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Monday, December 4, 2023

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Arts + CultureMusicNew waves: the freshest albums of 2023, so far

New waves: the freshest albums of 2023, so far

Pursuit Grooves' bass-filled grandma Kitty tribute, Space Ghost's ambient drift... Here are the vibrations that got us.

I either detest or adore Muni’s use of the ghost bus. Your bus should arrive in exactly zero minutes, according to the predictor time display, and that jerk hasn’t even considered peeking over the hill. And you know it—because you’ve been watching with great anticipation for the past 10 minutes. Man, I could have gotten that burrito from the other side of the street.

Muni—we’ll shoot you a text. Maybe some links.

All this does demonstrate something about ourselves of which we should always be aware: Expectations and reality are two different sliding doors. Around here, Karl The Fog is still the only thing that you can set your watch (cell phone) to. Captain K continues to dominate these streets. The rest of it—Westfield Mall, Twitter, and Gen Z not drinking at concerts—is chaos theory. It is not necessary for it to make sense for it to occur.

So, let’s evaluate music at this point in 2023. Sounds making waves by the middle of the year that, back in January, we hadn’t ever seen. Like a sperm whale diving hard next to an ecotourism boat.

Oh, they are aware that we are watching …


NPR just found out this year what we’ve been knowing for a minute. It has to do with Pursuit Grooves, who has been producing music when she was just 14 years old, cold crushing it.

I’ve interviewed her, learning from that big brain several times. With each interaction, I get a better grasp on this Toronto-based artist, who chooses her projects very carefully. She goes for ones that cross-switch dub and trip-hop into an industrial soul vibe (who the eff else does that?) The producer has even dedicated a whole project to Bessie Coleman, the first Black American female pilot, with arrangements designed in an upright house music structure filled with stuttering snares, kick-drum boom, dub-wise bass lines, and an air-raid type melody.

“I am often in spaces where I am the only or one of few Black women in the room, so I thought it was extremely important to highlight a true hero who had no role models to show her what was possible,” she told me in 2019.

Her latest project 100 Seams arrives just as Pursuit Grooves aka Vanese Smith is entering a new realm in her craft. Dedicated to her grandmother Kitty in the year that matriarch would have turned 100 years old, the album sees Smith taking spoken word, house arrangements, bass music, and groovy elements into the heart.

In fact, Smith’s first experience with a piano happened under this elder’s watch. Kitty, a career seamstress, would play the piano, administering unofficial lessons.

“She’s left an indelible impression on me,” remembers Smith. “More than I realized at the time. But as I grow older and submerge ever so deeply into my art, I see her smiling and offering tender support. I graciously honor my roots and feel spiritually connected.”

100 Seams is that grand connection.

Get the album here.


Glenn Donaldson presents his album cover art, so close to the big little town San Francisco is, you can smell the magnolias blooming just underneath the framing. All those classy laid-back snaps, they remind me of the town I love to hate. (Kidding. Am I?)

The cover image reminds me of the hipster bullshit bubble. And I freaking love it. It’s recognizable. I know that car, that pastel-colored house, that hill I curse, trekking up it at 1:45am. Good times, baby.

Every time I run into Andy Pastalaniec, leader of the group Chime School and drummer for Seablite (a band I am forever indebted to for the way that they calmly informed me about a side of SF rock I really didn’t pay attention to until three years ago), he always very quietly points me in the direction of Glen Donaldson’s project.

Donaldson has been making music for over 30 years, and that staying power is what allows him to beautifully speak on things. These times, those before-times, employ that evergreen late ’80s, (the polar opposite of Big ’80s) college rock vibe that always carries a hint of cherry blossoms and melancholy in its tone.

I love that vibe just as much as I loved the Mission Bammer fashion show in the courtyard of Zeitgeist on a bleary-eyed Sunday Bruncher, when some diva I was trying to talk to 12 hours ago makes just the one wrong step and … boom, goes the dynamite.

But, that’s for a different piece.

Do you need to know Pitchfork and Paste have named The Town That Cursed Your Name, an ode to bands that never made it, one of 2023’s best so far?

Naah. You’ll figure it out.

Get the album here.


Being able to experience an artist live, in the moment, after first enjoying them on record, is a blessing. Transcendent, random moments appear at concerts. During a performance at Cafe du Nord in early June, Mission Chinese Food received positive reviews from Nabihah Iqbal, who also gave a high rating to Golden Gate Park, and gushed when she learned that Amoeba Records had created a section specifically for her vinyl. Between endearing shoegaze, cascading post-punk, and several dancefloor arrangements with a little extra kick in the low end, all of these human touches could be heard. Additionally, it was the best way to hear her towering record DREAMER.

Get the album here.


Oakland-based producer Space Ghost aka Sudi Wachspress picks up his mantle of positive vibe, peak Chicago house, horn stabs included, on Aquarium Nightclub Reworks after a successful run playing for crowds in Australia and New Zealand.

Three choices here represent the beginning, middle, and end (or beginning again, depending on your type of get-down) of a full night of feel-good, smell-good dance better superior vibes. The big bass, color keys, and inner knocking snare that kicks off the EP “Night Drive (Deep End Mix)” and the following breezy “Sim City (Classic Mix)” with its soft-hued whimsy strike a friendly attitude for the casual-to-experienced dancer.

But it’s Aquarium Nightclub‘s final drift mix, the ambient take, that comes across a bit more specifically. There is a section of percolating inner kicking riding around the synths, up in the ether, but due to the lack of programmed drums, we cascade down with the peep of day bass tones and guitar simulation towards the end. It’s always useful to know producers who can cruise at any altitude.

Pick it up here.


The esteemed CoOp Presents label bosses IG Culture and Alex Phountzi have done the work of art curators. Luminaries in the world of electronic music recording—broken beat and digital rhythms from the African diaspora and beyond—they envision worlds beyond their contributions to the art form. Their five-year-old imprint remains a go-to platform for discovering who is next on the Bruk-adjacent horizon.

And right now, that is Kuzco, an Australian Maori vocalist, keyboardist, and producer based in Melbourne.

Kuzco’s debut EP “I Vibe, She Vibes” is a four-track, 16-minute bass-driven workout that follows her track “Immunity” from the They’re Energised compilation curated by the mighty, mighty Allysha Joy. With a highly tuned synth arrangement, snap-tick broken beat cadence, ’80s electro accents, and a snackable taste of that jackin’ Detroit flavor, it covers all the bases.

She cites—and you can hear the playfulness of—Charlotte Adigery, Paula Tape, and Peggy Gou as influences for the songwriting elements, to name a few. But this arrangement of ideas, their throbbing bump and sway, show production value. Even that “woop” that opens the EP on “Drooling,” with its dagger arp synthesizer bass line falling in? That’s all her.

Kuzco is now official with this warm weather jump-off, right here.





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John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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