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Mystic wanderings



MUSIC Hermann Hesse’s 1930 novel Narcissus and Goldmund is, more or less, the story of man who wanders Medieval Germany after leaving the monastery in search of the meaning of life. He finds organic pleasures like art and the empowering touch of beautiful women. Eventually given the choice of joining an artists guild, he bows out, instead favoring the freedom of the road less traveled.

“[The book] talks about his travails, breaking away from conformity and living life like a gypsy,” says Shane McKillop, bassist of Santa Barbara, Calif. band Gardens &Villa, as the van curves through the New Jersey Turnpike midway through a U.S. tour.

The book — which was passed to McKillop by Gardens & Villa’s enigmatic guitarist/flute-dabbling lead singer Chris Lynch (the flute can be heard on tracks such as “Orange Blossoms”) — inspired the band’s song “Spacetime” off its self-titled debut LP (Secretly Canadian, 2011). The song, which stretches Lynch’s distinctive yet malleable vocals high and wide, brings to mind flickering psychedelic images of star-filled skies, inkblot tests, bearded wizards, ghostly creatures, turbaned swamis — but that might just be due to the track’s mind-blowing video.

“There’s a line in the song ‘You found a reason to abandon the monastic life /I found a lover who would always elevate my mind’ — it’s living the life of art and experiencing women who are really powerful,” says McKillop. “When you have those moments in life that give you that awakening that there’s something more than you thought there was.”

With mystic musings and springy synths, the song is at once organic and synthetic, like Gardens & Villa itself. The band’s name plays on the street name (Villa) where McKillop, Lynch, drummer Levi Hayden, and keyboardist Adam Rasmussen once shared a rambling 1920s Westside Santa Barbara house and studio, paired with the crop-share the musicians inspired with their own lush garden (Gardens) — where they grew “sunflowers and corn and peppers and kale.” Sounds real hippie-like.

Yet despite the idyllic, breezy So Cal. tableau, there’s a tripped out, wide-eyed darkness lurking in the band’s sound on tracks such as “Black Hills”; this is perhaps due in part to the tweaked synthesizers Rasmussen employs, or the wobbly tape-delay tricks by newest member, Dusty Ineman, who was brought in to supplement the “bells and whistles” the album’s producer, Richard Swift, added

The band recorded with Swift (The Mynabirds, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier) last summer after driving up to his home in the small town of Cottage Grove, Oregon. They spent two weeks living in tents in Swift’s backyard “amongst chickens, but no showers,” McKillop laughs, adding “It was June, the perfect time to be in Oregon.”

While the album was lauded by the taste-makers that be, and Gardens & Villa is in the midst of a rather momentous season — currently on yet another U.S. tour, about to kick off its first ever tour through Europe — it still seems a band in transition, not yet ready to simply settle with the sound it’s cultivated. In the van they’ve been listening to the audiobook of Keith Richards autobiography, Life, which has been drawing McKillop to the roots of rock and roll, and blues, but they also have been watching the pavement fly by listening to Little Dragon’s latest, Ritual Union.

“I’m a huge Little Dragon fan, their new record has more organic synthesizers — organic meaning real transistors. Real old school equipment in a modern setting sounds so much more warm, there’s a lot of equipment nowadays that’s very flat, not really three-dimensional,” says McKillop.

He and the rest of the band were awestruck by the vintage equipment they got to mess with during their Daytrotter Session — vintage Fender Rhodes keyboards and the like. Explains McKillop, “Just more ’60s, ’70s tones mixed in with newer technology is what we’re hoping for once get a little more money to buy these things.”

And so the van keeps on rolling.


With Young Man and Waterstrider

Thurs/13, 9 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St, SF

(415) 621-4455



Classic style



MUSIC “We were listening to these old [Jamaican]records that were just incredibly psychedelic and very alive — breathing and pumping with groovy consciousness,” says Alex deLanda, bassist of San Franciscan outfit, Extra Classic. “But they were recorded on four-tracks.”

As deLanda gushes about this style of music, vocalist-keyboardist  Adrianne “Dri” Verhoeven (formerly of emo-pop’s the Anniversary) nods in agreement, stroking the couple’s tangerine-colored cat, Carol. Their other cat, King Jonezers, circles as they sit in the living room of their Richmond District apartment.

To simulate the sonic texture on old recordings of Jamaican music, Verhoeven and deLanda made a conscious decision to record Extra Classic’s full-length, Your Light Like White Lightning, Your Light Like a Laser Beam (Manimal Vinyl), all-analog on eight-track tape with equipment from the ’60s and ’70s. To celebrate the album’s vinyl release, Extra Classic will play the Make-Out Room with King Tuff and Audacity on Oct. 26; but first, a gig opening for Moonface at the Independent this Tuesday, Oct. 18.

Working on old cars and working on vintage recording equipment is basically the same thing, deLanda says recalling memories of working on his father’s Chevys from the ’40s and ’50s. “I’m underneath [the recording equipment], cussing, and trying to solder some wires together — trying to make it work,” deLanda laughs. “It just made sense [to record all-analog].” Vanhoeven joins in the laughter, her pants now blanketed in cat fur.

The technological limitations of analog exaggerated the interconnectedness of Extra Classic’s songwriting process and recording method, rendering it challenging at times. “[We had] to think inside of eight tracks,” Verhoeven says. DeLanda (formerly of Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and the Papercuts) adds, “If we weren’t able to express ourselves with eight tracks, then we needed to go back to the drawing board.”

The absence of ProTools notwithstanding, Extra Classic masterfully braids elements of Jamaican music, which include dub, reggae, Caribbean music, and American R&B/soul/pop — among others — into its own brand of multidimensional grooves. Despite technical constraints, they were able to create a kaleidoscopic album that impeccably honors the style of music that they love dearly.

Borrowing its moniker from the eponymous album by reggae legend, Gregory Issacs, Extra Classic was also inspired by Jamaican music thematically. “I drew inspiration, as a singer, from the amount of feeling and soul in [this] whole genre of music,” Verhoeven says. “Times are tough. You got a lot of shit stacked up against you, but [you find] some sort of way out and hope.”

This is strikingly evident in “You Can’t Bring Me Down,” an anthem of strength, resilience, and empowerment. Upon a cursory listen, it’d be understandable if someone was to categorize Extra Classic as a reggae band. But in songs such as “Angel Eyes,” Verhoeven’s vocals gently hover above an airy arrangement, recalling ’50s American pop, à la Patti Page. In the closer, “Give Me Your Love,” her richly nuanced and soulful voice emanates more of an R&B vibe.

Verhoeven attests to the band’s inherently eclectic sound, “I’d say we’re influenced by reggae music. But, I wouldn’t say that’s the kind of band we are. I would say we’re psychedelic dub rock.”

Petting King Jonezers, deLanda interjects, “It’s like the rock and roll’ers think we’re reggae. And the reggae guys think we’re rock and roll.” 


With Moonface Tues/18, 8 p.m., $15

The Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421



With King Tuff and Audacity

Oct. 26, 10 p.m., $10

Make-Out Room

3225 22nd St., SF

(415) 647-2886


Peter, Bjorn and John want to stuff you with treats



MAXIMUM CONSUMPTION Looking to gorge on super-sweet, Swedish-made indie pop? Peter, Bjorn, and John, the nearly-twee trio who made whistling cool again for a minute in 2006 with indie hit “Young Folks,” is returning to the States for a thematic “All You Can Eat” tour. The band’s food-friendly jaunt includes multiple nights in each city, and specialty food truck tie-ins. I spoke with John Eriksson via phone while he hovered near a grilled cheese truck:

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Where did the idea for “All You Can Eat” originate?

  John Eriksson: We wanted to make a tour for the fans, like when you were a kid and you came to your grandmother’s house and you could eat as much candy and cake as you wanted — that feeling. We wanted the fans to get as much as possible. In some cities like New York, we’re playing as much as six shows. So it’s more venues and they see it over and over again until they throw up almost.

Also, we have connected it with some food trucks. We have one here [in Miami] — it’s a grilled cheese food truck. The fans can go to the truck, say the right password, and they get something free. That came after the idea of the tour. We wanted to fill the fans with as much PB & J music and as much calories as possible. It’s not really connected with the music but it’s a fun thing to do — something different. And we love food. One of the most fun things when you’re out touring is trying to find good places to eat.

SFBG: What are the comfort meals of your childhood in Sweden?

JE: A lot of rustic Viking food. Food you’re supposed to eat after working 12 hours shoveling snow [laughs]. I come from a small town in the north of Sweden and we have a signature dish there called palt. It’s like a potato bun filled with the fat of the a pig. It’s very good actually. You put butter inside the ball of fat, which make it even better. That’s the only time I eat meat.

SFBG: Your most recent album ‘Gimme Some’ (Startime) had an interesting back story.

JE: We had an idea to make our 2.0 version of the history of pop and rock’n’roll. So we stole shit from all over the place, from all the music history, and put it together like some kind of Swedish version of American English pop. It’s our version of the history of pop rock and the future of pop rock.

SFBG: What songs are you playing on this tour?

JE: Keeping with this “All You Can Eat” thing, the idea was to play all the songs. When you have the opportunity to play in a city several nights in a row, you can play different songs every night. We’ve done six records so far, so it’s a cool mix of new and old songs. Of course we play “Young Folks,” some people like that, we play “Second Chance” from this record, which features a cowbell, which seems to drive people wild. 


With Hanni El Khatib

Thurs/6, 9 p.m., $20

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF



With Mister Loveless, DJ Nako

Fri/7, 9 p.m., $20–$25

New Parish

579 18th St., Oakl.



With Release the Bird

Sat/8, 9 p.m., $20


333 11th St., SF



Maximum Consumption is an unseasoned look at the increasingly overlapping fields of music and culinary arts. For more, visit the Noise blog on SFBG.com.

No shushing



MUSIC Something unexpectedly noisy is happening in the museums of San Francisco. There are two shows taking place in the next couple of weeks that will defy expectations of appropriate gallery sound levels.

The idea for one event was born when artist-quilter Ben Venom wrote a proposal to bring heavy metal music to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Venom’s massive heavy metal quilt, See You on the Other Side, is currently on display in between two motorcycle gang-inspired jackets as part of the ongoing BAN6 exhibition.

The Bay Area metal scene is woven into the fabric of See You on the Other Side. Shirts donated to Venom from local bands such as Hightower, Black Cobra, and Walken — along with old tees for his own collection — were cut up and sewn into his most ambitious design yet: a skull with seven Medusa-style snakes with slithering tongues, multiple pyramids, and lightning bolts.

Venom sewed four other (smaller) heavy metal quilts in the past, so his own collection of vintage shirts has nearly run dry. Along with his friends’ bands, acts such as Gwar, Kylesa, and Red Fang have approached Venom, offering support for his vision or their own collections of shirts to include in future quilts. So far, the only criticisms Venom has faced are from those pissed off that he’s cutting up classic shirts — some of which, like his vintage Testament shirt, can sell for upwards of $80 on Ebay. But he doesn’t see it as destroying something, he’s sees it as giving shirts a new life, a new function. “At the very end of the day, even the beasts of metal need a warm blanket,” he says smiling.

Likely very warm at 13×15-feet, See You on the Other Side includes more than 125 repurposed shirts with vivid and macabre imagery; the red of the snakes’ tongues popping against the white bulls-eye quilting pattern.

The Mission resident takes inspiration from his life growing up in deeply religious, creative family in Southern Georgia, conversely citing heavy metal, the occult, and alchemy imagery as similarly over-the-top exalting. “The way I look at my work is a collision of the outrageous stage antics of Ozzy Osborne collided together with the domestic nature of crafts,” says Venom, arms folded, peering at his work on the high-ceilinged wall.

Another artistic collision of sorts will take place in a few weeks to compliment Venom’s pieces: three local heavy metal bands will play in the sculpture garden at YBCA on Sept. 22, just outside the gallery where Venom’s work hangs.

