• No categories

Music Features

Mood music



MUSIC It’s amazing what a difference two years makes. In June of 2011, I packed into a sweaty club in Silver Lake to see an up-and-coming glitch producer by the name of Baths (né Will Wiesenfeld) perform a triumphant home-town gig. Preceded by similarly buzzy beatsmiths like Shlohmo and Groundislava, Wiesenfeld spent the hour-long set hiding behind a table full of laptops and sequencers, pairing aggressive, wildly vacillating beats with heady melodies and his Sigur Rós-ian falsetto. While the show was a viscerally arresting experience, it was severely lacking in personality — painting its young architect as a musician much more interested in crafting a unique sonic aesthetic than baring his soul.

Fast forward almost two years, and Wiesenfeld has released an intimate, crushingly personal second album. Obsidian is a harrowing journey into the fractured psyche of an naked young artist, a complete 180 from his beat-driven, somewhat opaque debut, Cerulean. Though there were signs that he was moving in a new direction — notably the brilliant “Pop Song” from his 2011 odds-and-ends LP, Pop Music/False B-Sides — it is a brave, unexpected step forward for the 24-year-old. The Tarzana, Calif.-native strips back the eclectic, maximalist sound of his early work in favor of down-tempo, sparse, vocal-driven numbers.

The confessional lyrics come thick and fast, beginning with the bleak, shadowy, “Worsening.” “Where is God when you hate him most? / When the coughs in the earth come to bite at my robes,” emotes the stricken singer-songwriter, after admitting that he “might try to die.” During the time he was supposed to be working on Obsidian, Wiesenfeld was struck down by a vicious bout of E. Coli. His struggle with the debilitating disease is chronicled throughout the album, no more so than on its opener.

Lyrically, much of Obsidian is explosive, cathartic, and sometimes frankly uncomfortable, and they aren’t just related to his illness. The stand-out third track, “Ironworks,” is a beautiful song of denied love. Driven by a glorious string line and a cascade of piano — which recalls Ryuichi Sakamoto at times — Wiesenfeld tells the story of a man (presumably, him) falling in love with a married man, who denies his love and returns to the comfort of his wife after their relationship. Alone in the end, Wiesenfeld cries, “I am sweet swine. / And no man is ever mine.”

Throughout the album, he touches on anonymous sex, abuse, nihilism, and everything in between — often playing the role of perpetrator. Lyrics like, “And I never see your face, but I just might be okay with that. / Because I have no eyes, I have no love, I have no hope. / And it is not a matter of if you mean it. / But it is only a matter of come and fuck me.” At early listens, it’s difficult to imagine such a bubbly, gregarious character saying these salacious things. Trent Reznor, Kanye West, sure. A chubby, bespectacled kid from the Valley, not so much.

And though there is a lot of darkness on Obsidian, it’s not all sour times. Compositionally, the classically-trained pianist is capable of crafting mellifluous, lush arraignments and soaring vocal melodies. He also loves to cake on layers of woozy percussive droplets, giving his tracks a propulsive, cinematic quality. Though much of the album is of the down-tempo variety, he freshens things up with a few curve-balls, namely on the aggressive, industrial-influenced, “Earth Death,” and the Postal Service churn of “Ossuary.”

Wiesenfeld will be debuting much of this material this to the Bay Area this week, when his tour with buzzy, Chicago-based duo, Houses rolls into the Great American Music Hall. His choice of opening acts reflects his musical shift, as Houses craft reflective, affecting mood music — quite a bit different than the hip-hop/dance stylings of the artists who flanked him two years ago. While the laptop is likely to make an appearance, there will be plenty of live instrumentation on show with Wiesenfeld spending time on the keyboards and bandmate Morgan Greenwood taking on a few different instruments. It will be fascinating to see how he handles his new direction, but you can guarantee that the effusive, passionate performer will be pouring his heart into his show, the same way he poured it into Obsidian.


With Houses, D33J

Sat/29, 9pm, $16

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750



Devil may care



TOFU AND WHISKEY Unlike most anticipated albums these days, Austra‘s sophomore LP, Olympia (June 18, Domino Records), came out in gleaming little drops. There were no leaked full downloads — at least, nothing massively widespread. But the sparkly bits that did trickle out, namely first single “Home” and its follow-up, “Painful Like,” were enough to build interest.

The Canadian synth-pop six-piece already had a built-in audience, thanks to 2011’s Feel It Break, mostly created by darkly operatic lead vocalist Katie Stelmanis, former Trust vocalist Maya Postepski on drums, and bassist Dorian Wolf, and made almost exclusively on a computer. Now a more fully realized unit using live instrumentation, the group, which also includes keyboardist Ryan Wonsiak and supernatural twin backing vocalists Sari and Romy Lightman, created the lush, full-bodied second record together in a studio. And it shows: there’s a richness to the sound. There’s a steady dance beat throughout the record, with the addition of sounds like cowbells and even more barreling percussion underneath all those moody vocals wailings and subtle piano keys.

“We have so much percussion on the album, I had days where I would just play all day,” Postepski says from Switzerland, on the group’s brief tour through Europe. “I think it added to the richness to it, and the realness of the sound. As much as it is an electronic record, we wanted it to have a balance with real instruments.”

That first released track “Home” seduced critics earlier this spring with a more upbeat style than typical of Austra, yet the lyrics are again deeply personal for Stelmanis, about someone not coming home at night because they’re out getting wasted, and the desperate feeling of waiting for that person to return.

Sonically, second single, “Painful Like” gets more to the core of what the group does best, meshing gothy dancefloor-ready beats and bubbly synth with crashing drums and Stelmanis’ otherworldly vocals on display.

The lyrics were inspired by “the disillusionment of growing up gay in a small town and finding solace in the arms of a lover.”

Stelmis told Spinner in 2011, “Indie music is funny. It’s really not as queer positive as you would think. In a lot of ways, it’s very centered around white men, basically. I just want there to be space for gays.”

She seems to have taken that to heart on Olympia, including even more of herself than on Feel it Break.

“The lyrics on the new album are personal, intimate reflections of what Stelmanis is going through,” Postepski says.

The new record contains hints of other moody synth-based projects like former tourmate Grimes, the Knife, and Zola Jesus, though Postepski says she almost exclusively listens to music made before 1995, specifically Grace Jones and David Bowie. She does make an exception for British techno producer Andy Stott. “That’s where all the super low bassy stuff comes from,” she explains.

While many of the tracks follow the same formula, Olympia is packed with emotional dancefloor moments. It’s the kind of record that could soundtrack a crying fit in a dark club bathroom, mascara bleeding down the face, strangers surrounding the mirror, all of the drama inherent in nightlife, then follow the main character triumphantly back out onto the floor.

“As much as it is a serious album, there’s a lot of playfulness as well,” Postepski says. “I think we struck a good balance.”

Austra, which has toured internationally with groups like the XX, Grimes, and the Gossip will test the balance on a quick jaunt through the States, only stopping in a few major cities. One lucky enclave is San Francisco — the group plays here this week (Wed/26, 8pm, sold out. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF). Noted for its creative use of stage layout and synchronized twin dance movements (“they’re kind of like our cheerleaders!”), Austra has a lot to live up to at its live shows. Postepski tells me this very short tour includes a massive, beautiful new backdrop, rented from the Chinese Opera Group in Toronto.

“People are having fun at the shows. I just want it to be a dance party, you know?” Postepski says.

There’s another group traveling to San Francisco this week that also will likely be filling up the dancefloor — and, coincidentally, also has toured with the Gossip — Magic Mouth. To get a taste of the explosive energy Magic Mouth exudes, check the YouTube video “MAGIC MOUTH LIVE: MISSISSIPPI STUDIOS,” it’s like watching James Brown front a garage-punk band. The lively Portland, Ore. queer soul-punk quartet will play Hard French Hearts Los Homos (an event described by DJ Carnita as “an intergalactic Pride Party for all the gayliens who love to dance in outer space”).

Magic Mouth will open for fellow Northwesterners, Seattle’s THEESatisfaction at the event hosted by Lil Miss Hot Mess (Sun/30, 4-11pm, $20. Roccapulco, 3140 Mission, SF; hardfrenchpride2013.eventbrite.com). This will be the band’s second time in SF, after stopping by El Rio last fall. But other tours have taken the group around the country opening for the Gossip, and JD Sampson’s MEN.

Magic Mouth has a glut of reasons to be keyed up for the SF show.

“I’m really looking forward to playing with THEESatisfaction. We’ve been admirers of theirs from afar for a minute and in kind of the same music community,” says frontperson Chanticleer Trü. “And also to celebrate at Hard French, because we love what they do.”

Guitarist Peter Condra adds, “And I’m excited to play a party that’s dedicated to a political cause, which is Bradley Manning. With what went down in San Francisco Pride, I think that fueled the organizers’ enthusiasm about the topic and I want to help them create awareness in any way we can as a band. I think it’s cool they took a stance on that.”

A crash course on those events: The LGBTQ community was torn apart when the SF Pride Board rescinded the election of Wikileaker Bradley Manning to the position of Community Grand Marshal at this year’s Pride celebration. There are planned actions and marches in support of Manning (see pTK) at the Pride parade, June 30.

So yes, Magic Mouth comes to us on a mission of both solidarity and fun. And likely, to gain new fans.

The group’s electric Believer EP saw release in 2012, and now it’s in the process of finishing up another, Devil May Care, which was funded with $10,000 raised through Kickstarter. The foursome worked on the record with Nathan Howdeshell and Hannah Blilie of the Gossip, who walked the band through the process, gave feedback, and connected Magic Mouth with a producer. Devil May Care will be released on vinyl in late summer.

“I’m really proud of this record,” Trü says.

Drummer Ana Briseño says, “Yeah, I think it’s taking us into the next level, a little more grownup, of taking this band seriously. The quality of the recording, and getting to put it out on vinyl, and being able to be involved in the artwork — I think we’re really lucky and not a lot of bands make it to that point.”

“In comparison to our first EP, which we recorded like, between two of our friends’ bedroom studios,” Trü says. “It’s definitely been an evolution, and this time around I feel like we really captured the type of energy we bring to a live performance.”

The band formed in 2010 when Briseño and guitarist Peter Condra met and started talking about music — Nina Simone being the uniting interest. Briseño and Condra started playing garage rock versions of Simone songs, and eventually created their own, which brought them to Trü and bassist Brendan Scott (Condra and Scott had played together before in a cover band). “And Trü was definitely feeling the Nina Simone thing we were channeling,” Condra says.

The group says it’s now actualizing its influences. The band members have already played with one influence in the Gossip and is about to play with another in THEESatisfaction, but future goal spots would be alongside Erykah Badu or Blood Orange. I mishear Trü, thinking he mentioned Beyonce also, so ask for clarification. He laughs and says, “no, but you must be reading my mind.”



Some background: local Southern fried rock group (“by way of Atlanta, Jakarta, and two Midwest podunk towns”) the White Barons includes members of Thee Merry Widows, Winter Teeth, and Whiskey Dick Darryls, and SF’s Wild Eyes recently opened for King Khan and BBQ Show at Slim’s. This Bender’s show is a party for a few things: it’s the birthday of Bender’s doorperson and Subliminal SF booker Mikey Madfes, it’s a split seven-inch release celebration for the White Barons and Wild Eyes, and lastly, there’s a band vs. band chili cookoff (if you buy a record, you’ll get a chili sample). So you know it’s going to be a messy mix of raucous rock’n’roll and tender cooked meats.

Sat/29, 10pm, $5. Bender’s Bar and Grill, 806 S. Van Ness, SF; www.bendersbar.com.


