Volume 42 Number 11
December 12 – December 18, 2007
Where was the love amid the roll and flux of music in 2007? You know, the sticky and sweet, inconvenient and occasionally unhealthy stuff of obsession? Our writers weigh in with their fixations and musical picks for this year.
The good, the Bay, and the hyphy
By Garrett Caples
>>Hot tomboy love
Keyshia Cole fills in pop’s blanks
By Johnny Ray Huston
Viva el lo-fi revolution
By Marke B.
>>Long walk home
Reconnecting with the Boss
By Gabriel Mindel Salomen
Dub step from the edge
By Tomas Palermo
Possessions, obsessions made visible
By Max Goldberg
>>Nonplussed and pissed
High impact concert-going in 2007
By Duncan Scott Davidson
>>Keep on truckin’
Beats that drive motorists crazy
By Peter Nicholson
The obsession-worthy joys of Seefeel
By Erik Morse
>>Throwback or keeper?
Nostalgia called in 2007
By Chris Sabbath
Can new cityscape change a life obsessed with music?
By K. Tighe
Frenzied xylophones in 2007
By Todd Lavoie
Obsessions aren’t always bad
Chasing the phantom of perfect sound
By J.H. Tompkins
>>Too many Top 10s
Fave-rave lists from Mochipet, Ben Chasny, Bart Davenport, Richie Unterberger, and more
I traded one obsession for another in 2007, a tedious game of music on a Möbius strip. Eleven months ago I had some 10,000 CDs few of them ripped a couple of 150 gig hard drives packed with MP3 files, and a tiny apartment with no room to move, and I mean it. So I ripped and I ripped and I ripped some more disc by disc, day after day, week after week. When I looked back, I’d moved the music from 5,000 CDs to a quartet of 250 gig GDrives, and I was ready, sort of, to head for Amoeba Music’s buyback counter. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The shadow of Steve Jobs hovers, uncomfortably close to my soul. I’m all Apple, all time it’s a ball of convenience that picked up steam over the years until process became pleasure, a mystery dance played out in zeroes and ones. Classic? Nano? Touch? Shuffle? I have iPods like some people have shoes. CDs? Vinyl? Not in these parts.
It wasn’t always so. I once had speakers that cost more than my car. They’d generate music so thick, rich, and three-dimensional I could swim in it and that was straight. Did you ever listen to Jimi Hendrix doing Bob Dylan’s "All Along the Watchtower" on audiophile headphones? Were you ever experienced? So much the better to appreciate a guitar that spoons down and back up, constrained and compressed a short loop that suddenly wah-wahs into a new dimension. As a woodblock reverberates in the distance, Hendrix greets the howling wind with an exhilarating roar of his own.
But that was then, apparently, because now is all about MP3 files. Besides, I live in Los Angeles, and people go out in LA. Who wants to spend life stoned, listening to music in a fucking apartment? I can pack the essentials onto a slim, white, 160 gig object, hook it to a noose around my neck, and have more music than I will listen to in the next five years never mind the obvious question. I’ve got a score for the car wash, for grocery shopping, for the laundry, for my commute.
I love music as much as I ever did, yet digital toys shape not just when and where I listen but also how it sounds. It’s not just that the frozen food aisle at Safeway isn’t ideal for anything other than frozen food, much less listening to the new Radiohead album, In Rainbows (self-released), or the Flaming Lips’ 2002 masterpiece, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros.). I heard both this year while purchasing ice cream. The truth is MP3s sound like shit.
Fortunately or not technology is cooperating on the other end. Of course I’m all for Pro Tools, the M-Box, and opportunity in our fabulous democratic world. This is the era of the bedroom studio. You too can have a hit record DIY, and I mean it. Much if not most of the music I run across these days, no matter how well crafted and played, sounds like it was recorded at home. Which is to say, one might as well download a tune, put it on your iPod, and head out for the market.
There was a time when the recording studio was a place to explore sonic possibility where music was enhanced with richness and surprise. Those days are gone, lost in the dot-com world, and damned if I’m going to be a square wheel. I got so busy ripping and keeping up that it was months before I knew what I was missing.
TOP 10 ALBUMS
•<\!s><0x0007>Miles Davis, The Complete On the Corner Sessions (Sony Legacy)
•<\!s><0x0007>Angie Stone, The Art of Love and War (Stax)
•<\!s><0x0007>Sly and the Family Stone, The Collection (Epic/Legacy)
•<\!s><0x0007>James Brown, The Singles Volume 4: 19661967 (Hip-O Select)
•<\!s><0x0007>Rahsaan Patterson, Wines and Spirits (Artistry)
•<\!s><0x0007>The Nightwatchman, One Man Revolution (Epic)
•<\!s><0x0007>The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show DVD (Sony Legacy)
•<\!s><0x0007>Queens of the Stone Age, Era Vulgaris (Interscope)
•<\!s><0x0007>Emmylou Harris, Songbird: Rare Tracks and Forgotten Gems (Rhino)
•<\!s><0x0007>Mavis Staples, We’ll Never Turn Back (Anti-)
This year we were consumed by our obsession with the latest piece of technology and the immediate gratification that comes with it. My personal part in this collective cultural obsession hit me one day as I sat on the bus, my multitasking mind elsewhere, my phone in one hand receiving text messages, my MP3 player in the other on random shuffle, playing a song by Project Pat boasting about having "the number one ringtone." And on my lap sat not a laptop, but a relic from another time: a book, an ordinary page-bound, nonfiction book. But as I read, instead of flipping to get a referenced page, I found myself absent-mindedly, or rather, tech-mindedly, tapping my finger on the bold-faced word, unconsciously thinking that I was clicking on a computer screen confirming my obsession with and dependence on digital technology.
Our obsession drives us to grab the fastest and the newest and consumes us with possessing the latest iProducts, the most recent Guitar Hero, the most up-to-date ringtones, and the hottest celebrity gossip, which we seemingly can never get enough of. Hence in 2007, YouTube videoblogger star Chris Crocker’s "Leave Britney alone" rant, which attracted more than five million hits, was essentially far more popular than its subject’s new album, Blackout (Jive).
But our obsessions aren’t necessarily a bad thing, since they are driven by passion as much as by anything else, and consequently we are experiencing a renaissance of enthusiastic people producing amazingly intricate and imaginative music, blogs, visual art, literature, photography, video all made and distributed DIY-style. In fact, there is so much being created right now that we can’t even follow, let alone fathom, it all. After all, how can we when it’s possible to create hit blogs, video diaries, and hip-hoperas while multitasking on the bus?
1. The Bay Area’s noncommercial radio stations
2. DJ Yoda, The Amazing Adventures of DJ Yoda (Antidote)
3. Various artists, Soul Jazz Records Singles, 20062007 (Soul Jazz)
4. Emcee T’s Yay Area version of The Sopranos intro, on YouTube
5. Zeph and Azeem, Rise Up (OM)
6. Born in the Bronx: A Visual Record of the Early Days of Hip-Hop (Rizzoli), by Johan Kugelberg, Afrika Bambaataa, Buddy Esquire, Jeff Chang, and Joe Conzo
7. Copperpot, WYLA? (EV Productions)
8. Ultimate Force, I’m Not Playin’ (Traffic)
9. MF Grimm, The Hunt for the Gingerbread Man (Class A)
10. edIT, Certified Air Raid Material (Alpha Pup)
There’s no getting around it: for me, 2007 was the year of the vibes, case closed. But before anyone gets the wrong idea and paints me as a hacky sackthwacking trustafarian slathered in sandalwood oil and picking chunks of crusted hummus from my beard, let me qualify: those ain’t the kind of vibes I’m a-grooving on. Nah, we’re talking vibraphones here. You know, aluminum bars, mallets, the whole bit, just like Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, and Cal Tjader used to rock. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in xylophones, glockenspiels, and marimbas too. Basically, if you hit it with a couple of sticks and it chimes out a sunny-day "ping," "bling," "blong," or "pong" in response, you’ve got my undivided attention. I’m a hopeless sucker for percussion with pitch, and this year has heaped a veritable bounty of warm, mellow tones into my headphones.
Oh, the twinkles and sparkles of the ceaselessly charming, thrillingly cheeky Gruff Rhys. The title track of the Super Furry Animals vocalist’s sophomore release, Candylion (Team Love), rolls along like an ice cream van from a subversive children’s television show, thanks to its misleadingly bright, singsong xylophone patterns, trilling away while Rhys plays the part of the medicated host, informing the kiddies, "Dreams can come true. Nightmares can also." Delicious! Then there’s the Brunettes. The Kiwi duo lay down a mighty double assault of lush glock action on their Structure and Cosmetics (Sub Pop) with "Her Hairagami Set" and "Credit Card Mail Order." The former picks up the mallets to plunk down an OMD-inspired round of ’80s romanticism, while the latter evokes images of poodle skirts and beehives with a glock melody beamed down from Buddy Holly.
How about Midnight Movies, whose glorious, Mazzy Starlike "Ribbons" billows and whirls heavenward with its elegiac xylophone line? The Barbarella-isms of Dean and Britta’s Back Numbers (Zoë) just wouldn’t be the same without the orbit-seeking wooziness of those space-jazz vibraphones. And where would I be without Welsh xylophone abusers Los Campesinos!, whose breathless pummeling of the metal bars on "You! Me! Dancing!" approaches levels of rapture? Finally, I bow to my icon as I revel once more in the mesmerizing marimba rumbles of Siouxsie’s captivating solo debut, Mantaray (Universal). Honestly, what could possibly beat a rhythm that’s also hummable? Good vibes are flowing, indeed.
