The Five Best Local Songs of May 2020

Las Calakas continue to deliver their fiery take on cumbia.
Las Calakas continue to deliver their fiery take on cumbia. Sam Gomez
The Valley's music scene is always moving and churning at its own pace, with bands and artists continuously putting out new music.

We’ve collected some of the recent local music offerings that make the scene shine. Now turn 'em way up.

Las Calakas — "Morena"

Not even a pandemic has derailed Las Calakas' boundless momentum. The scintillating cumbia fusion group have played a series of livestreams in recent weeks, bringing the same passion and fire that typifies their stage show. If those outings weren't enough, the foursome are also gearing up to release a new album, and our first taste came with this month's "Morena." Here, the band expertly turn down some of their fiery punk and metal influences, resulting in a more even-keeled dance track perfect for a beachside get-together. But don’t be mistaken: This gem’s still a barn-burner that oozes Las Calakas’ unique brand of swagger.

Keith Kelly — "a loving stick figure"

Even if you’ve never heard of him, Keith Kelly is something of a local jazz impresario. By day, he teaches music at Paradise Valley Community College. By night, he performs across the Valley, including solo gigs as well as alongside jazz acts like Ask Not and Running From Bears. And he still finds time to release tunes, most recently Music for Staring at Walls. Among the LP's seven tracks, "a loving stick figure" shines brightest. It's a slow-building, left-leaning slice of avant-garde jazz, and the mix of sax and ambient noise should prove especially gripping. Amid all the experimental vibes remains the beating heart of a truly earnest musician.

Brass Pineapple  "Da' Shoe Bop"

Brass Pineapple, a somewhat-new instrumental hip-hop group, warn that their debut, Fresh Produce, is packed with "juicy sounds." On the one hand, the whole fruit-centric shtick is just silly and absurd enough to give listeners a moderate stomachache. But with standout tracks like "Da' Shoe Bop," it's easy to look past the hokey gimmicks. This three-minute ditty is basically the mutant love-child of DIY Houston trap and Kraftwerk (if they'd attended ASU). It's a song that's too weird to hate, too silly to dismiss, and just catchy enough to thoroughly enjoy. If this is their first move, let's hope Brass Pineapple remain ripe for sometime.

Ash Barrett — "Primitive Mirror"

We last heard from Ash Barrett back in March when he released the beguiling "Nothing Lasts." Now, the post-punk-leaning Phoenician returns with a new album, Faux Head Image, which he describes as both "confrontational and tranquil … [evoking] feelings of nostalgia, childhood, a deer in the headlights, and the nocturnal abyss." That certainly speaks volumes of the eight-track LP's undisputed standout, "Primitive Mirror." The track finds Barrett at his most lethally effective, unfurling his hypnotic croon over hazy guitar and a backdrop of abstract sonics. It's a track that might lull listeners — until the deeply sinister lyrics take hold.

Banana Gun — "Born To Lose"

Later this year, Banana Gun will release a brand-new EP, Rules. The four-track effort is something of a chronicle for the Phoenix outfit, who recently added a new member (violinist/keyboardist Kevin Wilscombe), recruited a new producer (Bob Hoag), and underwent other mid-pandemic shifts both individually and as a collective. Our first taste of these changes comes with "Born to Lose." Longtime fans will still recognize the band, but there's an added layer of depth and heart to this uplifting blues-rock anthem that celebrates life's more minimalist victories. Now, who said change has to be such a terrible thing?

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Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.
Contact: Chris Coplan