Monday, May 31, 2010

Fever Charm debut review

Fever Charm
* * *

I bought the debut album by East Bay funk-pop quartet Fever Charm with a great amount of uncertainty. Most people I know who have seen them live either say that they are a great live act and a poor studio band, or a great studio band and a poor live act. Yet Fever Charm only had two studio recordings to their name before the release of their eponymous, six-song debut. Upon listening to this album, I found myself amped-up, grooving along, and often completely confused.
The album kicks off with “You Won’t See Me Tonight,” a hilariously sarcastic dance-rocker with a groove that brings to mind Death From Above 1979. Ari Berl’s voice is dominant over all else, dryly intoning the tale of his love’s less-than-romantic goodbye. “One of a Kind,” a live juggernaut that has caused more audience balloon fights than perhaps any other song in history, is a great showcase for the band’s technical chops, especially those of ridiculously funky bassist Yianni AP (brother of Dizzy Balloon vocalist Petros AP). “Sunrise,” a lonely club ballad, takes a short break from the sardonic edge of the other songs. It is also one of the hardest songs to listen to--it has some great harmonies, but Berl’s vocals are sharp and irritating, and the mix of live drums and drum machines sounds rather uncomfortable.
Then come the two pre-released singles--the utopian stomper “Anything New?” and the energetic barnstormer “Shakedown”--before a very odd finale, “Sunday Afternoon.” “Sunday Afternoon” is a strange sort of anthem. It begins as a gentle acoustic ballad about something (it’s never clear what) that will soon end. Then Berl exclaims, “Today is not that day!”, and the song explodes into a full rocker. It’s a dramatic moment, but it’s executed poorly. While live performances of this song have been known to go on for quite a while, the studio recording simply ends too soon. Just when the listener gets really into the hard-rock groove, it stops in what the listener hopes is a false ending.
Ultimately, this is a fun album from a fun band, despite being a bit erratic in terms of its mood at times. But if you really want to party with Fever Charm, see them live at one of their notoriously loud but notoriously awesome club gigs. They are genuine showmen, and like every good Rebirth band, Fever Charm engages with the audience as much as possible. Like with many of their fellow Bay Area bands (Cypher Syndicate, Lou Lou & the Guitarfish, even the Grateful Dead), you have to see them live to truly understand what they’re all about.

The Greatest Rebirth Celebration Of All Time, And Some Gay Pride Too

Pete Townshend had some very strong words to say about the hippies at Woodstock and Monterey Pop. Looking out at the crowd of nude, hairy flower children, Pete concluded that the Vietnam War wasn’t going to end because of a bunch of naked kids sploshing around in the muck, and if they wanted to live in a world that was nothing but sploshing around in the muck, to hell with the lot of them. Whether it deserved it or not, hippiedom has since turned into a cartoon, just like every other counter-cum-sub-culture in history.
The communal/musical “Rebirth” in the Bay Area is a vaguely hippie-ish movement that cannot fail. They are not trying to change the face of the earth. They are not trying to make a stand. They are not trying to completely alter the human race. They are a bunch of people who all know and love each other, and just want to have fun together as a community. As the Rebirth applies to not only one specific clique or scene but to all--punks, emos, teenyboppers, jocks, preps, goths, hip-hop kids, ska punks, leathers, queens, rastas, rude boys, you name it--there can be no cartoonification of their spirit. It will not eat itself, because they are not trying to be a counterculture or a revolution. They peacefully coexist, as they are a melting pot of all different subcultures. This is why the Rebirth cannot fail. This light will shine forth from the West.
On May 30, 2010, I went to the 70th anniversary show of the Berkeley restaurant/club Blake’s, featuring California bands City Walls, Fever Charm, Finish Ticket, and Foolish Ways. I had come with an East Coast friend who was curious about the Rebirth community and the local music scene. Having never been to a show in Berkeley before, I wondered whether the main city’s spirit was present across the water. I came to the show and found the greatest celebration of the human community I have ever seen.
This show embodied more than simply the Rebirth spirit. It was also a very real expression of homosexual passion. The gay and bi members of the audience (about a third) were indistinguishable from the straight ones. There were no drag queens or leathers, no flam-bam-boyance, no stereotypes. My East Coast friend, who hit on and was hit on by several male audience members, remarked he was happy to find a strictly natural and spontaneous LGBT gathering--as was I. I am very cynical about the cartoonish state of homocentric subculture, and I felt relieved to find what we call “natural gay in the natural way

