Unified School District, Brokedown Palace (self-released). Emcee Super Ugly's deep, sharp voice may hit some folks too hard, but at least they can't say he's biting someone else's style. Ecto One's proficient beats are unusual, too - part retro, part progressive, all choppy - making USD an alluring anomaly on the Oakland scene.
Nyles Lannon, Pressure (Badman Recording Co.). The former Film School guitarist sticks to striking out on his own: With few exceptions, Lannon wrote, performed, and recorded all of his sophomore effort, which nonetheless maintains a full, if overstuffed, plate of experimental folk-rock.
Paper Tiger, Bright Dreams of Cold Revenge EP (self-released). This four-song debut from the fledgling SF group offers a nostalgic take on lightweight alt-rock, with straightforward melodies that linger.
Willow Willow, Willow Willow (Mod Lang). Few will deny the merits of sunny, sweet British folk - but it's a far cry from being in vogue. As Willow Willow, childhood friends Miranda Zeiger and Jessica Vohs don't much care, and even wrote what's likely the world's first weed ode containing prominent use of the harpsichord.
Desoto Reds, Bernadette and the Hundred Devils (self-released). In a region so blessed with gifted groups maintaining absurdly low profiles, it can be risky to sort the winners from the losers. Still, we'll place our bets on Oakland's little-known Desoto Reds, who show heaps of promise through a rare blend of cerebral pop and garage rock.