1. Ty Segall/Ty Segall & White Fence/Ty Segall Band - Twins/Hair/Slaughterhouse. Ty Segall is one of those artists you can watch grow. This isn’t a guy who sits down and decides to write an opus; rather, he seems to realize out ideas as soon as they enter his head. Segall’s three albums this year--the solo Twins, the White Fence collaboration Hair, and his Ty Segall Band’s debut Slaughterhouse--do not sound like the culmination of the star’s career but rather major milestones in the development of an incredibly promising artist. Twins is not all that different from his previous solo albums but distills his style into his most solid work yet; Hair and Slaughterhouse sound more as if they were made just for fun but are even more interesting, providing insight into Segall’s appetite for both consuming and making quality rock n’ roll.
2. E-40 - The Block Brochure: Welcome To The Soil 1. E-40 may forever be best known for his hyphy-era hit “Tell Me When To Go,” but he’s still making music at an insanely prodigious rate even long after hyphy has become an anachronism. His massive three-part anthology The Block Brochure: Welcome To The Soil (particularly the first part) is remarkable not only for its vastness but for its diversity--E-40 truly tries it all on this album. Yet the music never sounds like anything but E-40 music, even when other MCs show up; it’s as if the one man has colonized the entire genre and maintained a stable and (usually) benevolent rule for the duration of the album.
3. Carletta Sue Kay - Incongruent. There’s something inherently goofy about Carletta Sue Kay’s music and persona, but on the remarkable debut album by Randy Walker’s female personal/band, the silliness only adds flavor to the genuine passion that drives this record. Walker’s gender-bending voice packs the power of a genuine soul diva, no matter what vocal personality he takes on. Yet while Walker’s voice is a central part of what makes this record so engaging, the lyrics are also excellent, merging sharp witticisms with theatrical melodrama and raw soul emotion.
4. Local Hero - From Timid To Timbuktu. The debut full-length from Berkeley indie-poppers Local Hero keeps its feet firmly on the ground even as the distinctions between the mundane and the fantastical blur together. Bandleader Alex MacKay’s songwriting is more expansive than ever--whether he’s penning Dan Bejar-worthy couplets (“Black & White,” “Lady Wisconsin”) or ruminating on the human condition (“Piedmont Girls,” “Once More With Feeling,” MacKay imbues everyday life with almost theatrical whimsy, finding depth in the mundanity of his surroundings by filtering it through an artist’s eye.
5. Reid Saw A Ghost - Mad Scary EP. On their immensely promising debut EP, Fremont band Reid Saw A Ghost showcase their Epic Meal Time approach to music, which chiefly entails throwing as much stuff as possible on top of a foundation of strutting punkaboogie. This is pop music played with the gleeful, anything-goes madness of a free-for-all jam session, ultimately sounding less like party music than the musical equivalent of an actual party--people are making complete asses of themselves, everything is out of order, but the chaos screams nothing but good vibes.
6. Dylan Marx - Sod’s Collection Of Bitter Songs. The UC Santa Cruz-based Dylan Marx’s debut release, the 6-track collection Sod’s Collection of Bitter Songs, showcases his mastery of deceptive simplicity. Marx’s arrangements often sound grand, but never once do they overpower the album’s backbone of stark, introspective folk. Marx himself does not provide many particularly brilliant or quotable lines on this album, but this is not a detriment to the album--Sod’s Collection of Bitter Songs is a singer-songwriter album that feels like a full, immersive experience.
7. Girl Named T - Wait By The Rabbit Hole. Theresa “T” Sawi says her second album was inspired by the Beach Boys’ concept of the “pocket symphony.” But while the Beach Boys applied symphonic ideas to their sound as well as the structure and scope of their work, Girl Named T is an artist who seems to work best in miniature. The songs on Wait By The Rabbit Hole are two to three minutes each, but these songs are more expansive than anything on her 2010 debut Hey Liebe, mixing whooshing-by early-rock songcraft with classic-rock grandeur.
8. Fever Charm - Sail Away. Fever Charm apparently snuck into a recording studio and used roughly 20,000 dollars worth of equipment to record Sail Away. As this is probably the best-produced, best-sounding Bay Area rock record I’ve heard this year, it’s safe to say their chutzpah paid off. Sail Away is one of the pop-savviest, most energetic, um, compilations of songs I’ve heard in a long time, delivering on the promise Fever Charm displayed on their earlier singles and EPs and demonstrating how studio sparkle can be just as powerful as lo-fi grime.
9. Rin Tin Tiger - Toxic Pocketbook. Though the first EP by San Francisco folk trio Rin Tin Tiger was quality hoedown material, their second release is much more varied and even experimental. Though there are plenty of typically Rin Tin Tiger songs, many of these songs use dissonance and stripped-down textures to convey and emphasize the longing and melancholy that’s been part of their aesthetic. If Toxic Pocketbook isn’t always a blast, it’s an equally strong album and a much stronger case for Rin Tin Tiger’s potential to create something truly brilliant.
10. Mark Nelsen - Childish Songs. Mark Nelsen a singer and a songwriter, but he’s hardly a singer-songwriter--on his solo debut Childish Songs, he’s still writing rock-band songs. On songs like “Saluka & I” and “Oh! Romance,” Nelsen treates pop history as a hip-hop producer would, adding a dash of Beck here and a dash of Wayne Coyne there but keeping on the better side of the thin line between influence and pastiche. The result is an album that’s unpretentious without being middle-of-the-road, one that borrows from the past but never once sounds nostalgic or retro.