Panabay rising


MUSIC Last year was a big one for Los Rakas. The Oakland-by-way-of-Panama duo, Raka Rich and Raka Dun, have been hustling their frenetic Panabay stylings since they banded together as high school students in 2005. But on the cusp of their second mixtape, La Tanda Del Bus, the arresting diversity of their influences and musical ideas began to coalesce. The far reaches of the blogosphere and the streets took notice.

Los Rakas’ “Abrazame” — a song reworked from Gyptian’s crossover hit “Hold You” and remixed into sure shot form by Brooklyn producer Uproot Andy — overcrowded year-end lists as the pinnacle summer jam of 2010. In the video, parallel love stories unfold and collapse over the backdrop of San Francisco’s Carnaval Festival. Shuffling polyrhythms swarm underneath simple Casio chords as Raka Rich moves effortlessly from trading syrupy verses with guest songstress Faviola to bursts of rapid-fire lyricism.

Meanwhile, the video for Los Rakas’ “Soy Raka” — a youthful ode to turfin’ in the streets of Oakland — has surpassed 250,000 hits on YouTube. What other rap groups spit a chorus like “Tengo mi pistola y diente de oro” on the same playlist as a sweltering love ballad? The video not only helped spawn the syncopated dance movement in Panama, but also inspired kids to prefix their names with Raka — “you know, like Raka Miguel” — Dun tells me excitedly in a thick Spanish accent. “In Panama, ‘That’s raka’ or ‘We’re from raka’ means ‘that’s ghetto’ or ‘we’re from the ghetto.’ But it’s an empowering term. It means that we’re proud of who we are and where we come from.”

This sort of community-centered spirit has inspired Los Rakas since the beginning of its rhapsodic ventures. In 2006, Rich and Dun released their first Panabay Twist mixtape with the help and studio support of local outreach organizations Youth Uprising, BUMP (Bay Unity Music Project), and Youth Movement Records. Its single, “Mi Barrio,” in many ways a precursor to the anthemic “Soy Raka,” is driven by the standard hip-hop commandment to represent where you’re from. But the song also honors a more difficult and subtle hip-hop ideal: one love. Los Rakas might boast about Oakland and Panama stomping grounds, but the duo also calls out for us to be “orgulloso and put your flag in the air.” Which flag, exactly?

“Oakland influenced us,” says Dun, who moved to the Bay when he was 14. “It didn’t just shape our instrumentals and lyrical style, from Zion I to E-40—Oakland has the history of the Black Panthers and politicism, so we naturally put that content in our music too.”

Los Rakas sound a bit different from, say, any other Bay Area rapper, because Rich and Dun’s music is informed by the infectious rhythms and punctuated Spanish flows heard in Panama’s pop music of the day, plena. A sprawling folk genre that originated in the Caribbean and related regions of Central America, plena has recently been digitized for a new generation, becoming a Panamanian spin on reggaeton.

But the influences don’t stop there. “In Panama we listen to all types of music: reggae, dancehall, salsa, meringue,” says Dun. “When I met Rico, he was listening to Tupac and we traded music. Hip-hop caught my attention fast. I found out about Tribe [Called Quest], Lil Kim, Nas. I researched where it came from, and how it evolved, and just fell in love with it.” Although the connections aren’t obvious at first, hip-hop and plena have a lot in common. They’re both hybrid genres, forms of pastiche that draw from a wide range of sonic traditions and background, computerizing folk and funk for the bass-hungry children of the always-evolving soundsystem.

Unsurprisingly, Los Rakas garnered attention from an emerging scene of enthusiasts, producers, DJs, writers, and musicians concerned with the musical diaspora of the Afro-Caribbean, or more acutely, what British sociologist Paul Gilroy has called the Black Atlantic. The term denotes the webbed network of the African diaspora culture that is not so much organized by a clear conception of roots but by a rhizomatic set of exchanges and networks: migrations, ships, trade, Creole, European miscegenation, flights, origin myths, stories of repatriation, and now the most diffusive cross-cultural exchange device of them all, the Internet.

Keep in mind that 2010 was the year that Diplo and Switch’s over-the-top dancehall project, Major Lazer, took clubs by storm, and even Rihanna finally started reppin’ roots, rhythm, and wires with “Rude Boy” and multicolored neon booty shorts. Even if MIA’s third full-length was lackluster, something of her world-town swagger has penetrated our times, while her “Bird Flu” call to arms has circulated through our quickly multiplying musical economies. Check the formula: add world genre to rap and uptempo dancehall/Bmore/house/techno; reconfigure percussion patterns in a drum machine; loop melodic fragments of a regional instrument; add inner-city noise, gunshots, chants, or field recordings of aggressive animal life; manipulate with a swill of static, fuzz, and a heavy dose of low end. Bump loud. Call it third world democracy.

Los Rakas, without even asking for it, has popped up in countless mixes and blog posts loosely labeled under the category of tropical bass. Rich and Dun contributed the steady banger “Afro Latino” to the recent Banana Clipz EP, produced by tropical harbingers Chief Boima and Ora 11 of Bersa Discos, and released on their Ghetto Bassquake blog and upstart. Speaking of Bersa, it hosts the crazy monthly Tormenta Tropical, which spotlights new sounds of electro-cumbia and related frontiers arising from the Black Atlantic. “That movement, I’m not sure what to call it, embraced us,” says Dun. It only makes sense that Los Rakas — navigating Oakland and Panama, turfin’ and plena, hiphop and digital polyrhythms, the new and the old — has returned the favor.


with Roach Gigz

Wed/2, 9 p.m.–-2 a.m.; free

111 Minna Gallery

111 Minna, SF

(415) 974-1719



>>Read part one here.


Raw Romance

(Burger Records)

Nobunny, the bunny-masked alter ego of Oakland rocker Justin Champlin, has been performing since 2001. He had his first full-length release in 2008 with Love Visions on Bubbledumb Records, and last fall he released his follow-up, First Blood, on Goner. Between that, in 2009, there was Raw Romance, a cassette-only release composed of new songs, covers, and acoustic alternates to favorites from Love Visions. With only 500 hand-numbered copies of Raw Romance in circulation, it garnered a cult following. Now Burger Records is releasing it remastered on vinyl, and the first 300 copies on pink vinyl.

Raw Romance starts out with a Buffalo 66 sample, and then plunges into “Your Mouth.” It’s a simple, sweet song with risque PG-13 lyrics, ornamented with tambourine, handclaps, and whistling. A nod to Nobunny’s own appearance, “Mask’s On” is an ode to mask-wearers and lovers. The recess-worthy “Apple Tree” is both sexy and scary, like a vampire crush. On “Tonight You Belong to Me,” Nobunny offers a raw acoustic version of the song famously sung by Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in The Jerk. “The Gutter” is a mix of Elvis-rockabilly and country twang — a harrowing tale that ends in … the gutter. Although it’s a hodgepodge, Raw Romance makes a boisterous addition to any Nobunny fan’s collection. (Michelle Broder Van Dyke)


With Battlehooch, Exray’s, The Downer Party

Feb. 25, 9 p.m.; $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455



(Howells Transmitter)

From making “musical fiction” with Ray’s Vast Basement to playing in the SF band Black Fiction, a project with Tim Cohen from The Fresh and Onlys, Jon Bernson is a force in the Bay Area music scene. He’s contributed music to a dozen plays and at least four short films. And if you’ve seen the $200 million-grossing movie The Social Network, then music from his latest project Exray’s has no doubt crept into your ears.

As Exray’s, Bernson and Michael Falsetto-Mapp released a cassette, Ammunition Teeth, last year on San Francisco label Howells Trasmitter. The band is now set to release its self-titled full-length Feb. 1. It boasts an impressive guest list: Nate Query (the Decemberists), Warren Huegel (Citay, Jonas Reinhardt), and Cohen. Opening with “You Forget,” the album flows forth with uptempo beats and a florid blend of guitars, synths, and samples. This release evokes various moods, akin to the settings that Ray’s Vast Basement created for its “musical fiction,” making it clear why those behind The Social Network soundtrack found the Exray’s track “Hesitation” appropriate. Underneath the steady pulses and the pop melodies, there is an anxious undercurrent. “Stolen Postcard Sun” is a slowed-down number that hints at the mysterious. An album highlight comes at the end with “When I Was You,” which paints a somber postromantic picture. This electronic-pop duo crafts songs that hint at the unknown while steadily pacing ahead. (Broder Van Dyke)


With Magick Trick, Fiveng, DJ Cyclist

Feb. 4, 9:00 p.m.; $12

Cafe Du Nord

2170 Market, SF (415) 861-5016



Live in Aisle Five


Bay Area-favorite Ty Segall has been churning out recordings under his own name since 2008 with the cassette Horn The Unicorn on Wizard Mountain, and there are no signs he’s slowing down. To start 2011, Segall is releasing Live in Aisle Five, recorded by local noise-maker Eric Bauer last summer at an Amnesia show for Southpaw Records’ first-year anniversary party.

The album starts with a triumphant “How you guys doing?” from Segall, and then the smashing new song “Come to California.” There’s the usual rumble of reverb, so it’s hard to discern all the lyrics, but it sounds like a ragged advertisement for our home state. It’s got an astounding guitar solo that flushes the song out and moves into the pounding drums of “Imaginary Person,” off of 2010’s Melted, on Goner. Segall’s signature wolf-worthy howls are heard throughout the album. On his cover of GG Allin’s “Don’t Talk to Me,” the onomatopoeia of “chitter, chatter” and “yak tak” is screamed like it was meant to sound. More than his recordings, Segall wins fans live. And if you yearn for that visceral experience that is more human in its imperfections — one that makes you want to move — this is your record. (Broder Van Dyke)


With Nodzzz

Jan. 28, 8:30 p.m.; $12

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011

Live Shots: Roger Waters’ epic “The Wall,” HP Pavilion, 12/08/2010


In the minutes before Pink Floyd mastermind Roger Waters took to the stage at HP Pavilion earlier this week to perform the band’s epic 1979 double album The Wall, the playlist coming through the house speakers gave way to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” a song that seemed well-matched for the impending performance. For an artist that is commonly known for romantic jazz ballads, Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” was a defining moment in her career, a point in which she ascended beyond the simplest manifestations of her identity and delved into the  darkest corners of her times.

In a similar sense, there is no easy way around The Wall. Pink Floyd’s last album during their monumental run in the ’70s — Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals — was not only their most artistically ambitious, but a lingering challenge to the nature of the band’s legacy. Longview attempts to define Pink Floyd in the realm of blacklight posters, spacey sounds, or a Dazed and Confused mindset, will inevitably get stuck at The Wall: a dark and confrontational album that is ultimately the most emblematic of Pink Floyd’s greatest characteristics.

