Saturday, September 21, 2013

New Whether The Empty Storm, Colter Harris, Keenan King

"Red Light"/"Simon"
* * * 1/2 / * * * * 1/2

When I first saw the band then known as The Fixture and now known as Whether The Empty Storm perform, they ended their set with a cover of Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" that was sincere but a bit much for the small, then-high school-aged ensemble to take on.  One rock opera (fight, the youth., penned by band members Evan Linsey and Brendan Hornbostel) and a few new band members later, Whether The Empty Storm is a formidable rock band capable of making Arcade Fire sound small.  Their latest, two-sided single unmistakably demonstrate this.  "Red Light" is a sweeping rock song that covers vast amounts of instrumental terrain and features some jaw-dropping moments (the synth-and-vocals section before the song's climax is perfect) despite being ill-suited for singer Sirkka Miller's strident voice--her vocals are the most well-defined thing in the song, and when she takes the mic, everything else seems to fade into the background. 

"Simon" is another story altogether.  It starts out innocently enough, with Miller singing about a lost love over pizzicato strings that blur the line between Top 40 and baroque pop, before giving way to one of the most poignant, massive, and artfully constructed choruses I've heard in any song this year.  The male-female vocal interplay and wall of crushing guitars bring to mind My Bloody Valentine, but rather than suggesting the ghost of a pop tune, the disparate elements combine into a bigger, catchier, and infinitely more beautiful hook than anything on the Top 20 at the time of this writing.  Whether The Empty Storm is clearly a band with lofty ambitions, and these two remarkable songs make it clear that their focus and devotion pays off.

Unblue EP
* * * *

The debut EP from Santa Cruz singer-songwriter Colter Harris is a scrappy affair, allegedly recorded in a laundry room, but it's also an intensely focused work.  Its five short songs move in a defined arc, beginning with two scrappy bursts of pure pop in the title track and "Jimmy Dean Of The Nile" before entering a lull with the next two more mellow songs and ending with the John Darnielle-esque rager "Cool."  While the mellower songs are less remarkable (despite the haunting sample that forms the backbone of "Telephones), the tunes that bookend it are elating, clever and incredibly catchy.  The title track is particularly outstanding, using twee elements like recorders and melodicas and managing to simultaneously be unapologetically adorable and piss-in-the-elevator gritty.  While Harris's early singles made it hard to tell if he was just fucking around or not, Unblue makes it clear that he isn't--but he doesn't give too many fucks either.

"Don't Ask Me"
* * * 1/2

Keenan King recently split ways from Sun Clay, which is not surprising upon listening to his debut solo single "Don't Ask Me"; while Sun Clay leader Matthew Horton trades in Deerhunter-styled indie rock, "Don't Ask Me" is the sort of hormonal pop-punk anthem most people who listen to Deerhunter-styled indie rock wouldn't be caught dead listening to.  That's not to say it's bad--in fact, it's incredibly effective.  The interplay between the different dynamics in the song is the key to its appeal, switching between an uneasy chord progression on the verse and a pop-savvy but intensely heavy riff on the chorus.  The production (courtesy of Sarchasm's Mari Campos) emphasizes the inherent aggression of this sort of power-leaning pop--there's not a weak-sounding instrument in the mix, and everything feels huge and aggressive.  But perhaps the most remarkable thing about "Don't Ask Me" is how promising it sounds coming from an artist who recently split from an extremely promising band--it's proof in one song that King is capable of running an equally, if not more, successful career than the group he left behind.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Reid Saw A Ghost: The SF Rebirth Interview by Daniel Bromfield & Robert Sesma

After transport complications made it impossible to interview Reid Saw A Ghost at “Colechella” (a show they recently played hosted by guitarist Cole Berggren), I had a chance to catch up with the band at a recent gig at San Francisco’s SubMission.  With assistance from former band member Robert Sesma, I was able to gather the band’s opinions on various subjects such as martial arts, pot, Zombieland, and their recent Still Haunted EP.

Daniel Bromfield: Why don’t you guys play “Jeffery?” [sic]
Tuesday (a friend of the band): We don’t smoke as much as we used to.
Reid Riegelsberger: No, I smoke more. 
Cole Berggren: As a band we smoke more than we used to, even though Alex and I don’t.
Alex: We played “Jeffery” at Cole’s house.
Cole: No we didn’t.
Alex: The real answer is we’re rewriting it, so we’re not playing it until we rewrite it.
Cole: Well we already kind of did rewrite it.
Reid: It was on the setlist at our house, but we didn’t have time to play it.

