Sunday, June 20, 2010

Westwood & Willow - "Doorways, Vehicles, & Markets"

Doorways, Vehicles, & Markets
* * * 1/2

San Francisco brothers Kevin and Sean Sullivan are one of the Bay Area’s most creative and prolific teams. Both together and on their own, they have tackled psychedelic prog rock (Sean’s Pericardium project), hip hop (SullyZ), and even Christmas music in the past. On the full-length debut by their main project, Westwood & Willow, the duo explores arty folk-country that somehow manages to balance a goofy sense of humor with a strong sense of sadness and isolation.
The dominant half of the band is Kevin, who plays guitar, writes all the lyrics, and does all the vocals. Sean, while hardly hidden, is largely in the background, playing bass and percussion as well as doing some backing vocals. (Please Do Not Fight multi-instrumentalist Erin Keely also plays violin on several tracks.) While Kevin’s voice is pleasant but not very distinctive, his lyrics are rife with odd witticisms and bizarre metaphors. Due to the minimal arrangements, the listener’s main focus is on Kevin’s lyrics, and listening to one of his stanzas unfold is like peeling back a present wrapper, expecting to get some boring book but instead finding the most exciting novel you’ll ever read, then discovering it has an introduction hand-written by your favorite rock star. As you read the book, you expect a predictable story, but the writing is keen, insightful, and rife with all sorts of verbal florettes.
Kevin seems to be a romantic--most of the songs on the album are odes to love and all its pains and pleasures. He also displays a very silly sense of humor: “Far Away” finds Kevin comparing he and his lover to condiments on toast. “There Was A Hen” is a rowdy country jam to drive camping hipsters into a granola-flinging frenzy. However, much of the album is very dark and bleak, filled with a sense of longing and despair. While the lyrics are never truly self-pitying, they can be a bit too humorless--for sadness to truly make an impact on the listener, there must be at least some glimmer of hope.
This is a fine offering, and despite the candy-and-wine mix of darkness and goofiness, the album does not sound schizophrenic. In fact, it is a remarkably cohesive album. Kevin’s lonely guitar and sad vocals blend well with Sean’s subtle arrangements, and they provide the album’s backbone. While the group’s sadness seems stretched at times, this is an excellent choice for anyone looking for folk music that is witty and charming but not saccharine, intellectual and thought-provoking but not relentlessly depressing.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Westwood & Willow new single review

Westwood & Willow
* * *

Bay Area art-folk duo Westwood & Willow’s music has always been a curious mix of folky sadness and oddball humor--listening to the group’s music is an experience not unlike drinking lemonade on a sunny day while looking at rather strange contemporary paintings at an outdoor fair. There’s not too much happy-go-lucky charm on “Colours,” a melancholy ode to childhood innocence. This is not always a bad thing, but the bleakness doesn’t really seem to suit the band on this song. However, the Sullivan brothers make up for it with stinging lyrics and bizarre anecdotes such as “there was a time when our idols were the kindly doormen smiling at us through our experience, but now I see even they gotta sneak a cigarette sometimes.”

Monday, June 14, 2010

5 Random Things: June 15, 2010

1. After the release of their eponymous debut album, East Bay funk-poppers Fever Charm are embarking on tour down the coast. Good luck guys!!

June 19- Nickel City, San Jose
June 22- DiPiazza's, Long Beach
June 23- Blue Cafe, Huntington Beach
June 24- NoHo London Music Hall, North Hollywood
June 26- Santa Barbara Boardwalk
June 27- Frog and Peach, San Luis Obispo
June 28- Howl at the Moon, Los Angeles

2. South Bay musician James Wenzel is continuing work on his Ratherbright project and has started a jokingly misogynistic crunk&B project called Hundred Grand Brand.

3. Rocker Jack Gorlin is currently working on a number of solo recordings. He recently released a Billy Bragg-ish folk-punk cover of the Beatles standard "A Little Help From My Friends."

4. Tano Brock of electro-pop duo The Telephone Line has suggested his band may release a revised version of their eponymous debut. As the original did feel a bit... incomplete, we look forward to hearing the outcome of this.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Message Of Extreme Importance

Friends, Rebirthers, countrymen... our scene is in trouble. A little group called the Department of Alcohol & Beverage Control (ABC) has recently proposed a series of strange laws that target one of the Bay Area Rebirth's most precious resources: our all ages clubs. If venues do not abide to these laws, which mainly have to do with food and drink (e.g. at least half of a club's revenue must come from the sale of refreshments), they could be shut down. As these rules have only been proposed recently and were largely unknown to venue owners until recently, this puts our precious all-ages venues in a very bad position.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Rebirth: WE NEED TO ACT.