Undercover Juggalo



MUSIC When I pitched attending one of the Insane Clown Posse’s shows from its two-night stand at the Oakland Metro as an “undercover juggalo,” I felt the need to make it clear to my editor that I was not a fan. This would just be for a story and fun pics. I wanted documentation of the Detroit “horrorcore”-rap duo’s strange appearance in the Bay Area, but more importantly, of the fucked-up subculture and fan base that ICP has bred over the years.

Given the band’s notoriety for misogynistic lyrics, alleged violence at shows (plus the added element of the FBI’s 14-month investigation of juggalos as a potential gang threat); my perceptions of the band and its followers being a generally trashy bunch who boast bad music had me thinking, this could be my scariest assignment ever.

Going in drag was partly to protect myself. As a native Midwesterner (born and raised in Michigan) I thought I knew damn well what I was getting into. Elements of my past were about to come crashing into my present-day self and surroundings. My preconceived notions of juggalos, largely based on living in Michigan when the group found fame in the mid-to-late ’90s, were superficial and prejudiced, but not completely unfounded (grabbing the nearest trucker hat, donning ugly cargo pants, and putting on a pair of 10-year-old Nikes was totally the right thing to do). I thought hiding behind face paint would be an easy in for acceptance or at least a good cover.

I had important questions: What are Bay Area juggalos like? Why is this happening in Oakland? Would it really just be the Central Valley invading? Black juggalos?! WTF?! Does that even exist?

Beforehand a friend of mine agreed with my concerns and quipped it was going to be like entering some “ultimate societal vortex.” Others warned me to brush up on my juggalo lore as I wouldn’t want to be exposed as a poser. I did my homework, read a few good articles on The Gathering and watched a really sad YouTube video about a juggalette mom who calls in to a radio show to tell the story of her baby who died shortly after birth in the hospital. She uses that story to fulfill her obsession with scoring free ICP merch.

Reverse racist, white-trash poser

Nervous about walking the streets and getting on BART with my face painted, I still had to get from San Francisco to my destination. I wasn’t sure how people would react.

I was glad to have my friend and photographer, Dallis, along for the ride. Although he wouldn’t join me in wicked clown make-up, he did help me feel as if I wasn’t completely alone. He quizzed my knowledge on the topic at hand and casually dropped the term “white trash.” It’s not an epithet I like to use, but I agree there are worse. Unfortunately, this is the one assigned to the juggalo.

Just about everyone looks down upon and ostracizes them like they’re a symbol for what’s wrong with Middle America. I got some strange stares on the train, but that was about it. Once we popped through the tunnel and found our stop, some fellow “ninjas” (who looked like frat boys) noticed me. They asked if I had any more face paint. Unaware if they were legit fans or if this was mockery, I asked if they were going to the show. It turned out they were being un-ironic (I saw them later at the Metro), so I guess I was the poser.

Waiting in a long line wrapped around the building with “The Family” was the best part of the night. Finally, I had power in numbers (though not all juggalos wear the paint). It was familiar to me, not just because of Midwest roots, but because of fanaticism over a music act. Their energy was electric. They wanted to see their heroes, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J perform. That’s when it clicked. This was all about inclusion.

We couldn’t get over how nice everyone was. At one point Dallis was trying to get a picture, but was tapped on the shoulder by a juggalo who told him to get closer for a better angle. It was uncharacteristic of the pretense among the crowd at a typical Bay Area show.

Sure, my jaw dropped when I finally deciphered that one of the opening act’s lyrics that I was bopping my head to was, “dead girls don’t say no,” but why is it that I give fellow Detroiter DJ Assault a pass when I laugh hysterically at his raunchy sampled lyrics like “suck my mutha-fucking dick,” or consider “Ass ‘n Titties” to be anthemic? Am I a reverse racist, or is it simply taste in music and the understanding that you don’t have to believe in the lyrics or take them to heart, kill people with a hatchet, etc.?

Shock value and entertainment are nothing new here. Witnessing the unrelenting Faygo shower (Faygo “pop” is from Michigan and comes in a variety of weird flavors) is like being a kid on the Fourth of July watching fireworks. Scary clowns dressed in glittered gowns dance on stage and shake two-liter bottles, letting the candy-scented foam spray onto the audience as it shimmers in the light, and it is a true spectacle. The takeaway: juggalos are the salt of the Earth.

Have love, will travel



TOFU AND WHISKEY Trails and Ways have zigged when others zagged. Though in reality, the band’s process is becoming more in line with the path many underground musicians take to create and distribute work in 2013. It’s avoided traditional labels, instead choosing to release a record through a Tumblr-based community project, and before that generated intense web interest with original singles, clever covers, and inspired remixes, building a reputation as a talented crew of globally inspired dream poppers.

And that windy route has paid off. The melodic Oakland quartet, which was named one of the Guardian’s Bands on the Rise earlier this year, will play its biggest headlining show yet this week, Fri/7 at the Independent (9pm, $12, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com). It’s part of its first full US (and Canadian) tour. All of this is in celebration of a record that’s been buzzed about since the first hints were dropped a year or so ago: the Trilingual EP is here.

If you’ve been following the band’s trajectory, you’ve heard many of the tracks before. Five-song Trilingual begins with faraway wind chimes and sturdy hand-claps, kicking off new single, “Como Te Vas,” which then builds into a electronic dance pop track with catchy guitar hooks over island synths and layers of echoing Spanish vocals. It bleeds directly into championed early released “Nunca,” lovely and moody “Tereza,” which ends with the sounds of rolling waves, along with previous single, the bossa nova beat driven “Border Crosser” (which supports the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights) and bubbly “Mtn Tune.” A few of the tracks showcase that two female-two male vocal counterpart dynamic of Trails and Ways, others spotlight and highlight one or two voices — all strong in their own right.

“Some of the songs we put out last year but had never given them a home. It’s our debut of songs written and recorded together as this band,” guitarist-vocalist Keith Brower Brown tells me. “Working as this four-piece changed how and what we do to the core. Before we went on this first major tour, we wanted to bring together our work so far — and new material — into this physical object to tour behind, a declaration of who we are and what we’ve done as a band.”

Although the foursome — Brower Brown, bassist Emma Oppen, drummer Ian Quirk, and guitarist-synth player Hannah Van Loon — initially considered expanding Trilingual into an LP, they decided not to force the additional tracks, to let the work settle and grow organically. “We realized that we never want to rush a full-length out the door. A lot of things have happened really fast for us — especially given that we’ve just been doing all this on top of demanding jobs and other projects.” (That ends soon; two of the four quit working full-time jobs on May 31, so when they return home from tour, they’ll be spending “infinite time” on their music.)

“If you’re too deep in the echo chamber you can feel this pressure to kick out new material every week. But when we put out a debut LP we want it to be as good as the albums that inspire us to make this music.”

It’s this kind of careful attention to detail that draws listeners in to Trails and Ways, the delicate layers of sound, the snippets of additional beats and instruments. Each track tells a story, and is intended to take a listener on a journey. As Brower Brown points out, that intension is right there in the band’s name. These joint interests in both traveling and exploring other cultures came from the time Brower Brown and bassist Oppen spent living in Brazil and Spain. “When you’re traveling in foreign space, wrestling with language and identity to express yourself takes you — by necessity — to the most creative place I know…and a lot of our songs and musical obsessions were sparked in those moments at the raw edge of translation and incomprehension.”


The band will release the EP through Non-Market, a brand new East Bay based DIY community label in which Trails and Ways are very involved. “We hope [it] will transcend the market of music promotion and distribution, by just having Bay bands write about other Bay bands,” Brower Brown says. “So it’s a open, principled, non-commercial music community.”

Along with being a stop on the band’s “Trans-American Trilingual Tour,” the Independent show is also kind of the label kickoff. The band’s San Francisco openers are local pals, Social Studies — and Astronauts Etc., which has also been a core part of the Non-Market dream.

The tour will take the travel junkies through much of the US and Canada. They’re “looking forward to 8,000 miles of time together in the minivan,” along with the hopes of popping off the road for hikes and lake swimming. The band is also itching to meet Drake in Toronto, and will play the same stage as both Kendrick Lamar and Tom Petty at the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware, plus a show in Chicago with its Portland, Ore. friends Radiation City. Even without the release of a proper full-length LP, the group will be headlining most of its US tour.



If you somehow missed killer 2012 LP Henge Beat, Total Control is an Australian punk supergroup of sorts, featuring members of Eddy Current Suppression Ring, UV Race, and more. The band, which recently put out a split with Thee Oh Sees, sounds like a mix of Suicide and Joy Division, with lyrics aimed at sci-fi curiosities and paranoid guitar lines doused in just the right amount of doom and gloom.

Sat/8, 8pm, $12. Eagle Tavern, 398 12th St., SF. www.sf-eagle.com. With Thee Oh Sees, Fuzz.

Sun/9, 8pm, $10. Uptown, 1928 Telegraph, Oakl. www.uptownnightclub.com. With Grass Widow, Neon Piss, Synthetic ID.



It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the Lumerians out and about in San Francisco, as the five-piece spacey, psychedelic wanderers (also recently described as a “Oakland stoner quintet”) reminded fans on social media this week. They also claim to have some secrets in store for the crowd at this show, which opens with fellow locals Wax Idols, at SF’s newest music venue, the Chapel. With this group, it’s got to be something cosmic.

Sat/8, 9pm, $15. Chapel, 777 Valencia, SF. www.thechapelsf.com.



Local record and book shop the Explorist International (which specializes in rural American music, jazz, international pop and folk, and electronics) is curating shows at Amnesia for the month of June, this week bringing out Sub Pop’s NVH, a.k.a. Noel Von Harmonson of Comets on Fire. With this solo project, the experimental knob-twister and guitarist blasts out mind-numbing soundscapes. With Diego Gonzales, DJs Special Lord B and Phengren Oswald. Upcoming Explorist International-curated shows at Amnesia include free-jazzists Aliacensis (June 18) and Nordeson/Shelton Duo (June 25).

Tue/11, 9:30pm, $5. Amnesia, 853 Valencia, SF. www.amnesiathebar.com.



Here’s yet another show at the newly re-opened Eagle Tavern: the record release party for Sonny and the Sunsets’ newest, Antenna to the Afterworld. The confessional record, which hints at Modern Lovers and Silver Jews (a shift from country break-up record Longtime Companion), opens with Sonny Smith talk-singing a call-and-response conversation, “Something happened/I fell in love/but it was weird/Real weird.” “Good weird?” the voice on the other side implores. With Burnt Ones, Cool Ghouls.

Tue/11, 8pm, $7. Eagle Tavern, 398 12th St., SF. www.sf-eagle.com.

What we do is secret



TOFU AND WHISKEY Bay Area garage pop quintet the Mantles will release Love Enough to Leave on Slumberland Records next month (June 18) and play the Rickshaw Stop a few short days before that (June 14). The breezy group formed in 2007, but sounds like it could just have easily been hanging out at Vesuvio in Jack Kerouac Alley or across the street at Specs Bar in 1968, grasping stiff drinks and talking politics and fashion with local drunks.

Although, singer-guitarist Michael Olivares, wife and drummer Virginia Weatherby, and their new dog Jumbo moved to Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood last year thanks to rising rents in Bernal Heights, where they formerly lived. So that old-time SF scenario isn’t quite as picturesque as conjured. But the band still bleeds Bay Area. Olivares and Weatherby frequent nearby 1-2-3-4 Go! Records for vinyl, and the Night Light, the Hemlock, the Knockout, and El Rio for live shows. The band recorded its new album with local legend Kelley Stoltz, and the other three band members — keyboardist Carly Putnam, bassist Matt Roberts and, newish lead guitarist Justin Loney — live scattered throughout SF, in the Tenderloin and the Mission.

