Monday, November 29, 2010

I know these have been around for a while but...


XoXmas (Reissue)

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Christmas music is one of the most explicitly commercial and fickle genres of pop, and most attempts by pop artists to stick a toe in the genre end up as nothing more than steaming heaps of reindeer shit. (Look no further than Billy Idol’s Happy Holidays.) On the other hand, it seems like a completely natural move for the Sullivan Brothers, the lovably goofy/eclectic duo behind Westwood & Willow and SullyZ, to make a Christmas album. And the result sounds natural as well. The contents are as varied and eclectic yet fun and exciting as the contents of a Christmas stocking. Among the little gifts: a stark, melancholy “Silent Night,” an echo-guitar arrangement of “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Bay Bells,” a bizarre hip-hop paean to baking cookies and oneself on the same day. Being Jewish, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I have many relatives and friends who do--and I remember the Christmas experience being a lot like listening to XoXmas. Hell, it already feels like the season when I listen to this album.


Give It Up

* * * 1/2

Maniac is, for the most part, two guys--American Shawn Harris, of seminal Bay Area band The Matches, and Australian Jake Grigg of Something With Numbers. Both are big-haired, big-voiced frontmen who would be difficult to describe without using the tired and obsolete phrase “rock stars.” And these four songs show it--“restraint” and “modesty” are out of the dictionary, only huge voices and crashing backbeats. But at its root, the whole affair is basically a barroom sing-along album. The songs are surprisingly minimalist on close investigation, especially “Hey Love” (no connection to the Girl Named T tune), a slightly mind-numbing chant I could imagine the dudes in that weird pub down the block from where I used to live howling. But the most notable thing about this album is how well the live energy of a Maniac show is transferred to record. Even if you have to catch them live to see what they’re all about, you can get a pretty good impression from these tracks.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The latest from T and Picture Atlantic


Hey Liebe

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As far as the art of the album goes, Bay Area scene veteran Theresa “T” Sawi has it down. Hey Liebe, her long-awaited full-length debut under the Girl Named T moniker, is almost perfect in terms of the form of the album, and it plays almost like an early Beatles album--concise, two-and-a-half-minute pop-rock ditties about love and loneliness that shoot out of your headphones one after the other like machine gun bullets.

T has obvious songwriting skills--what she lacks in subject range (there is not a single song on this album that isn’t about love and/or beauty) she makes up for with evocative lyrics that are tight and well-written but seem almost stream-of-consciousness at the same time. This is also one of those rare albums that cover vast expanses of stylistic ground but flow excellently and keep a consistent sound. From the smooth jazz of “Hey Love” to the scorching new-wave “Model In The Media,” Hey Liebe is an album that bends and shifts its central backbone into all sorts of fascinating and graceful contortions. There is no sense of schizophrenia or stylistic confusion here--everything matches up, and while the songs have many different shapes and colors, they fit together like puzzle pieces into one mosaic. And this is not easy to do for any artist--even T’s band, Please Do Not Fight, had a bit of trouble with this on their recent Move EP.

It’s also difficult to ignore the gloss on this album. The production is clean as a whistle, and T does sound a lot like a Nashville studio-pop singer. Many lo-fi snobs will find this reason alone to stay away from this album. Personally, I’m not picky about my production, and while there is no question about this being a pop album, it’s a pop album in the best sense--a well-crafted collection of honest, unpretentious songs that whoosh by but stick in your head.


When Everything Is Numbers - EP

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Picture Atlantic didn’t fool anybody. Their recent single “I Am Not The King Of Anything” displayed some *gasp* modesty, pairing Nik Bartunek’s schizophrenic vocals with moody guitars and gothic organs and displaying little to none of their characteristic bombast. But even a simple look at the song titles on When Everything Is Numbers (“Joust,” “What Men Live By”) will tell you Bartunek and company are back to their old alt-mythology-rock hijinks. However, this is not to say this EP is devoid of sonic experimentation. The most interesting things happen when the group steps outside its characteristic sound--the highlights of this EP are the almost Robyn-ish synth-rocker “With One Clipped Wing” and the Finish Ticket-goes-Into The Great Wide Open rocker “What Men Live By.” While the rest of the album is archetypal Picture Atlantic, it’s great to hear the group experiment in this way, and let’s hope they keep up the tinkering for future releases.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Girls Broken Dreams Club Review

Broken Dreams Club

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I was never a huge fan of Girls’ debut album, the appropriately titled Album--it had some amazing songs on it, but I wasn’t thrilled with their overall sound, and I certainly didn’t think they were any near as incredible as Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Spin, and just about every other critic and music publication in the world claimed they were. A rather boring live show I witnessed at the Fillmore did little to change this opinion. And I still think they’re a bit overrated, to be honest. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think Broken Dreams Club was an excellent little record, an unpretentious 30-minute look into the heart of a downtrodden rock n’ roll everyman.

With the possible exception of the Chris Isaak-y “Alright,” all the songs on Broken Dreams Club are ballads. These songs are definitely rootsy, but not in the old-bastard-makes-bluegrass-album way. It is simply rock music that looks back to its origins in blues, folk, and country music. Steel guitars and horns bound about the album like jackrabbits, and the gentle hum of a lonely, Benmont Tench-style organ weaves in and out of many of the songs. These songs could have easily been written any time in the past 40 years.

However, upon listening, it’s easy to identify the modernity of these songs. In the pre-punk era, no band could have gotten away with a singer like Chris Owens, whose quirky voice has more in common with that of Elvis Costello than, say, John Mellencamp. Or the cartoonish but powerful and soulful “da-doo-ron-rons” on the epic closer “Carolina.” In other words, these songs are more than mere throwbacks to an older sound--they are simply timeless, universal rock songs recorded in a medium that will never go out of fashion.