TOP 10 ALBUMS
•<0x0007>The National, Boxer (Beggars Banquet)
•<0x0007>Beirut, The Flying Club Cup (Ba Da Bing)
•<0x0007>Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
•<0x0007>Blonde Redhead, 23 (4AD)
•<0x0007>Bettye LaVette, The Scene of the Crime (Anti-)
•<0x0007>Bat for Lashes, Fur and Gold (Echo/Caroline)
•<0x0007>Grinderman, Grinderman (Anti-)
•<0x0007>Celebration, The Modern Tribe (4AD)
•<\!s><0x0007>Jens Lekman, Night Falls on Kortedala (Secretly Canadian)
•<\!s><0x0007>Gruff Rhys, Candylion (Team Love)
It was during my early teens that the obsession struck. I oversaw the building of a stage, booked a bunch of bad garage bands, and charged $10 for admission to boondocks Maryland’s first semiannual Punk Fest. During my high school years I snuck into the seediest venues that Baltimore and Washington DC had to offer still the scariest I’ve seen to date. By my arrival in San Francisco, I was a full-fledged music scene devotee, immediately taking a job at the Great American Music Hall to pay the rent during college. My SoMa warehouse hosted concerts a few times a month my bed was a futon unrolled over a segment of 58 Tehama’s stage. For years my drinks were comped, my seats were great, and I was always on the guest list.
It wasn’t until the final months of 2006 that I realized I’ve spent most of my postpubescent life inside concert venues. It was getting increasingly difficult to ignore my ringing ears, to justify the copious waves of shift-off cocktails, and to keep my love for music intact. Flag down any soundperson, bartender, or bouncer working anywhere in the city tonight, and they’ll tell you the music industry breeds bitterness.
How to live in San Francisco without working in the music business? At least my job kept me firmly in the so-called creative class a label that made me feel much better about my financial situation. Moving to a less expensive city could mean a better standard of living and a way to cut the industry apron strings for good. My husband, having spent more than a decade working in music stores, was game. His only stipulation was that he would not, under any condition, be taking a record store job ever again.
We caught a train to Chicago, where my husband promptly took a job at a record store. I managed to stay away from music for a month, instead focusing my energies on writing food reviews for local publications. But by the time the festival season rolled around, the prospect of seeing Patti Smith perform against the impressive skyline of my new hometown ruined everything. The University of Chicago recently published a study comparing the music scenes of American’s top metropolises. Chicago kicked some serious ass. The study described Chi-town as "a music city in hiding."
I doubt I’ll ever shake music totally, but living in Chicago has taught me it doesn’t have to be a way of life anymore. When it comes to the scene these days, I’m nothing more than a music fan in hiding.
1. During my last night at the Great American Music Hall, I danced like crazy to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
2. Tyva Kyzy. Anyone who missed this all-female group of Tuvan throat singers is probably still kicking themselves.
3. Barbarasteele’s 7-inch release party at Cafe du Nord blew some minds. Rest in peace, Mike J.
4. Patti Smith performing at Lollapalooza in the pouring rain.
5. No, I wasn’t among the Milanese elite who got to see Ennio Morricone at La Scala opera house, but just knowing about this show makes me a better person.
6. Rediscovering Townes Van Zandt’s Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (Snapper UK).
7. The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir (Bloodshot).
8. Thanks, Sopranos, for making Journey relevant again.
9. Happy centennial to the glorious buildings that house the Great American Music Hall and the Cafe du Nord.
10. De la Soul closing out the Pitchfork Music Festival in style with a little help from Prince Paul.
I was born at the dawn of the 1980s, and as I’ve gradually climbed the aging ladder, the remnants of what I recall from my childhood have slowly faded into a dim star set to expire in some far-too-advanced digital-age contraption. I’ve been pretty hungry of late for an endless helping of nostalgic pop culture, and nothing satisfies an empty stomach more than watching The Making of Thriller or catching a five-second clip of Hulk Hogan leg-dropping Mr. Wonderful. You see, when I was a wee youngster, I channeled many of my fantasies from TV debauchery: I wanted to be the Karate Kid and yearned to live on the set of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. I started watching MTV before kindergarten, and the thought of soaring from a wire above the sea of 10,000 screaming fans in Bon Jovi’s "Livin’ on a Prayer" music video seemed like heaven to me. I longed to spike a volleyball in some drunken beachgoer’s face during the weeklong episodes of MTV’s Spring Break, but the closest I ever came to a beach was the grungy kiddie pool in my backyard. Sadly, I was never able to find another means of capitalizing on my fool’s paradise, but I remain convinced in my adulthood that something will eventually creep up and take me back to the Cosby generation.
YouTube finally answered my prayers in the beginning of 2005. Then I had the entire 1980s at my fingertips, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s been nothing but talking cars, pastel-clothed coppers, and cat-eating aliens from the planet Melmac in my tiny universe. I can now explore and eat up all of the catchy theme songs from old faves such as Pinwheel, Hey Dude, and Hickory Hideout, or scratch my head and wonder why I found Punky Brewster so compelling in the first place. I’m able to watch Alanis Morissette getting slimed on You Can’t Do That on Television, and then I can immediately point and click on a poor-quality money shot of Mr. T flexing his muscles in front of a burning helicopter. It’s so damn bad, but it’s addicting. I’ve come to realize that most of these flashes from the past should have stayed in my childhood, simply because they seemed so much cooler back then. Just last week I watched the first two segments of The Decline of Western Civilization, but they didn’t do it for me, because I just didn’t identify with those lifestyles as a toddler.
Much of my compulsion of wanting to relive the ’80s stems from the fact that all of my idols from that period from Luke Skywalker to the Lost Boys were larger than life. And I suppose I’m seeking an escape from the perpetual yawn of reality TV. I might not be Marty McFly, but if I ever find myself behind the wheel of a time-traveling DeLorean DMC-12, I will probably set the flux capacitor to the year 1989 and put it in park.
•Britney Spears loses it
•The Spits at the Great American Music Hall, Oct. 15
•No Age, Weirdo Rippers (FatCat)
•Christian Fennesz and Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cendre (Touch)
•Calvin Johnson at the Rickshaw Stop, June 15
•Black Dice, Load Blown (Paw Tracks). Someday they could become a really great pop band.
•Paula Abdul’s drunken interview on the Fox News Channel
•Japanther at the Hemlock Tavern, May 30
•Aa, GAaME (Gigantic)
•Kanye West, Graduation (Roc-A-Fella). My favorite album of 2007. I hear he’s remixing a Michael Jackson song for the 25th-anniversary rerelease of Thriller.
"It was definitely Kevin Shields it was his playing that made me want to play guitar in a different way," explains Mark Clifford, former guitarist and studio mastermind of United Kingdom electro innovators Seefeel. "I saw My Bloody Valentine every time I could around ’88, right after ‘You Made Me Realise.’ And it was amazing, the kind of noise they could make: one sound, one chord that was this long, sustained wash of noise."
If Shields’s Valentines were the guitar experimentalists of the shoegaze era, then acolytes Seefeel, a Too Pure acoustic turned post-rock turned electronic group, were the six-string geniuses of the post-rave era. The Brighton band’s 1993 debut, the much-lauded Quique rereleased this year was a vital piece of electroacoustic art, so defiant of the conventional boundaries of techno, indie rock, and the dubiously termed IDM genre that it forced critic Simon Reynolds to invent a new descriptor: post-rock.
"When we started up, we were pretty much labeled in every genre rock, dub, techno, electronic," Clifford recalls. "And it just seemed silly, really. I remember we were getting compared to bands like [labelmates] Disco Inferno. To be honest with you, I couldn’t see any similarity in our music whatsoever." In fact, Quique in many ways the equal of its inspiration, Loveless (Creation, 1991) remains less a timely "rock" record than a series of liminal compositions whose meanings shift and decay like glaciers or isotopes according to some inexplicable molecular clock. The album’s concoction of guitar drones, buzzing keyboard loops, and cooing vocals courtesy of bassist Sarah Peacock has a narcotic vastness that might very well induce a century-long slumber. So it might come as no surprise, then, that Seefeel’s oeuvre would draw the attention of somnambulists Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards of Canada, and yes, even Radiohead.
Criminally remanded to the record store dustbin since Seefeel’s demise in 1996, Quique was finally given the full-on two-CD treatment in April by Too Pure, and, as in ’93, it’s one of the best listens of the year. Few new bands experimenting with tones and drones have managed to match Quique‘s blend of infectious creativity and instrumental minimalism. Rather, the noughties’ profusion of laptop technology and easy-listening soundtracks has caused increasing schisms between electronica’s subcultures and an attendant creative stagnation. "There seems to be something extremely decadent about electronic music, which it didn’t have in the ’90s," Clifford says. "It had something fresh and virginal then that it doesn’t have now."
For all of his accomplishments in genre bending and musical innovation, Clifford, now producing work under the Disjecta and Sneakster monikers and running Polyfusia Records, remains modest and somewhat aloof. "The thing about electronic music is a lot of stuff you hear sounds new, but when you listen to people like Tod Dockstader, who was doing it 40 or 50 years ago with just tape and found sounds, you realize [technology’s] just enabled us to do that kind of thing easier," he says. Fifteen years on, Quique still makes sonic brilliance sound easy.
TOP 12 ALBUMS
•Alog, Amateur (Rune Grammofon)
•Caribou, Andorra (Merge)
•Leonard Cohen, Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs from a Room, Songs of Love and Hate (Columbia/Legacy)
•Dean and Britta, Back Numbers (Zoë)
•Fennesz, Hotel Paral.lel (Editions Mego)
•Fire Engines, Hungry Beat (Acute)
•Grinderman, Grinderman (Anti-)
•PJ Harvey, White Chalk (Island)
•Seefeel, Quique (Redux Edition) (Too Pure)
•Robert Wyatt, Comicopera (Domino)
I do a lot of driving, which sucks. I don’t like cars. They stress me out, they mess up the environment, and even 10-year-old minivans are stupidly expensive, but I live in the sticks and do a lot of traveling to places where public transportation is an urban myth, so I don’t have much of a choice. However, one thing makes long trips in the car bearable: DJ mixes. Whether it’s neck-snapping hip-hop (perfect for manning up and not letting that 18-wheeler cut you off) or relentless techno (tailor-made for the final miles of an eight-hour jaunt to Oregon), a solid DJ mix is the perfect accompaniment to hours spent trying to go as fast as possible without getting yet another speeding ticket.