Venom came up with the event idea when the curator sent out a query to the artists involved in the BAN6 exhibition, to see if anyone wanted to tack on a lecture or performance. “It totally ties into what I’m doing. It’s like, heavy metal at the museum — that’s a little weird,” Venom chuckles. “I contacted Hightower, Black Cobra, and Walken and they were all super amped on it.”

Those three bands are also represented with imagery in the quilt, having donated shirts to Venom, something that the artist notes as meaningful to the spirit of the piece. “I’m hosting the event, but the bands are playing — it’s their night.”

There will be a uniquely different live rock show in a nearby museum this month. The formerly San Franciscan foursome, Deerhoof, is flying in from across the country (New York City, Portland, Oreg., Albuquerque, N.M) to play in the main lobby of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this Thursday, Sept. 15, as part of the SFMOMA: Now Playing series.

Deerhoof — Greg Saunier, John Dieterich, Ed Rodriguez and Satomi Matsuzaki — was documented by filmmaker Adam Pendelton for his video installation, BAND, a reinterpretation of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1968 film Sympathy for the Devil. Godard’s original included scenes of the Rolling Stones working on the track from Beggar’s Banquet, interlaced with clips of the Black Panthers. Pendelton’s three channel video installation, shot in 2009 while Deerhoof was working on its most recent record Deerhoof vs. Evil, includes beautiful close-ups of the avant-garde musicians working on a song, mixed with audio footage of a day in the life of a politically conscious teenager.

The eight-hour shoot caught the band’s first tinkering with “I Did Crimes For You,” a deceptively upbeat, repetitious pop track that kicks off with clean guitar, hand-clapping, and Matsuzaki’s recognizably high girlish vocals explaining: this is a stick-up/this is a stick-up/smash the windows.

“I don’t know what other bands are like when they’re working on music, but it can be pretty high tension,” says Dieterich, from his new home in Albuquerque, “It’s not like we’re in a war zone or something, but at the time it can pretty nerve-wracking.”

Despite the nerves and early unfounded fears about being filmed, Dieterich says the band ended up enjoying the experience. “It’s good to do things like that, to force yourself to be transparent…to be able to operate under any circumstance.” Deerhoof does have a track record of flexibility, whether it be taking risks with new tones or equipment, switching instruments during live shows, or reaching out beyond the traditional album-concert rock band format. The band created and performed an original score to Harry Smith’s silent film Heaven and Earth Magic during the San Francisco International Film Festival a few years back, and its album Milk Man was turned into a piece of modern dance theater by schoolchildren who performed it in Maine.

The SFMOMA event will include Deerhoof’s performance along with a screening of BAND. There also will be a projection of a different Pendelton project; footage of David Hilliard (former chief of staff of the Black Panther Party) touring landmark Black Panther Party sites in Oakland, and an onstage interview with Hilliard.

Deerhoof hasn’t performed in conjunction with Pendelton’s film since the premiere in New York City last year; Dieterich says he’s looking forward to taking it to the museum. “We’re going to be playing in this big entryway, I don’t know acoustically what that room is like — just thinking from a sound perspective, it will have its own strong character.” 



Thurs/15, 6 p.m., free with admission

San Francisco Museum of Modern Artist

151 Third St., SF




Sept. 22, 6 p.m., free with admission

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 701 Mission, SF (415) 978-2787 www.ybca.org

Miami sound machine



MUSIC Michael John “MJ” Hancock is in a silly mood. Out on the road with his band ANR (which stands for Awesome New Republic), the drummer-singer picks up my call and says, “Awesome New Republic answering service.” I give pause, waiting a tick for the beep, assuming this was an answering machine. But he was there, in the van in Grand Rapids, Mich., on the phone after a “long, deep night drive.” Flustered from the confusion, I chattily ask about the current tour.

“It’s going very well,” he says. “We’re all getting along swimmingly aside from the 50 percent of the time when we’re yelling at each other. Most of the yelling is just passionate arguments about important sociopolitical issues though — the way a good American tour should go.”

His curious mood might be due to the odd freak accident that happened to ANR a few days before they left for tour. While filming a music video in the band’s Miami home base for the song “It’s All Around You” off the deluxe version of its album Stay Kids, keyboardist-effects pedal charmer Brian Robertson was trying his hand at some modern dance choreography and ended up breaking his foot on the hard cement floor. “[The song] is about hurricanes and earthquakes pummeling the East Coast — which coincidentally has been happening — and he was spinning a girl around in a conceptual imitation of a hurricane,” explains Hancock.

Now here’s where you need to bring in the suspension of disbelief. This story could be bogus, the modern dance, the hurricane imitation, it all just sounds too darkly comedic to be true. And yet, I choose to believe. And that goes for the music ANR makes as well. The songs off Stay Kids — and the deluxe version released this week — are about the magnificent and horrifying scope of natural disasters, and yet, thanks to the synthy-pyschadelic pop tones, they exude futuristic glee. It’s less ha-ha funny, more thought-provoking amusing. A black comedy.

The duo enlisted a friend to come on tour and help with the things Robertson cannot do with his injury — set up equipment, lift heavy machinery, drive the van. “Brian just sits on a nice golden stool and tells us what to do,” Hancock says. But he can still press the effects pedals with his booted foot.

Hancock may be in a mirthful mood, but he takes his work seriously. The band’s next couple of releases sound as divergent as their sound stretches; one is a live instrumentation rock record influenced by violence around the world, the other an electronic R&B and pop record they’ve been recording in motel rooms along the tour. Along with playing three keyboards and a Moog, Robertson also mixes and masters all their albums.

Hancock and his partner in psychedelic pop crime, Robertson, met and began creating beat-heavy music with soulful melodies after both relocated to South Florida a decade ago to attend the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. In between then and now the duo has released a smattering of well-received records and EPs, toured heavily, and opened for Animal Collective, Neon Indian, and No Age. They got a mention in a New York Times article a few years back about the rise of the Miami indie scene, and have recently been mentioned in the same breath with fellow Miami up-and-comers Jacuzzi Boys.

This tour takes ANR to San Francisco proper for the first time (there was an Oakland show three or so years ago) this Thursday, Sept.15. “Hopefully we’ll make it,” Hancock jokes. “You’ve got a lot of hills and our van doesn’t go up hills very well — I guess we’re playing Bottom of the Hill, so we’ll be okay.” Pause, “If you see three guys pushing a big white creepy stalker van up a hill, you know, that’s us.”

Despite the constant touring and songwriting, the duo says it hasn’t changed all that much in the past eight years. “It’s only really evolved as far as our ability to record better, and lyrically, it’s evolved,” says Hancock. “It used to be a lot more intentionally funny — I guess some people still think we’re pretty funny. But we’re not joking, we’re serious now,” he says with a laugh. Got it, ANR is no laughing matter. *



With We Barbarians, Strange Vine

Thurs/15, 9 p.m., $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455




MUSIC One way in which to think about the development of what could now be called “ambient electronic music” is to trace the attempts by musicians who fall under that banner to work against and around time.

Terry Riley’s legendary all night concerts of the late ’60s and early ’70s were enabled by a simple tape delay mechanism he dubbed the “time lag generator,” which repeated and echoed the notes Riley repeatedly sounded whether on organ or saxophone. Brian Eno devised Ambient music as a way to make the passing of “free” time — whether spent (as in Eno’s case) bed-ridden recovering from an injury, or, as with his breakthrough 1978 album Music for Airports (EG), waiting for a departing flight — less noticeable. And experimental duo Coil took things to new extremes when they claimed that the slowly evolving synthesizer drones on their composed-under-the-influence-of-psychedelics 1998 release Time Machines were meant to “dissolve time.”

It is fitting then, that J.D. Emmanuel prefers to be thought of as a time traveler rather than as a musician (the self-designation is practically everywhere you look on his website). There is something undeniably transportive about listening to Emmanuel’s expansive meditations for synthesizer and electronic keyboard. Clusters of notes gradually coalesce and dissolve around a dominant drone. Occasionally, he’ll introduce field recordings of environmental sounds — birds, lapping waves, wind — into the mix, but these serve as compliments to the synthesized elements rather than as sonic footholds of the outside world (the point of Emmanuel’s music isn’t to hold on to anything, but to drift).

But, as is now so often the case, were it not for the Internet (another sort of time machine) far fewer listeners would be drifting along. The three LPs of ambient music that Emmanuel self-released in the early to mid ’80s were long considered grails for private press collectors until a Belgian label did a limited re-release of Wizards, Emmanuel’s second album from 1982, in 2007 (followed by its inevitable distribution on file-sharing networks). A compilation of electronic works from 1979-82 followed in 2009, and last year Important Records re-issued Wizards to a wider audience and much critical acclaim which lead Emmanuel to start playing concerts after a near three-decade hiatus.

His closing night set is undoubtedly one of the anticipated highlights of the 12th annual San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, whose location at the Brava Theater should provide a comfortable venue for time traveling without moving.

Emmanuel expressly admits that his own musical approach was greatly shaped by listening to Riley and Steve Reich in 1970. Riley, is in many ways, the Kevin Bacon of electronic music, and his name — along with Reich’s and that of their New York minimalist associate LaMonte Young — make up a cannon unto themselves, leading to inevitable comparisons when discussing younger artists working in a similar vein. The appearance at SFEMF by another elder statesman of drone, Bay Area composer Yoshi Wada, who will be performing with his son Tashi Wada (a composer in his own right) actually brings things full circle.

The elder Wada moved to New York in 1967 and got introduced to drone music via Young and later studied with Pandit Pran Nath, the great North Indian singer who was also Young’s teacher at the time. Their influence is audible in the sonorous, shimmering drones heard on EM Records’ steady output of re-issues of Wada’s two official albums and various concert recordings from the ’70s and ’80s. The younger Wada has very much continued to in his father’s footsteps, exploring harmonic overtones and dissonance in his own practice, and their joint headlining performance on Saturday night is bound to be resonant in more ways than one.



Sept. 8-11

Brava Theater

2789 24th St., SF

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 3rd St., SF.

(415) 641-7651


Happy accidents



MUSIC What’s so funny about sweetness and light? Bright, explosive jolts of jubilance and snappy uplift? Everything and nothing, Givers might say. The Lafayette, La., band embraces an ecstatic fun-for-all aesthetic on its debut, In Light (Glassnote) — though sultry-voiced vocalist-percussionist Tiffany Lamson still feels a need to defend her group’s rollicking, bubbling bliss bombs.

“This is the era where we need to support each other as a human race,” she says from Lafayette as Givers readies itself to hit the road for a tour that lands in SF Sept. 7. “There’s not enough space to be a band that sings about depressing shit and stuff that’s negative toward others. That era is kind of over.”

Still, Lamson, 23, sounds the teeniest bit defensive. “We do get the whole happy coin — that we’re obsessively happy,” she continues, “which is fine. I’m not going to say we’re not. If you come in the van with us for a couple days, you’ll see we’re more like a family. We have our trials and tribulations in turn that help us grow, though we generally love life and try to be happy. Who doesn’t want to be happy?”

So there — hater nation can just go suck on Givers’ generous odes to joy. As Lamson and band co-founder, vocalist, and guitarist Taylor Guarisco yelp, “I choose life!” in In Light‘s final word, “Words,” a shimmering backdrop of elastic West African-inspired guitar, glassy synth textures, and punchy polyrhythms sing out behind them in affirmation.

“The stigma is that the only thing we provide is surface-level statement,” adds Lamson. “There’s deeper roots and introspection, too.”

That music flowed forth immediately, the first time in 2008 that Lamson and Guarisco, both studying music at the University of New Orleans, played together at a friendly, last-minute fill-in show in Lafayette. Drummer Kirby Campbell, trumpet player Josh LeBlanc, and keyboardists Will Henderson and Nick Stephan joined them, improvising two hours of music. “We were just friends who all played in different bands with each other,” recounts Lamson. “It was a magical thing. We were having a really naturally good time, and we were just moving around with these instruments, being free, playing any instrument we wanted to at the moment.”

