Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fresh & Onlys, Secret Show album reviews

Play It Strange
* * * 1/2

The Fresh & Onlys play a form of garage rock that can best be described as urban. Play It Strange, the band’s fifth album in two years, is as scuzzy and gritty as a Tenderloin alley and as impeccably modern as the Embarcadero. The omnipresent whoosh of the cymbals and rhythm guitars recalls the sound of cars speeding down busy thoroughfares in the distance, and the echoing leads evoke images of spacious squares and towering skyscrapers. The album also seems to be geographically structured like the city of San Francisco, starting from the Pacific. The beginning of the album, like the Richmond and Sunset, is pleasant but not terribly interesting. After the eight-minute “Tropical Island Suite,” we are rocketed into downtown--the soundscapes begin to tower like skyscrapers, roar like freeways, and crunch like gravel under boots. This is an album that celebrates San Francisco as a place, not as a cultural hub--but it’s still quintessentially Rebirth and a nice little introduction to Fogtown’s blossoming garage-rock scene.

This City In Lights
* *

Like Sufjan Stevens, Miles Atkins crafts lengthy, introspective folk-pop songs with outrageously long titles and plays them using a tough yet tender guitar style and a whispered voice. The similarities stop there. While Stevens is one of the great pop geniuses of the 21st century, Atkins, the blogger and singer/songwriter who records under the Secret Show moniker, could be a phenomenally talented musician or have no skill whatsoever--it’s impossible to tell. There’s nothing remarkable about his lyrics, his music, his technical ability, or his voice (with the exception of the surprisingly brilliant “The Historical Significance Of Writing One-Sided Self-Justifying Songs About Girls”). Many facets of the album connect Atkins with emo more than anything else, including his vocals and his voluminous song titles. The appeal of Atkins’ debut EP, This City In Lights, is simply that it’s enjoyable to listen to. Why, I have no idea, and you may personally find This City In Lights unbearable. Perhaps it’s due to Atkins’ self-deprecating charm; perhaps he’s cracked some age-old secret to creating music that’s subliminally likable. Atkins is already preparing a second release--perhaps the mystery will reveal itself with time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Andrew Campbell Single Review


“I Used To Know”

* * * * 1/2

Upon listening to “I Used To Know” for the first time and not knowing anything about Andrew Campbell’s backstory, one might guess the song was written and composed by a man in his twenties or thirties who has been playing and releasing music for at least half a decade. In actuality, Campbell (best known as one-fourth of Handshake) is barely eighteen, attends high school in San Francisco, and recorded this song as part of his senior project. Upon knowing this information, one may look back at the song and see it as, indeed, the work of a student. Music theory is a major part of the song--its structure and chord qualities recall jazz more than pop and suggest Campbell has picked up a wealth of information from his music theory classes. But at the root of everything is a near-perfect pop song. Everything here fits--the moody, jazzy chords, the spooky woodwinds, the subtle banjo arpeggios, Campbell’s slightly raspy croon. It’s the right length, the right BPM, the right sound. The lyrics are intelligent but not esoteric like so much underground rock. In short, anyone could like this song--there’s nothing to hate about it, and more than enough about it to love.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Solo Projects


“Street Lights Glow”

* * * 1/2

Handshake multi-instrumentalist Evan Greenwald describes his Stalker project as “very, very rhythmic folk,” and he’s not joking. “Street Lights Glow,” Stalker’s acoustic debut single, is all about the guitar. There are lyrics, but they are sparse, and it’s that slightly creepy, loping guitar line that sticks in the listener’s head for hours. It is interesting that Greenwald should start his solo career with such an instrument-centric song--in addition to his skills with guitar and composition, Greenwald is a fine lyricist and singer. A performance at SF Rebirth’s very own Guyana Rock II displayed a wealth of material that showcases all of these talents, and I hope to hear much more from Stalker in the near future.


“Feel Sexy”/”Closer”

* * / * * * 1/2

Nicky Martin, the St. Valentinez vocalist who records solo as Romance of Thieves, comes across like the bastard child of Janelle Monae and Alex Chilton. He would have his mom’s love of left-field soul as well as his dad’s gift for sounding outrageously sexy and sensual beyond his years. “Feel Sexy” hints at this, but it’s about as subtle as a bra in the bed and features someone named “Nono” who sounds like a kiddie-show comic relief and is certainly out of place. “Closer,” on the other hand, is raw and sensual quiet-storm R&B, powered by dream-pop organs and a creeping drum machine. The three-pronged vocal attack is delivered by a disembodied robot mantra, a low-flying flock of Nickies, and the decent but again somewhat out-of-place rapper Ea$way. Advice: lay off the rappers, keep piling on the romance.