This year offered more than the usual share of potential candidates for the perfect driving mix. In addition to the typically top-notch offerings from the likes of Fabric (check James Murphy and Pat Mahoney’s Fabric 36 for a spectacular romp along the edges of past and present disco) and the typically abysmal efforts by DJs voted number one by tasteless trance lovers all over the world (Armin van Buuren’s Hoover festival Universal Religion 2008 on Ultra, replete with synchronized crowd noise and snare rolls, tops that list), two stuck out in particular.
More often than not I found myself reaching for Future Soul Sessions Vol. 1 (Bagpak), on which the stop-and-start rhythms’ broken beat perfectly matched the stop-and-go traffic one usually faces when attempting to escape the Bay. Ernesto Vigo of Elevations Radio on Harlem’s WHCR did a stunning job of charting a trip through broken beat’s best, from international figures like Ty, whose flowing rap for "What You Want" is up to his usual smooth snuff, to New York cats like Bagpak boss Yellowtail, who teams up with Alison Crockett for "You Feel Me," an absolutely smashing future soul classic with a vocal break that had me frequently causing consternation in nearby drivers with my attempts to match Crockett’s vocal prowess.
Once free of the urban congestion, I invariably turned to some good old four-on-the-floor. Only one mix survived my periodic pogroms of the iPod Shuffle that stores my house and techno mixes: "Hot Oven Hand," by San Francisco’s DJ Worthy. Worthy is a rising star within the twisted techno world centered around the dirtybird Records camp, and "Hot Oven Hand" came from the label’s Web site, though there isn’t a single dirtybird track in the mix. Fair enough, since I already have all of their damn stellar output and look to mixes for the new. Instead, we’re treated to the pop-locking percolation of "Back the Beat," by Ran Shani on CR2, and the spaced-out synth swirl of Swag’s "Just Pull It Dub" of Jimpster’s "Don’t Push It" on Freerange. Yet the highlights of the mix are Worthy’s compositions, particularly the grin-inducing, squelchy bounce of "Crack El" (Leftroom) and the speaker-testing tension of "Bass Quake," on his Katabatic Records. With an absurdly stuttering, chittering hook and a progression that belies its creator’s relative newcomer status, "Bass Quake" was one of 2007’s high points. But be warned: although the impulse to stupidly wave your hands in the air is perfectly acceptable on the dance floor, it’s not advisable while doing 90 over the Tehachapi Pass in a thunderstorm. *
TUNES FOR DANCING IN YOUR CAR
1. LCD Soundsystem, "Someone Great" (DFA/EMI)
2. Baby Oliver, "Primetime (Uptown Express)" (Environ)
3. Square One, "Vesuvius (Justin Martin Mix)" (Freerange)
4. Bassbin Twins, "Woppa" (Bassbin)
5. Lanu, "Disinformation" (Tru Thoughts/Ubiquity)
6. Riton, "Hammer of Thor (Roman Fluegel Mix)" (Souvenir Music)
7. Sebo K and Metro, "Transit" (Get Physical)
8. Chateau Flight, "Baltringue (Henrik Schwarz and Dixon Mix)" (Innervisions)
9. Titonton Duvante, "Oishii Manko" (Refraction)
10. Paranoid Boyz, "Paranoid" (mothership)
Usually around Halloween, I start a top 10 list in my head of the best musical moments of the past year, both live and recorded. Maybe it’s my fucked-up state of late I’m not feeling too thrilled about anything but the idea of making such a list didn’t cross my mind until a week ago. I had no obsessions, no CD that wouldn’t leave the deck. But I could remember a few dismal concertgoing experiences:
Jan. 26: The Heartless Bastards play 12 Galaxies on a Friday at the end of a crappy workweek, wherein I was nearly moved to violence against one of my coworkers. Not proud of it, but woot! there it is. You can only push the Dunc so far before his Cro-Mag DNA reveals itself. So this show, which I had been looking forward to for so long, may simply have been an example of "kicking the dog," or what psychologists get overpaid to call "transference." In the middle of the show some yahoo got within inches of my date’s face, talkin’ about "Hey, what’s up?" She turned to me in horror, I told him to go away, he pleaded his case with his hands waving too close to my face, and the next thing you know he’s on his knees and I’m pounding him on top of the head, which hurts the hand more than the head. It’s still the Age of Quarrel.
Sept. 24: I finally get to see the almighty Bad Brains live, only to have my nose broken in the pit by the back of some Fred Durst wannabe’s exceptionally hard dome as he does the "nookie" dance. Punk rock may not be dead, but it’s sure been infiltrated.
Oct. 8: Turbonegro play Slim’s, and I use my plus one on a sweet but very stoned German girl I don’t know at all. Everything is going swimmingly until the barricade, which appears to be made from San Francisco Police Department fencing and kegs, starts collapsing around security and the band leaves the stage.
In the ensuing soccer chants of "Oh-oh-oh-oh, I got erection!" some tool with an erection starts chatting up my Teutonic friend. That’s all well and good she wasn’t my girlfriend and we weren’t even dating, but nonetheless, she came to the show with me and I’m standing right next to her. When I tell him to go away, he goes through a beer-soaked nightclub version of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. (1) He denies that there is any issue. (2) He gets angry and gets in my face, saying he isn’t "scared of an old man." (But if I crack you in the face, it’s going to hurt, unless you’ve got the adrenaline from being afraid, so fear might be beneficial.) (3) He bargains with me, trying to bro-down with some rock-lock handshake. (4) He gets depressed when I refuse to be his rock ‘n’ roll, Turbo sailor buddy and keeps yapping in amazement how he can’t understand why I won’t talk it out with him. (5) In a reversion to the anger stage, he gives me his best hockey shoulder check as he walks by, at which point I am compelled to jack his arm behind his back and pray to whatever god or gods might be listening to restrain me from bringing my knee to his face. I do this praying by shouting, "Someone get this motherfucker out of my face!" Security takes him out the back door. I’m sure the cold night air ushered in feelings of acceptance.
Of the three times I’ve seen Turbonegro, the first was flaccid and boring, the second was incredible, and the third was, well, this.
My New Year’s resolution is going to be to meditate more regularly so I’m not driven to aggravation and violence at shows. Or perhaps I’ll just see bands more sparingly. With a little heavy mental excavation, I’ve come up with some good to great musical moments in 2007, which I have saved for my top 10 list.
1. Grinderman at the Great American Music Hall, July 26, and Slim’s, July 27
2. The Stooges at the Warfield, April 19
3. Qui, Lozen, and Triclops! at Cafe du Nord, Sept. 12. Qui’s Love’s Miracle (Ipecac) is most certainly top 10 material as well.
4. Love Me Nots at the Elbo Room, Aug. 31
5. The Shout Out Louds, "Blue Headlights," Our Ill Wills (Merge)
6. King Khan and BBQ Show at 12 Galaxies, Nov. 16
7.Rykarda Parasol and the Tower Ravens at Cafe du Nord, Jan. 5
8. The White Barons, Up All Night with the White Barons (Gearhead)
9. Neil Young, Chrome Dreams II (Reprise)
10. Les Savy Fav, Let’s Stay Friends (French Kiss)
An archival recording can assume many forms, contexts, meanings. This year saw the reissue of an album unappreciated in its time (Jim Ford’s The Sounds of Our Time [Bear Family]), the compilation of genre-bound obscurities (Numero Group’s Eccentric Soul series), the live performance (Gram Parsons Archive, Vol. 1 [Amoeba]), the stripped acoustic set (Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall 1971 [Reprise]), the radio sessions (Judee Sill’s Live in London: The BBC Recordings 19721973 [Water]), the reconstructed unfinished work (John Phillips’s Jack of Diamonds [Varese Sarabande]), the singles collection (Vashti Bunyan’s Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind: Singles and Demos 19641967 [FatCat/Dicristina]), and, perhaps closest to the bone, the fabled home recording.
Of course, some vocalists bend these categories by the nature of their performance style. This is certainly the case with Cotton Eyed Joe (Delmore), a double CD documenting a lovely set by Karen Dalton at a Colorado coffeehouse in 1962. It might as well be a home recording for the intimacy of the performance space owner Joe Loop explains in the liner notes that his club held only 50 and the entrancing, private nature of Dalton’s folk arrangements. Such a record is notable for a performer as studio-phobic as Dalton: she only recorded two albums in her lifetime (1969’s It’s So Hard to Tell Who’s Going to Love You the Best [Koch] and 1971’s In My Own Time [Light in the Attic]), and rumor has it the takes for her debut were captured on the sly, when she didn’t know the tape was rolling.
All of this would be mere intrigue if it weren’t for the fact that Dalton was one of the major talents of the first folk revival, though mostly unappreciated in her own time. She died in 1993 after a bitter struggle with drugs and alcohol. Cotton Eyed Joe is educational in contextualizing this mystery voice in terms of the coffeehouse circuit, but any such historiography quickly fades when faced with her strange, time-stopping interpretations of traditionals and tunes by the likes of Ray Charles, Woody Guthrie, and Fred Neil. The voice shakes with unresolve, surrounding you and then disappearing before you can pin it down, buckling with some unknowable duress, slipping into untold dimensions.
It only takes a few bars of Dalton’s possession of Charles’s "It’s Alright" to cast the spell. Her minimal 12-string guitar work drags on the tune, her voice searching the depths of the verse for a smoldering, emotional core. Elsewhere Dalton runs through the songs she would record for her studio albums, and it’s bracing to think how long she lived with these ballads. Forty-five years later, we hear a unique act of disembodiment, a self-eulogizing worthy of critic Greil Marcus’s illustrious "Invisible Republic."