That night’s music continued to resonate for Givers, providing the basis for the self-produced In Light when the combo sat down to assemble the album last January. “We spent a lot of time arranging the songs and working on them, so they could be the best they could be for the record,” Lamson says. Engineer Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Cee-Lo) and mix engineer Chris Coady (TV on the Radio, Beach House) helped the process along.

Those veterans might have helped to make In Light an album with surprising dimensions, with fresh angles on shiny, happy sounds, but the band would likely look to their upbringing in southwest Louisiana, steeped in the music of the Cajun-zydeco capital of the world, as having a greater impact. “We were born and raised in this environment, this very rhythm-oriented environment,” explains Lamson.

“It plays a huge part in the way that we play music and the way we live ourselves. Without putting cliches on it, there’s a huge sense of unity — it’s such a diverse area, and you have West African music and Haitian music, and those all soak into Cajun and zydeco culture. People live life a lot slower here — there isn’t the hustle and bustle, and people tend to slow down and appreciate things.” She chuckles. “Maybe it’s the heat.”


With Kopecky Family Band

Sept. 7, 8 p.m., $10–$12

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011



Picture yourself gay dancing



SOUND TO SPARE For some gays the definition of a good night out dancing isn’t Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, or whatever else is making it in music’s top 40 these days. Instead, we go against the grain, defy the unwritten rules, and satiate our dance floor needs to more primal, aggressive tunes. Enter Erase Errata.

Listening to the San Francisco rock trio recalls a time in my youth when I transitioned out of baggy JNCO cargo pants and tingly, mind-numbing pills into the stark contrast of a much grittier, more realistic yet still liquor-soaked world of sounds. Through them I was encouraged to picture myself alive and dancing. Though I was thousands of miles away from the creature they so vividly described in the song “The White Horse if Bucking,” I somehow knew that greener pastures lay ahead, bucking and all.

Launched in Oakland in 1999, categorized as lesbian post-punk anthem-makers or no-wave revivalists, and responsible for some of the most contagious dance-rock albums (Other Animals from 2001 and 2003’s At Crystal Palace), Erase Errata is back, sharing a bill with longtime friends, local trio Bronze, at the Fri/12 release show for Bronze’s first full-length, Copper (RVNG Intl. Records), coming out September 13.

I recently sat with Erase Errata’s Jenny Hoyston and Bronze’s Rob Spector at the bustling Duboce Park Café, sipped tea at an outdoor tables. I imagined it must be a little weird for Hoyston, who just spent three years in Portland, Oregon living life as a full-time “upper-lower class accountant,” to return to music and live in a slightly different San Francisco. We touched on the recent changes the city has gone through since her absence — local music institutions like KUSF and the Eagle Tavern’s Thursday Night Live are either struggling for existence or have disappeared altogether. However, they both agree that there are too many creative types in the Bay for the scene to be successfully shut down.

They shared horror stories of Erase Errata’s otherwise triumphant reappearance at Public Works during San Francisco Pride, when New Orleans sissy bounce queen headliner Big Freedia was (not surprisingly) revealed to be a dressing-room diva who needed the backstage area cleared before entering. Even Hoyston got sissy bounced. Freedia then turned on the sound man, they said, nitpicking to the point where he was allegedly told to leave. The two witnesses could only cringe.

“People don’t care what you sound like,” Spector said. Hoyston agreed that it was unfortunate to “flip-out” on the sound guy. She should know, now that she’s running the sound board at El Rio, and on some nights playing the role of part-time DJ. When I asked if she had a secret-weapon jam in her arsenal that packs ’em on the dance floor, she shook her head and referred to the type of aforementioned top 40 hits. I joked that her moniker should be DJ Malice, since she admits to doing this to sort of torture her audience. (Alas, “Malice” was already taken by a stripper she recalls from her time in the Pacific Northwest.)

For now, we’ll just have to look forward to thrashing about as Hoyston and her band mates entertain us with relentless bass lines, swarms of guitars, and lyrics that alternate between simplistic and complex, delivered with Hoyston’s peculiar intonation.

Speaking of intonation and vocal delivery, I pussy-footed around a bit when it came to addressing what I consider to be Spector’s androgynous voice. I told him that when I first heard Bronze’s “One Night In Mexico” his genderless voice entranced me. He said he gets a lot of comparisons to Nico.

Bronze’s new album features that weird custom-built synthesizer that has caused a lot of fascination at live performances. As a bonus, the designers of the album’s sleeve actually incorporate a thin strip of copper that can be bent in the shape of a ring and worn. It’s pretty slick for rough and charming sounds, a bangle for a future recovered. 

BRONZE w/Erase Errata, Nature, Loto Ball

Fri/12, 9 p.m., $7

El Rio

3158 Mission, SF.



Return of the rock



MUSIC Outside Lands has stepped up its game in its fourth year. The mix of bands this time around is truly inspired — if a bit pilfered from old lineups at other fests like Treasure Island. No matter, it’s riding high in 2011.

This was not always the case. Last year, the Golden Gate Park festival seemed lackluster in the music department; the lineup wasn’t as solid as it had been previously, and it lacked that one giant-but-dependably-awesome act like Radiohead (or this year’s Arcade Fire). In the process, it may have lost a festival-goer or two.

It also went down to just two days in 2010 (it was three in 2008 and 2009), which Another Planet Entertainment vice president Allen Scott says was originally the plan. He later added, “[Last] year there weren’t a lot of touring headliners because of the recession. A lot of bands and artists decided to take last year off.”

This year, however, it’s back to long-weekend status. Saturday is already sold out, unless you want to do it up big and invest in a three-day pass or VIP tickets. That leaves, as of press time, the option of going either Friday or Sunday.

The highlights below are meant to help you more easily maneuver your way through the thick bustle of crowds and trees when you get out to those green fields. For the most part, I steered clear of headliners, since those are the artists who likely inspired your decision to attend in the first place. Here’s how to get the most (audio) bang for your buck.



Do not miss:

Big Boi: Despite Big Boi’s arrest for drug possession last weekend, Scott says, “We are expecting Big Boi to be performing at Outside Lands this Friday.” Chances are, you were not one of the lucky few who jumped on tickets to see Big Boi at the Independent earlier this year — a venue far smaller than his usual digs. Needless to say, that show was way, way sold out. While the Outside Lands stage is far larger, his presence with silky-smooth vocals and casual flowing skills are big enough to dominate.

Joy Formidable: The acclaimed Welsh trio has been lauded for ushering a return to ’90s-era pop and shoegaze. With driving guitar riffs and strong female vocals, there’s a definite glint of Breeders in there. Dave Grohl, a man well familiar with the grunge decade, chose the band to open for Foo Fighters later this year.

Toro Y Moi: South Carolina native Chaz Bundick, known as Toro Y Moi on stage, is one of those talented genre smashers. His sophomore album Underneath the Pine, which came out earlier this year, has elements of dance, funk, and dream pop; Bundick is said to be influenced by French house, ’80s R&B, and Stones Throw hip-hop. And you can throw a little Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson in there as well.

Worth checking out:

Kelley Stoltz: He’s got connections with Sonny Smith (of Sonny and the Sunsets) — he appeared on the Sunsets’ album Tomorrow is Alright — but Kelley Stoltz is a talented musician to watch in his own right. The singer-songwriter-guitarist is at the heart of San Francisco’s garage scene, has been compared to Brian Wilson (Beach Boy, not Giant), and will likely perform tracks off his excellent 2010 Sub Pop release To Dreamers.



Do not miss:

Black Keys: With just two members, the Black Keys has a notoriously big sound. This will travel well, even if you’re stuck towards the back of the crowd, and that deep soul will likely cause some uncontrollable shoulder shaking.

Old 97s: One of the early pioneers of alt-country, Old 97s was at the forefront of a new classification of music in the early ’90s. Since then, singer Rhett Miller has struck out on his own with well-received solo albums, but catching his sound where it all started is a rarer treat.

Worth checking out:

STRFKR: Portland, Ore.-based dance pop quartet STRFKR (pronounced “Starfucker”) injects emotion into live electronic dance music. Call it that now-retro genre electro pop, call it the LCD Soundsystem effect, call it whatever you wish: just dance.



Do not miss:

Beirut: Beirut doesn’t play very often — the last time it stopped in San Francisco was at the Treasure Island Festival in 2008 — but when it does, it’s imperative that you watch. The result is an inspired jumble of brass horns and ukulele, Balkan folk, and Eastern European-influenced torch songs. Band leader Zachary Condon’s vocals soar live and he emotes convincingly at each stop.

Deadmau5: The tripped-out lights, lasers, and holograms of the show are worth sticking around for regardless of sound. But Deadmau5, nestled in a lit-up diamond cube and wearing an oversize foam mouse head, does bring music as well; it’s haunting yet danceable electronica with moving beats and breakdowns.

tUne-YarDs: Colorful, paint-streaked Merrill Garbus (a.k.a. tUne-YarDs) could likely be dubbed acid queen of 2011 — minus any actual drugs. Her looping drums, ukulele, and bass compositions are a dizzying work of art. And if you’ve seen her weirdo video for “Bizness,” you know she’s got a few unique ideas floating around. All that brain power manifests itself into a superior live show. Plus, she brought “two free-jazzing saxophonists” to the Pitchfork Music Festival, so here’s hoping she’ll do the same in her adopted Bay Area home.

Worth checking out:

Fresh & Onlys: The band may on the verge of outgrowing this place, but for now, Fresh & Onlys can be described as very San Francisco. As in, its music is one of a few local favorites to be included in the Hemlock Tavern’s meticulously selective jukebox. The garage rockers play moody, ’80s-tinged rock ‘n’ roll — soundtrack music for backseat teenage make-out sessions.

Major Lazer: You know Diplo, that guy who made M.I.A. good? He is also a member of Major Lazer, along with another producer you may know through M.I.A., Switch. Diplo has described Major Lazer’s sound as “digital reggae and dancehall from Mars in the future,” which: yeah. The show includes eye-popping costumes, hype men, and a refreshing bent towards live audio.


OUTSIDE LANDS MUSIC AND ARTS FESTIVAL Fri/12-Sun/14, noon, $85 Golden Gate Park, SF www.sfoutsidelands.com

Doom resurrection



Pentagram has had more members than many bands have songs. You could see the band three times and see 10 different people, with singer Bobby Liebling and his spooky, howling voice the only constant. But when Liebling takes the stage in San Francisco August 16, guitarist Victor Griffin will be beside him. Over the course of 30 years, their relationship has endured enough hardship and heartbreak to last a dozen lifetimes. When they stand together onstage, however, nothing can stop them.

Liebling, who founded Pentagram in 1971, grew up an only child in D.C.’s tony Virginia suburbs. When a high school guidance counselor suggested he take some time off before starting college, the goggle-eyed vocalist threw himself headlong into the two activities that would come to define the rest of his life: music and drugs.

Like Liebling, Griffin embarked on his rock ‘n’ roll career right out of high school. With friend and bassist Lee Abney, he had founded an outfit called Death Row, which gave voice to his thunderous, Sabbath-inspired guitar playing. In 1980, needing a drummer, the pair moved to D.C., where they linked up with Joe Hasselvander. The trio then began searching for a singer; with some trepidation, Hasselvander mentioned Liebling. He played Griffin a seven-inch single featuring two Pentagram classics: “Livin’ in a Ram’s Head” and “When the Screams Come.”

Reached by phone from his home in Tennessee, Griffin remembers that moment: “I was just blown away. To this day, that’s still one of my favorite recordings of Bobby.” Despite Liebling’s talents as a singer, however, Hasselvander had his doubts. “I was pretty much all for it,” continues Griffin, “but he went into a little more detail. He’d played with Bobby around ’78, and Bobby had blown some deals because of the drug use.”

Death Row decided to take a chance, inviting Liebling to try out. “We hit it off right away,” Griffin recalls. The guitarist had written lyrics for his songs, and rough vocal melodies, but he told Liebling to “just take it and do your thing with it.” The results were impressive. “What I can remember from that audition is just smiling from ear to ear,” Griffin says with a chuckle.

