Five minutes after arriving at the Regency, our night takes a weird turn. Security searches my girlfriend’s purse, confiscates a pack of chewing gum, and somehow misses the large flask of whiskey beneath it. Of course I think this is best thing ever. I take it as a sign that God wants us drunk. “Have you heard the album?” I ask. “This is providence.”
Let me be clear: Minus The Bear has a new album called Omni, and I do not like that album. Play a few tracks and tell me it doesn’t sound like some coked-up, synthed-out Don Henley fever dream. And if you think that’s a good thing, you’ve clearly never had a coked-up, synthed-out Don Henley fever dream. Shit’ll scar you for life, man.
Since I’m “minus the beer,” I head straight for the bar. In the next room, the opening band is caterwauling some loud ballad. They sound angsty, like they’re upset they’re not headlining. Noise surges and gets clipped off as the crowd flows back and forth through the double doors. I survey the scene. It’s an all-ages show. Everyone is dressed nicely. I feel like I’m either crashing a high school dance or a tech company after-party. Is this the Minus The Bear fan base? Or are these the new recruits? The band has been around for years, but Omni has a different tone than their previous efforts. Are these the people drawn to lyrics like “There’s a mirror full of ‘caine in the bathroom”? I hope not. That’s a ridiculous lyric. (Unless they mean Michael Caine, in which case it rules.)
We find our way to the stage just in time. The lights drop, the audience applauds, and the band walks out. The first thing I notice is that the guitarist looks almost exactly like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. I think this is awesome. It brings whole new levels of entertainment to the show.
Within the first thirty seconds, it’s obvious these guys are much heavier live. Something about the combination of the beards and the odd-time riffs makes me think of mid-90s grunge. This is totally acceptable to me. I am shocked. They play through their new songs and my surprise grows. Tracks that come off as hipster-adult-contemporary on the albums are rocking pretty hard here. Although the electronic limpness I dislike is still there, it’s much more palatable injected with live energy. The band can play, there’s no question about that.
I’m not sure if it’s the music, the vibe, or the pint cups full of whiskey we down during the set, but my girlfriend and I both leave liking them more. A good live show is hard to argue with, and I’m not about to do so here. So this is my advice on Minus The Bear: ignore their albums, see them live, and smuggle in booze. The bouncers won’t notice, I promise.
Every member of the Local Natives is local to Los Angeles except for one. It’d be hard to decide which of the best of buds who all live together in their “Gorilla Manor” (also the title of their debut album) is the exception—so we thought we’d help. The transplant bassist from Colorado, better know as Andy Hamm, spoke with SFCritic in a phone interview. The group performs two nights in San Francisco, once at the Rickshaw Stop on June 2nd, and also at the Bottom of The Hill on June 3rd.
SFCritic (SFC): So you’re the only transplant, did you have any preconceived notions of what to expect in LA?
Andy Hamm (AH): I think just the usual notions, because you know if you’re in Colorado you sort of pick them out, like snowboarding and skiing is stuff I did all the time, and people in Southern California were asking me, “Tell me about the mountains! Snowboarding and how awesome it is!” I thought of the beach that way, it was such an iconic place.
SFC: I’m sure you’re familiar we have our Nor-Cal and So-Cal rivalry, you know, we have our stereotypes about So-Cal.
AH: I think that living in Newport Beach opened my eyes to the really conservative, and flashy side of Orange County, and all that super old money--the really darker side of that area. The other side was that there was a really cool skate, surf, and art people that I met in Newport Beach and they were all great people.
SFC: So how did you meet the rest of the group?
AH: I was working valet at this super cheesy Huntington Beach nightclub, called Scorpion Nightclub, believe it or not. It was exactly what everyone, what your preconceived notion probably is of Southern California: young kids with rich parents that were pulling up to this club with fake breasts and beach blond, rolling in brand new BMWs even though they were only twenty-one years old.
I was the poor valet guy who was working off the tips. I had to take the money that mommy and daddy gave to them and they didn’t know what to do with. One of the other guys I valeted had heard of the guys, and that they were looking for a bass player. I listened to the music and it was pretty good. It was a different style though.
SFC: What were you used to before that?