Plus, it’s really more the sound that evokes those vintage tastes, those early Nuggets-esque psych-pop ideals. Olivares gets the comparisons and appeal, though hopes his band does not come off as just a carbon copies of the past (it doesn’t). “We definitely like all of that music and other things from that era, that culture,” he says. “We’re aware enough though that I hope to not become just a blatant revivalist band that’s trying to wear tie-dye shirts and bell-bottoms or something.”

But still, the favorable comparison is applicable, “Most of the music I listen to is from that era, the ’60s and ’70s, so I’d say we’re pretty heavily influenced by it.”

This may come as no surprise to listeners still besotted with the Mantles’ self-titled 2010 debut (Siltbreeze), with its nimbly Byrds-like appeal. Yes, three years later (and EP Pink on Mexican Summer in between) the mood remains upbeat, but like the musicians who created it, there’s an older wisdom to the approach.

There’s a seen-it-all-before strength from tracks off Love Enough to Leave such as “Brown Balloon” and only slightly more solemn album closer “Shadow of Your Step.” It’s like the group time-warped and took those free-wheeling early folk popsters back to the garage with them, plugged in and showed them proto-punk, then had a serious conversation about what would happen to the Bay Area in 2013: housing prices will rise again, there will be this thing called the web that changes everything.

When asked what’s changed since he first moved to SF a decade ago, Olivares says it seems like bands have gone poppier (including his own), but also notes there’s been a shift in the sheer number of house shows in SF proper.

He says their migration to the East Bay loosely influenced title track, “Long Enough to Leave,” and “Don’t Cross Town.”

Conversely, there are some more character-based tracks inspired by books and films like Mike Leigh’s comedic camping ode Nuts in May (1976), including jangly opener “Marbled Birds” and the illusory single “Hello,” which initially seems like a pleasant conversation. Cheery to begin with, it feels like candy and turquoise rotary telephones in teenage bedrooms (a ruse, the band members are all actually in their early 30s). But then, it gets to the line, “Hello/Maybe you can help me get out of here.” Ah, the hook, and out comes the reverb. Olivares told me it was actually about a time when his friend in France was sending postcards and he kept forgetting to respond.

While the Mantles may evoke vintage San Francisco, there’s something moving in this week that’s entirely new to the area and musical landscape. The America’s Cup Concert Series at the America’s Cup Pavilion (between Piers 27/29), stricken by neighborhood complaints, finally soldiers forward (but now down to 30 concerts from 40). It’ll be SF’s largest venue — holding up to 9,000 classic rock fans in an outdoor concert bulb connected to the equally maligned America’s Cup. Teamed up with Live Nation, the Pavilion will host a barrage of top 40 acts including Imagine Dragons this weekend, Fri/31, (already sold out).

Then there’ll be Sting, the Steve Miller Band, Counting Crows with the Wallflowers, 311, Train, Sammy Hagar, and it goes on. It’s a rather stale line-up, perhaps best suited for those legitimately excited for the boat races. The youngest group is the Jonas Brothers, after that Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco (all well into their 30s). Perhaps the only really interesting additions are Weezer and the symphony. Here’s hoping the neighbors don’t keep complaining.



And now, a little spring-cleaning for Tofu and Whiskey. Some Bay Area bands are killing it in late May and June. Dreams in the Rat House (Hardly Art), the explosive new full-length from Oakland trio Shannon and the Clams dropped last week. As noted when the single “Rip Van Winkle” was released, the kings and queen of surfy doo-wop have kept up their hip-shaking guitar lines and voracious vocals with a joyfully trashy edge. There’s also now a mini doc on the band, OutofFocus TV’s “American Music Episode 6: featuring Shannon and the Clams,” which you can check on Youtube and Vimeo.

In it, Shannon Shaw, Cody Blanchard, and drummer Ian Amberson (who quit sometime during filming apparently) struggle to describe their band, which leads to a great video edit that includes snippets of each saying words such as “fantastical, ballads, cozy, weirdo, Muppet, punk, oldies.” shannonandtheclams.com. Song to check: “Rip Van Winkle”

After what seems like an eternity (three years and a brief hiatus) Rogue Wave will release new record Nightingale Floors Tue/4 on Vagrant Records. It’s the band’s fifth studio album, and newest since 2010’s Permalight. On Nightingale Floors, bandleader Zach Rogue and longtime drummer Pat Spurgeon battle out demons (death, personal tragedies) and come out the other end with trusted jangly guitars, Rogue’s delicate vocals that still sound like an old friend telling stories, and Spurgeon’s expert off-time drumming — a sharp new release produced by John Congleton (who also produced Rogue’s solo effort, Release the Sunbird). In addition to Rogue and Spurgeon, Nightingale Floors includes contributions by bassist Masanori Mark Christianson, guitarist Peter Pisano, vocalist Jules Baenziner (Sea of Bees) and Mwahaha’s Ross Peacock on synths.

The record seems to take listeners on a narrated life trip, through “College” and “Figured It Out” to the “Siren’s Song,” finally settling on the inevitable with twinkly “When Sunday Morning Comes” and unhurried “Everyone Want to Be You.” Rogue Waves plays the Independent July 13. roguewavemusic.com. Song to check: “No Magnatone”

And then there’s Oakland’s Mortar and Pestle. On its self-titled new full-length, the band projects a vibe akin to a trippier Little Dragon. There are bouncy keyboard lines and scattered found-sound touches boosted by the lush, dreamy vocals of lead singer Janaysa Lambert. On first single “U.V” there’s even the familiar ping-ping-ping of a classic pinball game, forcing you to picture the full Mortar and Pestle set-up placed neatly between games in a 1980s arcade. The synth-pop trio is also one of the first acts to see release on Metal Mother’s new label-collective, Post Primal, so you know it has her stamp of approval. www.mortarandpestlemusic.com Song to check: “Pristine Dream.”



MUSIC Can you even recall your first run-in with the mythic, boundary-less creature that is Björk? Perhaps it was bounding through the neon blue forest with tiny crystals underneath her eyes as a giant paper-mache bear chased her through Michel Gondry’s video for “Human Behaviour,” off 1993 solo album Debut. Or maybe it was poised for the tabloids in an elegant swan dress, holding a large egg purse and preening for the worst dressed lists at the ’01 Academy Awards after her devastating performance in Dancer in the Dark (2000). Those long obsessed will likely point to first hearing ’88’s “Birthday” by the Sugarcubes, her early Icelandic act (post teenage punk bands), on international radio.

Whenever — and however — it went down, it left a lasting impression, the stunning shock of that otherworldly voice tends to permeate memories. Solo, Bjork has long coupled that voice with innovation, always grasping at new objects and sounds, or as she described it to me in conversation, she’s “like a kid in a toy shop.”

Her latest triumph was Biophilia, the ’11 album that paired science, nature, iPads, Tesla coils, and tinkling church bells. Since its release, she’s hopped the planet with her sonic education in tow, spreading pixie dust and learning tools at schools and museums along the way. Next up, she’ll play a trio of shows at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond (Wed/22, Sat/25, and Tue/28). Also during that time, her Biophilia Education Program comes to the Exploratorium, which means interactive workshops exploring connections between music and technology, Wed/22 through Tue/28.

In her unassuming but confident way — with the most endearing accent I’ve ever heard — the avant-pop megastar opened up to the SF Bay Guardian about her song writing process (yes, there’s a new project in the works), early punk career, natural musicology, and how to keep it all DIY:

SF Bay Guardian How did you initially come up with idea to include apps for every song on Biophillia?

Björk It started in 2008. I wanted to use touch screens…though the iPads weren’t out ’till 2010 or something. But I’d been using touch screens on my Volta tour, but more just to perform on stage. When I started doing Biophillia, I was very determined that I wanted to write with [touch screens], not just perform. That’s when I started to map out, to visualize. I had to decide, what did I want to hear on the touch screen when I’m writing this song. That sent me back to my own music education as a child, when I felt the way they explained scales and rhythms and those basic musicology themes, was way too academic. It was like reading a book to learn to dance.

Music is something that doesn’t work that well in the written word, you know? Especially not explaining to kids. So I started making my own map…this is how I would I like to have scales and this is how I would like to have chords and this is how I would like to have arpeggios and this is how I would like to have counterpoint, and so on. This project became naturally educational. I was kind of like, repairing my own education. I was trying to cover what I thought was lacking when I was in music school. In that way, I was able to share it.

We [created] a different program for each song. For example, one song would feature arpeggios, and then I would pick an actual element that would be the simplest way for a kid to understand what an arpeggio is, to visualize it. So we took a pendulum to explain counterpoint, a little bit like how church bells swing back and forth, and that’s like a bass line that swings.

I wrote 10 songs and we did different programs for each song, and it came together using natural elements. For example, one song is called is called “Crystalline” and there are crystals kind of growing as the song changes.

In 2010, when we were programming this and were kind of almost done, the iPad arrived, so we were like, ‘wow!’ It’d be silly just to record these songs and put them on a CD because we’d already written all these programs, we might as well share the programs, and put them with some more poetic, natural things — the moons, the tides, things like this. It was a very gradual thing.

SFBG And now it’s been brought in to educate children at schools throughout Iceland, but also there are related events where you’re touring, as well?

Björk It differs from city to city. So far it’s been in Manchester, Iceland, New York, Buenos Aires, and Paris, and now it’s going to be in California. Some places, like for example, New York Library and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, took on the curriculum for a few months, and the middle school of Reykjavik, the 10 to 12-year-olds, they have it now in their curriculum for the next three years. It’s looking like it’s going to go to more countries. It sort of keeps growing.

SFBG It seems like you’ve long been ahead of the curve, as far as creating music with new technology, is that something you grew up with as well?

Björk I’m actually really bad with technology. I think that’s why I’m so excited about, for example, the touch screen, because it’s like I waited until technology caught up with me, for it to be simple enough. You have your imagination, and whatever helps you express yourself, I’m all for it, if it’s the violin or piano or singing. Or what has been really helpful for me, since I started doing my own solo albums, the computer has made me a lot more self-sufficient. I guess that comes from being in bands for 10 years, where things are more democratic. It was always drums and bass and keyboards and guitars in every single song [laughs], which is great. But then when I started doing my own album, I was like a kid in a toy shop, I wanted to have every single noise. And this is great, using the computers to do this yourself. It’s quite empowering, especially for a girl. You don’t have to go through this whole hierarchy of whatever, you can just be self-sufficient.

SFBG Some of your early groups were punk bands [Tappi Tíkarrass, and KUKL, which toured with Crass], I was wondering how you discovered punk as a teen, and ended up working with Crass?

Björk I was hanging out with kids that were older than me, like the other guy who used to sing in the Sugarcubes and another guy who was friends with Crass. They played our country, and then we would go and visit them at their farm [Dial House in Essex], and for me what was most important was that one of the bands that was on Crass’ label, a band called Flux of Pink Indians, had a bass player called Derek Birkett and he helped the Sugarcubes release their first album, just from his bedroom. And he’s my manager still today. So I’ve worked with him for like, 30 years now.

It’s pretty much DIY, especially now when the labels are not really functional like they used to be. It’s pretty much just three of us that do most of my stuff.

SFBG Do you have any other long-term goals with Biophillia, or are you working on your next project?

Björk I think I will be doing that on the side, but when it comes to writing my own stuff, I always like the first couple of years to be kind of mysterious. It’s important to play around in the dark, blind-folded, not really knowing what you’re doing. Biophillia was very much like that the first two years, it was very intuitive and impulsive and having no idea what would come out of it. And I’m at that stage with my next album. I really enjoy that. As much as it’s rewarding when [an album] first sees the daylight, I think I even enjoy more the first half of the process, when it’s all still a mystery.

SFBG Were you living in New York during the early playing stage of Biophillia? It seems to have a real connection to natural elements, and science, so I assumed you were in Iceland?