Daniel Bromfield: Does this mean there will be more continuations of the Mad Scary saga?
Everyone: *negative noises*
Cole: It’s gonna slowly die.
Alex: The continuation of Mad Scary is just all the stuff we wrote in between Mad Scary and now, which is a new area.
Random guy: What are you kids doing?
Alex: Interviewing. 
Reid: I definitely feel like we play Mad Scary a lot different than we used to.  We definitely evolved as a band once Robert left.
*Robert laughs*
Alex: No, not like that! We just kind of changed.
Robert: Things got better.
Cole: Immediately.
Alex: That made me sound like an asshole.

Robert: So are there any concepts somewhere down the road?
Alex: We’re trying real life stuff versus fantasy.

Robert: At what point do you think you evolved as a band?  Or is it a current progression?
Cole: I think we’re always gonna... are we always gonna not like our music because we’re just gonna be getting better?
Reid: I like our music.
Cole: So Reid’s the only one?
Reid: I don’t like some of our music.
Cole: I like all of our music, everything we’ve written ever, because I was a part of it and it’s interesting to me.  But I always want to get better at it.  I’m always like aaargh I wish we had more songs.
Reid: Well, I always respect that the songs that we’ve written are, like, good songs, and I’m proud of it, but at the same time since we have better stuff and we’re writing more and more of it, I’d rather play that than the old stuff that I’m attached to.

Daniel: What’s you guys’s least favorite Reid Saw A Ghost song?
Robert: Anything Cole’s ever written.
Reid: Do you mean currently or, like, ever?

Daniel: Ever.
Reid: “Cole’s Mom.”
*everyone erupts into noises of recognition*
Cole: Oh yeah, I remember “Cole’s Mom.”
Alex: It was about his mom.
Alex: My least favorite song is the original “Zombies,” which is the social network song which is the first song off of the first Mad Scary [“Wake Up Dead (Try Not To)”].  It used to be...
Cole (singing): Take a shotgun...
Alex (singing): Bill Murray, take a chainsaw, Tallahassee...
Cole: It was much more very directly Zombieland.

Daniel: I know you guys have a few songs about movies.
Alex: Well that was the first song we wrote together as a band.
Robert: Hey hey I had nothing to do with the lyrics.  That was your fiasco.
Cole: You were an enabler.
Alex: That’s Zombieland, we have a song called “500 Days Of Summer...” 
Robert: That’s about Recess: The Movie, to be fair.
Alex: “Jeffery” is a reference to a movie [Get Him To The Greek].

Daniel: You make Star Wars references in “TV Song,” too.
Cole: Do you want the writing process for “TV Song?” Because that was, like, our stupidest accomplishment.  It was like, “Hey, OK, so let’s make a story song, right, because it’s what we used to do all the time.”  So we were like “OK, let’s make a guy who sits in this girl’s room and has a TV for a head and she thinks he’s just a TV and he’s never gonna have a chance with her because he has a TV for a head.
Alex: He has a full body sitting on the dresser.
Reid: Yeah, and she brings guys over and fucks them.
Cole: And he’s just sitting there, like, sad TV... I think he actually is a TV to some extent right?
Alex: And then he’s like “fuck this” and runs away to the beach and gets electrocuted.  Right?
Cole: He talks about how he can’t drive a car because he has, like, robotic claws.
Cole: And it kind of goes on like that.  And the best part--I remember specifically--there was one lyric we wrote... [addressing Alex] it was me and you, and we were sitting at your house and we were like, “what rhymes with dresser?”
Alex: Dresser.
Cole: And we were, like, “dresser!”
Reid: What’s that lyric?
Alex (singing): “That night he jumped off her dresser/stole her keys right off the same dresser!”

Robert: What visual artists are you inspired by?
Reid: As a drummer or as a person?
Cole: What I picture Reid’s semen looks like when he masturbates.
Reid: As a person, Claude Monet.  As a drummer, more like Jackson Pollock. 
Alex: I really enjoy pictures of pale women with red hair and tattoos.
*other people become aware there is a mural of a pale woman with red hair and tattoos on the wall behind Cole and Alex*
Reid: She’s holding the gun weird.  Like, if she pulls that trigger it’s flying into her face. She has the thumb on the side so there’s no leverage, and she’s holding it by her face, like, loosely.

Daniel: What about the cover of “Blister In The Sun” that appears on Still Haunted?

Reid: It was a shitty idea.  I fought so hard against it.
Robert: I would leave the band because of that.
Cole: Wow.
Alex: OK, you’re out.  You’re out of the band.
Cole: I think that we need to have better communication as a band, because I feel like I was not aware that Reid hated this idea.
Reid: I’ve been saying for years that nobody listens to me.  This is living proof.
Cole: See, I don’t think it’s proof that nobody listens to Reid.  I think I was trying to listen and I wasn’t communicating well enough and I am going to try and listen more and Reid is going to try and communicate more and we’re gonna rub penises just as hard.  After every show.
Reid: When are we gonna start open mouth kissing, guys?
Cole: Who used to do that?
Reid: The Strokes.  The Strokes used to open mouth kiss each other.

