Saturday, July 21, 2012

New music by Handshake, Tumbleweed Wanderers

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Handshake’s new lineup, featuring Sam Forester on bass, does to the Marin band on “Narcissus” what the Ty Segall Band did to its titular mastermind’s sound on Slaughterhouse, or what the two-drummer lineup of Thee Oh Sees did to John Dwyer’s sound.  It’s the sound of something coming together.  Never has any Handshake recording sounded this together, with each of the instruments taking on their own distinct personality rather than blending indeterminably, as they did on Handshake’s slightly disappointing Sleeping, Snarling.  Forester’s bass is a monster, the guitars echo like a horn section, and the voices seem to flicker into the song between moments of silence, the aural equivalent of walking along a fence and watching scenery flash behind the fenceposts.  Essentially a hard rock song, “Narcissus” has none of the intimate, in-the-room-with-the-band feel of Handshake’s early singles--this is a song built for playing live, built for venues or even arenas.  If Sleeping, Snarling felt like a refinement of the sound on earlier Handshake singles, “Narcissus” feels like a leap forward.

So Long
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On their self-titled EP from last year, the post-Audiophiles project of Jeremy Lyon and Zak Mandel-Romann offered a nifty take on the sort of music that might have been referred to as “rock n’ soul” in the late Sixties, beefing it up with contemporary alternative rock influences.  A few of those songs crop up here, albeit reworked, and they’re the best moments on the album (The So Long version of “Take It Back,” a solo cut by band member Lyon that has now been reworked twice by Tumbleweed Wanderers, is excellent.)  Yet for the bulk of this album, the band slogs through music that wouldn’t be out of place at a Golden Gate Bridge anniversary concert, all banjos and organ solos and country-and-western harmonies with almost nothing to make it preferable or even choosable over its influences.  Of the tunes new to So Long, the best is “Freedom Town,” an atmospheric cut with a chugging, into-the-horizon groove.

Friday, July 20, 2012

SF Rebirth Farewell Show

SF Rebirth may be ending, but not without a bang.  I am proud to announce the SF Rebirth Farewell Show featuring the St. Valentinez, Handshake, and Fever Charm.  The show will take place on August 23, 2012 at 8:30 at Bottom of the Hill and is all ages.  Tickets are $10.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Fan Remembers Please Do Not Fight: Guest Article By Sam Crocker

A Fan Remembers Please Do Not Fight
By Sam Crocker

One chilly fall day in 2007, I was handed a burned CD by one Zen Zenith. At the time, I was a student at the Riekes Center in Menlo Park, where Zen was a mentor. As I took the CD from him, he told me that it contained songs by his band, Please Do Not Fight.

Upon my return home that evening, I popped the disc into my CD player (back when we still had those), not sure what to expect. I was not a student of Zen’s, and I didn't know him well. All I had was a vague impression that he was a “cool dude” (as my fourteen-year-old self might have put it).

My memories of the music itself on that first listen are less clear. I was not an indie rock fan at the time, and had little taste for music outside the spectrum of my beloved punk rock. Nevertheless, one of the songs grabbed me. A modest, mid-tempo tune, it began with a fingerpicked guitar intro. But it was the voice that intrigued me—unmistakably Zen’s, but delivering the words with such conviction and emotion that I was provoked to listen more closely.

The song was “What Am I Trying To Save?” from Please Do Not Fight’s debut album, Leave It All Behind. Soon after I first heard it, I remember timidly telling Zen that it had become one of my favorite songs. As my familiarity with the band’s songs grew, so did my admiration towards the musicians who played them. I saw them live every chance I got (as school-nights and rides allowed). I memorized Zen’s lyrics by heart. For five years, as I faced the struggles of adolescence and impending adulthood, their music was a constant in my life.

Also constant was the friendship I shared with the members of the band. Though the musicians have changed over the years, I am lucky to have known virtually ever member of Please Do Not Fight, from the first incarnation featuring Beau and Spike, through the days of Kubes and T, and finally Kyle and Chris (or, “the beard era,” as I like to call it). Zen, in particular, has had a great presence in my life. He is one of the warmest human beings I know. Whenever I see him, he gives me one of his bear hugs. (If you’ve experienced one of these, you know they’re not to be missed.) I often bring my parents to Please Do Not Fight shows, and Zen always makes a point to say hello (and even give each of them one of those hugs). Zen has offered me advice and support, both musical and personal. Most of all, Zen has always treated me as an equal. I am truly blessed to know him and to know his songs.

All of this brings me to a warm May afternoon this year, when I read in the 140 characters of a tweet that my favorite band was breaking up.

Strangely, I wasn’t sad, not exactly. In a lifetime, one meets hundreds upon hundreds of people. Friends come and go. My life has been no different. The names of people whom I once saw every day now escape my mind. On the other hand, I have had friends whom I don’t see for months at a time; yet, we pick up right where we left off every time we meet. Please Do Not Fight is one of those friends who will always be a part of me. “What Am I Trying To Save,” “These Are The Sounds of Days That Are Passed,” “BAMF,” “Blink,” “Loaded Gun”—every song is etched in my mind and heart.

On Saturday, July 14th, I will be a face in the crowd at Bottom Of The Hill. I will be a voice among the din of chatter and clinking glasses. When Please Do Not Fight takes the stage, I will be one of many voices singing the words to the songs, one final time. And no matter how time will change it, I will not forget.


Please Do Not Fight plays their final show on Saturday, July 14th at Bottom of the Hill, with Picture Atlantic, Dog Catcher, and Cold Eskimo.

