/*Google*/ /*Hosting*/ December 2009 | SFCritic Music Blog


The Music Submissions: Looking Back at 2k9

In the beginning SFCritic was all about going out and looking for great music. One of the many ways you the readers shared your love with us this year was by sending us music that you think we'd like, or more likely that you'd like us to hype. When it became clear that there was just way too much stuff coming in, and gems were likely being lost in the shuffle, The Music Submissions were born. Each week the emails streamed in, and each week we listened to as much as possible before deciding which two albums (or songs in rare cases) would go up for you, our fearless readers, to read. It was our hope to give you a more intimate glimpse into the musician-marketing-blogger relationship in addition to giving constructive criticism to acts large and small.

It was an inconsistent bunch, to be sure. Sometimes the submissions were for rising stars, like Fanfarlo and The Antlers, both of which wound up making my Top 8 Albums of the Year. Bowerbirds, Lookbook, and Birdmonster were all highlights. Others not so much. Not even :Kinema:'s cover of Animal Collective's "My Girls" was enough to make-up for their uninteresting auto-tuned disco. While Portland's Hockey seemed promising the first few listens, it turned out to be at best bland and at worst annoying. We at SFCritic would like to thank you all for sending us so much music and for following us in 2009. Keep sending in new, weird, and wonderful music and we'll write about it in 2010.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Music in Y2K9

2009 is the year that indie rock burst from a Brooklyn bubble and expanded into a national scene. Hipsters were transplanted from dive bars to arenas. Mohawks and short bangs became hip along with four new tattoos. Bands like Kings of Leon, MGMT, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and TV On The Radio went from blogger buzz to the covers of Rolling Stone and Spin.

It was another year without Dr. Dre's Detox, though there was an ample portion of synthesizers in most songs. Auto-tune, I mean hip hop. The new supplement hip hop became a part of our weekly diet with T-Payne's iPhone acting as the maraschino cherry atop a pop fan base creamed with an overindulgence of auto-tune pop songs. Even indie rock groups tried their luck (Discovery).

Some former superstars regained relevancy (Guns & Roses Chinese Democracy released at the end of 2008), while others tried Relapse, and faded (Emimen). Meanwhile, magazines remained months behind blogs and online zines, further confirming our societies growing reliance on new mediums for discovering music. Bands like Passion Pit, Grizzly Bear, and Dirty Projectors became the next big thing.

At SFCritic our fan base grew, as did our staff. Thanks to our readers and writers, SFCritic is growing into a legitimate source for music appreciation and discovery. In 2010, SFCritic have many hopes and dreams for development, including marketing expansion, redesigned layout, and more contributions. (If you're interested in getting involved let us know) For everyone who has continued to follow and support us, thank you. Have a wonderful holidays, we'll resume publishing on January 3rd, 2010! See you in the New Year.


Top Albums of 2009: #1 of The Hanukkah List

Eve Marcellus: #1

Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest

Grizzly Bear's sophomore album was, for fans who had been getting by since 2006 with just one (albeit pretty cool) EP, a huge reward. What makes Veckatimest such a jaw-dropping album is the level to which Grizzly Bear has progressed. The spare, ambient echos of their debut, Yellow House are revisited on tracks like "All We Ask" but seem more self-assured, melodic, and powerful. The album is full of moments of quietness and, in contrast, soaring crescendos; the sort of thing that have kept the band at the forefront of the indie, neo-folk radar all this time. There are no dance tracks, no rise above middle tempo on the record. The impact comes from the one aspect, which each track has that manages to at once set it apart and yet, nestle in as part of the whole. There is the heartbeat percussion and soaring choral backing vocals of "Cheerleader". "I Live With You" makes use of a whole host of instruments from strings to a fuzzy guitar, elevating the spare lyrics to an almost cinematic level rather than shrouding them. The album's stand-out singles, "Two Weeks" and "While You Wait for the Others," act as (almost) bookends, and are certainly the most forward tracks of the bunch. Both are fantastic examples of what could be called a Grizzly Bear formula: airtight harmonies, clean-yet-exciting instrumentals, and delightfully smart lyrics. I have tried to pick a favorite track, or even narrow it down, but this is impossible. Veckatimest is a package. After the stir caused by the release of Yellow House, and the subsequent gig opening for Radiohead on their 2008 tour, the band openly discussed the pressure to create the best album possible. It is thrilling to know that this is a band who is able to deliver on such a tall order.