The pair formed a friendship and musical relationship that would last for three dramatic decades. Liebling was notoriously difficult to get along with, combining prickly pride and erratic, drug-induced behavior, but in Griffin, he found himself a partner, both in music and in crime. “Bobby and I have never had a problem with each other,” the guitarist allows. “We kind of share a weakness for drugs and alcohol. We kind of fed off each other.”

Liebling is enthusiastic: “We’re the same person in a lot of ways and nearly exactly the same person musically,” he wrote in an email interview.

Though the quartet initially performed as Death Row, it soon adopted the Pentagram moniker, losing two members, Hasselvander and Abney, in the process. Liebling and Griffin became the core of the band. But though they were producing some of the best Pentagram material to date, the duo never made it far outside the D.C. area. “Back in the olden days, we just didn’t really care,” says Griffin, ruefully. “It was the whole sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll attitude.”

Throughout the 80s and early 90s, the drugs continued to exact their toll. “We were our own worst enemy,” admits Griffin.

“I made a lot of bad decisions. I regret the ones that I made that hurt people. Especially people that I loved,” Liebling adds.

In 1996, after a seemingly endless litany of acrimonious disputes, Griffin quit the band. He eventually succeeded in ending his long-running addiction to drugs and alcohol, emerging in 2000 at the head of Place of Skulls, a new band heavily informed by the guitarist’s embrace of a fervent Christian faith.

Liebling was left, as he had been at many times in his career, with a band name, a collection of songs, and not much else. Even his storied voice was beginning to decay, thanks to nearly forty years of heroin and cocaine abuse. It wasn’t until he met his now-wife, Hallie — 27 years his junior — in 2006, that he was finally able to get clean. When guitarist Russ Strahan quit a patchwork version of Pentagram the day before the start of the band’s 2010 tour, Liebling called Griffin.

Now sober, the guitarist was interested, but skeptical. “I wasn’t sure I believed it. I’ve heard every story Bobby’s ever had to tell. I know him as [well] — or better — than most people.” Still, Griffin agreed to rejoin the band on the condition that Liebling remain clean.

Since that fateful decision, Pentagram is arguably more secure and more successful than it’s ever been. In April 2011, the band released the thunderous studio album Last Rites. On the road, Liebling and Griffin look out for each other, supporting each other’s efforts to stay sober. “There’s a lot of people out there who would like to screw you up,” explains the guitarist. “I think that both of us being on the same page with all this stuff is definitely a help — to know that you’ve got a brother there with you, who’s gonna back you up.”

Liebling agrees. “The band is stronger when we are together,” he says. “I am so lucky to have him back.”

When asked if he thinks Pentagram might finally be getting a second chance, Griffin is cautiously optimistic: “Sometimes it seems like we never really got a first chance. We’re trying to take advantage of it now, and make better decisions than we used to make back then. Live better lives.” 


With Pelican, Alpinist, Masakari, Early Graves, Baptists, and Aeges

Tues/16, 6:30 p.m., $25


444 Jessie, SF



Pod people



LIGHTS OUT Ironically, the Bay Bridged founders Christian Cunningham and Ben Van Houten were on their yearly pilgrimage to South by Southwest when they came up with the idea for a local music website.

In 2006, the two were watching a San Francisco band whose name has since been lost to time, wondering why they’d come all the way to Austin to discover how much they liked this band from their own town. “It just struck us as odd,” Van Houten explains.

Life-long music fans, they decided they wanted to take active roles in promoting the local SF indie scene. When they returned to the Bay Area, they started an audio podcast. “Since I had done college radio, my friend kept telling me about podcasting and he finally sold me on the idea,” Van Houten says. “We just decided we would interview a band every week that was always local, and that all the music was going to be local.”

From there, the mission expanded — now the Bay Bridged is a nonprofit with a complete website that gives out recording grants and other creative support to local music groups. The podcast continues, airing every other week. During the first week of the month, the site offers tracks from a sampling of bands coming to the Bay Area. Later in the month, it releases a mixtape with a thematic binding agent, like a single artist (the most recent mix featured a set of 15 favorite Ty Segall songs) or a festival (for example, 20 tracks by bands playing at SF Pop Fest 2011). “The question we’ve been asking ourselves for the past five years is how to get people interested in local music,” Van Houten says.

These days, it’s not a Bay Bridged deal breaker if you’re not a local band. Van Houten explains that the organization’s new focus is on getting people out to see the music for themselves. “If you stay just on the Internet, then you’ll discover good things — but you’ll never have that visceral experience one gets with live music.”

Many Bay Area shows are a mix of local and other music, a combination of sounds that becomes part of the experience of seeing these bands. The site clues you into a gig with one of your favorite visiting bands, and in the process you discover a rad local opener: mission accomplished. The website also curates its own concert and festivals, including the third annual Regional Bias fundraiser showcase that will stuff four local indie groups into the Verdi Club on Aug. 6.

“On the radio waves you can’t find independent rock in San Francisco,” Van Houten says. “[But] podcasts are good for many of the same reasons radio is great. I still think there’s a value to being a passive participant in music, to being part of the audience and letting someone else do the programming.”

We’re living in an era when most of our AM and FM radio waves are stuck in a controlled loop. Luckily, it’s also the age of the Internet and for many music fans, creating a podcast is just mic check away.

The Bay Bridged recently made its 250th podcast. And Van Houten sees no end to his role as a local hype man. “Periodically we say, ‘Surely, we’re going to run out of things we’re interested in.’ But It hasn’t happened yet — and I don’t see it happening in the near future.”


With Royal Baths, Little Wings, Sea of Bees, and White Cloud

Aug. 6, 8 p.m., $10–$50 donations

Verdi Club

2424 Mariposa, SF



Rock on with you



MUSIC Oh, Michael. So much has happened in these two years since you’ve been gone. I left my man and got my heart broken by another, chipped my front tooth, had to pay all my taxes up front, and manually upgraded my ass into the kind of shape that gives a woman like me a certain pride. Things have been rough; things have been good. And 90 percent of the good shit, including the fruits of all that ass-pumping, I achieved together with you. Keep on with the force, don’t stop. No, I’ll never stop getting enough of you.

Speaking of you, my darling, well, for you things have stayed exactly the same. Crazy-ass La Toya is still on TV, running her mouth about murder conspiracies, and the headlines are still a sordid “Jacko the Mysterious Nutter” mess. Every book written about you is still rude, invasive, and tabloidy, and the family, friends, and fans who claim to have cared for you the most still refuse to lovingly embrace you for who you were: an incomparable genius, the world’s greatest superstar, who, BTW, was totally gay.

Fuck everybody else and their delusional ways. After all this time, I’ve come to see: I am the only one who ever got you.

Memories of you, especially the ones honored on the anniversary eve of your death, should be as celebratory and joyous as the world’s greatest dance party — complete with fog machines, chemical inhalants, and unicorns. But all everyone wants to talk about is the drama. Little boys this, plastic surgery that. They actually think you did your face-up weird because you wanted to be a white Diana Ross with a superbutch Marlboro Man chin. That you hated yourself so severely you had to become someone you were not. But I know the truth: you built that distracting construction zone around your sacred temple to claim your private space. Only behind a strap-on nose and reptilian fake white skin could the real you stretch out and relax, connect with your spirit, make some art, do all your drugs. Who could blame you — and who’s to judge you? — for needing a tangible shield between yourself and all the stupid bitches who could not deal?

But as you receded further into this private space, your shield got thicker and you started to piss everybody off. Because it was awfully, horribly amorally sissy of you to want to look like a woman. A real man takes the face he is born with. In other words: you lied to us, motherfucker. You sang about loving women, rubbed your silky load on their thighs, even married all those hags. You grabbed your cock onstage and put on like vagina was cool.

Why was everyone so dumb and gay-blind in the first place? Because at the height of your Thriller fame in the 80s, no one was gay, not even those old warhorses George Michael and Boy George. But when it turned out that they, too, had lied to us — leading us on with all that maddening, un-Christian ambiguity — the real men had to take them out back and have a little talk. George and Boy — where are they today? Ruined.

No one forgives a liar. But maybe you were trying to tell us the truth, just no one was paying attention:

If they say, why, why?

Tell ’em that it’s human nature

Why, why, does he do me that way?

I like livin’ this way

I like lovin’ this way …

I listened to you, dear friend. I heard what you said about Billie Jean, that wacked-out club trash who said that you, rare orchid of the disco, would be “the one, who will dance, on the floor, in the round” — whether you were feeling it or not. She didn’t say anything about fucking! Not only that, you told us over and over — 10 times in less than five minutes, in fact — that, “Billie Jean is not [your] lover.” And I believed you. Everybody else was being a fool.

And so they had to tear you down, proving that total, brutal, violent annihilation of character is even more delicious when the victim is rich and black.

I always tell people the same high-minded thing: don’t read a single book; watch the movie instead. By that I mean 2009’s This Is It, of course, with its amazing rehearsal footage shot right before your death. If anyone has any questions or misgiving about who you were, this movie will correct it. All the drama and the Jacko the Freak-o bullshit fades away for once, revealing a musician of astonishing skill and professionalism. Not only do you hit every note on your own with your pure, naked voice, you also dance like a 20-year-old at the height of his game. To all those who scoff at my insistence that you were a genius: fuck you in the heart and prance on to hell.

But it wasn’t just your artistry that made me cry in This Is It — it was your extreme, almost over-the-top graciousness as well. I was stunned by the level of gentleness and respect you showed every single member of your crew — from the dancers to the musicians, the lighting guys to the PAs. You surely didn’t have to be so kind. Equally revealing was how your crew responded — unable to contain their awe and ecstatic delight, they were just plain thrilled to work with a compassionate legend like you. To them, you were the embodiment of love, humility, and respect. And if the people who worked so intimately with you before your death knew this, why can’t everybody else?

The sun rising



 The sun is high and your freezie is melting at a rapid, uncontrollable pace. Somehow a trail of sticky red syrup traces a path from hand to elbow, where it casually drips onto your exposed thigh. You’re seven and you don’t flinch because in five minutes you’ll be treading lake water. It’s summer and it’s damn hot. Life is simple and sweeter than high fructose corn syrup.

Fast-forward to adult status and days stacked with adult plans. Growing up totally blows (well, at least in terms of responsibilities, because puberty was a bitch and having your own place, a paycheck, a lover, and as many pets as you want is nice). Nostalgia for blissful, super-fun days of yore means we grown-ups will jump at anything and everything with hints of kiddie innocence.

Think giant trampoline gyms, mac ‘n’ cheese bars, and dodgeball leagues, plus all kinds of spiked youth-inspired activities: drunken spelling bees, boozy slip ‘n’ slides, and bars with board games. This stuff is all about guzzling a cocktail and laughing until you nearly pee, just like you did in the third grade, minus the vodka. It’s about having fun, being weird, and enjoying the simple things.

We have now entered the perfect time of year for getting caught up in a totally relaxed, school’s-out mentality. Use those sick days. Grill hotdogs and stain your upper lip with fruit punch. Don’t be intimidated by your age or your nasty bills. May means summer, and although we’re in San Francisco and must be very patient for the corresponding weather, this is the ideal season for simple, juicy living.

This mindset may take a little coaxing and the best non-pharmaceutical solution lies in the perfect soundtrack. Ironically, a trio of friends from the dreary north has crafted the perfect beach-inspired treat: Seattle’s Seapony is sure to get you in the summer mood with its 12-song debut, Go With Me (Hardly Art).

Seapony’s modest surf pop induces the most delightful high, thanks to a combination of super lo-fi recording and innocent melodies. Fuzzy guitars and light drums wrap around Jen Weidl’s breathy vocals, all blowing like a warm summer breeze through tall palms. The entire album runs in under 35 minutes, but could easily sit on repeat for hours, keeping fresh and light with its unpretentious appeal.

Songs on Go With Me are vaguely distinct and play better as one long dose. Songwriter Danny Rowland has intentionally kept things as simple as possible, setting up each track with the same basic framework: minimal major chords, a quiet drum machine, and super chill bass.

