Saturday, September 18, 2010

Please Do Not Fight - Up Up Up from Please Do Not Fight on Vimeo.

Please Do Not Fight are definitely not on drugs. They’re just a bunch of very happy people. No sarcasm. Seriously.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Singles Reviews

“Surfer Boys”/”Wonder Band”
* * * 1/2 / * * *

The extremely anticipated new singles by the SHE’s, “Surfer Boys” and “Wonder Band,” both focus on the same theme--boys. I mean, seeing as their first album was all about those ever-present queen bees, it’s good they’re getting more positive. This band is really good at talking about boys. And I love boys--I never keep that a secret. On their new songs, the boys surf and play music, respectively. And the SHE’s just want to do the same thing and have fun with them.
On their new singles, the group abandons the muddy lo-fi sound of their self-titled debut EP in favor of a much cleaner sound. “Surfer Boys” seems to be a tribute to the lo-fi-girl-group-surf-pop bands so beloved by the indieverse the SHE’s have been (reluctantly or not) assimilated into over the past few months. Singer Hannah Valente murmurs her longing to surf with the boys in a tone so ridiculously matter-of-fact I’ve heard other music critics try to sing it to themselves and become frustrated at how they just don’t sound matter-of-fact enough.
“Wonder Band” is thematically similar, the crush-target being those ever-so-sexy musicians your buddies always seem to be playing a show with. While the lyrics are great in their teenage naivete, the background music sounds underwhelming, as if the song has the potential to be a full, heavy rocker but instead loses its full power potential in a haze of mandolins and bubbly Adolescent Friction guitars. It’s not a bad song though, and both are fine pop songs that indicate a new, more expansive, and more accessible direction for the group.

“I Am Not The King Of Anything”
* * * *

Aren’t you sick of jerks like Elvis and Michael Jackson and Nathan Williams who always have to be the “king” of something? Nik Bartunek wants you to feel confident in knowing he is no ruler--on this raging new single, the Picture Atlantic frontman alternately lows and squeals his everyman blues. The haunted keyboards and dark guitars suggest the group may be studying the black-clad bummerscapes of Interpol and the National--and although listeners may not be used to this side of the band, it suits them surprisingly well. Remember, there’s fog in the South Bay sometimes.

“Goin’ Steady”
* *

Cut the Riff Raff is a barely anonymous duo of musicians from Martinez’s burgeoning post-hardcore scene. (I will not mention their true identities, but they go by Ricky Q. and Blaze). Their first single, “Goin’ Steady,” has a striking resemblance to the music of Blaze’s old band in the pairing of pop-punk vocals and suave ‘80s synthfunk groovitude. It’s a simple, fun, goofy song, and there’s really not a whole lot to say about it--it’s not a high-quality pop masterwork, and it’s a cool kind of guilty-pleasure song. But if these guys really cared about being anonymous so much, they wouldn’t sound so much like, um... Blaze’s old band (not to mention having their true identities on their Facebook page for about two weeks). Points also docked for making this review so damn hard to write.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Battle of the Bands @ DNA Lounge

THE SOOTHING SOUND OF FLIGHT was the first band I caught. While their name may sound like one of Adam Young's countless muzak projects, these guys were anything but light. Hailing from Santa Clara, this group mixed aggressive deathcore with elements of post-rock, often breaking down into soaring instrumentals and using screams for background texture rather than putting them front and center.

Next up were AMERICAN ROYALTY, a Vallejo-based hard rock quartet. Their set was filled with tight songs and duets between the group's male and female frontpeople. After a finale that alternated between fairly nondescript power-pop and full-out death-metal freakout, the band members all simultaneously collapsed onstage and headed off to mingle with the crowd.

DOWN FOR THE COUNT claimed to be bringing back "real punk" and not that "Blink-182 shit." Messianic or not, Down For The Count played almost exactly the sort of blindingly fast hardcore Emilio Estevez used to steal cars to. Appropriately enough, the group ended the set with semi-recognizable covers of songs by Johnny Cash and John Fogerty, two of the truest punks who ever lived. Long live rock n' roll.