Daniel: Are you expecting people to smoke tobacco or pot with the lighters?
Reid: Probably pot.
Cole: Light candles.
Reid: OK, candles. 
Alex: If you look at our merch we have like fucking eight or nine different colors of shirts and it’s because this time we tried out the different merch to see what worked and the lighters worked.  So that was just one of the decisions we made... that works!
Cole: Really well.  It worked really well.
Alex: And the thing about lighters is you use lighters often so a lot of people see it and it’s recognizable and you always lose your lighter and end up with someone else’s lighter so it travels around.

Robert: What’s your favorite strain of weed?
Reid: Favorite strain of weed...
Cole: Green Fairy Double Black Edge Triple...
Reid: I don’t think that’s a thing.  Probably Blue Dream.
Daniel: Dude that’s mine.
Reid: Blue Dream, man.
*we hug*
Security dude: Let’s see you guys’s hands real quick, thank you.  Both sides.
Robert: What’s the other side for?
Security dude: Spray paint.
*Security dude leaves*
Cole: That was so scary.

Robert: What is your greatest accomplishment as a band?
Reid: You quitting.  Uh, Colestock.  
Cole: Colestock.
Reid: Um, Colechella.
Cole: I’d say the show at my house was the greatest accomplishment because we did that alone.  We didn’t have all of our, like, best friends.  And we murdered it, and we got people to come and care about it.
Reid: And it worked out because there were a lot of people I didn’t know there.
Cole: There were people I didn’t know wearing our band shirts.  That was crazy.
Alex: I feel bad ditching our friends, so... anything else?

Robert: If you could be described as a style of martial art, what would it be?
Cole: Fuck Robert-jitsu.
Alex: Reid Saw A Ghost is probably this one. *makes indeterminate pose* Like you get hit in the chest but you can still do some damage.
Cole: Some sort of yoga.  Water yoga.
Alex: Woga.
Cole: Sure.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

East Bay Bands: Reid Saw A Ghost, Wizzz, Sarchasm

Still Haunted: Mad Scary Revisited
* * * *

One of last year’s more surprising Bay Area releases was Mad Scary, a 7-song EP from Fremont trio Reid Saw A Ghost that showcased their bizarre yet bracingly tight take on power pop and brought them the attention of promoters west of the Bay Bridge.  The three rerecorded versions of songs from that album that appear on their promotional EP Still Haunted: Mad Scary Revisited are stripped of much of the instrumental insanity of their earlier incarnations, casting the tunes as the solid pop songs they are.  “Fifties Girl” and “Esther Moser” are less raucous, with only the latter suffering as a result; closing ballad “Girl From Across The Sea” is vastly improved, featuring swirling shoegaze effects that make it sound less like a hormonal teen-love ballad and more like a lost Deerhunter cut.  The rest of the album brings the band’s affinity for the sound and dorky aesthetic of ‘80s college-rock (driven home with a competent cover of “Blister In The Sun”) to the forefront.  “TV Song” finds singer Alex Lefkort dropping Star Wars references over lovesick dream-pop guitars; “500 Days Of Summer” is bleak, ennui-laced pop punk.  Best of all is “Barbaroux,” an almost girl-groupy love song with a great guitar solo and a surprisingly touching sing-along coda.

Full Of Mistakes
* * * 1/2

Wizzz is the kind of band that’s frustrating to listen to if only because it’s impossible to take them seriously.  But the obvious instrumental fuckery of this Oakland quartet (plus Sun Clay’s Matthew Horton, who contributed almost the entirety of “I Saw A Dead Body”) has yielded one of the more enjoyable Bay Area garage-rock albums of 2013, loosely anchored by witty, self-referential lyrics and the occasional, striking Beatles-esque pop curlique.  The album’s first 18 minutes, prior to the 13-minute intermission “False Euphoria,” contain most of its best moments; its best song, “Nic Nak,” comes close to the end, but the journey there takes you through a rather uninspired middle section.  Yet it would be entirely beside the point to say that Full Of Mistakes could benefit from some editing--it’s not trying to be tight or great or even all that listenable, and the amount of fun you have listening to it is roughly proportional to how much fun it sounded to make.

“Point Blank Range”
* * *

The latest single from East Bay punks Sarchasm replaces the sloppy style of their excellent full-length We Interrupt This Broadcast with the Apple Loop-dry sheen that can only come from a recording session at Ex’Pression College; it doesn’t do them justice, robbing them of the thick bass throb that anchored their sound on previous releases.  However, the band itself seems to be in fine form, with Mari Campos’s voice retaining the disarming mix of urgency and apathy that give her political tirades extra power; they sound less like musical revolutionaries bringing on change than bitterly politically aware entertainers providing a raucous commentary to the world’s moral collapse.