AH: When I was in seventh, eight, and even ninth grade I was a metal head. I loved punk music, and I was playing in those types of bands.
I wanted to do something different and then I found these guys, and it seemed like they were just into writing good music.
SFC: Do you have a good story from The Scorpion Club?
AH: The girls would come out of the club and be hitting on us and your mind would be really on trying to make money and go home and get to sleep, so that was one adventure. We would charge $75 a spot for these guys that just wanted to have their H2 in the front spot. I had a blast because it was just me and five of my other buddies getting to drive Mercedes and BMWs, when I had 1990 Jetta that got rear-ended.
SFC: Do you consider yourself a local of Silver Lake where you reside now?
AH: I think I’m still earning that. Especially where we live in Silver Lake, there is a very close knit music culture and art culture, and we’re surrounded by writers and actors and everything that is LA. I would hope that we slowly but surely earn our keep.
SFC: In the Gorilla Manor, your house, who is the gorilla and who is the chimp of the house?
AH: I usually get the title from the other guys the more stern, and pretty brutally honest and the first one to say no to something—so, that would probably throw me in the gorilla. The chimp? I don’t know what the chimp would be. Depends on what you categorize the chimp as?
SFC: Well, I’ll leave that up to you.
AH: I’m trying to think how I would relate it. I think Ryan, the youngest out of everybody. He’ll be the chimp in our story.
SFC: How did you get the name Gorilla Manor for the house?
AH: Gorilla Manor is just a funny couple of words that Ryan thought of. We wanted to name the album based on the fact that we did all choose to live together in this house, and write these songs. We had spent so much time on it, while all that song writing was happening we were having way too much fun. It was that juxtaposition of Gorilla Manor, we thought that visual alone really fit what we were going through.
It was never an actual thing, and we would be like, “Let’s take this party back to the Gorilla Manor!”
Local Natives play on June 2nd at Rickshaw Stop, and June 3rd at the Bottom of The Hill. Tickets at the Rickshaw are $12. Doors open 8pm. Tickets at the Bottom of the Hill are $12. Doors open at 9:30pm.
Today, sun gods beget sun gods with this freebie from Suckers—a safari-like refit of fellow Frenchkiss shamans Local Natives’ “Wide Eyes,” which blows by in an illuminated and jaunty hymnal. Suckers are touring with Local Natives, and will be in San Francisco next week.
Carribou: "Sun (Altrice Only What You Gave Me Remix)"
Caribou’s new, bliss-blown LP Swim is such a stunning reinvention that it's really no surprise Dan Snaith opened “Sun” up to all who wanted to have at it. Tuscon producer Altrice was the man who eventually emerged victorious in a recent remix competition, his version of the track altogether more predatory and ominous, but no less mesmerizing.
Hot Hot Heat: "Zero Results"
Many weaker bands have crumbled in the seven years since Hot Hot Heat’s deliriously catchy breakthrough, but the Vancouver quartet are still successfully mining dance-punk for all of its neurotic, dramatic gold. New LP Future Breeds doesn’t hold back in that regard, but “Zero Results” is something different, a slower, raunchier minor chord vamp that sounds like it was born from the bottom of an absinthe bottle.
Fool’s Gold familia, Donnis, has a busy day coming up next month. On June 22, the Atlanta Brave will simultaneously release his major label debut, The Fashionably Late EP, and a Clinton Sparks assisted mixtape of the same name. “Yup” the first leak from the mixtape is a crass and cocky swag-fest with a laser-focused Donnis doing what he does best: talk shit and kill instrumentals.
Thieves Like Us: "Shyness"
Thieves Like Us are the sort of dudes you envy. They met at a picnic in Berlin, have lived together in New York and London, and currently reside there, in Paris, and Milan, though none of them are originally from of those countries. They recorded their new album, Again And Again, in a Parisian basement, and it smells (er, sounds) of punch-drunk wanderlust–freewheeling and romantic, an electronic record that hasn’t been completely dehumanized. Explore “Shyness”’ lovers-disco and you’ll see what we mean.
