San Diego is a strange place.
Tucked between the vibrant, revitalized music scene of Tijuana to the South, and the musical mega-metropolis of Los Angeles to the North, it can be difficult for local bands to develop a following, let alone ‘make it’ (whatever that means nowadays).
The prohibitive cost of living, paired with sparse artistic opportunity forces most creative types serious about their craft to the ‘gleaming’ industry epicenter that is LA, a mere hour and a half to the North. That’s not to say there aren’t amazing bands in the San Diego area, there are! Just ask the San Diego music veterans who have toiled tirelessly for decades to bring notoriety to this most unappreciated of scenes. We’ve had our moments, but the vast majority of truly worthy SD bands, inevitably, end up underserved, underexposed and underfunded… Well, we here at ListenSD would like to add to the cacophony of “SOS” posts (Save our Scene) by shining a light on those killer bands in our, admittedly brief, Best ‘Under the Radar’ San Diego Releases of 2016. Enjoy. And remember, LA is for quitters. drops everything and moves to LA
Part of a veritable explosion of talented, young South Bay bands (a scene that includes fellow Chuck Records signees Fake Tides & Bad Kids), Los Shadows opt for a dreamier, more synth based sound than that of their surf rock counterparts. It’s a sound spearheaded by songwrtiting team Andy Saldana & Pepe Gonzalez who share guitar and vocal responsibilities. But everyone has a voice in Los Shadows, from bassist Xavier Prieto to drummer Mark Bullard, and that seamless collaboration is on full display in the tinkling, chorusy guitars, hammering bass, synth flourishes and thrashing drums on one of my personal favorites ‘Blue Dream’, taken from their impressive 12 song debut ‘Midnight Climax’. The surf/dream pop quintet are already in the studio working on their, as of yet, untitled follow up and if ‘Midnight Climax’ is any indication, that’s something to get excited about.
Not so much a singular release, Minor Gems have spent the past 11 months quietly uploading dream pop gems onto Soundcloud that have garnered the attention of fans like Cult Records and led to numerous, and incredibly appropriate, opening slots for Cult signee Part Time (whose mastermind, David Loca is producing their next recordings). With guitars blissed out in shades of Mac De Marco reverb & chorus, whispery Julian Casablancas on Quaaludes style vocals, soft synths & bouncing bass lines reminiscent of Homeshake and Unknown Mortal Orchestra-esque textures they’ve constructed a sound that’s incredibly timely, if a tad familiar. See the damn-near-perfect track ‘1973’. There’s a quiet confidence, even bravado, to this music, best exemplified by lead singer Ruben Agunundes’ brooding presence on stage, and penchant to cup the microphone gingerly while taking slow drags from a cigarette. Minor Gems are, without a doubt, one of the best bands in San Diego right now, so why the hell are they still dicking around here?
Okay, so admittedly I’m totally cheating on this one. Slay Dean, whose name is an anagram for the name of its sole member, Sean Daly, has only put out one release…2014’s ‘Red Tape’. I know, I know this isn’t a 2016, or even 2015 release but it’s just that good, and on Soundcloud some of the songs have as low as 11 plays! Which is an absolute travesty… I mean, I don’t post things on the internet for nothing, right? This 12 song release is literally bursting with gooey DGAF garagey goodness, and feels like what Southern California surf punk could have sounded like had legions of bands not traded in their proto punk roots for Burger Records deals, just see the manic ‘Mr. Rx’ for example, featured here on our December 2016 Local San Diego Playlist. I’ll stop here though, and refer you to Brian Reilly, who reviewed ‘Red Tape’ for the San Diego Citybeat’s Great Demo Review this year with the same sort of frenzied adoration I feel:
“The abstract surf-driven opening of Slay Dean’s “Alien Mondo” kicks off their Red Tape demo in the best way, mixing Television’s Marquee Moon with The Astronauts’ Everything is A-Ok record. From there, this killer sprawls into a Jorma-fueled Interpol-tonerefinement seminar with rapid-fire bursts of psychedelic lightshow music. Is it good? No. It’s brilliant. It’s a wandering land mine of fragmented lines, brave warm sun guitar tonality and spectral melodies that will have you wondering “who the hell is this, and where can I get this?” I hope that Slay Dean doesn’t plan on wearing out their welcome by getting mainstream radio airplay. What am I even saying—it won’t get major radio airplay. It’s far too good for that.”
Teach Me! – ‘Collector’
Teach Me! is what happens when three of San Diego’s best punk writers dick around. The trio, made up of Tommy Garcia on guitar (Mrs. Magician, Lowlands) and longtime collaborators Jeremy Rojas (Beaters, The Sess) and Andrew Montoya (Ale Mania, The Sess) on bass/vocals & drums respectively, churned out six songs in one week in preparation for the surprise birthday party of old friend, and Soda Bar talent buyer, Cory Stier (Cults, Mrs. Magician). This two song EP, recorded with renowned producer Ben Moore (Rocket From The Crypt, Pinback, Hot Snakes, Metz & many more), comes from that flurry of songwriting. It mixes Garcia’s jagged, wailing riffs, Montoya’s mechanical, piston-like drumming and Rojas’ relentless, booming bass and snotty vocals, like on the EP’s namesake ‘Collector’, to create something as dark as it is fun as hell. It’s a potent combination of classic Punk and Post Hardcore that rings especially true in San Diego, home of the infamous John Reis (Hot Snakes & Drive Like Jehu). Teach Me! are set to release a full length follow up on Volar Records in 2017.
Los Platanos ‘Los Platanos EP’
The death of Jon Greene this November, a veritable fixture in the San Diego music scene, was both shocking and heartbreaking to all who knew him. His work playing in (Lowlands, Plateaus, Barbarian) and recording bands (The Soft Pack, Heavy Hawaii, Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls and many more…) provided San Diego with a unique and artful approach to music that will be sorely missed. And that’s to say nothing of the loss of one of the areas absolute best soundmen (Soda Bar, Casbah, Hideout). The Los Platanos EP, released this January, is the brain-child of the brothers Jon and Justin Greene. A beautifully lush mixture of psychedelic tropicalia and playful 60’s jazz, Los Platanos is much needed auditory respite from this seemingly endless shitshow of a year. Add vocalist Chris Braciszewski’s silky falsetto and the whole concoction sizzles with smooth. From bossa nova inspired ‘Ten Turned To Two’ to the Onyeabor-ian synths of ‘Dah Do Dah Dah’, to the indescribably blissful ‘Fade To Blue’, just press play and let yourself be carried away in the boundless analog warmth of this 6 song EP. RIP Jon. Long live Electric Orange.
Well Well Well’s debut full length ‘What Do We Have Here’ (recorded by Los Platanos’ late Jon Greene) is indie pop at its absolute finest; phenomenally crafted and composed, painstakingly textured, surprising and catchy as sin. An album cryptically and humorously narrated by, and attributed to a mysterious duo named Jim & Gary, ‘What Do We Have Here’ demonstrates actual members Seton Edgerton (Barbarian) and Dan Nichols’ willingness to experiment, all the while maintaining a pseudo-radio friendly, if seriously skewed, sound. And although they draw from a variety of influences, from the dreamy, droney post punk in the vein of Interpol/The Cure on ‘Brunch Lake’, to early 00’s, psych tinted indie pop on ‘Break In My Mind’, to lethargic, spaced out jazz-folk on ‘More Than Love’, Well Well Well never sound like anyone other than themselves, which is quite a feat. In my, admittedly inconsequential, opinion too many bands these days find a sound and camp out there indefinitely, so it’s refreshing to here pronounced range on a full length. I hope to be hearing from Jim & Gary again very soon.