Do as much as you can to support our venues. Invite people to any of the numerous Facebook groups that exist in protest against the ABC's crackdown, or Write e-mails or letters to your senator (Senator Leno can be reached at I will soon be posting a small protest flyer you can print out from your computer and put around the city. The ABC must be stopped by any means possible. We need to fight for the right to rock. Booze or no booze, such an act will not only dam our scene's breeding grounds but also be a blight on all our Rebirth stand for--love, fun, connection, the communal spirit, and above all, the power of rock n' roll.

Telephone Line debut EP Review

The Telephone Line - EP
* * 1/2

Contemporary pop music has always had a strong Teutonic streak. The strains of Giorgio, Kraftwerk, and Yello are obvious in much of the digi-pop rubbish on the charts at present, yet the deliberate mechanical bleakness of these artists--machine as ethos--has largely disappeared. The Telephone Line, a teenage duo based out of San Francisco, is one of the few electro-pop artists still holding on to this aesthetic--but rather than using it in support of their artistic aims, The Telephone Line aim to deconstruct all the Euro-influenced music currently in the charts.
There is plenty of Auto-Tune and Owl City-ish monophone synth on the tracks on the Telephone Line’s debut EP, but it is not used to create a commercial sheen: it is used to make the music sound as bleak and mechanical as possible. The vocals provide as little human warmth as the digital background. This is music that truly could be created by a Man Machine.
The Telephone Line’s bleakness also stems from its cynicism. The album’s most heart-on-sleeve love song is sardonically titled “Ich Gab Dir Krabben” (translation: “I gave you crabs”). “Terrorist” uses a light synthpop beat to support some of the most politically incorrect lyrics ever written. But the most acidic of all is the quasi-optimistic “Song of the Century,” which has vocalist Shane Bannon singing about the sound of the future over a poppy beat by producer/backing vocalist Tano Brock. The Auto-Tune stretches for miles, and the elastic synths recall Owl City’s “Butterfly Wings”--perhaps the juxtaposition of these bright, futuristic lyrics and this ever-so-hatable beat is to make a statement about the fickledom of our pop universe.
The Telephone Line is one of the most fascinating criticisms of current Top 10 music I have ever heard. While other musicians who choose to criticize modern pop (The Key Of Awesome) do so through college-humor parody, Bannon and Brock choose to take bits and pieces of the latest stylistic trends and suck the fun out of them, leaving only the outer shell of dry computerized iciness. This is good for their ethos, but does not always have a positive effect on their music. Much of the album seems a bit too dry, as if the intention was not so much to make genuine art as to see what they could do with the popular sounds. And it doesn’t always have to be such a drag, either--songs like “Shatatah” are groovy enough to work on the dancefloor, but the song in question is only two and a half minutes and is thus far too short for any serious dancing to take place to its beat. The Telephone Line are the latest in a long line of bands, stretching from the Who to the Smashing Pumpkins to Titus Andronicus, who are simply too bogged down by concept.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rikoche debut EP review

Rise Up - EP
* *

East Bay teen group Rikoche are arguably the Bay Area’s premier ‘70s-FM-rock-revival band. Unlike other bands with similar intentions (Free Energy), Rikoche do not augment their music with contemporary indie-rock influences or hipster grooviness. There is no Paul Sprangers smoothness to frontman Matt Barber’s voice--he’s a bad-boy growler in the purest George Thorogood fashion. The guitars are heavy and histrionic, with no polite strumming or monotone rhythm lines. Rikoche is a band that likes their music loud, simple, sexy, and nostalgic.
Rise Up is a fun album, and it’s definitely great radio material. The album allows for a breath of fresh air for classic rock-loving kids who would sooner be flayed alive than go within ten feet of a Morning Benders album. Barber’s voice is the dominant instrument, possessing an uncannily vintage sound and a toughness beyond the singer’s years. The guitar solos burn with fury and sexual energy. Everything sounds rough and tough, even the lightest moments (the surprisingly gentle ballad “Wanderer.”)
Yet there are two things that severely damage the music. One is a cartoonishly narrow worldview--rebellion against just about anything that displeases them, and a very Knack-ish attitude towards the female sex. (The latter has led to a large amount of controversy surrounding this band.) The other is the simple fact that they bring absolutely nothing new into either their own music or rock in general. This could be a good thing considering the purpose of this EP, but given the fact that the band members seem essentially designed by the music gods to play pure, vintage hard rock, a bit of eclecticism couldn’t hurt at all. These guys should consider calling up Danger Mouse.