Volume 47 Number 11
YEAR IN MUSIC Local musicians, rappers, producers, and music writers sound off on the year’s best songs, album releases, shows, personal triumphs, and local acts.
HANNAH LEW, GRASS WIDOW
TOP 10 OF 2012
1. Starting our own label HLR and releasing our own record (Internal Logic)
2. Total Control’s LP
3. Touring with the Raincoats and singing “Lola” with them every night
4. Getting obsessed with Silver Apples
5. Hollywood Nails
6. Wymond Miles LP
7. Scrapers (band)
8. Sacred Paws (band)
9. Making eight music videos and losing my mind
10. Wet Hair’s LP
TOP 10 2012 RAP JAMZ
1. DJ Nate, “Gucci Gogglez” 2. Chief Keef, “Ballin” 3. French Montana, “Shot Coller” 4. Chippy Nonstop, “Money Dance” DJ Two Stacks remix 5. Cash Out, “Cashin’ Out” 6. Future, “Turn on the Lights” 7. Gucci Mane, “Bussin Juggs” 8. Juicy J, “Drugged Out” 9. Lil Mouse, “Don’t Get Smoked” 10. Lil Reese, “Traffic” feat. Chief Keef
MICHAEL KRIMPER, GUARDIAN
THE ENDLESS DESIRE LIST
(IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER, OR, OUT OF ORDER)
1. Les Sins/”Fetch”/12″ (Jiaolong)
Run, fall, catch your desire.
2. The Soft Moon/”Want”/Zeros (Captured Tracks)
Infinite want, can’t have it. O, ye of bad faith.
3. Frank Ocean/”Pyramids”/channel ORANGE (Def Jam)
Pimping Cleopatra, whoring the pyramids.
4. Daphni aka Caribou/”Ye ye”/Jiaolong (Jiaolong)
Affirmation on repeat.
5. Grimes/”Genesis”/Visions (4AD)
Whatever, you know you like it.
6. Todd Terje/”Inspector Norse”/It’s the Arps (Olsen/Smalltown Supersound)
Inspecting never felt so good.
7. Burial/”Kindred”/Kindred (Hyperdub)
Kindred outcasts, jealously desiring their solitude.
8.John Talabot/”Estiu”/Fin (Permanent Vacation)
If a permanent vacation wasn’t hell, this might be its soundtrack.
9. Purity Ring/”Obedear”/Shrines (4AD)
Nothing pure in this abject need.
10. Kendrick Lamar/”A.D.H.D.”/good kid m.A.A.d city (Interscope)
Crack babies: she says, distracted, endless desire.
TYCHO, AKA SCOTT HANSEN
FAVORITE BAY AREA AND BAY AREA-AFFILIATED MUSIC ACTS
1. Toro Y Moi 2. Christopher Willits 3. Blackbird Blackbird 4. Jessica Pratt 5. Sam Flax 6. Ty Segall 7. Yalls 8. Doombird 9. Little Foxes 10. Dusty Brown
BEN RICHARDSON, GUARDIAN
BEST METAL ALBUMS OF 2012
1. Dawnbringer, Into the Lair of the Sun God (Profound Lore)
2. Asphyx, Deathhammer (Century Media)
3. Woods of Ypres, V: Grey Skies & Electric Light (Earache)
4. Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats, Blood Lust (Metal Blade)
5. Pallbearer, Sorrow And Extinction (Profound Lore)
6. Windhand, Windhand (Forcefield Records)
7. Omens EP
8. Hour of 13, 333 (Earache)
9. Gojira, L’enfant Sauvage (Roadrunner)
10. Lord Dying, Demo
CALEB NICHOLS, CHURCHES
TOP 10 VINYL PURCHASED IN 2012, AND WHERE I PURCHASED THEM
1. The Shins, Port Of Morrow (Amazon — forgive me, I had a gift card.)
2. The Walkmen, Heaven (Urban Outfitters clearance — yeah, I know, but you can’t beat brand-new vinyl for $10.)
3. Various Artists, Death Might Be Your Santa Claus (Boo Boo Records, San Luis Obispo. My hometown record store.)
4. Ella Fitzgerald, Live at Montreaux (Boo Boo Records, San Luis Obispo)
5. Mahalia Jackson, Christmas With Mahalia (Abbot’s Thrift, Felton, CA — Great thrift store in the Santa Cruz Mountains.)
6. Benjamin Britten/Copenhagen Boys Choir, A Ceremony Of Carols (Abbot’s Thrift, Felton, Calif.)
7. Thurston Moore, Demolished Thoughts (Urban Outfitters clearance)
8. The Hunches, Exit Dreams (1234Go! Records, Oakland)
9. Various Artists/Angelo Badalamenti, Wild At Heart OST (Streetlight Records, Santa Cruz)
10. Tijuana Panthers, “Crew Cut” seven-inch (Picked up at show — Brick and Mortar Music Hall, San Francisco)
KACEY JOHANSING, SINGER-SONGERWRITER
TOP 10 FAVORITE SONGWRITERS IN THE BAY AREA
1. Sleepy Todd
2. Tommy McDonald of The Range of Light Wilderness
3. Emily Ritz of Yesway and DRMS (biased opinion, I know)
4. Kyle Field of Little Wings
5. Alexi Glickman of Sandy’s
6. Michael Musika
7. Bart Davenport
8. Indianna Hale
9. Jeffrey Manson
10. Sonya Cotton
HALEY ZAREMBA, GUARDIAN
TOP TEN CONCERTS OF 2012
1. El Ten Eleven at the New Parish
2. Good Old War at Slim’s
3. Girls at Bimbo’s
4. St Vincent and Tune-Yards at The Fox
5. Bomb the Music Industry! at Bottom of the Hill
6. Fucked Up at Slim’s
7. Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra at the Fillmore
8. Ariel Pink at Bimbo’s
9. Conor Oberst at the Fillmore
10. Titus Andronicus at the Great American Music Hall
CARLETTA SUE KAY, SINGER-SONGWRITER
BEST OF 2012
1. “See All Knows All,” A Thing By Sonny Smith at The Lost Church.
2. “Silent Music” music ephemera show at Vacation (651 Larkin) curated by Lee Reymore, opening party set by the Fresh and Onlys, after -party pot cookie monsters invade the Gangway.
3. Dusty Stax & The Bold Italic Present: “Summer Soul Friday Night”.
4. Wax Idol’s Hether Fortune fronting the Birthday Party cover band at Vacation.
5. Jessica Pratt’s debut LP (Birth Records).
6. Bambi Lake at the Museum of Living Art.
7. Pruno Truman, aka Heidi Alexander from the Sandwitches “Sleeping with the TV on” b/w Carletta Sue Kay “No, no” (Weird World).
8. Opening for Baby Dee at Brick & Mortar Music Hall.
9. Kelley Stoltz’s cover of “Sunday Morning” on Velvet Underground and Nico by Castle Face & Friends (Castle Face).
10. Christopher Owens premiers Lysandre live at the Lodge.
11. Mark Eitzel’s Don’t Be A Stranger (Merge) and its accompanying promo video series. Featuring Grace Zabriskie, Neil Hamburger, Parker Gibbs et al.
EMILY JANE WHITE, MUSICIAN
TOP 10 SONGS OF 2012 BY FEMALE ARTISTS
1. “Spinning Centers” Chelsea Wolfe: Unknown Rooms
2. “Who Needs Who” Dark Dark Dark: Who Needs Who
3. “Oblivion,” Grimes: Visions
4. “Old Magic” Mariee Sioux: Gift for the End
5. “Apostle” Marissa Nadler: The Sister
6. “In Your Nature” Zola Jesus: seven-inch (w/ David Lynch Re-Mix)
7. “Silent Machine” Cat Power: Sun
8. “Moon in My Mind,” Frankie Rose: Interstellar
9. “Serpents,” Sharon Van Etten: Tramp
10. “Video Games,” Lana Del Rey: Born to Die
MORNIN’ OLD SPORT
1.Moons, Bloody Mouth
2.Patti Smith, Banga
3.Mykki Blanco, Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss Mixtape
4.ABADABAD, The Wild EP
5.Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid m.A.A.d city
6.Shady Hawkins, Dead to Me
8. Bikini Kill EP (reissue)
9. Sharky Coast, Pizza Dreamz demo
10. FIDLAR, No Waves/No Ass seven-inch
ROSS PEACOCK AND NATHAN TILTON, MWAHAHA
ALMOST TOP 10 ALBUMS (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
1. Air, Le voyage dans la lune
2. Naytronix, Dirty Glow
3. I Come To Shanghai, Eternal Life Vol. 2
4. Beak, >>
5. Steve Moore and Majeure, Brainstorm
6. Clipd Beaks, Wake
7. Brian Eno, LUX
8. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay
ALMOST TOP 10 SHOW (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
1. Pulp at the Warfield: Think that was this year. Cocker sings sexy
2. Red Red Red: just saw this guy play at a warehouse in Oakland…live house music made with actual hardware!
3. Flying Lotus at the Fox was pretty epic….. insane visuals.
5. Lumerians at the Uptown
6. Neurosis at the Fox: Fuck!
7. Deerhoof at SXSW ….. maybe the best live band in the universe
8. Indian Jewelry at the Terminal …. strobe light universe
EMILY SAVAGE, GUARDIAN
LIVE SHOWS THAT CREATED THE MOST POSI MEMORIES IN 2012
1. Feb. 14: Black Cobra, Walken, Yob at New Parish
2. Feb. 23: Budos Band and Allah-Lahs at the Independent
3. March 30: Hot Snakes at Bottom of the Hill
4. April 10: Jeff Mangum at the Fox Theater,
5. July 21: Fresh and Onlys and La Sera at Phono Del Sol Music Fest
6. July 28: Total Trash BBQ Weekend at the Continental Club
7. Aug. 11: Metallica at Outside Lands
8. Aug. 31: Eyehategod at Oakland Metro
9. Oct. 9: Saint Vitus at the Independent
10. Oct. 27: Coachwhips and Traditional Fools at Verdi Club
NEW ALBUMS I LISTENED TO ENDLESSLY IN 2012
1. Grass Widow, Internal Logic (HLR)
2. Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory (Carpark)
3. Ty Segall, Slaughterhouse (In the Red)
4. Dum Dum Girls, End of Daze EP (Sub Pop)
5. Frankie Rose, Interstellar (Slumberland)
6. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Alleluja! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (Constellation)
7. The Fresh and Onlys, Long Slow Dance (Mexican Summer)
8. THEESatisfaction, awE naturalE (Sub Pop)
9. Terry Malts, Killing Time (Slumberland)
10. Guantanamo Baywatch, Chest Crawl (Dirtnap Records)
TAYLOR KAPLAN, GUARDIAN
TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2012
1. Hiatus Kaiyote: Tawk Tomahawk (self-released) I could tell you that a bunch of white Australians somehow merged the sound-worlds of Erykah Badu, J Dilla, and Thundercat into a 30-minute, self-released debut LP that rivals the best work of any of those musicians, but you just might have to hear for yourself: hiatuskaiyote.bandcamp.com.
