Thursday, September 29, 2011

Best Bay Area Albums Of All Time: #1 & #1


No band epitomizes the Bay Area spirit like Sly & the Family Stone. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the co-ed, multi-racial band could have been the single greatest American band, offering some of the best live shows in the history of music and two of the best albums. However, these two albums could not have been more different. 1969's Stand! was a vibrant, political, psychedelic, and insanely funky record that captured the head-in-the-clouds vibe of the 1960s in San Francisco while keeping its feet firmly in the real world. There's A Riot Goin' On eschewed the bright, psychedelic, and distinctly Bay Area sound they had become known for in favor of a dark, lo-fi, and relentlessly chilling funk sound which had never been replicated but can be heard nowadays in the music of everyone from Bibio to George Clinton.

Ray Wilcox, DJ/musician/promoter, says: “Stand! is essentially a young Bay Area band taking full advantage of the groundbreaking open-minded experimentation and freedom of expression that the late 60's had to offer. Most of the tracks were all over the radio, but read between the lines for some subversive and challenging pop music curveballs that challenge anything you've ever heard on a record. This record oozes energy and heartfelt soul, lyrically both uplifting with almost idealized optimism, ironically countered with paranoid, slap-in-the-face social commentary. The beats are SLAMMING, some of the most sampled in hip hop, and the songs are all sublime.”

Daniel Bromfield of SF Rebirth says: “There’s A Riot Goin’ On had an effect on me no other album has ever had, and I believe it is an effect it has had on many listeners. When I first heard it, I would have liked to have thought it was extremely boring. The instruments were off and barely audible; Sly sounded as if he was slumbering in the depths of indica and waking up only from time to time; and I felt no real forward motion in the music. Yet at the same time it had a certain stranglehold on me, as if I could not draw my attention away from the mood it was creating. I felt as if I was staring down an enemy who was standing so still and motionless I thought it must be a ploy to lunge when I least expect it. But there are no sudden surprises on There’s A Riot Goin’ On--just that mood, an aura of fear and paranoia, but with a light prevalent throughout and perpetually battling the terror with the pure power of love. No album has ever come even close to balancing light and dark as effectively as this one."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Best Bay Area Albums Of All Time: #2

The legendary live band’s finest moment in the studio, 1970’s American Beauty found the band diving deeper into the rootsy textures they had explored on Workingman’s Dead, released less than six months prior. Though its sound may stray away from the Bay Area, the San Francisco spirit is still there in abundance.

Ed Maxwell, admin of the Local Bay Area Music Facebook page, says: "It has often been stated that the Grateful Dead were only at their best when playing live shows. While there is some truth in that statement, this does not mean they did not release any excellent studio albums. American Beauty finds the band at its creative peak in the studio. American Beauty stands as one of the greatest country rock/folk rock records of all time, with gems such as ‘Truckin’, ‘Friend of the Devil’, ‘Sugar Magnolia’ and ‘Ripple’ still receiving airplay on classic rock stations."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Best Bay Area Albums Of All Time: #3

After the release of the massively influential and successful Surrealistic Pillow, the members of Jefferson Airplane complained the record did not represent their “true sound.” While their live shows were marked by far more experimentation, both with music and drugs, Surrealistic Pillow manages to distill the band’s vivid psych-rock style (and the entire Sixties counterculture) into the three-to-four-minute pop songs that sent this album rocketing into the Top 10. However, it’s more than just a historical artifact--these are some of the prettiest, trippiest, and most rockin’ songs ever recorded.

Best Bay Area Albums Of All Time: #4

The only thing that embodies the spirit of San Francisco in the late ‘60s more than the album cover to Big Brother and the Holding Company’s 1968 classic, Cheap Thrills, is the music itself. Driven by some of the hottest musicians in the Bay Area (not to mention the legendary Janis Joplin), these mock-live recordings are reportedly the closest equivalent to actually being in Sixties San Francisco found on vinyl.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Best Bay Area Albums Of All Time: #5

Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables stands as one of the essential punk albums, Bay Area or otherwise. The album cover, depicting the riots following the Milk/Moscone assassinations in San Francisco, sums up the album’s content perfectly--this is an album that viciously attacks nearly every political issue in late-Seventies/early-Eighties California with fury, musical brutality, and, above all, a sharp sense of humor.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Local Hero EP


The Aldgate EP

* * * * 1/2


After numerous amazing tentative titles (including Gangbang Amadeus Mozart and Throw Some Swag On That Swag), East Bay trio Local Hero finally decided to name their debut EP after a British pub in Tokyo and slap a vintage-looking image of a bunch of boats on the cover. If your first thought was Picture Atlantic, British Sea Power or other similarly maritime-enamored post-punk revivalists, we’re in the same boat here (pun semi-intended). The ship and title are nonetheless appropriate to the music here. Local Hero carry with them a certain globetrotting chic that is as highbrow as that of Vampire Weekend but considerably more whimsical and extroverted, as if the boys in the band actually spent some time traveling across the world rather than having it channeled to them through history classes and King Sunny Ade records. They sing about Barcelona daydreams, the great Northwest, and the Champs-Elysees, and there is something too big and bold about their sound to suggest that their worldly musings are the product of any sort of ennui or fantasy.

