All-local love

SN&R music writers pick their sonic favorites of the year

Hobo Johnson (center) made one of SN&R’s favorite local albums of the year.

Hobo Johnson (center) made one of SN&R’s favorite local albums of the year.


With the deaths of David Bowie, Prince, Sharon Jones and so many others, 2016 will probably be remembered as one of the most depressing years in music history. But locally, the past 12 months have been pretty rad for the Sacramento scene, with loads of great new records, up-and-coming artists and memorable gigs. Here, SN&R music writers look back on some of their favorites.

The weird and unexpected

1. With cool shows and ambiance, the Red Museum is the best new venue in town. It scores bonus points for creating weird themes—satanism on Halloween was a highlight—and having the entertainment be about more than just music.

2. I’ve been dazzled by a number of killer acts that have graced the Harlow’s stage. Examples: Survive’s smoke-filled, surreal set; Rituals of Mine’s visceral performance and Mouse on the Keys’ dazzling math-rock spectacle. I also enjoyed comedian Tim Heidecker bringing his “serious” folk-rock album to town, only to listen to him sing a bunch of old tunes about drinking pee.

3. So many great local albums. I thought Pocket Fixed Mob’s full-on assault with an album released per crew member showed off the group’s incredible creative spirit. Hobo Johnson’s The Rise Of Hobo Johnson was another surprise favorite. Indie-rap with just a guy on a piano? Incredible stuff. Be Brave Bold Robot’s Dean Haakenson put out Short Raps Project, a fun, lighthearted, weirdo album. Let’s not forget Ross Hammond’s collaboration with tabla player Sameer Gupta that created the genre-defying Upward.

4. Twinkeyz went mostly unnoticed 40 years ago. The band was one of Sacramento’s first alternative rock, psychedelic-punk acts, impacting acts like Game Theory and Dream Syndicate. S.S. Records reissued the group’s solo LP Alpha Jerk this year. It’s incredible how well it’s stood up. It easily could have been made in 2016.

5. This year I’ve seen more stand-up comedy at live music shows than in all my years combined. That’s a good thing. I hope to see the two formats merged more often. I credit this mostly to Cameron Betts and Cory Barringer, who made it their mission with the High Anxiety Variety Show.


Metal attacks

1. To briefly memorialize the incredible metal that came to Sacramento this year, here’s a sampling of the best touring bands that put on unforgettable shows here in 2016 (some of them twice!): Conan, Dragged Into Sunlight, Primitive Man, the Body, Undergang, Spectral Voice, Khemmis, Krallice, St. Vitus, King Woman, Bongzilla, Dead Meadow, Sumac, Sabbath Assembly, Hell, Carcass, SubRosa, Ghoul, Eight Bells, Amarok, Monolord and Beastmaker.

2. Area metal bands made very strong showings in 2016, with my personal favorite being the astounding, lovingly crafted atmospheric black metal of VRTRA’s My Bones Hold a Stillness. Other noteworthy releases include: the bestial black metal attack of Defecrator’s Satanic Martyrdom; the post-metal beatdown of Renascent by Decade of Statues; the garage-rock-from-the-future of Peace Killers’ self-titled debut; the old-school black metal of Modraniht’s To The Dark Mothers; and the vicious blackened death of GraveCoven’s second partial release from its upcoming debut, Coughing Blood.

3. Tack on an extra shout-out for Patrick Hills of Earth Tone Studios for recording nearly all of these bands and doing a damn fine job of it.


Hella Sacramento

1. There weren’t many folks at Southside Park for June’s two-day, 40-band First Festival. But, let those numbers sink in. Two days. 40 bands. Where the hell were you? Barring the controversial admission price of more than $50 for both days, it was one epic primer of Sacramento music. Oleander, Some Fear None and Arden Park Roots are headlining the next First Fest at River Walk Park in May. I’m warning you well in advance this time.

2. The city’s best new venue is not a museum. It’s actually a warehouse-turned-music-hall that started regularly doing shows in February. The Red Museum has hosted a bunch of Sac standouts, like Vasas, Drug Apts. and Honyock. One of its finer quirks: The stage’s white backing wall can conjure monstrous, contorted shadows resembling the performers.