The show started off strangely enough. The first band to come on was a truly bizarre crunk band called Foolish Ways. The three members were all visually distinctive. One vocalist was clean-cut but resplendent in what appeared to be Christmas lights wrapped around his body like bondage; another vocalist was typically screamoid, with long brown hair and black clothing. The beatmaker, a shirtless and heavily pierced youth with stringy dark hair, stood in the background, pressing various buttons and levers on a stack of rusty machinery that looked like something one might find in an empty room at Fort Point. The three of them played throbbing, dissonant crunk-punk fusion that sounded a bit like Brokencyde but more intelligent and with almost no screaming and growling. In a way, they represented the Rebirth’s relationship with mainstream pop--contempt for it, yes, but in a jokey way.
After seeing Foolish Ways, I ran into Blake Rosier of cult synth-punk band Quiet Game Starting Now. I talked with him a bit, and my East Coast friend found a lot in common with Rosier--both were classically trained musicians about the same age--and they talked for a while until Finish Ticket came on.

Finish Ticket, an alternative rock/R&B sextet from the isolated East Bay town of Alameda, took the stage to much cheering. Every member of the band had their faces painted. When they played their music, everyone showed their romantic side--not only boys and girls but also boys and boys. Several people there whom I knew to be straight were being very intimate with other guys, engaging in activities ranging from dry-humping to full-on frenching. (Apparently, Finish Ticket’s song “We’ll Be Okay” is quite popular in LGBT circles.) Romantic couples aside, Finish Ticket were simply awesome. Singer Brendan Hoye let his voice loose like a wild animal, hollering like an honest soulman over echoing guitars, quirky keyboards, and clattering percussion. They were post-punk rock n’ soul, not too weird but always cool.

But Fever Charm were the height of everything. The East Bay funk-pop quartet’s set was to celebrate the release of their eponymous debut album (a review of which will be posted soon). The band began their set from behind a white curtain. The shadows of the band members could only faintly be seen as they played the intro to one of their songs. After a dramatic drum fill, the curtain was punkishly ripped away, revealing the band in all its awesomeness. Vocalist Ari Berl, an affable but commanding presence, carried his Cyndi Lauper-ish yelp over one of the most ridiculously tight rhythm sections I have ever seen. Theo Quayle’s punky guitarwork, Kendrick Brown’s shuffling drums, and the jaw-dropping bass-work of Yianni AP (brother of Dizzy Balloon vocalist Petros AP) held the whole thing together like quantum-strength superglue.
As every good Rebirth band should, Fever Charm engaged with their audience as much as possible, bringing out a few balloons that had lost almost all of their floating ability. The crowd batted them around, hit each other with them, and tossed them at the grinning band members. At the end, everyone was invited on stage to dance along to the band’s funky groove. Everyone who wasn’t dancing up a storm was scrabbling to hug every inch of the band members, especially the clearly exuberant AP. The band was human. Sure, the band members were a bit more famous and more talented than the average person in the audience, but they were people, people who sleep and eat and go to the bathroom and hang out with their friends and go to supermarkets. Everyone was on the same level. The band members were part of the crowd, part of the community. Just the music-makers.

Then it all fell flat. Most people were still high off the communal endorphins from the Fever Charm set, so they did not really mind the complete change of mood. The City Walls, the only non-Bay Area band (they were from San Diego), were clearly unaware of their duty to the community. They played their music in the Hellenistic way--as a duty, as the manipulation of sound, not as anything more. The audience was simply a benefit to the City Walls. Their music was not bad--in fact, they played some fairly interesting Rhodes-driven jazz rock. They were simply unfamiliar with Bay Area cats and the way they groove. They left to much less enthusiasm than the rest of the bands, and many people seemed happy to get up, walk around, and trade demos.

I left more convinced than I have ever been of the truth of this Rebirth. This is a phenomenon that applies to bands of all genres, bands both obscure and famous, everyone with an allegiance to the young San Francisco scene. For me, this is the event that definitively set the Rebirth's existence in stone for me. I shall continue to help the word about the movement, and may it be an example for every disintegrating music scene in the world.

Friday, May 28, 2010

PDNF "Move" Review

NOTE: I am aware this album has been out for a while now, but I never thought to review it until recently.

Please Do Not Fight

* * *

Few bands have had a greater influence on the Bay Area rock scene today than Please Do Not Fight. With its smooth, slightly jazzy textures and Edward Hopper-esque aesthetic, this South Bay quartet’s excellent 2007 debut Leave It All Behind influenced every Fogtown band who chose to sing about the casual melancholy of city life. (This spectrum ranges from Finish Ticket to Madders, a much broader range than many people would imagine.) However, they appeared a bit schizophrenic at times, often alternating between streetlight ballads and peppy pop rock. This dual personality is even more prominent on the band’s second release, the EP Move.
Three of the EP’s six songs follow the template of songs like the debut album’s “On The Other Hand, Fight! Fight!”--sprinting monophonic synths, hard rock guitars, and anguished, intoned vocals. The other three are something completely different: ballads, yes, but with more of a southern country-rock vibe than the dark grooves of early tunes like “What Am I Trying To Save?” While the sharp division is not necessarily a bad thing, it seems unfocused and monochrome here.
The one thing holding everything together is frontman Zen Zenith’s observational lyrics, which sing of a rarely-explored social mindset--that of the world-weary hipster, spending the blue hours of the late evening pondering life over a cup of coffee and a bear claw at Starbucks. Zenith is one of the Bay Area Rebirth scene’s finest songwriters. The strident “I Will Not Forget” is a tender yet tough dance-punk barnstormer whose galloping guitars and buzzing keyboards support some excellent lyrics that sound almost like a musical transcript of Rutger Hauer’s death speech in “Blade Runner.”
There are some great musical moments, too--but Move’s dual personality can be a bit distracting and even unnerving. It is, however, interesting to note the musical and lyrical forms--early traces of the sound that would eventually find its way into the music of groups like Finish Ticket, Madders, Cypher Syndicate, Fever Charm, and Handshake( to name only a few) are clearly present here. For the real Please Do Not Fight experience, both in terms of musical and historical interest, check out Leave It All Behind or attend one of their engaging live shows.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Asian Jew Cracker video single review


* * *

Tano Brock and James Uejio, the two Seize the Sound guitarists who collaborate independently as Asian Jew Cracker, are both straight. Yet their new single finds them celebrating the human penis like vintage Jinx Titanic, singing about someone or something “conjoined by the dick” in just about every orifice in the body. It’s weird, it’s carnal, it’s sophomoric. Yet somehow, these two middle-school-going-into-high-schoolers pull it off convincingly. Maybe it’s the guitars. Maybe it’s the expertly shot video (with a great scene of Uejio either taking a shit or having a seizure). Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of Brock’s shrill vocals and Uejio’s gothic croak. Whatever it is, this is a novelty that works a lot better than you’d expect it to.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sects Single Review


* * * 1/2

When it was announced that drummer Alex Lamp and School of Rock veteran Kit Castagne had formed a supergroup with Milo’s Lee Newman and DFR’s Ruby Rosa and Hayli Holmes, most people were expecting a hard-rocking, solo-laden affair. Yet the band’s first single sounds more like Mabuta No Ura-era Boris than anything else. In a punky deadpan, Newman spins a surreal, Jarmusch-esque tale of roadstop love over shoegazey reverb and lonely, minimal guitar solos. While this band is a supergroup, none of the band members’ technical chops are really showcased. This makes for a new and interesting spin on the concept of the supergroup--a simple meeting of the musicians rather than a gearhead shredding jam.

“Black Governor”
* * 1/2

On the second single, it gets even weirder. There are more instrumental acrobatics on this song than on “Reverberation,” and there are plenty of odd tempo changes, but Newman is even more deadpan on this song, intoning about god knows what over a vaguely German-sounding background. While Newman’s vocals give the song an interesting, almost No Wave-ish vibe, “Black Governor” is, as a whole, nowhere near as good as “Reverberation,” although it is a decent throwback to the Krautrock sound of the early 1970s.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

New DFR singer, Brock project spark buzz

1. DFR recently played their first gig with new singer Gavin Morgan. While previous vocalist Taija Liscinsky's half-sung, half-ranted delivery gave the band more of a post-punk feel, Gavin Morgan seems to be a more Matt Barber-ish growler. They also debuted some new songs, in which their old teenage negativity remains but the poison is not too bitter to swirl around your taste buds.

2. Seize the Sound guitarist/keyboardist Tano Brock recently posted a preview of his side-project, The Telephone Line. It seems like a sort of dark synthpop/electro project, not unlike Yello.

3. The Battle of the Bands at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, May 8, was won by indie-folk supergroup Milo Grey, with lo-fi heroines the SHE's as runner-ups. East Bay blues-rockers Rikoche left angry and surprised, bouncing back with a show at Alameda CBGB equivalent Rooster's Roadhouse.

4. Despite heavy competition from the CJM Battle of the Bands, the coinciding Guyana Rock 1, the first show by musician (and writer of this blog) Daniel Bromfield's Greyhound Productions, drew a decent crowd of about fifty to tiny Woodside Int'l School to see bands like Madders, Fever Charm, Seize the Sound, and the Piers.

5. Picture Atlantic recently released a new EP, Dulce Et Decorum Est. Review coming soon.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Handshake vs. Finish Ticket

Commercial Appeal: Finish Ticket. Both bands have experimental tendencies, but Finish Ticket have arrived at the perfect moment in history for a band of their ilk to shoot commercially upwards--they are experimental but accessible, and their songs are, at the root, deviations on an alternative pop format with considerable appeal in both indie and mainstream circles.

Cult Appeal: Handshake. Not to say Finish Ticket would be a flash in the pan, but Handshake are by far the more original group, putting a completely new spin on both art rock and folk/country rock. As they are much more likely to influence younger generations of groups, Handshake’s music will likely be more enduring.

Sex Appeal: Finish Ticket. Brendan Hoye’s voice simply burns with passion.

Critical Appeal: tie. Critics love rootsy indie bands like Handshake, but it’s hard to skip the lean hooks on Finish Ticket’s body of work.

Innovation: Handshake. I have never heard anything like Handshake. Finish Ticket present a new sound in a sense, but they owe a lot to bands like PDNF.

Soul: Finish Ticket. (See “Sex Appeal.”)

Wit: Handshake. Check out “Night of Electric Orchids.”

Musical Bravery: tie. Handshake aren’t trying to be a great pop band, and Finish Ticket aren’t trying to be rock n’ roll provocateurs.

Lyrics: tie. Finish Ticket’s lyrics are a fine example of observational semiprose lyricism, and they offered some great advice to mopey teens in “We’ll Be OK.” But Handshake have a witty way with lyrics, telling bizarre tales that are hopelessly random but do not seem forced.

* * *

Conclusion: tie. Finish Ticket are a great experimental pop-rock band, and Handshake present a fascinating new progressive concept. While Finish Ticket will likely have more staying power in the charts and Handshake more in terms of influence, both are great bands, and their bodies of work are equally fascinating and speckled with great songs.