Björk I’ve been living half the year in New York and half in Iceland. I think Biophillia addresses my life in Iceland and the financial crises in a direct way because it’s sort of very DIY. And one of my first dreams was that Biophillia would be a music house and each room would be a song — eventually these rooms became the apps. But it might be that we would be able to go back and make a musical house in Iceland that would serves also as a children’s’ museum and we would use one of the buildings that got kind of half-built in the financial crises and create jobs that way.

But also Biophillia is also about urban areas, because you could stay connected with the moon through your iPad, or to nature and natural structures with your phone.

SFBG My time is almost up but may I ask a few of your favorite things? Like your favorite songs currently, or music that’s helping inspire you creatively now?

Björk At the moment I’ve been listening to the new James Blake album a lot. These things change all the time!

SFBG Favorite mythological story or creature?

Björk I like Icelandic mythology, there’s a lot of amazing tales there.

SFBG And a favorite tour snack?

Björk Um, I like berries.

SFBG Any kind in particular?

Björk Mmmm, no, I like all of them.


Wed/22, Sat/25, Tue/28, 8:30pm, $75

Craneway Pavilion

1414 Harbour Way, Richmond


Psycho beach party



TOFU AND WHISKEY Why don’t more surfers listen to surf music? I found myself in one of those fuzzy-eyed, web-based black holes, frustrated, rhetorically asking the question through the endless prism of social media a few months back. And furthermore, why don’t surfer-musicians play authentic surf rock? While the sound was born in Southern California in the early 1960s, most of the early musicians who incorporated it weren’t active participants in the sport for which it was named, save for Dick Dale. The oft-repeated story is that Dale wanted to reflect the sounds he heard in his mind while surfing. And around that time, Santa Ana, Calif. based guitar-maker Fender even ran ads with beach babes and the tag “Fender makes music to surf by.”

But in the past few decades at least, the more prominent surfer-musicians seem to mostly vacillate between producing pop-punk, reggae, or more commonly, your ubiquitous, folky, banana pancake-loving Jack Johnson boredom block.

Tom Curren is in an elite class, a world champion surfer and son of legendary big-wave rider Pat Curren, he’s an athlete who took all his souped-up energy, and left his sport to pursue…folk rock. He released first album In Plain View in March.

During an ancient ritual in which I participated last week — that would be my honeymoon on Oahu — the bus drivers, tour leaders, cabbies, and general friendly tourist industry folks kept offering up slice-of-life songs for our listening pleasure. You like music? Well, get a load of this beach-ready sound. Cue soft rock (Hawaiian-born) Jack Johnson, or, the late Honolulu singer-ukulele musician Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole. We heard Iz’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” medley no fewer than 15 times in seven days. I asked my husband, who grew up surfing on the Central Coast, what was up with the surfer/surf rock divide and he quietly responded, “I’ve never participated in surf culture, I have no idea.”

When I returned to work this week, I asked local surf musician Donald Bell of Aloha Screwdriver a similar question, and he shut it down more academically, “I can’t speak for surfers. I don’t surf. I grew up skateboarding. I don’t know a single one of our fans who surf. What’s funny is that our biggest fans live in the gloomiest climates. We have a bunch of fans in Seattle.” He added, “I think that Californians have a kind of cultural cringe when they hear surf music, because it’s the kind of thing that always gets played in the background whenever a California beach scene is shown on TV. It can feel cliché. But once you get outside of California, that baggage tends to disappear and you get treated like an exotic import.”

Bell got it though, what I was after. I wanted the explosive electric guitar of Dale and the Trashmen, the wet noodling power of ’90s revival acts like Phantom Surfers and Man Or Astro-Man?, or powerful throwback shock of Guantanamo Baywatch or Trashwomen (those last two, by the way, will play the Burger Boogaloo fest July 6-7 in Oakland). OK, so Hawaii wasn’t technically the place to find the thriving surf rock stuff; if I’m being fair, I knew the style I desired wasn’t based there. Plus, I didn’t exactly plow through underground punk shows while visiting, being buried deep in the sand and fruity alcohol-based beverages and all.

So maybe it doesn’t matter if professional surfer-musicians are out there playing the music of their cultural ancestors, there’s still an avid fan base.

A week earlier, the husband and I walked down the aisle to the Ventures, “Walk Don’t Run” (“Pipeline” was considered but ultimately dismissed). See, this was the music I grew up loving. The vroom-vroom-vroom of wild guitar riffs, heavy reverb, Eastern scales, rapid and escalating drumming peaking, crescendoing, wiping out. Proto-beach punk.

“People forget that before the Beatles hit, surf music was once pop music in this country. Right now, pop music is very focused on a synthetic sound, but everything comes back around,” Bell says.

And there will be a fix of the good stuff nearby this weekend, at radio station KFJC’s Battle of the Surf Bands benefit (Sat/18, noon, $10, all ages. The Surf Spot, 4627 Coast Hwy., Pacifica. www.kfjc.org). Bell’s Alameda-based trio will play the yearly event for the second time. And the 16-band battle also includes Beachkrieg, Deadbeats, Mighty Surf Lords, Tomorrowmen, Frankie and the Pool Boys, Meshugga Beach Party, and more surf acts with cheeky names. The event benefits the station itself, and also will be broadcast using Live Cam.

Given that it does often feel like a maligned art form, the abundance of traditional surf bands participating every year at KFJC’s event (now in its sixth year) seems surprising.

“There are probably more surf rock groups in the Bay Area than any other location in the world,” Bell says, naming off many that will play the battle, and beyond. “A lot of that has to do with the continued support of KFJC and DJs like Phil Dirt and Cousin Mary who really championed the genre…I formed my first surf band when I was 16, and Dirt brought us into the studio to play live on the air for 30 minutes. It was crazy to have that kind of outlet. It’s unheard of.”

Now in his early 30s, Bell has continued to play in surf bands with his musician friends from high school — drummer Steve Slater and bassist Grant Shellen. They grew up together in Fremont and that’s where they formed that first band: Chachi, Boba Fett and the Wookiee. Bell says he initially found the genre through the surf revival acts of the ’90s like the Phantom Surfers and Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, but then, once he was hooked, he tumbled backward toward the Ventures, Link Wray, the Shadows, and of course, Dale.

Aloha Screwdriver began in ’09, and the trio plays all instrumental music. “Sometimes it veers into rockabilly or like a Ennio Morricone spaghetti western vibe, or even like a Disney Haunted Mansion feel, but I’m always holding our songs up to this idea that they could carry a Tarantino-worthy action sequence.”



Listen to Myron and E’s single “If I Gave You My Love” and you’ll start to feel some involuntary movements, your head bouncing in agreement, shoulders shimmying side to side. It’s the nature of the solid gold soul beast. The duo was recently signed to tastemaker Stones Throw, and will release newest album Broadway, backed by Timmion Records house band the Soul Investigators, on the label July 2. With a handful of 45s already out there, the two — Bay Area bred Myron Glasper and Eric “E da Boss” Cooke — have successfully maneuvered an authentic soul sound that’s at once smooth and celebratory (with the help of some well-placed horns). The duo, which met on tour with Blackalicious, stops by Berkeley this weekend for the East Bay Soul Stomp 2. With Bang Girl Group Revue, New Love Soul Revue, DJ Derek See, DJ Der.

Sat/18, 8pm, $9–$12. Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck, Berk.www.starryploughpub.com.



The first thing you need to know about Black Pus is that it’s just a looping Brian Chippendale — he of Lighting Bolt fame. For this project, the madman drummer (and forever art-school kid at heart) uses percussion, a triggered oscillator, and those echoing, distorted Lightning Bolt style vocals you’d expect. Most tracks sound like a spaceship lifting off and exploding into starry darkness, repeatedly. With CCR Headcleaner, Reptilian Shape Shifters.

Sat/18, 9:30, $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com.


Not from around here



MUSIC It was a case of the French pop love that dared not speak its name, as earlier this month rumors roiled about a Coachella coupling — mon dieu, deux! — to truly rave about: headliner Phoenix along with possibly, just maybe, hush-hush special guest Daft Punk, returning to stage de triomphe that it dominated seven years ago. The Phoenix guest that materialized, R. Kelly, wasn’t exactly the faceless freak the audience had imagined springing from the closet, and instead the mob had to cool its jets and content itself with an old-school LP ad from Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo.

The abbreviated 102-second spot saw the duo in glittery soft focus performing new single “Get Lucky” alongside Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers — the kind of clip you’d uncover on late-night TV during Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert — and announcing Daft Punk’s own special guest stars, including Giorgio Moroder, Panda Bear, past Daft Punk collaborator Todd Edwards, Paul Williams (who must have had Phantom of Paradise-tinged flashbacks), and Pharrell Williams. Just a taste, but enough to stir the pot in the lead up to the May 21 release of Daft Punk’s fourth studio full-length, Random Access Memories, on Columbia.

Is it so strange that Daft Punk and Phoenix should find their fortunes so intertwined out in the Cali desert, so far from Old World Paris and Versailles? After all, the two share a past — and a future: Phoenix guitarist Laurent Brancowitz, Bangalter, and de Homem-Christo all started out in a Beach Boys-inspired combo called Darlin’. And much like fellow French native Anthony Gonzalez’s M83, the two groups are managing to find creative juices to grease their wheels out west, in the fantasy industrial complex of LA — with Daft Punk stressing the importance of a West Coast feel à la Fleetwood Mac to Memories guest Edwards, and Phoenix telling MTV that its new CD, Bankrupt!, was inspired by its work on Thomas Mars spouse Sofia Coppola’s 2010 movie Somewhere.

Not to mention the fact that Bankrupt! and Memories are two of the most buzz-ridden releases of the year, particularly judging from the homemade “Get Lucky” remixes and videos already proliferating online. Long gone are the old rockist daze — the same that slurred “Disco sucks” — when French rock was derided as just another thing an entire country does wrong, like loving Jerry Lewis. Thoughts surely far from the minds of Daft Punk obsessives, though from the start the duo’s vocoder-obscured vocals and helmeted visages proudly proclaimed, “We’re alien, a.k.a. not from around here.” That tease is the name of Daft Punk’s space-rockin’ game this time around, taking control with a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign after a humbling day job scoring a sorry Tron sequel.

Working with its biggest crowd of collaborators yet, Daft Punk appears to be bursting the mythic bubble of an enigmatic twosome working solo behind the decks, letting others into the party, circling back to its clubland origins, and reaffirming that, as “Get Lucky” goes, its “ends were beginnings.”

And though indie seems leached of meaning, Phoenix sounds far deprived when it came to ideas for Bankrupt! Nate Chinen of the New York Times may quibble with Mars’s Dadaist “word salad” — why not attack a fellow for singing with an accent? — but then Phoenix isn’t the first band to privilege the sound of lyrics over content. Bankrupt! isn’t as “experimental” as promised early on, but it’s by no means as polished and predictable as your average Killers or Imagine Dragons product.

Starting with title and extending to the cover symbolism of a lucky peach, and the busy little rickshaw of an orientalist motif on opener “Entertainment,” Phoenix sounds as if it’s grappling with a Daft Punky notion of alien-ness, too — and the global economics of pop success, having hit it big at the height of an economic downtown with 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The distorted, bristling synths grinding beneath songs like “The Real Thing,” in fact, make Bankrupt! one of the noisier mainstream rock albums of recent years. Scope out the lonely cries of the entitled asking to have their names put on lists on “SOS in Bel Air,” the fluty synths opening the languorous “Trying to Be Cool,” and hear the sound of a band conveying the seduction — and anxiety — of too many bright lights, big cities, and marathon tours and responding by mainly turning up on the volume.

