Monday, May 30, 2011

New music from Rin Tin Tiger, Owl Paws, Jack Gorlin


Rin Tin Tiger

* * * *


The highly anticipated debut EP from Rin Tin Tiger, the new incarnation of the Sullivan Brothers’ Westwood & Willow project featuring Mr. Andrew on drums, consists of six reworked versions of Westwood & Willow tunes, mostly from last year’s excellent Doorways, Vehicles, & Markets album. While some of the songs merely sound like re-arrangements of Westwood songs with drums (“Ghost Door”), others are drastically improved, with the thickened guitar textures and high-energy drumbeats increasing the emotional power of Kevin Sullivan’s vocals. “Red Pony” is particularly impressive, taking one of the band’s lesser-known songs and fleshing out its full power. Also notable is the addition of ghostly backing vocals and subtly dissonant harmonies on “Sweetest Fruit,” adding tension to the song and making you feel as if Kevin’s pulse truly is beating out of rhythm before the song builds up into a furious climax.


“With A Little Help From My Friends”

* * *

Jack Gorlin’s covers rarely deviate much from the originals, but Gorlin knows exactly how much to change the song--a subtle difference in vocal texture or guitar tone makes all the difference. On his cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” Gorlin almost sounds like an R&B singer, trailing off into melisma and replacing the original’s harmonies with a disco falsetto. Imagine if Joe Cocker was an Island/Def Jam artist and you get the picture.


Owl Paws

* * 1/2

This folk-rock quartet has a lot going for it. The songs on Owl Paws have decent lyrics, excellent guitarwork, and some very nice harmonies and arrangements. “Party Johnson,” with its glam guitars and open-hearth harmonies, is particularly excellent. These songs can be listened to by themselves, but they make fine background music as well. However, their main fly in the ointment, which at times threatens to overpower the positive aspects of this album, is the overpronounced and frequently melodramatic vocals, which are pushed uncomfortably against the listener’s ear.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rin Tin Tiger, Adam Balbo, FWFW


“Ghost Door”

* * * 1/2

The first official single from the new incarnation of the Sullivan Brothers’ Westwood and Willow project, is a reworked version of a fairly nondescript song from Westwood and Willow’s Doorways, Vehicles, and Markets album. However, the addition of drums (courtesy of the insanely prolific Mr. Andrew) gives the tune a whole new dimension. Kevin Sullivan seems happier and more engaged than ever, his distinctive sing-chuckle vocals bounding playfully around the harmonicas and acoustic guitars in the background. It’s not a drastic reworking of “Ghost Door,” but it’s an immense improvement. Plus, “Ghost Door” was probably the group’s best choice as a first single--it’s short, catchy, and leaves you standing in its dust before you’re quite sure what just went speeding by.


Refried Nostalgia

* * * 1/2

Most artists who poke good-natured fun at classic rock do it the Jack Black way, propagating the stereotype of the obnoxious, long-haired, devil-horns-flashing dinosaur. Adam Balbo does it by writing classic rock-style songs and deadpanning nonsensical and confrontational anti-folk lyrics over them (“if you can’t deliver me from evil, how ‘bout a pizza?”) as well as the obligatory highway analogy here and there (the aptly titled “Obligatory Highway Analogy”). The gritty production, courtesy of Girl Named T, George Rosenthal, and others, heightens the humor by making it ever-so-subtly more difficult to discern what’s going on. Refried Nostalgia is funny, ironic, and above all, a good time.


Fights Without Fears Within

* * *

Fights Without Fears Within is one of the few reasonably well-known ambient rock bands from the Bay Area. This enigmatic group assimilates influences from nearly all the different forms of “post-rock,” from Sigur Ros-style soundscaping to Mogwai bombast to Pelicanesque post-metal, and combines them into a derivative but interesting form dominated by soft-loud dynamics. While the quieter sections are beautiful, the transitions to the louder sections are often unwieldy, not to mention ill-advised. One shift from this structure is the excellent “Deep Sea,” an intensely beautiful, Kranky Records-inspired composition marked by glistening drones and jazzy drums. This album rates highly on the strengh of that particular song.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