Weidl’s lyrics are in the same, slow-moving boat. There are no swells or outbursts; the minimal phrases do not beg for a psychologist’s interpretation. Her lackluster tone speaks of love and sadness in generics and the poppy track “Dreaming” repeats the same six lines over and over.

The band also doesn’t like to talk during performances, preferring to play song after song with limited interruptions, foraging yet another attempt at simplicity. According to a quote on Seapony’s website, this makes the group’s live show “cooler,” which could very well be true. Band witty banter is never very impressive.

In a world where everyone is trying to speed past the competition with innovative ideas, Seapony is riding the lazy river — the only water park attraction that never has a line. Is Seapony jaded? Or just looking to get a better tan? Adults are expected to tote around all sorts of bells and whistles, their eyes fixated on being first place, but Seapony doesn’t want to race. Instead, the group is producing music that wins by default. It sounds nice; it compliments sunshine; and it’s made for days free of responsibility.

This summer, put on that swimsuit, run around the yard, and laugh obnoxiously loud like you did as an awkward adolescent. Or keep it San Francisco-style by trading out the yard for Dolores Park and adding a brown paper sack. Just don’t forget the Seapony. 


With the Beets, Catwalk, Eternal Summer

Sun/29, 8 p.m., $12

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF



Kindred spirits



Heady, hoppy, smoky with the musky tang of interstellar, international exotica shot through a post-hardcore prism. Oakland psych-space-rock-drone outfit Lumerians’ sound is intoxicatingly addictive enough to inspire that imaginary brewski review, even in the thick of the raging patio at Jack London Square’s Beer Revolution. And if the band was a glass of sheer liquid refreshment, what would it be? A complex Cab, a supernatural Super Tuscan, or a solid stout?

I’m guessing a highly groovy gruit, as drummer Christopher Musgrave takes another gulp of his herbaceous, hops-free custom-crafted Two Weeks Notice. “It’s really weird, but after a few sips it gets really good,” he tells newly arrived bass player Marc Melzer. Musgrave should know: he makes beer by the keg in the former Murder Dubbs church he now calls home — and Lumerians’ recording studio. “I’m changing my mind. I might order it again.”

We swap slugs of our selections from the pub’s massive menu — Melzer’s Big Eye IPA and my Sweetgrass pale ale. It’s all in keeping with Lumerians’ shared approach to life and music-making: card that ego at door, share your inspirations — be they musical, painterly, or brew-crafted — and strive to work as one fluidly intuitive, wholly non-derivative whole.

Taking in Lumerians’ recently released, long-awaited debut, Transmalinnia (Knitting Factory), I’ve been sucked into the burly, bass-smudged biker boogie of “Burning Mirrors,” the witchy organ-shimmy and sex-magik drone of “Black Tusk,” and feathery woodwind textures and unholy shrieks of “Calalini Rises.” The LP shares its name with its artwork, a glorious finger-painting from the “Voyage Into Space” series by outsider artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein — a vision borrowed by a band just a vowel or two away from the lost world of Lemuria, undertaken to turn kindred spirits onto the late self-taught surrealist’s mind-blowing art.

“One of the foundations of our band is we do try and make egoless music,” explains Melzer with equanimity while a birthday party brays in the background. “It’s not about one person writing the music, and it’s not about guitar solos or bass solos or drum solos. It’s about us, where all these different personalities meet and what develops after that.”

Of course, adds Musgrave, “it’s not all sunshine and puppy dogs.” Lumerians’ origins began humbly, with Melzer and Musgrave vowing to play together after a “strange hiatus” from music: they were disillusioned by the band politics in their old indie and hardcore groups. Guitarists-organists-synth-players Tyler Green and Jason Miller had begun to make music in 2006 when Musgrave joined in and enlisted Melzer, a guitarist now playing bass for the first time. “We hold it down,” Musgrave exclaims proudly. “We’re the earthbound ones. We’re like the tractor and the plow.” Soft Moon voyager Luis Vasquez eventually rounded out the fivesome on conga and synth.

The group took its time, hoping to create a “sustainable” environment — a world of its own, if you will — and built a studio in SF’s South Park where it recorded Transmalinnia, the follow-up to its self-titled, self-released, now-out-of-print, much-praised 2008 EP, forging the songs via jams that they’re reluctant to call jams. “The difference is everything we play in the band is pretty simple, but it combines to create a greater whole,” says Melzer. “We also play repetitive stuff — we’re either trying to trance out our audience or ourselves or both. I don’t think that’s one of the aims of a jam band.” They’ve succeeded to the point where Melzer confesses he’s more than once almost fallen off the stage.

The tough part was capturing the songs in their perfectly imperfect “nascent state,” as Musgrave puts it. “We’ve always tried to capture those ephemeral moments — it’s proven to be very difficult,” he explains. “Hard drives crash. Or we’ll think we’re recording and look over and it’s stopped. But the power of inspiration is so powerful you can’t pull away — it’s like you’re in a tractor beam!”

Fortunately, Lumerians doesn’t seem destined to perish in obscurity à la Von Bruenchenhein — the combo had just returned from the Austin Psych Fest, where by their accounts, they were the underdog belles, hampered by two power outages during their set. Will bands of the future find their minds blown by dog-eared Lumerians LPs? “I don’t know if that’s the way I think about it,” Musgrave says, “but any artifacts we put out are hopefully worthy of discovery.”

“So when the blogosphere forgets about us,” adds Melzer, tongue lodged in cheek, “and three months later, we get rediscovered!”  



With Young Prisms and Bronze

July 2, 9 p.m., $13

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750 www.gamh.com


Four for Popfest



 The third annual San Francisco Popfest kicks off Wednesday, May 25 at Rickshaw Stop. The good news is that this year’s festival has been expanded to five days, transforming Memorial Weekend into a music extravaganza. There are shows at Rickshaw, Cafe Du Nord, and Hemlock Tavern, as well as a secret Sunday show at Dolores Park. The bad news is that you can only be in one place at a time. Here are four must-see Bay Area groups.

The opening night headliner Blackbird Blackbird is spearheaded by vocalist, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Mikey Sanders. He released his debut album Summer Heart in late 2010 through Bandcamp on a “pay what you wish” system and followed it up in 2001 with Halo, which is a collection of new songs, B-sides, and unreleased tracks. With the aid of the blogosphere, Blackbird Blackbird quickly amassed a following.

Blackbird Blackbird’s music is electronic-based, although when performing live, Sanders plays with Cade Weidenhaft on drums. Sanders creates a rich, textured synthscape, as on “Sunspray,” where bubble sounds and an overall feeling of swirling makes the song seem as if it’s being sung from underwater. Other tracks, like “Ups and Down” with its heavy bass, sound dance party-ready.

Also on the Wednesday, May 25 bill is Sanders’ project Wolf Feet, which he started with Austin Wood. The pair recorded tracks while living in a “Hobbit-like apartment in Santa Cruz,” explains Sanders, who grew up in San Francisco but went to school in Santa Cruz. It’s a decidedly less electronic project than Blackbird Blackbird, and garage-rock influenced, with upbeat tempos, handclapping, twinkling guitars, and howling vocals.

Sanders is promoting Wolf Feet similarly to Blackbird Blackbird, self-releasing an EP in January via UFOLK Records and running a cute and informative Tumblr. The band’s homemade video for “Dead Hand,” a montage of vintage films such as Thunderbirds Are Go and Gamera vs. Zigra, was already featured on Pitchfork.

The Friday, May 27 Popfest show includes San Francisco’s beloved the Mantles. After a slew of singles, a self-titled LP, and the Pink Information EP, the group recently released the “Raspberry Thighs/Roman Hat” seven-inch single via SDZ Records. The song reveals a darker side to the band.

The Mantles have always been high on melodies, which they coat in reverb, but the sunny sounds are sometimes meant to distract from the truth. “Raspberry Thighs” starts with buoyant guitars, and Michael Olivares’ vocals are more spoken than sung as he says, “Hey there unassuming eyes/ What on earth can alarm you/ You’re too ready to derail/ You’re too ready to say goodbye.” It’s hard to discern all the lyrics, but there’s a sadness to Olivares’ farewell and description of the ephemeral summer.

The Saturday, May 28 show at Rickshaw Stop is a showcase for Slumberland Records. To put it simply, the entire lineup is awesome. San Francisco’s the Art Museums, formed by Josh Alper (Whysp) and Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards) in the summer of 2009, sing tales of artists, lovers, and imposters that read like mantras for the aught generation. The band released its debut record Rough Trade on Woodsist last year and will put out an EP called Dancing this summer.

From tales of bike-based dates and descriptions of art happenings to details of Sta-Prest trousers and even the band’s name, the Art Museums’ music is meant to be absurdly funny, and true. Alper and Donaldson craft hooks and sing in faux-British accents — their heroes include the Kinks, Swell Maps, and the Television Personalities. The band records on a Tascam 388 eight-track for its snap, crackle, and pop, and performs with Carly Putnam (Green Flash) and Virginia Weatherby (the Mantles) to fill out its live sound. 



Blackbird Blackbird, Wolf Feet

Wed/25, 8 p.m.; $12

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011

The Mantles

Fri/27, 8 p.m.; $15–$17

Rickshaw Stop

Slumberland Recods Showcase

Sat/28, 5 p.m., $17

Rickshaw Stop



Sounds of summer



 Live music in the Bay Area this summer is bracketed by festivals, from the lowercase indoor venue indie pop of the San Francisco Pop Fest on Memorial Day weekend to the outdoor mid-August convergence of Outside Lands. The guide below aims to name some highlights from a wide variety of genres, with an emphasis on rare and first-time appearances in the Bay Area. 


MAY 25-29 

San Francisco Pop Fest The lineup includes groups and songwriters from the post-punk (The Undertones) and C86 (14 Iced Bears, Phil Wilson) eras, the Sarah Records’ band Aberdeen, some indie pop faves of the present (Allo Darlin’, The Beets), and more than a few local groups (The Mantles, Brilliant Colors, Dominant Legs, Terry Malts, The Art Museums). Various venues, www.sfpopfest.com


MAY 29 

Mobb Deep The East Coast rap duo hits the stage in SF for the first time in years. Mezzanine, www.mezzaninesf.com


JUNE 2-3 

Architecture in Helsinki The band of five Australian multi-instrumentalists tours in support of its fourth album (and first on Modular). Great American Music Hall and Slim’s; www.gamh.com , www.slims-sf.com


JUNE 3-4 

Bluegrass for the Greenbelt Presented by Slim’s, an overnight concert — with more music on the second day — benefiting the Greenback Alliance, with camping for up to 200 people who bring tents. Dunsmuir-Helman Estate, Oakl.; www.slims-sf.com



Omar Souleyman After releases on Sublime Frequencies, the Dabke idol brings the sounds of Syria to SF, with a Björk collaboration set for release. Mezzanine, www.mezzaninesf.com

Orange Goblin The veteran UK stoner metal act headlines, with support from beefy Indiana doom band Gates of Slumber, who just released a crushing new eight-song album entitled The Wretch and a DJ set by Rob Metal. Bottom of the Hill, www.bottomofthehill.com



Matmos Now based in Baltimore, Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt come back to the Bay Area. Bottom of the Hill, www.bottomofthehill.com


JUNE 10 

Timber Timbre, Marissa Nadler The trio tour in support of a follow-up album, while Nadler moves past black metal back to solo ventures with a self-titled album. Swedish American Hall, www.cafedunord.com


JUNE 22 

Kid Congo Powers and The Pink Monkey Birds He’s been a major force within a handful of all-time great punk and post-punk bands, and Kid Congo Powers has a new album out on In the Red that taps into sounds ranging from glam to ’60s Chicano rock. Rickshaw Stop, www.rickshawstop.com


JUNE 23-25 

Jackie Greene In conjunction with the release of his sixth album, the singer-songwriter plays a trio of concerts. Swedish American Hall, www.cafedunord.com

Bill Orcutt The guitarist has just released a tour 7-inch single, and the bill includes fellow locals Date Palms. Hemlock Tavern, www.hemlocktavern.com


JUNE 24-25 

2011 US Air Guitar Championships San Francisco Regionals Two nights of air shredding, with special performances by past champions Hot Lixx Hulahan and C-Diddy and at least 20 local competitors. The Independent, www.independentsf.com


JUNE 25 

Blackalicious From Solesides to Epitaph, Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel have spanned decades and still throw down live. Mezzanine, www.mezzaninesf.com



Quintron and Miss Pussycat Shannon and the Clams and the Younger Lovers open for the New Orleans’ husband-and-wife duo. Bottom of the Hill, www.bottomofthehill.com



Darwin Deez New Yorker Darwin Smith’s pop songs have found a large audience in the UK, but for now, he’s still playing smaller venues here. Bottom of the Hill, www.bottomofthehill.com

Maus Haus The group moves past krautrock into other electronic territory on Lark Marvels, and co-headlines with Swahili Blonde on a California tour. Rickshaw Stop, www.rickshawstop.com

Seefeel The vanguard postrock group recently reunited and put out an album on Warp. Great American Music Hall, www.gamh.com


JULY 7-9 

The Reverend Horton Heat The Reverend goes back to country music’s past on Laughin’ and Cryin’, and is joined by locals the Swingin’ Utters. The Independent, www.independentsf.com



Washed Out Since he first visited the Rickshaw Stop, Ernest Greene’s music has been used in Portlandia, and his first full album is coming out on Sub Pop. Great American Music Hall, www.gamh.com


JULY 14-15 

Three Day Stubble’s Nerd Fest The group is celebrating three decades of nerd rock, with four additional acts on each night. 