Each glimpse deepens the appeal of so many other performers from that era, and it’s tempting to see these collections as filling a specific niche in today’s music market: a hunger for mystery, substance, and story in the face of a downloader’s paradise. As more music is rendered instantly accessible, many of us wish to burrow further into the secret histories of rock, folk, and soul. We sift for treasure, perhaps wondering if the Internet isn’t inherently anathematic to the idea of discovering forgotten greatness. Such recoveries can and will proliferate online, but ground must first be broken elsewhere in a magazine or a basement, among audio tapes or old notebooks. Performers and promoters are becoming increasingly canny in using the Web to deliver icons and bylines, but it takes a set like Cotton Eyed Joe to make the singer a saint. *
•Panda Bear, Person Pitch (Paw Tracks), and Animal Collective at the Fillmore on Sept. 17
•Jim Ford, The Sounds of Our Time (Bear Family)
•Jana Hunter, There’s No Home (Gnomonsong)
•Karen Dalton, Cotton Eyed Joe (Delmore), and Judee Sill, Live in London: The BBC Recordings 19721973 (Water)
•Entrance at the Ben Lomand Indian Summer Music Festival on Sept. 1 and at the Cafe du Nord on Nov. 18
•The Dirty Projectors, Rise Above (Dead Oceans)
•Lightning Bolt at LoBot Gallery on April 9
•Michael Hurley at the Cafe du Nord on April 18
•Neil Young, Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise)
•Little Wings, Soft Pow’r (Rad)
When listeners go mad for a track they hear on London’s dubstep pirate radio station Rinse FM, the DJ quickly backspins the vinyl or CD turntable and says, "All right, from the edge!" It’s an apt metaphor for music that has San Franciscans like myself clinging to bass bins and feverishly tracking the music’s forward march from South London across the globe.
Dubstep was 2007’s most fun and relevant electronic music form. The sound encompasses our war-weary planet’s apocalyptic throb, with the promise of technology’s tones twinkling in the distance. It welds dub reggae’s weighty bass with UK garage’s insistent rhythmic pulse and, like a massive black hole, draws in techno, grime, industrial, drum ‘n’ bass, and other electronic subgenres.
This year, seven years after its gritty South London birth, dubstep music was everywhere in the Bay Area, from small bars like Underground SF to multiple Burning Man camps. Parties like Grime City, Narco Hz, Brap Dem, and Full Melt drove the music, while promoters like SureFire booked big out-of-town acts. Brit expat Emcee Child ruled the mic with Axiom and Audio Angel contributing vocal vibes, and DJs like SamSupa!, Djunya, Ripple, Cyan, Subtek, Kozee, Jus Wan, and Kid Kameleon sorted the platters.
So why dubstep, and why now? Well, house, techno, hip-hop, and mashups have mined familiar, even worn, territory for years, addled by heaps of cocaine and mediocre productions. Meanwhile, innovation is dubstep’s main component: London’s Benga dropped electro-influenced steppers, local artist Juju gave us dub-fueled tunes, Skream issued acidy tracks, and new names like Elemental offered glitchy breaks as dubsteppers broke all the rules. This inspired a clutch of devoted SF enthusiasts to launch a full-scale takeover, with club nights, legal and pirate radio shows, and labels and local producers getting international acclaim. SF is now respected internationally as America’s dubstep ground zero.
The good news: this scene is more down-to-earth than the city’s notoriously cliquey drum ‘n’ bass crews were in their mid-’90s prime. The first time you go to a dubstep party you’re more apt to be handed a shot than shot down as a newbie. And remember: when you hear a sick dubplate rinsed out there, don’t forget to put five fingers in the air and shout, "From the edge!"
TOP 10 FROM DJ TOMAS, A.K.A. DUB I.D. DUBSTEP
1. Various artists, Hotflush Presents: Space and Time (Hotflush)
2. The Bug featuring Killa P and Flow Dan, "Skeng" (Hyperdub)
3. N-Type’s Sunday radio show, Rinse FM
4. Benga, "The Invasion" (Big Apple)
5. SamSupa!, Fallinginto DJ mix
6. Cotti and Clue Kid, "The Legacy" (30)
7. Burial, Untrue (Hyperdub)
8. Babylon System, "Loaded" (Argon)
9. Coki, "Spongebob" (DMZ)
10. Skream, "Skreamizm Vol. 4" (Tempa)
Years ago I ended up at a San Francisco Water Department dinner with my father and an old neighborhood friend, eating in the back hall of a half-century-old Italian restaurant in the Excelsior. The room spilled over with thick-armed men who were union, white, and not bad-off and from whom I learned a thing or two about old San Francisco family names and accents that tell you if someone is from the Richmond, the old Castro, or Balboa. It was a return to the blue-collar ‘Frisco that I was raised in: a posthippie, pre-dot-com city with a ubiquitous and at one time iconic KFOG, 104.5 FM, playlist composed of harder rockers by the Stones, Creedence, and the Beatles. My earliest memories of the city are tied to those songs, moaning from tiny car speakers, rattling empty cans of Bud, and wafting over garages that smelled of grease.
Yet there was one member of this blue-collar pantheon I could never get too close to. He was too bombastic. His character was too huge. Even before ingesting punk rock ideology via Maximumrocknroll and Epicenter, I felt in opposition to the stadium and the spectacle. Somehow I had internalized a belief that the Boss was my enemy.
Yet this year I found myself buying Magic (Sony), Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, literally on sight. My teenage self would have been horrified to know that at 30 I would be purchasing a Springsteen record not in spite of the E Street Band but because of it, and that after listening to it again and again, my greatest criticism would be that it has too few Clarence Clemons sax solos. The truth is that I’ve moved well past being appreciative of the man and into the realm of the fan the kind who marks his Slingshot planner with the date and time tickets go on sale for Springsteen’s latest tour.
As with many young men with elitist tastes, it was Nebraska (Sony, 1982) that broke me. With its high-contrast cover, four-track production, and the slap-back reverb echoing of Suicide, the album suggested an almost punk quality, and it subverted all of my assumptions about Springsteen’s gross theatrics. Here was a serious songwriter with compassion for working people, concern for their dignity, and a subtle hint of darkness. Suddenly, I was listening, and, as I began to discover, so were my friends.
What surprised me most was the nonlinearity and consistency of his politics. Springsteen isn’t partisan, pro-union, antiwar, or above it all. He’s for ordinary people and their battles with life, injustice, and the institutions that seem set on killing their dreams, if not destroying the dreamers. It turns out that "Born in the U.S.A." isn’t a nationalist anthem but an indictment. He takes on police, poverty, and racism with "American Skin (41 Shots)," whose title pointedly refers to the slaying of Amadou Diallo by the New York Police Department. Springsteen is a humanist who never wanted to choose sides in the process of choosing between right and wrong. Perhaps for good reason it’s hard not to wonder whether Clear Channel radio stations’ boycott of Magic isn’t linked to his fateful decision to openly oppose George W. Bush during the 2004 election.
My slow-burning appreciation for Springsteen’s moral and political iconoclasm wasn’t what really set my obsession with him into high gear. It was the unexpected but inevitable emotional connection that grew. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the dark listening to The River (Sony, 1980) and crying to its titular masterpiece. Conversion is strange, and when a person goes from being outside the church pews to singing in the choir it’s a hard thing to explain to anyone. I can listen to "Atlantic City," "The Promised Land," or even Magic‘s "Long Walk Home" and feel the agony of every person who’s ever loved or lost. I realize I’m willing to give up being aesthetically correct, intellectually above it all, and emotionally safe just to have something I can share with people who seem to live such different lives. Certainly it’s worth it to be transported back home, which makes Magic less like a throwback and more like a time machine. *
TOP 5 MUSIC TOPPERS
1. Top return to shitty form: Siltbreeze
After many years languishing in the land of the giant question marks, Philly scuzz-and-fuzz merchants Siltbreeze not only have begun releasing new records but also happen to be releasing some of the best records in the American (and Australian?!) underground. Harry Pussy, Charlambides, and the Dead C meet US Girls, Ex-Cocaine, and xNoBBQx.
2. Top new band from my new hometown, Portland, Ore.: Eat Skull
What we’ve got is ear-bleeding garage punk that makes up for a lack of speed with a heavy hand on the treble knob. Presented by members of the Hospitals, Gang Wizard, and Hale Zukas, this is the kind of pop violence that hasn’t hurt this good since Henry’s Dress.
3. Top new band from my old hometown, Oakland: Zeroth
Just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised by anything anymore. A trio of smarter than average weirdos, they’ve produced the kind of strangeness that lends itself to nonsense descriptors like "electric ovarian space prog." My butt shook.
4. Top trend: pop noise albums
Though this is really a trend that started a few years ago with records like Burning Star Core’s The Very Heart of the World (Thin Wrist, 2005) and Prurient’s Black Vase (Load, 2005), 2007 saw some of America’s noise heavyweights releasing major statements with actual production values. Mouthus, John Wiese, and Religious Knives all brought great records, but perhaps most startling were the sweet clarity and depth of Sighting’s Through the Panama (Load/Ecstatic Peace).
5. Top label A&R: Southern Lord
They’ve made a pretty clean sweep of the best of left-field cult metal: OM, Wolves in the Throne Room, Velvet Cacoon, Abruptum, and Striborg. My only question is, where’s WOLD?
For more from Saloman, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/music.
MOCHIPET’S TOP 10 NOT RELATED TO HIMSELF OR DALY CITY RECORDS
SOLO ARTIST, DALY CITY RECORDS
1. A-Trak, Dirty South Dance (Obey)
2. Dan Deacon, Spiderman of the Rings (Carpark)
3. High on Fire, Death Is This Communion (Relapse)
4. Chris De Luca vs. Phon.o, Shotgun Wedding Vol. 7 (Violent Turd)
5. Ludicra, "In Fever," Sonic Terror Surge 2007 (Alternative Tentacles)
6. Nanos Operetta
7. Larytta, Ya-Ya-Ya (Creaked)
9. Edaboss, "Go Left" (featuring Gift of Gab and Lateef) (Om)
10. edIT, Certified Air Raid Material (Alpha Pup)
BEN CHASNY’S TOP 10
SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE, COMETS ON FIRE, BADGERLORE
1. Sapat, Mortise and Tenon (Siltbreeze)
2. Blues Control, Blues Control (Holy Mountain)
3. Axolotl, Telesma (Important)
4. Loren Connors, As Roses Bow: Collected Airs 19922002 (Family Vineyard)
5. Earth, Hibernaculum (Southern Lord)
6. Om, Pilgrimage (Southern Lord)
7. Daniel Higgs, Ancestral Songs (Holy Mountain)
8. Magik Markers, Boss (Ecstatic Peace)
9. Son of Earth, Pet (Apostasy)
10. Grinderman, Grinderman (Anti-)
BART DAVENPORT’S TOP 10
SOLO ARTIST, HONEYCUT
1. Sugar and Gold, Crème (Antenna Farm)
2. Nedelle, The Locksmith Cometh (Tangram 7s)
3. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone)
4. Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight (Warner Bros.)