BIG K.R.I.T.: "Moon & Stars (Feat. Devin The Dude)"
Trying to rap your way out of Mississippi isn’t easy. Just ask Big K.R.I.T. who has been struggling to put his city on the map. But all those years of neglect have strengthened K.R.I.T.’s resolve. Out of necessity, he learned to make his own beats, sing his own hooks, and rap rubber bands around the competition. His debut album, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here feels like a real Southern meal; home-cooked with the freshest ingredients and a whole lotta soul.
"The South African Bowie"
Ashton Nyte - The Valley
This could also be considered our World Cup-themed A&R submission. Nyte, an indie rocker with enough morose tracks to make an early 80s Morrisey fan draw their curtains and cry, hails from Johannesburg. Something of a sensation, apparently, on his home turf, The Valley formally debuts on our shores on June 15. The title track "Jennifer" has lovely, if not complex, instrumentals, but the vocals sound pretty much exactly like "China Girl" and boy is it distracting! On other tracks, such as the echo-filled "Window" or the slightly undone and sexy "Sick of This", the album appears a bit more original and less like a carbon copy from post-punk's golden years. Unfortunately, the overwhelmingly darkness, as well as it's lack of variety in style and rhythm, makes it hard for any one track to jump out as a particular, and to imagine anyone but the most ardent fan, making it through the whole thing. Does he sound like Bowie? Yes. Does he exhibit any other Bowie-like characteristics? Nope. Not a one.
Listen to: Jennifer, Murder Me
Sounds Like: "An Afro-Funk O.A.R"
Frank Viele and The Manhattan Project - Neon Lights
Now, my personal feelings regarding O.A.R. aside, I was highly skeptical when this came into my inbox. While young white men with a little jazz or soul influence have done exceedingly well in the music industry (John Mayer? Dave Matthews? Jason Mraz, anyone?), one has to wonder if ANYONE backed by an extremely talented, diverse band, could be a hit? Personally, I'm going with no. And Frank Viele seems to support my theory. Afro-Funk this is not. However, his husky voice and both the musical strength of the band and their skilled arrangement makes the album come alive, and makes it worth listening to. The title track "Neon Lights" is a sort of sweeping, Western-influenced epic. It draws you in, stops just short of taking itself too seriously, and doesn't draw on too long. The sax-heavy "Right in Front of Me" starts out syrupy, but opens up into a pleasant little light jazz love song. The band is currently touring extensively on the East Coast supporting the Wailers, but anyone who is a fan of the artists mentioned above would do themselves a favor to make a point to seek out Viele and crew. It's a fresh and frankly higher-quality take on the phenomenon.
Listen To: Neon Lights, Bein' Lonely Together
Lazerproof, the new mixtape by Major Lazer of La Roux is now made available by our boys at Mad Decent. We have haven't taken a listen, but hey, why don't you tell us what you think? We wouldn't want to leave our readers in the dark on this hot mix. LINK HERE
Spektor is thrilled to join President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to celebrate the range and depth of the Jewish American heritage and contributions to American culture.
"Having moved to America from Soviet Russia as a child with my family, we dreamed of reconnecting with our religious traditions and of making America our home" says Spektor. "Having lived here for over twenty years, it is an unimaginable honor to be invited to the White House by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, to an event celebrating Jewish Americans, and to be counted among them. Nothing in the world could make us feel more accepted and at home!"
SFCritic just received this wire earlier today. Two comments: 1) Why didn't someone tell me there was such thing as a Jewish heritage month? Does this mean there are specials on bagels, because I would like that (I'm Jewish, and I don't mean this to be inflammatory, but it would really be great if there was a bagel or knish special for the month) 2) I must say Regina Spektor is a much better choice than Barbara Streisand. Right?
After originally adding the snark commentary above, I was asked to go a little further in-depth, rather than be cynical. Oh dear me!
In an interview with Tweed Magazine Regina Spektor was asked:
"Tweed: How does your experience growing up affect your current political views?
