You are free

Pub date May 16, 2007
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer

SONIC REDUCER Afraid to leave home? Worried about breaking away from the pack? Terrified of alarming the animals? Don’t be baaah’d.

Now that the few days of spring heat have descended on the Bay, baking our brains and filling our tenderized minds with thoughts of possibility, freedom, and escape, we begin to contemplate new adventures, new paths, a new life without you.

Yes, you. I’m speaking to the you perched morosely on that porcelain throne, lined up at the bus stop ready and unsteady with workaday abuse, desperately reaching for yet another Advil, another sutra, a 12th step.

What makes you make that leap from the everyday, the norm? What makes you go from belonging — being a part of the gang, a member of the band — to stepping out and up on your own: solo, al dente, au jus?

Sprinkle as much cheap restaurant Latinate on the idea as you like, but you too can break rank and make it, meaning art, on your own. You too can be free.

"If you’re sincere about being an artist, you have to follow your heart, trite as it sounds," Victor Krummenacher recently wrote me in an e-mail. The ex–Guardian art director now flies freelance — he’s still playing with his groundbreaking teen band Camper Van Beethoven and has just released his fourth solo album, The Cock Crows at Sunrise (Magnetic), a proudly "grown-up" disc of full-blown, handmade, blues-based rock songs rooted in his St. Louis family lore. But back to the solo question: "Camper is a joy because I grew up playing with those guys, and we’re very powerful together. But it is a very hard relationship and not always easy or fun. Playing solo is hard work but seldom a chore."

It can be more than OK, judging from, say, the solo debut by Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., Yours to Keep (Rough Trade/New Line), released here this spring after trying its wings overseas. It’s a fun recording, full of sweetness and light, pop hooks and happy storybook critters — and cavity-inducing ’80s rewrites such as synth pop charmer "In Transit" and the "Love Vigilantes"–cribbing "101." Those two — coupled with buoyant rhythms that sound infinitely more innocent and heartfelt in Hammond’s hands than on the Strokes’ recent albums — will make ex-cheerleaders and frustrated go-go dancers twirl around the room on the balls of their feet, bouncing to the beat and frightening the cat.

In his Manhattan digs, Hammond sounded loogey but resigned to the fate of his songs as he girded himself for his US tour, kicking off in San Francisco this week. Yours to Keep began as an attempt for Hammond to get out of his, well, home (read: his comfort zone). "It started out with me just wanting to leave my apartment and go somewhere else," he explained. He began with the album’s opening track, "Cartoon Music for Superheroes" (a lullaby, as Hammond described it, though he knows no kids to sing it to; "I’m my own child," he claimed, citing Bugs Bunny as a favorite cartoon character). Then he ventured out from there, he added: "We basically built up our confidence. You don’t just walk into Electric Lady Studios and do good work."

Still, Hammond went from almost no input on the Strokes’ songs — "I did find my own guitar tone," he confessed — to putting himself out there in a disarmingly artful, if not artless, way. As Krummenacher wrote, "You better be resolved. On a good night, I get maybe 10 to 20 percent of the crowd that Camper would get, and you have to have a certain kind of ego to try to rock out in front of 50 people when you’re used to much more."

But you listen to the songs, the spring, and you know you gotta start all over again, whether you’re 27, like Hammond, or 42, like Krummenacher, who has been playing for almost as long as the former has been alive. The fear is, of course, that you won’t find anything out there worth keeping or hanging on to and you won’t succeed in "creating your own world," as Hammond repeatedly said. All told, everything from Yours to Keep‘s title, coined from the words Hammond would write on demos, to the solid songwriting sounds like a tentative baby step from buzz-band-dom toward longevity. "Only time will tell about that," Hammond said. "And time will be able to tell about me as well, whether I create something that lasts." *


Sun/20, 9 p.m., $18


628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421


With the Knitters

Sat/19, 9 p.m., $25

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750



Who’d’a thunk that 14 years along, the band that seemed to be busy aping Built to Spill would produce its most musically intriguing recording, We Were Dead before the Ship Even Sank (Epic)? With Man Man and Love as Laughter. Wed/16, 8 p.m., $35. San Jose State University Event Center Arena, S. Seventh St. and San Carlos, San Jose.


Local electronics-dappled dream poppers turned out a lovely disc, We Are Wyoming (Redbuttons), a few years back. With Snowblink and the Spires. Thurs/17, 9 p.m., $8. Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., SF. (415) 647-2888,


The NYC neg heads ice up our drinks, then threaten to rape our ear holes. Mon/21, 8 p.m., call for price. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923, May 23, 9 p.m., $7. Uptown, 1928 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 451-8100