Tinariwen Live desert blues from the current touring version of the Tuareg band. Bimbo’s 365 Club, www.bimbos365club.com


JULY 26 

Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile An East Coast rock twofer. Great American Music Hall, www.gamh.com


JULY 30-31 

Woodsist Festival 2011 The festival returns to Big Sur, with Nodzzz, Thee Oh Sees, and Woods (also playing songs from the new Sun and Shade) joining the Fresh & Onlys to form a bigger band. Fernwood and Henry Miller Library, Big Sur; www.folkyeah.com


August 12-14 

Outside Lands This year’s lineup includes Erykah Badu, and Big Boi, with local contributions from Tamaryn, The Fresh & Onlys, Ty Segall, and Diego’s Umbrella. Golden Gate Park, www.sfoutsidelands.com .


Return of the skronk



MUSIC There’s a point at the start of Bill Orcutt’s recently reissued, acclaimed 2009 album, A New Way to Pay Old Debts (Editions Mego), during the violent, staccato blues of “Lip Rich,” when a telephone rings. Slight pause. And then the San Francisco musician picks up where he left off, with shattered, crashing runs of proudly broken-ass guitar notes, the occasional shout and cry. Pummeling his old Kay acoustic until it reverberates like a piano, Orcutt sounds as if he’s busy ripping apart blues guitar lines at the end of a long metal-clad tunnel — and exorcising a few demons while he’s at it. There, at Orcutt’s end, semis, motorcycles, and homegirls rumble past and Mississippi blues players still wander, stumbling into pale-faced strangers deconstructing Delta drone with their bare hands, nails, and bones.

The reality is that the police sirens, roaring buses, and streetside groans on New Way — all of which lend the music the beautifully devolved faux-authenticity of an old field recording — are the same sounds you can hear any day at 24th and York streets in the Mission. Orcutt and family moved to that spot when they relocated to San Francisco after the 1997 breakup of his old band Harry Pussy, the noise-experimental band he founded in Miami along with fearsome vocalist-drummer Adris Hoyos. New Way — a document of a new solo approach in an old room perched above an even older Mission thoroughfare—was recorded during the spring of ’09 in a window-lined spot within their corner apartment.

“It was just insanely loud,” Orcutt recalls now from his current home in Sunnyside. It’s late, but it’s one of the few times Orcutt, who holds down a job as a software engineer, can talk. “There were constantly trucks and people going by outside, so there was no way to record and keep the background out. I realized I should just go with whatever happened — and the phone rang in the middle of the take.”

As chance would have it, one of Orcutt’s favorite guitarists, English experimentalist Derek Bailey, also had a recording released, posthumously, that was punctuated by a disruptive phone call (“Wrong Number” on More 74 [Incus]).

At least it wasn’t simply a noisy trendoid bellowing in the brunch queue outside St. Francis Fountain.

“When we moved there, St. Francis was closed — it was weird when it first reopened,” says a dryly amused Orcutt. “Suddenly there were people waiting for tofu scramble, and we were like, ‘Why?'”

“Why?” also comes to mind as one listens to New Way: why hasn’t Orcutt played and recorded since the dissolution of Harry Pussy? Perhaps it was the move or work demands — more important, Orcutt got reinterested in playing music when he began to assemble a retrospective of Harry Pussy’s music for Load Records, You’ll Never Play This Town Again: Live, Etc 1997 (2008), and began to listen the furious skronk his band generated and the remarkably damaged, thick, and grotty guitar sound he developed.

“I hadn’t heard that music in 10 years. It was pretty extreme, and I forgot what it sounded like,” he says. “I was like, ‘Whoa, that is weird.’ I was listening to a lot of it because I had to, and it naturally made me want to pick up a guitar and start playing again.”

It was a slight case of being inspired by yourself — though the modest Orcutt immediately disavows this (“That sounds weird — don’t say that!”) — and remembering your roots, be they buried in the same hot soil as Mississippi Fred McDowell, or the same swampy morass as kindred noisy Floridian Rat Bastard. “Honestly, there were like two or three people that were doing strange stuff in Miami at that time,” Orcutt remembers. “It wasn’t much of a scene. It was just isolated weirdos going off on their own tangents — that pretty much described us.”

Orcutt’s incredible, atonal guitar playing is the uncommon element connecting Hoyos’ formidable shrieks and 24th Street grind. These days Orcutt prefers to play acoustic rather than electric, though it’s rigged as a four-string, with the A and D strings removed, much the same way his electric once was. The modification predates Harry Pussy: “It just stuck,” he notes. “At this point, there’s no rational reason for doing it. It’s just what I sound like in my own head.”

The acoustic was also an intuitive choice, and as Orcutt started listening to guitarists such as McDowell, Bailey, and Carlos Montoya, “just to see what had been done before and to get the lay of the land and an understanding of what the perimeters were,” its sound and mobility started to appeal. “It’s a nice way to be self-contained and self-reliant. As long as you can get it on the plane, you’re good. And in a really small venue, you can even get away without having a PA,” he explains. “If I have to, I could wind up at the BART Station and I’m good to go.”

And it exposed Orcutt as a musician, apart from the protective mob of a band. “Honestly, once I got into it, I really wanted to play solo,” he observes. “When I started playing in front of people, it was scary, but I have this weird compulsion to play solo.” That urge is still a puzzle — in Harry Pussy, he adds, “Adris [Hoyos] definitely led the way and it was easy to hang back. I don’t know …” Slight pause. “There’s some kind of process I’m working through by playing solo, and I’m definitely still working on whatever it is.”

Two for the road


MUSIC Erik “Ripley” Johnson is on the road. As the mastermind behind psych rock quartet Wooden Shijps and krautrockers Moon Duo, he spent eight months on tour last year. When he started Moon Duo with Sanae Yamada, Johnson knew that there’d be a degree of convenience in traveling as a twosome: it’s cheaper and much easier to be flexible and mobile. He was ready to tour as a full-time job.

Since Moon Duo began in 2009, Johnson and Yamada have put out two singles, the EP Killing Time (Sacred Bones) and the album Escape (Woodsist). Moon Duo’s just-released second full-length, Mazes (Sacred Bones), relays the story of a wandering life.

“We decided to name the album Mazes after we moved from San Francisco,” Johnson says over the phone, while the pair is on the road from New York to Massachusetts for their next gig. “That song is about choosing a path in life, but how you don’t necessarily know where it’s going to take you.”

Moon Duo creates trance-inducing music that builds minimalist, rhythmic repetition from drum samples and keyboards that support Johnson’s guitar freak-outs. It’s an experience of texture and tone that is sustained and then rerouted.

Most of Mazes was recorded lo-fi in Johnson’s and Yamada’s Mission District apartment last spring, when the couple was in transition. While they worked on the album, Johnson and Yamada packed up. “We needed to get out of the city because we were never there and we were paying all this rent,” Johnson says. By summer, the pair had moved to the wild highlands of Blue River, Colo.

“We thought we’d finished recording the album in San Francisco, but we weren’t happy with some elements,” he adds. So Moon Duo headed to Germany. Although Johnson acknowledges the synchronicity of recording in Berlin, he says it wasn’t motivated by his interest in krautrock, which he came to through Julian Cope’s influential book Krautrocksampler. “Every record he talks about, he’s so enthusiastic,” he says of Cope’s writing. “I can’t say I agree with all his choices, but it’s a guide book, and I went through it and bought stuff that sounded cool.”

The process of making Mazes reached Germany because Johnson and Yamada’s friends in Berlin had a studio and offered to help mix the album. “It just seemed like we should try it out in a different perspective, and go into a proper studio,” Johnson explains. There, the pair rerecorded some parts, tweaked things, and played with a collection of vintage drum machines.

The results are tight. Mazes‘ opening track “Seer” is a variant of a song off Escape, but lighter on the fuzz and denser with the rock ‘n’ roll. It gives you a good hint of where the band is heading on the rest of the many-layered album. Forerunners in the current kraut revival, Moon Duo is inspired by two-piece predecessors Silver Apples and Suicide while also exploring other sounds, including psychedelic wanderings, Velvet Underground-style hypnosis, and Modern Lovers post-punk.

“When You Cut” starts with lush synth and deep-throated vocals, and upbeat claps keep the song going steady, providing the framework for an untamed guitar solo. The band goes pop with the two-step “Run Around,” then gets dark again on the reverb-drenched “In the Sun” and on the closer, “Goners.” Ultimately, Mazes is a personal journey through music history, but one that also reflects the travels of life.


With Lilac, Royal Baths

Mon./11, 9 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455





Di Doo Dah

(Light in the Attic)

Arriving in the wake of Light in the Attic’s reissue of the masterful L’Histoire de Melody Nelson, this, Birkin’s first proper — if such a word can be applied to anything involving Serge Gainsbourg — solo album, is a series of light delights. Jean-Claude Vannier trades his characteristic dark orchestration for a string sound that is agile and brighter. On the title track, Birkin revels — in a melancholy way — in her tomboyish characteristics, setting the stage for more pun-filled escapades in androgynous amorousness. Elsewhere, she’s a hitchhiker, a sidewalk cruiser, a hotel trick, a girl on a motorcycle, and other fantasy figurines. The most audacious song is “Les capotes anglaises,” which begins with her blowing up condoms and letting them float off a balcony. The special treat is “Le décadanse,” not so much a failed attempt at creating a dance craze as a successful erotic mockery of dance crazes. There, Gainsbourg appears for another classic duet.



Adolescent Funk

(Stones Throw)

The album’s name is apt, as these tracks, recorded between 1988 and 1992, capture Dâm-Funk’s sound and outlook in a teenage stage of sonic bumptiousness and lyrical lustiness. The content is spelled out in the titles: songs like “I Like Your Big Azz (Girl),” “Sexy Lady,” and “When I’m With U I Think of Her,” are a world away from the mystic leanings of more recent Dâm-Funk tracks like “Mirrors.” Equally direct are the album’s musings on existence, such as “I Love My Life.” The sound owes a debt to — or is a youthful outgrowth of — the early 1980s electro funk of Prince, Mandre, and others. Dâm-Funk has been honing his use of analog keyboards for a long time — when it comes to Korgs and Casios, he’s no new kid on the block, though he was back when these songs were captured on tape. The homecoming-dance cover art, selected by Peanut Butter Wolf from Dâm’s photo albums, captures the vintage feel perfectly.