So, with Waters (at age 67) suggesting that this will be his last tour, it is appropriate that he would finish with his masterpiece. And make no mistake – this was a concert for the ages.

Playing before an enthralled sold-out crowd, Waters put on a spectacle of acid-casualty-inflicting-potential that seemed peerless on numerous fronts. Musically, the material was as dynamic as it was seamless, deftly rendered by a world-class band of musicians over a juggernaut of a sound system. Visually, the staging seemed calibrated past “entertain” and set on “assault”, showcasing a sensory barrage of giant puppets, crashing airplanes, and flying pigs all amidst the construction (and eventual toppling) of a 40ft wall that also served as a towering projection screen for a dizzying array of images and video.

Yet the most notable aspect of the performance was the sheer relevance of the material. This was really an amazing feature, considering that Waters wrote The Wall in the run up to the Reagan-Thatcher era and was now performing it in the aftermath of Bush-Cheney. In this regard, Waters delved deeply into the confrontational aspect of the album’s material, challenging the audience with all-too-timely themes of war, ideology, government surveillance, and the general estrangement of modern human relations. During “Run Like Hell” the projections on the wall at one point showed the Wikileaks-released video of the 2007 Apache Helicopter massacre in Baghdad; not exactly light viewing material to accompany one of Floyd’s classic radio hits.

Waters looked and sounded formidable throughout the concert, stalking the stage with good-humored authority as the wall was erected in front of the band throughout the beginning half of the album. This first set was packed with striking moments, such as the ominous acoustic beauty of “Goodbye Blue Sky” beset by visuals of bomber planes dropping their payloads of -isms  (dollar signs, religious symbols, and corporate logos) on those below. “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2),” with its re-occurring mantra – “We Don’t Need No Education” – was already a staggering spectacle as a three-story marionette school teacher with laser eyes dwarfed the musicians below, only to then be embellished by a choir of  local school kids filling the stage to sing the later verses.

However, the most poignant moment of the show came during the second set as Waters – who had lost his father as a boy during World War II – performed “Vera” and “Bring the Boys Back Home” beneath video spots of children reuniting with their fathers returning home from war. The final clip – of a young girl going from surprise to gut-wrenching emotion as she first sees her father – left audience members wiping back tears as Water’s sang the line, “Does anybody else in here/feel the way I do?”

The wall came toppling down after the more theatrical rock-opera moments of the second album, culminating with “The Trial” performed  beneath Gerald Scarfe’s hallucinatory animation from the 1982 film adaptation of the album. Waters and company finished the concert amongst the rubble, playing a wonderfully serene and hopeful version of “Outside the Wall.”

Much has been made of the fact that the original staging of this album was a logistical debacle when it was performed in only four cities some 30 years ago, and that the evolution of technology has now made it feasible. Yet, in a similar sense, the album’s material has matured in its own way in this time. Writing during a time of personal crisis in the late 70s, Waters conceived the album as an exploration of human relationships and the many obstacles that hinder them. The timeliness of these themes then — especially after a decade marred by war and a divided population – makes this tour less of a nostalgic throwback and more of manifested vision. Pink Floyd had always been far ahead their time, so there is a fitting logic that it would take three decades for The Wall to be properly realized in concert.

Of course, it’ll be interesting to see if this tour is in fact the last call on an original Pink Floyd experience. Altough the surviving band members are getting on in years (keyboardist Richard Wright died in 2008), they have made some steps at amends recently, and even expressed interest in collaborating again. Perhaps then, there is still time for those walls to come down. After all….when it comes to Pink Floyd, it’s well known that pigs will fly




Di Doo Dah

(Light in the Attic)

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



Adolescent Funk

(Stones Throw)

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



The Secret Dub Life of the Flying Lizards


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



Broken Dreams Club EP

(True Panther Sounds)

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



Lucky Shiner

(Ghostly International)

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



Pink Information

(Mexican Summer)

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



The Effective Disconnect


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



Ballad of the Lights

(Presspop Music)

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



The Soft Moon

(Captured Tracks)

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



She Was Coloured In

(Planet Mu)

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




(Light in the Attic)

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



Golden Haze EP

(Captured Tracks)

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




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

(Universal Sound)

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


Play It Strange

(In the Red)

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


The Nightmare of J B Stanislaus

(Cherry Red/Rev-Ola)

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


New Chain


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


The Slider

(Fat Possum)

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


Califia: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood


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




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


Epic Bush crawl, part one


SUPER EGO Marke B.’s off getting hitched to Hunky Beau, so we asked the raffishly cute Ruggy, senior community manager at, to fill in as nightlife correspondent. Part two comes out Nov. 3.

What does your average Friday night look like? Does it involve catching up with old college friends over a 2007 Chateau Montelena Bordeaux blend? Maybe you’d rather snuggle up next to your boo on an EQ3 chaise longue with the remote in one hand and a Shake Weight in the other.

If you’re anything like me and my ragtag group of degenerate colleagues, nothing quite spells F-U-N like a bar crawl spanning seven different locations in less than five hours, complete with gratuitous heavy petting, nacho cheese Doritos, and warm Miller High Life. Now, what if I told you there was an unheralded bar route in the city that’s chock-full of sticky floors, intoxicated curmudgeons, and more bottom shelf liquor than you can shake a Polaroid at?

The stretch of self-reproach I reference is Bush Street between Stockton and Taylor. But beware — this challenge isn’t for the faint of heart. Being the altruist I am, I decided to document this fantastic, drunken journey on your behalf, to ensure you avoid a colossal case of bottle flu the following morning. You can thank me later.

Tunnel Top (601 Bush): From Union Square, take the stairs north at the entrance to the Stockton Tunnel (after a salacious afternoon romp at the Green Door if you want to up the ante), turn about face, and gallop roughly 10 paces west. Perfect for guest registration on a Bush Street crawl, since the T-Top offers a nifty happy hour with $3 drafts and $2.75 bottled beers as well as a slew of aging hipsters and law school dropouts (a.k.a. real estate brokers) enjoying glasses of Chimay and a hip playlist. Plenty of complicated haircuts at 6:30 p.m., but not a single raccoon tail in sight.

Chelsea Place (641 Bush): If you’re expecting skyline views of Manhattan and metrosexuals out the wazoo, you most certainly have the wrong Chelsea in mind. This is a cozy nook for true alcoholics, where one drink is too many, and 1,000 is never enough. A tiny push through the saloon-style wooden doors grants you access to the Emerald City of unglamorous horizons. One of the few bars in San Francisco that will still let you smoke inside (but the first of many we encountered this Friday night), the immediate rush of second-hand smoke is enough to give you flashbacks to the first time you choked on a Marlboro Red in your junior high bathroom stall. If you’re sensitive to environmental tobacco, you’ll just have to suck it up and enjoy those delightful, toxic fumes.

As is usually the case with these sorts of establishments, the bar was packed with nothing but men over 50 (plus us) cooing over the female Asian staff, who all looked like they were auditioning for a Britney Spears music video. Laissez-faire seems to be in full effect: cigars, graffiti, dice games, whiskey shots out of plastic bottles that just say “whiskey” on the label, cheap beer, snuff pipes, and free bags of Orville Redenbacher. ‘Nuff said.

RJ’s Sports Bar (701 Geary): Korean women behind the bar (it seems to be Bush corridor de rigueur) who speak excellent Spanish and have incredible dance moves (don’t ask me how I know, but this was the biggest surprise of all). Another bar that allows indoor smoking, despite a sticker, in plain sight, that contradicts such actions. A man came in and requested that the bartender fill up his empty Gatorade bottle with Anchor Steam for $5, and without a second thought, that call was answered.

High Tide Lounge (600 Geary): Free food ranging from kimchi, chicken wings, and sushi rolls to stuffed peppers, pad Thai, chow mein, and something that resembled an egg roll but looked more like a snuffed out cigar. I didn’t ask questions. In the midst of our revels, we happened upon a petite woman taking a little catnap in the corner of the bar. Despite sleeping on a cold linoleum floor, she looked quite peaceful. Definitely not dead, though … we checked her pulse.



FILM Everybody’s a curator, providing one or more terrain maps of their personality. What’s more telling, or potentially damning, than looking over someone’s iPod playlist or CD collection? My Detroit best-friend freshman roommates were first encountered pawing through my LP crate, diagnosing just what sort of hick they’d been stuck with. (Between the Sex Pistols and Dan Fogelberg, they were highly confused.)

Sussing taste in movies isn’t always as easy as perusing a shelf — not everyone necessarily cares to watch repeatedly even the films they esteem most. (Of course 1941’s Citizen Kane is brilliant, but do I own that? Nix. But 2000’s Dude, Where’s My Car? Yup.) Thus Angela Ismailos’ new documentary Great Directors is as interesting for what it reveals about the curator as for insights from "great" filmmakers themselves.

Of course "greatness" is ever-subjective, ever-more idly applied. Christopher Nolan is "the best director in the world" (according to threads), if being good among blockbuster-franchise mediocrities measures the depth of your purview (though after the overcomplicated nonsense of Inception, even that status is questionable. Bring it on, haters!)

Ismailos has tonier taste. Good if idiosyncratic, the kind you can respect yet argue with. She’s a real cineaste. And a narcissist, falling into that realm of filmmakers who make movies about other people yet incessantly insert themselves into the frame. (Over 86 minutes, we get to see how many hairdos she can subject her dyed blonde locks to.) Still, there have been far worse offenders in the realm of Gratuitous Me: The Documentary, and Ismailos chooses her subjects — plus filmic excerpts — with beguiling intelligence.

The interviewees are very articulate. Are all "great"? Well, it’s hard to argue against Bernardo Bertolucci and David Lynch. Richard Linklater and Todd Haynes are inspired next-generation American choices. With John Sayles we enter the land of good intentions. Likewise Ken Loach and Stephen Frears, liberal 1960s-1970s BBC Two beneficiaries later orphaned by Margaret Thatcher funding cuts, subsequently taking disparate big-screen paths; Ismailos is attracted primarily by their frequent social-undercaste advocacy.

The jury’s still out on Catherine Breillat, while one truly odd choice is Liliana Cavani. Including that mostly undistinguished veteran Italian director most famous for 1974’s S–M Nazi romance The Night Porter suggests Ismailos has a thing for women directing women being sexually punished. (She also draws attention to the famous scene in 1972’s Last Tango in Paris where buttered-up Marlon Brando anally rapes Maria Schneider, while barely referencing Bertolucci’s later achievements.) Offering contrast is Agnès Varda, whose puckish cinema is hobbit-like in its denial of sex.