So why French pop and why now? In fits and starts, leaps and stumbles, Daft Punk and Phoenix are creating less a pop language of diplomacy than a kind of lingua franca between classic sunny pop hooks, Beach Boys style, and the all-mighty often-electronic groove, be it analog or digital, IDM or EDM, boyish or girlish, human or alien.

LPs like Memories hark to another time, while satisfying on the primal level of da funk. As Pharrell Williams has said of “Get Lucky,” “The only click track they had was the human heartbeat, which makes it really interesting because these are robots.” So how does the sunlit, smoggy terroir of the west touch two French aliens and a band of Versailles refugees? Perhaps we’ll know when Daft Punk unveils Memories even further out West: May 17, at the the 79th Wee Waa Regional Show in Wee Waa, Australia.

Skate or die



MUSIC Compared to the 1980s and early ’90s, it doesn’t seem like there are many places in this city to skate. There are always the hills and odd spots for the creative, but the few designated skateparks seem to be paltry peace offerings in proportion to the laws, security guards, and anti-grind hardware put in place to elsewhere restrict the activity. For a short time this week, the new SFJAZZ Center will be added to the small list of skate venues, with a pair of live skating performances accompanied by lauded improvisational pianist Jason Moran and his group Bandwagon.

It may seem an odd pairing, but one that has natural connections for the pianist. “San Francisco has always had an association with skateboarding for me,” Moran told me over the phone. “As a kid in the ’80s, our parents would visit SF from Houston, and my older brother and I would take our skateboards along. We weren’t super good, but we’d go down to EMB.” At that time — before merchants, property owners, and police worked to close it off — Embarcadero’s Justin Herman Plaza (or “EMB”) was an international destination for skaters who came as if it were their Mecca.

At its peak, those drawn to its concrete waves, challenging gaps, and tempting stairs could number in the hundreds (although how many were just there hoping to spot Mark Gonzales is unclear). For Moran, it left an imprint. “I think of it sort of like Minton’s Playhouse, which became known as the incubator for bebop. The kind of place where people would hang out, practice, exchange tips, and learn from each other.”

To be honest, when I first heard of the live skateboarding events SFJAZZ had planned, it struck me as an attempt to bring “low” culture into a “high” venue, the genre having increasingly entered into a museum-like curatorial setting, much like classical music. Something similar to what the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA had done under divisive director Jeffrey Deitch, with its “Art in the Streets” and planned (unplanned?) “Fire in the Disco” programs. As Artistic Advisor for Jazz at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and a recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant” — an award which comes with a large, no strings attached monetary award and basically the suggestion of “keep doing what you’re doing” — Moran seems as much in the art world as he does the music. But it’s a position he’s aware of, addressing it head-on with his album Artist in Residence and the song “Break Down,” which riffs over a vocal track expressing a need to do exactly that to the art world (and barriers, the artist, the general public, society, misunderstanding, etc.).

As one of the first Resident Artistic Directors at SFJAZZ’s new center, Moran sees the opportunity get past these sort of dichotomies. “SFJAZZ is at a place where as a new establishment, they’re in a way positioned with more freedom, to try different things and attract a more diverse crowd and bring in a larger part of the community. Often institutions say that they want to do that, but really end up being this kind of elitist thing.” Moran’s stint includes at the center also includes a solo performance and a tribute to Fats Waller in the form of a dance party featuring Meshell Ndegeocello. Keeping with the populist ideal Moran said that, “at the Kennedy Center, where I also work, we did the Fats Waller party, and we just did it for free. It certainly brings out a different crowd. Four hundred people, whoever wants to come.” (It is, however, a paid event in SF.)

For the skating performance, Moran has partnered with FTC Skateboarding and Kent Uyehara’s Western Addition, a company that frequently adopts a jazz aesthetic in its videos and decks, the latter emblazoned with images of John Coltrane, Jaco Pastorius, or Mati Klarwein’s art for Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. A custom half ramp is being built out in the Sunset, to be hauled into the SFJAZZ Center. Skateboarders including Adrian Williams, Alex Wolslagel, Dave Abair, Jake Johnson, and Ben Gore have been recruited. The only question is how well it will coalesce. There will be no rehearsal.

“I already know that the sound of the wheels, and the slap of the board, the quality of these sounds, for my band it’s something to work with. But as far as syncing up with them and making music that goes along perfectly, I’m not going to try and do that. It’s more about capturing the energy, and giving them support so they can sort of solo on top of it,” Moran said, also mentioning a desire to not necessarily cover but channel the spirit of bands like Suicidal Tendencies, more conventionally associated with skateboarding.

Moran’s confidence extends to the skaters, who he sees as improvisers as well. “There’s an understanding among skateboarders that’s similar to musicians, where you can see someone perform a trick or a move, and they make it look easy, and unless you’re at the level they are, or you watch a lot, you might not be able to perceive how difficult it is.” In this way the root is transcription, learning by observing, practicing, and applying. After that comes adapting, transposition. And that’s little more than a change in location.


Sat/4, 7:30pm, $20-$40

SFJazz Center

201 Franklin, SF



Love spells trouble



TOFU AND WHISKEY The twin star driving forces behind Bleached (hellobleached.tumblr.com) have been around. Not in a cruising with delinquents kind of way, but that’s probably where their music is best blasted — careening down the California coast in a shiny convertible with a shitty ex-lover or two, rooftop down, an open bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, lipstick-stained cola can, and the stereo crackling.

Really though, being around more refers to the basic facts that singer-guitarist Jennifer Clavin and bassist Jessie Clavin have been playing music together for a long time, since junior high, and have toured nearly as long. More so, they’ve been connected since birth — they’re sisters who grew up together in the sleepy San Fernando Valley and reached for instruments partially out of boredom and isolation.

Their first notable band was early Aughts-born Mika Miko, which became known for its near-residency at formerly grimy downtown LA venue the Smell — and its frenetic live shows on tour with bands like the Gossip and No Age.

“Mika Miko was a mutual breakup,” younger sister Jessie says with a casual Valley girl affect from the dusty tour road between El Paso and Austin, Texas. “It ended because everyone wanted to do something else, go different directions. But me and Jen still wanted to play music together.”

They began slowly picking up the pieces for Bleached shortly after Mika Miko’s 2010 breakup and released three well-received seven-inches, but had yet to debut a proper LP until just recently. On April 2, they unfurled a melodious, punks-in-the-sun full-length, the punchy pop Ride Your Heart on Dead Oceans. On tour promoting the new record, Bleached will be in San Francisco Sun/5 at the Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com.

So while Jen and Jessie are blood-related and forever sonically entwined, there’s an exhilarating feeling of something new afoot at this very moment in time. “I feel like it’s a new little chapter right now for us,” Jessie says. “For so long we were just like, playing live shows with songs from the seven-inches, and that’s basically all people really knew. So now that it’s out, this tour just feels really exciting — people are going to have the record, they’ll know what to expect.”

“At the beginning [of Bleached] everyone was comparing us to every current girl band, but not anymore, maybe now that our record came out, that’s why it’s changed.”

The rock’n’roll record hints at early punk like the Ramones around its edges on opener “Looking for a Fight,” but that’s washed away with cooling waves of jangly California surf pop melodies and mid-century teen dream vocals on songs like “Dreaming Without You” and “Dead Boy.” And despite the inherent upbeat nature of the tracks, much of the lyrics in songs like “Love Spells” and “When I Was Yours” reflect a somewhat darker time for singer Jen, who moved to New York briefly between the fall of Mika Miko and rise of Bleached. Suffice to say, she’s not singing about her cats or whatever.

In NYC she joined the band Cold Cave, desperately missed her sister, dated the wrong kind of boy, and wrote breakup songs for the band she’d soon reform back on the West Coast. “I was going through a really rough time,” Jen says as Jessie passes her the phone. “I moved back to LA and stayed in [our] parent’s house in the desert for a month…and locked myself in my room, kept myself distracted by writing a bunch of songs.”

Ride Your Heart was recorded and produced last fall in various studios in Burbank and at Bedrock LA in Echo Park. At the time, Jen was listening to a lot of Blondie (there’s a song on the album called “Waiting By the Telephone”), and both sisters survived on a steady diet of Bowie — Ziggy Stardust era — along with the the Stones, Velvet Underground, and the Kinks. “We communicate better when we know exactly what we’re listening to,” Jessie says.

And communication is key to any relationship, particularly the mythic sibling-bandmate dynamic. Though this one seems far less tumultuous then those widely discussed rock’n’roll brotherhoods. “We’ve been doing this for so long. It helps to work through it and get stronger,” says Jessie. That connection was tested when Jen was in New York. While she was with Cold Cave, she was still occasionally working on songs for an early version of Bleached, but the distance was too great. “We were trying to still write back and forth, but it was just difficult, it wasn’t the same as when we’re in the room together and start playing and Jen starts singing and has the melody. It just didn’t work out.”

Now, Jen lives in Hollywood, walking distance from the Universal backlot, and Jessie lives in Silverlake. The local LA bands they listen to are most frequently their friends’ acts, including Pangea and Audacity, and they like Oakland’s Shannon and the Clams, and other Burger Records acts. As is the current zeitgeist, Jessie says Bleached might soon be doing a tape with Burger too.

“We grew up with mixtapes. I definitely remember first hearing the Germs [that way],” Jessie says. “I was transitioning from listening to like, KROQ alternative to like, underground, but then I’d go to school in a Germs shirt and think I was really cool.”

Laughing, she adds, “Well I wouldn’t say cool, but definitely different.”



Oui! The multilingual French-German power-pop duo Stereo Total is back with a new album, Cactus Versus Brazel on Kill Rock Stars, packed with the expected adorable electro ditties, and a rejuvenated je ne sais quoi. With Super Adventure Club, Giggle Party.

Wed/1, 8pm, $15. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com.



Crystalline psych-folk crooner Mariee Sioux’s twinkly followup to debut Faces in the Rocks (2007), Gift for the End was released a whole year ago, but there was never a proper SF release party (and there was some drama with the label it was supposed to be on going defunct) so the local songwriter is celebrating now. It’s a haunting, whispery, tender album, like a less annoying Joanna Newsom selection, and deserving of attention — no matter if that’s taking place on a much later date. With Alela Diane, Conspiracy of Venus.

Thu/2, 8:30pm, $16. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.slimspresents.com



Experimental contemporary live music always seems to creep its way into the SF International Film Festival. And who better to bring weirdo sound experiments than the current king of such things: Mike Patton. The operatically inclined Patton, perhaps best known as the debonaire genius behind Faith No More and Mr. Bungle (and recently as songwriter for the film The Place Beyond the Pines), will appear alongside three percussionists: Scott Amendola, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s Matthias Bossi, and William Winant at the Castro. The quartet, which has never before performed in this arrangement, will play an original score to 1924 German expressionist silent film, Waxworks.

Tue/7, 8:30pm, $22–$27. Castro Theater, 429 Castro, www.sffs.org.


Hot Chip off the old block


Bands have hierarchies. James Murphy was essentially LCD Soundsystem, Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard are Hot Chip. If anyone knows this, it’s Al Doyle; the multi-instrumentalist was the guitarist for LCD before it disbanded in 2011, and continues to be a crucial member in Hot Chip.

“Joe and Alexis are a songwriting duo that works extraordinarily well, and no one else has written a song that Hot Chip has played,” Doyle said over the phone, on a bus somewhere en route to Palm Springs, getting ready for the first week of Coachella, where the UK group was slotted to play. Other members Felix Martin and Owen Clarke have made musical contributions along with him, but never whole songs. “Recently, we’ve been collaborating a little more closely, and it might get to the stage where Alexis and Joe feel that they can do a song that I’ve started or Felix has started, but that hasn’t happened so far.”

