CTM’s first monthly local music playlist of 2022 features hip-hop, funk, hardcore

Tune in to Lee Wires’ lazy afternoon guitar pop, Doc Hammers’ metalcore “call to attention,” and Bubabza’s funky, fuzzy electronic sounds

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The powerful vocals of Josh Lane (center) and Jensine Benitez (left), the focal point of Thee Sacred Souls’ “sweet soul” sound, conjure up hazy thoughts of better days. Photo by Aaron Flores Arteaga, from @TheeSacredSouls Instagram

Jakob McWhinney and Philip Salata

Another year, another COVID spike.

It can be hard to embrace the possibility of 2022 when we’re, once again, setting record national COVID-19 infection numbers.

But even if your holiday plans perished due to the pandemic (as mine did), City Times Media is here to keep your love for local music alive and well.

From the washed-out, nighttime pop of Headworm to the acid jazz of Ebaugh to the hazy sweet soul of Thee Sacred Souls, we’ve put together a batch of songs to keep you company during your next 10- … or 5-day (?) isolation.

And as always, if you’re a local musician interested in being included on the playlist, send your stuff to [email protected] Please don’t forget to let us know if you’re a San Diego City College alum! 

Bubaza – “Battlestar” 

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“Battlestar,” the latest release from Bubaza, a collaboration between Sure Fire Soul Ensemble and musicians from Los Angeles-based Jungle Fire, rides the afrofunk train and gets off at Santa Fe station. 

You can hear the funk catching hints of surf rock, tuning its fuzzy electric sounds to the crumbling bluff. Percussion forward, persistent and guttural – makes sense it rolled in with the heat of the latest Santa Ana winds.

– Philip Salata 

Doc Hammer – Xxxtra Tuff

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Snakeskin, tectonic plates … this album reminds us we live on a desert fault line.

“Xxxtra Tuff” is by far the most baroque track on Doc Hammer’s 2021 metalcore release “Final Form.” Rhythmic shifts over intricate feedback-laced notes sound almost orchestral. 

If these sounds are new to you, don’t be an idle listener. This is a music of layers and a call to attention. Wake up and get weird. 

– Philip Salata 

Ebaugh – “SHOOT” 

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What a patient, crooked, oxidized, cacophonous relief. An antidote to the auto-tuned antireality. 

Dance to “SHOOT” – you might remember how to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time.

Horns that talk like car engines, a bass that walks on broken pavement. 

It is a great taste of the crumbling and decrepit edifice of the Finest City. Acid, jazz, noise, rock. Accurate.

It’s healthy to spend some conscious time feeling uncomfortable. If you are the type that needs a reference, try Fred Frith.

-Philip Salata 

Headworm – “Don’t Give It Up” 

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Fausto Martinez has released a steady stream of “fuzzy bedroom tunez” under the moniker Headworm since 2015.

His newest album, “Volume 1,” which was released in December, continues his tradition of washed out, dreamy genre-hopping. “Volume 1” is deliberately cloaked in this dark, brooding lo-fi haze that makes it feel like a half-remembered song once heard blasting from the open window of a passing car.

Martinez has a lot of elements at play here – there’s a dreamy bounce to the drum machines in “Senses,” a sense of mystery embedded in the folky guitar picking of “Heathens,” and a chilled sophistication to the surf rock of “Onus.” But my top pick is the absolutely sublime retro nighttime pop of “Don’t Give It Up.”

There are lots of highlights on this, though, so listen to the whole thing! In fact, you should probably just do a deep dive into past Headworm releases. You know … for science.

– Jakob McWhinney

Lee Wires – “Wait For You” 

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South Bay’s Luis Mireles is back with a new project called Lee Wires. The first track from the new project, “Wait For You,” was released back in May 2021 and it’s a delightful, lazy-afternoon guitar pop number. 

Mireles’ knack for crafting emotionally resonant, yet wonderfully catchy tunes is on full display here. The instrumentation blends mellow acoustic guitars with playful bass and violin. But the track’s wistful, introspective lyrics about disconnectedness and malaise feel especially apropos given the recent COVID-19 resurgence.

“Trying to keep at it, but it’s looking pretty dim. These thoughts in my head … could I ever win?” Mireles croons. I wonder the same thing as I refresh the county COVID-19 testing website looking for an appointment closer than a week out.

– Jakob McWhinney

Memory Leak – “Tropics” 

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With members settled both in Tijuana and San Diego, Memory Leak has faced a turbulent few years negotiating the border, especially amid COVID-19 travel restrictions.

With that said, they were still able to record new work in 2021, including the dreamy track “Tropics,” which shuttles us away from border logistics and into a sensual and elevated space.

In “Tropics” the lyrics are tactile, “Es tu piel que me dice ven (It’s your skin that calls me to you),” but the sounds are ethereal, awash, as if it’s all taking place in imagined landscapes. Emotion-laden and atmospheric, you can float off for a while with Memory Leak.

– Philip Salata 

Oliver Slime – “Get Up, Get Out” 

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A joint venture of producer Edgar Alejandre and rapper/drummer Kieran Miles, Oliver Slime is a hip-hop of soundscapes. “Get Up, Get Out,” sounds like the last dusty jukebox took a look into the abysmal future. Thick and pulpy, it’s as if the vinyl never set. 

Miles’ language is wry and threaded with dark humor. “Waiting on my 40 and a mule,” he sings, pun intended. The whole thing is like going to an arcade when you’re too old. The bright flashing lights trigger buzzed memories.

– Philip Salata 

Paper Forest –  “Surf’s Up/Cosmic Slaughter” & “Brutus”

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“Glowbrain,” the new EP by Paper Forest, the moniker of multi-instrumentalist Sean Burdeaux (who runs the aptly named local label It’s Okay I’m Crying), is an immersive and dynamic indie-rock release.

There are hints of early Modest Mouse (and buzz off if you think that’s a bad thing), like in the killer opening track “Surf’s Up/Cosmic Slaughter.” The song toes the line between cynicism and the feeling of sweet, infectious release – I’ve had the trilling keyboard refrain that comes in about halfway through stuck in my head since the first play. 

The whole EP is worth a listen, but “Brutus” is another standout. There’s a serpentine cadence to the track’s keyboard and bass lines, which are contrasted hypnotically by the booming, angular drums.

– Jakob McWhinney

Rabbitlight – “In Flames” 

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“In Flames,” the latest release from Tijuana/San Diego-based art pop duo Rabbitlight, is a sparse yet expansive song that invokes the endlessness of the night sky. It’s a truly ethereal track that manages to feel earnest and dramatic without being cheesy. 

It’s a rather cyclical thing, repeatedly building to a swelling crescendo before dissipating. Yet each time the instrumentation evolves, becoming just slightly more jarring and ominous. Monica Camacho’s superb vocals cast a vibrant air of mystique on the whole composition.

San Diego artist Avia Rose created the music video for the track, which is also incredibly enchanting.

– Jakob McWhinney

Thee Sacred Souls – “Trade of Love”

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Faded polaroids, the scratch of vinyl, whispered memories of love.

San Diego’s premiere “sweet soul” group, Thee Sacred Souls, evokes it all in spades, and they’re back with yet another banger. “Trade of Love” conjures all of the hazy oldie’s rhythm and blues vibes of their previous releases to deliver an infectious slow dance of a song – all rose-colored glasses and zero heartbreak.

Despite boasting a decidedly retro, Motown-esque sound, Thee Sacred Souls is one of the most exciting new groups to come out of the region in years, and it’s been wonderful to watch their evolution. There’s really not much else to say. Just press play.

– Jakob McWhinney