Ismailos deserves props for achieving 40 percent female representation in a field where careers like that of The Kids Are All Right‘s Lisa Cholodenko — three features in 12 years — are considered gender-triumphant. Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker (2009) director Kathryn Bigelow made even fewer over a longer span, and you know it’s not for lack of trying. (Neither of those women are in Great Directors, however.)

Several participants cite meaningful mentors, whether actually met or loved from a celluloid distance: Pasolini (Bertolucci), Fassbinder (Haynes), etc. More interesting still are their tales of production travails, whether it’s Breillat on the censorious loathing exercised toward her many portraits of abused female sexuality, or Lynch claiming "It’s beautiful to have a great
failure" (i.e., 1984’s Dune) since it freed him to make smaller, more personal projects like next-stop Blue Velvet (1986).

Great Directors has myriad such behind-scenes revelations. Preening and adoring these idols in camera view, Ismailos flashes her
good taste around. This would be more annoying if her taste wasn’t, in fact, pretty choice.

GREAT DIRECTORS opens Fri/23 in Bay Area theaters.

Now that we’re older


By Peter Galvin

MUSIC There’s a civil war afoot in the Hot Chip camp. Caught between tongue-in-cheek club-fillers and more melodic balladry, the U.K. electro-pop act continues to divide its audience by refusing to choose a definitive side and sound.

Duo and long-time friends, Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard have been plagued by the impression that they are largely a singles band, earmarking playlist-ready tracks like “Boy From School” and “Ready For The Floor” from otherwise uneven albums. Such is the scarlet letter left by Coming On Strong, their initial 2004 release with DFA Records, whose name is indelibly linked to a number of playlist-ready remixes. Following the band’s subsequent jump to EMI Records, around the 2008 release of their third album Made in the Dark, it became clear that the pair were ready to take a step away from the ephemeral nature that plagues not only their band’s first two releases, but much of modern dance music. Made in the Dark saw the band begin to experiment with more personal narratives, such as in the standout “We’re Looking For a Lot of Love.” Still, the collection of songs was more suggestive of growing pains than graduation.

After Dark‘s mixed advances, the release of One Life Stand represents the important moment in every successful band’s career, the point where it finally decides whether it’s going to continue rehashing a fruitful formula or take a risk, commit to something new and hope that the audience will stick around. As album opener “Thieves in the Night” comes over the speakers with the lyrics “happiness is what we all want,” it’s tough to find traces of the Hot Chip that was “sick of motherfuckers trying to tell me that they’re down with Prince.” The album title itself announces a band seeking something more real and permanent than an album that college kids bump at their summer parties.

Perhaps fearful that long-time fans might initially be turned off by the new direction, Taylor and Goddard make sure to hit you with the bangers right off the bat, four songs that recall their previous work in tempo if not content. But even these songs are free of the band’s trademark irony. They explore love and yearning rather than ride high on the repetition of goofy catch-phrases. In addition to a distinct lyrical maturity, the new songs are also increasingly densely layered. While they imply an enormous backdrop of influences, you get the impression Hot Chip has moved past paying homage, instead simply wishing to explore new territory in an accessible way.

Past this initial burst of bluster, One Life Stand introduces what may well be the new sound of Hot Chip — ballads. Deeply personal and largely humorless, songs like “Brothers,” “Alley Cats,” and “Slush” show that the band wants to connect with its audience on a more profound level — and they’re willing to drop the irony to do it. “Brothers” is candidly about Taylor loving his friends like brothers, a sentiment that might have embarrassed him had it appeared on Coming Up Strong. Hot Chip has matured, moved beyond posturing and caring what people think, making the album a refreshing reintroduction to a band that some dismissed as a couple of smart alecks.

It can be bittersweet watching a band grow up and define itself. Though One Life Stand is not without its missteps, I’m glad Hot Chip is doing what it wants rather than pandering to the expectations of an established audience. They like dancing and they like ballads, why should they have to choose? As lines are being drawn regarding the band’s inevitable shift away from sardonic dance music, it’s hard not to wonder whether Hot Chip even cares. If it does, it probably feels that its listeners are the ones having a hard time growing up.


with the xx

Fri/16, 8 p.m., $29.50

Fox Theatre

1807 Telegraph, Oakl.

1 (800) 745-3000

No regular play


SUPER EGO One of the best things about the San Francisco scene is we don’t have “hits.” You can always escape that tired Kid Cudi dirge or hypothetical Ke$ha-Cannibal Corpse mashup (not a bad idea, as long as it involves rusty chainsaws) by jetting to another spot. Below is a brief survey of four of the city’s most intriguing regular parties, and the music they’ll most likely ravish you with.


I’ve got to admit I kind of lost it in a good way on the Som floor at this new weekly the last time I attended. (If I huffed down the back of your neck, I apologize.) It’s one of the most diverse-crowded joints in the city, flipping to deep global soul rhythms, and yes there was a dance circle. “There is a negative stigma attached to house music,” DJ and founder Carlos Mena told me. “It is not the stereotype-laden skits that appear on Saturday Night Live. It is soul-filled music, which encompasses rhythms from Africa and beyond. I want to provide a space for dancers to express themselves.” Upcoming guests include Greece’s Osunlade and Ezel from the Dominican Republic.

Sounds like:

DJ Spinna featuring Erro, “Butterfly Girl (Casamena Remix)” Babatunde Olatunji, “Saré Tete Wa” Ezel featuring Tamara Wellons, “”In My Lifetime (Deetron Remix)” Fela Kuti, “Ako” Afefe Iku, “Baiao”

Wednesdays, 10 p.m., $5. Som, 2925 16th St., SF.


You’ll want to don a fly fedora or pop a fresh gardenia in your hair for this youthful and stylish — but actually not pretentious — free weekly at the revamped Beauty Bar, which just celebrated its first anniversary. Decades of familiar retro (is that redundant?) are definitely on the carefully curated playlist, but mixed into some newer party jams by DJs Roll and Ts with the help of some stellar backup from the likes of the excellent Sweaterfunk crew. Indie, Northern Soul, boogie, glam, Brit, Mod … the night can go in any direction. “It’s always a headful of rad times!” says Roll.

Sounds like:

The Juan Maclean, “Happy House” New Order, “Blue Monday” The Ronnettes, “By My Baby” Holy Ghost!, “Hold On” David Bowie, “Queen Bitch” Wham!, “Club Tropicana”

Thursdays, 10 p.m., free. Beauty Bar, 2299 Mission, SF.


Tom Thump, Centipede, and Damon Bell — the “highly unlikely yet perfectly unusual” DJ trio behind this two-year-old weekly throwdown at the Make-Out Room are pure quality, mainstays on the SF scene who each light up in individual ways. Loose Joints is a gonzo sonic outlet for their funkier sides, incorporating Italo, Latin, space disco, globaltronics, and even future bass beats into a cutting-edge stew. Says Thump, “We’re like an all-vinyl house party (as in your home) where everyone is so trashed they’re tearing their clothes off. We’re boundary pushing and blurry — but never cheesy.”

Sounds like: The Bamboos featuring Lyrics Born, “Turn It Up!”

Tropical Discoteque 2, “La Rosa (Simbad and F. Francis Edit)”

Stevie Wonder, “Superstition (Todd Terje Edit)” Situation, “Goblin in the Bikini Shack” Gonja Sufi, “Holidays/Candylane”

Fridays, 10 p.m., $5. Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., SF.


“We’ve had people that dress really nice, like from a certain era — and we’ve had people in their underwear, ha ha,” says one of my favorite club people, Primo Pitino, of the attendees at the fantastic, eight-year-old, twice-monthly, doo-woppy Oldies Night, which he puts on with DJs Ivar and Daniel. “But our party isn’t a throwback party for turning back the clock, it’s for playing music we used to dance around the house naked to, like ‘Please Mr. Postman.’ And our cute crowd has a fairly low asshole ratio.” It’s all true, and not a hard sell by half.

Sounds like:

Little Eva, “The Loco-Motion” Gino Washington, “Out Of This World” The Montereys, “Without A Girl” Bo Diddley, “Bo Diddley” The Metros, “Since I Found My Baby”

First and third Fridays, 10 p.m., $3. The Knockout, 3223 Mission, SF.

Flashing lights


Guardian illustration of DJ AM, Daft Punk, and Steve Aoki by Matt Furie and Aiyana Udesen

DECADE IN MUSIC Good lord. Who can remember all the strobe-lit twists and turns that Bay Area nightlife slid down in the past decade? Even if I wasn’t utterly and gloriously hung over from 10 years of being 86ed, it would still be a sweat-drenched, dry-iced, hypnotic blear. That’s a lovely thing. The ABC crackdown on underground parties in the late 1990s still held strong — and lively licensed spaces like Café Du Nord, Slim’s, Buckshot, and DNA Lounge as well as many music-oriented street fairs are still feeling the pressure of the War on Fun. But you can’t stop the party. And, baby, we lived through it.

One point about nightlife in general this decade: no one could ignore it. From hip-pop’s odiously capitalist-utopian "da club" to the tourist-trap explosion of global dance music festivals, club culture was on everyone’s radar. Today’s pop stars blithely name-check underground nightlife legends like Leigh Bowery and Larry Levan, and middle-school kids fill their notebooks with fantasy club outfits. Oh yeah, edgy nightlife has been completely commodified — thank you, Steve Aoki and DJ AM — but it’s a testament to its amazing versatility that going out is still enormously subversive fun, and the onslaught of bottle service and stretch-limo-packed music vids have had little impact on a vibrant independent scene. (In fact, the independent scene has gotten a ton of mileage out of parodying and reinterpreting mainstream club dreams.)

The last 10 years of the local club scene certainly gave me a lot to write and think — and drink — about. That was probably nightlife’s most distinctive feature: it finally came into its own as an art form, one that welcomed multiple interpretations while devilishly playing with our heads. The best party promoters in the Bay worked hard not only to present immersive subcultural experiences but also to contextualize their parties in terms of global movements. You couldn’t just fly in a supastar DJ and set the light show on random anymore. Clubgoers rejected that kind of dollar-driven cynicism. They wanted to know how a party would plug them into something different, something relevant, something uniquely of the moment, something beyond.