This probably says less about controlling or opposing personalities, as it does the overabundance of ideas currently in Hot Chip. Goddard released a joyously cuddly dance album with Raf Daddy as the 2 Bears, Taylor is collaborating with German producer Justus Köhnhke as Fainting By Numbers, and Doyle has his own distinct musical outlet in New Build, a project with Martin. “We were working on a few tracks at the same time the LCD thing was going on. The roots were me and Felix, but working in the studio with our engineer Tom Hopkins just seemed to make sense as he got more involved with the project, so it became the three of us.”

New Build’s first album, Yesterday Was Lived and Lost, pulls back from the densely layered production of Hot Chip’s recent albums, for a slightly rawer garage sound that’s more characteristic of Doyle’s LCD background. But much of the somber and tender emotion that typifies Hot Chip is still there. On “Finding Reasons” Doyle morosely recalls Peter Gabriel over a mechanical drum beat, with recurring apocalyptic apprehension. (“And the news is coming in / Of another city’s sad demise.”)

“I was feeling a lot of apathy around at the time I was writing those lyrics,” Doyle said. “Syria was on my mind around that time, and even now there’s a weariness with that kind of information coming through.”

At times, Doyle feels a need to be purposefully obscure as the principal songwriter in New Build. “I probably write a little bit more obliquely, than some of the Hot Chip songs, which are quite intensely personal to Joe and Alexis. When I feel myself getting too personal there’s a sense of paralysis. I can’t really sort of work like that, and often write a couple of steps removed from the original feeling.”

Occasionally things are playful, silly even. Take “The Third One.” Built around a “bleepy” piece by producer Hopkins, it’s got a bouncy rhythm, and some pointedly Prince-like guitar work by Doyle, as the lyrics get into the logic of fighting Nintendo bosses, who as everyone know always come in threes. “I still enjoy videos games,” Doyle said, “It’s something me and Felix do and try not to talk about it too much.”

Still, Doyle is showing through. He describes “Medication” as a curveball, a “straight-up attempt to write as pop-y song as you kind of could.” Over a funky bassline and buoyant beat, the sardonic lyrics recommend simple, chemical solutions to your problems, coming off like a pharmaceutical jingle written by Aldous Huxley. “Retrospectively having looked at that song, there’s a lot of mental illness in my family and it’s something that I tend to find myself thinking about now and again.”

New Build is using gaps in Hot Chip’s schedule (and the relative proximity of its equipment) to stage a West Coast tour. Following the expansive models Doyle is used to, the three members will increase to seven on the road. More expensive, as well, it might mean barely breaking even or going broke, but Doyle prefers the spectacle. “Lots of new bands, you like the music on the record, but then go see them play live and it’s a couple of guys with electronics, maybe one of them is playing guitars but doesn’t really need to, or playing a bit of completely extraneous percussion. I didn’t want it to feel like a tacked on thing, I wanted to feel like an experience.”

“We’re very lucky to find some amazing musicians. Ben Ubly plays bass guitar, and he is childhood friends with Tom, who was like ‘this guy can really play.” And we were like ‘Well, how good could he really be?’ But then he turns out to the one of the best musicians we’ve ever played with. Never been in any bands, literally just a bedroom player. Just stepped up and seems like he’s built for it.”

With New Build, Doyle has also stepped up and into the front. We’ll see how well he’s built, having spent over a decade in two international touring bands, and likely picking up a thing or two from Taylor, Goddard, and Murphy. “James was just able to really relax an audience and make them feel appreciated that’s just something he has as a person. I’d obviously love to try and emulate that sort of presence. I’m still learning how to do that a little bit.”



With No Ceremony///

Sun/28, 8pm, $17


628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421


Don’t hold your breath



MUSIC Every passing year, the clamor gets louder; the rumors get more outlandish. An all-vegetarian Coachella. Fifty million dollars for five shows. Sixty-seven copies of the movie version of Moby Dick and a football helmet full of cottage cheese. While the rest of the world waits with baited breath for his old band to reunite, the perpetually unfussed Johnny Marr simply gets on with it, focusing on what’s ahead instead of what’s behind.

Since the Smiths called it quits in 1987, their ever-reliable guitarist has stayed more than busy. He’s been a full-time member of myriad different groups, such as Modest Mouse, the Cribs, and The The, while finding time to start a few bands of his own, notably his criminally underrated collaboration with New Order/Joy Division’s Bernard Summer, Electronic. He’s also an accomplished producer and has made countless guest appearances.

Surprisingly, it took the serial band-jumper 25 solid years to make the decision to strike out on his own. “The record really only happened because I had all these ideas that I wanted to turn into songs,” Marr says during our phone call. “I had been touring for such a long time, and I decided that I had to go into the studio and turn these ideas into songs. I didn’t have the plan of doing a solo album, rather I just had this need to get all of these songs recorded. It all happened totally organically.”

The result is The Messenger, an impressive return to form that shows the 49 year old still has a hell of a lot left to say. Over the album’s 12 tracks, Marr sounds refreshed, focused, and teeming with inspiration. From the direct battle cry of an opener, “The Right Thing Right,” to the punchy, double-stop stomp of “Generate! Generate” to the moody, lush “New Town Velocity,” Marr shows off his underrated songwriting chops and warm vocals. Though there is plenty of sonic variation, he manages to stay out of Dad Rock zone by mostly staying in his lane and letting his signature top-notch guitar work do much of the heavy lifting.

As with any Marr release, the guitars come first, second, and third, and the master is up to his old tricks again. Deliciously intricate arpeggiated riffs? Check. Triumphant, cascading melodies? Check. That signature, impeccable jangle? Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before (sorry, had to). Though he has fairly limited vocal range, his impeccable playing more than makes up for it, and most of the real memorable melodies (i.e. the soaring “European Me”) come courtesy of his legendary Fender Jaguar.

While Marr’s guitar heroics are worth the price of admission, it’s not the only fascinating thing about the fertile LP. As the consummate sideman to some of the biggest personalities (read: egos) in music — Morrissey, Isaac Brock, Chrissie Hynde — he hasn’t ever really needed to divulge much about the man behind the music. While you’re never going to get cathartic confessionals from the private, low-key Marr, he offers listeners plenty of enlightenment into his perspective.

“Really, it’s just a lot of my own personal observations, about my environment. It’s about the world as I see it,” Marr says. “I wanted it to be about the speed of life that I live.”

After drawing rave reviews on a run of shows across the pond, Marr rolls into town to play the first solo SF shows of his storied career. Sporting a nice mix of Smiths classics, hidden gems, and new material, Marr’s ardent spirit has spilled over into his live performances.

“We’ve been playing 11 new songs every night, and it’s really all gone down well,” Marr says. “Every night feels like a celebration, and people are really digging it…This group has a sound that really suits us, and we only play old songs that fit that sound, which really makes the old ones feel like new songs.”

One of the things that always stood out most about Marr was his incredible ability to make it all look so damn easy. No matter how complicated the guitar line, you’d never see a pained look on the perpetually dapper guitarist’s face. He famously wrote three all-time great songs — “William, It Was Really Nothing,” “How Soon Is Now?,” and “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” — in one weekend. For that reason, we shouldn’t be surprised that he has taken all the break-ups, rumors, and changes with a nonchalant grace, constantly focused on moving forward rather than looking back….no matter how much everyone seems to want him to.

“Definitely what I’m doing now is a new chapter,” Marr concludes. “I’ve always believed in moving forward with everything I do, and I’m excited for this next step.”

Translation: If you are waiting for that dream Smiths reunion, you might want to stop holding your breath and give The Messenger a spin.


Sat/13, 9pm, $29.50 Fillmore 1805 Geary, SF www.thefillmore.com


Two men, one spark



TOFU AND WHISKEY It’s the B-story scene that rules 1983’s Valley Girl. Popped collar-sporting Skip is nervously riding his bike to the suburban home of his preppy high school girlfriend, Suzi — but we the audience know he’s more interested in her young step-mom. (He met the feisty Valley mom when she served him sushi at a house party. Gross me out.) It’s a palpable moment of orgasmic anticipation — with a surprise twist — that bops along perfectly to the soundtrack: “Eaten By the Monster of Love,” by experimental pop duo, Sparks (www.allsparks.com).

“Well, it’s worse than war, it’s worse than death/There ain’t too many left who ain’t been/Eaten by the monster of love(Don’t let it get me),” Sparks vocalist Russell Mael opines with a wide-ranging, Broadway-ready bravado, as his brother Ron Mael tickles a bouncy new wave blast out of his keyboards and synthesizers.

This is just one iteration of Sparks — the flashy new wave version, proudly on display in ’82’s Angst in My Pants LP, two tracks of which were used in that early Nicolas Cage vehicle, Valley Girl. But that’s only a small snippet of the band’s robust timeline, which got a running start in ’71 at UCLA, and continues to this day, with 22 albums and counting.

Sparks has had countless rebirths since the first record was released in ’71, the band then known as Halfnelson. There have been landmark albums like ’74’s electric Kimono My House, with that iconic cover of two powdered and kimono-swathed ladies, along with ’83’s synth-heavy In Outer Space, ’02’s chamber pop Lil’ Beethoven, and most recently, ’09’s The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, a radio musical commissioned by Sveriges Radio Radioteatern, the radio drama department of Sweden’s national radio broadcaster. (More on that later.)

“It seems like the people that stick with Sparks appreciate that the band doesn’t rest on its laurels,” says Russell, a lifelong Angeleno, speaking to me from his home “in the hills above Beverly Hills.”

“I think that’s why we’re really proud of what we’re doing now; it doesn’t sound like a band that’s necessary had 22 albums,” he says. “Someone can come in fresh — a person that’s maybe never heard of Sparks — and if they hear the latest thing, we would be just as happy as we would be for them to have heard the first album.”

Sparks will perform much of its extensive back catalog during its Two Hands, One Mouth (the hands on the keyboard, mouth at the mic) tour’s rare stop in San Francisco next week, April 9 and 10 at the Chapel, 777 Valencia, SF. www.thechapelsf.com. As of press time, only April 10 is sold out.

The brothers Mael have recorded with dozens of other musicians over the decades, and nearly always toured with a live backing band, so the Two Hands, One Mouth trip has been a unique challenge. “It’s kind of the ultimate expression of self-containment for the band,” Russell says. “We just thought that at this point, it might be an interesting challenge to see what would happen if we just played as the two of us, and without computers or backing tracks.”

He adds, as if reading my mind, “It sounds simple, but we also didn’t want it to read as oh, singer-songwriter, that kind of thing where it lulls you to sleep with an acoustic guitar. We wanted it to keep the power that Sparks has had with the recordings and live band.”

The process has been about choosing the appropriate songs from the duo’s rich recording history, and distilling it with just one keyboard, and vocals. So far, the tour’s been well-received in Europe and Japan, with fans commenting on how this format has brought the strong vocals and songwriting to the forefront.

And the Maels work hard to layer those lyrics with humor, depth, and a drop of speculation. “It’s important to us to have something that’s provocative, but in ways that maybe aren’t like, being a punk band with a stance that you know what it is in five minutes. The Sparks stance is a little bit hard to articulate and place. We kind of like that too, that there is an ambiguity to what we’re doing.”

Their most recent project is that The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman piece. The plot of the radio drama is a farcical situation imagining that Ingmar Bergman had been lured to Hollywood and got trapped in the LA film industry in his worst nightmare — a big-budget action film he can’t figure out how to escape. The Swedish radio spot went so well that Sparks was asked to perform it live at the LA Film Festival last year, where they did so with a cast of 14.

The brothers are currently working on turning it into an ongoing theatrical performance — and also a motion picture. They have the Canadian director Guy Madden on board to direct, but still need the financial backing, so they’ll be flying out to the Cannes Film Festival in May to look for funders.

