Sunday, May 27, 2012

Deli Radio Battle Of The Bands @ Ex'pression College 5/12/12

Deli Radio’s Battle of the Bands at Ex’pression College in Emeryville was different from the GenSF battle in that the level of competition was minimal.  This was a chance for people to see new young bands, and the promoters treated it as such, giving each band a solid fifteen minutes and five out of eight bands the chances to be victors.
(Apologies for the lack of pictures.  My old camera, sadly, has passed on.)
The Firewall came on first.  The Martinez collective was by far the most ambitious band at the event, but their technical proficiency did not quite meet their ambitions--the beginnings of the songs were sometimes awkward, and the band did not always sound together.  Yet had these songs been better-executed, they could have been magnificent--the steely synth interludes between the songs were gorgeous, suggesting a potential for sonic exploration that could perhaps be better realized in the studio or with a tighter band.
The second band was the manic Fremont trio Reid Saw A Ghost, who played two songs of wild, rockabilly-inspired pop-punk balanced by their modestly gorgeous ballad “Girl From Across The Sea.”  Singer-bassist Alex Lefkort played the straight man to guitarist Cole Berggren’s spastic, stage-hopping goofiness as beanied drummer and band namesake Reid Riegelsberger kept the whole thing grooving along.  Though there were bands with better songs and more technical proficiency than Reid Saw A Ghost, no band was as fun to watch perform, and few others even came close to matching their energy.
Alameda band Eager Eyes performed a set of modest, friendly tunes that found a happy medium between early ‘00s garage-rock and ‘80s post-punk while lacking either of those movements’ characteristic grittiness.  Eager Eyes had some good tunes, but their most notable attribute was Chris Maier’s immediately likable voice.
The Inq, victors of the GenSF Battle of the Bands, played the longest of any of the bands, and though I was not sure whether or not there was a time limit, I caught event staff looking expectantly at the band as they neared the end of their set.  The band’s tunes were perhaps a bit too freeform and sprawling for a Battle of the Bands dominated by tight, concise bands like Eager Eyes and Minute 2 Midnight, but the four band members worked together well enough to hold their jams together.  
Someone earlier had described all-girl act Vons De Qua as sounding like “music for an iPod commercial.”  While my experience with iPod commercials has been limited, I can’t quite imagine Vons De Qua soundtracking one.  The members of this band were all in seventh grade and were thus not as “good” as some of the older bands, but some of the group’s various singers and instrumentalists were surprisingly skilled.
In The Mourning played the sort of garage-power-pop-punk at least one out of three teen Bay Area bands play, but the Danville crew distinguished themselves by sporting a fantastic singer in Michael Warren.  Warren’s flexible, slightly rubbery voice gave the songs a dramatic flair that brought with it extra emotion.  Yet even without Warren, In The Mourning’s songs would still stand tall--poppy, catchy, unpretentious ditties, not terribly original but a whole lot of fun.
Aftershock were even younger than Vons de Qua and far more technically proficient, blazing through simple hard-rock songs with precision and power.  Surprisingly for a band this young, Aftershock had a strong focus on stage presence, moving about freely and truly seeming at one with their instruments.  The most remarkable moment of their set was Chris Hernandez’s guitar solo, possibly the best solo played the entire night. 
Minute 2 Midnight surfaced at the end as the cocky, confident favorites, a band that was in it to win and gave all they could to do so.  Led by the blond-haired, white-smiled Tyler Stimpson, this band played lean pop-punk with surprisingly heavy guitars and instantly catchy sing-a-long choruses.  (“Tell Me” is a Wrath Of Khan-level earworm.)  This was the only one of these bands I could instantly imagine on the radio alongside Maroon 5 and Rihanna, and that seemed to be their goal as well.  It worked in the end, with Minute 2 Midnight winning the grand prize of the night.  Yet there was some grumbling among the audience about the band’s pitch-perfect image and clearly competitive intentions, especially after Stimpson did a full backflip onstage about halfway through the band’s set.

Minute 2 Midnight won a recording session at Opus Studios in Berkeley with a “platinum award-winning” producer who had apparently worked with Adele.  Second place went to Vons De Qua, who received eight hours of recording by students at Ex’pression.  Third place went to Reid Saw A Ghost, who won a music video shoot by Ex’pression students.  In the Mourning and Aftershock came in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

New Ty Segall/White Fence, Sarchasm, Minute 2 Midnight

* * * * 1/2
After a detour into singer-songwriter territory on last year’s Goodbye Bread, San Francisco garage-scene poster boy Ty Segall has teamed up with White Fence’s Tim Presley to create what is possibly the best album of the recent Bay Area garage-rock boom so far.  Many albums similar to Hair use time-honored classic motifs more as a badge of sophistication than anything else, but on Hair, Segall and Presley come across less as arch record geeks than two kids kicking out good-humored jams with elements from the music they know and love.  Imitation Harrison guitars uncurl on “Time”; surf splutter gives “Crybaby” a nice tan; Dead-worthy solos occupy every inch of space the duo leave bare; and they’re more than happy to smear thick, steaming layers of guitar shit all over everything to remind you you’re not in the Sixties.  Hair is essentially idol worship, an amalgam of influences from all the bands the duo probably grew up listening to on classic rock radio as well as their peers on the scene.  Yet while many similar artists treat these influences as historical relics to be preserved, Segall and Presley pull them out of the earth and use them at will in one epic, time-collapsing jam session.
We Interrupt This Broadcast
* * * 1/2
“What can I do to write a song,” ponders Mari Campos on “Song 101,” possibly the best song I’ve ever heard about writer’s block (most of which were written while the artists have writer’s block).  It’s ironic that this should be the among the better songs on We Interrupt This Broadcast, the debut by her band Sarchasm; though the album starts out brilliantly and likewise ends on a very high note, there’s a fairly long middle section of less inspired tunes that may tire out the listener before they reach the end, even despite intermittent moments of greatness.  But at their best, Sarchasm is a smart, savvy, scrappy punk band with solid hooks and a great singer in Campos, whose voice can best be described as casual more than bored or apathetic.  Her voice, combined with the songs’ smart lyrics and ska-punk lurch, is the album’s central anchor, but even with a lesser singer many of these songs would still stand tall: the slower number “Crimson Tears,” the tender closer “Graduation Day,” and the aforementioned “Song 101” are standouts.

Back To Reality EP
* * *
I saw Tyler Stimpson perform with a band called Place Your Bets in late 2009, at a battle of the bands at Slim’s that essentially introduced me to the Bay Area music scene.  He was young but proficient, and I could tell he knew his way around a pop song.  A quarter of a decade later, Stimpson is frontman of a band called Minute 2 Midnight, writing tunes that aim for the airwaves and, for the most part, would not be out of place there at all.  The big star of Minute 2 Midnight’s debut EP Back To Reality is the fantastic “Tell Me,” whose urgent, ridiculously catchy chorus and surprisingly heavy guitars make it one of the best power-pop singles of the year so far by any Bay Area group.  The other tunes on Back To Reality are fairly standard pop songs, not insufferable by any means but lacking the catchiness of “Tell Me.”  But if they kept writing songs like that first firebomb, this band could expand well beyond the Bay Area music scene, let alone their native San Ramon.