Clean, well-dressed, and full of hard-rock machismo, the three dudes in THE FIRE SAIL seemed deathly serious about their music and played with chops and precision. Handshake's Devin Clary claimed to be terrified of them, in part by their skill and in part by their normalcy. And while these guys played a solid set on the basis of their prowess and sharp hooks, they were one of the less musically distinctive bands that played.

THY WINTER SHADOW came across as a bunch of dudes having fun with extreme metal and letting the audience figure out how serious they really are. Through songs like "Death By Shark," portly singer Brian Oafo (yes, that's what he calls himself) screamed like a schoolgirl getting stabbed as the band ground mercilessly in the background. Halfway through the show, Oafo decided to toss a T-shirt into the audience, which ended up getting stuck on a stagelight and had to be pried loose by a bouncer with a very long stick.

HANDSHAKE, the headliners, took to the stage in suits and well-polished shoes, looking more like a '50s doo-wop group than a modern rock band. They didn't give any bombastic shout-outs, they kept their shirts on, and they didn't even ask the audience to participate. Handshake won the crowd over solely on the merit of their pastoral art-rock and the suave harmonies of frontmen Devin Clary and Evan Greenwald, both of whom employed equally remarkable, tasteful, and (at times) seductive vocals. The band seemed to be a huge hit with the girls, who shrieked their heads off after every song ended. By the time the band left the stage, there was little doubt they would end up in the top three, although who the others were nobody could say for sure yet.

The Fire Sail
Thy Winter Shadow

Thy Winter's Shadow

After the members of those bands had gotten their congratulatory hugs (in Handshake's case) and noggin-bumps (in TWS's case), the DJ fired up some old Fifties dance tunes, and everybody danced in circles. It was just like back in '58, when I took Laura Lynn to see Eddie Cochran at the old Pavilion... but that's a story for another time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Local Hero On Hiatus

Jojo Brandel, bassist for East Bay jazz-rock trio Local Hero, is departing for college. As a result, the band will go on hiatus after a "final" show at Caffe Trieste in Oakland tomorrow. This is a free show, so I advise Local Hero fans to get your asses down to the Caffe.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bird By Bird "Albatross" Review

* * 1/2

Bird By Bird are one of the most famous bands to emerge from the contingent of South-and-East Bay bands that includes Please Do Not Fight, Picture Atlantic, and Dizzy Balloon. Like those bands, BXB (as they are often abbreviated) plays a form of muscular power-pop laced with California sunniness. There is a sense of Dizzy Balloon theatricality to BXB’s music. There is a love of power and majesty on Albatross that brings to mind Picture Atlantic. And like Zen Zenith of Please Do Not Fight, BXB’s Jonathan Devoto is an excellent songwriter who focuses on the mindset of the world-weary middle-class everyman.

Devoto is a striking character. Formerly the guitarist for legendary pop-punk group The Matches, he has transformed into a grizzled elder statesman of the Rebirth. His music recalls his old band at their most subdued, perhaps even slowed down a bit more. As opposed to Match-in-chief Shawn Harris’ post-punk moan, Devoto possesses a smoky rasp that adds a late-night feel to the generally crisp and sparkling texture of the album. Whether he’s singing about violent revolutions or getting delirious like Prince, Devoto always sounds rough, a bit forlorn, and perhaps even gracefully aged (despite being only 25).

And the protagonist of Albatross’ songs is probably a twenty-something who spends much of his time scribbling down ideas and lyrics during 3 AM coffee runs. Two of five songs (not counting the bonus tracks, both promising acoustic demos) reference sleeplessness. And where there is sunshine, it is not the kind that keeps Katy Perry warm and tan on California’s beaches. It’s the kind of thin sunshine that permeates through the glass door of that vacation cabin your friends let you use that one summer. There’s no real mystery, but there’s something strangely alluring about it, and it brings subtle charm and a hint of sadness.

Yet despite Devoto’s skill with lyrics, the music itself is fairly middle-of-the-road. There is nothing remarkable about the crunchy power-rock backbeats--no experimentalism, nothing off-beat, nothing the listener would not expect. This an album where the central focus is on the words and the voice singing them. There’s nothing really wrong with Albatross--but aside from Devoto’s wordsmithing, there’s nothing too remarkable about it.