But before Cannes, Sparks will first play the massive sweaty shitshow that is Coachella for the first time. And yes, they will do it as a stripped-down duo — still just Two Hands, One Mouth.

“We know the show works in our own context, so we thought we should be faithful to ourselves and do it there as well, even if it seems incongruous with what you might expect at a big festival,” Russell says. Do I detect a tiny smirk through the phone? Perhaps wishful thinking on my end.

“It’ll be received however it will be received — [but] it will be different from other things there,” he says. “You tend to get blinded by an assault of 160 indie bands doing their indie thing. We’ll be doing whatever we do, whatever you want to call it.”



With swelling crescendos, emotional lyrics, gothy undertones, and shimmering vocals in tow, UK post-rock trio Esben and the Witch comes across the pond for the first time in two years, on tour with newest record, Wash The Sins Not Only The Face (Matador). Should be a witchy one. With Heliotropes.

Thu/4, 9pm, $13. Brick and Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission, SF. www.brickandmortarmusic.com.



Lyrically gifted young Oakland rapper Glam.I.Rock — the first half an acronym for “Good Lyrics And Music” — will perform a free in-store during Art Murmur this Friday. If you want to be in on an artist at the tipping point, this would be your chance. The MC has that classic ’90s female-empowerment hip-hop vibe but with some different interests (check the “Who is Glam.I.Rock?” video of her tapping out the Rugrats theme), and a more modern style.

Though like her predecessors, she still very much reps her home-base, performing “Inspire Oakland” at Oakland Digital’s Inspiration Awards last December. Makes sense, she’s the daughter of Nic Nac — the only female member of the Mobb crew — and Dangerous Dame, a member of Too $hort’s Dangerous Crew. Glam.I.Rock’s debut EP, The Feel, recently dropped on Savvie1ent/The Olive Street Agency.

Fri/5, 8pm, free. Oaklandish, 1444 Broadway, Oakl. www.oaklandish.com.


Precious Metal



MUSIC A lot of elements needed to come together to inspire Metal Mother’s new record, Ionika. You can almost picture the woman behind the sobriquet, crouching in some foggy wooded wonderland, scooping up soil and critters, ancient buried treasures of forgotten societies and precious metals. Before we get into specifics, let’s slip off the mask. Metal Mother is really, mostly, the glossy coating of one delicate Oakland musician: Taara Tati.

In between the release and subsequent tour after her first album, 2011’s Bonfire Diaries, and the making of Ionika, which comes out in a week on April 16, Tati collected experiences that affected her future output. She picked wisdom up from extensive travels, Pagan and Celtic traditions, tales of ancient warrior women, and Sufjan Steven’s ’10 album The Age of Adz (which she listened to while exploring Europe for a month). Add to that Game of Thrones, the city of Oakland, the music of Son Lux, and all of Kate Bush. But the clearest running thread throughout Ionika is fascination with Druids.

“Getting into the whole ancient Celtic cultures thing, it was very matriarchal and tribal,” she says, sitting in her “incredibly cheap” Victorian in downtown Oakland. “It was a really profound lifestyle. The more I discover about that, the more I want to learn about it, to be able to see that history and sort of represent that in a way, or glean some power from that.”

She references the culture’s interest in psychoactive medicines, and Queen Boudica, a Joan of Arc-like figure of a British Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the Roman Empire.

“I really came into a full-on obsession last year when I was traveling in Europe. I went on this full journey to all these different ancient sites and sacred sites, and it was empowering for me to be there, and to feel the history of that land, and… my ancestors.”

Her lifelong inspirations, however, seem to have sprung from competing worlds; darkness and light, the electronic and the natural, woman and machine. And all those influences, all those cosmic connections are poured chaotically into Ionika, a densely layered, moody, and deeply spiritual release of 11 solid tracks.

The key track is first single “Prism,” a stunning Grimes-ish (if Grimes were a bit more wild) song with Tati’s many vocal tracks delicately laced throughout twitchy beats and drums. Equally breathy is “Prism”‘s sonic twin “Tactillium.” Some tracks waver questionably — “Windexx’d” kicks off with a harrowing grind and ghostly howl — while others sound as if they were ripped directly from her innards. The epic “Little Ghost” (clocking in at 7 minutes and 29 seconds) begins lightly with Tati’s crisp, otherworldly soprano vocals and a few click-click-clicks of the machines, then builds into an Enya-esque soundscape, with gently pulsating electronic drum hits.

Much of Ionika’s form and sensibility came from David Earl, an Oakland producer and sound engineer whom Tati met through friends. A multi-instrumentalist, Tati would write the songs’ skeletons alone in her Victorian — along with the vocals, and most of the melodies — then bring them to Earl and the two of them would pile on those folded ribbons of sound, with Earl adding crucial rhythms with beats and additional backing tracks.

“It was kind of insane, we had so many crazy, creative whims we went with. We didn’t really delete as much as I thought we were going to delete in the end, you know? We just went for it.”

“He took everything and put it on digital steroids, basically,” she says.



Tati was raised “literally in the woods in Northern California,” in tiny Occidental, Calif. (population: 1,115) in Sonoma County, just west of Santa Rosa.

“I was left to entertain myself with the birds and insects and the critters out there. I have a huge love for the elemental part of the world, and also tribal rhythms and acoustic music and basic sounds forms in that way.”

These influences are clear in the earthly, rich melodies and rhythms of Metal Mother. The other half to her whole came when she began exploring rave culture in the ’90s. This is where she discovered electronic music.

It took both of these elements — the lush forest hangouts and the eye-opening rave nights to create the Metal Mother sound and aesthetic.

“It’s not super planned out, but those are just my preferences,” Tati says.

And yet, from the beginning, Tati has been almost entirely in control of her sound and career. While she’s picked up local musicians along the way, in particular to play as her backing band at live shows, and of course, Earl was a huge part of Ionika, she’s been the only constant of Metal Mother.

“I made every creative choice around the album,” she says. “I’m trying to really preserve my own sense of spirituality within putting out an image of myself around my music, to the world, outside of my own personal circle. That’s a huge part of who I am on a daily basis. I love herbs, rituals, and everything witchy, and I don’t want to have to tone that side down.” She laughs, a warm, frequent, occasionally nervous-sounding giggle.

After spending her early 20s in the street performance and renegade guerrilla performance art scene — mostly as part of the North Bay Art and Revolution, and a renegade little troupe called Action Creature Theatre — Tati unexpectedly shifted focus to music. She’d always dabbled in keyboards, but had never taken playing too seriously. And she’d all along been crafting poems and songs of her own. (Her mother was a theater director, which might explain the affinity for all things artistic expression.)

After friends discovered her “funny, quirky little keyboard songs,” they convinced her to play live, which she did and then quickly found her calling. “I’ve just been following all the open doors, that’s kind of how I operate my life. It’s just like, [going] where the doors are opening. And the doors started opening with music, rapidly, so I just went that direction.”

She named her new project Metal Mother, after the elemental fierceness of a mother and also a planet.

“I was just kind of wanting it to be like, maternal and loving and nurturing obviously, because I like to make pretty music and feel euphoric, but also that kind of fierceness because yeah, the world is a crazy place,” she says. “You’ve got to have that strength to endure some of the crude realities we’re faced with.” Those realities seem clearer when she describes looking out her bedroom window, to the poverty she’s faced with daily outside her doorstep, the homeless people huddled across the street, the loud chaos of the city whizzing by.

The name “Metal Mother” itself came from Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, in which he talks of an ancient Chinese myth about the marriage of the Metal Mother and the Wood Prince — and that’s what brought lightness and darkness together, creating the human race.

It took most critics a minute to figure out that Metal Mother was not, in fact, a metal act.

After first album Bonfire Diaries came out in ’11, with its exhilarating single, “Shake,” Metal Mother was hailed as “ambient, sexy,” “beautiful, eerie, unfamiliar.” One review described the album as “tight, ethereal art pop filled with Bjork avant ambiance, Kate Bush drama, and tense Celtic underpinnings.”

Tati was on the cover of Performer Magazine, and featured in the Guardian’s first “On the Rise” batch of up-and-coming musicians last year, in which I wrote she was “some sort of neon, acid-drenched wood nymph.” (It works especially in the context of the video for “Shake,” viewing of which is highly suggested.)



Now, with the hardest part of Ionika over, Tati is free to pursue her next big project — Post Primal, a kind of loosely defined record label and collective she’s working to put together. Ionika is the label’s first release, and the only other band so far officially involved is Mortar and Pestle. But Tati has big plans for the near-future, boosted by others acts approaching her to express interest in Post Primal. Though, she admits, they’re still in the process of defining just what it will be.

“The whole goal is really to have a platform for more context for all of us to associate ourselves with. It’s also more of a collective, because I don’t really have a ton of money or anything to put out anybody else’s record, it’s just basically like we’re sharing resources, we’re sharing contacts and exposure.”

She also is hoping to find a warehouse space in Oakland to put on interactive collective showcases, and create a hub, a new music community in the heart of the adopted city she’s clearly still enamored of, more than six years after moving here. “I love Oakland so much. I’ve gone to a lot of other cities and checked out a lot of other scenes, but I always come home like, this is where I need to be, and this is where I want to grow.”

Metal Mother’s record release party takes place next month, May 2 at Public Works (www.publicsf.com) with all female-front acts: Tearist, Uncanny Valley, and Some Ember.


Vinyl addicts



TOFU AND WHISKEY “Rock and roll has never been remotely monolithic,” early Rolling Stone columnist Greil Marcus writes in the introduction to the 1978 book he edited, Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island (Da Capo Press). “There have always been countless performers to pin your hopes on; though one may have found identity as a member of an audience, one also found it by staking a place in that audience, defining one’s self against it.”

He recalls a time when all rock fans simply had to have an opinion about the Beatles, about Elvis, but notes there’s is no longer a single figure that “one has felt compelled to celebrate or denigrate.”

“The objects of the obsessiveness that has always been a part of being a rock and roll fan…are no longer obvious,” he continues, “which means, for one thing, that while one’s sense of the music may not have perfect shape, it’s probably a lot richer.”

Marcus wrote these words in Berkeley in the late ’70s, though they ring truer today. For Stranded, Marcus invited rock critics such as Lester Bangs, Ellen Willis, and Nick Tosches to answer the basic parlor game question in essay form: “What one rock-and-roll album would you take to a desert island?” He’ll read from the book this Thu/14 at 6pm at a new record shop, also called Stranded, 6436 Telegraph, Oakl. (www.strandedinoakland.com).

The brick-and-mortar Stranded opened about five months ago (in November 2012) and is run by Oakland’s Steve Viaduct, the 36-year-old founder of Superior Viaduct records, an archival label that focused on reissues and archival collections of Bay Area punk and post-punk for its first year and is now in the process of expanding its output. One of those releases was MX-80 Sound’s ’77 album, Hard Attack, which is the record Viaduct says he‘d take to a desert island.

Since the Stranded opened, there have been a handful of shows and author appearances, along with the everyday bustle of record obsessives. “We had pretty modest goals [for Stranded]. We wanted a cool place to hang out and meet other vinyl enthusiasts. With no budget for things like advertising, our biggest milestone has been that we are breaking-even financially and we are having fun doing it.”

I asked Viaduct what bands best exemplified the ethos of the label and shop, and instead he chose a book: “That is a tough question because Superior Viaduct is very much a work in progress. Perhaps the best example of the label’s ethos is our first book, From the Edge of the World: California Punk 1977-81, by photographer Ruby Ray. The photos are amazing. Ruby captures a moment that barely existed in the first place, yet still resonates today.”