David Johnson-Igra: #1

St. Vincent: Actor

Using the elements that established St. Vincent (Annie Clark) as a twisted and beautiful talent on her debut album Marry Me, Clark returned with Actor as the lead in her melodic cinema. Clark loves when “something can be whimsical, delightful, but also disgusting,”—and with Actor, realities shift from crass anatomical cries for help on "Marrow," to melodic morning-after tales on "The Party." Clark's inspirations came while watching her favorite movies -- Badlands, Pierrot le Fou, The Wizard of Oz, Stardust Memories, Sleeping Beauty. With each song like individual film scores, the unimaginable of comparing Snow White with Woody Allen became imaginable. On Marry Me Clark was criticized as soft with her voice lacking depth. She responded with heavy guitar dissonance on tracks like "Actor Out of Work," and beautiful building distortions on "Stranger," eliciting melodic contrasts from gentle to coarse. In the predominantly male indie rock scene, St. Vincent uncannily stands out and it's not just for her pretty face.


Top Albums of 2009: #2 of The Hanukkah List

Eve Marcellus: #2

Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca

As you may have noticed, it takes a truly exceptional artist or group of artists to push the boundaries of their career and continue to put out exceptional music. David Longstreth, the founding member of Dirty Projectors, has been making gorgeous, if slightly strange, albums with a string of extremely talented co-members since 2002. In 2005, The Getty Address, was a concept album about Don Henley (for real), while 2007's Rise Above was a collection of Black Flag songs that Longstreth put together from memory (for real). Bitte Orca is the Projector's most self-contained, accessible work to date. As a whole, the album focuses on beautiful vocal harmonies and intricate guitar accompaniments for which the band has become known. The songs themselves are like independent expressions of the pure talents of each member of the group. The album's first single, "Temecula Sunrise" is perhaps the best expression of both the complexity of its instrumentals and the power of its non-traditional vocals. On the stripped-down "Two Doves," one of my favorite songs of the year, vocalist Angel Deradoorian is featured, accompanied only by a simply picked guitar and string quartet. It is a beautiful testament to the album's range, particularly when put up against the minimalist percussion-based "Stillness is the Move" and synthy "Useful Chamber." The Dirty Projectors have, and continue, to add new and exciting things to the wider community of music as well. Former members include Rostam Batmanglij and Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend) and Adam Forkner (White Rainbow). This year the Projector's current lineup collaborated with David Byrne, a sort of torch-passing from the O.G. of experimental rock. Bitte Orca is proof of how great Longstreth and company can be.

David Johnson-Igra: #2

Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest

“Oh this is just another emo, indie rock band,” my friend said to me while I cooed to the sound of Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. She’s wrong. With the vocals of a male siren, Ed Droste’s is hauntingly captivating on tracks like “Cheerleader,” and “Ready, Able.” The album is carefully calculated, perfected, and yet, not contrived. While the tempos remain a consistent bob, the orchestrated indie-psych-pop ranges from the sweeping bounces of “Two Weeks,” reminiscing marches of “Cheerleader,” and anxiously gruff strumming of “Ready, Able.” Sonic contrasts underscore lush melodies which sweep and pull like water crashing and settling to the shore. Veckatimest explores sonic emotions that explore dark pitfalls on “Dory” or wander through a muffled limbo on “About Face.” The album is not about what could be, but what is. All you have to do is listen to Droste sing, “While you wait for the others to make it all worthwhile / All your useless pretensions are weighing on my time,” and with that this is not another emo, indie album, this is SO much more.

Ape Cave Interview: Simply Ape Cave

Once Church now Ape Cave, the band from Portland is building a name for itself. Amongst a sea of bands, Ape Cave have emerged with an avant-garde sound that’s minimalism reflects the group’s complex and particular arrangements. The band was formed by Richard and Brandon Laws, two brothers with one passion--music. While on the road, prior to their performance at Hemlock Tavern on Dec. 29th, SF Station spoke to the brothers about their LP and growing success.


People's Choice Submissions

We're still collecting Reader's submissions. Don't be scared! As we continue to countdown SFCritic's top albums, here are some of our reader's selections:

"Here's my top 5" -Rick James Chatas

1. Blakroc Blakroc
- First Rock/Hip Hop album collaboration with more than just a trendy single
- Black Keys always bring it
- The Rap contribution is amazing. Big Mos Def and RZA fan.

