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KALW Music’s best albums of the year so far

The year is off to a pretty good musical start, and as usual, KALW Music programmers have been collecting some standouts to help you discover your favorite new music. Take a look at a sample of KALW Music’s best albums of 2024 so far.

The Price Sisters -  Between the Lines (McCoury Music)

Twins Leanna Price (fiddle) and Lauren Price Napier (mandolin), are not only great players but also have that unmistakable sibling harmony. Their latest is produced by Ronnie McCoury, but refreshingly relies primarily on the sisters’ fine road band for accompaniment. The song sources include the Black Keys, Chet Atkins and Boudleaux Bryant, the Delmore Brothers, and three songs written by the Bay Area’s own Kathy Kallick.

Mission Blue - Traditional Ways (self)

Originally based in Pacifica, but now living around Northern California, the core of the band is father-daughter duo, Avram (guitar) and Dana (fiddle) Frankel, with mandolinist David Thiessen usually singing the third part in the trios. As the album title indicates, they are based in traditional bluegrass, but their repertoire includes songs learned from Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead as well as Larry Sparks and Don Stover.

John Adams - Girls of the Golden West (Nonesuch Records)

Old history books give us a conventional view of the Gold Rush, and then there's this truer version by Bay Area composer John Adams, which gives voice to the women and immigrants in a mining camp in the Sierras, where anti-immigrant hatred escalates into mob violence. A timely and powerful release for 2024, the stellar cast includes Julia Bullock, Davóne Tines, and Hye Jung Lee, with Adams conducting the LA Phil.

Aleph Quintent - Shapes of Silence (Igloo Records)

Aleph Quintet’s Shapes of Silence is easily my front runner for album of the year. This is a young Belgian based quintet led by two Tunisian rising-star transplants: pianist Wajdi Riahi and oudist Akram Ben Romdhane. The music draws on Arabic classical, Gnawa, Sufi and jazz improvisation. Riahi is especially adept at bridging phenomenal jazz chops with his Tunisian roots. This music is both technically brilliant and emotive. A combo not often realized but delivered here in spades.

Los Days - Dusty Dreams (Too Good)

This album is so damn dreamy, it has its own aura. When it plays you enter another realm. It's melodic and guides through sunrises and sunsets of the imagination without saying one word. I swear I travel through a million deserts and country roads without ever leaving my sala when listening to this beautiful majestic intoxicating album.

Shabaka - Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace (Verve Label Group)

This right here, is my midday meditation, walk in the park, float away to where we all breathe in the name of peace. Between the flute, and words, this here is a full meditation for different times. So many elements of this album connect me to the parts of me that are invisible to the world, and parts of the world I imagine haven't been touched by humans. Serene, jazzy, fresh, it's strategic rest.

  • Eryka, Sundays 2 - 4 p.m.

Glass Beams - Mahal (Ninja Tune)

A psychedelic instrumental groove that relaxes you while you nod your head. The musicianship is extravagant from this Melbourne trio, and the recent sold out show at The Independent proves they can deliver live!

Crackazat - Beat Tape 02 (CKZT)

Described as a bespoke & hand crafted experience made with raw & fresh ingredients, English multi-instrumentalist and electronic producer Crackazat played and manipulated all of the musical loops on the release to make it sound like a hip-hop sample odyssey. Jazzy hip-hop beats, head-nodding downtempo, and bouncy dance vibes make it an easy, eclectic listen.

Vanilla is Black - U.Aint.Neva.Lied! (Def Jam)

Compton's Chuck English says "4 years ago I had an idea for Band called Vanilla is Black. A collective in the funky spirit of Parliament, but with the room to experiment like The Gorillaz. It just so happened that Kevin Roosevelt had the same exact idea... so we started jamming to see what it felt like and linked it together like Voltron" The album is funky, soulful and experimental. Guests 6lack and Sir Michael Rocks add to the sexy R&B energy while keeping it danceable.

Royal Jelly Jive - Can't Stop (Let Love Music)

This Bay Area band previewed their new album live on Fog City Blues in June of last year though it didn't actually drop until early this year. Their latest set of brooding, insistent ballads and dark New Orleans-adjacent blues is their fourth release since first coming together at SF's Boom Boom Room a decade ago, and their first since 2019. The band's sound is more or less the definition of sultry and smokey, especially when it comes to Lauren Belde's vocals, with chunky horns and atmospheric guitar and keys making for an immersive, subterranean listening experience.

musclecars - Sugar Honey Iced Tea! (BBE Music)

Brooklyn's rising duo, musclecars, throws a Molotov cocktail into the crowded floor of the ever-shifting dance scene with their debut album, Sugar Honey Iced Tea!. Weaving together threads of so many influential house music statutes and the gritty underbelly of the club, this album echoes all things honest, beautiful, and true. Brimming with the authenticity and emotional resonance that defines true house music, this isn't just a standout favorite; it's an emphatic masterpiece that demands a place on any dance music lover's playlist.

BADBADNOTGOOD - Mid Sprial:Chaos (XL Recordings Ltd.)

BADBADNOTGOOD’s EP, Mid Spiral:Chaos, offers summer vibes a la floating down the Russian River (“Eyes on Me”), reading a book while chilling at Dolores Park (“Mid Spiral”), a chase scene in a contemporary Blacksplotation film (“Last Laugh, Your Soul is Mine”), or getting a treat from the paletero on a city street corner as cars honk and your neighbor’s abuelo waits for the bus (“Take Me With You”). This collection of instrumentals is one to add to your playlist and keep handy for all occasions. You will find yourself wiggling your hips a little with a gentle smile on your face.

If this was a Trader Joe’s wine review: Hints of Isaac Hayes, pairs well with Budos Band, Kamasi Washington, Khruangbin, and Surprise Chef.

Reyna Tropical - Malegria (Psychic Hotline)

Reyna Tropical’s Malegria, is the debut full length album worth the anticipation. The title is a nod to Manu Chao’s song, and like his Clandestino album, weaves music, beats, and snippets of conversation and radio recordings. One of these snippets (“Radio Esperanza”) is the voice of co-founder Sumohair, declaring the feeling of the album: world tropical vibes. His sudden passing, the grief, and the joy of his memory permeate throughout the album; bringing a bittersweet feeling of nostalgia for the good times, exemplified in “Cartagena.” Another conversation snippet, “Mestizaje,” speaks to colorism that continues to be a vestige of the Spanish caste system in Mexico: a commentary on the band’s founding principle to uphold a commitment to joy for afro-Mexicans and the queer community.

If this was a Trader Joe’s wine review: Notes of Bomba Estereo, hints of Manu Chao. Pairs well with Atropolis, Uproot Andy, Chancha Via Circuito.