By Eric K. Arnold, Rob Harvilla, Stefanie Kalem, Ron Hachmann and Rachel Swan
APHRODESIA Shackrobeat Volume One
The Bay Area's answer to Antibalas, Aphrodesia makes music with enough vim and vigor to make Fela's spirit proud. On this self-produced debut release, Aphrodesia adds traditional East African, dub reggae, and American funk and jazz influences to the Afrobeat bag, creating an album that truly deserves the multiculti tag. (Flatbed Lamborghini) -- Eric K. Arnold
VARIOUS/MEAT BEAT MANIFESTO Storm the Studio R.M.X.S.
Jack Dangers enlists electronic music's stars to remix Storm the Studio, his 1989 debut as Meat Beat Manifesto, which made major waves in his native UK's house- and techno-saturated dance scene when it first came out. Reinterpreters of Dangers' groundbreaking and volatile dub-industrial-electro-breakbeat hybrid include names like noise maven Merzbow, dubmeister Twilight Circus, and left-field electronica types Scanner and Jonah Sharp. Their contributions reflect why Storm the Studio was truly an album of the future. (Tino Corp) -- Ron Nachmann
BAT MAKUMBA Bat Makumba
Add a teaspoon of rock, a pinch of electro, and a couple shakes of funk to a Brazilian samba soup, and you have Bat Makumba's wonderful eponymous album. It's as good as anything released this year on any world music label, and you don't need an advanced degree in South American studies to move to its syncopated grooves. (Bat Makumba) -- E.K.A.
ERASE ERRATA At Crystal Palace
The jittery sound of the Bay Area's warehouse nation -- nervously sexy, funkily postmodern -- born like an avant-psychedelic Athena from the forehead of punk. In the bass, you'll hear ESG, and the brass improves on X-Ray Spex (trumpet has always come more naturally to rock than saxophone). Meanwhile, Sara Jaffe's guitar sounds like electrified fencing around a playground, and Jenny Hoyston's lusty robot vocals pay tribute to all the good parts of the entire New Wave canon. The whole thing brings to mind the futurist passion of a first date that begins on the Internet, gets drunk on Miller High Life, and bikes drunk to a dimly lit dance party. (Troubleman Unlimited) -- Stefanie Kalem
PEANUT BUTTER WOLF AND CHARIZMA Big Shots
Most of the cuts on Big Shots were recorded between 1990 (when Charizma had just left high school) and 1993 (the year of his untimely death). This album sounds a lot like the best joints from that period: Peanut Butter Wolf's beats have a scratchy, piecemeal style, and tracks like the piano-ribboned "Talk About a Girl" or the cottony "Methods" recall A Tribe Called Quest circa Low End Theory, or early Organized Konfusion. (Stonesthrow) -- Rachel Swan
MICHAEL FRANTI and SPEARHEAD Everyone Deserves Music
Franti may be mellowing in his old age, but he's also crafty enough to widen his sound in an attempt to unite antiwar activists, eco-friendly vegans, Live 105 listeners, and club kids. If there was a more appropriate theme for this year than "Bomb the World," it was "Crazy, Crazy, Crazy," which urged not only peace on earth, but gender equality. (iMusic) -- E.K.A.
LARRY GALLAGHER An Endless Chain of Accidents
Behold the bedroom singer-songwriter archetype -- shy, brainy, bummed out, ultra-romantic, wistfully wiseass, and playfully self-loathing -- recast in the image of a forty-year-old who has dabbled in the twin towers of modern spirituality (Zen Buddhism and McDonalds employeedom) and lived to sing sad songs that are sweetly lovely when they aren't bitterly funny. The open mic empire's avenging angel. (Not Just Me) -- Rob Harvilla
LARRY OCHS AND THE DRUMMING CORE The Neon Truth
Larry Ochs is best known as the "O" in the ROVA saxophone quartet. He has also contributed his fiery tenor and soprano work to various other lineups, most notably the trio What We Live. Here, he teams up with drummers Donald Robinson and Scott Amendola for music that owes as much to world music traditions as jazz and shows how far "free" improvisation has come towards spontaneous composition. (Black Saint) -- Duck Baker
NEDELLE Republic of Two
Nedelle Torrisi wrote and produced this debut album of tasteful jazz-pop, leavened with folk sensibilities and a luxuriant voice that adds dimension to the introspective romanticism of her lyrics. An understated rhythm section buffeting the sweet, swinging, sometimes spidery melodies Torrisi lays out on guitar, keys, and violin -- think a more lyrically specific, female counterpoint to Sam Prekop's 1999 solo release. (Kimchee) -- S.K.