Yet this is hardly “world music.” The band’s influences come directly from the Anglophone indieverse—there are elements of Fleet Foxes’ reverb-drenched harmony folk, Destroyer’s obtuse, psychedelic lyrics, Girls’ repurposing of classic pop motifs, and the Afro-pop glory of Local Natives and Vampire Weekend. Yet all these different styles meet in the middle, firmly in pop territory with no pretentious avant-gardism or Pitchfork aspirations. In fact, it’s a ridiculously upbeat record. Mackay’s raspy, slurred voice sounds intoxicated from life rather than weed or alcohol, and his idiosyncratic, evocative lyrics glisten atop the major-key background like a sauce drizzled artfully on some fancy dish at a Parisian restaurant. Everything boils down to a summertime pop mélange that is sometimes sexy, often quirky, and always fun. It is a shame that The Aldgate was released at the very tail end of summer, as this would be the perfect album for a summer in the Bay Area—or anywhere else for that matter.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Kids Are Happy, Even Though School Started Again



* * * 1/2

Nick Martin could pass as a superhero. If you met Martin on the street, you might never guess he was one of the Bay Area’s most brilliant young R&B artists--yet as soon as he steps into the shoes of his Romance alter ego, he transforms into a smooth yet tough and high-energy character with a prominent dark streak. There’s not much darkness to “Superhuman,” the latest single by Martin’s megaband Romance of Thieves, but there’s smoothness, toughness, and a whole lot of energy. Over a beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Janelle Monae song, rapper De’Andre delivers a killer verse that references Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” while Martin, like a DJ scrolling through his iTunes library, references nearly every song Katy Perry has ever sung. While the production is bogged down by a rather irritating horn loop courtesy of Martin’s old St. Valentinez bandmate Will Randolph V, the song, as a whole, is an R&B blast that’s heavy on the rhythm and light on the blues.


“This Could Be Anything”

* * * 1/2

I mean, come on! These guys have a picture of two guys in knitted caps camping in their living room for their album cover! “This Could Be Anything,” the latest single from The Yellow Dress, is so twee it doesn’t hurt, even though it tickles a bit. There’s handclaps, a major key signature, glockenspiel, subtly out-of-key horns, a girl-group chord progression, and boy-girl duetting. All of it is held together by the bustling production of George Rosenthal, which complements the music considerably better than the lo-fi production of the group’s earlier releases. To top it all off, it basically sounds like Ghost and the City on Prozac. Honestly, what more could you want out of upbeat indie pop?


“What I Want”

* * *

Though they’re not as well-known as some other teenage Bay Area rockers, Tano Brock and Jack Gorlin have both produced some quality bedroom pop in the last few years. Brock produced a string of brilliant lo-fi singles last year (most of which are no longer public), and Gorlin’s classic rock covers are worth giving a listen. Put the two together in the same room, and you get... a free-bitch disco anthem? It’s surprising, but it works. On the second official single by their collaboration under the moniker Space Among Many, the duo’s chemistry is obvious. Brock’s piano-driven production is consistently interesting and danceable, with Gorlin’s filtered vocals driving the song along rather than merely floating on top. In addition, the vocal harmonies between the two are seamless. Brock has stated that the goal of Space Among Many is to experiment with as many genres as possible while maintaining a distinctive sound. While “What I Want” is far more effective than their previous single, the dark synth-pop “Not Alone,” it will be interesting to see what these two cook up.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Best Bay Area Albums Of All Time: #6

In 1971, there were a lot of bands making sweaty, hard-edged, bluesified boogie-rock--including the Rolling Stones. However, Mick Jagger himself could not deny Teenage Head, the Flamin’ Groovies’ greatest album, and in fact praised it as being better than Sticky Fingers. Stones-worthy or not,Teenage Head stands as one of the high points of both early-Seventies proto-punkaboogie and of Bay Area rock as a whole.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Best Bay Area Albums Of All Time: #7

Creedence Clearwater Revival are probably the only band on this list whose work has absolutely nothing to do with any Bay Area musical tradition. Looking to the swamps of Louisiana for inspiration, CCR brought the Southern swamp rock style to the coast, where they cut Cosmo’s Factory. Released in 1970, Cosmo’s Factory mixed masterfully executed extended jams with concise, two-minute pop songs to create what can only be described as an American epic.