2. Lone: Galaxy Garden (R&S) This is the Lone album we’ve been waiting for. The British laptop producer’s past efforts, while exquisitely lush, were inhibited by a sense of hollow simplicity; Galaxy Garden, his danciest effort yet, shows improvement on nearly every front, from generously layered percussion, to a nuanced, bittersweet take on melody and harmony. A gorgeous fulfillment of Lone’s hedonistic vision.
3. Scott Walker: Bish Bosch (4AD) Difficult as it is to proclaim Bish Bosch 2012’s best album, (its hulking weight and unyielding grimness renders casual listening a difficult proposition) no LP this year has matched its gutsiness and sonic adventurousness, or consolidated so many ideas into a singular space. An array of musical possibilities as dense, thorny, and encyclopedic as a Pynchon novel, with Walker’s quivering, operatic baritone as its sole, anchoring force.
4. Zammuto: s/t (Temporary Residence) Former Books member Nick Zammuto’s solo debut impresses with its vitality and strength of purpose. Despite the heightened emphasis on conventional songwriting this time around, Zammuto strikes that divine balance between bewildering sound-collage and pop approachability that made the Books such an endearing project in the first place.
5. Tame Impala: Lonerism (Modular) Kevin Parker’s first LP as a lone, multitracking solo artist under the Tame Impala moniker, is a bubbly, golden pop album, despite its pervasive theme of existential dread. Its hooks achieve a weird form of transcendence, befitting the Beatles and Britney Spears in equal measure.
6. Laurel Halo: Quarantine (Hyperdub) Much like Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica (2011), Quarantine is ideal soundtrack material for those late-night, marathon web-surfing sessions that seem to transcend time and space. Halo’s cold, glassy electronics are anchored by dry, straightforward vocals on an album that occupies a mysterious void between vocal pop and ambient electronica.
7. Field Music: Plumb (Memphis Industries) Less a song-cycle than a series of hooks, Field Music’s latest is the work of a band with a hundred wonderful ideas up its sleeve, and only 35 minutes to communicate them. Channeling the impulsive energy of Abbey Road‘s second half with proggy dexterity, Plumb cements this vastly underrated British outfit as one of the most visionary songwriting duos around.
8. THEESatisfaction: awE naturalE (Sub Pop) Splitting the difference between progressive hip-hop and neo-soul, this Seattle duo’s breakthrough record zips through its 30-minute run-time with remarkable tenacity and economy. Bearing the exhilarating energy of J Dilla’s rip-roaring beat-tapes, and shrewd lyricism that effortlessly balances the political, the personal, and the cosmic, awE naturalE feels urgently, confrontationally NOW.
9. Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin: Live (ECM) Not quite nu-jazz, math-rock, or classical minimalism, Swiss ensemble Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin is as compelling, and innovative, as any live band around, tackling Reichian time signatures with the borderline robotic technical ability of Juilliard grads, and the undeniable groove of an airtight funk band.
10. d’Eon: LP (Hippos In Tanks) Approaching the tongue-in-cheek meta-pop of James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual with a twisted mythology of Christianity and Islam vs. iPhones and the Internet, and a bizarrely heavy dose of Phil Collins’ influence, d’Eon’s LP‘s totally dubious backstory is redeemed by solid songwriting, lush synths, killer keyboard solos, and a ’70s big-time art-rock sensibility. The most convoluted release to date from the prankish Hippos In Tanks imprint.
Honorable mention: Farrah Abraham: My Teenage Dream Ended (self-released) You can’t make this shit up: the year’s weirdest, most haunted and terrifying album wasn’t brought to us by Swans or Scott Walker, but the star of MTV’s Teen Mom. Trapped between the real world, and a web-based alter-reality, it’s the sound of an All American girl, brought up on The Notebook and Titanic, finding herself imprisoned in a Lynchian nightmare.
STREET SEEN To the casual observer, it may have appeared as if I had taken a painful, rainy early morning Muni ride into SoMa for the sole purpose of eating plastic-wrapped Japanese pancakes filled with red bean paste in a chain store. But to adherents of the Muji phenomenon, I was actually witnessing the birth of cross-Pacific retail revolution.
“The minimalism of Muji fits San Francisco perfectly with what the city is trying to do with conservation,” said store manager Eric Kobuchi, who was standing with the cash registers behind of him, and the sleepy-eyed attendees of the November 30th press preview and reception in front of him. His company was to open its first West Coast location (540 Ninth St., SF. www.muji.us) in an hour-and-a-half.
Among minimalism aficionados, this brand is paramount. Muji was born in 1980, originally as a line of 40 house and food items that were sold in Seiyu supermarkets. The name itself means “no label, quality goods.” The items were cheap, but relatively high quality. These savings were possible, said the company, by simplifying packaging and production, and utilizing offbeat materials, like the parts of the fish near the head and tail for its canned fish.
Muji fans kindled to the line’s recycled, plain packaging (the company has courted the “sustainable” label for decades). Being a Muji consumer is an identity unto itself, at least according to the brands’s brilliant ad campaigns. From a 256-page coffee table book of such endeavors presented to me at the preview: “Muji tries to attract not the customer who says ‘This is what I want,’ but rather the one who says, rationally, ‘this will do.'”
Zen. Today, Muji’s selection is an Ikea-Gap mélange. The San Francisco location, says Azami, has a similar, but smaller product selection (minus the food — tight regulations here make importing comestibles complicated), and the same layout and presentation as its Japanese stores. I don’t doubt that little changes have been made to the Muji formula for its West Coast audience — during the press preview, display prices for some of the stock were still only visible in yen.
Muji is but one simple, made-from-recycled-material package in a shopping bag full of newish Japanese brands to hit the Bay Area. Daiso, in my eyes the epitome of dollar (or rather 100 yen, roughly $1.50) store excellence, has been plying lunch boxes, fake eyelashes, party wigs, and stationary on the West Coast since 2005. It has several stores from SF to Milpitas (SF locations at 570 Market and 22 Japantown Peace Plaza).
We have homegrown Japanese retailers as well. Lounging in a bright office lined with shelves of Japanese comics, Seiji Horibuchi explained to me how he came to open retail complex New People (1746 Post, SF. www.newpeopleworld.com) in the heart of San Francisco’s Japantown.
Dressed in head-to-toe Sou Sou, a neo-traditional line of Japanese worker comfortwear whose signature item is its brightly patterned split-toe shoes, Horibuchi says he moved to the city in 1975, and started his anime-manga publishing house Viz Media in his adopted city in 1986. Viz Pictures, a distribution company for Japanese films followed, and then New People was born, originally as a movie theater at which to play Viz titles.
But the project grew, and by its opening in 2009, the J-pop mall included a gift shop, art gallery, and entire floor of Japanese fashion brands like Sou Sou and the babydoll goth Lolita brand Baby, the Stars Shine Bright.
New People is a bit different than the new megachains in town, however. Even the casual visitor can tell Horibuchi’s inventory couldn’t have come from any other country — unlike a lot of Muji’s stock, comprised of simply-universal products, most of New People’s vinyl dolls, high design flatware, and frilly babydoll bonnets could really have only come from Japan.
But Horibuchi understands why brands like Muji choose San Francisco for their debut on this side of the country. “We’re more open to foreign culture,” he says. “San Francisco is very flexible, livable.”
Plus, Asian Americans make up nearly 36 percent of the city’s population — and that ratio has grown in recent years. Companies know that many residents are already familiar with their brand, Horibuchi says. “I’m sure they’ve done enough marketing research.”
A company that has certainly done its marketing research is Uniqlo, which opened a popup shop (117 Post, SF) this summer, then a full-size West Coast flagship store (111 Powell, SF) in Union Square in October. In its opening weeks, the latter attracted 100-plus-person lines of shoppers with cheaply-priced rainbows of colored denim and ultralight down jackets.
In a calm moment on a busy holiday shopping day, I got a chance to talk with Uniqlo’s John “Jack” Zech, a “superstar store manager” according to a publicist that sat with us while we talked.
The three of us had a view of Uniqlo’s specially-designed-for-SF “magic mirror” (put on a down jacket, press a button, and the hue of your garment in the reflection shifts through the line’s different colors), its staircase of melting rainbow tones, and slowly rotating armies of mannequins clad in ski-ready fashions, ensconced in glass cases.
Zech worked in Uniqlo’s Japanese locations for months before the SF stores opened, and he says the company’s goal is to bring the Japanese concept of supreme customer service, irrashai mase, to the rest of the world.
When you walk into Uniqlo, a person in a happi day kimono greets you warmly. But other than that, I couldn’t see much of a difference between the cheery sales staff there versus that of any of the other chain stores in the neighborhood.
You won’t find happi on sale at Uniqlo. Instead, its affordably-priced cashmere, “Heat Tech” clothing — that I promise you, actually tingles and heats your skin up — and $9.90 packable raincoats (the only clothing item made specifically for the SF store) dominate the sales floor.
In 2010, the company’s official language switched to English. All managerial staff worldwide is required to speak it. “We found that people basically need the same things in Japan, France, London, here,” chirps Kech. “[CEO] Tadashi Yanai thinks we can improve the world by being a global company.”
Which snapped me out of the reverie I’d been lulled into by banks of $29.90 beige boot-cuts. Are Uniqlo and Muji really all that different than the globalized brands from the United States? Walmart, after all, has store greeters.
“If the product is good, it will sell,” regardless of geography, Horibuchi told me. These big brands have real cute stuff (admittedly, I would like to draw Santa’s attention to Muji’s $38 cardboard MP3 speakers.) But you’re not being worldly by shopping at them, though you are being globalized.
SUPER EGO Look, if I was doing my job properly, there’s no way in Hello Kitty I’d remember what happened on the club scene the past year. It’s all fuzzy shapes and drunk colors, like Barbara Bush in a bathhouse. Last February, it took me two whole pages of tiny type just to list my favorite weekly clubs, so I’m not gonna go into all that here. (I will say that parties like Housepitality, Honey Soundsystem, Lights Down Low, Icee Hot, Dub Mission, Non-Stop Bhangra, No Way Back, As You Like It, Forward, Deep, Base, and Sunset continued to introduce us to incredible DJs. And wasn’t there someone from Detroit here, like, every week?) Here are some things, however, I do recall
Loudest: Body and Soul at Mighty — my ears rang for a week, my feet for three.
Wowest: Amon Tobin’s giant tetris of digital video projections for his ISAM Live 2.0 tour at the Greek Theater.
Scary-Hottest: International leather techno entity Luther at Folsom Street Fair.
Coolest: Marco De La Vega, cross-genre promoter of the year, watching from the DJ booth as a kick-ass $3000 light falls on a table’s-worth of Balam Acab and Andy Stott’s live electronic equipment at Public Works. Then finishing his cocktail before handling the ensuing panic.
Wowest, part 2: The SF Symphony’s American Mavericks concert series (including a Kate Bush-referencing piece by DJ Masonic), SF Opera’s “Nixon in China,” the amazing Soundwave Festival, the hella robust Electronic Music festival.
Trippiest: Those immersive projections at Public Works, which turned Laurent Garnier’s live show into a cartoon-heart-filled rave aquarium and Jeff Mills’ into a star-map vortex.