In short, they wanted personality. At times, this meant that concept trumped music — how many times did you find yourself spazzing on the dance floor to someone’s hodgepodge iPod playlist in 2005, just because that someone was ironically amazing? But it sure was fun for a while, giving dance culture a kick in the fancy-pants and throwing open the door to a glittering array of musical styles. And everybody looked fantastic. Irony freed us from previous expectations like beat-matching, genre hegemony, fashion anxiety, and bland slickness. (It also introduced a flood of unicorns and neon accessories.) Deconstruction at last! For good or ill, but mostly for good, anyone could be a DJ, throw a party, design a flyer, work a look. All you needed was a little space, a big idea, and a sense of adventure. A crowd helped, too, but only if you worried about something as mundane as paying the bills. Reality? Oh, really.

That mid-period chemical peel of irony neatly divided the decade. We cruised and shmoozed into the new millennium on the Boom-bubble back of a lazy lounge wave — the sunny house-lite sighs of Naked Music and Miguel Migs, the mushroom jazz of Mark Farina, OM’s smooth-beats Kaskade, and the friendly turntablism of Triple Threat popping the pink Champagne. That wave soon crested, churning up a foam of pink-slip parties, when discount daytime raves and increasingly baby-powdered coke binges took over. Luckily, happy hour took credit cards. Clubland reverted to a pre-Internet sensibility, with small spaces ruling and breakbeats all the rage again.

Alongside the breaks (a sound the Bay actually had a big hand in developing) the club music menu was still hogged by chunky techno, diva house, Burner trance, retro overload, and sing-along hip-hop. Post-punk, electro-funk, radical eclecticism, and global-eared sounds popped their heads up at times: Joy at Liquid, Milkshake at Sno-Drift, Club KY at Amnesia, Knees Up at Hush Hush, Popscene at 330 Ritch, Step at An Sibin, Fake at Cat Club, roving Bardot-a-Go-Go, and one-offs at 26Mix, Blind Tiger, Jezebel’s Joint, Pow!, Annie’s, Tongue and Groove, Storyville, and Justice League. Electroclash had its brief moment, too — anyone remember Electro Rodeo at Galaxy? — and reggaeton made a thrilling brief appearance. But in general the Bay was a little late in breaking free from the ’90s.

That sounds absolutely pukey, but it wasn’t. Some beautiful nights came out of this period — I’m half-remembering Said’s Afro-house Atmosfere, David Harness’s deep-souled Taboo, and anything at the Top, EndUp, or the Cellar. And living in the ’90s wasn’t so bad considering primo parties like Qoöl, Wicked, Stompy, Thump, Death Guild, and New Wave City maintained a presence. Also, if you were looking for "exotic" sounds, you could easily find them at some of the best ethno-audio spaces, like Bissap Baobab and Café Cocomo. But yes, those four-four beats got tiresome.

Then, around late-2004, came a return of the repressed, an explosion of Day-Glo styles that had been incubating in a clutch of neon-oriented, omnivorous-eared parties like Le Freak Plastique at Hush Hush and DJ Jefrodesiac’s Sex With Machines (later Frisco Disco) at Arrow. Soon San Francisco was in the midst of a small-venue, independent promoter golden age — and a rosy flush of youth. Finally, more than the same four people were throwing parties! And you were never sure of what you’d hear.

After a few debauched months of those rag-tag iPod-oriented shindigs, things sorted out into a handful of heady genres. Technology spookily inserted itself — almost every dance floor was bathed in the light of a little half-eaten apple. Serrato and Ableton software made live edits and mind-boggling mashups, like those heard at Bootie, possible, and timelines fell away to reveal gleaming ahistorical sonic landscapes. Beat-matching gradually came back into vogue, but wittily revealing the seams between tracks became the ne plus ultra of DJ craftsmanship.

The French invaded in the form of Daft Punk- and Justice-inspired electro bangers, spraying young clubbers with American Apparel and shutter shades. To my ears, Richie Panic and Vin Sol were our best balls-out interpreters of this fuck-all party sound and spirit, and Blow Up at Rickshaw Stop its finest venue. Minimal techno made sure hot nerds with little glasses were still in control — Kontrol at EndUp, in fact, was the club that did the most to nurture the Berlin-based sound here, with venue Anu and now the near-perfect 222 Hyde offering various party backup. Genius local minimal players like Nikola Baytala and Alland Byallo worked hard to stretch the boundaries, while Claude Von Stroke and the Dirty Bird Records crew added some much-needed humor.

There was a backlash to all the technology, which revolutionized gay clubs. DJ Bus Station John’s all-vinyl, unmixed bathhouse disco sets goosed the moribund queer scene into exploring its AIDS-shrouded past, and threw open the back door to the far-reaching sets of freestyle and rare ’80s fetishist Stanley Frank and the kiki-technotics of Honey Soundsystem.

London’s dubstep sound morphed into glitch-tipsy future bass — another genre the Bay can claim as its own — before it got a firm party foothold here. Which is more than all right, considering that mutation spawned beloved duo Lazer Sword and led Burner techno giant Bassnectar to change his sonic stripes. Most inspiring to me was the outpouring of global sounds in the Bay, from NonStop Bhangra’s whirling saris to Surya Dub’s growling dubstep-bhangra hybrid, from Tormenta Tropical’s bass-bomping nueva cumbia to Kafana Balkan’s breathless, Romani-delirious funk.

So where are we now? If any moment could be called "post-whatever," this is it. Anything goes, excellently, but it’s accompanied by a feeling that we’ve informed ourselves fully of the past, that we’ve mastered the technology of the present, and that, no matter how intelligent the music, we can still have a damn good time. My only gripe about the past decade in nightlife — other than I wished we’d had a more conscious reaction to war — is, alas, the same one as last decade. Where are all the women? Big ups to Ana Sia, Sarah Delush, Forest Green, J. Phlip, Felina, Dulcinea, Miz Margo, Nuxx, Black, and the Stay Gold, Redline, and B.A.S.S. sisterhoods. But seriously, I hope the teens see less testosterone-driven talent behind the decks. We’ve got the style down — now let’s change the look. OK?

Barney in Guantanamo? Torture playlist apallingly predictable


By Marke B.

A different kind of torture

Well, this fascinatingly sucks. Mother Jones has compiled a playlist

The Torture Playlist




Summer of Hate

(Fat Possum)

If it’s 1988 all over again, Crocodiles are our Spacemen 3, ready to deliver the perfect prescription: drum machines. vintage organs, drugs = god lyrics. They’ve got the best Jesus and Mary Chain death anthems too, and the occasional burst of energy, trading ‘ludes for upper-spiked punk on "Soft Skull (In My Room)." The poise and epic production here are surprising for a debut.


Grass Widow EP

(Make a Mess)

Bullseye. Times four.


Here is Barbara Lynn


A lost gem of Atlantic, saved by the boys of Water in Oakland. The clarity and purity of Lynn’s voice are rare — and don’t let those adjectives fool you into thinking she’s a frail flower. Here, the left-handed guitarist makes wise ballads she wrote as a teen burn as strong and steady as anything by Irma Thomas. It’s all in the voice.


The Emitt Rhodes Recordings [1969-1973]


Oh, Emitt. At your peak you were picture-perfect: thick brown hair parted down the middle, angelic face with a doll’s complexion. The music business’ merry-go-round was cruel to you, but what glorious pop songs you’ve given us: "Live Till You Die" has been holding me together the last week or two, and it’s just one of many beauties from your self-titled 1970 LP.


My Guilty Pleasure

(Paper Bag)

The mystery girl who goes by the name of Sally and her partner in song Johan Agebjörn trade the melancholic depths of their first synth pop collection for lighter, sunnier fare. But the Expose-like "Save Your Love" has its charms, as does the song that pits love versus people dying in Africa.


Neon Leon


On his second album, SF’s Daniel Judd veers away from the Hawaiian and beach themes and takes inspiration from novelist Elmore Leonard while adding some funk touches. But the tracks here still bloom and glisten like a tropical flower seen through time-lapse photography. "Dayglow" is gorgeous and many-faceted. "Raydio (Play It)" is the loveliest tribute to Ray Parker Jr. in the history of recorded sound.

We walk with a zombie


PHENOM In our heads, in our heads: zombies, zombies, zombies.

Don’t blame me for taking a bite out of your brain and inserting an annoying tune in its place — once again, not long after the last onslaught of undead trends, our culture is totally zombie mad.

The phrase "zombie bank" is multiplying at a disturbing rate within economic circles. In music, the group Zombi — hailing from the zombie capitol Pittsburgh — is reviving the analogue electronics of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead while the British act Zomby brings dubstep to postapocalyptic dance floors. A comedy of manners possessed by ultraviolent urges, Seth Grahame-Smith’s "unmentionable" Jane Austen update Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Books, 320 pages, $12.95) has set up camp on the trade paperback New York Times best sellers list, with S.G. Browne’s Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament — currently being movie-ized by Diablo Cody — on its trail. On a smaller scale, Yusaka Hanakuma’s manga Tokyo Zombie (Last Gasp, 164 pages, $9.95) has caught a zombie plane over to the United States.

Most of all, posthumous Michael Jackson mania is bringing the corpse choreography of the 1983 video for "Thriller" to life, as the media and masses fluctuate between the worst facets of grave-robbing and best facets of revival and death celebration. A Friday, July 3 party in Seattle that aimed to top the 3,370-participant world record for largest "zombie walk" included a mass dance performance to the song.

When journalist Lev Grossman first noted the shift in bloodlust from vampirism to zombiedom in a Time trend piece this April, he ticked off some of these activities but steered clear of visual art. Zombies are around in galleries and museums, too. In Los Angeles last month, Peres Projects presented Bruce LaBruce’s "Untitled Hardcore Zombie Project" in which stills from a forthcoming movie by the director of last year’s Otto; or, Up with Dead People were blown up, framed, and hung on the space’s blood-spattered white cube walls. Here in San Francisco, Michael Rosenthal Gallery is hosting a variety of zombified works by another Canadian artist, Jillian Mcdonald.

Active revisions of cinema are central to Mcdonald, whose past projects find her staring down, mimicking and making out with male screen icons such as Billy Bob Thornton. "Monstrosities" makes room for vampires, but hunger for flesh is dominant over thirst for blood. The five-minute video Zombie Apocalypse brings the zombie back to the beach, its eerily effective primary haunting ground in Jacques Tourneur’s classic 1943 Val Lewton production I Walked with a Zombie — which, incidentally, is being remade, with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre now explicitly cited as its source material. In 2006’s Horror Make-up, Mcdonald plays with the image of a woman putting on makeup in public by using her compact to turn herself into a zombie while raiding the New York subway. "Monstrosities" also includes zombie wall portraits that aren’t exactly static. Through lenticular photography, Mcdonald taps into the zombie within an acquaintance, a creature that often appears more animated than its "living" counterpart.

