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BEST IN THE WEST
Handshake are one of the only groups capable of winning Bay Area battles of the bands without making douchebag “WHOOO SAN FRANCISCO YEAAHHHH” shout-outs every five minutes, and “Lemon,” the group’s first single sans multi-instrumentalist AJ Campbell, demonstrates why. As slow, sparse, and plodding as it is, its four and a half minutes seem much shorter thanks to its plethora of meandering ideas and unexpected hooks. The song’s microtonal guitar duets and encroaching fuzz clouds recall a less electronic, much less deranged Xiu Xiu, and as is common in that band’s work, these elements are used for emotional effect. The last wave of distorted guitar is particularly emotional, coming on like a wave of muddled thoughts sent to block out a bad memory (or vice versa--a wave of bad memories that block out muddled thoughts). Why does this win battles of the bands? Because while this is deep, emotional music, it’s also satisfying for the listener--not in a cathartic way so much as on the basis of Handshake being an awesome band and this an awesome song. (Oh yeah, and the vocals can cure sterility.)
The Mess - EP
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“I’m at the top of my game,” sings teenage singer-songwriter Morgan Alexandra at the beginning of “In the Streets,” the third song on her five-song debut EP, The Mess. This is a bold statement on a debut, and she certainly seems to show more potential than mind-blowing skill on these songs. Alexandra’s hoarse, age-indeterminate vocals leap joyfully and freely above her rhythmic-folk guitar patterns, and whenever the music begins to seem monotonous (as it often does), she finds a way to grab the listener’s attention again. Even if this isn’t the top of Alexandra’s game, she certainly knows the rules of this game and is skilled at playing it.
Bands like Foolish Ways have to release albums sooner or later--a band can’t make an entire career off performing live with nothing on record or MP3. It’s a shame, because the Martinez club-pop duo is one of those groups whose music really doesn’t transfer very well to record. Without the context of one of the sweaty East Bay clubs they call home, the music is not terribly danceable nor terribly enjoyable. The shrill, processed vocals become extremely grating extremely quickly, and some of the best ideas (the Benassi-on-crack intro “Hey, We’re Foolish Ways”) are over before they can be seen to completion. Of course, “Bow Chicka Wow Wow (You’re Dirty)” is still a free-for-all blast of drunken ecstasy.