Cutest: The tiny flashing lights on the ceiling of the remodeled, excellent 222 Hyde.
Latest: We got a trap club (Trap City), a new wave of cyber-horror drag performance artists (at Some Thing, Dark Room, High Fantasy), a packed gay sports bar (Hi Tops), a great-sounding new club (Monarch), a lunchtime dance party (Beats for Lunch, also at Monarch), an outbreak of vogueing (everywhere), a queer nu-hip-hop club (Swagger Like Us), a queer funk classics party (Love Will Fix It), and a weird “sparkling alcohol water” (Air). But we lost Club Six, which I loved. Also I think dubstep died.
Loveliest: Dancing in a church with 30 other people to hip-house legend Tyree Cooper, singing along to “Turn Up the Bass.” Watching real house parties like The People blow up in the East Bay. Sipping homemade sljivovica behind the decks with DJ Zeljko of Kafana Balkan. Doing the jerk ’til I melted at Hard French. DJing (eek!) Club Isis classics on vinyl at Go Bang. I think I almost made out with Kenny Dope at Red Bull Music Academy? Oh, and running into you.
MARKE B.’S 2012 JAMS
1. Todd Terje, “Inspector Norse” This was a dance music year that sometimes seemed to vacillate among three primary moods — prim sophistication, moneyed “indulgence,” and too-broad jokes. But Norwegian Terje dared proffer the sweetest humor in this instant earworm’s worth of re-engineered nostalgia, embracing the cheery electronic toodles of early ’80s British and Scandinavian TV show themes (cf. especially “Grange Hill” and “Swap Shop,” though not “Inspector Morse”) and bringing smiles back to the dance floor.
2. John Talabot, FACT Mix 315 A spectacular year for the Spaniard, whose expansive take on the decades-old Balearic sound already had him pegged for a 2012 favorite, even before he dropped excellent album Fin, which toyed with melancholic UK bass sounds and yielded my second favorite tune of the year, hopelessly romantic “So Will Be Now” with Pional. But this mix for FACT showed that the dark underpinnings of witchy house and the sunstroked uplift of Ibiza could be reconciled via a tingly rush of subtle, brilliant psychedelia. Trippy, lovely, and the right little bit of creepy.
3. Plan B, “Ill Manors” I detested The Prodigy the first time around — they were goofy twats who had nothing to be angry about. No surprise “Firestarter” was played for the Queen at this year’s Olympics opening ceremony. So much for anarchy in the UK, although Azaelia Banks mashing it up with “212” at Coachella was fun. UK rapper-singer Plan B managed to weld the Prodigy (and nascent drum and bass) revival to the real world anarchic energy of last year’s UK riots, his Tchaikovsky-sampling tune shivering with council flat rage, ambivalent violence, Olympic protest, and youthful nihilism. Watch his self-directed, horrifically poignant shoestring video, then laugh at the Grammys as accolades rain down on Romain Gavras’ extravagant ripoff for “No Church in the Wild.”
4. Rrose, Smoke Machine Podcast 069 Electronic Body Music for our time, rippling with muscular textures and ethereal trap doors.
5. Justin Martin, Crackcast 019 For all the diversity of the local scene, the Dirtybird crew is still our major player on the global dance music stage. (Of our three big breakout acts this year, Safeword is rad, Poolside is cute, Pillow Talk leaves me cold so far.) Fine, I adore them. Nobody else sounds like they’re having more fun while slyly executing tricky, emotionally satisfying bass maneuvers like Claude VonStroke and his stable. This year was stellar for the fiendishly clever Justin in terms of addictive mixes (his album “Ghettos and Gardens” was good, too, but I took issue with the insensitive tone of some of the promotional materials). This podcast, along with his Fabric and Clash ones, never left my iRotation.
OTHERS: MK, Old School Classics Mix; Le1f, “Wut”; Azaelia Banks, “Fierce”; Fantastic Mr. Fox, “San’en”; Andy Stott, “Luxury Problems EP”; Dutch Uncles, “Fester”; Ripperton, “Let’s Hope”; Sailor & I, “Tough Love (Aril Brikha remix)”; Jessie Ware and Julio Bashmore, “110%,”; Disclosure, “Latch”; Prince Club and Steve Huerta, “Can’t Let Go”; Bwana, “Baby Let Me Finish (Black Orange Juice Remix)”; Stereogamous, “Feel Love Anew”; Little People, “Aldgate Patterns.”
In June, 2006, the august and powerful Association of Alternative Newsweeklies held its convention in Little Rock, Arkansas — and to the surprise of most of us, former President Bill Clinton agreed to come and speak. He even took questions.
I had one.
“Mr. President,” I said, “when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he knew it would cost his party votes in the South. But he did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do. Same-sex marriage is a civil-rights issue; why can’t Democrats like you stand up and support it?”
He ducked brilliantly, telling us all the great things he did for gay people (I know, Jim Hormel, ambassador to Luxembourg). He never answered the question.
That was how much of the Democratic Party leadership was acting in the days (and years) after Gavin Newsom set off a political bombshell in 2004 by legalizing same-sex marriage in San Francisco. Newsom got calls from a wide range of liberal party leaders begging him to reconsider. Even San Francisco Dems made statements that, in retrospect, are mortifying.
So as we prepare for the Supreme Court to decide if it’s on the right side of history, let us take a moment to reflect on all the Democrats who weren’t.
Leading the list is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who now supports marriage equality but at the time proclaimed that it was “too much, too fast, too soon.” (In other words, just be patient, little gay ones, your time will come. Eventually.)
Even Rep. Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, said Newsom had broken the law and would only “feed the flames of fear.”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi for the first weeks of the city gay marriage celebrations stayed far, far away from the issue, although (after she realized how immensely popular the move was in her district) she broke down in late March 2004 and said she approved of Newsom’s actions.
Sen. John Kerry, during the 2004 presidential campaign, not only proclaimed that only a man and a woman could get married but said he would support state legislation banning same-sex nuptials. He didn’t publicly change his mind until 2011.
Barack Obama, as a candidate for president, never endorsed same-sex marriage and, according to some accounts, refused to have his picture taken with Newsom at a 2004 fundraiser in SF. In fact, during the 2008 Democratic primary, none of the major candidates endorsed same-sex marriage. Some of the commentary was laughable — then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed that “gay marriage is between a man and a woman,” and the Hartford Courant denounced Newsom for “turning City Hall into a wedding mill for homosexuals.” Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders, who said she supported same-sex marriage, said the mayor’s “lawlessness” was “just unbelievable.” But on a more sober note, there were, in February, 2004, exactly zero major national Democratic Party officials who came to Newsom’s support. Most of them ran for cover. And when the US Supreme Court decides, as it must, that marriage is a civil right for all, they’ll have a lot of explaining to do.
When a struggle occurs in jail, it happens behind closed doors where the only witnesses are usually on opposite sides of the law. And when a struggle between these adversaries results in death of an inmate, a lot of questions emerge, questions that can linger for years if not publicly addressed.
Three years ago, a 31-year old inmate named Issiah Downes died in a San Francisco jail cell following a confrontation with deputies. After a yearlong investigation, San Francisco Chief Medical Examiner Amy Hart determined the death was a homicide. Weeks later, Downes’ mother Esther filed a wrongful death suit against the city, which was ultimately settled for $350,000, a significant sum that could have been even higher if she wasn’t too ill to pursue a trial.
Yet the deputies involved remain on the job, working in the jail, with nobody ever punished for what at least one witness said was a homicide that should have had consequences for more than just city taxpayers.
According to the lawsuit, on September 7, 2009 Downes complained about the televisions in his unit being turned off. Deemed a disturbance, he was transferred to a segregated area of the jail. The transfer turned into a scuffle involving multiple deputies who forced Downes to the ground. He was then moved into a “safety cell” where another struggle broke out and he was held prone on the floor while deputies allegedly applied pressure to his back and neck. After complaining that he could not breathe, Downes lost consciousness and was soon declared dead.
The lawsuit named the deputies involved with restraining Downes as Mel Song, Juan Guitron, Edward Gutierrez, Ken Lomba, Kevin Macksound, and Dan White. No charges were pressed against anyone. What’s more, the Sheriff Department’s Communications Director Susan Fahey confirmed that all the deputies named as defendants in the civil suit are still employed by the department in the jail.
While the story has slowly faded from the headlines, one witness has been knocking on doors across San Francisco in an attempt to tell his version of events and bring some light to this man’s murky death. Dennis Damato was in jail at the time and remembers it being a quiet day as he and other inmates watched college football. “Miami played Florida State,” Damato told the Guardian. “I was on a top bunk at the end of the row.”
From his bunk, Damato saw Downes step into the hallway outside the cell and he says Downes was not resisting deputies or being confrontational. “There was no commotion. This guy wasn’t doing anything,” says Damato, who saw a deputy approach and stand beside Downes. “He (Downes) was just standing there nice and quiet and [a deputy] was standing to his left. I did not see them communicate.”
Damato says he looked away for a moment to check the score of the game and when he turned back, he saw the deputy attacking Downes, who was in handcuffs. “He was bent over, handcuffs in front of him, and the deputy had him in a choke hold,” Damato told us. “Mr. Downes was saying he can’t breathe. His eyes were bulging while being choked and brought down.”
Damato says Downes was already on the floor when more deputies arrived to assist and roughly 15 minutes passed before they dragged Downes to a secluded room. Convinced that Issiah Downes was murdered, Damato has reached out to everyone from the DA’s office to the Sheriff’s Department but he says he was shut down at every turn: “They’d say ‘it’s over with. Go home.'”
The deputies could not be reached for comment because the Sheriff’s Department didn’t make them available or release their contact information as we requested.
After Downes’ death the Medical Examiner’s Office investigated and the subsequent report confirms that Downes suffered blunt trauma to his neck (in addition to his torso and extremities), consistent with Damato’s claim that Downes was strangled.
“Were it not for the physiologic stresses imposed by the struggle and restraint, there is no reasonable medical certainty that Mr. Downes would have died at the moment he did.” Assistant ME Judy Melinek, M.D. Concluded in her report. “The manner of death, homicide, indicates that the volitional actions of others caused or contributed to this death.”
Although Chief Medical Examiner Amy Hart said her findings did not speak to any unlawful behavior on the part of the deputies, Esther Downes’ attorney, Geri Green, says, “I think it was very brave of her to call it a homicide,” noting that the finding strengthened the family’s case against the city.
That “homicide” call came after a yearlong investigation that included analyzing a prone restraint method called “figure four,” which incident reports from deputies say Downes was placed in moments before his death. In a figure four, a person lies in a prone position, hands held behind his/her back with knees bent and feet held in the air. Prone restraint is not uncommon but it is controversial as its various methods have lead to deaths.
Downes weighed more than 300 pounds and the autopsy found evidence of pressure on his neck and back. The report summarizes an interview with a trainer for the Sheriff’s Department who said the hold is often difficult to accomplish on an overweight person. Additionally, other inmates reported hearing Downes yell that he could not breathe and a jail nurse said she could hear loud moaning coming from the safety cell where Downes was restrained.
Fahey said the department looked into the matter. “The department conducts its own internal investigation but its report is not public record,” Fahey told us. The Police Department also investigated but in an email, spokesperson Albie Esparza said the results are confidential under laws protecting peace officers. “The case file was handled by SFPD, however those are not public records under section 6254(f) of the Government Code, which protects case files, even after a case has been terminated.”
Ellen Hirst, a spokesperson for then-Sheriff Mike Hennessey, told reporters at the time that the department believed all procedures were executed properly. The department’s official “Safety Cell Use” policies, which we reviewed, state “A prisoner may remain restrained, with handcuffs, waist chains, and/or leg irons as necessary, while in the safety cell to prevent self-inflicted injury” for no more than one hour. Yet the department’s “Use of Force” policies state, “Choking and the use of carotid restraint are not allowed by the SFSD.”
The ME concluded the cause of death to be probable respiratory arrest during prone restraint with morbid obesity. That conclusion, along with the report’s other findings, lead Esther Downes’ to charge in her lawsuit that the deputies used excessive force and illegal and unconstitutional restraint procedures on her son and “in an effort to conceal the homicide, conspired to cover up the cause and manner of death.”
Attorney Ben Nissenbaum is an associate with the renowned John Burris Law firm in Oakland, which has done extensive work on civil rights and police brutality including the Rodney King case. He says the need to further subdue an inmate in a segregated area of the jail is suspicious.
“Why would you restrain a person in a safety cell?” says Nissenbaum. “They’re already restrained. All you have to do is close the door.”
He also noted that safety cells — unlike the rest of a jail facility — are not equipped with surveillance cameras. “There are no cameras or video inside the safety cells and that is common knowledge among deputies,” Nissenbaum told us.
Although the Sheriff Department’s investigation report is not public record, it doesn’t appear that it found any criminal conduct. San Francisco District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman told us, “We would have to be presented with something showing criminal conduct before we prosecute anyone…When someone dies in jail, it’s a Sheriff’s investigation.”
Over at City Hall, the City Attorney’s Office — which deals with civil suits against the City — wasn’t exactly eager to pursue the matter. “We have to consider the cost for the city of taking the case to trial,” says City Attorney spokesperson Matt Dorsey, adding that a trial is often not in the city’s best interest.
The case didn’t go to trial and was officially closed on May 18, 2011, two months after San Francisco settled with Esther Downes for $350,000. She died last June near her home in Hawaii and her surviving relatives declined comment on the lawsuit or Issiah Downes.
Like many of those who find their way into the judicial system, Downes had personal problems. He was morbidly obese, suffered from schizophrenia, received counseling for suicide (at one point he tried to gouge one of his eyes, leaving him partially blind), and had previous convictions for involuntary manslaughter, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and battery of a police officer. Yet he was paying his debts to society and getting help. He was a member of what public officials like to call “society’s most vulnerable”, which might turn out to be a great understatement if his mother’s conspiracy charge and Dennis Damato’s story are true.
YEAR IN MUSIC Are we being punked? Is this all some kind of stupid joke?
Upon first listen, the sound-world of Berlin-London duo Hype Williams (not the music-video director, mind you) is practically guaranteed to provoke a bewildered response. Incorporating half-baked hooks, brutishly cut-and-pasted samples, apathetic vocals, inept musicianship, crude effects, and grainy production into a gnarled, genreless mishmash, its approach gives off a superficial whiff of laziness and inconsequence.
After further inspection, however, Hype Williams reveals itself as a vital, innovative force in modern music, paving the way for a new form of artistic synthesis in an age when information flows like unchecked tap water.
The impulse to pillage the art-world for scraps and fragments, and reassemble them within a new framework, (see: postmodernism) has a diverse history, from The White Album to the writings of Thomas Pynchon; yet, it was once widely perceived as a snooty, elitist activity reserved for outsider artists, avant-gardists, and other seemingly unreachable, black turtleneck-wearers.
Hype Williams operates at the forefront of what I like to call “new postmodernism,” recycling musical idioms as a kneejerk response to the Internet’s constant outpouring of accessible information. Whereas pre-Internet postmodernism required relative effort, calculation, and resources to connect the dots between musical forms, anyone in 2012 with a laptop, a WiFi connection, a pirated copy of Ableton or Logic, and a Bandcamp account, was a legitimate artist, granted easy access to an infinite sea of musical possibilities.
You know how Brian Eno said his instrument of choice is the recording studio? In 2012, the people’s instrument was the iTunes library/MIDI keyboard combo: easier, and cheaper, to learn than the guitar, with a wider sonic range, to boot.
Given the declining relevance of record labels, studios, expensive gear, marketing campaigns, and other barriers preventing would-be artists from crafting and distributing their work, it was easier and cheaper to be a recording artist/collagist in 2012 than ever before. Hype Williams explored the potential of this new musical landscape more relentlessly, and enthusiastically, than perhaps anyone else this past year, rendering it, in my view, 2012’s most essential musical entity.
Within the context of new postmodernism, Hype Williams’ 2012 output sounds less like goofy amateurism than an unfiltered current of creative energy. On this year’s Black is Beautiful LP, released by Hyperdub under the pseudonym Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland (which may, or may not, be their real names), haphazard beats and keyboard melodies are seemingly recorded in one take, prioritizing creative flow and forward movement over the refinement of previously committed ideas.
The tracks are generically titled (“Track 2,” “Track 8”), opting to skip ahead to the next project in lieu of assigning an identity to the last one. Each of the album’s 15 pieces is a non sequitur to the one before it, evoking the scatterbrained impatience brought on by the Internet age.
“Venice Dreamway” (the only properly titled track of the bunch) slaps a rollicking, free-jazz drum solo over an ominous synth drone, while “Track 8” strongly resembles an underwater level from Super Mario Bros.; “Track 10” is an extended, weed-addled dub workout, spilling over the 9-minute mark, while the 35-second “Track 6” consists of little more than a shambolic MIDI flute melody. “Track 5” is a reckless, sloppily executed take on an otherwise competent vocal pop song; and, interestingly enough, “Track 2” is a cover of Bobby and Joe Emerson’s “Baby,” a ’70s R&B obscurity that Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti also reinterpreted on this year’s Mature Themes.
Highly regarded among DIY enthusiasts, Ariel Pink is often credited for rescuing postmodernism from the artistic elite, and thus providing the roadmap to Hype Williams’ aesthetic. In an interview this past September, I asked Pink to rattle off a list of favorite books, albums, films, and visual artists: a request he (politely) declined. “Favorites? No,” he explained. “My aesthetic is too all-inclusive. That’s the best part, and the worst part about it. It doesn’t make me a very loyal fan of any one thing in particular. But, at the same time, I love everything.”
Aside from fuzzy, queasy texture, this “all-inclusive” philosophy is the primary link between Hype Williams’ and Ariel Pink’s output. Just as Pink’s kaleidoscopic lo-fi pop makes no judgments between “good” and “bad” musical influences, forcing the entire art-world through his sonic meat grinder, one can picture Hype Williams hoarding digital scraps and analog curiosities, recycling them indiscriminately into new forms.
United by a simultaneous love for, and indifference to, all forms of art, both Pink and Hype Williams seem motivated not by ironic detachment or hipster posturing, (see: Hippos In Tanks, Not Not Fun) but by the pure joy and freedom of using everything available.
Another proponent of the all-inclusive strategy, SF party curator Marco de la Vega, orchestrated a club night at Public Works this past April, headlined by Hype Williams, with additional sets by Gatekeeper, Teengirl Fantasy, and Total Accomplishment.
De la Vega described his aesthetic to the Guardian as “the embodiment of this idea that there is such a huge cross-section between various musical genres, and particular production styles of music, so rap, electronic… post-dubstep, post-anything. There’s this huge intersection between all these scenes that doesn’t actually have, strangely, its own outlet.”
Named “Public Access,” the event set an ideal context for Hype Williams’ art, recognizing its position at the crossroads of musical approaches. The duo’s performance (its second US appearance, ever) was a wild success, the most engaging “laptop set” I’ve ever witnessed, and perhaps the best live show I saw in all of 2012.
With strobe lights flashing, and the stage enshrouded in fog, Blunt and Copeland were rendered completely invisible, reinforcing their mysterious public image, and keeping the specifics of their musical process under wraps.
Making full use of the club environment, and its thumping, punishing sonic capabilities, they delivered a seamless, hour-long barrage of heavy, industrial beats, cavernous drones, mysterious field recordings, and characteristically skewed melodies, with the occasional, approachable pop hook thrown in to provide a grounding influence.
With all too many live bands churning out unimaginative replications of their own studio output, Hype Williams’ set was striking, immersive, and wholly refreshing. Ear-splittingly loud, and physically exhausting, it exposed the dark underbelly of the post-everything, all-inclusive approach, daring the audience to submit to its overwhelming, cacophonous potential.
If Black is Beautiful exhibited the joyful liberation of new postmodernism, Blunt and Copeland’s live set was the equivalent of a system overload: inclusive to the point of devastation.
Between an LP for Hyperdub, a handful of web-only mixtapes, and a live SF performance for the ages, Hype Williams spent 2012 re-evaluating the significance, and egalitarian capacity, of postmodernism, in an age when anyone with a WiFi connection can go digital-dumpster-diving for musical scraps to quilt together as they please. As long as casual musicians keep on harnessing the vast creative potential at their fingertips, and “professionals” like Blunt and Copeland continue to expose the waning relevance of the art-world’s precious institutions, our culture of musicianship is bound to inch closer and closer towards democracy.
TAYLOR KAPLAN’S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2012
1. Hiatus Kaiyote: Tawk Tomahawk (self-released)
2. Lone: Galaxy Garden (R&S)
3. Scott Walker: Bish Bosch (4AD)
4. Zammuto: s/t (Temporary Residence)
5. Tame Impala: Lonerism (Modular)
6. Laurel Halo: Quarantine (Hyperdub)
7. Field Music: Plumb (Memphis Industries)
8. THEESatisfaction: awE naturalE (Sub Pop)
9. Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin: Live (ECM) 10. d’Eon: LP (Hippos In Tanks)
President Barack Obama is fond of reciting the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” On the issue of marriage equality, that arc looks more like a zig-zagging path that began when San Francisco unilaterally began issuing marriage license to same-sex couples just before Valentines Day in 2004 and ending — its backers hope — in June 2013 with the US Supreme Court affirming the basic constitutional right of everyone to marry whomever they want and to have those marriages treated equally under the law.
“We’ve seen the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who has watched court injunctions blocking marriages by the city, the California Supreme Court ruling that the ban on same-sex marriage violated the state constitution, the 2008 vote amending the constitution through Proposition. 8, and the Ninth Circuit Court ruling that the measure violated federal equal protection standards.
Yet few officials or legal experts are willing to predict with any certainty that this long and winding road will end with a definitive conclusion in June. In fact, Herrera and other same-sex marriage supporters expressed disappointment Dec. 7 when the Supreme Court announced it had decided to review the Ninth Circuit Court ruling that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.
Letting the ruling in Perry v. Brown stand would have re-legalized same-sex marriages in California, which would have joined the nine other states and the District of Columbia as places where it’s legal for gays and lesbians to get hitched. Yet in taking the case — along with U.S. v. Windsor, which challenges the Defense of Marriage Act and its prohibition on recognizing the inheritance law and tax code rights of same-sex spouses — the court could issue a landmark civil rights ruling striking down all laws that discriminate against same-sex couples.
That’s the hope of California Attorney General Kamala Harris. “Are we a country that is true to its word and true to its spirit, or not?” was how Harris framed the question at a Dec. 7 press conference with Herrera. She focused on the basic equal protection argument and the need to “stand for the principle that we are equal and we will be treated that way.”
Herrera, who had just gotten off a conference call with lead attorneys Theodore Olson and David Boies and the rest of the advocates who are defending same-sex marriage, told reporters that the main goal was a broad ruling: “Ted Olson has made it clear he’s going to make a very broad argument.” Yet the Supreme Court could also issue a narrow ruling, extending the twisty path of this issue.
As for reading the tea leaves, Deputy City Attorney Terry Stewart, who has litigated the city’s position since the beginning, said she doesn’t think anyone knows how this case is going to be resolved — not even the Supreme Court justices themselves. “I don’t think they know, to be honest with you,” Stewart said when asked whether taking the Perry and DOMA cases indicate a willingness to finally settle the broad question of whether same-sex couples should be treated equally to heterosexual couples.
She noted that the Supreme Court waited until the last minute — its decision had initially been expected on Nov. 30 — to decide to take the cases: “They took a long time, so clearly they’re wrestling with it.”
Like many observers, Harris speculated that Justice Kennedy is the likely swing vote if the court reaches a 5-4 ruling on the issue, and some have speculated that Chief Justice Roberts could also be a surprisingly liberal vote on the issue, as he was earlier this year in upholding Obamacare. And the advocates say their optimism is reinforced by the long and meticulous case for marriage equality that advocates put together in the courtroom of federal Judge Vaughn Walker, whose 2010 ruling the Ninth Circuit upheld.
“We worked really hard to put in the best possible case,” Stewart said, while Herrera said, “I can think of no better case to take up than this case…The confidence level of all of us is high.”
Yet even if it turns out that there are a few more turns to navigate before justice prevails on what Harris called “the civil rights struggle of our time,” the advocates are pledging to win marriage equality in California next year, even if that means going back to the ballot. “We’re going to win this fight one way or another,” Sup. Scott Wiener said at the press conference, with Sup. David Campos later adding, “the question is whether the Supreme Court chooses to be on the right side or history or the wrong side of history.” It was a theme that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom — who started us down this path with his unilateral decision as mayor to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — echoed in public statement he released: “Today’s announcement starts the clock towards the final decision for California. History will one day be divided into the time before marriage equality and the period that follows. And thankfully, we will be on the side of history worthy of being proud of.”
YEAR IN MUSIC If you wanna rob a bank you must be aware. You gotta use the computer upstairs.
Back in June, Bob Boilen, the host of NPR’s All Songs Considered, posted “I Just Deleted All My Music.” It was a gee-how-the-times-they-are-a-changin’ sort of article detailing how Boilen had begun using Apple’s iTunes based cloud service for storing his music collection. It likely would have been shortly forgotten by everyone (including the author) if not for a follow-up response a couple weeks later by the show’s new intern, Emily White. With “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With,” White — whose 11,000+ song library was largely ripped from her college radio station — confessed to having “never supported physical music as a consumer,” adding, “I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums.”
The subsequent fallout (Camper Van Beethoven’s David Lowery had a long response in which he rebuked “Congratulations, your generation is the first in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to weirdo freak musicians!”) became part of an ongoing debate over the state of the record industry. For more than a decade since Napster, the industry has been looking for a new bottom line as physical sales decline, and in keeping with tradition, it seems musicians have been getting shorted.
In a September cover story for New York Magazine, indie rockers Grizzly Bear revealed that despite debuting high on the shrinking Billboard Charts and selling out shows, the band was not exactly living the rockstar lifestyle of years past. Whereas it’s previously been taboo or damaging to integrity to air out money issues (::cough:: Metallica ::cough::), artists in 2012 were increasingly candid about the financial stakes.
Most candid, perhaps, was Damon Krukowski, who gave explicit numbers — in an opinion piece on Pitchfork — for how much his Galaxie 500 bandmates made from online music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify. As the remaining major labels — there are, with EMI finally being acquired by Universal late this year, now three majors, including Sony and Warner Music — attempt to leverage their catalogs online, free streaming services are a major part.
When Pandora founder Tim Westergren — in a refreshing bit of transparency — detailed some financials in October, notably that “Drake and Lil Wayne are fast approaching a $3 million annual rate each,” it was an obvious boon for parent company Universal. For artists in the long-tail though, the rates are not so promising. By Krukowski’s calculations, Galaxie 500’s entire 64-song catalog earned $64.17 from Pandora in a quarter. Spotify in turn has an indie rate of paying $.005 per play, with the hope of scaling up as more people use the service and bring in revenue through either ads or subscription. For a small artist it amounts to a little more than the value of a handful of physical CD sold in the past. (To make matters worse, at the same time he announced large payments to labels, Westergren ironically sought to pass the Internet Radio Fairness Act, which would greatly reduce the royalties streaming sites like Pandora would have to pay artists.)
When you reach the bottom line. The only thing to do is climb.
Krukowski didn’t just suggest people go back to buying CDs or records; at the end of his article he pointed in the direction of Bandcamp, an online distribution platform that allows bands to stream and market their own downloads and merchandise. Bandcamp still takes a cut, but it’s an inversion of the royalty scheme artists traditionally have had with labels and now streaming sites.
Visit the homepage of Bandcamp, and you’ll be greeted by a testimonial from singer Amanda Palmer: “I’ve always tried to be as directly connected with fans as possible, but until you guys came along the infrastructure was much more difficult. Bandcamp brings the whole picture together into a lovely package that not only works, but works WELL. Me and my team made more in one night than I’ve seen to date from my 2008 (major-label) album.” Having found success marketing her album on Bandcamp, Palmer in April attempted to raise some money in advance for her next project via the crowd-sourced funding platform Kickstarter.
Well, attempted is not the right word. Palmer maintains a close relationship with her fans via Twitter and blogs, and they in turn give her a sort of fervent reverence. On a goal of $100,000, the Kickstarter project raised $1.2 million, and Palmer immediately became a model for DIY financing: not only could a person sell an album online, they could produce it as well.
But with the added attention came close scrutiny: Palmer’s habit of having “volunteers” along side her paid band onstage for tour dates irked some outside observers, who felt that with all that money she could afford to pay musician’s wage. Initially, Palmer resisted, saying “If my fans are happy and my audience is happy and the musicians on stage are happy, where’s the problem?” before announcing that, in addition to beer and high-fives, the musicians who assisted her on tour would all receive checks after all. Supporting a Kickstarter often borders on philanthropy, and as a consequence, there’s an interest in making sure the money is well spent.
“A FULL-BLOWN MOTHERFUCKIN’ BATTLE between the old school (people must pay for digital content or musicians will starve and die!!!!) and the new school (digital content cannot be locked, the floodgates are open, let’s figure out a new creative solution!!!)”
That’s how Palmer described NPR intern Emily White’s critical “kerfuffle”, when the two met in September (while Palmer was still the subject of numerous blog posts and the recipient of emails addressed “dear amanda, you ignorant slut…”). But she could have been describing her own situation. Or any musician’s for that matter. Because that battle is going to go on until the record industry goes back to being a music industry, and if there’s been increased openness in the last year from both artists and conglomerates, it’s because they’re no longer alone in setting the terms.
RYAN PRENDIVILLE’S TOP TEN ANNOYING OR UNNECESSARY SUB-GENRES
10. Mashup — No. 9. Glitch — I’ll wait for post-Glitch. 8. Electro Swing — No bonus points for sampling from the public domain. 7. Blog House — Clearly all music originates from blogs at this point, so this is just unnecessary. 6. Future [whatever] — The future is not now. 5. Grimes — I liked “Oblivion” as much as the next person, but I really don’t think she deserves a genre unto herself. 4. EDM — No one listens to Acoustic Relaxing Music, this is just lazy. 3. PBR&B — If something is good, don’t put it in a little ghetto genre just to be clever. Call it R&B and let it redefine what that means. 2. Brostep — The popularization of this term hopefully means that the backlash is well on the way. 1. Trap — Having a conversation about Trap in 2012 is like having a conversation about Dubstep in 2007: with a lengthy, laborious explanation. Can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store.
YEAR IN MUSIC I’m at the Marina in Berkeley with J-Stalin around noon, waiting for producer-rapper Droop E to arrive so he and J can shoot a video for his upcoming EP, Hungry & Humble. I was invited, not by Droop but by his “Pops,” Bay Area legend E-40, to do an interview for 40’s epic, two-album collaboration with Too Short, History (HeavyOnTheGrind/EMI, 2012).
“Shiiit, me and you go way back, patna,” 40 said the week before over the phone, recalling prior interviews. “I just gotta film a cameo then we’ll do it there.” But since scheduling the article, I haven’t been able to reach him, either directly or by publicist, so Stalin took pity on me and brought me along to the shoot.
“I’m going on tour with Trae tha Truth,” Stalin says, referring to the Houston rapper signed to T.I.’s Grand Hustle label. “He flew out here and Ghazi from Empire Distribution picked him up from the airport; when Trae got in the car, he was like, ‘Who is J-Stalin? I need to work with him.'”
That word of Stalin has spread to Houston is an encouraging sign in the usually bleak landscape of Bay Area rap, and couldn’t come at a better time as the West Oakland MC prepares his fourth “official” solo album, On Behalf of the Streets, Pt 2. Like J’s debut, OBOTS2 is produced entirely by the Mekanix; the difference six years later is Stalin’s now the second bestselling local rapper after E-40 — according to Rasputin Records — and the Mekanix are among the Bay’s hottest producers, working with everyone from 40 on down. In the absence of local radio or major label support, the stakes continue to increase for the author of Memoirs of a Curb Server (Livewire/Fontana, 2012) and the proprietors of The Chop Shop (ZooEnt, 2012).
The day stretches on, tedious yet fascinating. Droop E’s got a serious film crew here and armed security to boot; the only thing missing is a permit. And 40. Various rappers drift in and out, like Cousin Fik, latest star of DJ Fresh’s ongoing Tonite Show series, or Lil Blood and Boo Banga, who released a syrup-drenched duo disc Cream Soda and Actavis (Livewire) this year. A member of Stalin’s Livewire crew from Oakland’s Dogtown neighborhood, Blood’s prepping his own official debut, Meet the Driver and the Shooter, for February. He takes off his ski hat and shows off his scalp, revealing an entrance wound and an exit wound about an inch and a half apart. Everybody laughs, but they don’t think it’s funny. It’s a stark reminder of how little insulation there is between the industry and the street out here.
Between takes, I get in some questions with Droop E. Besides launching his own career, Droop has had a big hand in his dad’s, co-executive producing four volumes of Revenue Retrievin’ (2010-11) and three of Block Brochure (2012) for his HeavyOnTheGrind imprint of 40’s Sick Wid It Records. Yet the 24-year-old veteran — who, as a teen, was one of the architects of hyphy, along with Rick Rock, Traxamillion, and ShoNuff — lives up to his EP’s title.
“I’m a partner but I’m still a protégé,” he says. “I’m learning a lot, seeing my Pops get into a whole nother mode of beastin’ and just making our own sound.”
That sound, judging from Block Brochure and History, has grown suspiciously more hyphy lately, in the wake of Drake’s double platinum “The Motto,” an overt homage to the Bay Area music of half a decade ago.
“That ended up being beneficial,” Droop says, “because look at the sound now in the Bay and L.A. ‘The Motto’ opened it up again.”
Given the bizarre local backlash against hyphy beginning mid-2007 — forcing its originators to prematurely back away from the sound — this is a remarkably philosophical purchase. Reached by phone, Traxamillion agrees, as his own 2012 disc My Radio (SMC) finds him revisiting the implications of the sound.
“I’m not mad,” he says. “I felt like I had an influence on music on a national level.”
OUT HERE TRYNA FUNCTION
The next night, I’m in a Dublin club, where we’re not allowed to drink, because this is a movie. Sympathetic to my long wait, Droop E’s somehow procures me some Jameson’s and the tawny liquid immediately catches E-40’s eye. “Gable, what you got there?” Dressed in a black pinstriped suit, 40 has finally arrived for his cameo, a series of elaborate tracking shots of him pouring a shot and toasting. Finally, I manage to catch him in an unoccupied moment and remind him about the interview; can we tape a few questions? He fixes me with a look of contempt.
“Nah, I ain’t fuckin’ with you.”
I feel the blood drain from my face. Then, with agonizing slowness, a smile begins to creep across his lips.
“Nah, I’m just playin’,” he says. “Let’s do it.”
Delays are nothing new to the Vallejo MC; he and Too Short first began announcing History in the late ’90s while they were both on Jive, but Jive never let it happen.
“It was 10 years in the making, but it didn’t take 10 years to make,” 40 says. “God work in mysterious ways so now’s the perfect time because we get all the marbles. We superindependent. We got a distribution deal through EMI.”
40’s made the most of his new freedom, only releasing albums in pairs and trios since parting with Warner after The Ball Street Journal (2008). Where BSJ bore clear signs of corporate overthink, 40’s prolific post-Warner output makes it obvious that he does his best work with a free hand. At age 45, the rapper scored one of his biggest hits this year with Block Brochure‘s “Function,” which in turn has provided a convenient new label to replace the toxic term “hyphy.” History‘s two volumes are thus divided into Mob Music and Function Music.
“Function music is more club, party music,” 40 says. “The difference between function music and mob music, function is the feel of the new era; we’re covering two and a half to three decades of music. We been doing it since the mid-’80s and here it’s almost 2013. Some people wish they could have one hit; I have had many hits in my life.”
“There’s people who don’t like me but I’ve carved my name into the history books,” he concludes. “There’ll never be another E-40 ever because I’m too different. One thing about the Bay Area: we some trendsetters and we got haters and they talk about us but they duplicate us later.”
YEAR IN MUSIC Imagine a frustrated ghost floating above his own funeral. He might hear someone getting the eulogy wrong or even see an unwanted guest. One of the benefits of having your band come to an end rather than your own demise is living to react to retrospectives of your creative output and impact. But as I write this, Uzi Rash isn’t quite dead yet. In fact, it has one last breath of doing what it does best — live performance.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT?
It was the type of weather where you only sometimes need a coat and had been raining on and off. Wearing too many layers, I found the address where the band said it’d be practicing. The garage was wide open and I got a friendly wave to come in.
The group’s final incarnation, featuring founding band leader Max Nordile, Steve Oriolo (Steve0) on bass, and new drummer, Erin Allen, was preparing for a new recording and its first national tour. Aptly titled “End Days — Last Tour” it would be its last altogether. (This was solidified when I was handed a swag pair of generic party-dude shades wrapped in cellophane. I opened them and found Uzi Rash 2007-2012 boldly written in black on white on one of the temples.)
A live sneak-preview performance of the cassette, The Garbageman’s Uniform (Minor Bird Records) was preceded by stage-ready versions of more familiar sounding songs. We talked baseball a bit during a beer run, even though the postseason hadn’t yet begun. The A’s were still doing well and that’s where we were — on MLK in Oakland.
“You truly are a noise-ician. Keep it stupid, stupid,” Nordile, clad in a Grass Widow t-shirt, quipped to his drummer on a particularly up-tempo number. Earlier, he complimented the newest member’s ability to learn over 20 songs in about a month and a half’s time. Allen smiled at some of the mistakes that were made and the three wondered if they needed to dumb it down even more.
They ran through another song twice because Nordile said it went too fast. His bassist conceded with the line, “You’re the maestro.” To which he lightheartedly replied, “The maestro has decomposed.” After a few chuckles practice ended somewhat abruptly when Nordile’s guitar string broke.
Despite any corrections or control, it didn’t seem like perfection in a refurbished sense is what he was going for. I don’t think they were hamming it up for me when they foraged from bins of discarded food, which included some less-than-fresh looking bagels outside a church down the block. Nordile would later articulate part of his concept as a stance against the desacralization of nature.
“Waste, detritus, trash and garbage are documents, like fossils of the wasteful and destructive aspects of civilization,” he said. It’s that very affinity for what some consider undesirable that has fueled themes, inspired songs, and had allowed for five years of non-stop live shows that thrived on chaos and confusion (sometimes there was blood).
The industrial-strength cacophony is apparent when you listen to the final product of Uzi Rash recordings. What started as a solo project out of Nordile’s desire to not have to depend on anyone became a virtual who’s-who of East Bay-band inbreeding some 30-plus members later. Ultimately, Nordile would be calling the shots, but he’d rely on his like-minded community of supporting players and embrace their complimentary abilities by having them around. Something he considered a huge improvement.
By the time you read this, their last performance will have come and gone and Nordile will have screamed along to “I’m a Trashbag” with the deepest conviction. Oakland has long served as a gritty breeding ground for so many acts that never got their fair due or enough recognition, but with Uzi Rash, we recognize their ability to put Dylan in self-deprecating drag, to recycle a riff, rip a melody (sometimes a whole song title straight up), but to put their own “beach squelch shimmy” spin on it and make it exciting.
“Rock’n’roll has been mostly boring white boys with guitars. I am too, but I realize it and strive to acknowledge it and move on.” With that we take the boogie or, booji, as he’d say in stride and wait while Nordile casually contemplates his next music project because five years is up.
YEAR IN MUSIC “We weren’t supposed to be allowed to play live on the morning news,” Ty Segall says just moments after finishing a meal at In-N-Out, on his way down the coast from San Francisco, the city he can no longer afford to live in, to pick up his 16-year-old sister from his hometown of Laguna Beach. “Giving a bunch of long-haired weirdos really loud amplifiers and free reign on the morning news is just stupid. So I thought that was a great opportunity to do whatever the hell we wanted.”
“And I’m really happy we did that,” he says of the Ty Segall Band’s bizarrely mesmerizing performance of “You’re the Doctor” off this year’s Twins (Drag City), on the Windy City’s WGN Morning News in October. It ended with screeching feedback and Segall repeatedly screaming “Chicago!” into the mic. “It was way too early, so we were already feeling a little weird.” The weirdness rubbed off on the news anchors, who, when the camera panned back to them mid-song, were throwing papers up in the air and pogoing behind their desk. It made for a great split second.
The band also made its late night debut in 2012, on perhaps more appropriate Conan. Segall, drummer Emily Rose Epstein, bassist Mikal Cronin, and guitarist Charlie Moothart seemed a bit more in tune with that set-up and host, playing Twins‘ awesome “Thank God For Sinners.”
The group of old friends toured extensively this year, playing a whole bunch of festivals including Bumbershoot, the Pitchfork Music Festival (“I had no idea what to expect with that one, because like, you know, Pitchfork is almost a mainstream media outlet now. But that was one of the most wild, definitely craziest festival we played”) and Treasure Island in San Francisco (“most beautiful festival…the scenery — it was just psychotic”).
And Segall again had a full hand of releases over these 12 months. He began the year with a White Fence collaboration: Hair (Drag City), following that up with a Ty Segall Band record, Slaughterhouse (In the Red). Then in October he dropped a solo album, Twins (Drag City).
Each record stood for itself. They were recorded with different bands at various locations (Eric Bauer’s studio in Chinatown, the Hangar in Sacramento). Hair was a true collaboration between Segall and White Fence’s Tim Presley, exploring one another’s strengths through fuzzy noise, psychedelic wanderings and the occasional surfy licks. It was originally slated to be an EP, but it was going well, they decided to put out a full LP.
Slaughterhouse kicks off with foaming feedback and maintains a sonic assault of aggressive, noisy guitars, screaming in the ether, throughout — a loud, frenzied, psychedelic garage-punk masterpiece. Bluesy-punk thumper “Wave Goodbye” turns down the riffs on the intro and lets Segall’s nasal intonations take charge, with a ’70s punk approach: “I went to church and I went to school/I played by all of your other rules/but now it’s time to…wave goodbye/Bye bye.” He shrieks that last “bye bye,” simultaneously recalling early Black Sabbath, and sonically flipping the bird.
Twins was the solo triumph, lyrically exploring Segall’s dual personalities between his thrashy stage persona, and his casual, polite, dude-like demeanor off-stage.
“Who can know the heart of youth but youth itself?” — Patti Smith in ‘Just Kids.’
Segall first picked up the guitar at 15 after hearing Black Flag. “I was super into Black Sabbath and Cream and classic rock and then I heard Black Flag and I was like ‘dude, I can play punk.'”
The multi-instrumentalist still plays guitar, first and foremost. Currently, he sticks to a ’66 baby-blue Fender Mustang he calls “Old Blue” or “Blue-y,” but brings along a ’68 Hagstrom as backup.
During the week of Halloween though, Segall, 25, played drums with the first band he joined when he moved to San Francisco eight years back, straight-forward punk act Traditional Fools. It was at Total Trash’s Halloween show at the Verdi Club with a reunited Coachwhips (with Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer) and it made for an epic night of reunions for the two men most associated with the current garage rock scene in San Francisco. “I have always thought, and will always think, that John Dwyer is the savior of rock and roll.”
When I bring up the news of Segall’s pal Cronin signing to Merge recently, he has a similar compliment for him: “He’s going to be the savior of us all. I can’t wait until you guys hear his next record; it’s insane.” Segall swears Cronin will be the next big thing.
Late last week, In The Red Recordings announced it would be reissuing Segall and Cronin’s joint 2009 surf-laden, chainsaw-garage record Reverse Shark Attack. In a video from that era for the song “I Wear Black,” Segall and Cronin cruise through town on skateboards in washed-out clips, ever the beach-bred rockers.
It was just three years ago, but that’s lifetime in Ty-land.
As the city has watched him grow Segall has maintained a youthful glow, a raucous, energetic punk spirit surrounded by sun-kissed California locks and a fuck-everything attitude. His sound, however, has expanded. How couldn’t it? He put out three records in 2012, and a dozen more in his relatively short lifetime.
But youthful abandon has caught up Segall. He can longer afford to live and work in San Francisco, the city that loves him so. He plans to move to LA in March or April of 2013. Will the wide sea of local rockers here soon follow suit? How many have we already lost to the rising tides of tech money? It’s a question currently without an answer.
“It’s really expensive,” Segall says. “I’ve loved it there, but I can’t even play music…I can’t work at my home. It’s a drag. I think a lot of musicians and artists are being forced to move out of San Francisco because they can’t afford it, and they can’t really work anymore because they can’t afford housing that allows for noise.”
It seems backward, that a year full of such booming professional success and critical acclaim should be the final year he’s able to afford the life he’s lead for the better part of a decade. But perhaps he just needs a break, to go back and focus all of his time and energy on a single release in the far-off future. Give his tired mind a minute to grasp his explosive last year.
“[In 2013] I’m going to like, get my head wrapped around the next thing and take some time, [and] slowly and lazily start working on demos,” he says. “There’s definitely not going to be a record from me for a year. I just want to focus on one thing and make it as best as I can. I’ve never really focused on just one thing for a year straight, so I’d like to do that.”
EMILY SAVAGE’S LIST OF NEW ALBUMS I LISTENED TO ENDLESSLY IN 2012
1. Grass Widow, Internal Logic (HLR)
2. Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory (Carpark)
3. Ty Segall, Slaughterhouse (In the Red)
4. Dum Dum Girls, End of Daze EP (Sub Pop)
5. Frankie Rose, Interstellar (Slumberland)
6. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Alleluja! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (Constellation)
7. The Fresh and Onlys, Long Slow Dance (Mexican Summer)
8. THEESatisfaction, awE naturalE (Sub Pop)
9. Terry Malts, Killing Time (Slumberland)
10. Guantanamo Baywatch, Chest Crawl (Dirtnap Records)
CHEAP EATS CHEAP SPORTS
Greetings from Portland! Oregon! Chicken Farmer would be writing this, but we have a show tonight and she needs to rest her voice.
I, on the other hand, can talk to youse now because I’m not the greatest singer in the world. There: I admit it. Also, I’m not on strike. But anyway, singing: When you get me in my car with the iPod set to my “singalong” folder and no witnesses, I can “shred,” as the kids say. But if a song is shredded when there’s no one there to hear, does it really shred? No. Clearly not. Because in front of people, it’s a different story.
I had just about got where I could play an instrument, sing on key, and occasionally glance up and show my face to the audience without making the whole house of cards come tumbling down.
Then we got in the car and went on tour. And on I-5 North Chicken Farmer says to me one word: harmony.
Harm what now? No, see, I sing along with the radio. I’m not a barbershop quartetist. But Chicken Farmer (a.k.a. The Experienced Musician) says it will sound awesome. It will, in fact, shred, if I can harmonize with her.
And so it has been for the last few hundred miles now, in the car, singing the same chorus over and over and over again with my right index finger in my right ear, so as to hear myself over Chicken Farmer. It’s hard. Life on the road is hard.
I have a newfound respect for Justin Bieber. Ha. No I don’t.
Anyhow, we drove up here from pretty near where you are right now and our first stop foodwise was La Plazita Taqueria in Madison. That was a cool place. What’s-Her-Face had a carnitas burrito and I had a chicken taco and a beef taco. They have foosball. Nice folks . . .
After that, we drove to Ashland, Oregon, where we played at a piercing studio and ate at Taroko. It’s an Asian Fusion place. A little pricey, but the food was good and the portions of pho were HUGE. What was odd was I ordered eel maki and got salmon skin instead.
You know how when you take a big gulp of water thinking it’s vodka and the shock makes you choke and sputter? Yeah, that. But the highlight so far has been Laundromat Thai, just around the corner from Johnny “Jack” Poetry’s Portland pad. It’s actually got a name, but gets called Laundromat because it shares a building with one and hipsters are too cool to just call things what they are. Tasty red curry, robust massuman, zesty shrimp salad and a friendly drunken noodle. But speaking of Johnny “Jack” . . .
by Johnny “Jack” Poetry
The sky, too, needs to be white, not exactly an oboe awash in Debussy but maybe a clarinet basking in a Hoagy Carmichael chromatic progression & lolling about in mid-register where the clouds are practically smoky curtains—
& a tenor ukulele strummed in a green canoe in a pond where those clouds are floating topsy-turvy amidst the patches of duckweed—
cilantro, chopped fine, is crucial—the odor of leafing thru sheet music in a used bookstore San Francisco late 90s & the musty pages & the breezes off the Pacific slightly green with kelp—
some brand of delicatessen mustard—poignant with horseradish—neglected words on any lemonade June day when it seems there are light years at least to say them while a guitar transmits watermelons bicycles Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries beyond the bluish & optimistic horizon—
which is also white though with a yellow patina—the potatoes are Yukon Golds & some say chop them larger & some say smaller—when we were young we were so extraordinarily young like the strings on a baritone uke strumming Blue Moon like a Ferris wheel & the picnic table beside the lake stands empty as the long twilight starts to edge down—
tho really only fresh Ranch dressing will do—the buttermilk warmth— & plenty of ground black pepper—& the sky, too, needs to be blue as worn denim or blue as a Crayola sky blue crayon melting for hours & hours over Golden Gate Park—
& not thinking too much how it all slowly goes into indigo as the clarinet sighs down to low G & below & deeper blue as is most everything else—
APPETITE The past year saw a number of openings I hope will be around for years to come — here is my list, in order, of my favorites. As ever, my goal is to include more affordable spots alongside midrange or upscale openings, considering range and uniqueness. It being December, I cannot strictly cover the calendar year so, with each choice open at least two months, the opening date range goes back to October 2011 for a full year.
The one California restaurant nominated for Best New Restaurant in the US at this year’s James Beard Awards, AQ is my top selection for “the whole package.” While I find the food at the next two restaurants listed below equally inspiring, AQ combines food from talented young chef Mark Liberman, reinvented in delightfully surprising ways (think flavors of a pastrami sandwich turned on its head as shaved lamb heart “pastrami” with zucchini bread and house Thousand Island dressing), alongside an inventive cocktail list and accomplished bar staff. I’m still dreaming of this summer’s Maeklong Market Cocktail with a base of peanut-infused mekhong — a sugar cane, molasses, and rice-based Thai spirit — creamy with coconut milk, lime and kaffir lime leaves. As if this weren’t enough, the wine list shines and decor is the crowning touch in a two-level space with sexy downstairs lounge for private parties, plus greenery, glassware, and a bar top that changes with the season. When I’m asked (constantly) where to go by locals and visitors, AQ easily fits the bill for delicious, forward-thinking cuisine with warm service: a destination for both food and drink, with thoughtful attention to the environs.
1085 Mission, SF. (415) 341-9000, www.aq-sf.com
2. STATE BIRD PROVISIONS
Since Bon Appetit named State Bird Provisions best new restaurant in America this year, none of us can get a reservation in the small, modest space with pegboard and stone walls (like dining in a funky family garage). What makes State Bird so special, besides efficient, engaging service and husband-wife team Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski’s genuine welcome (they often greet diners themselves as they pass by the kitchen in the entrance), is that it’s something truly different. Affordable, unique, and imaginative plates flowing out dim sum-style on carts and trays, ever playful and satisfying — a prime example of what makes SF’s dining scene so exciting right now.
1529 Fillmore, SF. (415) 795-1272, www.statebirdsf.com
3. RICH TABLE
From another husband-wife duo, Evan and Sarah Rich’s Rich Table could easily be number one for food alongside State Bird and AQ. All three restaurants boast an uncommon vision in their cooking — Rich Table’s is one of an upscale nature in comfort food garb. Presentation can be exquisite, but the dishes gratify and assuage rather than feel fussy. Getting past the (worthy) din about those sardine-laced potato chips to start, pastas are unexpectedly one of the restaurant’s highlights, a duck lasagne layered with braised duck, light béchamel, and tart Santa Rosa plums, easily standing out as one of the best dishes of the year. Though short and sweet, the 4-5 cocktails on offer (now being updated by brand new bar manager Jason “Buffalo” LoGrasso from Cotogna) are clean, simple-yet-vivid stars in their own right.
199 Gough, SF. (415) 355-9085, www.richtablesf.com
4. ICE CREAM BAR
A neighborhood diner and soda fountain, Ice Cream Bar deserves accolades for bringing us the kind of soda fountain menu unmatched in the country, yet sure to be copied. Recipes and practices date back to the 1800s with modern sensibility, showcased in drinks like the Bonne Vie No. 2, a citrus-garden delight of basil leaves, basil ice cream, and pink grapefruit, its sour-fresh qualities glorified with citric acid. There are boozy fountain drinks (like a perfect Angostura Phosphate), ice cream (the tart cherry remains my favorite), and darn good sandwiches (egg salad and tuna) on house brioche, with the soda fountain manned by gifted, friendly soda jerks who live and breathe the history of the craft.
815 Cole, SF. (415) 742-4932, www.theicecreambarsf.com
5. PLÄJ SCANDINAVIAN RESTAURANT AND BAR
With the food world in Scandinavian mode the last few years (the cuisine to take over where the El Bulli world of Spain ruled for so long), it’s a shame we haven’t had much Scandinavian food to speak of here, particularly of the nouveau wave à la Fäviken or Noma. Pläj (pronounced “play”) is gourmet-traditional Scandinavian fare with modern sensibilities from chef-owner Roberth Sundell, a Stockholm native. In the mellow Inn at the Opera, it’s a respite of a dinner with sincere service, shining particularly bright with seafood in the menu’s Fjord section. Herring trios, Swedish meatballs, Norwegian salmon belly gravlax and rounds of aquavit… I’ve been waiting for this one and hope it opens the door for more.
333 Fulton, SF. (415) 294-8925, www.plajrestaurant.com
6. CRAFTSMAN AND WOLVES
Don’t just call it a bakery. Craftsman & Wolves is a heightened sort of cafe where baked goods push boundaries and desserts are works of art. William Werner’s artistic eats, alongside sandwiches and salads, Sightglass Coffee, Naivetea, and dreamy drinking caramel made with salted butter, ensure this is an extraordinary addition to the SF food scene, standing apart from other cafes. Skylights, brick and clean lines make for a modern cafe setting, while items like the Rebel Within, an herb, cheese, sausage-studded muffin with a sous vide egg hidden inside, are already cult classics.
746 Valencia, SF. (415) 913-7713, www.craftsman-wolves.com
7. AND 8. TIE: SARU SUSHI AND ELEPHANT SUSHI
This sushi duo isn’t perfect, nor will either be the best sushi meal of your life. But in their infancy, they both represent the ideal neighborhood sushi outposts: friendly, laid back, almost hip, with spanking fresh fish and consistently interesting maki, nigiri, sashimi, tasting spoons (at Saru), and sizzling mango seabass (at Elephant). With a glass of sake, try firm-yet-silky squid in yuzu juice at Saru or bananas draped beautifully over Elephant’s Boom Box roll with scallop, avocado, and cucumber. Those lucky souls who live near either restaurant have themselves exemplary neighborhood sushi bars at which to unwind.
Saru: 3856 24th St., SF. (415) 440-4510
Elephant: 1916 Hyde, SF. (415) 440-1905, www.elephantsushi.com
9. MISSION BOWLING CLUB
Mission Bowling Club (MBC) is significant: until now no bowling alley served food this good. Hipster, even upscale for a bowling alley, the open, industrial space, large front patio, and downstairs and upstairs dining rooms (the latter oversees the action) add up to a striking setting for Anthony Myint — he of Mission Chinese Food and Mission St. Food, no less — to unleash his beloved Mission Burger, a rich, granulated patty, lathered in caper aioli. Entrees like blackened salmon on a potato latke marked by salmon roe, cucumber, and horseradish are listed alongside a juicy sausage corn dog dipped in habanero crema. Bowling never tasted this sublime.
3176 17th St., SF. (415) 863-2695, www.missionbowlingclub.com
Despite being open only three days a week for lunch, with just-added Saturday night dinner service (reserve ahead!), FuseBOX is my favorite East Bay addition this year because of its unique approach to Asian cuisine. Such limited hours in a remote West Oakland block makes it a meal you have to work to get to, but the fusion of Korean and izakaya-style Japanese from Sunhui and Ellen Sebastian Chang is a welcoming, tiny haven (with large front patio) for creative Asian fare often in bite-size format allowing ample tasting. There are rotating robata bites or kimchee from bok choy to kale, interesting panchan/banchan (mini-dishes often accompanying a Korean meal), hamachi tartare topped with lime caviar, Tokyo po boys, and an unforgettable bacon mochi. And who else offers kimchee and coffee service with Korean beignets?
2311A Magnolia, Oakl., (510) 444-3100, www.fuseboxoakland.com
Gioia Pizzeria (2240 Polk, SF. (415) 359-0971, www.gioiapizzeria.com) for bringing Berkeley’s best NY pizza to SF; CatHead’s BBQ (1665 Folsom, SF. (415) 861-4242, www.catheadbbq.com) for some of the better BBQ in our city (“real deal” Southern BBQ being difficult to come by outside of the South); Abbott’s Cellar (742 Valencia, SF. (415) 626-8700, www.abbotscellar.com) for one of the best beer menus anywhere and elevated food to accompany it in a sleek-rustic dining room; Orexi (243 West Portal, SF. (415) 664-6739, www.orexisf.com) for daring to bring satisfying Greek food to our Greek-deficient dining scene; St. Vincent (1270 Valencia, SF. (415) 285-1200, www.stvincentsf.com) for a wine and beer geek’s dream menu partnered with forward-thinking interpretations of regional American dishes; Machka (584 Washington, SF. (415) 391-8228, www.machkasf.com) for a chic take on Turkish food.
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FILM Early last week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 15-film shortlist from which the five Best Documentary nominees will be culled. There are some strong contenders — including The Waiting Room, set at Oakland’s Highland Hospital — but two of 2012’s highest-profile docs were oddly absent: Amy Berg’s West of Memphis (which opens locally Feb. 8) and Ken Burns’ The Central Park Five, which opens Friday. It might be ironic that both films are about injustice.
The exclusion of Memphis could simply be due to thematic fatigue. No amount of producer Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth millions could massage away the fact that 2011’s Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory — the final entry in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s series of West Memphis Three docs going back to 1996 — was nominated, and lost to a feel-good flick about high school football. (Atom Egoyan’s narrative film based on the case is due in 2013.) The only chance for a WM3 doc to win an Oscar, it seems, will be if the real killers are ever discovered — in which case, place your bets on which movie will be made first: Paradise Lost 4 or West of Memphis 2.
The case at the heart of The Central Park Five is different from the West Memphis ordeal in several notable ways: it was a rape and beating, not a triple murder; there were five teens convicted of the crime, not three; instead of “Satanic Panic,” it had racial overtones (the victim was white; the accused were African American and Latino) inflamed by NYC’s screaming-headline press; and no celebrities bothered to take up the Central Park Five’s cause, unless you count veteran documentarian Ken Burns (who co-directed with his daughter, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon, Sarah’s husband). Also, the real rapist has been found — his confession, corroborated by DNA evidence, is played at the beginning of the film — though he came forward after most of the accused had finished serving their time.
The filmmakers do well to contextualize the case, using news footage and interviews to reconstruct the mood of 1989 New York City. It hardly resembled its glittering present incarnation: there was a crack epidemic, rampant street crime, and an average of six murders a day. Even still, the Central Park jogger attack was sensational enough to spark intense, racially-biased media coverage; the fact that Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam had confessed to the crime just exacerbated the public hysteria.
But as The Central Park Five makes clear, those confessions were coerced from scared young men who’d already been interrogated for several hours. As the accused recall in present-day interviews, they all had been in the park that night, as part of a larger group whose misdeeds included rock-throwing and harassing passers-by. There was no physical evidence tying them to the jogger (who had no memory of being brutalized), and the timeline of her assault and their movements in the park didn’t quite line up. But “the confessions seemed genuine,” remembers a juror. “It was hard to understand why anyone would make that kind of thing up.”
None of the NYC police or prosecutors involved in the case are interviewed in The Central Park Five. Two reasons: an ongoing civil rights lawsuit filed by the wrongfully convicted men (which now involves the filmmakers — in September, they were subpoenaed for footage of the accused discussing their confessions); and really, who wants to go on record admitting that they failed, and ruined multiple lives as a result? Unlike the WM3, the Central Park Five’s “innocence never got the attention that their guilt did,” historian Craig Steven Wilder points out. Academy Award nomination or not, The Central Park Five may help change that.
Like the injustice doc, another late 2012 trend is the presidential biopic. Weeks after the release of Lincoln, Hyde Park on Hudson arrives with a lighthearted (-ish) take on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1939 meeting with King George VI (of stuttering fame) and Queen Elizabeth at FDR’s rural New York estate. Casting Bill Murray as FDR is Hyde Park‘s main attraction, though Olivia Williams makes for a surprisingly effective Eleanor.
But the thrust of the film concerns FDR’s relationship with his cousin, Daisy — played by Laura Linney, who’s relegated to a series of dowdy outfits, pouting reaction shots, and far too many voice-overs. The affair has zero heat, and the film is disappointingly shallow — how many times can one be urged to giggle at someone saying “Hot dogs!” in an English accent? — not to mention a waste of a perfectly fine Bill Murray performance. As that sideburned Democrat bellows in Lincoln, “Howwww dare you!” *
THE CENTRAL PARK 5 opens Fri/14 in the Bay Area; HYDE PARK ON HUDSON opens Fri/14 in San Francisco.
THEATER Cabaret, The Threepenny Opera, Macbeth — Berkeley’s Shotgun Players has a record of bucking the feel-good trend in holiday shows. More often than not, this comes as a welcome reprieve from the exhausting regimen of glib seasonal cheer. This year marks a case in point, as director Mark Jackson and the company mount the Bay Area premiere of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s musical adaptation of 19th century German literary giant Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck. This version was originally conceived and staged in 2000, in Denmark, by American avant-garde director Robert Wilson (part of another creative triumvirate behind October’s revival of Einstein on the Beach at Cal Performances).
Although written in 1836, Woyzeck (inspired by an 1821 murder trial) feels utterly contemporary at its core. It’s the story of a poor, half-addled, half-haunted soldier who kills his faithless lover. Woyzeck (played by an aptly harried-looking, volatile yet achingly sympathetic Alex Crowther) just barely supports his girlfriend Marie (Madeline H.D. Brown) and their infant child by working as a servant to the local Captain (Anthony Nemirovsky) and by submitting to medical experiments at the hands of an avid Doctor (Kevin Clarke). Marie, though she seems to love him, is clearly troubled by Woyzeck’s erratic behavior: symptoms of what today would be labeled PTSD. In Woyzeck’s absence she succumbs to the seduction of a predatory Drum Major (Joe Estlack). Driven into a rage of jealousy and despair, Woyzeck stabs her to death. (Andy Alabran as dim-witted neighbor Karl; Kenny Toll as Woyzeck’s half-sympathetic pal Andres; and a mellifluous Beth Wilmurt as neighbor and prostitute Margaret round out the cast.)
Woyzeck is technically an incomplete work: Büchner died of typhus (at a mere 23 years of age) before he could complete the play, as the brilliant young writer, medical student, and devoted pupil of the French Revolution was trying to stay one step ahead of arrest for his social revolutionary activities. Nevertheless, the work he left behind has a definite shape and integrity to it that have made it an irresistible part of the modern canon since its first production in 1913 — a prescient year for a prescient play, whose jagged edges, violent laughter and harrowing visions anticipate our own time and the dehumanizing machine that gets underway in earnest with the mechanized slaughter of 1914–18.
Woyzeck, the worried lover, is also the lowly servant-slave-guinea pig of hubristic, ridiculous, hypocritical authority. Although stressed and bemused by the Captain (played as a bloated man-child in Nemirovsky’s spirited interpretation) and the Doctor (a maniacally cheerful deviant in Clarke’s finely sculpted performance), Woyzeck nevertheless manages moments of penetrating insight into the corruption of the “moral” order around him. Marie’s pure-hearted vitality, meanwhile, underscores its own impossibility in an inhuman regime of naked exploitation — one only made possible, it seems, by an ideological smokescreen of “enlightened” values, progress, and moral uplift (concentrated, of course, in the wealthy).
The tale of this hapless soldier becomes a deeply resonant murder ballad in the hands of Waits and Brennan, a poignantly tragic love story that encompasses a wider wicked world in every beat and snaking melody. From the resounding opening theme, “Misery Is the River of the World,” the music proves broodingly brilliant in its unfussy and crystalline poetry; alternately lilting, inebriating, and delicately forlorn in its inexorable pulse. An impressive five-member band (billed as Bob Starving and the Whalers) discharges its task with aplomb. Comprised of multi-instrumentalists Cory Wright, Josh Pollock, (musical director) David Möschler, Ami Nashimoto, and Travis Kindred, the band perches on the second tier of Nina Ball’s grimly urban split-level set behind the louche partition of a beaded curtain. The cast, meanwhile, renders respectable, if rarely exceptional, vocal treatments throughout. But the music is compelling enough that respectable works quite well.
Jackson (a Shotgun company member, and the principal conspirator behind last season’s worthy premiere, God’s Plot) takes a sure and playful approach to the staging, which pays off dramatically in several scenes (especially those involving the excellent performances by Estlack and Clarke). But the staging (including the costuming by Christine Crook) proves gratuitously naturalistic at times, drawing our attention in distracting directions through certain overloaded signifiers of status, like a fast food bag or, less intrusively, a candy bar that substitutes for a cigar (hey, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar). The almost perfunctory attempt to ground the action in an immediate American context also flitters across some of the line delivery, albeit only slightly, as when Marie (a generally solid and enchanting Brown) sings, in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” of forgotten soldiers from forgotten wars. While it may make perfect sense at one level, the production’s self-conscious emphasis on the here and now can also muddy the waters of a work that otherwise peers deep into the abyss of a much wider sea. *
Through Jan. 27
Wed-Thu, 7pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 5pm, $23-35
1901 Ashby, Berk