2. The Dead Weather Horehound
- Allison Mosshart. GAWD. Enough said. Amazing voice, delivery, and she's sexy
- It's not a White Stripes or Raconteurs off shoot. I think the album stands on its own in every track

3. The XX - XX
- This record totally took me by surprise
- Low-fi sex appeal
- Heavy concepts that you still sing to; there's an understanding there

4. Florence and The Machine - Florence and The Machine
- Florence has an amazing voice
- The song concepts are real and transparent
- The record has a way of whisking you away to surreality

5. Kevin Devine Brother's Blood
- Seriously, the new Bob Dylan
- Best record he's done to date
- Under appreciated, under valued, but oh so sick

"My kids like The List by Rosanne Cash. All the time." - Renee Schwalberg


Top Albums of 2009: #3 of The Hanukkah List

Eve Marcellus: #3

Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavillion

Is it just me or did 2009 seem like the year of Animal Collective? I remember when an internet tizzy was caused by the leak of the crazy mesmerizing, optical illusion album art of Merriweather Post Pavilion. It was what was behind it, however, that was truly hard to turn away from. Then there were the covers of "My Girls" lingering around the blogs. Initially, I was surprised that such a seemingly inapproachable record could be so beloved by so many. It's weird right? The "weird," even if it's most awesome, is seldom rewarded with popularity. Merriweather Post Pavillion turned out to be 2009's big exception. There is something so satisfying, so refreshing about the delicate balance between the referential and the shiny and new. "Summertime Clothes" updates classic pop elements of The Police, The Talking Heads, and Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles with static and bells and crashes like a little kid banging on pots with a wooden spoon. The first minute or so of "Brother Sport", with its relatively minimalist focus on vocal harmony, recalls moments of Paul Simon's Graceland until it turns into a robotic loop that makes you wonder if perhaps your mp3 player is skipping? You know, of course, it is not. That jolt of the unfamiliar is what makes Merriweather Post Pavillion exciting and begs to be listened to over and over. It can be ambient, or it can be the center of your focus, but it cannot be ignored.

David Johnson-Igra: #3

Deastro: Moondagger

Maybe the answer can be found in the uncertainty surrounding our economy, the disillusionment facing recent graduates, or the intrinsic need for answers to all our questions. Any one of these would explain why Deastro’s Moondagger felt nearly perfect in 2009. This is more than an album. Moondagger is the story of Deastro as he travels into outer space, highlighting the growth of Randolph Chabot who is searching for meaning or simply--a moon knife. This was a journey, an escape, a reassurance that we are not alone in our quest for more. With undertones in his music ranging from poppy Beach Boy progressions to dark introspective tones a la Depeche Mode. Like Animal Collective each song is rich with sounds, but where critics might cite the former as radio unfriendly, Deastro has a mastery of big hooks which can capture even the most distant of listeners. Like Deastro's future, life seems more hopeful with Moondagger.

Top Albums of 2009: #4 of The Hanukkah List

Eve Marcellus: #4

Antony and The Johnsons: The Crying Light

With the 2005 release I Am a Bird Now by Antony and The Johnsons, Antony Hegarty became one of the most important, instantly recognizable, voices in queer music. The depth and power of themes ranging from identity politics, family relations, to death and love are once again explored on The Crying Light. It is melancholy at its best and introspective. There is not a lyric it seems that exists except to express any one of the many painful themes of the album. The album combines the vocal eeriness and soaring piano-led instrumentals that have come to define Antony and The Johnsons, even taking it a step further. If I Am a Bird Now was characterized by big name pop cameos (Boy George, Rufus Wainwright, and Lou Reed), this album is notable for the handful of arrangers and dozens of musicians credited. From the horns brandished on "Epilepsy is Dancing" to the ultra-dramatic album closer "Everglade", there is proof that Hegarty is creating new, affecting music out of disparate traditions. If The Crying Light is any indication, Hegarty and company will continue to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, with each new release, and for that--we should all be grateful.

David Johnson-Igra: #4

Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus

In 2009 Phoenix became this year's MGMT. Otherwise unknown, nine years after their debut, Phoenix has become an international indie sensation. Though for the record, nine years ago I became a fan of the French band with their single, "If I Ever Feel Better." Yes, I do get a little satisfaction from this fact--it's my, "I told you so." Originally, the band's disco electro sound drew comparisons to Air, but with the refined sound of Wolfgang Amadeus, critics across the board will agree--Phoenix has found its musical identity. The band's ability to create catchy hooks got them noticed, but on Wolfgang Amadeus their perfection of tighter chord progressions and minimalist bridges made "Lisztomania" and "1901" ubiquitous summer hits. There's plenty to say about the album, tracks like "Fences," or "Lasso" were equally irresistible, but the best explanation of Phoenix is summed up in this video by the Brookyln Brat Pack. It's the infectious energy that makes it one of the top albums of 2009.