"Monstrosities" and much of Mcdonald’s current work mines horror as a source of catharsis. The tactic is most overt in 2007’s The Scream, where her screams scare off a variety of slasher killers and monstrous adversaries. Art world attempts at tapping into filmic horror can be dreadful in the sterile and blah sense (see Cindy Sherman’s 1997’s Office Killer — or better, don’t see it). But when Mcdonald bites zombies, she gives them love bites, borne out of and energized by genuine appreciation. (Johnny Ray Huston)


Through July 22

Michael Rosenthal Gallery

365 Valencia, SF

(415) 552-1010


Brain appetit: Fine reading and viewing for the discriminating zombie lover

Twilight (haven’t read it) and True Blood (haven’t seen it) are grabbing all the headlines, including a fawning New York Times story entitled "A Trend with Teeth." But fuck this newfangled passion for vampires. (Apologies to Let the Right One In: you are awesome, despite the massive English subtitle fail on your DVD.) Go back to the graveyard, sexy supernatural critters. There’s a far more terrifying and fiendishly disgusting army of coffin-rockers afoot these days. And though they’ll happily drink your blood, they’ll also help themselves to the rest of your delicious mortal flesh.

Granted, zombie movies are almost as old as cinema itself. Glenn Kay’s recent Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide (Chicago Review Press, 352 pages, $25.95), which features a forward by Stuart Gordon, director of 1985’s Re-Animator, is a pretty good jumping-off point for the uninitiated — and a steal for anyone who’s shy about paying $280 on eBay for Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (FAB Press). Generously illustrated chapters — with a full-color photo section in the book’s center — cover the genre’s history, starting with 1932’s White Zombie (fun fact: star Bela Lugosi earned $500-ish dollars for playing the sinister plantation owner improbably named "Murder.") There are spotlights on the turbulent 1960s (the era that spawned 1968’s immortal Night of the Living Dead), the insane 1970s (with an index of "the weirdest/funniest/most disturbing things" seen in zombie films, including my own personal fave: the underwater shark vs. zombie battle in 1979’s Zombie), Italy’s reign of terror in the 1980s (the decade that also brought us, lest we forget, "Thriller"), and the rise of video game zombies in the 1990s. Sprinkled throughout are interviews with horror luminaries like makeup master Tom Savini.

Zombie Movies‘ biggest chapter is devoted to the new millennium, with shout-outs to Asian entries like Versus (2000), cult hits like 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, and mainstream moneymakers — 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake brought in $59 million. Less successful (in my book, if not apparent George Romero fanatic Kay’s) was 2007’s Diary of the Dead, the least-enjoyable entry in Romero’s esteemed zombie series. Blame it on an annoying cast, and an even more annoying reliance on the hot-for-five-minutes "self-filming" technique. Aside from producing a Crazies remake (nooo!), Romero’s next project is titled simply … of the Dead, release date unknown, zombie subject matter an absolute certainty.

Still, ammo enough for walking-dead fans sick of all this fang-banging comes in two forms: the hilarious trailer for Zombieland (due in October), featuring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg as slayers of the undead, and the eagerly-anticipated arrival of Dead Snow. Currently available as an On-Demand selection for Comcast customers (in crappy dubbed form), this Norwegian import — a comedy with plenty of satisfying gore — opens July 17 at the Roxie (in presumably superior, subtitled form). Nazi zombies, y’all. Get some! (Cheryl Eddy)


Zombie playlist: Music to eat flesh by

For whatever reason, America is possessed by a another wave of fascination with the living dead. Is increased anxiety about a devastated economy manifesting as comic book fantasy? Or do we just think zombies are kinda neat? Either way, like so many (or few) survivors barricaded inside an abandoned country home, we’re captivated by the brainless hordes. In the mood for some mood music? Here’s a brief celebration of zombiedom in the world of rock. It ain’t authoritative — no self-respecting zombie respects authority.



(from Walk Among Us, Slash, 1982)

Yes, Walk Among Us also features "Night of the Living Dead" and "Astro Zombies," but neither of those tracks captures the profound ennui of existence as a walking corpse. Democratically sung from a zombie’s perspective, "Braineaters" laments a repetitive diet of brains. (Why can’t a zombie have some tasty guts instead?) The Misfits actually made a primitive music video for "Braineaters" that shows the band engaged in what has to be the most disgusting food fight ever filmed. If you’ve ever wanted to see a young Glenn Danzig covered in what appear to be cow brains, have I got a YouTube link for you!


"Fast Forward to the Gore"

(from II, Six Weeks, 2005)

One of the standout tracks from II, "Fast Forward to the Gore" makes excellent use of singer Jimmy Rose’s frantic vocal delivery. Rose’s raw lyrics, belted out over the hardcore guitar assault of Graham Clise and Jamie Sanitate, celebrate the subtle artistry at play when zombie meets chainsaw. In the event of an actual zombie apocalypse, this song should serve as nostalgic reminder of simpler times, when zombies were merely a source of entertainment that didn’t leave the TV screen.


Entire discography



"Zombie Ritual"

(from Scream Bloody Gore, Combat, 1987)

The second track on the seminal Scream Bloody Gore, "Zombie Ritual" helped establish the nascent death metal scene’s predictable love affair with the titular braindead hellspawn. Chuck Schuldiner’s lyrics — as awesomely repulsive as anything the genre has to offer — deal with some sort of zombie creation ceremony, though the only discernable part is the Dylanesque chorus ("Zombie ritual!" screamed four times in succession). While Death’s later albums saw Schuldiner grow by leaps and bounds as a songwriter, "Zombie Ritual" remained a live staple up until the band’s final days. (Tony Papanikolas)

Our guide to the Serge Gainsbourg resurgence


The true masters never go away, but there’s no denying that Serge Gainsbourg is experiencing a posthumous resurgence of late, one that rivals his Gitane-perfumed popularity in the mid-1990s. This go-round, the emphasis is on Out moments more than pop tracks. Here’s a Playlist guide to the latest touchstones.

Serge Gainsbourg, “Aux Armes … “



Aux armes et cætera

(Universal, 1979; 4 Men With Beards, 2009)

Gainsbourg went to Jamaica in the late 1970s and made a full-on reggae record. It’s not a novelty at all — in fact, it might be my favorite record of his. Its sizzling, simmering, summertime sound is about as sultry and seductive as any record could dream to be. The equivalent of sinking deep into warm sand and never wanting to wash it off. (Irwin Swirnoff)




(Philips, 1970; Philips vinyl, 2008)

Saint Etienne kicked off its peerless 2004 contribution to the mix series The Trip with the glam title number of this motion picture soundtrack. The overall album is a rangy delight, benefiting from the fact that it isn’t as strictly conceived as some of Gainsbourg’s other recordings. Highlights include punky blues struts, symphonic hints of his work with Jean-Claude Vannier, tablas-based rhythmic walkabouts, and the occasional soft-core duet between a humming femme and an organ — by which I mean a Hammond keyboard, silly. (Johnny Ray Huston)



Histoire de Melody Nelson

(Philips, 1971; Light in The Attic, 2009)

Why it’s taken Melody nearly 40 years to get a domestic release remains a mystery, since everyone from Massive Attack to Beck to Portishead has borrowed from it in some way. A perverse tale of forbidden love and tragic death, it is not only Gainsbourg’s finest studio concept, but an epic collaboration of rock band and orchestra. Its combination of doom-laden bass progressions, sinewy acid guitar, and soaring strings remains unparalleled in terms of exquisite execution. (Scott Hewicker)

Tears of a thug



The first time I interviewed Shaheed Akbar, a.k.a. the Jacka — in December of 2007, during a midnight session for Tear Gas (Artist Records/SMC), due June 16 — he was rolling purple and green weeds plus two types of hash into a Sharpie-sized blunt. I felt like Paul Bowles interviewing Bob Marley. Having known him three years, I can assure you that even in the Bay’s smoky atmosphere, Jacka blazes like a forest fire.

I dwell on this because it’s one facet of the Tear Gas concept, beyond the title’s literal meaning. The perpetual cloud enveloping Jacka is as much a part of his persona as his mobbed out tales of street life, based on experience. Like many artists, the MC enlists his favorite plant in the service of music.

"Weed helps you concentrate on certain things," Jacka observes, during a follow-up interview last month. "Nothing that contains too much multitasking. But if you don’t rap, try writing one; it’s hard as fuck. Weed gets you outside your normal realm so you coming up with crazy shit."


Yet, considering his consumption, Jacka barely raps about weed, or at least no more than most rappers; he has other things on his mind. When I e-mail Paul Wall, one of several big-name features on Tear Gas, to ask why he wanted to work with Jacka, he emphasizes the authenticity of his collaborator’s verses.

"He speaks from experience when he rhymes," Wall writes. "Like he’s rapping from a hustler’s perspective for other hustlers."

The experience Wall cites consists of details which, in the aggregate, might make for improbable fiction. Jacka’s rise to local notoriety at age 18 as a member of C-Bo’s Mob Figaz — whose eponymous debut (Git Paid, 1999) moved something like 140,000 units — is fairly well documented. But the story begins much earlier. Born of 14-year-old parents, young Jacka saw his mother get addicted to crack, and his father go to prison for a decade only to be murdered shortly after release. The result was an impoverished childhood in various hoods in Oakland, Richmond, and finally Pittsburg, where the Mob Figaz began.

"As a kid, everywhere I lived was in the projects," he says. "A nigga’s whole thing is to get out of there." Such ambition led Jacka to start dealing crack as early as age 11.

"Say you’re in school," Jacka continues. "Moms ain’t working. Pops ain’t around. The other kids at school have everything you don’t, as far as clothes and packing they own lunch. All that matters when you’re a kid. You go to junior high and you eating free lunch, people are like, ‘What kind of nigga is you?’ So when you’re from the hood and can hustle, that’s definitely helping your self-esteem. You pulling out wads of cash and motherfuckers who used to laugh at you ain’t got shit. That made me feel hella good."

"Things I had to do to survive is one thing," he says. "But how I feel about it now is another."


Jacka’s willingness to probe psychological wounds reveals another implication of Tear Gas. Paradoxically or not, in a genre where emotions are usually limited to elation and anger, a large part of Jacka’s appeal is his emphasis on the melancholy ambivalence of street life. It’s subtle, of course, sprinkled into stories of coke-dealing and cap-busting. But contrary to his assertion on the Traxamillion-produced "Girls," an infectious thug-pop remake of the 1986 Beastie Boys classic, Jacka doesn’t just "knock hoes and live it up."

"You can only shoot the breeze so much; you gotta drop a jewel on people," says Jacka, citing 2Pac, to whom he pays homage in "Hope Is for Real." "He had to be a sheep in wolf’s clothing because he had to reach me, the niggas in the hood, but look what you learn from him. So I have to study and get wiser to even make a song."