5. St. Vincent, Marry Me (Beggars Banquet)
6. Arthur and Yu, In Camera (Hardly Art)
7. The Fiery Furnaces at Fernwood Lodge, Big Sur, Oct. 20
8. Vashti Bunyan at Central Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas, during South by Southwest, March 15
9. Von Iva at the Uptown, Oakl., Nov. 9
10. Ghostland Observatory at Mezzanine, Nov. 29
RICHIE UNTERBERGER’S TOP REISSUES
1. Pentangle, The Time Has Come: 196773 (Sanctuary/Castle)
2. Fairport Convention, Live at the BBC (Universal)
3. Various artists, Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 19651970 (Rhino)
4. Dusty Springfield, Live at the BBC DVD (Universal)
5. Various Artists, The American Folk-Blues Festival: The British Tours 19631966 DVD (Hip-O)
6. The Blossom Toes, We Are Ever So Clean (Sunbeam)
7. The Zombies, Into the Afterlife (Big Beat)
8. The Incredible String Band, Across the Airwaves: BBC Radio Recordings 19691974 (Hux)
9. Various artists, Stax/Volt Revue: Live in Norway 1967 DVD (Concord)
10.Various artists, The Birth of Surf (Ace)
JUMBO’S TOP 10
1. Kanye West and Lifesavas at Quebec City Festival, July 515
2. Jill Scott, "Crown Royal," The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3 (Hidden Beach)
3. Talk to Me with Don Cheadle
4. Little Brother, "Step It Up," Getback (ABB)
5. My Brother Marvin musical
6. Prince, Planet Earth (Sony)
7. Nas with Snoop Dogg at Mezzanine, after the Warriors eliminated Dallas, May 3
8. Rolling Stone picks Lifesavas for "Ten Artists to Watch in 2007"
9. Kanye West, "Stronger," Graduation (Roc-A-Fella)
10. Ledisi’s 2008 album
WEASEL WALTER’S TOP 10
FLYING LUTTENBACHERS, XBXRX, BURMESE
1. The Peter Evans Quartet, The Peter Evans Quartet (Firehouse 12)
Peter Evans is one of the few musicians I’ve ever seen that have made my jaw drop. Trust me on this one.
2. Marnie Stern, In Advance of the Broken Arm (Kill Rock Stars)
She came out of nowhere, playing some unholy mixture of girlie indie pop and Orthrelm, and kicked all of our asses.
3. Mayhem, Ordo ad Chao (Season of Mist)
The gods of Norwegian black metal get weirder and better.
4. The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky DVD box (Starz/Anchor Bay)
Essential metasurrealism from this filmic genius at an insanely low price.
5. Miles Davis, The Complete On the Corner Sessions (Sony Legacy)
Insanely lavish box from Davis’s notorious 197274 period, during which rhythm and skronk ruled.
6. The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 DVDs (Fantoma)
Pure eye candy for psychos.
7. The Flying Luttenbachers, Incarcerated by Abstraction (ugEXPLODE)
I would be lying if I didn’t tell you this was the best album released this year. It will destroy you with its dissonant structural complexity.
I recently began overdosing on the early output of this mythic ur-metal space-rock juggernaut, particularly when Lemmy was with them.
9. StSanders’s Shred videos on YouTube
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve laughed as hard and long this year at anything else. Viva la suck!
10. Zs, Arms (Planaria)
This rigorously intense new music group from New York keeps delivering the rock with staggering precision.
The first time I heard it was in Peru. The pea-colored haze of la garúa the fog of polluted drizzle that swallows Lima fell about the airport as I waited in line for my preflight pat-down last spring. Suddenly, a fake-Baped tweener cut to the front, blaring a bootleg Kanye MP3 on his dinky Motorola cell. Poor Ms. West sounded like she’d been graduated into a bigger, stronger, faster chipmunk. Kaaan-yeee!
Yeah, we’ve all been privy to the public toucan trills of ringtones, those arpeggiated chest thumps that whistle, "Listen to my life choice, bitches. Doodle-oodle-doo!" But this was different. This was a whole freakin’ song. And it worked. Whether from sheer awe or pity Kanye? Come on! we all made way for the speaker creeper to skate right through. If he’d dialed up some leaked Keak Da Sneak back then, who knows? He probably could’ve flown us home.
In canny San Franny, ringtunes raged and enraged on Muni all summer, boosting the type of hip-hop hits formerly known as "regional" see DJ UNK’s "Walk It Out" and Huey’s "Pop Drop and Lock It" into the top 20 stratosphere (billboards on our foreheads, Billboard on our phones). Hip-hop why not? Status ain’t hood, but it sure is glue, and the buses’ backseats bumped the bleats. Hyphy on the lo-fi tore it up, and public-listening history jumped: from boom box hiss to boomin’ system to bleeding earbuds to cellular blips.
I’m lovin’ the latest apex of the lo-fi revolution, despite the fact that ringtunes are the new rude. I’d been primed for it for years by the skips and squawks of samples, the wear and tear of classic vinyl dance floor tracks, and practically every experimental rock band of the past decade with an animal in its name. Besides defutf8g our culture’s mad lust for higher def, static always spirals me back. I hear it in my fondest past bopping with my dad before grade school to a shitty TDK cassette of Erasure’s "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man after Midnight)," recorded off a late-night AM broadcast; raising my hands at a rave as DJ Derrick May pushed all the levels into the tweeters, blowing out the system; shimmying next to my neighbors’ kidney-shaped pool while Don Ho (RIP) crooned from their oak-encased Thorens turntable, a grass skirt made of trash bags wrapped round my pin-thin kiddie hips.
Some folks argue that cell phones, iPods, the Internet, and what have you drown people in personal bubbles, smothering the social instinct to interact. Others moan that compressed files, cheap headphones, and puny bandwidth have made listeners trade quality for quantity. Maybe although maybe not. When Mary or Alicia screeches on the 33, the music pierces through me. But where’s the indie ironist fronting Verizonized Vampire Weekend, the emo kid blasting ancient Pinback on his Blast, the Rihanna-loaded Nokia wantonly flaunted by a twirling drag queen, also named Nokia? Better keep my fuzzy ears open I hear technology’s the great equalizer.
TOP 10 GUILTLESS PLEASURES
•Jill Scott, "Hate on Me," The Real Thing: Words and Sounds, Vol. 3 (Hidden Beach)
•Cool Kids, "Black Mags," Black Mags (Chocolate Industries)
•Honey Soundsystem DJs
•Foals, "Hummer," Hummer EP (Transgressive)
•Santogold, "You’ll Find a Way (Switch and Graeme Sinden Remix)" (Lizard King)
•Jose Gonzalez, "Teardrop" (Imperial Recordings)
•DJ David Harness’s Super Soul Sundayz
•Richard Strauss, "An Alpine Symphony," performed by San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Oct. 26
•Leslie and the Lys, "How We Go Out Version 2" video (self-released)
•Cannibal Corpse, Vile (Enhanced) (Metal Blade)
This ain’t the hyphy movement, bra-bra.
Beeda Weeda, "(I Rep Oakland) I Don’t Rep the Bay"
It was a strange year for my long-running obsession, Bay Area rap. After two years of steady building, the scene reached a plateau in 2007, for various reasons. On the one hand, many of the hottest acts from OGs San Quinn and E-40 to youngsters J-Stalin and Beeda Weeda dropped discs in ’06 and have spent this year prepping follow-ups. E-40, for example, is finishing his second Reprise disc, The Ball Street Journal, while Stalin’s drafting his Prenuptial Agreement for local powerhouse SMC. Another factor has been the major labels, which have held up albums by their signees. After interminable delays, Reprise finally released the Federation’s It’s Whateva, but Atlantic is still sitting on Mistah FAB’s Yellow Bus Rydah; Capitol has yet to schedule Clyde Carson’s Theatre Music but is still spending money for features by Snoop Dogg, the Game, etc. which is a good sign.
"Basically, it’s on us," says Mayne Mannish, Carson’s former Team mate, now manager. "We have to turn in the best album we can." He suspects the album will be released in April 2008.
The most important development by far, however, has been the backlash against the hyphy movement. Among Bay rappers, who pride themselves on originality and are impatient with major-label foot-dragging, this was inevitable. Musically, though, it doesn’t really matter: the innovations of hyphy have transformed the Bay for good, even if the sound has diffused into the overall mix.
But the fundamental cause of the backlash has been the withdrawal of radio support by the Bay’s main hip-hop station, Clear Channelowned KMEL, 106 FM. This lack of airplay began with a feud between KMEL managing director Big Von Johnson and Mistah FAB over FAB’s now-defunct Wild 94.9 radio show.
But FAB, for one, has kept the ball rolling. Even without radio support, his independent disc Da Baydestrian (Faeva Afta/SMC) has moved almost 17,000 copies approaching the 20,000 sales of Son of a Pimp (Thizz Ent., 2005), which got him signed to Atlantic and, according to SMC’s Will Bronson, is still selling strong. The Atlantic disc, FAB says, remains possible, but meanwhile he’s keeping it lit, recording an upcoming independent album with producer Alchemist. His freestyle victory in New York City over Royce Da 5’9" and their subsequent feud now over also garnered national attention. To top it all off, FAB’s released a new single via www.myspace.com/mistahfab, "Party On," with Snoop Dogg, one of the few mainstream rappers to support the Bay. He has given FAB the title "nephew," the ultimate endorsement from a senior rapper. "He’s a mentor," FAB says. "He teaches you in the studio and how to persevere."
