Saturday, June 30, 2012

New Sonny & the Sunsets, Tumbleweed Wanderers

Longtime Companion
* *
Longtime Companion is a breakup record, a testament to the end of a 10-year relationship.  Yet despite trying to be a deeply personal record, Longtime Companion feels somehow more distant than the ruminations on youth on last year’s excellent Hit After Hit.  One of the primary reasons for this is the quite unusual stylistic shift from exuberant garage-pop to old-fashioned country.  Another is a substandard performance from Sonny Smith, whose vocals are too weak to deserve being as front-and-center as they are here--especially when singing unusually hokey lyrics like “Now I’m drunk on too much wine/ Oh well, you know it’s too-much-wine-drinking time.”  Though it fails to provide much of an emotional connection as the best breakup albums do, Longtime Companion does occasionally succeed on the base of its arrangements, particularly the soft flutes on “I Was Born” and the sugary steel guitars on “Pretend You Love Me” and “Sea of Darkness.”

“Roll With The Times”
* * * 1/2
This swaggering, Black Keys-ish cut is a rerecorded version of an earlier single from Tumbleweed Wanderers’ self-titled EP from last year as well as the first single from their upcoming debut album.  It’s a classically San Francisco-sounding cut, with a Santana-ish chord progression, Sixties guitars and a guitar solo that wouldn’t sound out of place in the hallowed halls of the Fillmore.  However, with a little help from legendary Bay Area producer/musician John Vanderslice, it’s been expanded and fleshed out.  Massive, gritty saxophones now dominate the landscape, and the song chugs along with more strut and swagger.  Instead of a meandering rumination, it’s now a celebratory exhortation that almost sounds like a call for action.  Everybody, get hip!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Some Sad But Important News

Many of you may have guessed this, and some of you know it already, but it’s time to state it plainly and publicly--as of this September, I will be putting SF Rebirth on indefinite hiatus. 
"Indefinite hiatus" is usually a euphemism for "shutting down," and though I'd like to reassure my audience that SF Rebirth is not gone for good, there is a strong likelihood that that may be the case.  As of September 24, I will be relocating from San Francisco to Eugene, Oregon, where I will be studying at University of Oregon in hopes of furthering my writing career.  Though I will still have access to the latest music by the bands I know and love, I will no longer be able to attend shows in the Bay Area.  Shows by local acts at places like Bottom of the Hill or the DNA Lounge are the main medium through which I discover up-and-coming Bay Area bands, and once this vital link has been severed, it will be next to impossible for me to keep up with the scene.
However, I shall continue publishing articles up to my departure.  I have just finished listening to Slaughterhouse, the new album by the Ty Segall Band, and am eagerly looking forward to listening to Sonny & the Sunsets' Longtime Companion.  I am also working on a number of longer articles, including several Artist Profiles (which I have not done in over a year) and a feature on the new crop of young teen bands in the Bay Area.  In addition, SF Rebirth is currently undertaking one of its biggest projects yet.  I won't reveal any details yet, but I can only say it's the biggest thing SF Rebirth has done since the Guyana Rock concerts at Woodside International School in 2010 and 2011.  The only hint I can give you is that this is my way of sailing away in style, a collective handshake to all my followers as I go marching out.
I apologize to all the artists I never got back to.  I have received dozens of EPs, albums, and singles on my e-mail and have only gotten around to reviewing about a third of them.  I apologize in advance if I don't end up getting back to you.
I feel like I should use this article to thank everyone, but I feel that would be a bit too climactic considering that I have a good three months left before I head off to Oregon.  I'll write another article after everything is said and done where I say goodbye to everyone.  As of now this is just an announcement.