Indeed, it is this timelessness that contributes to this band’s appeal. On Album, they cursed and referenced pizza but at the same time applied a bare-bones rock n’ roll aesthetic that has existed perhaps since before rock n’ roll itself. And if Album may not have been the most enjoyable listen for some (myself included), Broken Dreams Club is a thrill to listen to, whether you want to relax, dance, or just hear some good old-fashioned all-American rock.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

5 Random Things: November 17, 2010

1. Picture Atlantic have lost two of their most beloved members, Patrick Chu and Rico Rodriguez. (Chu left to pursue environmental studies, and Rodriguez quit for "personal reasons.") Stepping in to replace the lost members are Ash Maynor (of dark-cabaret collective Ghost & the City), Aaron Hellam (a former member), and James Leste (ex-drummer for the recently defunct Audrye Sessions). The band is also working on yet another album.

2. Fever Charm, one of the best live acts in the Bay Area, are returning to Blake's for a "Black Friday" bonanza on November 26. If you're wondering why you should go... well, (

3. Oakland space-funk collective Man In Space will be performing with Shawn Harris' post-Matches project Maniac at the Great American Music Hall, November 27. Expect much ass-shaking and head-scratching.

4. Young the Giant have just launched a tour with Neon Trees (the guys who did that horrible "oh oh, I want some more" song you hear every other hour in Live 105). They will be traveling through the Midwest and South.

5. Girls' new single "Carolina" has received the coveted Best New Music tag from Pitchfork. We can only wait and see if their upcoming EP receives this honor as well. (UPDATE: It has. 8.7/10 BNM)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bands To Keep An Eye On: November 9, 2010

1. The fantastically named KEVIN AND THE BEARCAT is a loose collective of musicians, mainly students at San Francisco's International High School. They recently released two songs and are believed to be working on an EP.

2. Berkeley post-punk revivalists LOCAL HERO have returned from an extremely brief hiatus.

3. Unbelievably fantastic chill-garage rockers ADOLESCENT FRICTION are once again active, with new drummer Daniel Rechtstaffen taking the place of Asher Groh (who is now working with Kevin and the Bearcat as well as UE).

4. FINISH TICKET will return to San Francisco for some gigs in the winter.

5. PICTURE ATLANTIC will likely release more new material and play more new gigs in the coming weeks leading up to the release of their EP.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Predictions Of Winter

"Indoor Winter"
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After announcing a hiatus a few months ago, Berkeley post-punks Local Hero have returned to the studio and emerged with their best new jam yet. The song is aptly named--imagine a bunch of rudeboys getting together at a Lake Tahoe cabin for hot cocoa and passionate sex and you'll have an idea of this song. Fleet Foxes harmonies, skanking reggae rhythms, steely quiet-storm soundscapes, and skittering drums merge together to create something innocent and lighthearted yet strangely seductive and sensual. The soundscaping, production, and arrangements range from striking to impeccable, especially considering how bizarre the musical mix on this song is. And it's a pleasure to listen to, even if it leaves you with the weird sensation of not knowing whether to relax or shake your booty.

"San Francisco Winter"
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As nonexistent as it may be, winter's still coming. Over minimal drums and haunting guitars, SF chill-garage rockers Seize the Sound bring prophecies of a fairly... uninteresting winter. While the steady riff is chilling enough, the lyrics seem forced and awkward, as if they were frantically looking for inspiration and noticed a calendar in the corner.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Meet Ratherbright

Bittersweet - EP
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Most people associate "bedroom pop" with hazy, avant-garde pop produced by twenty-somethings with nothing but their four-tracks and their instruments. Ratherbright's James Wenzel could be considered a bedroom artist, but he seems less interested in letting his imagination run wild as he is in producing concise, minimal songs. His poor-me lyrics and lengthy song titles ("Getting With Her Means Getting At You," "I Like My Songs Like I Like My Coffee [Dark and Bitter]") may cause some to pigeonhole Ratherbright as yet another one-man emo-electro-pop project. But unlike many artists of his ilk, Wenzel has the chops and the taste for weirdness to stand out from the rest of the pack.

* * *

If "I Am Not The King Of Anything" was fairly chill by PA standards, consider this a return to their old indie-bombast hijinks--war chants and impending-doom guitars merge with harmonicas, barroom pianos, and Bartunek's keening yelp to create what sounds like the entire Civil War rolled up into one song. Bartunek may not be the king of anything, but on "Guerrilla," he sounds ready to change that.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

5 Random Things: Giants Day 2010

1. THE GIANTS WON THE WORLD SERIES. SWEET VICTORY. Long live our little team, long live our little town, long live the Rebirth, God Bless America and the City By The Bay.

2. In sadder news, Piedmont pop-rockers Dizzy Balloon will be playing their final show at the Rickshaw Stop on December 30 with AB & the Sea and another act that has yet to be revealed. Unlike Audrye Sessions' final show, this will be all ages.

3. DFR have decided to fire singer Kennedy Applefield, marking yet another of the seemingly perpetual lineup changes plaguing this band.

4. Ratherbright recently released his Bittersweet EP on Bandcamp. Girls will release their Broken Dreams Club EP on November 22, and Picture Atlantic will release their When Everything Is Numbers EP on December 16.

5. If you can't wait for Picture Atlantic's new EP, their new war-chant-y new single "Guerrilla" can be heard on their Myspace and Facebook pages.