To be sure, Tear Gas isn’t a sociological treatise; like the blues, it voices the despair of a culture rather than proposing solutions. But such articulation is exactly what makes the music of both Pac and Jacka so powerful.

"Listen to Marvin Gaye," Jacka continues. "I guarantee he’s going to grab your soul. He knows something and could put it together with the music. And what he talked about was the struggle, the pain. I try to make shit that’ll stick to your soul. Like the music my parents used to listen to."

Besides his social consciousness, Jacka’s success rests squarely on quality. Last year, his single "All Over Me" — included on Tear Gas — hit No. 7 on KMEL’s playlist and No. 15 on Billboard’s "Bubbling Under" singles chart. Yet he refused to rush his album to capitalize on this exposure. Instead, he released 11 side projects. Two of them debuted on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart: Drought Season (Bern One), a collaboration with rapper Berner, at No. 55, and The Street Album (Artist Records), a "mixtape album" with KMEL DJ Big Von, at No. 91.

"Motherfuckers like shit that make them think," Jacka says, when asked about his appeal. They also like real albums and, taken as whole, Tear Gas is among the best rap discs in recent history, major or indie. Despite its array of producers and perhaps a few too many guests, Jacka has fashioned a tight, coherent album where every track is vital — an extreme rarity in contemporary hip hop. With its minor-key, exotic flute and harp textures, the new single "Glamorous Lifestyle," also produced by Traxamillion and featuring André Nickatina, epitomizes the overall feel.

"It’s not an easy process unless you really listen to music, and follow all kinds of genres," says Jacka. "Some people just listen to rap, but other music helps you grow as an artist."


Being a rapper, Jacka’s voice is ultimately his most important asset, an instantly recognizable, rounded, mellow drawl — even when he raps fast — that is never raspy, despite the steady diet of blunts. His melodic, half-sung delivery, moreover, perfectly fits his vocal texture and mournful themes.

"My style really comes from the struggle," he says. "I’m not trying to make you like what I’m saying — I’m trying to get into your soul." This spiritual goal reflects what he credits as his primary influence: chanting the Koran. Surprising or not, given his gangsta themes, smoking, and even drinking, Jacka is a devout Sunni Muslim. It’s the result of a spiritual quest he began at age 9, when he joined the Nation of Islam.

"They showed me how to be black, because I really didn’t know," he explains. "I just knew we were in America, we used to be slaves, but I didn’t know why it was so tough for us. They made me read books that taught me to be proud of who I am. They can be a little strict sometimes, but they have to be; there was so much taken away from us."

When Jacka began intensively reading the Koran, however, he began to question some of the Nation’s teachings. "I realized that what it said in the Koran is what I should do," he says. "Not that plus something else."

The development of Jacka’s faith toward more orthodox Islam accelerated circa 2000. The Mob Figaz’ momentum slowed when C-Bo went to prison and Jacka caught a robbery case that landed him in county jail for a year.

"In jail, I was reading the Koran and realized the Sunni Muslim way is for me," Jacka remembers. "It’s the way I can pray directly to God." Following his release, Jacka took his shahada, declaring his formal adherence to Islam. But as rap money dried up in the Bay during its leanest years (2000-04), he returned to crime at a whole new level, even while beginning his solo career with The Jacka (Akbr Records, 2001).

"When I started working on my album, things changed for me — I really got into the streets," Jacka says. Rap celebrity gave him connections he otherwise would have lacked. "Whatever rap niggas was talking about, we were living," he says with some pride, although he feels he’ll one day have to answer to Allah for his misdeeds. Details of his criminal past are necessarily vague, though if you consider that fellow Mob Figa Husalah was arrested for transporting "over five kilos" of cocaine, a case culminating in his 2006 sentence to 53 months in federal prison, you get the picture.

"The streets are dried up for me," says Jacka. "Once the feds knock your boy, you can’t fuck around for the rest of your life. I’m hot. So I stay with the music now."

"I didn’t take the business as seriously as I should have," he admits. "So I had to start from ground zero." Fortunately, by the time Jacka’s second "official" solo album The Jack Artist (Artist Records, 2005) was ready to drop, the Bay began to heat up again. Even in the heyday of hyphy, the conspicuously non-hyphy Jack Artist sold some 20,000 copies, or "more than all those niggas put together," in the words of the man behind it. Yet despite this success, Tear Gas sounds little like its predecessor. Instead, it reflects Jacka’s artistic growth now that he’s settled down to music full time.

"I wouldn’t trade this for those times again — never," Jacka says, when asked to weigh yesterday and today. "This is something legit we’re doing that’s real. My dream as a child was to do this."

Nite Trax: Pangaea


By Marke B.

Pangaea, younger than the Pleistocene

I’ve already freaked out to the atmospheric dubstep track “Maybes” by Mount Kimbie, and now comes along this just as lovely underground hit by London’s Pangaea, “Memories” — as remixed by Aaron Jerome, via Shook:

Sampling Gladys Knight, of course, is one of the easier ways for an earworm to burrow into my frozen heart.

Alas, though it’s on every respecting dubstep DJs playlist, “Memories” probably won’t be released singularly — groove to it, and his too brief mix for Mary Anne Hobbs’ Experimental Showcase at his MySpace.

I think that along with “Tea Leaf Dancers” by Flying Lotus — was anyone else at his amazing show at Mighty last weekend? I told you FlyLo was the smilingest DJ ever — well, we’ve got the beginnings of a lovely ambient dubstep mixtape on our hands ….

Deathly youth


A slow descent into a blasted-out void as intimate as it is alienated, the introductory track of the Antlers’ self-released Hospice drops the listener into a sonic space somewhere near This Mortal Coil’s 1984 It’ll End in Tears (4AD). The reference point is a rich one. Jeff Buckley was given to covering It’ll End in Tears‘ opening track, the Alex Chilton composition "Kangaroo," and when Antlers’ singer-songwriter Peter Silberman’s voice enters the scene on Hospice‘s next song, "Kettering," his fallen choir-boy high tenor is a polite echo of the drowned romantic Buckley, whose equally fatalistic father Tim wrote another one of It’ll End in Tears‘ signature tracks. More blatantly, Hospice is an album all about this mortal coil, a recording that — as the title makes clear — lives near or within a threshold into death, alternately charting out or clawing at broken bonds.

Not exactly a light listening experience, whicb might be why Hospice is being greeted as everything from a work of genius (an NPR critic not only deemed it the best album so far this year, but better than anything from 2008) to an overrated angst fest (in the ever-reactive blogosphere, crankier reviewers have envisioned it as backdrop music for Scrubs and deemed it the musical form of Cymbalta). Another aspect of Hospice that triggers strong reactions is its back story, a tale of the now 23-year-old Silberman’s extended creative isolation that’s an urban version of the rural tortured artistry yarn attached to Bon Iver’s acclaimed For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjauwar, 2008).

To escape the growing chatter, it helps to engage directly with the music, itself far from devoid of cultural signposts. In crafting a 10-song cycle about life and love and death, Silberman draws heavily from the real-life stories and legends of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes; one gets the impression that he uses them as a loose-fitting cover for the skeletal remains of his own recent brush with mortality. At this point, Plath is a clichéd symbol of suicidal poeticism and youthful valorizing of depression. (I have memories of a fellow Guardian editor singing "You don’t not do, you do not do" from "Lady Lazarus" in a mockery of her proper bell-like intonation during our Detroit days of being young.)

While Silberman’s invocation of Plath’s inconsolable rage and death-drive lacks humor, it isn’t stiff or overly worshipful. He makes her spirit breathe only to quarrel with it. On the anti-lullaby "Bear," animal imagery gets a bleakly comic twist missing from the heavy-handed Hughes’ favored bestial themes. The bottom line is that Silberman is a talented young singer-songwriter. Hospice is not only prodigious in its ambition, it is well-executed. The title of "Thirteen" reinvokes Chilton while the music’s glacial-yet-golden shimmer could be a missing early Slowdive track or an outtake from Gregg Araki’s 2004 film adaptation of Mysterious Skin. Like another "newgazer," Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, Silberman places the widescreen blurring soundscapes of late-1980s shoegaze bands in the service of American Gothic narrative impulses. In a perverse way, his odes to fatal anorexics and séances for long-dead writers offer the promise of great things to come.


Afrobutt, Wonderbutt (Electric Minds) Humor is at play in these neo-disco tracks and their titles, which include "Urgent Workout Required," "Torro de Butt," "Morning Bump," "Cracks All Gone," and "Wunderbutt."

Johan Agebjörn featuring Lisa Barra, Mossebo (Lotuspike) Paging Vangelis: the songwriter and studio whiz behind Sally Shapiro goes new age.

Blackbelt Andersen, Blackbelt Andersen (Full Pupp) Prins Thomas preps us for his vanilla-sented Lindstrøm reunion with this one-man act from his fledgling label.

Lô Borges, Lô Borges and Nuvem Cigana (EMI Brasil) It took me too long to realize all my favorite tracks on 1972’s classic Clube de Esquina are written by Lô. The cover of Lô’s debut album is perfection, and I am completely in love with Nuvem Cigana’s "A força do vento," "Uma canção," "Viver viver," and O vento não me levou."

Serge Gainsbourg, histoire de melody nelson (Light in the Attic) An appreciation of the recent reissue rainfall of Gainsbourg soundtracks and concept song cyles is overdue. For now, this is one of the best.

The New Dawn, There’s a New Dawn (Jackpot) Jackpot indeed — a lost ultra-collectible classic of ’60s Northwest garage rock is revived, much like Jesus.

Ofege, Try and Love (Academy) "It’s Not Easy" is kid soul at its finest, thanks especially to the singing of bandleader Melvin "Noks" Ukachi.

Arthur Russell, …The Sleeping Bag Sessions (Sleeping Bag/Traffic) Koala power! Russell used the narcoleptic furry clasper as the logo for his dance music label. This comp presents some rare treats. His collaborations with Nicky Siano as Felix are two of the best.