AJ's Debut


This Is What The City Will Sound Like When All The People Are Gone

* * * *


The voluminous title of former Handshake member Andrew Campbell’s debut album couldn’t suit the music found here better. While the music here has a strong sense of isolation and loneliness, there’s also some hustle and bustle in the background, almost like the ghosts of the people who once inhabited Campbell’s one-man city. This balance is only one of many factors that make What The City Will Sound Like remarkable. Another is the sheer intricacy and complexity of these songs, especially considering they are the products of an eighteen-year-old high school senior (albeit one whose voice sounds twice that age) playing every instrument himself. It’s easy to see Campbell has been taking some music theory classes--these are fairly straightforward folk-rock songs on the surface, but jazz chords and subtle time-signature changes abound. While the last two songs do not have the same abundance of brilliant musical ideas as songs like the Four Tet-gone-folk intro “Feather,” this album is nonetheless engaging, both mentally and emotionally.

Monday, May 16, 2011

New material from Andrew Campbell, Fresh & Onlys


“You Can Count On It”

* * * 1/2


After releasing a number of excellent demo singles early this year, former Handshake member Andrew Campbell has released his first official single, a reworked version of “You Can Count On It.” His vocals are higher in the mix, the background is denser, and a glockenspiel comes hopping by towards the end of the song. The single retains the demo’s lazy seaside-cottage vibe, but it’s denser, poppier, and more balladlike. Campbell’s smoky voice, vaguely reminiscent of that of Beach House’s Victoria Legrand, evokes a man who’s probably broken a lot of hearts but now just wants to settle down. However, Campbell’s voice is better-suited to floating around in the background, and as it did on the demo version of this song, rather than pressing against the listener’s ear (as it does on this song/version). Though it doesn’t beat the demo, it retains plenty of the feel and stark romanticism of the original.


Secret Walls EP

* * *

The insanely prolific San Francisco group has released yet another mini-album, this time exploring a style completely different from the scuzzy garage-punk on last year’s Play It Strange. The 18-minute Secret Walls EP showcases slow songs with only slightly distorted guitars and quite a bit more keyboard than usual. While some of the melodies here are quite pretty (the guitarwork on “Do You Believe In Destiny?” is particularly gorgeous), these songs are often a bit too lethargic to command the listener’s full attention. Not to say slow is bad--it just has to be interesting enough to keep your mind moving along with it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

SF Rebirth Mix CD Is Back!

Last year's "SF Rebirth, Volume 1" CD, consisting of a number of tracks by teenage Bay Area bands and distributed exclusively at Guyana Rock 1 a year ago, is available again for free! Digital (e-mail) is the only format available at the moment, but after June 9 CD format will be available. For information on how to obtain copies, check out the SF Rebirth Blog Facebook page.

Just comment on this note with your preferred format (and e-mail address if you would prefer the digital format).


The Audiophiles - "Nerd Chic"

The Big Fat Whales - "Children"

Captain Navy - "Understood"

Cypher Syndicate - "Child's Writing On The Wall"

Fever Charm - "Anything New?"

Finish Ticket - "We'll Be OK"

James Uejio & Tano Brock - "Uebro"

Lou Lou & the Guitarfish - "One In A Crowd"

Madders - "Tripper"

The Piers - "Cadalac Shack"

The Psychotherapists - "PB&J Pizza (Rare Live Recording)"

Sam C. Rocker - "Afloat"

The SHE's - "Your Majesty"

Sunday, May 8, 2011

GenSF Battle of the Bands Coverage

Black + Blue

This extremely young-looking band opened the show with a set of slow, scrappy songs that sounded uncannily like Sic Alps. Only time will tell whether the kids have discovered Bay Area garage rock or not.

The St. Valentinez (winners)

The post-Nick Martin St. Valentinez, with singing drummer William Randolph taking their former vocalist’s place, came on and performed a scorching number driven by seething organ and solos from just about everybody. Rapper Alex “Frak” Fraknoi was present on the mic as well, although all the instruments and voices seemed to blend together into one blur of solid funk.


Another younger group with a fairly deadpan female singer, Upload was too flat to rise up to the semifinals.

Black Bones (semifinalists)

Trio Black Bones lay somewhere between the Buzzcocks and the Edgar Winter Band in terms of style and aesthetic. Driven by extended solos and a teen garage aesthetic, this trio managed to sprawl out for miles in less than five minutes. During their semifinal round, they decided to shift to a more funky sound, a move that did not benefit them much.