3. Poppet, formerly of Davis, and SpaceWalker are two one-woman bands you ought to experience live. Spacewalker fuses cybernetic electronica with hip-hop and soul, while Poppet uses baroque-era synth-struments and layers her own grand choir to a beat. They arm themselves with a mic, some musical machinery and mad singing chops onstage, birthing intricate, organic live sets alone.

4. Here’s some conventional wisdom: play fewer shows and spread them out, because greater impact, right? Well, every Tuesday night, blues guitarist Michael Ray jams at the Torch Club. He gigs full-time to pay rent, hosts Facebook guitar lessons and is planning another live album for early next year. Hard work pays off, they say: Ray opened for blues legend Robert Cray at the Rogue Theatre in Grant’s Pass, Ore., last week and will for Tommy Castro and Elvin Bishop at the Crest Theatre in March.

5. A Sac indie label launched this year, called Friendship Fever. Co-founders Christopher and Sabrina Watson are banking on over a decade of music biz savvy (and hard-fought friendships) to develop new artists and, more importantly, good music.


Poetic moments

1. One of the most inspiring displays of local music and culture this year was at October’s young poets of color showcase at Sol Collective. Poet and author Salvin Chahal curated the event, which raised $1,500 and put Sol that much closer to owning the building it has been in for almost 11 years. With a strong focus on singing, creative beat-making and lyricism, voices like Takarra Lee Johnson, Luke Tailor, Deborah Armstrong, Issa Jackson and the Sac Area Youth Speaks slam team showed what it means to turn life experiences into art.

2. Drunk Poetry at Highwater took the last Thursday of every month to a new level. Andru Defeye started the monthly meetups in February and turned every tipsy patron into a poet. During intermissions, Sacramento’s own musical unicorn SpaceWalker brought her interstellar beats to the stage. Her on-the-spot production of original songs not only entertained the crowd, but also pumped folks up to take the stage for themselves.

3. R&B queen Goapele came to Sacramento and sold out two shows at Harlow’s back-to-back for the first time. When she took the stage, she emanated an energy so positive that audience members were dancing and singing together like old friends whether they knew each other or not. The highlight was her first hit, “Closer,” which offered a message still relevant to any person chasing a dream.

4. Some of my favorite Sac artists dropped hot EPs, albums and mixtapes: Zyah Belle’s New Levels, Kolawole Tokeaux’s Influences, Voiice’s Hashtag, Tavis Landry’s Over The Hill and Record Deals from +, formerly known as C Plus. Each of these projects touched on sensitive societal topics and made me proud to be from Sacramento.


Keeping it DIY

1. It was a huge year for a lot of local artists. After releasing a killer but under-supported record, Sister Crayon signed with Warner Bros., returned to Sacramento as Rituals of Mine and re-released Devoted with a big splash. As dream-pop duo Trophii, Lindsey Pavao finally released her long-awaited album Vitamins and Flowers. And after four years, Sacramento native and current nomad Scott Ferreter finally released his opus on his father’s death, See You in the Morning Light, under the moniker Deep Pools.

2. Some really rad new acts emerged in 2016, including Destroy Boys and Drug Apts. They earned buzz in Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, respectively, and Drug Apts. singer Whittney Kebschull solidified her place as one of Sacramento’s most enthralling performers.

3. A couple of my favorite debut EPs from this year are Duke Chevalier’s Ace of Swords and Separate Spines’ Voli, two genre-defying, risk-taking albums that feel alive.

4. With Live Nation purchasing Ace of Spades and the end of TBD Fest, it was great to see so many locals keep the scene strong with DIY spirit. Venues like Red Museum and Sol Collective welcomed a wide range of genres and all-ages events, and artists took to more surprising spaces like art galleries, community theaters, breweries, living rooms, porches and churches to put on a show wherever one could happen.

5. No one else is gonna say it? OK, fine. The new arena. Not only are the bookings so far more consistently exciting than what Sleep Train Arena brought—Paul McCartney, Glass Animals, that Kanye West meltdown—but the sound quality is a massive upgrade.