Sam Crocker is a musician and writer. He lives in Redwood City, CA.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ty Segall Band Slaughterhouse Review

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When I was maybe five or six, my dad and one of his motorcycle buddies took me to the Haight.  I don’t remember much from the trip except going into a headshop and exploring Amoeba, but I clearly remember that by the time it was over, I never wanted to grow up.  It’s not that I had any moral or ethical problems with it, but seeing as I’d spent most of my life at the time among building blocks and primary-colored alphabet letters, the Haight was the darkest, scuzziest, nastiest, most rebellious thing I’d ever seen.  Tattoos, heavy metal, drugs, hippies--things I barely understood but knew from somewhere or other to stay away from, at least at my age.  I suppose you could say I felt violated, but at the same time I felt overwhelmed by the knowledge that there were worlds and worlds out there that I could not comprehend.  For the first time in my life, I became truly aware that there were billions of people on this earth living different lives in different places.  And upon listening to the Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse, I feel that same feeling once again but am able to revel in it.  It’s a filthy, primal record, but it also seems to come from somewhere beyond this earth.

Slaughterhouse opens with nearly a minute of howling, screeching guitar noise.  While guitar noise-wankery is not uncommon on these sorts of records, there’s something about the way Ty Segall manipulates his guitar that makes this particular passage sound like a sort of awakening.  It’s the sound of a slumbering rock n’ roll god-warrior being awakened, and the song that ensues, “Death,” is the sound of that creature on a rampage--and it doesn’t stop, at least not for the duration of the record.

This is a chaotic record, but Segall has always had a knack for organizing chaos.  On his solo breakout Melted, he transformed spastic garage-noise freakouts into concise pop songs; on his recent White Fence collaboration Hair, he harnessed the energy and creativity of a jam session and used it to forge catchy tunes.  Likewise, Slaughterhouse usually feels like a jam--yet the songs and the structure on the album are tighter than on most less chaotic records.  It’s as if the less control Segall seems to have over the proceedings, the more easily the music falls together.  Perhaps it’s due to the inclusion of a true backing band--the trio backing up Segall is clearly extremely skilled, providing the same muscle the Carrion Crawler/The Dream lineup of Thee Oh Sees gave to John Dwyer’s songs.

It’s tempting to think of Slaughterhouse as a no-nonsense, Paleolithic rock record, something that’s the product of sweaty humans in crowded garages.  The sounds are certainly that way: this is un-showy, non-ironic, straightforward, heavy garage-rock.  Yet there’s something supernatural about Slaughterhouse.  Where it comes from is difficult to discern: it could be the monotonous melodies on tunes like “Death,” the way the songs take on a mantra-like quality as they chug along, the way they sound like they were recorded in a cave deep in the earth.  

These are also the things that prevent Slaughterhouse from being mere throwback.  Like Hair, Slaughterhouse is a classic rock album made with modern sensibilities.  The cavernous production; the use of noise; the constant almost concept-album momentum--these are all things that remind one they are not listening to Nuggets or the Stooges’ Fun House or any other record before it.  Like all of Segall’s best work, Slaughterhouse presents classic sounds as seen through the artistic lens of a contemporary artist.  But while it’s one thing to use classic sounds to inspire the simple thrill of recognition, Slaughterhouse uses them to not only create a different sort of thrill entirely but to remind you why those sounds are so thrilling in the first place.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

New Rin Tin Tiger, DaVinci

Toxic Pocketbook
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Rin Tin Tiger have their strain of jovial folk rock so nailed-down it’s easy to forget how many stylistic ventures Sean and Kevin Sullivan have attempted throughout their careers--the wine-and-chocolate emo folk of Westwood & Willow, the jokey stoner rap of SullyZ, their surprisingly brilliant 2009 Christmas album.  Though the first Rin Tin Tiger EP was a blast, Toxic Pocketbook, their second release under the moniker, is much more varied and even experimental.  “The Move Apart Parcel” and “Birdsthroat” are your platonic Rin Tin Tiger songs, all harmonicas and quirky metaphors.  But songs like “Pretty Looks” and “Weapon” possess a bitter dissonance that’s more in line with early Handshake than anything I’ve heard from the Sullivan Brothers before.  Furthermore, “Oregon Yard” and “Funeral” are essentially Westwood & Willow songs, using stripped-down folk textures to convey longing and melancholy.  Yet there’s no dichotomy on Toxic Pocketbook--everything the band tackles on the album they do well.  And Kevin Sullivan’s voice, always hopeful-sounding even during the album’s most morose moments, never lets you forget that you’re listening to a band that uses sandwich-themed pickup lines and occasionally announces live that they’re Slipknot.  If Toxic Pocketbook isn’t as fun as Rin Tin Tiger, it’s an equally strong album and a much stronger case for Rin Tin Tiger’s potential to create something truly brilliant.
“Long Way From Home”
* * * 1/2
DaVinci isn’t brilliant at rhyming or wordplay, but he’s a great storyteller, using vivid imagery and a sentimental streak to recount everyday tales of life in the ghetto.  “Long Way From Home,” his new single, is another great tale of the streets to add to his repertoire.  It’s almost a sort of teenage tragedy, with the bulk of the song concerning DaVinci and his girl embarking on an epic car chase that ends in their arrest.  The imagery is vivid and the story flows effortlessly, but it is hindered by Josh the Goon’s production, which sounds more like the standard creepy-piano horrorcore beat than the thick, claustrophobic production that made tracks like “D.R.E.A.M.” so raw and effective.