Kings of Malevolence

These dudes sounded like Pantera with a Terry Jones drag character on lead vocals. Nothing more to say here.

Comodo Complex

Following Comodo Complex’s set, the show became far more interesting. This quartet played lush psychedelia with a bebop backbeat, creating a bizarre and colorful atmosphere. Despite their ill-advised and offputting tempo shift, their music was able to generate a wave of good vibes that remained until the end of the show.

Souled Out (semifinalists)

This soul trio, led by singer/pianist Manuel Berry’s atmospheric keyboard playing and ridiculously amazing pipes, brought holy light into the room with a passionate soul song that brought applause and awe in equal measure. Their semifinal song, a cover of Israel & New Breed’s “New Season,” was as, if not more, awe-inspiring.

Room 19 (semifinalists)

Room 19’s songs were nearly impeccable, based around classic chord progressions (their first song even had a vintage 5-4-1 progression during parts) but warped and distorted behind a wall of sonic decoration. The solos, reminiscent of Neil Young, bounced across the room like impalas before disappearing back into the haze.

The SHE’s (2nd)

Returning to the GenSF Battle of the Bands after the rather ugly incident with Rikoche at the last one (rumored to have escalated into a full-scale riot, but almost certainly untrue due to it being an awesome rumor that you should spread), the SHE’s (nicknamed "the Cheese" by Frak) ran through their cheery power-pop ditties with skill but a bit less tightness than usual. Their sunny songs nonetheless blazed their way to second place.

Romance of Thieves

Plagued by technical difficulties, this enormous ensemble, led by former St. Valentine and current R&B antihero Nick Martin, nonetheless put on a remarkable and coherent set. Martin moved fluidly back and forth across the stage, interacting with the audience and band members alike with no regard to technological hinderances or incompetent roadies. I spent much of the night wandering around the Metreon area with most of Romance of Thieves, discussing vague plans to storm the stage after the show and form some sort of loose artistic contingent.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Artists to Watch: May 2, 2011

  1. Rin Tin Tiger. The much-hyped collaboration between the Sullivan Brothers and Mr. Andrew will release an EP soon. As fans of both parties, we expect excellent results.
  2. Tumbleweed Wanderers. It’s been a year and a half since the Audiophiles released the near-perfect Fairytales and Other Tales EP, and Zak Mandel-Romann and Jeremy Lyon have no interest in creating a “Nerd Chic, Pt. 2”--instead, they’ve started an equally awesome folk-pop project and have released a number of minimal, harmony-based singles.
  3. Romance of Thieves. If you don’t get a chance to see dark-R&B lothario Nick Martin compete against his old band, the St. Valentinez, at the GenSF Battle of the Bands on May 7, listen to any one of his new singles. He is also believed to be working on some high-profile collaborations with artists such as Flo Rida, Chris Brown, and Mary J. Blige in the near future.
  4. The Secret Show. After flirting with lo-fi emo-pop on debut EP This City In Lights, brooding singer-songwriter Miles Atkins has shifted to an angrier, more confessional style on recent songs. He will release another album soon (more details to come).
  5. Sam C. Rocker. After disappearing for about a year following the dissolution of South Bay garage-rock duo Madders, frontman Sam C. Rocker has begun focusing more on his solo career, releasing his first new single in years. He is also rumored to be playing some shows in the near future.
  6. Handshake. Although Handshake’s tireless devotion to their music has kept them consistently in the spotlight since their formation, their recent championing by radio station SaveAlternative is closer to a “big break” then they’ve had in ages.
  7. Girl Named T. Another artist who’s been in the spotlight for a while, but with promises of a new Rosenthal-produced album and her new “Model in The Media” video, her profile is rising higher than ever.
  8. Watsky. Internet sensation and poet-rapper George Watsky is back with another “fast rapper” video (involving a goat) and a video in which he does the Full Monty in public, Erykah Badu-style. We’re hoping to see more of the dude... literally and figuratively.
  9. H.U.N.X. Yes, it’s Seth Bogart, and this is his new electro project.
  10. The Psychotherapists. Almost certainly reuniting.