The Secret Dub Life of the Flying Lizards


Flying Lizards are best known for creating possibly the cheapest British chart-topper in history, a pots-and-pans 1979 cover of “Money (That’s What I Want),” distinguished by Deborah Evans’ hilarious deadpan vocal. As the title hints, Evans isn’t present on The Secret Dub Life of the Flying Lizards, nor are any other traditional vocalists — instead, main Lizard David Cunningham remixes 1978 source material by Jah Lloyd. The catch was that Cunningham only had a mono master tape to work with, rather than the plethora of tracks usually associated with dub. A lost gem from the early days of reggae-punk fusions and collisions, this album — with loops built from tape-splicing — reveals the dub underpinnings of Cunningham’s brash and innovative work on “Money.” An irreverent vanguard producer, he uses ping-pong balls to create ricochet effects on one track, just as “Money” seems to throw everything but the kitchen sink at listeners.



Broken Dreams Club EP

(True Panther Sounds)

One of the things that makes Girls so special is Christopher Owens’ ability to write so directly about the unavoidable aspects of life without falling into cliché. So it is on “Heartbreaker,” which begins with the observation, “When I look in the mirror/ I’m not as young as I used to be/ I’m not quite as beautiful as when you were next to me.” A newer addition to Girls’ nascent greatness, as displayed on this six-song collection, is their facility at traversing various genres while always sounding like themselves. The reggae and early rock ‘n’ roll fusion “Oh So Fortunate One,” the bossa nova touches of “Heartbreaker,” and the country lament of the superb title track (complete with pedal steel) sound like … Girls. While the sonic palette shifts from song to song — and sometimes within them — more than one composition evokes the anthemic balladry of their 2009 debut album’s “Hellhole Ratrace.” That’s no small achievement. The outlook, though, is less hopeful and more disillusioned. Who knows what the future holds.



Lucky Shiner

(Ghostly International)

There should probably be a moratorium placed on the use of the word panda in group names, but the man known as Gold Panda can be forgiven, based on the sheer zinging energy of this album, which has nothing in common with any Beach Boys-flavored Animal Collective endeavors. One of Gold Panda’s trademarks is a sharply-edited, sped-up approach to vocal samples that makes Kanye West’s sound like screw. Instrumental tracks such as “Vanilla Minus,” “Snow & Taxis,” and the incandescent “Marriage” call the crackling warmth of the Field to mind, but their energy is more hyper, their outlook much more colorful. “Same Dream China” takes the glassy percussion of Pantha Du Prince’s “Stick to My Side” into out there realms — it’s one of a few tracks that maneuvers across a high wire just above exotica and Orientalism. A late contender for techno album of the year.



Pink Information

(Mexican Summer)

San Francisco’s the Mantles deliver great straightforward rock ‘n’ roll. Dressed in a cover by local artist Michelle Blade, this EP picks up where their debut album left off, as guitarist-singer Michael Olivares leads the charge with vocals that somehow manage to sneer and snarl and seem amiable at the same time. “Situations” is actually kind of harsh, taking a scenester or gold-digger to task for his or her shallow and failure-fated state of being. “Lily Never Married” is more reflective, a portrait of a spinster that opens into thoughts about family within a changing world. “Waiting Out the Storm” finds the group trying on its epic journey boots, and they fit just fine.



The Effective Disconnect


A disturbing subject yields mournful tone poems on this album by Stars of the Lid’s McBride, which collects elements of his soundtrack for Vanishing of the Bees, a 2009 documentary on colony collapse disorder. (Mercifully, voice over by Ellen Page is left off the album.) There’s no flight-of-the-bumblebee whimsy in McBride’s musical testimony to the spirit of the beehive. In the liner notes, he writes that filmmakers George Langworthy and Maryam Henein suggested he focus on “the gloriousness of the bees, the endurance and hardships of traditional beekeepers, pesticides, and the holistic nature of non-industrial agriculture.” These elements aren’t always clearly distinguished, but they are present in a manner that avoids cliché.



Ballad of the Lights

(Presspop Music)

“Ballad of the Lights” was performed by a friend at the late Arthur Russell’s funeral, which is as strong a proof as any that it is an important entry within his vast and diverse songbook. This two-song 10-inch vinyl release couples it with another recording from Russell’s many studio collaborations with Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg’s recitals within “Ballad of the Lights” almost come off superfluous, except that they set the glory of the song’s resurrection-like structure in greater relief. The B-side, “Pacific High Studio Mantras,” is a Buddhist chant accompanied by instrumentation, and perhaps not intended for commercial release. (Ginsberg himself hinged back and forth about whether it should presented in this fashion.) Bob Dylan even figured briefly within Ginsberg’s and Russell’s endeavors, but with so few of them available, it’s hard to discern whether “Ballad of the Lights” is their best work. That it’s pretty great is clear, even if coupled with portraits by Archer Prewitt that play into the more cloying aspects of viewing artists as icons.



The Soft Moon

(Captured Tracks)

It’s no surprise that the debut album by Bay Area musician Luis Vasquez is dark and densely claustrophobic — nor is it a surprise that it’s excellent. It kicks off with one highlight from his earlier EPs, “Breathe the Fire,” where his whispered vocal — dancing over doom-laden bass and guitar worthy of Pornography-era Cure — manifests maximum sinuous menace. The death dance of “Circles” is more Sister of Mercy-like, but really, Vasquez transcends well-known goth and more obscure dark wave poses and influences through sheer intensity of focus. “Sewer Sickness” might be the album’s darkest and most compelling black pit, as Vasquez’s susurrant vocals take on the quality of a malevolent primal incantation.



She Was Coloured In

(Planet Mu)

Like Gold Panda, Solar Bears counter a dodgy name by delivering solid tunes. She Was Coloured In is more melodic than most recordings on Planet Mu. “Children of the Times” mixes Johnny Marr-caliber guitar shimmer with a Vocoder chorus that is sure to evoke comparisons to Air. Likewise, the title composition places Air-y elements up against Aphex Twin-like ambience. Enjoyably ham-fisted prog keyboard flourishes dive in and out of techno terrain on the title track. The chord changes and underpinnings of “Head Supernova” evoke Angelo Badalamenti’s scores for David Lynch. The riddle of Solar Bears is whether all these touchstones or influences add up to an act with its own identity or — perhaps no less an achievement in 2010 — a generically beautiful album.




(Light in the Attic)

When an excellent songwriter disappears, his or her voice remains. There is proof of this in the recent issuing of Connie Converse’s priceless previously-private recordings, and now in this reissue of the 1969 debut album by Jim Sullivan, a ten-song collection that fuses orchestral ornamentation and plainspoken brevity. Sullivan vanished into the New Mexico desert one day in 1975, but his musical legacy is being revived, and rightfully so, as the best moments here are reminiscent of better-known contemporaries such as Fred Neil and Tim Hardin. All the doomed young men: there’s something eerie about the funereal string intro of the opening track “Jerome,” yet Sullivan’s music also possesses vitality and good cheer. Best of all is “UFO,” a graceful piece of baroque pop (and quintessential example of a California paranormal mindset), adorned with echo-laden effects that Malibu kinfolk and relative survivor Linda Perhacs might appreciate.



Golden Haze EP

(Captured Tracks)

Captured Tracks is home to some of the most beautiful guitar sounds being made today, thanks to Beach Fossils and this group, who see no shame in sheer ’80s-ness. Wild Nothing hail from California, but England meets Australia (and gets along with it better than usual) on “Your Rabbit Feet,” as Slowdive-gone-fast guitar radiates around a vocal that’s equal parts Morrissey and Robert Forster in its offhand debonair delivery. “Take Me In” has another immediate, whirligig guitar melody, and a chorus as big as 100,000 violins. Gorgeous stuff.

Welcome to the Asylum



MUSIC Just one glance at the title of Sic Alps’ forthcoming full-length, Napa Asylum (Drag City), triggers memories of what might have been one of the most infamous (a.k.a. perfect) moments in punk history: the sight of the Cramps’ Lux Interior lurching among the patients at Napa State Hospital in 1978, as captured in The Cramps: Live at Napa State Mental Hospital, by SF’s Target Video. How does a humble assemblage of SF noisemakers live up to those memories and dare to go there?

“I know, right?” says the affable Mike Donovan by phone, on the brink of this year’s turkey gorge. “We didn’t even think of it, though people-in-the-know think of that.” A sketch of the old institution, ages before the Cramps roared through it, actually gave Donovan, Matt Hartman, and newest member Noel Von Harmonson the idea of attempting a concept album about the lost spirits roaming the ultimate wine country getaway. But once the band got into recording, the notion ultimately died and only the title and a song or two about the institution’s spaces and characters survived, among a whopping 22 tracks.

Before the January release of its fifth long-player, and first since U.S. EZ (Siltbreeze, 2008), Sic Alps are revving into action, playing a Dec. 4 benefit to pay the hospital bills of artist Akassia Mann, who is battling ovarian cancer. Mann is also the mother of Big Eagle’s Robyn Miller — Hartman and Harmonson’s housemate. Count on the downbeat new songs to wash up that night, riddled with pop references yet mangled and unique in a way that, say, Ariel Pink would appreciate.

The darkness on the edges of this batch of numbers was something Donovan considered. “I guess that’s one of the first things one of my friends said, ‘There’s a bunch of bummer tunes on this,'” recalls Donovan, whose good-naturedness seems to run counter to the album’s tone. “It peeked through. We didn’t say, ‘Let’s make things that are really down. Let’s temper these snappy numbers and noise tracks with bummers.’ But with 22 songs, there’s more room for it to do its thing.”

Likewise, when it came down to editing and sequencing the recording, and deciding if it would be a single or double album, Sic Alps went with the flow — namely, Hartman’s sequence. “It was a ‘killer and no filler thing’ and then Matt put together that sequence and sent it out with an e-mail header — ‘A fuck-yes double album,'” offers Donovan. Gone were the fights of old over sequencing: “It was done.”

In went the songs roughly concerning reincarnation (“Nathan Livingston Maddox,” based on Donovan’s dream about the late Gang Gang Dance member) and magic ( which is “meant to brush by you — it’s nothing you can describe or talk about”). Simmering in the free-floating, far-flung Exile on Main Street-meets-crushed-metal-Royal Trux stew, witchy connects are made between the so-called discovery of the Golden State and the mortgage crisis (“The First White Man to Touch California”), as well as mythic rock ‘n’ roll departures and Midwestern innocents leaving home (“Zeppo Epp”).

It all sounds like nothing other than Sic Alps. The group had been taking it easy, with Ty Segall in its ranks, until Harmonson joined late last year. Now the group’s pillar-like P.A.-slash-power station — a product of the need to control its dramatically, drastically dense brand of echo and reverb — has been doubled in the form of a second tower.

Further, the band is currently honing that bristling, dense thicket of echo with simpatico sound maestro Eric Bauer, once Donovan’s bandmate in Big Techno Werewolves. Just in time for a new growth spurt, Sic Alps recently bunked down in Bauer’s basement-based Chinatown analog studio, where Segall recorded his last album, the Oh Sees tracked its next full-length, and the Mantles jotted down a 7-inch. “When the iron was hot, we were like, ‘Fuck it,’ ” says Donovan. After doing the 9-to-5, the band is ready for something more, though Donovan amiably confesses, “I want the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle without getting paid for doing rock ‘n’ roll. I only work two days a week, but I have a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle — without the money.”


With the Mumlers, Big Eagle, Bart Davenport, and the Moore Brothers

Sat/4, 8 p.m., $10–$15 sliding scale

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF






MUSIC Local multi-instrumentalist and Root Strata label cofounder Jefre Cantu-Ledesma has titled his newest solo album, Love is a Stream (Type), but the watercourse this robust and unexpectedly sharp collection of dazzlers brings to mind is Niagara Falls.

Whether he’s playing a pastoral variant of psych rock with his more recent project The Alps or improvising a soundtrack to one of Paul Clipson’s gorgeous 8mm films, a careful attention to timbre and a nimble, even delicate, shaping of sound through the graduated addition of sonic elements have always been trademarks of Cantu-Ledesma’s musicianship.

