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Arts & Culture

5 songs to discover in San Diego in November

Detail of Valentine Byrne's album cover for "Baby on a Wall."
Courtesy of the artist
Detail of Valentine Byrne's album cover for "Baby on a Wall."

We're listening to new music from local acts Kocean, Steph Richards with Joshua White, 18scales, Plosivs and Valentine Byrne with Real J. Wallace.

'Laila' by Kocean

Performing at Bridges (all ages) Friday, Nov. 5

First, a moment of appreciation for the birth of a new all-ages venue in San Diego, Bridges, a renovated old church in a strip mall in Clairemont Mesa. Friday will be the first show in the new space, featuring Foxtide, Big Fun, Gone and Kocean. Kocean are a San Diego-based duo, with splashes of surf rock and indie pop with a lot of grit. They just put out a new track Oct. 3, "Laila," which is muted at turns with a riotous chorus, repeating the name "Laila."

It's a simple tune but expressive and melancholy, and singer Kaitlyn Thomas' voice delivers a bit of '90s nostalgia. I kind of want to be in the crowd when everyone is singing along with the "Laila" on the chorus.


'Sacred Sea: Zephyr' by Steph Richards with Joshua White

"Zephyr," the full-length album from local trumpeter Steph Richards and jazz pianist Joshua White is a journey through the myths and mysteries of the natural world. From ancient oceans to cicadas, forests and the Northern Lights, these pieces are effervescent, experimental and utterly captivating.

Richards' trumpet performance is wild in and of itself — the UC San Diego professor of music is known for her experimental sound and complex, brainy composition — but some of these tracks have a moody restraint. It feels no less wild, just maybe enshrouded in misty fog or a blanket of night. White's piano is subtle at first, especially on the opening track, "Sacred Sea: Zephyr," which begins with a solo, fuzzy trumpet until his eerie piano arpeggio kicks in at the 40 second mark.

A new music video for "Zephyr" pairs the track with hypnotic ocean footage from director Vipal Monga.


Steph Richards is currently wrapping up a tour on the east coast, but you can catch Joshua White performing Nov. 20 at Dizzy's on Morena.

'Involve' by 18scales (explicit)

18scales put out a new full-length album, "FFO Vol. 1 'For Funkn Only,'" this August. The whole album is solid and everything I expect out of an 18scales release — fun, weird, disruptive and sonically lush and complex. "Involve" lures us in with a loungey trumpet motif, easy grooves and strong, layered staccato vocals from Ric Scales and producer Ralph Quasar.

Exactly a year ago, we invited Scales to contribute to this list (they recommended "Look Over Your Shoulder," by Busta Rhymes feat. Kendrick Lamar), so it's great to see them back here this month with some new music.

The album has 9 tracks but each is just a few minutes long; total run time on the album doesn't even crack 25 minutes. Other standouts are "Fly Shit" and the Odessa Kane guest track "House Shoes."

'Hit the Breaks' by Plosivs

Performing at Quartyard Saturday, Nov. 5

Freshly formed, San Diego's newest supergroup Plosivs are one of those bands where we list some sort of "of [XYZ band]" for every single member: John Reis of Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu and Rocket from the Crypt; Rob Crow of Pinback and Heavy Vegetable; Atom Willard of Against Me!, The Offspring and Angels and Airwaves; and Jordan Clark of Mrs. Magician and The Frights.

Not to show my age or lack of coolness, but the first thing I did when "Hit the Breaks" started was turn the volume down a touch. Eventually, I turned it back up, but brace yourself for a wall of high-powered rock noise from the get-go. The track is aptly named — playing with all the homophones of "breaks" — and draws on a feeling of too much, too fast, and a desire, possibly unresolved, to let up and connect.

Plosivs will play their first shows this weekend. While they'll play Friday in Long Beach, their hometown debut is Saturday at Quartyard, supported by the weirdest band I know, Shades McCool.

'Don't You Say You Love Me' by Valentine Byrne with Real J. Wallace

The astonishingly talented Valentine Byrne put out her first EP earlier this year, "Baby on a Wall." With the exception of two guests (including Real J. Wallace), she performed every single instrument and wrote and produced every last note. The EP is an instant hit for me, cohesive as a whole but each track is still somehow surprising ("Sleep Like You Mean It" is another standout). The production is lush, the songwriting is complex and tragic, and Byrne's dreamy voice is full of depth.

"Don't You Say You Love Me" starts out hauntingly, suggesting a heartache-in-progress. Wallace (also known as local arts hero Ramel J. Wallace of Creative Mornings and a board member of the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art), provides a rap verse that leans into the raw dysfunction of the track. Byrne is one to watch for sure, and Wallace seems to add magic to any project he touches.

Find a Spotify playlist of these tracks here, and be sure to follow KPBS on Spotify to get more playlists like this .

If you're purchasing any of these songs, don't forget that Bandcamp will continue their "Bandcamp Fridays" program through the remainder of 2021. The first Friday of each month (i.e. Nov. 5), Bandcamp will waive their cut of the proceeds, so more money goes directly to the artist.