Stereo, Somewhere in the Night (Minimal Wave) This 1980s duo’s criss-cross sunglasses put Kanye’s venetian shades to shame. Minimal Wave delivers once again. (Huston)

Feel-good sounds


DENT MAY AND HIS MAGNIFICENT UKULELE What we have here, to get right down to it, is a perfect case of truth in advertising. The cover of The Good Feeling Music of Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele (Paw Tracks) — the just-released debut from the eponymous uke-strumming, street-corner-serenading smooth operator — spells out its primary objective in impish scrawl, rainbow-and-curlicue-festooned illustrations, and a photo of the showman getting swanky in tuxedo finery. It’s an eye-catching introduction, to be sure, but May is more than ready and willing to deliver on such promises. Having pinpointed the rarely-visited sonic intersection between Dean Martin and Jonathan Richman, the crooner extols the virtues of girls and parties with a fetching blend of exuberance and sincerity. Just in case the witty, bookish lyrics aren’t enough to crack a smile on listeners’ faces, the accompanying musical cocktail should do the trick: one part ’60s pop, one part breezy Tropicalia, two parts nightclub lounge act. Quite the recipe for feeling good. Some of the credit for May’s grinning inspiration must be given to the beloved instrument of the disc’s title. “I’d been stuck in a bit of a rut, songwriting-wise, before I bought the ukulele from a friend,” he explains over the phone from his Taylor, Miss., home. “I was actually working on a country and western rock opera beforehand — pretty downbeat stuff. It all changed once I picked up the ukulele.” Asked whether the title could be considered a mission statement for himself and the band, May says, laughing in agreement, “Sure, I wanted this to be a celebration of what music means to me.” The disc feels very much like a celebration: of crooning vocals — comparisons to Morrissey or Jens Lekman are not off base, though May cites Prince and Lee Hazlewood as his favorite singers — but also of the notion of music as communal experience. Much like Lekman or Richman, May specializes in clever, audience-engaging songs about life’s essentials: love, friends, having fun. “I’ll make you see/ it ain’t so bad in Mississippi,” he jokes on the buoyant “You Can’t Force a Dance Party,” and the song’s evolving chronicle of throwing a bash for a visiting sweetheart is all charm, swung along by giddy ukulele and hard-shaking tambourine. “At the Academic Conference” — “smart people everywhere … but do they know what love is?” — sways with argyle-sweater romanticism, pairing glee club vocals and sunny Parisian café pop in a snappy reminder to not lose sight of what’s truly important. The tune also offers one of the finest self-deprecating zingers I’ve seen in a while: “Joyce, Whitman, and Camus/ Well, no, I’ve never read them/ I’m here just for the booze.” (Todd Lavoie) A.C. NEWMAN Carl “A.C.” Newman’s 2004 solo debut, The Slow Wonder (Matador), sits atop many a pop enthusiast’s iTunes playlist, and not merely for alphabetical reasons. Alongside the considerable quality of Newman’s output as chief songwriter for the New Pornographers and Zumpano, Wonder was a delightful, scaled-down showcase of his talents, boasting such jubilant instant classics as “On the Table” and “The Town Halo.” Get Guilty (Matador), Newman’s recently released second solo disc, is nowhere near as immediate a thrill as his first, nor is it as cheery — a not-unexpected turn given the shades of melancholy that color the two New Pornographers albums that have come out since then, 2005’s Twin Cinema and 2007’s Challengers (both Matador). It takes several listens for Get Guilty’s songs to settle in, but when they do, they stick with industrial strength: for instance, “The Heartbreak Rides” has a sneaky chord-change hook that gradually swells to a grand, fife-inflected breakdown, and the chugging acoustic guitar propelling lead single “The Palace at 4 AM” lays a frantic bed for Newman’s bouncy, infectious narrative. In one line from “Submarines of Stockholm,” he refers to the submarine’s Swedish stop as “one in a series of highlights and holy lows” — a clever turn of phrase applicable to this record, a terrific new addition to Newman’s brilliant corner of the pop canon. We’ll see how his new numbers go down live when he performs at the Independent. (Michael Harkin) A.C. NEWMAN With Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele and Devon Williams Feb. 28, 8 p.m., $15 Independent 628 Divisadero, SF (415) 771-1421

Playlist — February


By Johnny Ray Huston


Coconot, Cosa Astral (Bcoredisc)

One of the things I like most about Pablo Díaz Reixa is his mode of singing. There’s something really endearing and adorable about it – some of his choruses sound like chants at an athletic event, but not all macho, just enthusiastic.

Coconot is the band he plays with when isn’t being El Guincho. To be honest, I kind of like Cosa Astral even more than El Guincho’s Alegranza, because Diaz-Reixa leaves more space in the overall sound, and things aren’t so exhaustively manic. (Though the manic tendencies can also be endearing.) Amongst the nine tracks, I’m already entranced by at least three: “Te tenía en cinta,” which is like a carnival winding down; the joyous and loose Afrobeat shimmer of “Tao”; and “Miles de ojos,” a Surrealist-influenced sonic vision with a chorus that is impossible to stop singing once you’ve heard it.



Nite Jewel, My CD (Human Ear) and Good Evening (Gloriette)

One shorthand interpretation of Ramona Gonzalez’s recording project Nite Jewel is that it’s a bit like Glass Candy or Chromatics on Quaaludes. I don’t know if I like Nite Jewel quite as much as Glass Candy’s underrated B/E/A/T/B/O/X (c’mon, they made “Computer Love” melancholic, what’s not to love?) – or if I like it more.

Gonzalez’s singing is both high-pitched and kinda dazed. On “Weak 4 Me,” she reminds me of Mr. Bill, which can never be a bad thing. “What Did He Say” might be the best Nite Jewel song so far – it sounds like a radio playing “I Can’t Wait” by Nu Shooz slowly sinking to the bottom of a pool. I’d like to see Nite Jewel live. SF isn’t that far from LA.

Daughters of the drone


Whether it was the Numero Group’s 2006 Ladies from the Canyon compilation, the Water reissues of Judee Sill and Anne Briggs, Vashti Bunyan’s return, Devendra Banhart’s heroine-worship of Karen Dalton, or Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon — and the Journey of a Generation (Atria) — the history of female singer-songwriters has received welcome revisions over the past few years. Lone wolves like Townes Van Zandt and domestic collaborations like John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s are the exception to the rule: hallowed solitude and spiritual doubt belong to the women at their pianos and guitars. The brilliant innuendos and cavalier remonstrations of the Leonard Cohens and Paul Simons of the world are too arch to nick the lonely edge of invisibility. It’s that old "show, don’t tell" lesson: the men fulminate despair, masquerading transparency, while the women blur the singer and the song.

From the outskirts of the musical map there are persistent rumblings of a new solo sound. Some of my favorite albums of the year are by women who fling their voices across miles of echo, and push chords into thick drifts of dub drones and nursery rhyme traces. I’m thinking of Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill (Type), Valet’s Naked Acid (Kranky), Avocet’s Morning Singing in Afternoon (self-released), Christina Carter’s Original Darkness (Kranky), Lau Nau’s Nukkuu (Locust), and Inca Ore’s Birthday of Bless You (Not Not Fun), though surely there are others. Add to this already-stellar group Pocahaunted, the Los Angeles duo whose full-length, Chains (Teenage Teardrops), is a mandala wheel of Stevie Nicks yowls and grungy repetition, and you’ve got a stacked playlist.

On the face of it, these women artists appear to contradict the basic tenet of singer-songwriterdom: make sure everyone can understand the words. But Sill, Dalton, and Mitchell all registered opacity. Their albums often seem as much about stealing away from the outside world as they are about letting the listener in. The records by Grouper, Valet, Avocet, Carter, and Inca Ore are too distended and punk-streaked to pass as folk, though they have that same sense of precarious balance as the earlier so-called ladies from the canyon. Diffuse in sound and space, their music is concentrated in effect. Grouper’s recording is my favorite of the bunch for the slippery melancholy of Liz Harris’ hunched acoustic strums. Her starry vocals conjure stillness and distance without sounding aloof. Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill ends with the stark, sad pop of an amplifier being unplugged, an apt reminder of the limits of intimacy. And yet, how else to describe the experience of these albums? Following their designs, we find ourselves in a mental state as free as it is familiar.


(in alphabetical order)

Michael Hurley, Little Wings, Avocet, Lucky Dragons, and a sunset for all time at Angel Island, July 12–13

Beach House, Devotion (Carpark)

Sam Cooke, "A Change Is Gonna Come" (RCA Victor, 1964)

Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 (Columbia)

Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)

Group Inerane, Guitars from Agadez (Sublime Frequencies)

Grouper, Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill (Type)

My Bloody Valentine at Concourse, Sept. 30

Rodriguez, Cold Fact (Light in the Attic)

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell (Matt Wolf, US)


Change rejection


AC/DC stormed onto the international stage with a song called "It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll). The song was an incendiary introduction to the Australian band’s brand of overdriven razor-boogie, and vocalist Bon Scott’s nasally shriek cataloged a life of hedonistic melancholy that ended with his death from alcohol poisoning in 1980.

It is rare for a group to write a song so prophetic of the challenges that lay ahead of them, even rarer for an outfit to suffer the loss of a charismatic frontperson and continue to exist. Less than six months after Scott’s tragic death, AC/DC got to the top. Recruiting singer Brian Johnson, the combo released Back in Black (Atlantic, 1980), a smash-hit record that went on to become the second-best-selling album of all time.

Towering pinnacles of success often have unintended consequences. Musicians accustomed to the travails of the industry suddenly find themselves with a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of fan support, and enjoy the unquestioning indulgence of every creative whim. The desire to reinvent — to cast off cloying expectations of past success and established image — can be irresistible. This tendency has given us Kiss’ disco era, a Chris Cornell R&B album, and more iterations of Madonna than anyone cares to remember. Garth Brooks became Chris Gaines. The best-selling album of all time, the only one to beat out Back in Black, is Michael Jackson’s Thriller (Epic, 1982). I think you can see where I’m going with that one.

AC/DC, by contrast, has stayed so doggedly true to its original concept that it’s hard to imagine the band members even entertaining the idea of change if only to reject it. Their new album, Black Ice (Columbia), is the first in eight years, packed chock-full with the Young brothers’ stuttering, bluesy guitar riffs and Phil Rudd’s studiously unadorned drumming. The big surprise this time around, if you can call it that, is the inclusion of slide guitar on the track "Stormy May Day." The band’s been around for more than three decades, and a largely technical change in instrumentation on a single song qualifies as news. That’s sticking to your guns.

They’re still writing tunes with "rock ‘n’ roll" in the title, and Black Ice clocks in with four — quite an accomplishment in the field of writing rock songs about rock, which AC/DC more or less perfected. The quality of the tracks is neither here nor there, and it was fun reading the world’s Important Rock Critics write circles around themselves trying to think of something clever to say about the latest disc. In fact, if AC/DC has a talent besides writing infectiously simple rock mega-hits, it is confounding music writers.

They may not conjure the same arena-shaking adrenaline of the glory years, but no one’s really expecting that. The songs all sound the same, but that’s always been true. Their craft is so finely honed that they avoid any blunders or clunkers, and their stubborn enmity toward innovation makes them immune to any ill-advised tinkering with songwriting or sound.