Top Albums of 2009: #5 of The Hanukkah List

Eve Marcellus: #5

Passion Pit: Manners

Passion Pit actually began its debut year in 2008 with the release of their first EP Chunk of Change. What began as an innocent project by lead vocalist Michael Angelakos to write a few songs for his girlfriend as a Valentine's Day present, quickly morphed into a full-fledged entry into the indie electro-pop scene. Fast forward eight months to the release of Manners, a bouncier, more polished execution of Passion Pit's synth-squeak sound. There isn't a whole lot of holding back to the tracks, whether Angelakos' voice is straining to hit the highest notes imaginable for a college-aged man or letting keyboards, a kid's choir, and a myriad of other random sounds layer over each other. It's weird and it's great. There is a remarkable consistency to the complexity of the arrangements, even on tracks like "Swimming in the Flood" that threaten to veer into ballad territory. It is an album that is enjoyable as a whole. If you followed SFCritic's coverage of the Treasure Island Music Festival this year, you'll remember I was underwhelmed (to say the least) by their live performance. Still, Manners is an album I can imagine enduring and hope that Passion Pit continues to push the boundaries of their particular brand of studio magic.

David Johnson-Igra: #5
Fashawn: Boy Meets World

Like a young Nas, Fashawn lyrically articulates the world surrounding him. On tracks like “Sunny California,” Fashawn raps, “A pimp told me "a ho is just an open purse"/ A ho told me a pimp don't see what she worth / Think that a shame, that's the game and we all in it / Hollywood, don't take it personal, it's all business,” illustrating a young man wise beyond his years (21-years-old). Boy Meets World is a gallery of lyrical paintings of life as Fashawn sees it. It's not just about his skill, which on previous mixtapes are evident (see the song “F.A.S.H.A.W.N.”). What’s most impressive about Boy Meets World is Fashawn’s confidence and self-reflection on tracks like “Father,” and “Boy Meets World.” Fashawn not only describes his struggles, but finds resolve in his rough upbringing (father incarcerated and mother’s struggle with substance abuse). He provides support (“Life As A Shorty”) and guidance (“Hey Young World”) to youth with similar struggles. Not to mention, every beat is clean and fitting. With soulful piano samples, and varying tempos, Exile continues to show he is one of the best producers in hip hop today. Boy Meets World is more than just a promising debut, it’s an excellent album.

4AD 2009 Holiday Present

4AD is offering a sampling of tracks from their releases in 2009. This is a perfect opportunity for me to explain how wonderful 4AD is, but that would appear like a promotional scheme. Instead, I'll just state "4AD is wonderful." Happy? I strongly urge you to download these tracks as I've discussed almost all of these bands at some point this year. My particular favorites are St. Vincent, Atlas Sounds, The Big Pink and Anni Rossi, but let me know which ones you prefer.


Top Albums of 2009: #6 of The Hanukkah List

Eve Marcellus: #6

Antlers: Hospice

Brooklyn-based Peter Silberman shut himself away from family and friends to work on music. That is where much of what we know about the story of Hospice, the first full-length release from his band The Antlers, starts, and certainaly not where it ends. The Antlers, which he formed with Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci in 2008, released Hospice independently in March, and officially in August. The album is a musical journey through the process of losing a lover to cancer and both the lyrics and instrumentals contribute to the beautiful and painful expression of such an inexpressible experience. There are moments of remembered happiness, like on "Bear" one of the album's brighter singles, with its roaring chorus and subtly comforting verses. The album's other single, "Two" is one of the album's most emotionally expressive both lyrically and with the plaintively wailing vocals. Both are catchy and raw enough to listen to over and over again on their own. Like a bridge between them there is the haunting, dream-like track "Thirteen" which features vocals from Sharon Van Etten. By contrast, intensely static-y, almost dissonant tracks like the nearly eight minute long "Atrophy," add to the sensory experience which The Antlers have created for the listener. Obviously, Silberman's songwriting and the band's ability to compose a complete musical picture from these interestingly varied pieces is a testament to their outstanding abilities. It is hard to imagine comparing this album to other works, even by the same artist. And while the reception of their debut full-length was, according to many sources, a bit unexpected by the band, I hope we get to experience more of their honest and quietly beautiful sound in the future.

David Johnson-Igra: #6

Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavillion

Animal Collective's fan base seemingly grows with fanatic supporters paralleled by equaling detractors. Over the years, the group’s avant-garde sound has kept them an underground name. While critics will declare Merriweather Post Pavillion their “pop hit,” it’s far from pop as we know it. Each song is heavily textured with irritating repetitions, balanced by soothing melodies, breaking for bright hooks, and pulsating rhythms. Animal Collective’s music is so uniquely Animal Collective that it must, and can be appreciated as its own entity. On past albums like Strawberry Jam or Sung Tongs, the band has been faulted for their experimentalism, considered overwhelming for their confused concoction of tweets, chants, claps, styles and effects. It’s undermining to say the group has found a simplistic peace, but rather, it appears they’ve created a symbiotic balance. While in the past vocalist Avey Tare would let loose, chanting or echoing trails of tribal noises, on Merriweather Post Pavillion his minimalist restraint opens songs with punctuating hooks, and choruses. His vocals compliment perfectly the dissonant and disconnected Panda Bears lyrics on tracks like “Guys Eye,” or “Taste.” Meanwhile on songs like “Summertime Clothes,” the group’s experimentalism blends with a Beach Boy-esque pop, with crawling, crass synthesized effects dissipating into swinging rhythms that sway with harmonic progressions. With such varying effects and sounds, fans will debate favorites (“My Girls,” “Brothersport” or my personal “Guys Eye”), but no one can disregard the success of Merriweather Post Pavillion establishing a new “pop.”


Top Albums of 2009: #7 of The Hanukkah List

Eve Marcellus: #7

The XX: XX

True confession: I sometimes find that I have downloaded a slew of buzzworthy new music and let some of it go unnoticed for weeks at a time. The only bonus is that sometimes my iPod and I get to share a thrilling moment of discovery when one such song comes up on shuffle. This is how I "discovered" my profound love for Vampire Weekend's 2008 self-titled release when "Oxford Comma" surprised me on a particularly hum-drum (also freezing) bus ride through downtown Minneapolis. This is also how I discovered The XX. Shuffling through dozens of tracks I'd heard enough times to know by the first few notes, then "Islands" came on. It seems that 2009 was somewhat dominated by "chillwave", but nothing made quite the same positive impression on the scene as The XX. I was immediately drawn to the rough-around-the edges sound. The electronic buzz that lends to both the instrumentals and vocals a slightly homespun, basement-tinkering quality. With a drum machine in place of an actual drummer, the minimalist, bass-heavy tracks point out the power that simplicity can have. Like the xylophone that twinkles over "VCR" or the almost danceable beats of "Night Time", the tracks each contain a unique element of focus, pushing it to center stage without pushing it in your face. The vocal harmonies, a blend of female prettiness and male roughness, quietly emphasize the lyrics throughout. The almost conversational quality of "Stars" shows how adept they are at combining a few small elements into something so great. This was a huge year for the young (like, they're 20) British band. Despite losing keyboardist Baria Qureshi in November, I expect they will continue to dazzle with quietly powerful magic in the future.

David Johnson-Igra: #7

Brother Ali: Us

With Us Brother Ali solidified himself as one of the most dynamic and best story-telling emcees in hip hop. As a follows up to The Truth, on which Ali discussed his son, divorce, and being homeless, Us discussed issues of rape, homosexuality, race, and slavery. Many story-raps today stick to the same drug braggadocio, and hood life anthems. On “Breaking Dawn,” Ali sing-songs about a son of a slave owner who’s been abandoned because he has leprosy and then taken in by slaves only to discover he doesn’t fit with them either. This is real hip hop. While Ali is directly discussing racial barriers, he’s also providing insight on his own life as a white albino rapper. As on “House Keys,” or “The Travelers,” Ali is providing stories for understanding, not preaching. I hate to say it, but this type of introspective, and insightful hip hop is hard to find these days. Few emcees have as much ability to write personally, socially, and poetically as Brother Ali, making Us one of the best albums in 2009.

Interview with Lee "Scratch" Perry

At 73-years-old, Lee "Scratch" Perry has walked a path bordering on genius and crazy, something he might call “god’s way.” During his career, Perry was masterfully produced for Bob Marley, collaborated with Keith Richards and wrote for The Clash. He’s considered by many as one of the creators of the “reggae beat” and dub music. Meanwhile, in the press his eccentricities have shined. In interviews his spirituality were sometimes construed as ranting babbles. Once after being asked about his belief in Jesus Christ, he flashed the journalist and said, “Here’s Jesus Christ.” Now his 44th studio album, Repentance, has been nominated as the “Best Reggae Album” for the 2009 Grammy. SFCritic spoke with "The Upsetter" from his home in Switzerland.


John Vanderslice DJs KUSF

For all my San Francisco, Bay Area followers, John Vanderslice will be a special guest DJ on KUSF (90.3 FM) today at 3pm-4PM PST. Vanderslive was a contributing producer for Spoon's last album Ga Ga Ga, and also worked with The Mountain Goats.

Santacon 2009

Santacon this weekend..be there or be a Scrooge. Find out more here. Or click on the map above to see the schedule.

People's Choice Submissions

As we continue to collect the People's Choice Awards for 2009, we will post a few of the stellar, amusing, and unique reviews that are sent our way. Remember! we are collecting submissions until 12/21, so it's not to late to add your two cents! For those that have already sent in something, thank you!

Doves: "Kingdom of Rust"

"If two alt rock bands—Doves and Coldplay—were dangling precariously over a fiery pit of lava and I could only save one, I would drop Chris Martin and company faster than you could say “Viva La Vida”. This is because Doves manage to provide listeners with a pleasant and down-to-earth level of rock from album to album without fail. Most Doves fans I know have remained steadfast in their support since getting into the group’s earlier collections of work like Lost Souls (2000) and Some Cities (2005). In Kingdom of Rust, no song is otherworldly; yet each is solid and contributory to the elegant sound and feel of the album. “Kingdom of Rust” and “Winter Hill” are my personal favorites. “Jetstream”, meanwhile, sounds like something in Radiohead’s wheelhouse." - Joel Churnin

Various Artist: "New Moon Soundtrack"

"I'm pretty impressed with the New Moon Soundtrack. It features an amazing, progressive track by Thom Yorke, a groundbreaking duet by Bon Iver and St. Vincent, and a truly haunting piece by Lykke Li. Other notable contributions are from Anya Marina, Band of Skulls, and Grizzly Bear. "Friends" is a particularly catchy song which, even after multiple listens, does not disappoint. The weakness of the album is Death Cab for Cutie's "Meet Me on the Equinox" which is dull, formulaic, and repetitive. I always skip the track when I am listening to this album. If I'm unlucky enough to hear it on the radio in a public place..." -Caitlin Madill

Top Albums of 2009: #8 of The Hanukkah List

Eve Marcellus: #8

Fanfarlo: "Reservoir"

Fanfarlo is a 5-piece band from London formed in 2006 by Swedish musician Simon Balthazar. Reservoir is their first full-length album release. Initially, tracks such as "The Walls are Coming Down" and "I'm a Pilot", made me think the group was a stylistic rip-off of Beirut's gypsy-folk thing. Even still, after spending much, much more time with it, there are many similarities to be heard, particularly in vocals, as well as the nearly ubiquitous trumpet and violin.

However, Reservoir has something lovely and all its own to offer listeners. The album is sort of a curated mix between a more traditional high energy alt-rock sound ("Harold T. Wilkins", "Fire Escape") and subtle yet complex folk-tinged tracks ("Comets", "If It Is Growing"). There's also an earnest pop sensibility to the male-female vocal harmonies and the twinkling combination of synth and glock. The instrumental depth and sustained energy of the songs gives the album the kind of unusually cohesive sound that makes for a great debut. The band put Reservoir on the market following its February release for $1 in an effort to spread the word. As the year drew to a close their buzz grew, drawing serious attention at several of the numerous stops on their North American tour (wrapping up December 18), including indie folk darlings Fleet Foxes in Seattle. Otherwise, the album hasn't really been showing too well in the "Best of 2009" lists now popping up across the internet. Nevertheless, I really love this album and expect a continuation of greatness from the Fanfarlo kids well into the future.

David Johnson-Igra: #8

Akron/Family: "Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free"

Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free is an unusual choice, but warranted. I first heard them live at Outside Lands. They performed sonically tight, yielding and perfectly fitting like drum circles at hippie hill in Golden Gate Park. Upon first listening to their record, I’ll admit I was initially put off by the unconventional song structure, the occasional discord, and range of styles. After interviewing Seth Olinksy, and discovering the group’s original interest in experimental jazz my opinion changed. Understandably, this need for musical explanation to help appreciate their sounds might not only scare many away, but bore or put off others. My change in opinion was not the result of some haughty desire to describe the band as avant-garde or post-modern, but with this new understanding of the dynamic styles which range from experimental minimalism (“I’ve Got Some Friends”) to folksy lullaby (“Phenomenon”). Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free is an abstract restructuring of indie rock composition, lacking singles, and consistent concrete musical structure. Many critics have similarly praised Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion (myself included)for its attempt to redefine our understanding of indie rock. In this regard, both albums have created genre bending music that shouldn't go unappreciated.


SFCritic's Hanukkah Guidelines for 2009

Tomorrow evening celebrates both the first night of Hanukkah, and the first day of our SFCritic's Top 8 Hanukkah countdown. For the next eight business days, Eve and I will each publish a selection from our list. Instead of just giving you our top albums, we've decided to also share our thought process in compiling our selections.


RJD2 "Games You Can Win" Ft. Kenna

RJD2's new album The Colossus is set to be released on January 12th, 2010. The underground hip hop producer from Colombia, OH, has released "Games You Can Win," which features vocalist Kenna. On his last album, RJD2 was touted and criticized for playing several classical instruments; rather than creating his signature rock sampled, funk infused hip hop production. With "Games You Can Win" it seems RJD2 has returned to his old form, and put together a soulful and funky joint.

West Coast Rap All-Stars "We're All In The Same Gang"

West Coast All Stars was a collaboration of old school hip hop stars in 1990 during the Stop the Violence Movement. Featuring Dr. Dre, MC Hammer, Digital Underground, Eazy-E, Tone-Loc--the list is almost too much to consider. Imagine this west coast lineup today: Mista F.A.B., The Game, Snoop Dogg *cough who else?

"We're All In The Same Gang," addressed real issue of violence in the hood. Can you remember the last song that had this many popular artists that addressed hood issues? I can, but it wasn't about the hood, it was the All-Star Tribute of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" in response to 9/11. That's sad for many reasons.


Sea Wolf Video "The Cold, Dark, and The Silent"

Sea Wolf: "The Cold, Dark, and The Silent"

The air was brisk and cold today in San Francisco. Thanks to global warming, ("climate change") a previous week of highs is ultimately proceeded by exceeding lows. Oh, isn't the weather just a metaphor for the changing mood? The growing need for warm comforting fires. The time when men decide they want to cuddle. Hot cocoa always sounds delicious.

During this period my musical interests change. Somber, darker, and soothing songs grow increasingly more appealing. Today, subconsciously my brain must have sensed this as I walked home from a coffee shop. My thoughts were cluttered with the repeating hook of Sea Wolf's "The Cold, Dark, and The Silent." The guitar strums like a somber lullaby as vocalist Alex Church sings, "If you were to roll, to roll down your window you'd find the wind / the ice / the trees /that sway like skeletons outside." Yes, it's winter time. Take a listen, let me know what you think is your "winter song."

Sea Wolf "The Cold, Dark and The Silent" lyrics

Please don't lie, don't lie to me
that you're not afraid, my love.
I know you well enough to know
you can't be alone.

If you were to roll, to roll down your window
you'd find the wind, the ice, the trees
that sway like skeletons outside.

But when the cold, the dark, and the silence come
it's like a sudden rush of water through your heart and lungs.

Phoenix - "1901" Live

This video is reproduced from La Blogotheque. There's a special feeling that arises in me when I see a performance that replicates the quality of a CD. Phoenix blew up this year, and will definitely be one of SFCritic's favorite. This song in particular is my favorite from the album, Wolfgang Amadeus.


Interview with Captured! By Robots: Being Saved

JBOT is Captured! By Robots. JBOT, the moniker of Jason Vance, created robots to accompany him after struggling to find musicians who weren’t addicted to drugs, consumed with egos, or otherwise “damaged.” Rarely leaving script, after Jason was captured, the robots placed a chip in his brain transforming him into JBOT. Having created six robots to “back” his performances, his shows have become a popular spectacle of antics and fun. At a pit stop for sandwiches while returning from Los Angeles, JBOT spoke to SFCritic during a phone interview.

SFCritic(SFC): So how come you don’t play in New York or LA?

JBOT (J): The attitude now is too cool for school. I just have had bad experiences playing in LA and New York. To get any kind of attention you have to sell your soul. It’s just not worth it.

SFC: Right. You already sold your soul to robots, isn’t that correct?

J: No. They took it. Now our relationship has turned into a functionally dysfunctional relationship.


Reader's Choice Awards 2009

Ho Ho and Happy Hanu-kwanza to you all! Here at SFCritic we want to reach out to all our readers and ask for their opinions. TELL US YOUR FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2009. We plan to collect everyone's submissions and compile them to create our first "Reader's Choice Awards."

Here are the guidelines:
1. Write about at least 1 to 10 albums
2. Each selection should be explained with at least three to four sentences
3. If you submit more than 1, put them in the order of preference
4. Submissions will be accepted until 12/21
5. Submit your list to djohnsonigra@gmail.com

From now until 12/21 we will post our favorite descriptions, and the incoming results as they go--if we receive any that is! So don't be a Scrooge, and get into the holiday music spirits. Submit your list NOW to: djohnsonigra@gmail.com


Listen to What You're Missin': Kidz in the Hall, Get Busy Committee, Fanfarlo, Throw Me The Statue

Kidz in the Hall: "Grizzly Man"

In the year of Grizzly Bear, even hip hop artists can't seem to get enough. "Grizzly Man," samples Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks," and is a refreshing indie/hip hop blend. Kidz in the Hall, comprised of producer Double-O and emcee Naledge, created one of my favorite hip hop albums in 2008, The In Crowd. The album featured heavy bass kicks both gritty and indie with Naledge's butter flow crisply dropping lines like "Diamond in the back, sunroof top / Low End Theory tape cause I'm so hip-hop." In hip hop there are many different styles: gangsta, backpacker, underground, southern, dance-pop, etc. These days dance-pop, the dominant radio play, has even become more niche--auto-tune-dance-pop. Kidz in the Hall bring back a dance-pop that is fun, interesting, old school in a way familiar to House of Pain "Jump Around," or EPMD's "You Got to Chill." Their sophomore album, Land of Make Believe is set to be released in Feb. 2010--lookout!

Get Busy Committee: "Razorblades"

Before Grizzly Bear was a sensation there was The Knife. LA hip hop group, Get Busy Committee (GBC) have sampled the Knifes "Heartbeats," and made a fantastic hip hop song. This song is just another alternative of what GOOD POP hip hop can sound like. Indie meeting hip hop, is this the future? I hope so. The whole album is pretty fresh, and def. worth a listen. I mean, I'll listen to any hip hop that starts "Kids idolize us / Mothers all despise us." Yeah Mom, what?


A&R: The Music Submissions

Dylan In The Movies - "Josephine If You Only Knew"

Dylan In The Movies is a relatively solo project or "musical brainchild" of Boston-based Brian Sullivan. The album features the input of some big names in contemporary alternative rock/alt country world that should bring Sullivan's new release more notoriety. Name-dropping The Watson Twins (not to mention their partner Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley) and Tanya Donelly (formerly of the Breeders, among others) should give the album buzz, though it might not clue listeners in to what they're getting. The single itself sounds like a more complex, and yet marketable, version of the adult contemporary genre. While that sounds like a snooze, his voice has a honed yet rough quality that makes it an appealing match for the emotional yet vague lyrics that tend to highlight the pining and regretful moments in male-female relationships. The guitar hook in "Josephine" is sunny, catchy, and only slightly plaintive. Though it's probably not going to be "what the kids are into", Sullivan has the talent and ear to put together an appealing single.

Sounds Like: Edwin McCain without the kitsch.

Ken Helman - Emerging

After hearing his latest project Emerging it seems like music veteran and recent transplant to the SF Bay Area Ken Helman has come to the right place. His pianist-singer-songwriter style evokes both musical theater and the contemporary artists that have successfully translated their style into honest and emotional pop careers. The uniqueness of his voice, clearly controlled but vaguely unsettled, seems to frame the stories that his lyrics weave. There is nothing to distract you from the fact that Helman is telling intensely personal tales with his songs, nothing between the listener, him, and his piano accompaniment. Broadway fans and those with an avid appreciation for a pared-down style, embellished only with talent, will probably treasure his work. Others probably won't get it.

Sounds Like: Rufus Wainright or Antony & The Johnsons, with a less broad appeal.
Listen To: "Caught a Ride", "Passing Stranger"


Thought Process-->Blakroc-->Billy Ray Cyrus-->Garth Brooks

The Thought Process is a post that chronicles the scattered musical connections of a day in the life of SFCritic, providing an in-depth look at how I'm crazy about music.

In preparation for my flight back to SFC from NYC I loaded the new Blakroc album onto my Ipod. I've been blabbering about this album for months. Now having listened to it a few times, "Ain't Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo)" ft. Mos Def and Jim Jones is the best (and first) single from the album. Jim Jones kills the track with his high (literally) flow that feels like it should float away until he spit poignant lines like "Most say I'm politically incorrect / most people are scared they spit indirect."

I was listening to this track before takeoff when a woman approached me to sit down in the middle seat. "Someone has puked in my seat, is it okay if I sit next to you?" she asked. "No absolutely not that's my leg room," was my initial thought, but I smiled and replied "Yes, of course." This is the difference between a kid from CA and NY--passive politeness.

I forgot about my scrunched knees as I discovered the woman was rather interesting. She was upset because her family had guilt tripped her for choosing to live in CA, hoping they could coax her to live closer to them. Surprisingly, her family is not Jewish, eliminating the stereotype that only Jewish mothers guilt trip their children. As the conversation continued, I asked her, "What music do you listen to?"
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