Another promising sign regarding Bay Area’s rap future has been the number of new acts and strong recordings that have been bubbling to the surface. Ike Dola and Shady Nate have raised a buzz via mixtapes, and both plan albums for next year. Pittsburg’s Dubb 20 a Mob Figaz affiliate dropped his debut to little fanfare, but it’s among the best of the year. Turf Talk, meanwhile, catapulted himself to the top of our esteem with his accomplished West Coast Vaccine (Sic Wid It/30-30). There’s no lack of great music here.
If hyphy is no longer a so-called movement, however, the unity it represented remains key to the scene’s future success. "If we come together, we’ll be unstoppable," FAB says. "We’re an all-star team, but we have to stop worrying about the individual MVP and play together." *
A BAY AREA TOP 10
•V-White, Perfect Timin’ (V-White Ent./SMC)
•PSD, Keak Da Sneak, and Messy Marv, Da Bidness (Gateway/SMC)
•G-Stack, Welcome to Purple City (4 the Streets)
•Mistah FAB, Da Baydestrian (Faeva Afta/SMC)
•Dubb 20, Racks Macks Dope Tracks (FriscoStreetShow/Sumo)
•Turf Talk, West Coast Vaccine (Sick Wid It/30-30)
•J. Nash, Hyphy Love (Soul Boy Ent.)
•The Federation, It’s Whateva (Southwest Federation/Reprise)
•Jacka, The Jacka Is the Dopest (Demolition Men)
•J-Stalin and Shady Nate, Early Morning Shift 2 (Demolition Men)
I’ve been slowly falling out of love with pop in 2007. The ambulance-chasing addictions of the late George W. Bush era are sick. But I’ve been slowly falling more and more in love with Keyshia Cole.
Not only is Cole the only pop star I care about, but she’s also an Oakland-raised inspiration. Not only am I kinda crushed out on her, but I’ve also been looking to her as an example of how to live better. Cole’s sophomore album, Just like You (Geffen), is being outsold by Alicia Keys’s As I Am (Sony), but the grade school girls singing "Love" on YouTube understand that Keys’s "No One" affectedly imitates the so-raw-it’s-off-key stance of Cole’s 2005 breakthrough ballad, a diary-true piece of songcraft that brought back Stacy Lattisaw’s heyday. Like "Love," Cole’s "Fallin’ Out" pop song of the year, hands down reveals more emotion and insight with each listen.
A major reason: the fills. Those little threaded backing vocals, usually provided by the lead vocalist, define contemporary R&B. Mary J. Blige mastered them on her superb first three albums: check out the soul-wrenching bridge of "Mary’s Joint" on 1994’s My Life (MCA) to hear how deeply a track’s so-broken-it’s-frightening heart can be hidden. Cole has studied Blige instead of the narcissistic, self-applauding lesser talents of neosoul. That much was clear at a concert this year when I heard her sing Blige’s favorite covers, including fellow Oakland girl Chaka Khan’s "Sweet Thing." It’s more subtly apparent at the end of Just like You‘s "Give Me More": Cole hums the woebegone final fill of "I Love You," a track from My Life that taps into Billie Holiday’s spirit more genuinely than any of the countless weak-peeping chicks who’ve tried baby poolshallow impersonations of Lady Day.
The fills are the little treats that reveal themselves on the 25th listen, the new shivers you discover on a song that was already your favorite because of its catchiness. For a lot of contemporary R&B stars, especially the kind who don’t need a wig to sport putf8um hair, fills or backing harmonies are a chance to show off and yell. But for early Blige and now for Cole, a fill or a backing harmony is a chance to testify and bring out a whole other side of a song’s story. Dig beneath the Pussycat Dolls gloss that executive producer Ron Fair brings to Just like You, and the examples are abundant: the weary and wary "Now you’re comin’ back this way" she adds just before the chorus of "Didn’t I Tell You"; the way her voice picks up intensity with each word of the verse in "Get My Heart Back," a my-life-in-song autobiographical track as stormy as Shara Nelsonera Massive Attack, but deeper; and, most of all, those final moments of "Fallin’ Out" right before and after she cries out, "I’m tired of giving my all."
The other thing about Cole that has made me even more of a full-on fan is her BET show. Keyshia Cole: The Way I Is is the black answer to the ’70s TV documentary An American Family, the superior PBS prototype of almost all reality TV shows. It brings her together with her sister Nefe and mother Frankie, who has been to prison as many times as Keyshia has ticked off years of her life. Keyshia lets them act out; she keeps a poker face and sports an array of hot tomboy looks while demonstrating a wisdom beyond her years. In one episode she matter-of-factly decides no men should be allowed in the house they share, a pragmatic move that flies in the face of any crossover poses. Over time it’s become poignantly clear to me that Just like You‘s collage cover portrait and title track are addressed to Cole’s mother and sister more than to any lover or listener. At this point in her life and career, she is secure enough in her beauty and talent to speak plain logic in her lyrics and stay independent. When she recently talked about her Etta Jameslike lineage and her fatherless upbringing on Tyra, that show’s dreaded host was clearly intimidated by her smarts and lack of fakery.
Flicking channels while recuperating from a broken wrist this summer, I saw Kanye West and some forgettable MC or producer hyping themselves on one of MTV’s channels. They were being interviewed on the corner of a requisite rough-looking city block when a man yelling from a window many stories above interrupted their sales shtick. "Can you give me Keyshia’s phone number?" the guy asked.
I second that.
A DOZEN NEW FAVES
•Arp, In Light (Smalltown Supersound)
•Gui Boratto, Chromophobia (Kompakt)
•Keyshia Cole, Just like You (Geffen)
•Kathy Diamond, Miss Diamond to You (Permanent Vacation)
•Kirby Dominant, STARR: Contemplations of a Dominator (Rapitalism)
•Chelonis R. Jones, "The Cockpit" and "Pompadour" (MySpace), "Empire" with Remo (Dance Electric), and "Helen Cornell" with Marc Romboy (Systematic)
•Dominique Leone, "Clairevoyage" and "Conversational" (Feedelity)
•The Passionistas, God’s Boat (New and Used)
•Sally Shapiro, Disco Romance (Paper Bag)
•Sorcerer, White Magic (Tirk)
•Prins Thomas, Prins Thomas Presents Cosmo Galactic Prism (Eskimo)
•Caetano Veloso, Cê (Nonesuch)
Judging from the hoo-ha on the message boards and the late-blooming stories coursing through the mainstream media, this may have been the year the music industry business model truly broke. In a boldly utopian and rawly realistic mood, Radiohead took their music and declared they didn’t want play with major labels any more let the PayPal bucks fall where they may into the passed digital hat; Kanye West and 50 Cent allowed a gamers’ pseudosales war to eclipse any artistic statements they might’ve been making; and Britney Spears’s family-court and fashion disasters climaxed in a widely televised moment of lambasted lacklusterness before she was left, well, alone. Music sales slumped further as live music sales stirred. No wonder Madonna signed with Live Nation save that black concert T for the Karl Stockhausen memorial, RIP.
It’s tough to find obsession material amid the music business coverage: the sounds that set you dreaming, the blood pounding, the ankles caving, and the thrills coursing down the mosh pitspindled spine. Speaking to Nick Cave came close to triggering dry heaves for yours truly, but his all-too-human, literate gentlemandegenerate charm simply lanced a boil of long-festering obsession rather than sent me off on reveries of rabid fandom. Better to wrap my flaming neuroses around the highly visible good girlbad girl archetypes embedded in the Alicia (Keys) and Amy (Winehouse) Show. Here’s to AA let’s have another guzzle of Wino’s "Rehab."
Keys and Winehouse plugged into some deep doo-doo down in my teenage doghouse: I was the good-girl grind who chomped Chopin piano études when I wasn’t biting AP credits. OK, I never wept openly when I got a B, nor did I turn down a Columbia acceptance letter like the Keys-ter, but I could relate to the snippet of Nocturne no. 20 in C-sharp Minor that opens this month’s guilty obsession, As I Am (J). All about uplift and upholstered with a-mite-too-pristine, carefully calibrated R&B pop, AIA slides seductively through the holiday hokum with its anthemic, Linda Perrycowritten "Superwoman," the Prince-like "Like You’ll Never See Me Again," and the no-muss lustiness of "I Need You." AIA lacks overall heat and inspired originality; the fact that Keys locks in with that other do-right prodigy, John Mayer, speaks volumes. Rather than hook into her natural-woman, way earthy, baby-blues-mama fire live, the type that threatened to softly blast Beyoncé off the Oracle Arena stage three years ago, La Keys is much too good a girl, making all the right moves, to break with the machine. Tellingly, she’s framed by a music-box mechanism in the video for AIA‘s first single, "No One." Agonizingly, ecstatically curled to within an inch of Diana Ross’s Mahogany, Keys stares into the distance like an anesthetized, perfectly blank, pretty doll.
Likewise, I can completely identify with the bad-girl train wreck embodied by Winehouse, howling in a red bra on the street and perpetually hiking up her low-riding denim in concert. Who hasn’t dreamed of cutting class, reviving trash, and dropping the high-achiever act? It’s far more dramatic to star in your own disaster movie, all puffy and tatted with throwback cuties, teased like girl–grouped Ronnie Spector and girl ganginspired Priscilla Presley by way of Tura Satana, while tacked out in yesterday’s greaser girl garb. Winehouse is the politically incorrect, highly visible dark side of the feminine pop principle; she’s both original and so very not what with her borrowed looks, band, and sound. Embroiled in a destructo-dance with her Pete Dohertyish bad-boy hubby, Blake Fielder-Civil, Winehouse has been imploding in the spotlight since the year began with a bang of hype for Back to Black (Island/Universal). Like Spears, she caters to our obsession with woman as time bomb all foibles, frailties, and fuckery and helpfully provides a textbook case in cultural appropriation and modern day blackface, from her style to her album title to her lyrics. What are the uses of visualizing and verbalizing postfeminist shame and self-hatred while looking back at pop history, à la Winehouse’s "You Know I’m No Good"? Are these ways to inject new danger or backhanded authenticity into the predictable girl groupgirl singer machination? Just turn to this fall’s Aretha Franklin compilation, Rare and Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul (Rhino/Atlantic), to find that bad can ring as contrived as good. True soul just sings for itself.