They won’t even sell their stuff on iTunes, an anomaly that makes them a veritable dinosaur in the age of experimental "pay what you want" download ploys, when even the Napster-suing nofunskis in Metallica have been brought into the electronic fold. A lot of noise is made about AC/DC being an "album band," a commendable if quixotic adherence — the mind reels at the amount of money they could make off frat boys looking to round out the keg party playlist with a little "You Shook Me All Night Long." Then again, when you’ve already sold 200 million-odd albums, what’s left to buy? A plane for your plane? Maybe AC/DC could bailout the Big Three.

It’s not every band that proclaims a long road to the top, and then proceeds to walk it. AD/DC lamented that it "Ain’t No Fun (Waiting Round to Be a Millionaire)," but they waited and ended up millionaires. They argued that "Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution," and 42 million in sales proved them right. They saluted those who were about to rock, and got saluted right back. Their new album went No. 1 in 17 countries. If there’s one last self-referential song left to sing, it’s a cover of the Beatles’ "Don’t Ever Change."

Real Deal



SONIC REDUCER Been down so long that the initial whooping, joy-drenched Obama-phoria of Nov. 4 felt — at least before learning of Proposition 8’s passing — like that moment during the flannel-flying whirl of the early ’90s, when the world finally seemed like Kim’s playground. When everywhere I looked, ultra-cool Kims like Kim Deal, Kim Gordon, and Kim Thayil seemed to signal the primacy of the K Word. Kim was the kid with perpetual Christmas morning going on. The universe seemed to smile down on us as we made art and did what we pleased, as if to say, "Whatever, dude, I mean, Kim. It’s your day."

But what did we do with our Kimdate apart from starting clothing lines, burning out like a black hole sun, and simply keeping on? The moment passed, though it was still thrilling to finally talk to one of those crucial Ks — namely Deal, on the occasion of her surprisingly revitalized, multi-hued new Breeders album, Mountain Battles (4AD) and her forthcoming two-fer at Slim’s — and to dig her breed of Midwestern rock ‘n’ roll realness. I mean, would anyone concerned with conjuring cool or projecting power really say she was bummed out and rocking the chub duds when asked about her typical day?

"I think I’m actually a little depressed," said the sometime Pixies bassist in deliberate, Kim-to-Kim tones from Dayton, Ohio. "I’ve been sleeping in really late and I don’t know why. I gained weight — maybe because I quit smoking a year ago. I’ve gained weight, and you know, I feel fat. So that’s an odd feeling for me. I’m not very confident, and I feel kinda stupid, so I dress really bad and I just wear sweats. You know, when you’re looking good and feel good, you have a spring in your step, and then when you’re heavy for some reason, you’re just like, ‘Ah, lemme just get these sweats on and do what I have to do today.’"

Chin up, Kim — at least you have the Steve Albini-recorded Mountain Battles with insinuating, melancholy songs like the doo-wop-inflected "We’re Going to Rise" and the dreamily minimalist "Night of Joy." "Can’t stop the wave of sorrow," Deal coos in the latter alongside Deal’s twin sister Kelley, Jose Medeles, and Mando Lopez. "This night of joy follows — oh, everywhere you go." That and at least Deal has vaulted past her smoker days of getting winded after running up stairs. With the help of a prescription medication that altered her brain chemistry, she managed to kick the nic fits. "I felt a bit like a sociopath taking it for three months last year," Deal said. "Now it’s worn off and I’m just fat." She chuckled. "It’s better than being a skinny sociopath! There’s far too many of those wandering the streets right now."

But back to the average Deal day. Long after all our Kim Kristmases, Deal told me that when she isn’t touring or planning, say, the Breeders-curated May 2009 All Tomorrow’s Parties in England, she continues to spend her spare hours helping her father care for her mother, who has Alzheimer’s: "She’s doing pretty good. She knows who I am and stuff, but she can get on a loop and repeat some crazy shit! But it’s like, ‘OK, mom, whatever.’" So there is a morning after — full of earthy laughter straight from Planet Deal. *


Fri/14–Sat/15, 9 p.m., $27
333 11th St., SF


"I feel like the leader of the band, but that’s taken 12 years to acknowledge out of false humility," confesses Daniel Smith, mastermind of that fluid project dubbed Danielson. "But in terms of song and the music and where it’s coming from, I’ve always emphatically said it comes from somewhere else." It’s easy to believe that the spirit provides, listening to Danielson’s wonderful new two-CD retrospective of rarities, remixed tunes, and live material: Trying Hartz (Secretly Canadian). Years before Polyphonic Spree fused gospel-y indie rock with performance art, Smith was finding true, genuinely genius inspiration among his "Famile" and in his Rutgers University vis-art studies. These days, the new father is "just trying to enjoy the process even if there are difficulties. I feel like you can’t separate the struggle with the making. Inspiration, the creative process, the questions, marching up the hill, sweating, and putting things on your credit card — it all relates."

With Cryptacize and Bart Davenport. Fri/14, 10 p.m., $10–$12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF.



The Brooklyn combo made Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Wed/12, 8 p.m., $15. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF.


The ex-Soft Boy tackles his brilliant I Often Dream of Trains (Midnight Music, 1984) live. Wed/12, 8 p.m., $30. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF.


The old school meets one of the Bay’s new school. Fri/14, 9 p.m., $25. Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck, Berk.


The Iranian fusion group parties up its Bagh e Vahsh e Jahani (Global Zoo). Fri/14, 8:30 p.m., $35–$55. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF.


Welcome to the truth-teller’s terrordome. Sat/15, 9 p.m., $15–$20. Uptown, 1928 Telegraph, Oakl.


The jazz giant is joined by Ceramic Dog’s Marc Ribot. Tues/18–Nov. 22, 8 and 10 p.m.; Nov. 23, 2 and 7 p.m.; $5–$35. Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero W., Oakl.

All American Rejects


In a world populated entirely by curfewless teenagers, where seemingly nobody is checking IDs at the door, the amount of high-pitched drama that can go down on a Friday night between dusk and dawn is virtually limitless. At least an entire teen-movie subgenre has been constructed upon this premise, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is the latest entry to put its sturdiness to the test.

Somewhat reprising his role in Juno (2007), Michael Cera plays Nick, a soft-hearted indie boy who’s the bassist in a queercore band with his two best friends (Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron). Nick (straight) is in mourning over his six-month relationship with a vapid über-bitch named Tris (Alexis Dziena), who happens to be school frenemies with Norah (Kat Dennings), who happens to have made a habit of rescuing Nick’s lovelorn mix CDs from the succession of trashcans into which Tris has callously tossed them.

We know that Tris is all wrong for this emo boy — her hair salon highlights alone scream, "I would never have gone out with this guy in the first place, so why did you cast me in this role?" Regardless, the film further underscores her unsuitability by painting her as an outsider to the world of true indie rock fandom, a poseur who doesn’t appreciate a good breakup mix and, worse, fumbles the name of the coolest underground band in town.

Said band, Where’s Fluffy, famed for its secret shows, is the engine that drives our awkward hero and heroine and their cohorts out into the night, and the film is basically a tour of young indie rock New York City, with pit stops all over lower Manhattan and Brooklyn and a cameo by freak folker Devendra Banhart. But all the madcap piling in and out of cars and motoring around in search of Fluffy begins to look like work, and so, at times, does Nick and Norah’s inch-by-inch romantic progression. A soundtrack packed with signifiers like Vampire Weekend and Band of Horses might not be enough to keep us in the mood, leaving us wishing they would find Fluffy already and let us go home. (Lynn Rapoport)


Opens Fri/3 in Bay Area theaters.

Lose yourself


Every big city hosts its fair share of great bands that attract crowds with centrifugal force. While other performers flyer mercilessly only to play to the opening act and bartenders, some draw a crowd only money can buy. But money seems to have little to do with it — some acts are just really fucking good.

I sat down with Ty Segall in the Lower Haight last month to find out what he was putting in the water. "If I put out a hundred records in my life, I’ll die happy," Segall said after a good, hearty spiel praising Billy Childish.

Segall sets the scene physically. Onstage, the 21-year-old can be sighted in tight jeans and a striped T-shirt, crouched over a guitar in front of a bass drum with a tambourine duct-taped haphazardly to the front. The reverb is turned up so high you can hardly tell where the lyrics end and guitar begins. Then imagine it sounding great — almost like you’re listening to an old record. Every pause between songs is heavy with echo and the hiss of amplifiers. Suddenly you realize that punk’s not dead — we just weren’t doing it right.

"It’s all about the sound … the old, live rock thing," he explained. "Childish is famous for saying you don’t need more than a day to record something. That’s how I feel recording should be done. Quick, on the fly, fast — real."

The new sound is the old sound. In a media-saturated culture where you can listen to anything from GG Allin to the Shangri-las without having to have a cool older brother, the only place to turn is your roots.

"For me, there’s nothing better than oldies stations," Segall said. "All the girl groups and Buddy Holly — it’s real rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not even the song. It’s how it sounds. It’s got soul. The style of recording, the real, live sound, and the real feeling it portrays. You can feel the live, on-the-fly mentality."

Ask Segall about his influences, however, and you’ll get a lot more than Childish. You’ll get an array of genres and styles: surf music, glam, the Stooges, and local bands. Segall has basically jumped into a dream.

"I’m the luckiest person in the world," he said, referring to his upcoming US tour with indie greats Thee Oh Sees and the Sic Alps. "I’m touring with two of my favorite bands in the city. This is as far as I ever wanted to take this project, and I’m already there." And the man has gone even further: Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer is releasing Segall’s new self-titled album on his Castle Face imprint, though at this point he has released only one other recording — by his own band — on the label.

But then everyone gets carried away and forgets him or herself when they see Segall live. In fact, you almost forget to dance. His songs are so spot-on and inspired that you lose your focus on the surroundings. Instead you glue your eyes to his performance the same way you fix on a TV set when you’re hungover. People already consider Segall’s SoCal-ish lo-fi ballad "The Drag" a classic, and I have the hypnotic, Syd Barrett–inspired "Who Are You?" on every playlist on my iPod.

I mean, I don’t want to get all afterschool-special about it, but if you want to see something new and don’t want to waste an entire night, catch Segall the next chance you get. And you know what? If Segall puts out a hundred records in his life, I’ll die happy too.


With Thee Oh Sees and Sic Alps

Thurs/11, call for time and price

Eagle Tavern

398 12th St., SF

(415) 626-0880

Also with Master/Slave and Girls

Fri/12, 9:30 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF