Daniel Bromfield

Good bad things



SEX Most of the college-aged gay guys I’ve met aren’t terribly into music, so I’m generally the one to pick the sexy-time jams. Toward the beginning of my sophomore year, I finally met a dude who was at least something of a music geek, at least in the sense that his music taste resembled that of a reasonably hip and musically open-minded straight guy. I was thrilled — until one night he had the bright idea to put his “chill mix” on shuffle while we were getting it on. The results were, to say the least, interesting. Here’s how it went, um, down.

Toro Y Moi – “Blessa.” Toro Y Moi’s Causers Of This is an album I generally associate with comfortable situations, such as walking through a park or sitting quietly on a couch in some comfy stoner den. It was the first song to appear on shuffle, and though it was awesome for when we were tearing each other’s clothes off, it honestly could have worked at any point throughout the night.

Flying Lotus – “Physics For Everyone!” I don’t know what this song was doing in a “chill mix,” but I’m (mostly) glad it was there. With its high-energy rhythm and weird, suction-y effects, it’s practically the sonic equivalent of a good blowjob, and as such, I gave the best head of my life as it was playing. I got the sense he was slightly turned off by the fact that I was doing it to the rhythm, but how could I not?

Madvillain – “Raid.” This is where things started to get really wacky. Madvillain’s MF Doom is one of those artists I generally associate with straight guys, and a very particular set of straight guys at that — the ones in my high school math class, almost all of whom I wanted to fuck and many of whom thought of me as the class “retard.” If only they could see me now, I thought as my partner went down on me and the rapper who once devoted an entire song to dissing gay superheroes spat fire from the dorm-room speakers.

Bon Iver – “Holocene.” For the duration of Bon Iver’s slowest, most starry-eyed ballad, we consciously trying to avoid one of those cheesy “moments” where we lock eyes and think about how much we like each other. Maybe if we were actually a couple I might have been OK with it, but we were strictly fuckbuddies and content to keep it that way. On the bright side, at least it wasn’t “Skinny Love.”

Wu-Tang Clan – “C.R.E.A.M.” I hear “C.R.E.A.M.” at parties so much I barely even noticed what was playing for about two minutes. When I finally processed what we were listening to, I found it hilarious — not only because it might be the all-time Straight College Boy Anthem (give or take “’93 ‘Til Infinity”), but because it was one of the best songs I’ve ever fucked to. Good sex music should be unobtrusive but still set the mood, and “C.R.E.A.M.” was the perfect accoutrement to my environment. I was on a college campus — why wouldn’t I be listening to “C.R.E.A.M.?”

Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Bad Bad Things.” If you haven’t heard “Bad Bad Things” (or are unfamiliar with Andrew Jackson Jihad and the band’s typical subject matter), it’s a song about a dude killing another dude’s family. I’ll never forget how awkwardly his boner flopped around as he ran across the room to change the song.


Catching up with The Presidents of the United States of America


Though they hit the peak of their fame in the mid-’90s post-grunge era with hits like “Peaches” and “Kitty,” the Presidents of the United States of America have enjoyed a more fruitful and fascinating career than many of their ilk.

From collaborating with Shonen Knife and Sir Mix-A-Lot to starting an indie label to performing a Pokemon tribute song at the Pokemon Black/White American launch party, their career is shaping up to be as long, delightful, and brilliant as their name.

This year saw the release of two POTUSA albums — Kudos to You, their sixth studio album, and Thanks For The Feedback, their first live album.

We had a chance to speak with drummer/singer Jason Finn before the band’s show on Wed/27 at Slim’s.

San Francisco Bay Guardian What are some of your favorite places to hang out in SF?

Jason Finn The traditional hotel for rock bands at least in our place has been the Phoenix in the Tenderloin, and there are three Vietnamese noodle houses within three blocks of there. I don’t know the names of any of them, but I’ve had many a bowl of pho there over the years. There’s a place on Potrero Hill called Chez Maman which I just love, I’ll go out of my way every visit to get there. And then of course you’ve got to have a burrito, and El Farolito is my jam — I’ve actually flown home with burritos from El Farolito for my friends.

SFBG Thanks for the Feedback is the first live album y’all have released. Why did you decide to finally release a live record 20 years into your career?

JF We had a hard drive with all the [recordings of] shows on it on the table while we were having a meeting about something else. We looked at the hard drive long enough and said, “let’s try to do something with this.” We were gonna go through the whole hard drive and pick songs from various shows, but we found this one show from 2011 that had so many songs we were going to pick anyway, and we decided “let’s release the whole show.”

SFBG At one point you were in a band called Subset, with Sir Mix-A-Lot. Do you still keep in touch?

JF [Subset] wasn’t really an official band, but we did eight or ten shows in the Seattle area that were a lot of fun. We did some recordings, but they didn’t really see the light of day because we never really finished them and we’d need someone to mix and release them. Mix-A-Lot is really easy to work with, he’s very talented and very fast. We got those songs together through just a few informal meetings. We played a show with him three or four weeks ago in Seattle. His voicemail box has been full since 2001 as far as we know, but it’s always fun to run into him.

SFBG You’ve played for Bill Clinton, an actual President of the United States of America, in the past. Did that lead to any bad jokes?

JF We actually played at a congressional rally that Clinton flew into, but he wasn’t there when he played. We did get to shake his hand, though. I don’t know if he knew that was our name — he was just in a room with 75 people, shaking everyone’s hand. You don’t get to be a politician of that standing unless you’re very good at shaking 75 people’s hands at once.

SFBG Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring singing drummers, like yourself?

JF Your hi-hat is always a little bit louder than you think it is. Whatever amount of open hi-hat you’re using on a song, maybe close it up just a little more than that. Your bandmates and your sound guy will appreciate that.

Presidents of the United States of America

With July Talk

Wed/27, 8pm, $26


333 11th St., SF


Boxing lessons



While still a child in early-’80s San Francisco, Boots Riley witnessed something he didn’t quite understand but that would stick with him for the rest of his life. Walking into a theater performance at the venerable Mission District art space Project Artaud, Riley saw actors in body paint writhing around him in apparent agony on all sides. It was meant as a simulation of the AIDS epidemic, with the actors portraying the afflicted. But it didn’t enlighten him much as a kid.

“It just scared the hell out of me,” Riley recalls. “You walk into this place, and it’s like a whole city, with people all around you.”

Given how Riley’s own work with long-running hip-hop group The Coup likewise mixes political activism with overwhelming performance energy, it’s fitting he would look back on this experience as the inspiration for The Coup’s new multimedia project, Shadowbox. Featuring the work of street artist Jon-Paul Bail, videographer David Szlasa, and a host of other bands and performers, Shadowbox casts the Coup’s music in the context of an all-encompassing artwork that attacks the audience from all sides. He’s debuting the project at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Aug. 16, but he hopes to eventually take it on the road to wherever an art establishment is willing to fund it.

Riley prefers to remain secretive about what the performance actually entails. He’s described it in the past as featuring puppets, drones and “Guantanamo Bay go-go dancers,” whatever those may be. To Riley, having the audience come in blind is key to maximizing the impact of the show.

“Some of the things that would make people probably want to come to the performance are things I don’t want to talk about before they happen,” Riley says.

What we do know is that it’ll feature multiple stages and a dizzying roster of collaborators, from socialist hip-hop militants Dead Prez to dream-pop duo Snow Angel, comedian W. Kamau Bell, chamber orchestra Classical Revolution, and the New Orleans-style second line unit Extra Action Marching Band. All of it will be encased by Bail’s black-and-white artwork, which will give the audience the impression of being in an actual “box of shadows.”

Bail, a Bay Area street artist perhaps best known as of late for his “Hella Occupy Oakland” poster, was one of Riley’s early heroes on the Bay Area art scene. The two met in the late ’80s amid a wave of neo-Nazi skinhead activity in the Bay Area, which the two of them helped fight to counter.

“When I was in high school I would hang out at Alameda Beach,” Riley recalls. “Back then Alameda was still a navy town and they didn’t like a lot of black folks coming around. Police rolled up to harass us, and the police insignia on the car was covered in a swastika. The first thing I thought was: ‘Who the fuck did that?'”

It turned out to be Bail, and the two artists quickly bonded, putting up anti-Nazi posters around the city. They’ve remained friends through the years, but they haven’t collaborated on a large-scale project until now.

“He was the first artist I ever met who was trying to do something more with art than just make art,” Riley says. “He had a collective at California College of the Arts at the time, which had the slogan — ‘no art for art’s sake.'”

The Yerba Buena Arts Center connected Riley and Bail with videographer (and Theater Artaud collaborator) David Szlasa, who helped design the video elements of the project. Together, they form Shadowbox’s core creative axis, responsible for the aesthetically overwhelming experience Riley hopes the project will be.

Though Shadowbox contains elements of both a gallery exhibition and a theatrical performance, Riley ultimately hopes that Shadowbox will feel more like a show than anything else, in line with the Coup’s high-octane concerts.

“A lot of the time when you’re doing something theatrical people just want to stand around,” Riley says. “But our shows have always been known to be a dance party, and we’re keeping the audience with us and not just watching us.”

The performers and artworks are intended to surround an audience, which will be able to move around and examine the exhibit at first. But as the room fills, Riley hopes the crowd will solidify and focus on the music. The musical element of Shadowbox will mostly consist of Coup songs, but each of the additional musical performers will play one of their own songs in addition to collaborating with the band.

The Coup didn’t write songs specifically for the performance, rather choosing to perform works culled from the band’s six-album, 20-plus-year catalog — including a few unreleased tracks and songs they don’t generally perform live. Though calling Shadowbox an augmented Coup concert would surely sell the event and its collaborators short, it seems as if all the key elements of a Coup show will be there: the songs, the audience-bludgeoning power, and especially the politics.

Though the title Shadowbox primarily refers to the effect Bail’s artwork creates on the performance space, Riley sees multiple meanings to the title. Shadowboxing is the practice in boxing of “fighting” an imaginary opponent to prepare for a match, and Riley sees parallels between this practice and the way in which the Coup “prepares” its listeners to fight real-life injustices. He’s aware political art can’t always change the world on its own, but it can inspire listeners to take action.

This gives rise to a third, even more poignant meaning to the title: that the social issues depicted in the work are only shadows of what’s really happening in the world, contained within the clearly defined “box” of the performance space.

“There are a lot of terrible things happening in the world that we’re talking about in the performance,” Riley said. “But the artwork is just a shadow of what’s really going on.”


Saturday, Aug. 16, 5 and 9pm, $25-$30

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF



Marc E. Bassy on breaking down musical boxes


As a member of 2AM Club and a songwriter for artists like Chris Brown and Sean Kingston, San Francisco-raised Marc Griffin is an experienced pop music craftsman. But as Marc E. Bassy, solo artist, he’s a forward-thinking R&B auteur with more of an ear towards the genre’s growing experimental fringe. Only The Poets, Vol. 1, his new solo debut mixtape-EP (out July 29), features psychedelic, distinctly modern-sounding productions alongside hooks that could have come from any period in contemporary R&B history. Atop it all is his voice, an affable croon that tiptoes the ever-blurring line between rapping and singing.

Griffin currently resides in L.A., whose omnipresent pop industry has influenced his craft and helped him sharpen it. But he’s a Bay Area boy to the bone, and most of his collaborators hail from his hometown — from producer and namesake Count Bassy to rising Richmond rapper Iamsu! We caught up with Griffin the week his album dropped.


San Francisco Bay Guardian You’ve said your manifesto is “there are no more boxes.” Could you elaborate on this?

 Marc E. Bassy My manifesto is that when it comes to being creative musically there are no more boxes as pertains to genre, sound, style. It’s like that classic question — “what style of music do you make?” I make every style of music. 

SFBG When do you think those boxes started falling apart?

MEB I’d say since the dawn of the Internet age. Kids listen to songs they relate to and pick up on the vibe rather than the style. When I was growing up as a kid in San Francisco it was very black and white. You either listened to Tupac and liked Michael Jordan or you listened to Green Day and liked skateboarding. It was divided like that, and nowadays rap culture, skateboarding culture, punk culture has kind of swirled into one thing. Unless you’re going for a particular radio format. I’m a songwriter [for other artists] so I’ve thought about different radio formats, but I’m not making songs for the radio right now.

SFBG When you write for other artists do you write from your own perspective or try to inhabit a persona?

MEB The best songs I’ve written for other people I initially wrote for myself. When I’m writing for someone else I try to tap into the most honest feeling I have — it’s usually gonna be about love, or sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, what every song is about. Once I catch the vibe of the song I can change the lyrics.

SFBG Why did you decide to use a stage name for your solo work?

MEB I’ve kind of stepped away from my band. While my band was on hiatus I was writing songs for other people, and the response I kept getting was “we love this song, but we don’t know who would do it.” So that turned into me deciding to make my own project. I got the name because my biggest collaborator on Only The Poets, Vol. 1 is a producer out of San Francisco named Count Bassy, and every since I was a little baby my family called me Marc E. So I just went by Marc E. Bassy. It’s not a persona — it’s just me, everything I write has some personal resonance.

DB Are there other Bassys?

MEB Nah, it’s just the two of us. But the movement’s growing — I’m sure we’ll have some more. 

Tears, beers, and bruises at Slim’s with Andrew Jackson Jihad


Andrew Jackson Jihad may be the most important punk band in America, but they sure don’t look like it. They’re cheerful and (relatively) clean-cut. They don’t want you to crowd-surf. They don’t move around a lot, and when they do they’re self-conscious about it. They don’t use any distortion beyond a pretty, almost psychedelic phaser. They’re technically proficient enough that they could probably back up Dolly Parton if they wanted to. Most importantly, they have to be mixed well, as anything that might distract from Sean Bonnette’s lyrics must be turned waaaay down.

Though their arrangements have become increasingly ornate over time, Andrew Jackson Jihad has always been an intensely lyrical band. A huge part of their appeal comes from the fact that just about any shitty situation anyone’s ever experienced, from stubbing your toe to watching your loved ones die all around you, can be soundtracked by one of their songs. This has allowed them to effortlessly transcend subcultures; not all might vibe with their aesthetic, but just about anyone can find something to appreciate in their lyrics.

At their show at Slim’s on Monday, July 28, I found myself next to two Death Grips-obsessed hipsters and then next to a gaggle of patch-adorned punks after the mosh had settled. After leaving the mosh, I spent some time next to a dude in a Streetlight Manifesto shirt. I ran into two friends there, one a punk and the other a staunch classic-rock fan who had no idea who he was seeing; the latter came out a convert. 

I noticed the crowd seemed to react more strongly to lyrical than musical signifiers. I’ve never seen more people cry at a show, nor sing along of their own volition.  Furthermore, the unusually claustrophobic mosh seemed to tighten whenever Bonnette dropped a choice line, indicating that the audience’s fervor owed more to the lyrics than the music. AJJ’s music isn’t exactly custom-built for moshing, and I’ve seen far more energetic bluegrass bands that haven’t triggered anywhere near that reaction.

The amount of energy the crowd had accumulated by that point may also have had something to do with the opening bands. Hard Girls, the San Jose outfit that came on immediately before Andrew Jackson Jihad, were relentlessly and militaristically energetic; for much of the crowd, not moshing wasn’t an option. By that point, the moshers had tested the waters and were ready for the whole-room clusterfuck that occurred during AJJ’s set.

The first band on, the unfortunately named but phenomenally good twin-guitar ensemble Dogbreth, was the least intense band there. Yet their tamest songs were still wilder than a lot of the AJJ songs people moshed to. The crowd was relatively still during their set, leading me to believe Hard Girls’ main duty on the bill was to ramp up the crowd to breaking point.

Would the crowd have reacted as strongly to Andrew Jackson Jihad had Hard Girls not delivered such a hearty adrenaline shock to the crowd? Maybe the pit wouldn’t have been quite as oceanic as it was, but I’m sure there would still be plenty of shoving. Andrew Jackson Jihad’s music is about emotional release — both for the band and anyone who can associate with Bonnette’s almost uplifting pessimism. And as nobody goes to shows to have drunk life-talks with strangers, the next best thing one can do is just slam into them instead.

Snap sounds



I Never Learn (LL/Atlantic)

Lykke Li is a pop star who surrounds herself in clouds of reverb, so the obvious reference point for her music is Phil Spector’s ’60s girl-group productions. But strip away the layers of sound and her third album I Never Learn is essentially a set of adult-contemporary ballads that would slot nicely into any KOIT lineup. These songs are personal rather than universal, introverted rather than extroverted, subtle and slight rather than big and dumb — though there are some pretty shameless hooks on this album, readymade for festival sing-a-longs.

Li and her production team took a gamble on taking the brutally-short approach to this album; it’s only nine songs over 33 minutes, and music this fluid usually needs more room to splash around. But these songs are rich enough in content that each one feels like an event. “Just Like A Dream” and “Silver Line” have great choruses, while “Gunshot” and “Heart of Steel” feature neat production touches (slinky organ and twangy Morricone guitar, respectively). The album’s highlight is undoubtedly “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone,” a great acoustic ballad that could make it onto the charts with a bit more exposure.


Angel Guts: Red Classroom (Polyvinyl)

Xiu Xiu has always been a bit silly. Though Jamie Stewart’s long-running project is often brutal in its emotional honesty, there’s no denying how over-the-top Stewart’s gasping vocals are, how absurd their lyrics can be are. Angel Guts: Red Classroom continues this trend, and it’s more theatrical than ever. And while this is the first Xiu Xiu album in about ten years that still might have the power to shock people, it also has more ill-advised moments than usual.

The main edge Angel Guts has musically over past Xiu Xiu albums is the change in Stewart’s voice. The vulnerability and hurt remains, but it’s overshadowed by a commanding deepness. The porn ode “Black Dick” wouldn’t be effective if he didn’t sing it with such power. But then we have him screeching “IT TASTES LIKE A COOKIE” for no reason, opening and closing the album with shameless noise, delivering monologues that scan as melodramatic even by Xiu Xiu standards. Though Angel Guts is flawed, it’s their most engaging listen in a decade, and it also features two of their best songs to date: the Michael Jackson-like “Stupid In The Dark” and “Adult Friends,” the most terrifying aging ballad I’ve ever heard.



Three Love Songs (Orchid Tapes)

There are 12 songs on this album, none of them are really about love, and if you put this on during an acid trip you’d probably be in ultimate entrapment by track four. Sam Ray’s ironic streak has always been pretty obvious — he’s got a folk project called Julia Brown (he’s not really a girl, haha) and previously performed under the name Teen Suicide. But as annoying as indie-rock irony can be, Ray can get away with it simply on the virtue of how sincere his music is. As on his wonderful Julia Brown debut To Be Close To You, Three Love Songs evokes the mundane but beautiful — empty rooms, road crews working late at night, light filtering through curtains.

As such, it’s a great all-purpose ambient album. Just about any situation could easily be soundtracked by a track on this album; while the first half of the record is a bit melancholy and might ruin your day in the wrong context, the second half is playful and almost goofy. There are better ambient albums for specific situations, but if I can’t think of the proper music pairing for a certain environment, I’d feel safe turning to Three Love Songs.

Why Brian Wilson’s next album will probably be a masterpiece


The name “Beach Boys” can refer to either of two bands.  The first is the happy-go-lucky surf rock band that does songs about cars and California, led by the conservative Mike Love; the second is one of the most audacious and avant-garde bands of the psychedelic era, led by the mad Zen master Brian Wilson. Though most of the music-listening world knows them primarily as the former, the latter has proven far more influential, pushing the Beatles’ creativity to breaking point out of rivalry as well as serving as a major touchstone for the last decade or so of indie rock.

This latter influence, coinciding with Wilson’s 2004 solo revival of his aborted 1967 album Smile, has allowed the psychedelic Beach Boys to enjoy a greater cultural standing among a younger, hipper generation. Wilson’s reunion with Smile lyricist Van Dyke Parks on 2008’s That Lucky Old Sun was much-hyped by the music press; their previous collaboration, 1995’s Orange Crate Art, was barely even noticed by critics or audiences. Audiences want another psychedelic masterwork from Brian Wilson. And I would be unsurprised if he made one — in fact, I would be surprised if he didn’t.

There’s no doubt he still has the capacity to make music every bit as beautiful and daring as the pocket symphonies that graced Pet Sounds and Smile. The Wilson-written suite that ends the 2012 Beach Boys album That’s Why God Made The Radio is nearly as good as the one that ended Surf’s Up more than 40 years prior. And the version of “Live Let Live” Wilson recorded for the post-March Of The Penguins cash-in An Arctic Tale contains some of the most gorgeous backing vocals I’ve heard on any song, Wilson-penned or otherwise.

Since the 2004 solo Smile, Brian’s released a Christmas album, two covers albums, and That Lucky Old Sun. The latter is the only true Wilson album among these, and its song-cycle structure and bursts of experimental caprice make it undoubtedly the progeny of Smile. But its flaws are common to many, if not most, latter-day albums by aging rock stars. His vocals haven’t aged well; the production is sterile; he makes a lot of ill-advised tributes to the music and culture of his childhood (sample line: “Every girl’s the next Marilyn/every guy Errol Flynn”). There’s a strong sense he’s pandering to the crowd who grew up on “Surfin’ U.S.A.” (or God help us, “Kokomo”), and he tempers his far-out tendencies accordingly. 

But two events have happened since the release that should encourage Wilson to let his creative energy loose.  The first is the 2011 release of The Smile Sessions, a collection of incomplete Smile takes that’s the closest we’ll likely ever get to hearing the finished album. The second is the release of That’s Why God Made The Radio, purportedly the final Beach Boys album and universally acclaimed for the Wilson songs but nothing else. Without the commitment of The Beach Boys, Wilson never needs to write another song about cars and girls again; if he does, it’s up to choice. His fanbase is shifting from older nostalgics to younger music nerds, and it would be advisable for him to target that audience. 

Wilson’s currently working on his first new album since the release of The Smile Sessions. It appears to be a collaborative effort; Lana Del Rey, Kacey Musgraves, Zooey Deschanel, and Frank Ocean are all slated to appear on it. All of these artists but Musgraves are Los Angelenos, and Del Rey and Ocean explicitly tap into L.A. mythology in their music. The melancholy those latter two artists bring to their portrayal of the City of Angels is very much in line with the wistful nostalgia of Wilson’s best recent work. 

They’re also artists more in line with the indie world — the world that eats up Wilson’s poignant Pet Sounds-era work and disavows anything with even the most casual reference to surfing. They’ve more likely signed on to work with the man who made those great Sixties albums. And if they end up having any influence beyond merely contributing vocals, they’ll likely skew the album in that direction. If not, it’s still promising that Wilson would choose to work with these artists in the first place. It would be his first attempt to market himself to a younger audience since he loaded up Love You with synths back in 1977. And so far, he’s looking in the right place.

The current incarnation of the Beach Boys (sans Wilson, Al Jardine, and David Marks) play the Mountain Winery on August 1. Wilson’s new album does not yet have a release date, but much of it is complete according to Rolling Stone.

Snap sounds



Why Do The Heathen Rage? (Thrill Jockey)

How can you love music that hates you? Drew Daniel grapples with this question throughout his third album as The Soft Pink Truth, which seeks to reconcile his homosexuality with his love of black metal — a genre with a history of hatred and violence. His thesis: Black metal is already pretty gay. Why Do The Heathen Rage? consists of 10 disco covers of black metal songs, and in this context, the “blasphemers” and “fornicators” who inhabit these songs could easily be gay men as seen through a prejudiced lens. It’s a powerful thought, but it’s also kind of funny.

Why Do The Heathen Rage? is an admirable project, not least because Daniel is making himself a walking target for those who add to black metal’s hateful reputation. But it’s also a great listen. Humor is key to the album’s appeal, especially when Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner puts on her best diva voice to sing about penetration and desecration. But there are also some gorgeous moments — the slow house chord that surfaces at the end of “Sadomatic Rites” is nothing short of breathtaking. This is one of the most audacious experimental albums I’ve ever heard, and easily one of the year’s best albums.


It’s Kiwi Time EP (Granted Access)

There are a million indie pop bands in the world, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that most of them are just in it for the money. It’s increasingly rare to hear an indie pop band that sounds like it actually wants to play indie pop, and Kiwi Time is one of these. The San Francisco-via-Belarus quartet’s debut EP, It’s Kiwi Time, showcases a style that’s anything but original but nonetheless possesses a certain passion and respect for pop music history that’s all too rare in this field.

Opener “Butterfly” starts out sounding like a Spotify commercial, but the disco-esque vocals quickly lift the song to another plane. “Be My Love” uses the Beatles-pioneered trick of ending much faster than it should, and it’s a relief to hear a band use this tactic in a post-club era where songs often stretch far too long for anywhere but the dancefloor. Both of the album’s guitar solos are seamlessly integrated and lack any irony or tastelessness. Though It’s Kiwi Time is unlikely to elevate its creators above their countless ilk, it’s refreshing in that it fits as comfortably into the universal pop tradition as the indie-pop trend.


Sea When Absent (Lefse)

Shoegaze is one of those genres that seems spent if only because it’s easy to just slap the term on anything. Just as any garage band without a singer can be “post-rock,” any band with a shy vocalist and a lot of pedals can be “shoegaze.” Now more than a quarter of a decade after My Bloody Valentine dropped its debut, A Sunny Day In Glasgow is still pushing the style’s boundaries on their new Sea When Absent. The secret to the band’s success is viewing shoegaze as an approach rather than a genre, and as such, members are not picky about what they slather in reverb.

Rock, dance, hip-hop, and metal sounds swirl around in the maelstrom of this album, never settling but tearing by at thrilling speeds. Sea When Absent‘s kitchen-sink approach most likely owes to the fact that the band members mostly assembled this album via e-mail chain. (The slowed-down coughing at the end of “Double Dutch” suggests kind green buds may also have been involved, especially in tandem with the track’s name.) Though Sea When Absent is uneven and messy, it’s never dull — a rare quality in a genre that anyone with enough cash to blow on pedals can play.

A hard look at ‘A Hard Day’s Night’



More than any other Beatles album, A Hard Day’s Night — which turned 50 last week — embodies the clichés surrounding the band’s early period. The cheesy harmonies, the “whoa”s and “yeah”s, the sappy love songs: All are there in abundance. It’s also the most obvious manifestation of the John/Paul dichotomy. Though the idea of John as the bad boy and Paul as the balladeer is largely accepted as a myth by Beatles fans, that dynamic is a lot closer to the truth than folks give it credit for, and on no album is it clearer than A Hard Day’s Night.

Paul’s songs are a bit silly, but spectacularly well-crafted. “And I Love Her” repeats the word “love” incessantly, but the twinkling background makes it seem transcendent. You’re more likely to come out of it remembering the four-note guitar riff that frames the song anyway. Better yet is “Can’t Buy Me Love.” The song’s chorus looks absurd on paper (“can’t buy me love/everybody tells me so/can’t buy me love/no no no no”), but it’s so catchy it’s hard not to ignore the lyrics.

John’s love songs are far more bitter and sarcastic. But it’s important to remember that John Lennon was more than just a media-ready “bad boy.” His reputation as a peacenik and a member of the most (supposedly) infallible paragon of pop music in history has sadly clouded his history of alleged neglect and abuse toward his children and various lovers. Knowing the latter gives an unpleasant context to the Lennon songs on this album.

I find “You Can’t Do That” unlistenable for this reason. The song is told from the perspective of a man whose girlfriend has been talking to another boy. He warns her that if he catches her doing it again, he’ll “let her down” and “leave her flat.” It’s hard not to interpret those as a reference to domestic violence, given that Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia, was a victim of such abuse. And the theme of the song evokes Lennon’s own worries concerning his second wife, Yoko Ono, whom he often dragged into the studio out of fears she would abscond with another man if left alone.

Another prominent theme is Lennon’s pride and his fixation on the shame of having had his girl cheat on him. This theme surfaces on “You Can’t Do That” (“if they’d seen you talking that way they’d laugh in my face”). It’s as bad on “If I Fell.” John asks his potential girlfriend if she’d “hurt my pride like her” then bluntly tells her how much he’d enjoy his ex’s misery at seeing the two of them together.

It’s less rational to believe that these songs are told from the perspective of an abuser so much as they illustrate Lennon’s own viewpoint as a real-life abuser. There’s nothing in these songs to suggest he’s playing a role of any sort. On one song, he does. “I’ll Cry Instead” finds Lennon simulating the illogical thoughts that come in the wake of anger and sadness. His girl left him, and he’d like to go out and “break hearts all ’round the world” as revenge, but he can’t, so he’ll cry instead.

The point of this song isn’t that he’d like to hurt her, but that he’s thinking irrationally — he’ll feel better once he’s had a good cry. Thus, I find it easier to separate this song from its creator. Nonetheless, A Hard Day’s Night is one of those albums — at least for me — where art and artist are too firmly entwined for the album not to suffer.

It would be ridiculous to accuse anyone who enjoys this album of being a misogynist. But I would object to anyone denying these issues are present. If these moral questions inhibit you from enjoying the art, so be it. But to dismiss these issues in order to preserve your prior appreciation of the music would be tantamount to ignoring those issues in the first place.

There are two Lennon songs that truly warm my heart on this album. The first, “When I Get Home,” is an ecstatic love song that finds its protagonist rushing home to be with his girl. That he has “a whole lot of things to tell her” suggests he’s actually interested in conversing with the girl, not just having sex. And he’ll love her the next day too, and accordingly make the same voyage. Now that’s love.

Second is the title track. On no other Beatles song is the interplay between John’s voice and Paul’s more effective. It’s difficult to even notice that the vocalist has shifted until the end of the first chorus. But it’s the gradual build in emotion that makes this song so brilliant. By the time the chorus is about to transition back into the verse, Paul is emoting relentlessly — and then in comes the verse again, with John’s dry voice snapping satisfyingly into place and contrasting icily with Paul’s catharsis. This song elevates the album substantially by itself, though A Hard Day’s Night remains my least favorite of the Beatles’ “great albums” (i.e. the ones with only original songs).

Though I generally avoid discussing my own sentimental attachment to albums in reviewing them, I’ll close this review by saying A Hard Day’s Night is by far the most important album in my life. As the first rock album I ever listened to, it ended my 12-year streak of aversion to music due to my sensory processing disorder. But I haven’t gone back to it much — simply because I listened to eight other Beatles albums immediately afterward, and every single one of them puts A Hard Day’s Night to shame.


At 50, turning a critical eye on ‘A Hard Day’s Night’


More than any other Beatles album, A Hard Day’s Night — which turns 50 this week — embodies the cliches surrounding the band. The cheesy harmonies, the “whoa”s and “yeah”s, the sappy love songs, the teen-idol cuteness: All are there in abundance. It’s also the most obvious manifestation of the John/Paul dichotomy. Though the idea of John as the bad boy and Paul as the author of silly love songs is largely accepted as a myth by Beatles fans, it’s a lot closer to the truth than folks give it credit for, and on no album is it more clear than A Hard Day’s Night.

Every song on this album is a love song, befitting the Beatles’ stature at the time as teen idols and encouraging the tide of Beatlemania — at that time at its peak. Paul’s are quite silly, but the music is so effective it’s easy to forget the lyrics are a bit ridiculous. “And I Love Her” repeats the word “love” incessantly, but the twinkling background makes it seem transcendent. You’re more likely to come out of it remembering the four-note guitar riff that frames the song anyway.

Better yet is “Can’t Buy Me Love.” The song’s chorus looks absurd on paper (“can’t buy me love/everybody tells me so/can’t buy me love/no no no no”) but is so catchy it’s hard not to ignore the lyrics.  It’s also one of the most brutally short Beatles hits. Befitting a song rejecting materialism, there’s no excess or indulgence — just hooks. It goes by before you know what hit you, but it takes on a new life once it’s stuck in your head.

John’s love songs are far more bitter and sarcastic. But it’s important to remember that John Lennon was more than just a media-ready “bad boy.” His reputation as a peacenik and a member of the most (supposedly) infallible paragon of pop music in history has sadly clouded his history of neglect and abuse toward his children and various lovers. Knowing the latter gives an unpleasant context to the Lennon songs on this album.

I find “You Can’t Do That” unlistenable for this reason. The song is told from the perspective of a man whose girlfriend has been talking to another boy and who warns her that if he catches her doing it again, he’ll “let her down” and “leave her flat.” It’s hard not to interpret those as a reference to domestic violence given that Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia, was a victim of such abuse. And the theme of the song evokes Lennon’s own worries concerning his second wife, Yoko Ono, whom he often dragged into the studio out of fears she would abscond with another man if left alone.

As grievous is Lennon’s focus on his own pride and the shame of having had his girl cheat on him. This theme surfaces on “You Can’t Do That” (“Everybody’s green cuz I’m the one who won your love/But if they’d seen you talking that way they’d laugh in my face”). It’s as bad on “If I Fell.”  John asks his potential girlfriend if she’d “hurt my pride like her,” then bluntly tells her how much he’d enjoy his old girlfriend’s misery at seeing the two of them together.

It’s less rational to believe that these songs are told from the perspective of an abuser so much as illustrating Lennon’s own viewpoint as a real-life abuser. There’s nothing in these songs to suggest he’s playing a role of any sort. On one song, he does. “I’ll Cry Instead” is one of my favorite songs on the album. No song I’ve heard better captures the irrational thoughts that come with anger and sadness. His girl left him, and he’d like to go out and “break hearts all ’round the world” as revenge, but he can’t, so he’ll cry instead.

The point of “I’ll Cry Instead” isn’t that he’d like to hurt her, but that he’s angry and is thinking illogically as such. The sense is he’ll feel better once he’s had a good cry. Thus, it’s a bit easier to separate this song from its creator. Nonetheless, A Hard Day’s Night is one of those albums — at least for me — where art and artist are too firmly entwined for the album not to suffer.

It would be ridiculous to accuse anyone who enjoys this album of being a misogynist. But I would take issue with anyone who approaches this album with a mindset of denial. If these moral questions inhibit you from enjoying the art, so be it. But to dismiss these issues in order to preserve your prior appreciation of the music would be tantamount to ignoring those issues in the first place, and that would be an injustice.

There are, however, two Lennon songs that truly warm my heart on this album. “When I Get Home” is an ecstatic love song that finds its protagonist rushing home to be with his girl. The voyage home becomes an obstacle course — he’s telling people to “get out of my way” as he dreams of the night they’ll spend together. That he has “a whole lot of things to tell her” suggests he’s actually interested in conversing with the girl, not just having sex (though sex is certainly a part of it). And he’ll love her the next day too, and accordingly make the same voyage. Now that’s love.

Second is the title track — and that unplayable opening chord isn’t even half of it. On no other Beatles song is the interplay between John’s voice and Paul’s more effective. It’s difficult to even notice that the vocalist has shifted until the end of the first chorus. But it’s the gradual build in emotion that makes this song so brilliant. By the time the chorus is about to transition back into the verse, Paul is emoting relentlessly — “feeling you holding me TIIIGHT, TIIIIIGHT YEAH” — and then in comes the verse again, with John’s dry voice snapping satisfyingly into place and contrasting icily with Paul’s catharsis.
“A Hard Day’s Night” is by far the best song on the album, which would suffer without it. The only Beatles albums that have aged worse than A Hard Day’s Night are the psychedelic albums, and even those contain more moments that still confound than this album. Though it contains some truly transcendent songs and remains a milestone in the Beatles’ musical songwriting, A Hard Day’s Night remains the worst of the Beatles’ “great” albums.

Though I generally avoid discussing my own sentimental attachment to albums in reviewing them, I will close this review by saying A Hard Day’s Night is by far the most important album in my life. As the first rock album I ever listened to, it ended my 12-year streak of aversion to rock due to my sensory processing disorder, which made it nearly impossible for me to listen to music until then. But I haven’t gone back to it much — simply because I listened to eight other Beatles albums immediately afterward, and every single one of them puts A Hard Day’s Night to shame.

Mac DeMarco underwhelms at Amoeba — until he busts out the covers


Mac DeMarco has one of the most charismatic, clearly defined personas of anyone in indie rock. He chain-smokes, cross-dresses, makes out with interviewers, and — in what might be the key piece of apocryphal Mac mythology — once stuck his thumb up his ass at a gig. But none of the puzzle pieces forming the whole of Mac’s persona really deal with his musicianship. Though the back cover of his recent album Salad Days shows him obscuring his face with a guitar, the image of him actually holding and playing one is unlikely to factor into the average fan’s mental picture of Mac.

As such, actually seeing Mac DeMarco playing music live during his afternoon show at Amoeba Records yesterday [July 9] was somewhat surreal only in how larger-than-life he didn’t seem. At times, it was hard to distinguish him from his bandmates. He wasn’t much taller than any of them, his clothes weren’t much more vivid, and his front-and-center position onstage actually made him more difficult to see — though this isn’t his fault so much as Amoeba’s for tucking their stage into a corner of the establishment.

He also isn’t quite as charismatic a performer as you’d expect from someone so mythologized. His vocals were quiet and understated, and his bassist did most of the yelling. Yet DeMarco didn’t seem uncomfortable or shy at all. It’s just that the music he plays is essentially soft rock, and as such, it doesn’t require any screaming, stage-diving, or anything else likely to coax a crowd into a frenzy.


Thus, he’s not an artist I would have died unhappy without having seen live. His original songs didn’t sound a whole lot different than they do on record, but they were nice to bliss out to. I might have had a better time if I’d seen him in an actual venue or at an outdoor music festival. His music isn’t designed for dancing, moshing, or head-banging but rather for swaying — something difficult in a venue criss-crossed by an immovable grid of shelves.

Perhaps that’s why his set only really started to kick in when he launched into one of the unpredictable cover medleys he frequently performs live. After leading off with a guitar solo that displayed virtuosity beyond what I expected of him, DeMarco took his band into a cover of Bachmann-Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care Of Business.” I wasn’t quite sure if this was a display of irony or Canadian pride (DeMarco and BTO both hail from our northern neighbor), but the subsequent inclusion of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and Tool’s “Schism” suggested the former.

I’m usually averse to this treatment of “uncool” rock, especially given that “Blackbird”‘s ubiquity as a late-party singalong shouldn’t be cause for it to be lumped in that category or sung in as screechy and mocking a voice as the one DeMarco’s bassist put on. But given that DeMarco probably isn’t going to be sticking his thumb up his ass again anytime soon, it was nice to see him and his band do something in the spirit of a show. Their cover selection seemed less about elevating themselves above their source material as providing a thrill for the audience — who wouldn’t want to see Mac DeMarco cover “Schism?” And given how DeMarco’s music just isn’t that entertaining live — as good as it is — it was the best they could do to leave everyone with a memorable experience.

Live Shots: Burger Boogaloo 2014, Take #1


About 30 minutes into this year’s Burger Boogaloo, I noticed a guy walking around in a Tool shirt. Ten minutes later, I saw another dude walking around in a Meshuggah shirt. This wouldn’t be so remarkable at most concerts, but it’s worth keeping in mind that this was ostensibly an indie rock concert. Most fans of progressive metal wouldn’t dare enter that often rigid and snobbish universe, just as most indie fans would consider those heavy-but-impeccably-produced bands well outside the accepted parameters of “cool.”

But Burger Babes, Burger Boppers, Burger Bitches, Burger Boys, and Burger Heads are not most indie fans. This is a community that has room for 5-year-olds and 70-year-olds, for classic-rock bar bands and summery beach-pop groups, for queer-as-fuck punk rockers and dudes with handlebar mustaches and chain-link guitar straps. In the often overly cool-conscious world of indie rock, it was not only refreshing but relieving to see a community this accepting. Messrs.Tool and Meshuggah might have been wearing those shirts ironically, but at an event like Burger Boogaloo, it would have been less cool to do so than to wear them with pride and earnesty.


Burger seemed to be willing to throw anything at the audience. And at a single-stage festival with ample seating and few extraneous distractions (a “music & arts festival” this was not), there wasn’t much reason to ignore any of the bands. Given how few of these artists were recognized names outside of very underground regional circles, it seemed like the primary purpose of such a diverse lineup was to introduce the audience to as much new music as possible.

The most striking thing about the Burger Boogaloo lineup was how much older the artists were than at most indie showcases. Of the four headliners, none had a frontperson under 30.  Shannon Shaw of Shannon & The Clams is 31; Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer is 39; OFF!’s Keith Morris is 58; Ronnie Spector is 70. Milk ‘n’ Cookies have been around since 1973, The Gizmos since 1976, Phantom Surfers since 1988, the Muffs since 1991, and Bananas since 1993. Danny James’ Pear and Reigning Sound both seemed like middle-aged ensembles stuck in the rock era, and they could have as easily opened for Santana as Thee Oh Sees — yet this was not to their detriment, as they were all incredible musicians.

But with the exception of Spector (and Morris to some extent — more on this later), these artists weren’t cross-generational juggernauts or revered influences but rather veteran bands who had honed their craft in obscurity for years.  Though the audience could roughly be split into hip kids and older music-scene stalwarts, it was interesting to see both sides of the audience devour such unhip music with equal relish.  This indicated to me that Burger fans aren’t looking for the coolest, most cutting-edge music.  They’re just looking for a solid supply of rock ‘n’ roll to dance and party to, and Burger Boogaloo provided that and more.

* * *

The first day opened with White Fang, who were either the best or the worst festival opener I’ve ever seen. Frontman Erik Gage walked out in an American flag T-shirt, kissing his guns like the most cartoonish male lover imaginable, before tearing into a short set of songs chiefly about partying and marijuana.  Though they were sloppy and lacked any semblance of self-seriousness, they all but blew the two bands that followed offstage. Though Terry Malts and the Trashies were both competent bands with fine instrumentalists, their singers lacked any of White Fang’s charisma.

Wand upped the energy substantially; though they were a good band, I could not get past their uncanny sonic resemblance to Ty Segall, particularly his Fuzz project. But it was Thunderroads that pumped the energy back into the festival. Hailing from Japan, the trio rolled through a set of unhinged, ’50s-style rockabilly songs sung through thick accents that rendered most words incomprehensible except for rock’s great buzzwords — “rock ‘n’ roll,” “tonight,” “everybody.” Needless to say, they didn’t need much more to get their point across.


Next came the aforementioned bar band Reigning Sound, the extremely good surf band Phantom Surfers, and Sacramento punk band Bananas, whose caterwauling vocalist culled the crowd enough to secure me a prime audience position for Nobunny. Though his spirits were significantly lowered by the audience’s refusal to catch him were he to jump from the amplifier stack, the man in the bunny mask still put on one of the best shows of the night. He more than made up for his admittedly lacking vocal skills through a menacingly cartoonish stage presence, ample crotch-bulge display, and above all else, a set of great rock songs.


Next came Milk ‘n’ Cookies, a ’70s power-pop band who could not distinguish themselves from the festival’s more pedestrian pop acts despite their clout. Finally, the big two headliners: OFF! and Thee Oh Sees.

OFF!, the current project of Circle Jerks frontman and founding Black Flag member Keith Morris, was by far the most interesting act at the festival. Morris has long given up adhering (or pretending to adhere) to punk’s staunch anti-commercial aesthetic, evident in his recent promotions with major brands like AOL and Vans (and Burger — OFF! isn’t actually on the label).  But he plays punk because it’s the music he loves — and he performs it with as much fury as in any of his previous projects.

And what fury. Despite his short stature, Morris seemed to tower over the sea of moshing kids at which he directed his harangues. It was an invigorating performance in part because of how tight the band was and in part because of how in love with the music Morris seemed — as pissed-off as his songs were, he looked genuinely happy to be up there.


Even better were Thee Oh Sees, whose recent departure for L.A. sent waves of dismay through the Bay Area music community but who are showing no signs of abandoning their hometown fans. Bar none, Thee Oh Sees were the best live band I’ve seen all year. Despite being a relatively new incarnation of the band (singer/lead guitarist John Dwyer being the only constant), they rocked as hard as ever, with Dwyer’s almost Hendrix-like guitarwork carrying the bulk of the sound this time around. But the true star of the show was Dwyer’s voice, a tiny coo that can nonetheless hold an entire crowd captive. He can scream as well as anyone, but why would he need to when he can do so much with so little?


Thee Oh Sees’ music seemed to transcend genre. It was hard to say exactly where the roots of such music lay — there were elements of punk, metal, garage rock, and grunge, but none seemed like an apt signifier. Rather, the hallmarks of each genre combined into a monolithic slab of rock ‘n’ roll that encouraged the audience to move and engage with it rather than analyze it. This focus on rock as a form of music rather than an aesthetic or a concept unified all the bands of the day. At Burger Boogaloo, it didn’t matter how old or how uncool a band was — at the end of the day, it was all about getting down. And isn’t that what a rock show is supposed to be about?
After the head rush of Day One, it was hard not to be a bit disappointed with Day Two. The lineup pulled a lot of the same tricks to diminished effect. A lot of the bands seemed to be the equivalents of bands from the first day. Pookie & The Poodlez played White Fang’s role as the silly, punky opening act; Meatbodies played Wand’s role as the heavy, grooving jam band; The Gizmos filled Milk ‘n’ Cookies’ role as obscure power-pop legends unearthed from the annals of history. But the day also brought with it some pleasant surprises — not least of which was Ronnie Spector, whose dynamite set ran completely contrary to my expectations.

Pookie, a member of Nobunny, showed up onstage still brushing his teeth. (Apparently he’d overslept but luckily lived a few blocks away–though this is a fun story, the aesthetic appeal of a cute, skinny man walking out onstage with a toothbrush in his mouth to open a festival is just a little bit too good.)  His set was brief but fun, though the similarities to White Fang’s set were a bit obvious — especially after he introduced one of the songs as being about “Slurpees and kissing and marijuana cigarettes.”

The next run of bands was thoroughly disappointing. Summer Twins were, if possible, even more generic than their name suggests. Though my friend theorized they would sound like “Best Coast but less mainstream,” they sounded more like a Best Coast ripoff hastily assembled for a commercial by someone whose grasp on indie aesthetics was limited to 500 Days Of Summer. I was surprised a label like Burger (or any label) would sign such a band. The beach-rock fad has been over for over three years, and it’s easy to tell when a band is still clinging to it — usually they have words like “Summer” or “Twins” in their name.

Dirty Ghosts were interesting only because they were difficult to pin down in a genre — their music wasn’t quite funk, rock, punk, or psychedelia, but it was largely forgettable and didn’t benefit from its implacability. Danny James was similar to the previous day’s Reigning Sound but a lot tighter. La Sera was essentially a better version of Summer Twins. Meatbodies sounded like a less heavy Wand, while the Gizmos played with little effort or enthusiasm and could only have been there because of their clout as an obscure but veteran protopunk band.

Of the mid-day acts, folk singer Juan Wauters was the most enjoyable, but it was hard to tell if it was because of the quality of his music or because he was by far the most unique attraction of the day — he initially performed as a solo artist before being augmented by a bassist, a guitarist, and a percussionist. San Francisco band Personal & the Pizzas were likewise entertaining, but their schtick–pop songs about pizza and brass knuckles played by three tough-looking dudes–got old very quickly.
The Muffs ramped up the energy substantially. Fronted by Kim Shattuck (best-known these days for her brief stint in the Pixies), the group started out playing tough yet grooving pop songs driven by Shattuck’s ferocious voice. (She screamed an average of about 10 times per song.)  Yet their set never recovered from an ill-advised mid-performance slow song, which disrupted what could have evolved into full-on moshing but never progressed beyond a lot of enthusiastic bouncing and head-nodding.


Shannon & The Clams were a fine act, but they were disappointingly low-energy for their late placement in the lineup.  Their show was better because the crowd, desperate to mosh, took it upon themselves to have a good time. The result was a bizarre sort of mix of moshing and slow-dancing that mainly entailed a bunch of people shoving into each other at very deliberate speeds.  Being in the mosh enhanced the performance substantially; the Clams’ girl-group balladry was best suited for slow dancing, and brushing up against a bunch of random strangers with romantic music in the air is pretty much the second-best thing to that. Nonetheless, the fast-paced “The Cult Song” was the undoubted highlight.

I was expecting Ronnie Spector‘s set to be mostly just a glorified celebrity appearance from the woman whose run of Sixties records with the Ronettes inspired a substantial chunk of the festival’s acts.  Instead, I was surprised to be treated to the night’s most electrifying performance.  Over a top-caliber band of stern, professional-looking musicians, Spector let loose with her vocals in a way she was never able to do as part of the homogeneous Wall of Sound her ex-husband/producer Phil Spector pioneered.  Some of her vocal turns were absolutely haunting.  Though she may not sound like the twenty-year-old starlet she once was, she sounds now like what she is–an incredibly gifted vocalist with a natural presence as an entertainer and a long and tumultuous life behind her.


But the true star of Spector’s set wasn’t her or her beehive hairdo but the songs, and one song in particular.  The words “Be My Baby” had been placed over the stage in gold balloons hours before, and the inevitability that she would perform it created a natural climax to the festival.  Either directly or indirectly, that song had inspired nearly every act there.  Its maelstrom production practically launched psychedelic rock, while its unmistakable drum opening has become an obvious way for backwards-looking pop acts from The Jesus And Mary Chain to Girls to pay tribute to their influences.

True, that drum opening was the most scream-inducing moment of the entire festival.  But I felt she played it too soon.  Her set was much shorter than it should have been, and deploying the ultimate weapon after only five songs ruined a bit of the song’s climactic nature.  Furthermore, her shout of “my favorite part!” over the reprise of the drum opening defused its impact. But I forgive her — I don’t know if she realizes how revered that song is in the indie community. 


Furthermore, treating that song like a sacred artifact would be incongruous with what made Spector’s set so effective — that she wasn’t treated like a sacred artifact. As massive as her influence pop music is, I believe she was there because of her skills as a performer, not for the baggage her name carries. It would be contradictory to Burger’s ethos to bring such a revered artist on if she wasn’t a great performer. Burger Boogaloo isn’t about the mythology of old-school rock ‘n’ roll, but about the sound — and just how great it is to hear that sound live.


Push the Feeling party organizers launch Push the Feeling, the record label


If you’ve ever walked out of a dance party wishing you could take the party home with you, Push The Feeling has a solution to your problem. For the last two years, Kevin Meenan and Drew Marcogliese have hosted dance parties at the Lower Haight’s Underground SF nightclub under that name; they’ve hosted all manner of DJs, from local heroes like Giraffage to blogosphere faves like YACHT and Les Sins (aka Toro Y Moi).

But recently, they’ve expanded their endeavors into the field of recorded sound, launched a label under the Push the Feeling name. This week they released a 12-inch containing “Skulls,” a song by Marcogliese’s band Silver Hands, plus four remixes. Of course, the parties will go on: Most immediately, they’re hosting a release party for the 12-inch on Saturday, July 5 at Underground, featuring performances by Silver Hands, Marcogliese (as YR SKULL), and Meenan (as Epicsauce).

Of the remixers, three (Chautauqua, Woolfy, and YR SKULL) have performed at Push The Feeling. The fourth remix comes from Mike Simonetti, boss of the influential Italians Do It Better label; he hasn’t played yet, but according to Meenan, he’s “on our wishlist.”

Yet Push the Feeling doesn’t plan to release only party regulars. The two are fans of just about anything on the electronic spectrum, and as long as it has an electronic element, they’re game.

Meenan and Marcogliese said they had talked about starting a label for a long time, even before the parties. But the demands of the parties made it difficult to get the project off the ground.

“Every month, it was like ‘Okay, we’re done with this party, let’s focus on the label stuff,’ and then next thing we know we’re booking the next party,” said Meenan.  “Realistically, we’re about six months behind where we wanted to be about a year ago.”

But with the label off the ground, and the duo has no intention of slowing down. (The parties will continue at the same rate and will, the organizers promise, be just as wild as ever. If anything, the launch of the label is just another chance to party.)

Hosting a label carries a certain prestige, and it’s already brought them blogosphere recognition. The 12-inch has been featured on prominent blogs such as XLR8R, Lagasta, and Gorilla vs. Bear. But the parties will be just as cheap and accessible as ever: Admission to Push the Feeling event is rarely more than $6, and the duo plans to keep it that way.

“We go to clubs, but the reality is we’re more neighborhood bar-type guys,” Marcogliese said of the cheap, fun, accessible dance music scene he and Meenan have curated.  “We wanted to make it very laid-back, not like an in-your-face club with expensive drinks and cover. We focus on keeping it cheap, keeping it casual — keeping it a night we would both want to go to.”

PUSH THE FEELING: Silver Hands 12″ Release Party

With YR SKULL and Epicsauce DJs

Sat/5, 9pm, $6

Underground SF

424 Haight, SF


Future, the Auto-Tune rapper du jour, had a very lazy night at the Regency


Future, America’s Auto-Tune rapper du jour, is in a cushy position. His recent album Honest is one of the year’s most critically acclaimed rap albums so far, and it’s moved enough units to establish him as a major presence on 2014’s hip-hop scene. Hip-hop fans know who he is, as do a lot of indie kids who’ve stumbled across fawning reviews of his work online. But he’s not yet a star.

As such, he doesn’t get a lot of high-profile hate. His most notable detractor is his direct stylistic predecessor, T-Pain, who’s expressed resentment towards the acclaim Future’s garnered through his use of the same software T-Pain was so often mocked for during his own career heyday. Auto-Tune was — and still is — viewed by musical conservatives as a crutch, a fancy tool for artists who couldn’t sing and were thus “talentless.” Along with laptop DJing and lip-synching, it is one of the most likely factors anyone will cite in arguing music has gotten worse.

All three of these factors were part of Future’s Regency Ballroom set on June 30. And as highly as I hold my own musical non-conservatism as a value, I must admit I have a much better conception of why the rockists, live-music defenders, and Tupac worshippers of the T-Pain era were so incensed. I still believe laptops, lip-synching, and Auto-Tune are not mutually exclusive to a great performance. But I also see how people can use them to cut corners.

Future didn’t even try to put on a show. He made no attempt to hide the fact that he was rapping over a pre-recorded vocal track, frequently staring off into space and taking brief but obvious pauses to catch his breath. His stage banter was incomprehensible. He moved around a lot, but not with any particular charisma — his stiff, awkward bounces made him look like a figurine being held by the head and “walked” by an invisible child. His job was not to perform or to rap — his job was to be Future, to stand there and be important while the DJ absent-mindedly cued up his own songs.

The most glaring aspect of his performance was the lack of his trademark vocal processing. Without it, the weakness of his flow and rhymes stuck out like a sore thumb — especially given how good he sounded on the pre-recorded track, all effects intact. At the risk of sounding like one of the rockists who unfairly accused T-Pain, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West of using Auto-Tune as a crutch, I am prepared to lobby the same accusation at Future. He simply doesn’t seem able to do anything well without it.

The opening acts easily showed him up. The show kicked off with mini-sets by members of Future’s Freebandz crew, at least two of whom were both better performers and rappers than Future but who engaged in some heinous misogyny and uncomfortable crowd interactions (hearing a rapper spend 12 acapella bars describing an audience member’s vagina isn’t really fun for anyone except the rapper). Rico Love’s set was worth watching if only because his trio of DJs made their own beats live; Love himself was buffoonish, one of those alpha-male lovermen who seem more obnoxious and dated as each of their peers falls from grace (Chris Brown, Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake).

This might sound like a nightmare to sit through. For the uninitiated, perhaps. But the artists increased in popularity as they decreased in showmanship, meaning that a Future fan could be thrilled by the openers, even more thrilled when Future drops one of his trademark tracks, and come out of the show having had a great time. Future’s set was essentially a bunch of Future recordings being played over a massive sound system, with the man himself MCing. If you’ve heard and come to love “Move That Dope” and “Turn On The Lights,” hearing them on such a scale must be a treat.

And for the audience, that seemed to be the case. The entire floor shook during “Move That Dope,” with all the diverse audience demographics — hip-hop fans, bros, middle-aged staff, the occasional Hitler Youth hairdo who could only have been there because of Honest‘s 8.1 on Pitchfork — jumping up and down in a massive communal wave. Blunts were lit every six feet, couples did the grind, hands were thrown in the air. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Which brings me back to my criticism of Future’s set, and my own insecurities over my willingness to play along with the natural and unstoppable (d)evolution of live music. How can I criticize Future for not putting any effort into his show when nobody really seemed to care? Is it fair to judge his set as an outsider, when those who know all the Honest songs by heart can revel in singing along to them? If people are willing to shell out 30 bucks to watch their favorite artist not give a shit, so be it.  As for me, I’ll be at home, illegally downloading his albums.

‘Purple Rain’ at 30


Just over a year ago, Adam Tod Brown wrote a great article for Cracked called “4 Classic Albums That Get More Praise Than They Deserve.” Though it contained as much Yoko Ono-bashing as you’d expect from a website as frequently fratty as Cracked, it made a great argument for Ringo’s self-titled as the best solo ’70s Beatles album and contributed substantially to the recent critical revival of Neil Young’s On The Beach. The thing that interested me most, however, was Brown’s citation of Prince’s Purple Rain as a “flawless album” that gets as much press as it deserves, “no matter how many other great Prince albums there are.”

I instantly disagreed with the implication that his 1984 soundtrack to the film of the same name was Prince’s greatest album, but his article didn’t elicit a cynical “nahh” from me as much as a bolt of surprise. Sure, Purple Rain is the Prince album random people on the street will be most likely to name. But I’d been raised alongside 1999 and Sign O’ The Times as well — albums that both get well-deserved five-star ratings  but still don’t place quite as highly on critical lists as Purple Rain. I always presumed these albums were just as famous, and I wasn’t sure why this meek 9-track album was getting all the praise.

I still agree it’s not Prince’s best. But it’s his most solid — meaning the fewest indulgences, the highest masterpiece-to-crap ratio, the most content per its running time. Dirty Mind is two-thirds as long and lacks a single bad song, but its structure is a bit uneven; in my opinion, this adds to its carefree appeal, but it’s still an imperfection. Meanwhile, 1999 contains some of the most ambitious and daring pop music made during the 1980s, but a lot of its songs are about twice as long as they need to be — though not necessarily as they should be.

Purple Rain takes everything Prince does best and puts it together into a cohesive whole that’s easy to listen to front to back. All of the contradictions in Prince’s personality show up here side by side.  We see the conflicted Christian Prince (“Let’s Go Crazy”) alongside the hypersexual Prince (“Darling Nikki”), then the pop-visionary Prince (“When Doves Cry”) alongside the pop-conservative Prince (“Take Me With U”). There’s Prince the introverted studio whiz (“I Would Die 4 U,” “Computer Blue”) and Prince as the all-devouring, mic stand-humping frontman (“Baby I’m A Star”).


And then there’s “The Beautiful Ones,” the ultimate workout for what might be the best vocal sound in all of music — Prince’s scream, a throat-shredding release of ecstasy that its owner wields with the same control of any of the many instruments he’s mastered. It’s as simultaneously sexy and disturbing as…well, Prince’s whole persona. It’s the thing that cemented my obsession with Prince, and only on Purple Rain does it have its own song.

Elsewhere on the album we see Prince fleshing out some of his later obsessions. “I Would Die 4 U” and “Purple Rain” both find Prince using his trademark Linn LM-1 drum machine to create that very ’80s sense of retro-futuristic isolation exemplified by Blade Runner; Sign O’ The Times would expand on this mood for the duration of a 78-minute opus. Because of how much of Prince’s personality we get on this album, it’s tempting to single Purple Rain out as the best introduction to Prince.

But it’s also the one least likely to blow a newcomer’s mind. As bold and stylistically diverse an album as it is, it’s one of the least interesting of Prince’s major albums, and the least representative of his aesthetic. It’s his least eccentric major album, its most meticulously produced, and the most in line with the “rock” ideal — perhaps a reason why the guitar-obsessed Rolling Stone staffers praised it and continue to praise it so much more highly than anything else in the man’s oeuvre.

If you took out the vocals and the awesomely detuned synth, there wouldn’t be much in “Let’s Go Crazy” to signify it as a Prince song. The production is too meticulous, too arena-rock to really be representative of the eccentricity that makes Prince so endlessly fascinating. “Purple Rain” suffers from the opposite problem. There are a million slow-burning ballads like it, and that plaintive Linn drum is the only thing really tying it to his aesthetic.

This is Prince working in a pop setting. It is worth remembering Purple Rain is first and foremost the soundtrack to a film, and much like the Beatles’ film albums, it’s an artist being as creative as possible within the medium of a stocking-stuffer item designed chiefly to promote another work of art and make some extra cash from it. Prince is one of those artists who usually scores hits on his own terms, who makes no compromises but just happens to make audacious music that people really like. Here, it’s the other way around — the desire to make something people will like is the box in which Prince’s creativity freely bounces around.

It is perhaps for this reason that “Take Me With U” is the most effective song here. Prince’s co-star Apollonia guests on this song; her vocals fit so well into the song that her presence merges with that of Prince until it’s unclear whose song it really is. Prince takes into account all the hallmarks of a great lovebird duet — playfulness, chemistry, and above all else, romance. This song isn’t explicitly sexual, but it’s incredibly sensual. Both vocal performances are bursting with excitement beneath the functional cool required of pop vocals, and by the time they reach the ecstatic bridge (“I don’t care if we spend the night in your mansion”), they’re barely able to control themselves.  It’s brilliant.

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain, and in mentioning this, most news outlets have inevitably mentioned the massive amount of praise this album has received. As such, people who have not previously heard Prince will be drawn to that album. But as undeniably fantastic as it is, I’d maintain that Purple Rain is not the album most likely to convince a newcomer of Prince’s genius — Sign O’ The Times is more eclectic, 1999 more diverse, Dirty Mind more did-he-just-say-that sexual, The Black Album more bizarre. If you know Prince first and foremost as that skinny pop star with the high voice and need convincing of his genius, any of those albums would work better.

Which is not to say you should overlook Purple Rain by any means. Though I would argue it’s not his most essential work, it’s the album that does the best job of proving he’s capable of just about anything.


[Ed. note: Prince makes it notoriously difficult to find his music online, so here’s a recent interview instead. But really, if you don’t own a Prince album by now, there are worse things you could spend money on.]

Your latest SF gentrification soundtrack: Cold Beat, Thee Oh Sees, Violent Change, and more


Is San Francisco doomed?  The legendary SF punk band Crime said so 35 years ago on their album San Francisco’s Doomed. Yet with tech money flowing into San Francisco and musicians being priced out of the city, the phrase has taken on a new resonance among those musicians who have stayed in town.

There’s been no shortage of music and other art forms lamenting the sea change in our dear city: Earlier this month, Katie Day drew accolades and vitriol with “San Francisco (Before the West Falls),” and tonight [Wed/25], cabaret singer-songwriter Candace Roberts will celebrate the debut of her theatrical “Not My City Anymore” with a party at the Gold Dust Lounge (where the music video was shot).

Stepping up to the plate for the indie/garage/punk kids is Hannah Lew, currently of Cold Beat, formerly of Grass Widow, and most recently the curator of a compilation whose name differs from Crime’s album by one contraction: San Francisco Is Doomed.  Released on Lew’s Crime On The Moon label, the compilation features 13 songs by either former or current San Francisco bands and artists, from Thee Oh Sees to Erase Errata to Violent Change, all of them dealing with the tech boom’s effect on the city and its music scene.

Lew has lived in the city since 1989, and was a first-hand witness to the ascent of the city’s garage-rock scene to international prominence as a member of Grass Widow. Though she plans to stay in the city, it’s increasingly difficult for musicians in San Francisco to keep up with increased prices. Most of the artists on the compilation have since moved.

“People are moving here to make money now,” Lew said. “It’s never really been like that before — not since the Gold Rush. Because of that there’s a lot of foodie culture…things catered to people with a lot of money. I think that creates a cultural divide.”

The compilation isn’t an act of war against the “techies,” though; according to Lew, some of the artists on the compilation actually work in the tech industry. It’s not a benefit album either. It’s simply a snapshot of the time and place in which SF musicians currently exist. 

For now, Lew and Cold Beat are still headquartered and playing shows in the city — the compilation seems timed nicely to coincide with the release of the band’s latest, Over Me, which will be out July 8 (a music video for the first single just premiered over at NPR). But it’s hard to say the band is part of a “scene” anymore. Bay Area scenes have come and gone, of course, from psychedelic rock to ’80s thrash metal, and, as others have noted, it’s increasingly apparent that the garage-rock movement is at the end of its lifespan. The question of whether or not San Francisco’s music scene is truly doomed relies on a different equation — whether musicians are willing to move into San Francisco. And according to Lew, it’s not exactly an attractive option for most.

“I can’t really imagine people moving here for a thriving music scene without the rent prices going way down,” she said. “Usually the towns with a thriving music scenes are affordable to live in. But it’s hard to even find an affordable practice space in San Francisco these days.”

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” she added. “[San Francisco] is becoming more of a fancy town. But we just want to talk about it and hopefully provide another voice in that conversation.”
San Francisco Is Doomed Record Release

With Cold Beat, Synethic ID, Violent Change, Caged Animal

July 1, 9pm, free

Brick and Mortar Music Hall

1710 Mission, SF



Summer spins





Boris have been dabbling so much in pop lately it’s tempting to look at the band’s latest album, Noise, as a return to their sludge-metal glory days. There are only eight songs, its title is appropriately hostile, and the dark gray cover looks formidable compared to the white-hued, glamorous art on the last few Boris records. But remember: This album is called Noise. Not Metal, not Amps Up To 11. Not even Heavy Rocks, the name given to two of Boris’s most metallic albums. Noise.

And noise is what it offers. These songs are loud, but not in a metallic way — the guitars don’t confront or cut into the red, preferring to simply churn away in the background. Yet this is the only thing really connecting these songs. Noise veers from J-pop to shoegaze to something fairly close to metal, charting a path that ends up sounding more like overly ambitious hardcore punk. Accordingly, it suffers from an identity crisis. As another chapter in the capricious experimental period the band’s been stuck in for the last half-decade, Noise is an interesting curiosity. But if you choose to view it as a return to form, you’re likely to come out of your listening experience very depressed.





Lana Del Rey embodies the trashiest, most cartoonish version of American iconography. Her music reeks of Gatsby, guns, Hollywood, star-spangled banners, Marilyn Monroe, and just about every other cartoon of superficial American glamour. It thus makes sense on paper that she should pair up with producer Dan Auerbach for her second album, Ultraviolence; his band the Black Keys excavates a different patch of the same oilfield, dredging up Route 66 rock reveries rather than Pepsi-Cola pop mythology.

But their respective worlds don’t collide as often as they should on this album. When Auerbach’s bluesy licks bubble up from the background, it’s intensely satisfying, putting Del Rey’s mythology in the context of his own and casting her as another great American cliché: a rock star. But for the most part, Auerbach leaves Del Rey to languish in a bath of reverb. There’s no subtlety to this production: It’s as if Auerbach cranked up a crude GarageBand “reverb” setting on all the master tracks and declared them finished. Del Rey’s persona is as monolithic as the Empire State Building — but obscured behind all the production fog, you might as well be looking at Big Ben.





Mish Way has a lot of good things to say. She’s one of America’s most engaging music critics, incorporating her personal experience into her pieces without making them too subjective to interest readers. Much of her writing is filtered through a feminist lens, something far too rare in rock criticism — especially as the misogyny of yesteryear’s rock becomes increasingly stale and obvious. She extends a lot of these sentiments to her gig as the singer of punk band White Lung, whose third album Deep Fantasy addresses sexual assault, body image, and abusive relationships. Apparently. You’d have a hard time doing much more than guessing what these songs were about without the help of a lyric sheet, because most of Way’s lyrics are incomprehensible. I’d be okay with this if not for how pristine everything else sounds. The guitars and drums are punchy and full, but Way’s vocals are so quiet in the mix that her shouting seems less of a deluge of expression as a desperate attempt just to be heard. This music should confront the listener — but ultimately, the listener ends up having to confront the music just to understand what Way is on about.

Snap Sounds: Lone



Matt “Lone” Cutler’s heart belongs to hip hop.  It’s easy to forget this given how the British producer only started to attract critical notice after switching from the post-J Dilla instrumentals of his early albums to a style that had more in common with house and rave music. The transition wasn’t terribly unnatural given that his sonic trademark was rich synth chords, a sound rare in hip hop but prevalent in dance.  He kept those intact; he just switched up the rhythm and instantly went from generic beatmaker to underground dance hero, producing one of 2012’s best electronic albums in Galaxy Garden.

Reality Testing is his follow-up, and remarkably, it makes no attempt to refine or outdo Galaxy Garden. It’s less ambitious and more playful, incorporating hip hop influences in equal measure to house influences. Cutler’s cited Madlib and Boards of Canada as influences; though Galaxy Garden carried traces of those artists’ respective hip hop and ambient styles, Reality Testing sounds pretty much exactly like the midpoint between those two.

The result isn’t anywhere near as entertaining or evocative as Galaxy Garden. With the exception of the relentless “Airglow Fires,” the dance-oriented tracks are nothing special compared to the ones on any of his previous albums. A lot of them seem to be based on the same formula he’s used for all his dance tracks, except with a rather dull constant 4/4 kick rather than the skittering rhythms that define his best work. (He’s even using the same chords.) They don’t sound like attempts to refine or replicate his past successes; they’re just not that well-made.

The hip-hop tracks don’t fare much better.  Though “Cutched Under” and “2 is 8” both rank among Lone’s best productions, the other tracks don’t retain much of the his personality and end up sounding more like the generic bedroom “beats” that dominate much of SoundCloud.  As much as Lone loves hip hop, he’s frankly a better dance producer, and it’s a shame he didn’t play more to his strengths here.  If the dance tracks were better, his beats might be more forgivable.

I believe Reality Testing chiefly serves as an establishment of Lone’s independence from musical trends or critical expectation.  If so, it’s an admirable gesture.  Critical acclaim can sometimes scare artists into simply refining their sound rather than expanding on it or exploring new directions, and it’s thus a relief to see Lone continuing to play by his own rules.  But after listening to Reality Testing, I find myself wishing he’d just played it safe.