Marcus’ appearance came naturally. A noted lover of vinyl, he’d stopped by Stranded a few times and gave the owners of a copy of his book. When Viaduct found out his friend had chosen the book for her Rock N’ Roll Book Club, he decided it was time to invite Marcus to speak at the store. After that, the next events at the shop are Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie “Prince” Billy performing live in-store (March 31), then Rock and the Pop Narcotic author Joe Carducci reading May 3.

Given the crumbling of big box music chains and the US economy as a terrifying whole, it’s a particularly troublesome time to open a store of any kind, let alone one mostly focused on physical music — though there are shining examples to the contrary, such as Burger Records and Amoeba Music — so I was intrigued by the store’s arrival.

“Buying records in stores is more fun for customers and shopkeepers,” Viaduct says, shrugging off the concern. “The personal contact really makes a difference. There is nothing better than to recommend something and a day or two later the person comes back and says, ‘Thanks! That record is great.’ Of course, we know that folks can buy records online, so we do not even try to compete with that.”

1-2-3-4 GO!

One of those shining star examples of making it work in the name of the music you obsessively collect — fellow East Bay record shop and label, 1-2-3-4 Go! (www.1234gorecords.com) is this month celebrating five years in Oakland.

Also noteworthy: the label will be 12 come August (time for a Bar Mitzvah?). It’s notable for discovering and releasing records by trash, thrash, psych, punk, garage, surf, doo-wop, whatever local acts along the lines of Nobunny, Shannon and the Clams, Personal and the Pizzas, Lenz, and Synthetic ID.

With its move to a bigger space, the store is now also noted for its all-ages shows, with many of the above frequenting the location along with out-of-towners from LA and beyond. For the five-year marker, the shop is having a big sale on March 23 and 24, and will celebrate further with its second annual the Go! Go! fest May 16 through 19.

I asked label-store owner Steve Stevenson, a 33-year-old Oakland resident, the same question as Viaduct regarding the problems with opening a store such as this. Stevenson perhaps had it rougher, as his doors first opened in that very tumultuous year of ’08.

“2008 was brutal but there was a ton of support. I had no money to advertise but for the first three weeks I was packed with people who had heard about this record store that was barely bigger than a walk-in closet,” he says. “Honestly, the store struggled for the first three or so years; always making it but always just barely. Since moving in to this new space, things have really taken off. I’m able to hire employees so I don’t have to do everything myself which gives me time to do even more cool stuff for the store and book shows outside of it at places like New Parish.”

“We’re one of the very few record stores in the East Bay and we exist through the support of this community and our mail order customers around the world,” he adds. “We’re always growing, expanding, and trying new things because of this support and there’s no way I can say how much I appreciate it. It’s massive.”


Is Afrolicious the hardest working world band in the Bay Area? It seems to pop up everywhere. The 12-piece Latin soul-tropical Afrobeat act met at Elbo Room’s energetic weekly Afrolicious party, and is this week playing the Great American Music Hall in celebration of its debut full-length album California Dreaming, released on its own label, Afrolicious Music. With Midtown Social Band, Afrolicious DJs Pleasure Maker and Senor Oz.

Fri/15, 9pm, $15. Great American Music Hall, 850 O’Farrell, SF. www.slimspresents.com

Unexplored terrain



MUSIC From David Bowie and Brian Eno’s forays into ambience, to the unrelenting pulse of trance and house, minimalist icon Steve Reich’s propulsive compositions have irreversibly shaped the pop world’s development since the 1970s. Now, four decades into his career, Reich is reversing the formula with “Radio Rewrite:” a new piece adapted from and inspired by the recordings of alt-rock institution Radiohead.

This Saturday, Stanford University is set to host the US premiere of “Radio Rewrite,” performed by acclaimed new-music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, in a program comprised entirely of Reich’s works.

Credited alongside Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and LaMonte Young for introducing minimalism to classical music, Reich is often cited as the most influential living composer. After moving west from his native NYC to study composition at Mills College in Oakland, and finding his voice with a series of groundbreaking, spoken-word tape loops (’65’s “It’s Gonna Rain” ’66’s “Come Out,”), he headed back east to form his own large ensemble: Steve Reich and Musicians.

The sound Reich achieved with this group was refreshing and unprecedented, combining pianos, strings and mallet instruments to create glassy, resonant textures, and mechanical rhythms that mirrored NYC’s industrial, caffeinated soul. His flagship composition, “Music for 18 Musicians,” (1976) showed a remarkable ability to breathe life into rigid structures, resulting in, arguably, the richest, lushest, most approachable recording of the Minimalist era.

Reich is noted for cutting against the grain of classical traditionalism. The percussive drive of his music reflects his beginnings as a bebop drummer, as well his time spent studying West African percussion and Indonesian gamelan. “Music for 18 Musicians” was released in ’76 by ECM, the esteemed jazz label, earning him cultural capital far beyond the confines of the so-called “new-music ghetto.” And, in 2008, Reich premiered “2×5,” his first piece written for rock-band instrumentation, electric guitars and all. Though Reich might be classified as a classical composer, he remains a musical omnivore.

Similarly, guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood has built a reputation over the past decade as Radiohead’s experimenter-in-chief, by employing exotic instruments (Ondes Martenot, anyone?) and imaginative guitar techniques, as well as delving into the classical world with compositions of his own. After testing the waters with “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” in 2006, and penning the acclaimed score to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, (2007) Greenwood flew to Krakow, Poland in 2011 to take part in Sacrum Profanum: a festival dedicated to Reich’s music, where the two musicians would first meet.

Before Greenwood caught his ear with a solo rendition of 1987’s “Electric Counterpoint,” (a piece written for 14 guitarists), Reich had been unaware of Radiohead. “It was a great performance and we began talking,” Reich told the Independent (UK) recently, in anticipation of “Radio Rewrite”‘s world premiere in London.

“I found his background as a violinist and his present active role as a composer extremely interesting when added to his major role in such an important and innovative rock group,” Reich continues in the Independent article. “When I returned home I made it a point to go online and listen to Radiohead, and the songs ‘Everything in its Right Place’ and ‘Jigsaw Falling into Place’ stuck in my mind.”

In an interview with the Herald Scotland, Reich described his affinity for the two pieces, explaining, “‘Everything’ is a very rich song. It’s very simple and very complex at the same time. What does it mean? Maybe it’s about a relationship, maybe I should ask (Radiohead bandleader) Thom Yorke, but he wouldn’t tell me, I wouldn’t get anywhere with that… For ‘Jigsaw,’ it’s the harmonic jumps of the piece, it’s a beautiful tune.”

Two years later, Reich has re-interpreted both songs as the foundation for “Radio Rewrite.” The five-movement piece takes significant creative liberties, barely resembling the source material at times, Reich explains.

“It was not my intention to make anything like ‘variations’ on these songs, but rather to draw on their harmonies and sometimes melodic fragments and work them into my own piece. This is what I have done. As to whether you actually hear the original songs, the truth is — sometimes you hear them and sometimes you don’t.”

Instrumentation for “Radio Rewrite” consists of flute, clarinet, two vibes, two pianos, electric bass, and a string quartet. Other works included in the all-Reich program are “Clapping Music,” (featuring Mr. Reich, himself) “Piano Counterpoint,” (1985) “City Life,” (1995), “Four Genesis Settings from The Cave,” (1993) and “New York Counterpoint.” (1985)

Debuting the piece is NYC’s Alarm Will Sound, one of the most aggressively modern classical ensembles currently working. Having performed works by Aphex Twin, and collaborated with Dirty Projectors, the 20-piece seems aptly chosen to tackle “Radio Rewrite”‘s inherent genre-ambiguity.

Considering Reich’s enormous influence, the opportunity to witness him approach a younger generation’s music for the first time is a significant one. Implied within “Radio Rewrite” is a collision between two musical worlds, and the exploration of new, unpredictable terrain. Live music rarely seems so promising.


Performed by Alarm Will Sound

Sat/16, 8pm, $25–$60

Bing Concert Hall

327 Lausen, Stanford

650) 725-2787


Do want



MUSIC Someone shared a song, with the caption “I’m pretty sure this is what the future sounds like.” At first I scoffed at the hyperbole, and idea that progress meant New Age-y Enya harmonies, speedy trap hi-hats, and stomping chant-along choruses all fitted into a progressive, genre blurring R&B/electronic package. But a little piece of the track, “Counting,” stuck with me, a familiar sounding free-jazz squonk of atonal saxophone, and I soon found myself starting a conversation with Autre Ne Veut, a.k.a Arthur Ashin, to identify the sample, and find out more about his sophomore album Anxiety.

“I actually don’t use any samples at all in my music,” the response came (surprising, since I’d seen Autre Ne Veut filed under electronic). “Not just a party line, but actually because I don’t have the slightest idea of how to build songs around them. Al Carlson, who engineered the bulk of the record, is also a very fine jazz sax player. Plus there is some extremely dry atonal guitar that I played mixed in with the baritone sax. Obviously, it was cut up a bit, but we both just played along to the whole track, and then stripped the bulk of it away.”

This refining, reductive process differs from Autre Ne Veut’s 2010 self-titled debut. “My previous record was kind of the opposite,” Ashin said “I would keep globbing more on in different places to kind of create song dynamics. With this I tried to create a big slab and kind of chip away at it, and the sound was kind of defined by that.” It’s a contrast that’s led Autre Ne Veut to be at times labeled as both minimalist and maximalist, although he shrugs at the categories. “Somebody compared me to Hudson Mohawke and Rustie, which I felt a little uncomfortable about just because I seem really different to me than that. But what do I know?”

Regardless of process, the result is an album of stark emotion, conveyed primarily through Ashin’s dynamic diva-esque falsetto. This is obvious on the album opener “Play By Play,” where a potentially repetitive chorus is carried beyond expectations to become irresistibly catchy. On “Gonna Die” the singer goes well into Whitney Houston ballad territory over the most open, airy track on the record, while somehow getting existential over seemingly little more than looking in a bathroom mirror.

Musically there’s a tendency to lump Autre Ne Veut in the latest wave of R&B, but the instrumentation (when it’s familiar) recalls Ratatat (“Don’t Ever Look Back”) as much as Prince (“Warning”), while the disparate, layered production puts Ashin in league with the aforementioned maximalist company. As a result of everything going on, the mix of elements occasionally threatens confusion or invites alternate interpretations. The husky singing and banging rhythm on “Counting” lends it a sensual tone that without context could be surprising: Ashin was inspired by the difficulty he had making a phone call to his aging grandmother, fearing it might be the last time they talk.

It didn’t help that prior to this album, Ashin insisted on embargoing his real name and only using the Autre Ne Veut moniker in the press, hoping to maintain a clean Google record, separate from his academic life, where he studied Clinical Psychology. Now he’s putting himself out into the open. “I basically for this record realized that if I was gonna end up doing music — if that ever became a legitimate problem than I would have done pretty well for myself, and there’d be no way to fight that if I decide to have a second career in Clinical Psychology.”

The new stance is a better fit; given the personal quality of Autre Ne Veut’s new record, there’s now an actual person to associate with the experience. (Although Ashin is fine with not being the final authority, saying “I’m not gonna sit down and tell somebody who’s sure ‘Counting’ is a sex jam to stop having sex to ‘Counting.'”)

If a second album is a chance to refine not only the music, but also the image, and Ashin seems to be doing the latter with unexpectedly little apprehension or nervousness. The press release accompanying the new album has the following heady quote: “Anxiety in children is originally nothing other than an expression of the fact they are feeling the loss of the person they love.” Freud is alright, but I think this one is more appropriate: “To feel anxiety is to be blessed by the full wash of existence in its ripest chancre.”


With Majical Cloudz, Bago

Mon/11, 9pm, $12


628 Divisadero, SF (415) 771-1421