the same time. But with the “M.O.T.H. EP” we get that alt-soul slant that few could arrange. Already being compared to something between D’Angelo and Shuggie Otis—whew—you will agree First Word Records have yet another original voice to add to their roster. BUY!
J-Dilla, Welcome 2 Detroit (20th Anniversary Box Set), Feb 5
The 20th anniversary of J. Dilla’s Welcome 2 Detroit is not just a landmark moment for the artist and his legacy. It’s a foundational compass, shining light towards where hip-hop is today. According to Okayplayer, a specific Detroit strip club gave life to this iconic project. The now-shuttered Chocolate City played an important role—even down to the album’s cover art. According to Dank (of Frank N Dank), the strip club was important for Dilla.
“Dilla liked to go to the strip club seven days a week. Seriously, it’s not a game. Chocolate City. The energy. We did the Welcome 2 Detroit album in there,” Dank said. “After we left there and had a good time, we would go straight to the studio. He would immediately put his headphones on and ask ‘Yo Frank, Dank, y’all got some shit?’ Then he would take the headphones off and click the sub button to turn the music on. We would be like ‘goddamn’ and bang out to the morning.” Classic, indeed.
BBE Music will be releasing a remastered deluxe 7″ vinyl box set on February 5th. First issued by the British imprint on Monday, the 26th of February, 2001, Welcome 2 Detroit was James Dewitt Yancey aka Jay Dee’s first solo outing and the debut appearance of his new “J Dilla” moniker (bestowed on him by none other than Busta Rhymes). Purchase!
The Weather Station, Ignorance, Feb. 5
Tamara Lindeman, who performs as The Weather Station, constructs songs that address the turmoil of reckoning with environmental devastation on her fifth full-length album Ignorance. It’s her first on the Fat Possum imprint. Lindeman, who’s arrangements land squarely between early Peter Gabriel and peak Kate Bush, composed most of the songs on piano rather than her usual guitar. “Atlantic” in particular combines fusion aesthetics and uptempo indie-rock feistiness. Purchase here!
Archie Shepp & Jason Moran, Let My People Go, Feb. 5
Last year Jazz luminary Archie Shepp released a collaboration with Damu the Fudgemunk and Raw Poetic that pushed all the participants into corners and spaces previously uncharted. You can add that record to the great year Jazz had in 2020. On their new collaborative duo album, Let My People Go, Archie Shepp and Jason Moran sound like old buddies: whispered asides, excited exclamations, utterances coinciding with practiced harmony, followed by bursts of laughter. Such a revelation that in his ’80s Schepp is provided the opportunity again, to be respectfully introduced to yet another younger generation. You can Bless UP Mr. Shepp here!
Octo Octa, She’s Calling, Feb. 5
Octo Octa has a new record on the way called She’s Calling. The three-track EP is the US house artist’s first solo release since 2019. It’s out February 5 via T4T LUV NRG, the label she runs with partner and close collaborator Eris Drew. Half of the profits will be donated to Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a legal aid group focused on gender issues.
Let me say this, the dedication to old-school high energy production and how it fits into current trends around dance music: Nobody out here is connecting those dots quite like Octo Octa and Eris Drew. Nobody.
“Find your Way Home” is an eight-minute journey broken up into three or four segments that celebrate uplifting rave vibes while merging those textures with contemporary breakbeat arrangements. It’s tops… in the most retro-futuristic manner. Get it here.
Soul Jazz Records, Post Punk Dance, with Two Synths, A Guitar (and) A Drum Machine, Feb. 19
The good folks at Soul Jazz Records are launching a new compilation series, Post Punk Dance, with Two Synths, A Guitar (and) A Drum Machine. The 15-track collection focuses on contemporary artists influenced by the borderless post-punk, no wave, and disco-not-disco scenes that took place in the ’70s and ’80s in cities like New York and Manchester.
Post-punk LA trio Automatic lead off the comp with their 2019 layer of murmur, “Too Much Money.” These musicians—Izzy Glaudini, Lola Dompé, and Halle Saxon—decided not to have a guitar in the band, and were uninspired by the driving energy of the local scene and rock music on the radio. They decided to name their band after a song by the Go-Go’s, their heroines who were the first all-female band to have written and played instruments on an album to reach #1 in the US. Automatic is a strong indication of the attention to detail of this upcoming “must-have” comp. Preorder here.
Brijean, Feelings, Feb. 26
Feelings, the full-length Ghostly International debut from Brijean, her collaborative project with Doug Stuart, that Brijean Murphy likes to refer to it as “dance music for the mind, body, and soul.” With Feelings, this Oakland creative duo has manifested a gentle collective space for respite, self-reflection, self-care, uninhibited imagination, and new possibilities. The album cultivates a specific vibe, a softness Murphy has come to call “romancing the psyche.” Dipped in jazz, Latin, soul, disco, and house, “Feelings is the quiet revolution, rocking with a certain feel, a specific panache. One the most anticipated Bay Area releases this year, by far. Preorder here.
Neal Francis, “Changes (Demos) EP,” March 12
Neal Francis, a piano prodigy and boogie-woogie enthusiast who toured Europe by the age of 18 with Muddy Waters’ son, is presently working on his sophomore album. His Changes (Demos) EP out in March gives us a sneak peek into the initial sketches at the onset of his career as a singer and songwriter. These initial demos that eventually became Neal Francis’ debut album, Changes, give us raw evidence that the foot-stomping bluesy vistas surrounding the nasally atonal, dead-ass vocal delivery by Francis are ones to get familiar with. Preorder here.