TOPS IN 2007
•Rhythm method: Aesop Rock, None Shall Pass (Definitive Jux); Battles, Mirrored (Warp); OOIOO, Taiga (Thrill Jockey)
•Soft shuffle: Bill Callahan, Woke on a Whaleheart (Drag City); Charlotte Gainsbourg, 5:55 (Vice), Mariee Sioux, live
•Popping out: the Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse (Jagjaguwar); Lavender Diamond, Imagine Our Love (Matador); Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl)
•I hear rainbows: Black Moth Super Rainbow, Dandelion Gum (Graveface); Radiohead, In Rainbows (self-released); White Rainbow, Prism of Eternal Now (Kranky)
•The Davis family reissue korner: Betty Davis, Betty Davis (Light in the Attic); Miles Davis, The Complete On the Corner Sessions (Sony Legacy)
WHAT IS IT? Beowulf may be raking in box office bucks worldwide, but its monster has been making his own rounds. Crispin Hellion Glover and I holed up in Chicago’s House of Blues to wait out a snowstorm and talk about the second installment of his It trilogy, It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine.
Twenty years ago Fine codirector David Brothers handed Glover a script penned by a man with severe cerebral palsy. This wasn’t a touchy-feely autobiographical affair nor a trite story about overcoming diversity to make the world a better place. No, this was a sinister genre spin into the mind of a sociopath; the gentle hero was a villain. "He didn’t like the idea that handicapped people were always portrayed as these good people," Glover explained, careful to point out that the screenwriter, Steven C. Stewart, preferred the term handicapped. "He wanted to play a bad guy."
Protagonist Paul Baker, played by Stewart, has a hair fetish. He falls in love with a weathered divorcee played by ever-luminous Rainer Werner Fassbinder muse Margit Carstensen and her lengthy locks. She purrs at Baker, "You might be handicapped, but you’re still a man. I’m going to treat you as such." And she follows through, right until he strangles her. We watch as he charms, beds, and slays his way through the female cast. "The women are his allies, but there’s an antagonism within them as well," Glover explained. "It has to do with the hair." Indeed, anytime a woman threatens to chop off her mane, we know she’s on her way out.
"The fact that he had these particularities that he wasn’t a good guy, that he had this hair fetish this is what made it interesting," Glover said of the Baker character. It isn’t long before we learn that it’s OK to hate the guy in the wheelchair. The cerebral palsy becomes moot. It’s all about the hair.
Despite the fact that the speech of Fine‘s leading man is nearly impossible to decipher, the audience never loses track of what’s going on. As the screenwriter, Stewart could have given himself any worldly talent; instead, he chose a fantasy in which everyone understands him with ease. It’s this naïveté that attracted Glover to the script, and the directors made strenuous efforts to preserve it throughout the film.
After the death of his mother, Stewart spent 10 years locked in a nursing home, penning the script on his release. Glover read it shortly after. "I don’t know how he got me to make this film, but I’m glad I did it," said Glover, who told me several times that he believes this is the best film he will ever be associated with. "If this film didn’t get made, I genuinely would have felt like I’d done something wrong."
Although Fine was originally slated to be the third installment of the It trilogy, a turn in Stewart’s health sparked an urgency to start shooting. Glover accepted his role in Charlie’s Angels to bankroll Fine, and filming began in Salt Lake City in 2000.
A month after shooting wrapped, Glover received a telephone call from Stewart, who asked if it was OK to take himself off life support. "It was a very heavy responsibility to say, ‘Yes Steve, we have enough footage. You do what you need to do,’" Glover said.
Without Stewart around to field questions about his script, the codirectors had to interpret the writer’s intentions on their own and audiences and reviewers will keep asking questions that can’t be answered. Did Stewart write the script to be surrounded by beautiful women, graphic sexuality, and the artistic attentions of Glover and Brothers? Did he understand the important, albeit off-putting, nuances presented for unassuming audiences to chew on? As I rambled about the things Stewart might have said if only he were here with us, Glover stopped me: "Steven would have loved to have been here to talk to you. He probably would have wanted to touch your hair. But I don’t know that he would have been particularly analytical about this."
So, in the Steven C. Stewart tradition of eschewing analysis for the good stuff, I’ll leave you with this: Graphic sex on gorgeous sets. Cameos by both Glover parents. Death by wheelchair. Don’t overthink it. Just go see the film. It’ll be fine. Everything will be fine. (K. Tighe)
IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE.
With Crispin Hellion Glover in person
Fri.Sun., 8 p.m., $20
429 Castro, SF
"If music be the food of love, let’s party" goes the catchphrase for TheatreWorks’ holiday production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will. As this jiggering with Orsino’s famous opening line suggests, artistic director Robert Kelley takes the Bard’s invitation to do "what you will" as a license to rock, with a San Francisco Summer of Love theme meant to warm the cockles on a winter’s eve. It’s a theme the show’s producers run with at full tilt. But then, summers in this city can be pretty chilly too.
Things start boldly enough, at least visually. Scenic designer Andrea Bechert’s canny quoting of ’60s surrealism namely, a studied blend of Yellow Submarinelike fantasia and Peter Maxstyle Haight-Ashbury poster art ensures it’s an eminently psychedelic set of TV game show proportions that greets visitors to Palo Alto’s Lucie Stern Theatre. The costumes (lovingly created by Allison Connor) meanwhile reference equally emblematic threads. Hence, the luridly colorful, invariably bell-bottomed cast strike instantly recognizable rock star poses.
Predictable bursts of canned period rock come augmented with some winsome live music, courtesy of composer Paul Gordon (writer-composer of TheatreWorks’ recent world-premiere musical, Emma) and performed by a trio of actors. They are led by the tuneful and sharp (dramatically speaking) Patrick Alparone as Feste the clown, with Michael Ching and Clive Worsley playing backup on guitar, bass, and some of the fool’s lines while also handling the parts of the Captain and Antonio, respectively.
In place of an opening storm at sea, we get a smoking hippie van protruding from the wings. This period vehicle of choice substitutes for the shipwrecked vessel that casts asunder Shakespeare’s twins Viola (Carie Kawa) and Sebastian (Rafael Untalan), each to wander the isle of Illyria (read as the Upper Haight) thinking the other dead. Kawa’s chirpy Viola wastes little time mourning her bro, instead bounding into the cross-dressing role of Cesario (a move primed to cause much Shakespearean confusion and subversion) so she may serve local ruler Orsino (Michael Gene Sullivan), the lovesick duke she secretly loves. She becomes his proxy in wooing the unyielding Lady Olivia (a fiery, formidable Vilma Silva), in mourning for her own brother and father. Of course, Viola’s charms as Cesario turn the lady’s head, but in the wrong direction.
In keeping with a theme run amok, Sullivan’s Orsino is outfitted like Jimi Hendrix, and Viola-Cesario sports a Sgt. Pepper jacket. Some of these costumes work better than others. Sullivan’s decidedly cool but never frivolous Orsino manages to wear his outfit with a measure of conviction. Meanwhile, Olivia’s kinsman Sir Toby Belch (Warren David Keith), ridiculously done up in stringy long hair, a leather vest, and beads, is a slightly shaky Wavy Gravy. It’s a vague distraction from Sir Toby’s bluster and plotting with his inept pal Sir Andrew Aguecheek (an expertly cloddish Darren Bridgett) and Olivia’s lady-in-waiting, Maria (Shannon Warrick), to show up the household’s buzz kill, Malvolio (Ron Campbell).
Only this comical villain, appropriately enough, breaks the dominant color-and-inseam scheme with his subdued but fastidious attire (that is, before he’s snookered into prancing around before Olivia in yellow tights). And Campbell’s Malvolio is something of a standout in general, with his juicy personification of smug intolerance, foolish flirting, and outraged dignity. In fact, all Campbell has to do is roll his mouth around a vowel, cast a supercilious glance backward, or mumble an aptly gloomy Simon and Garfunkel lyric to have the audience guffawing.
But even with lots of willing talent among the cast, and even with Gordon’s catchy original musical settings, the spectacle is all surface. This is hardly a silent night, but the comedy on parade provokes less cheer than you might expect. At the same time, in all the dizzy ’60s shtick, the play’s undertones and poetry, while never entirely lost, can come across rather mutedly.
Of course, this is not really the 1960s anyway, but a mere facsimile of 1960s motifs. It remains a two-dimensional backdrop, devoid of strife, politics, idealism, suffering anything that would smudge the pristine scenery or harsh your mellow this politically bleak holiday season.
Through Dec. 23
Tues.Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.Sat., 8 p.m. (also Sat, 2 p.m.); Sun, 2 and 7 p.m.; $20$56
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield, Palo Alto
The holiday season is to the home cook what a howling blizzard is to the captain of a fully loaded 747 approaching O’Hare Airport. It’s showtime; it’s the time you earn your keep. While pilots are dealing with bad weather, home cooks are grappling with turkey in particular, how to make it appealing, or at least presentable. The key factors here, moistness and flavor, are interrelated, since much of the flavor in a bird is in its juices. Turkeys, despite their monstrous bioengineered breasts, are famously lean, and did I mention it isn’t just a blizzard, it’s 30 below with gusty winds, and the landing gear is stuck?
For the past few years I’ve flirted with the idea that turkey might respond to the confit treatment: slow, gentle cooking while immersed in fat. The usual confit subject is duck, which is actually a self-sustaining fat ecosystem: enough fat can be rendered from a duck to cook its meat in. Turkey, on the other hand, requires a subsidy, either duck fat reserved from earlier confit operations, or reserved duck fat with lard.
Since I don’t keep lard in the house and didn’t feel like buying and butchering a whole turkey for an experiment, I began small, with a single turkey tenderloin, the pound or so of boneless flesh that stands in so nicely for pork in so many roles. I seasoned the tenderloin, let it stand in the fridge overnight, rinsed it off, immersed it in duck fat in a small heavy pan, brought it to a simmer on the stovetop, and then put it into a 200-degree oven for about three hours.
