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Regional Interests

Pass the Aux: New Tracks from Caleborate, Bachelor, Miko Marks, Ruby Mountain and More

Do you miss packing your friends into the car, playing your favorite tracks and dancing in your seat? Us too. Welcome to Pass the Aux, where every other week the KQED Arts & Culture team introduces you to new(ish) releases from Bay Area artists. Here’s what we have on deck.

Caleborate, “Homecoming”

Four albums into his career, Berkeley rapper Caleborate has never sounded so accessible as on “Homecoming,” an expansive collaboration with Duckwrth, from his latest release Light Hit My Skin. Pushing beyond the J. Cole-Kanye West inspiration of earlier efforts like 1993, the track skitters over a pulsing, sci-fi beat as Caleborate plays the advocate for himself and others like him: “Shout out to the little homies always getting picked on, ’cause he talk a little different with a dark skin tone / Let me tell you where you belong: two feet strong on the White House lawn.” Throw in a philosophical verse and a chorus of liberation from Duckwrth, and you’ve got an obvious first song for DJs to play once we all get back to the club. —Gabe Meline

Bachelor, “Stay in the Car”

In the video for “Stay in the Car,” Ellen Kempner (of Palehound) and Melina Duterte (of the East Bay’s Jay Som), newly collaborating as Bachelor, are dressed in thick layers and fluorescent green beanies; their breath condenses in front of them. And yet their song—the second single off Doomin’ Sun, due out May 28—is golden and summery, with Pixies-like riffs that make the whole ride an incredibly joyful one.

Perhaps that’s because the song was inspired by a chance encounter with a glamorous woman in a Florida parking lot. “I wanted to be a part of her life, her best friend, her driver, whatever she wanted me to be,” Kempner says. “I was completely mesmerized.”

“Stay in the Car” transports us into that stunned feeling, and the video by Haoyan of America builds a whole imagined world inside—of course—a car. Kempner and Duterte describe Bachelor as not a band, but a friendship, and with this song, it’s clear we’re now the ones outside, hoping to join in. —Sarah Hotchkiss

Miko Marks, “Travel Light”

Last week Oakland-based country artist Miko Marks dropped her first full album in over a dozen years, Our Country. It features the song “Travel Light,” a slow, somber track that makes you want to find a sun setting into the horizon and walk into it.

The acoustic guitar riff leads listeners into the lyrics, “Sorry I did not make it building castles made of sand / in the end I could not take it, and I hoped you’d understand / Cause I can’t find the fire to stay here and fight / All that’s left is to run, so I travel light.” And then the heavy drum kicks.

The album, a collaboration with The Resurrectors, also features the protest song “Goodnight America,” the hymn “Not Be Moved” and a song that’ll make you feel like you’re in a juke joint, “Water to Wine.” It’s a true country album, with notes of blues and soul; a little something to listen to as the sun sets. —Pendarvis Harshaw

Caroline Chung and Citizens Jazz, “Vitamin D”

Sometimes a simple walk in the sunshine can help shake feelings of malaise, and Caroline Chung and her collective Citizens Jazz remind us of just that on their new track “Vitamin D.” Chung, a bassist who was a prolific live performer pre-pandemic, has taken the past year to level up as a producer. For “Vitamin D,” the lead single of her new album Sounds of Haejin, Danny Brown’s breezy saxophone licks float like iridescent soap bubbles above Chung’s steady bass, Andre Mateo’s sun-soaked guitar and Brandon’s charged-up drumming.

In her honeyed voice, singer Taqwa lulls us with the upbeat mantra, “Take a deep breath, slow down your thoughts / Follow the signs, connect the dots / Open your eyes, got off your bed / Let the sun shine / get out of your head.” It’s hard not to sing along after a few repeats.

But, in the most surprising artistic choice of the track, a poem by Tongo Eisen-Martin cuts through the easy-listening atmosphere. In his trademark stream-of-consciousness delivery, Martin—who is San Francisco’s new poet laureate—rattles off a stark poem about survival in an unforgiving world. “There were hammers in my cradle, which made some people scared to check on me,” he begins. Tuning into the poem while grooving to this dreamy tune can be jarring, but it works. Ultimately, the track reminds us that it’s possible to find joy even amid the harshness of life. —Nastia Voynovskaya

Kai the Universe, “All Natural*” feat. Lil Mumba

Oakland native and Howard University freshman Kai the Universe dropped the music video for his new track “All Natural*” featuring Jax the Band’s Lil Mumba last Saturday. Skating over the beat with his trademark breathy vocals, the video follows Kai as he weaves his way through a party and butterflies float across the screen. Editor Arya Damany creates a visual experience to match the song, with psychedelic effects and Kai the Universe’s signature pink and purple tones.

“I was on another level” sings Lil Mumba, opening his verse as the screen flashes and fireworks go off behind Kai. The effects remain until the last 30 seconds, when the music stops and the camera cuts between well-lit shots of seven women of color laughing and smiling. Telling its own story in tandem with the music, the video features cameos by Lil Mumba’s Jax the Band bandmates and friends of the two artists. —Samuel Getachew

Ruby Mountain, “Seeker”

Ruby Mountain is the divine feminine embodied in her new music video for “Seeker,” a sensual track that shows off the rich timbre of her big, soulful voice. Dancing alone as the tides of the ocean lap at her skin, singing into a fire and grazing her body against 100-year-old redwoods, the singer belts over a slow clap and moody keys about the discovery process of falling in love. In the context of the visual, it’s as if the Earth itself is the lover she has in mind. With a mystical vibe suited for a candlelit evening, “Seeker” sets the mood to introspect. —N.V.

Shanté, “I’d Rather Go Blind” (Etta James cover)

When Oakland’s Shanté stepped out of the booth after recording her version of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” the people in the studio knew she had something special. You can hear them praising her talents at the end of the track.

The video was posted on social media a few days ago, and has since been shared thousands of times, most notably by Mistah F.A.B., Kehlani and Snoop Dogg. That’s a pretty big deal for an 18-year-old artist who just dropped her debut solo project.

Her seven-song album, Protection, features the vocals that set the internet ablaze, but this time singing her own tunes. From the sultry opening track “Deep End” to the uptempo groove “Party On Mars,” the young artist is carving her own path.

But before you jump into the album, you gotta—you just gotta—listen to her rendition of Etta James’ classic. Actually, do yourself a favor and watch the video. —P.H.

Copyright 2021 KQED