Love is a Stream is, in some ways, a sustained exploration of what happens to timbre when you keep piling sounds on top of each other. Cantu-Ledesma smears what sounds like racks of overdriven keyboards and the warped buzz of a hundred guitars into thick, shimmering fog banks, as if following Iggy Pop’s lead when he remixed Raw Power in 1997 so that it sounded more “in the red.”

Variations exist across the album’s 12 beatless and wordless tracks, but they can be easily missed if one isn’t listening closely. Opener “Stained Glass Body” warms up with 20 seconds of tonal clusters ham-fisted on a Casio and keening vocals until a tangled low-end of what sounds like processed-to-bits guitar burrows up through the mix, building to a sustained crescendo of speaker-shredding intensity. This quick and early peaking is consistent over the next 45 minutes, with brief moments of respite spaced throughout (track five, “Body Within Body,” and track nine, “Womb Night,” keep things at a comparative simmer).

“Orbiting Love” is a church bell carol as reorchestrated by the Cocteau Twins and fed through dying computer speakers. “White Dwarf Butterfly” perfectly recaptures the enveloping hiss and warped cassette-like warble of My Bloody Valentine’s “To Here Knows When” (listening to the two tracks simultaneously produces a smile-inducing complementarity not unlike one of Humphry Slocombe’s less outré taste combinations). The appropriately titled closing track “Mirrors Death” ends the album on a more meditative note, as a recurring rumble gently breaks apart an ice floe of quietly droning guitars, until it too has sputtered into silence.

The My Bloody Valentine comparison is inevitable with an album such Love is A Stream, and with a musician of lesser gifts than Cantu-Ledesma, it could be taken as faint praise. As was noted in this paper’s recent profiles of local acts Weekend and Tamaryn, the continued influence of shoegaze can be heard all over contemporary indie music but it takes more than a studied replica of Kevin Shields’ “glide guitar” to build something decidedly new — or even fresh — when working with well-worn floor plans.

Like the beautiful, overdriven digital tsunamis of Tim Hecker or Christian Fennesz, Love is A Stream employs a familiar vocabulary to new ends. I hope Cantu-Ledesma, at least for the next little while, continues to keep things turned up to 11. 





A Synthetic History of E.M.A.K. 1982-88

(Universal Sound)

This banana-yellow retrospective comp devoted to a small collective-group of electronic musicians in Cologne, Germany offers a number of John Carpenter-like pleasures. E.M.A.K. member Kurt Mill provides two of the best. The vaguely sinister bass line, otherworldly organ, and synth stabs of “Bote des Herbstes” would fit in perfectly alongside tracks from Carpenter’s soundtrack for Christine (1983), and “Filmmusik” has a dancefloor as well as cinematic appeal. A fun document of a time when sampling was being invented and Commodore 64s were making music.


Play It Strange

(In the Red)

A half-dozen or so listens in, this is shaping up to be the best album by SF’s Fresh & Onlys to date, thanks in part to its widescreen production (the album was recorded by Tim Green). With its Duane Eddy twang, ghost harmonies, propulsive rhythms, and dovetail lyric about bickering between dying forms of media, “Waterfall” is as terrific as it is catchy. I kinda wish the group would slow down the tempo from time to time for more variety, particularly because they seem more than capable of pulling off a big ballad. But not many groups can evoke both Morrissey and late-period Damned while sounding like themselves, and “I’m All Shook Up” offers exactly the kind of irresistible classic rock ‘n’ roll its title promises.


The Nightmare of J B Stanislaus

(Cherry Red/Rev-Ola)

In 1970, when The Nightmare of J B Stanislas was released, Nick Garrie was young, blond, and beautiful. But one need only look to Scott Walker at the time to see that pop idol looks and ambitious melancholic talent didn’t necessarily equate to record sales. Garrie’s debut album isn’t as dramatically symphonic as Walker’s solo efforts of the time, but it features beautifully lush orchestration. His purple lyrical style — which bears some similarity to Donovan’s — and gentle choir-schooled voice meet up with strings to best effect on the plaintive “Can I Stay With You?,” a love song to a girl in his French lit class.


New Chain


Last summer I saw Small Black play after Pictureplane and before Washed Out on a chillwave triple bill of sorts that was disappointing in terms of how the sound translated to a live context. At the time, Small Black came off as the closest to an actual band, calling New Order to mind in terms of sound if not songwriting caliber. A year or so later, with a chillwave backlash in effect, Small Black’s debut album arrives amid a blogosphere’s worth of dodgy enthusiasm about the latest microgenre du jour: drag (or haunted house, or witch house). You can hear some trendy witch house elements in the production of New Chain, especially the album’s variety of woozy and wheezy speedball sounds, but Small Black is far more musical and melodic than the wretched hype-magnet Salem, and fond of vintage hi-NRG touches. A little pretty goes a long way, and at least “Search Party” and “Photojournalist” have incandescent moments.


The Slider

(Fat Possum)

Kudos to Fat Possum for reissuing this hard-to-find 1972 T. Rex all-time great, which moves from high point to high point as quickly as Marc Bolan’s lyrics find new nicknamed characters to describe. Every once in a while — say, on “Baseball Ricochet” — Bolan’s playful language is a bit too nonsensical for its own good, but glam gems such as “Telegram Sam” and “Metal Guru” are matched by most of the album tracks. One peculiarity — how much the riff of “Chariot Choogle” resembles Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” recorded two year earlier.


Califia: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood


There are all kinds of treats and discoveries to be made within this grab-bag of Lee Hazlewood obscurities. Who else could write a song called “The Girl On Death Row,” not to mention deliver it with the authority of a winking Johnny Cash? (Turns out the song was for an American International Picture that went and changed its title.) Califia also includes some squalling girl-pop by Hazelwood’s early flame Suzi Jane Hokom and his later muse Ann-Margret, and a number of guitar-themed gems penned for his buddy Duane Eddy. It all closes with a song in German by the formerly “Little” Peggy March.




To hear how extraordinary Weekend can be, check out “Age Class,” a rock song of instant classic status because of its furious guitar, ghost rider breakdown, and Shaun Durkan’s vocal, which builds to a crescendo that grasps extremes of love and death from the repeated line “There’s something in our blood.” Sportsis an always-promising and sometimes powerful debut album, with a peculiar track sequence — its first half is erratic and largely opaque, but it hits stride with “Age Class” and the songs that follow. The Bay Area group’s antecedents range from Joy Division to Ride to the Wedding Present but they’re already on their own path. I’m excited to hear where they go next.


Onra’s future funk



I first stumbled upon Onra’s music three years ago when I picked up Chinoiseries (Label Rouge), a sprawlinlg beat-tape in the line of J Dilla’s blueprint for the future of hip-hop, Donuts (Stones Throw, 2006). But unlike the late Dilla’s many lackluster imitators, Onra proves a worthy disciple. 

Chinoiseries crackling intro blends hip-hop quotables over boom bap percussion, closing out with Dilla’s signature rally call, “Let’s go!” But the transition into “The Anthem” is unexpected: a bass-heavy break anchors unfamiliar horn blasts and traditional Mandarin vocals, unsteady and fissured in odd rhythm. What follows are 30 head-nodding beats culled from late 1960s and early 1970s vinyl straight outta dusty Saigon crates — some Vietnamese, some Chinese in origin. The effort certainly takes cues from RZA’s eerie psychedelic architectonics for the Wu-Tang Clan, in which he transformed Staten Island street sagas into a Shaolin kung-fu epic, but Chinoiseries is more furtive and gargantuan, scattered and undigested.

Onra, or Arnaud Bernard according to his French government papers, isn’t your typical Parisian hip-hop producer (whatever that is). He was born in Germany to a Vietnamese father and French mother and moved to France at a young age. He spent summers in the Ivory Coast where his mother lived and listened to the Caribbean polyrhythms of Zouk. But what initially hooked Onra to the beat was early 1990s American hip-hop. “I never really liked music before hearing my first rap song,” Onra tells me over an extended e-mail correspondence. “I was like, ‘This is it, and anything else is garbage.’ I had this state of mind for a few years before opening to other genres.”

Travel permeated Onra’s early life, and hip-hop gave him a common language with other wayward teens searching for a sense of themselves. “Through hip-hop, it has always been easier to connect with people because we share the same passion. So we’re pretty much on the same wavelength — at least, we speak the same language,” he says.

What makes Onra stand out is a talent not only for exploring the semantics of hip-hop’s codified scriptures, but its heavily layered emotional fabric. The MPC sampler/sequencer is his weapon of choice for recontextualizing sonic histories and mythologies. I’d even go so far as to say that he usurps tools of hip-hop to ground a sense of place in today’s widespread diaspora, where traditional and modern, distant and far, the animate and artificial grind against each other in sometimes uncomfortable, and unsalvageable, ways.

Earlier this summer Onra dropped his strongest effort, Long Distance (All City), which he considers his full-length debut. The record, a thoroughly futuristic approach to early 1980s boogie funk, helped propel the wave of recent revivalism for the genre heralded by Los Angeles’ Dam-Funk. Locally, the Sweater Funk crew has steadily unearthed overlooked boogie jams, playing original vinyl of low rider grooves and synthesized soul in the basement of Chinatown’s Li-Po Lounge every Sunday night. Somehow the cheese factor of these sounds has retained its original funky odor, and even rampant irony has given way to wholehearted appreciation for lustful forays into buoyant bass and lush melodies.

But Onra’s approach to the funk gathers inspiration from Notorious B.I.G.’s Mtume-based “Juicy” and Foxy Brown’s “Gotta Get You Home” more than the analog-minded heritage channeled by Dam-Funk. “There were so many songs in the ’90s that sampled ’80s funk and modern soul,” Onra says. “That’s the feeling I wanted to have on my album. I had to find a way of recreating their feeling, but with a fresher touch.” Long Distance manages that tension well, navigating nostalgia for Roland chord progressions and vintage drum machines with a finger on the pulse for the spacey beat-futurism cultivated by the likes of Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke.

The rolling bass lines of “Comet” and “Rock On” pick up where Parliament’s mothership landed 30 years ago — but the rusty funk machine scrapped together during the days of the cold war gets a bit of a facelift on Long Distance. The swerving slap bounce is reconfigured into a fragmented narrative of sensual ideas and indulgent desire outlined in chalk. On “High Hopes” and the title track, R&B crooners Reggie B and Olivier Daysoul wax seductive over woozy beats that sound like Dilla flipped the Prelude vaults.

Voices are distorted and guzzled through technological mediation: “Oper8tor” receives the vocoder-inflected Zapp treatment and “Girl” traces a love interest’s absent-minded confession over a fuzzy telephone voice message. Onra also ventures into uncharted intergalactic territory. “Wonderland” cruises on ecstatic altitudes higher than the intoxication of house, while “WheeOut,” featuring Buddy Sativa wilding out on synth chords, discovers the sticky underbelly of electro.

A general theme of travel, and the insatiable desires that emerge from such trips through space and time, saturates the warm sonic textures of Long Distance. Onra doesn’t care to divulge too much on the topic: “I have been traveling a lot these past few years,” he says. “This album has been inspired by my own personal experiences, by a few long distance relationships I had … I think it’s a very inspiring subject.”

I would dare trace the notion of distance back even farther, to the very impulse of Onra’s stylized hip-hop production. Whether seeking out some sense of imaginative rootedness across disparate traditions and backgrounds in Chinoiseries and other beat-tapes, or the heart of expressionistic eros in Long Distance, a sense of absence drives Onra’s work. But he doesn’t get lost in mournful nostalgia for a lost past and places already visited; some sort of dreamy future — a strange horizon where the erotic and robotic merge — seems to rise from the rubble. Desire might just find what it’s been looking for. 


With Buddy Sativa, Sweater Funk DJs

Fri/29, 10 p.m.; $10


2925 16th St., SF

(415) 558-8521