Although I had no particular expectations about the result, the result was nonetheless startling. The meat seemed to have contracted in the fat Seinfeldian shrinkage and when I cut the tenderloin open, it had become dense, almost like chilled fudge. At the bottom of the pan lay a shallow layer of extruded juice, whose departure no doubt had contributed to the meat’s collapse. I sliced the tenderloin into pâtélike slices and served the heated juice (captured with a gravy separator) over the top as a salvage-operation sauce, but all of this fuss only partly concealed the unusual deadness of the meat.
Next time (if there is a next time): meat on the bone will have to be involved. That’s the brainstorm of the moment.
In the virtuoso first and last shots of Silent Light, director Carlos Reygadas has the audience seeing stars. At first it’s difficult to tell that you’re staring at the nighttime sky: those glimmering lights could be electric. But once the camera completes its initial 180-degree acrobat maneuver and begins to creep over a rural landscape, it’s apparent that Reygadas’s vision is stratospheric. A time-lapse tracking shot matched with a magnified, morphing soundtrack of insect and animal noises, this opening sequence (echoed at the end) eclipses the mechanical spectacle of Koyaanisquatsi-style ethnographic docs and the intimate splendor of nature films. Even if Reygadas is simply being a show-off, there’s something uncanny about his merging of the cinematic and the choreographic the spectrum of light, darkness, and color inspires wonder.
When Reygadas breaks free from human subject matter, Silent Light takes on a mystical air. But those moments bookend a tale of adultery set amid a Mennonite community in Chihuahua, Mexico, and the people in that story move not for the first time in a Reygadas film like dolls at the mercy of a drowsy child-god. Try as he might, Reygadas can never quite tell a straight story when he fixes his gaze on human subjects. He leaves the corpulent realm of 2005’s Battle in Heaven for the blond hair, extreme tan lines, and reptilian beads of sweat of a farmer and his family. But he never mocks the beliefs of his human subjects, even if his latest film’s eternally smiling grandfather figure seems like a creature out of Beatrix Potter. Shades of blue and white, Ford T-shirts and 4×4 pickup trucks, a sweaty Jacques Brel glimpsed in pixel-pointillist close-up, the untamed aspects (and bizarre elderly features) of children, sun drops refracted jewels from beams of solar light that hang like stained-glass mobiles amid the daytime landscape and, when indoors, reflections in the golden pendulum of a tick-tocking clock: these ingredients are all as important as the narrative and its mystical outcome.
If he or she exists, God works in mysterious ways, allowing Silent Light to rediscover Denmark in rural Mexico and letting Reygadas try on the robes of Carl Theodor Dreyer the film’s connections to Dreyer’s 1955 Ordet (also invoked reverently in João Pedro Rodrigues’s cockeyed, blasphemously faithful 2005 Odete, a.k.a. Two Drifters) are many and varied. Reygadas’s point of view ceaselessly circles the action, sometimes crawling toward (or past) dark thresholds. But only at the beginning and the end of Silent Light does his direction with an emphasis on that word’s searching as much as literal cinematic terminology reach a sublime realm. This isn’t a miracle he’s already demonstrated a flair for elaborate beginnings and finales: his overrated 2002 debut Japón closed with a marathon tracking-shot trek over a train crash. Silent Light lacks the bracing pairings of the sacred and profane that characterize Battle in Heaven, but its starry-eyed beginning and end prove that that Reygadas’s scrutiny of the ineffable is far from complacent. If cinema is a corpse, his kiss just might bring it back to life.
Thurs/13 (with Carlos Reygadas in person) and Sun/16, 7:30 p.m., $6$8
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, screening room, SF
Unplanned pregnancy is so stylish these days. As Waitress, Knocked Up, and now Juno have demonstrated, we’ve come a long way since a downtrodden Madonna informed Danny Aiello of her delicate condition in the "Papa Don’t Preach" video (1986). Of course, Juno is the only film among 2007’s baby-on-board crew to seriously consider abortion and settle on adoption; it’s also the most sympathetic to its female protagonist, who is thankfully more relatable than Keri Russell’s small-town pie chef or Katherine Heigl’s impossibly hot TV reporter. She’s a high schooler, she’s caustic as hell, and even if she’s occasionally too much of a screenwriter’s construct, it’s hard not to eagerly await her next wry, preternaturally mature observation.
Pitch-perfect as this pocket-size punkette is Hard Candy‘s Ellen Page, whose breakout status after Juno‘s release will be either matched or exceeded by that of hipster scribe Diablo Cody (director Jason Reitman already won over everybody with Thank You for Smoking). Sort-of couple Juno (Page) and Paulie (Michael Cera) consummate their mutual crush on a whim; cue bun in the oven. Ever the antiafter school special, Juno faces the news with eye-rolling determination. Before long, she’s plucked a yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) from the "desperately seeking spawn" want ads. At first entirely uninterested in getting to know her baby’s adoptive parents, Juno finds herself drawn to them, especially to the dad-to-be, a failed rocker turned jingle writer whose interest in the preggers teen is maybe not entirely wholesome.
Whatever people aren’t gonna go see Juno for its social commentary, or its take on teen pregnancy, really. This is one of those flicks with Heathers-like glib-clever-snarky dialogue that beg repeated viewings, memorization, and repetition. Besides a terrific script, the film also boasts a stellar cast, with Juno’s parents played by Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons, and a cameo by The Office‘s Rainn Wilson. (Cheryl Eddy)
Opens Fri/14 in Bay Area theaters
Although for years I have believed and maintained that you could never get good cassoulet in a restaurant, I find that I must now recant. You can get good cassoulet in at least one restaurant in this town, and that restaurant is Le P’tit Laurent, which opened a few months ago at the corner of Chenery and Diamond, in the heart of Glen Park’s utterly transformed commercial village.
The restaurant bears the name of its owner, Laurent Legendre, who was one of the partners in Clémentine, a late-’90s presence in the Inner Richmond. I never quite warmed to Clémentine, whose rather formal and correct French cooking seemed a little crimped after the exuberant whimsy of Alain Rondelli, previous holder of the Clement Street space. But no such ghost haunts Le P’tit Laurent, whose predecessor was a blues club named Red Rock. The new bistro already feels as if it’s been there since time out of mind; it has that nicely worn-in Parisian look, from the clutter of liquor bottles (and a miniature Eiffel Tower) behind the mirrored bar to the little, distinctively French signs posted all over the place, including one for cave at the mouth of the wine closet. There is also a pressed-tin ceiling and a service ethic that is French in the best sense: friendly, yes, but knowledgeable and crisp first.
Best of all is the street scene that continuously unfolds beyond the many windows. One of the drawbacks of the French bistro in America is that America isn’t France, and our street scenes don’t look French. Glen Park would never be mistaken for the Marais, even at night, but one evening, amid early darkness and the descending scent of winter, I thought I caught a whiff of the 11th arrondissement: blurred streetlamps, a metro station at the corner, pedestrians hurrying home from work up quiet side streets, though not carrying baguettes under their arms.
Of course, I was eating an excellent cassoulet at the time, and this might have affected my perception. The only flaw in Le P’tit Laurent’s cassoulet ($19) is that it can’t be ordered as part of the three-course, $19.95 prix fixe menu (available Monday to Thursday, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.). Otherwise, the dish is flawless: an earthenware crock of white beans in a sauce thickened by a long, slow simmer with duck-leg confit, chunks of pork, and oblong coins of Toulouse sausage.
The cassoulet is a meal in itself and then some, so our first course steamed mussels in a creamy white-wine sauce ($9), with pale gold frites ($2.50 extra) was overkill in the form of an overture. (Prekill?) The broth was excellent if conventional, and it seemed to gather a bit of extra magic when sopped up with the fries or (when they ran out, because of course they did) chunks of baguette. And it probably made more sense as a prelude to a lighter main course, such as sautéed sea bass ($16) in a Grenobloise sauce a rather forceful concoction of melted butter spiked with herbs and capers (and possibly a dab of mustard, I thought).
One of the kitchen’s themes, in fact, seems to involve giving hearty treatments to seafood. On an earlier visit we found several chunks of monkfish ($17.95) sprawled on a bed of shredded cabbage and bacon (a combination reminiscent of the Alsatian dish choucroute). On that same visit we liked suprême de poulet ($14.95), a roasted leg and thigh of chicken on a bed of couscous and garlic confit, with a cheery sauce of citrus reduction and ginger, but were less enthusiastic about the vegetarian plate ($14.95), a pair of large, free-form ravioli stuffed with red beet slices and bathed in too much of a decent but unremarkable mushroom sauce. If you needed proof that the traditional French gastronomic ethic is unenthusiastic about vegetarianism, I give you exhibit A.
If we felt we’d drifted into an unstated conflict, we were soon mollified by dessert: to wit, profiteroles ($5.95), in fact the best profiteroles in recent memory. There was nothing too out of the ordinary about the flavors; the pastry balls were stuffed with vanilla ice cream and sauced with chocolate and caramel. But the pastry! Sublimely flaky. Profiteroles are too often tough and rubbery, like old racquetballs, but Le P’tit Laurent’s were yieldingly delicate, bits of buttery finery that surrendered themselves and were soon gone but not forgotten. They were so not forgotten, in fact, that we ordered them a second time a few evenings later, and while I was tempted to cap things off with a snifter of Armagnac, I felt no need in the end. (To paraphrase the endlessly paraphrasable Homer Simpson: my gastronomic rapacity did know satiety.)
As for Glen Park well, these days I hardly know ye. When Chenery Park opened just a few doors up in 2000, it was a lonely outpost of upscaleness in a Sleepy Hollow sort of urban enclave that seemed little changed since the 1950s. But these first years of the new millennium have brought all sorts of newness, from the cool pizza place across the street (Gialina) to the gorgeous Canyon Market (viewable through Le P’tit Laurent’s windows as part of the faux11th arrondissement display) to, finally, a retro-chic Parisian bistro that serves quite good food at reasonable prices and is, accordingly, packing them in. The case for cassoulet has been made.
LE P’TIT LAURENT
Brunch: Sat.Sun., 9 a.m.2 p.m. Dinner: daily, 5:3010:30 p.m.
699 Chenery, SF