Friday, June 22, 2012

New Inq, A B & the Sea

* * * 1/2
“Z?” sounds like the Strokes spread over a piece of bread, or a teenage Bloc Party if they had smoked weed and watched monster movies, or a brick wall in New York with a mural of a Hindu deity.  It’s a post-punk pop song given room to stretch out, occasionally threatening to fade into oblivion but keeping the listener hooked with catchy riff after catchy riffs.  The song’s chief flaw is that its formlessness is easy to get lost in, and it’s more satisfying as a concentrated listen than as background noise, but it effectively captures the essence of The Inq’s sprawling yet energetic live jams.  A promising introduction to one of the Bay Area’s most promising young bands.
Constant Vacation
* * * 1/2
I should give AB & the Sea credit for being possibly the first “indie rock” band to incorporate David Guetta into their sound.  On their debut album, Constant Vacation, the SF band mix Top 40 synths and dancey beats with the sort of beachy indie-pop that was all over the blogs about two years ago.  The result isn’t far from what one might expect--these are summer anthems all the way, each one seemingly custom designed to soundtrack your next trip to the ocean.  What’s not expected is how well this musical formula works.  This isn’t some sort of novelty Katy Perry-meets-Best Coast record; it’s actually a pretty decent pop record.  But like most pop records, Constant Vacation succeeds on the basis of its individual songs (“Bad Girl,” “In The Sunshine,” and the title track are my faves), and an entire album of this sort of music can be a bit exhausting.  Taken track by track, Constant Vacation is a treat, a neat collection of sunshiney pop tunes just in time for summer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Carletta Sue Kay, Fresh & Onlys, Die!

* * * *
There’s something inherently goofy about Carletta Sue Kay.  Randy Walker, whose band shares a name with his female persona, sings songs about liking her lover’s sloppy kisses more than the Moldy Peaches or competing with a Joy Division record for a man’s heart, often while wearing a dress and a wig but no makeup and all hair intact.  But on Carletta Sue Kay’s debut, Incongruent, the silliness only adds flavor to the genuine passion that drives this record.  Walker’s gender-bending voice packs the power of a genuine soul diva, no matter what vocal personality he takes on--an arena-rock howl on “Joy Division,” a witchy Macy Gray rasp on “Bonnie Parker or Eleanor Roosevelt,” a sing-song trill on “Sloppy Kisses.”  Yet while Walker’s voice is a central part of what makes this record so engaging, the lyrics are also excellent, merging sharp witticisms with theatrical melodrama and raw soul emotion.
“Yes Or No”
* * 1/2
It’s been over a year since the last Fresh & Onlys release, 2011’s Secret Walls EP, which is a remarkably long hiatus for these dudes.  So here’s the first single from the Fresh & Onlys’ upcoming Long Slow Dance (L.S.D.), which nicely distills the Fresh & Onlys’ sound into a clean, attractive single.  The problem is it may be a bit too clean--not in the studio-shine sense but in the middle-of-the-road sense.  The best work by the Fresh & Onlys succeeds through adding a little extra spice to basic garage-rock structure, whether that spice be a mean hook, a nice coating of grime, or a heartfelt vocal delivery by Tim Cohen.  But “Yes or No” is mostly skeleton, and the meat on its bones is bland and sparse.  If L.S.D. is like this for its entire duration, it could be a pleasant, decent Fresh & Onlys record, but not one that sees the band capitalizing on their potential to evolve and expand their sound.
Du Willst Action
Du Willst Action, the debut release by George Rosenthal-produced duo Die!, features a number of covers of ‘70s and ‘80s record-store-clerk classics, including T. Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer” (here reworked as “Cosmic Drinker”) and David Bowie’s “Modern Love.”  Out of context, they sound like harmless novelties, but on this relentlessly and deliberately banal party album, these songs sound almost like cries for Die! to be somehow taken seriously, either in terms of their knowledge of revered classic pop or their merit as musicians.  Given that this is a band whose sole purpose seems to be to make music you can listen to while butt-chugging, it hardly behooves them.  Furthermore, the album’s novelty might be more successful if there was anything on this album a million bands couldn’t do better.  If you’re looking for a good, raw rock n’ roll record, it’s more advisable to check out any of the millions of garage bands the Bay Area has to offer.  And if you’re just looking for party music, you might as well just go with LMFAO--they’re a lot more fun to spend half an hour with than these guys.