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Arts & Culture

5 Songs To Discover In San Diego In January

Tijuana-based musician Ego Rangel's latest album is called "Iame."
Courtesy of Ego Rangel
Tijuana-based musician Ego Rangel's latest album is called "Iame."

We're listening to new tracks from San Diego and Tijuana acts Lowlands, Lex and the Jewels, Ego Rangel, Shelbi Bennett, Alfred Howard and Low and Be Told.

The last few weeks have brought a lot of new music out of San Diego's music scene, and in the continued absence of live shows, it's hard to weed through it all and find new-to-you bands. Here's a few picks from local acts in the San Diego and border region to add a little rock and roll (and experimental ambient) to this very tumultuous January, featuring Lowlands, Lex and the Jewels, Ego Rangel, Shelbi Bennett, Alfred Howard and Ian Owen, and Low and Be Told.

'U.S.A.' By Lowlands

Lowlands, a bicoastal project of San Diego's Tommy Garcia (from Mrs. Magician) with vocalist Gabriel Spatuzzi, just put out a two-track release on Friday, "Manifesto/U.S.A." Their sound is dark and minimalist, with a post-punk and Americana combo that feels approachable rather than formidable. "U.S.A." is a moody slow-burner, prescient and urgent, and both tracks together make for a great listen that left me wanting much more.


'Julianne' By Lex And The Jewels

A pairing of locals Lexi Pulido (of Kilikili) and drummer Julien Cantelm (of the Danny Green Trio), the release "Julianne and Richard" contains just two simple, aptly titled tunes, "Julianne" and "Richard." Each is earnest and wrenching. I love "Julianne," which is a great sampling of Pulido’s enchanting vocals and songwriting, with an elevated lo-fi backdrop. It has a coexistence of distinct narrative with a poetic ambiance and dreaminess that is very folk-esque.


'Rio' By Ego Rangel

Prolific seems like an understatement to describe Tijuana filmmaker, photographer and electronic musician Ego Rangel. In addition to constant work as an artist, Rangel spent 2020 putting out not just one album but two, the summer's "Abril" and December's "Iame." The latest is atmospheric and cinematic, and Rangel described the album as a collection of memories and sounds — kind of a found object and time capsule approach to composition. I love "Rio," which features a synth backdrop to recorded speech and gathering sounds. There's something particularly evocative about the noises of a crowd, however intimate, as we continue this lockdown existence. However, it's hard to subdivide this album, which is more epic than episodic — just start from the beginning and sit back.

'Never Known,' By Shelbi Bennett/Alfred Howard/Ian Owen

As Alfred Howard continues his "Alfred Howard Writes Songs With Friends" music and art project into the new year, he teamed up with frequent collaborator Shelbi Bennett for a new track, "Never Known." Plus, as with each of these songs, it's paired with a gorgeous watercolor cover (pictured with the embedded track below) by Marion Howard, Al's mom. The track is a rocker, showcasing the power and melodic grit of Bennett's vocals. And a serving of vaguely sad, vaguely self-conscious, vaguely unachievable hope seems like a great way to kick off 2021.

'Reborn' by Low And Be Told

Into metal? Check out the abrasive, self-titled debut from San Diego's Low and Be Told. Douglas Thompson's intense live show stage presence comes across tenfold on the recording. (Pro tip: You can also catch Thompson portraying a gentle dad and supportive husband in the forthcoming film "Fanboy.") While the band can absolutely shred, and the majority of the album has a straightforward metal essence, the spooky track "Reborn," shows off their chops and creativity in a more subtle — but just as evil — format. It's not for the faint of heart. (But stay for the 7-second sustained scream at the end.)

Honorable Mentions

This rocky start to 2021 is deserving of all the small treats we can get, so here are a few bonus tracks.

Local jazz great Leonard Patton just penned fresh lyrics for “Mo Better Blues,” a preview for a bigger project he’s working on with pianist Ed Kornhauser and bassist Rob Thorsen. Kornhauser posted a recording from one of their sessions on Instagram, and it’s a fantastic listen.

San Diego-based multi-instrumentalist Mike Keneally, who rose to the international stage as part of Frank Zappa's touring band in the late 1980s, has new work out this month with his project MFTJ ("mankind's final traffic jam"). "My Mom's Getting A Horse" is their second release, hot on the heels of their March 2020 self-titled debut. The album is instrumental, progressive art rock with a nostalgic bent.

And as a non-local indulgence, don’t miss the pairing of the amazing NY-based, Cameroon-born indie/electropop artist Vagabon with Courtney Barnett on "Reason to Believe," released Jan. 7.

VIDEO: Vagabon - 'Reason To Believe (Feat. Courtney Barnett)'

For more playlists, follow KPBS on Spotify. And we want to hear what you are listening to this month. Join the conversation in the KPBS/Arts Facebook group.