THE MOORE BROTHERS On and Out
The beauty of close, brotherly harmonies -- à la Louvin, Everly, and Wilson -- made even better by a kick-ass record collection. Deceptively simple accompaniment underscores the heavenly vocal arrangements, allowing insidiously catchy choruses to sneak into your head under cover of psychedelia, acoustic strum, and bubbly dub. The brothers seem to exist in a state of pure joy, even when singing about being abandoned by a lover ("Have You Seen Sorrow?") or otherwise unhealthy relationships ("The Puppet"). (Amazing Grease) -- S.K.
ZION-I Curb Servin'
Laced with nine new tracks and five vinyl-only remixes by Vin Roc of Triple Threat DJs, Curb Servin' is an improvement on Zion-I's already-solid joint Deep Water Slang v2.0. Highlights include a Spanglish freestyle by the wily Bay Area MC Deuce Eclipse, a swank redux of the hit "Cheeba Cheeba," and cameos by Dust, Planet Asia, and Madlib, who spruces the song "Critical" with his jazzy production. (Raptivism) -- R.S.
LYRICS BORN Later That Day
On his first solo album, alt.hip-hop pioneer Lyrics Born wisely didn't dumb down his approach to boost his credibility with suburban wankstas. Instead, he attempted -- and pulled off -- things with his voice few other rappers had the guts (or ability) to do, and his funk-tinged backgrounds somehow managed to keep pace with his manic creativity. If Quannum -- the collective that also brought you Blackalicious and the Lifesavas -- keeps this up, they might have to create a whole new genre: intelligent rap (irony intended). (Quannum Projects)-- E.K.A.
NOE VENABLE The World Is Bound by Secret Knots
Meet the Bay Area's own Princess Bride, a wide-eyed, deep-dreaming sorceress who crafts worlds more fantastic and just plain out there, dude than anything The Neverending Story ever dreamt up. A multifaceted folk singer set loose down her own rabbit hole, Venable believes every word she chants, howls, moans, rasps, giggles, and shrieks. If the Freight & Salvage won't have her, Broadway gladly will. (Petridish) -- R.H.
PARIS Sonic Jihad
Just when it seemed that political rap was deader than Vanilla Ice, along comes Paris, who almost single-handedly revives the genre in one fell swoop. Sonic Jihad resounds with a renewed sense of purpose, some sick beats, and lyrics that break down socioeconomics for the streets, which seemed all the more relevant as the body count rose in both east Baghdad and East Oakland. (Guerrilla Funk) -- E.K.A.
THE RUM DIARY Poisons That Save Lives
Shoegazers? Definitely. But what fascinating, intricate shoes they are. These Cotati deep-thinkers craft slow, deliberate, hypnotic art-rock arias with a supernatural sense for when to offer up a delicate melody and when to unload a flame-throwing guitar assault. In space, no one can hear you sigh dreamily. (Substandard) -- R.H.
TWERK Living Vicariously Through Burnt Bread
On his first album in two years, low-key producer Shawn Hatfield proves again why the global electronic music scene holds him in such high regard. Integrating manipulated field recordings of San Francisco into his warm and calmly looping pieces of rhythmic organic electronica, he develops the Twerk sound far beyond the jarring glitch that characterized his early work. Living shows you how to treat your ears gently in this edgy digital age. (Mille Plateaux) -- R.N.
ROGUE WAVE Out of the Shadow
All the hummingest things about the Byrds, the Cars, the Beach Boys, Grandaddy, Guided by Voices, and -- of course -- the Beatles wrapped up into one delicious package. The Bay Area hasn't produced pop so perfectly simple yet lush in many years. On record, Rogue Wave is 90 percent Zac Rogue, but live, it's grown into a dynamic, sweet-smiling machine. (Responsive Recordings) -- S.K.
VARIOUS What About Us?
Of all the intelligent-as-fuck anti-Bush albums to emerge in the Bay Area underground this year, What About Us? is a strong contender for the illest, riding on the heels of Paris' Sonic Jihad. It also might be the most slept-on, because of poor distribution. To me, the most exciting tracks are Raashan Ahmad's funk-driven "We Can," Rico Pabon's raga-style "Yo Naci," and the Frontline's soulful "I'm Still Livin'." (Hard Knock) -- R.S.
BROKER/DEALER Initial Public Offering
In a rare moment in the techno genre, Broker/Dealer's Ryan Bishop and Ryan Fitzgerald put together an album of minimal instrumental pieces that actually hold together as a whole album. Lush, dubby, and possessing an opaque warmth missing from the work of their European brethren, Initial Public Offering sees the Ryans deliver tunes that work on the dancefloor, on the road, and the stereo at low volume at bedtime. (Asphodel) -- R.N.