Regina: I think in some ways I am more idealistic politically than many of my American friends, who were born here. I have an immigrant’s America—and so I’m lucky—it’s a different kind of love. You can still be critical, but you have more perspective than someone who is born here. So you just smile and listen to your people talk about how they are not free at some party. While they blast whatever music they want, smoke pot, watch any documentary, read any book, write any article, wear any statement, take any class, travel to any country—and don’t get shipped to Siberia, or a labor camp, or taken out back and shot the next day... Yeah, everything is relative."As a Jew with friends who are Jewish immigrants from all parts of the former Soviet Union, I've heard statements like Regina's before. I won't argue the reality of the "American Dream," but let be stated that many believe it. Regina Spektor, formerly from Moscow, immigrated to the United States to avoid persecution and discrimination. Fifty-years ago this invitation during the Cold War era, Jewish Heritage Month or not, would never have occurred. Think about that for a second. Now, will there ever be a Muslim Heritage Month?
In pornography a "fluffer" is a person who sexual "prepares" an actor before a scene. This event seems like a fluff event--and we're getting sweet with Regina Spektor. Not that Spektor should have turned down the event, but by honoring Jewish heritage are we taking steps forward, or separating ourselves?
This is tangential, but will the public image of Jews in the US benefit from Regina Spektor singing at The White House? Will the event address the growing international concern that American Jews are equally responsible for the divide in the Middle East because of American subsidization of Israel? Not likely. Will a Muslim Heritage Month or Catholic Heritage Month be created? Have we completely absolved ourselves of the separation of "church and state?" Does this event assume that Judaism is a race?
Jewish Heritage Month is in its fifth year, which means it began at the hands of George Bush.
I love MTV Jams. It's the only channel on TV that plays music videos. Granted, most of the videos are Top 40 rappers surrounded by video hoes gyrating on cars with over-sized rims next to stacks of money. All 50 of their friends are in the video drinking in a dimly lit nightclub with more video hoes on their laps.
And then came Trey Songz performing "Say Ahh" for MTV Unplugged, you know, that song you hear everywhere, "Go Girl / Its your birthday / Open wide, I know you're thirsty / Say Ahh (ahh ahh ahh and etc.)"-- complete with acoustic guitars, a stand up bass, bongos and a 3-person string section.
In the absence of the synthetic Top 40 polish, there is Trey Songz, loving the music he is making.
When did mainstream media really start ruining music? When MTV and the big record labels started packaging our music with McNuggets and diet pills. So why are these companies so baffled that increasingly less people pay for music? We stopped buying it when it lost its soul to the plastic jewel case and Wal-Mart obscenity editing.
I mean, would Justin Bieber hold the #1 spot on Billboard if Billboard was still an accurate reflection of what people are listening to? I think not.
According to TechSpot.com, Apple's iTunes held 26.7% of the market share in 2009, up from 21.4% in 2008 and shows no signs of slowing. With its acquisition of Lala.com it is poised to become the new defacto music source. This proves the point that people are still willing to pay for good music, but they will download corporate crap for free, because they feel that is what over-produced and packaged music is worth.
So when does alternative media cross the line into industry standard? When Perez Hilton ranks 500 slots higher in web hits than E! Online. The day MTV gets back to providing a visual outlet for quality music again, it will gain back its cultural relevance. Until then, we will keep downloading away.
The connection between NSR, Dash Speaks and Das Racist seems tenuous. The three bands performed under one roof at the "Almost Famous Showcase" NYC. Sure, as the showcase implied, each group is "almost famous," but was that enough?
After listening to his recordings, it is clear that the stage is this bagel enthusiast’s Eden. From the beginning of his set NSR fuses---memory, nostalgia and charm---tenets of hip-hop that newer artists of late abandon. NSR’s buoyancy and humor about being a white rapper who loves his Jewish upper west side roots inspired laughter from the audience throughout his set. But it wasn’t until he performed “The One” that we experienced a certain vulnerability from him. This standout song, with singer James Kinney whose remarkable voice (that bears a resemblance to Darien Brockington’s) is a universal story about the potential, resistance and confusion to falling in love. As he and Kinney locked eyes with ladies in the audience they threw up their pointer fingers and rocked “could you be the one, one, one, one”. Everyone followed suit, like it was the diamond at a Jay-Z show. He either had people under some sort of “Simon says” spell (not in the Pharohe Monch kind of way) or this self-proclaimed Adrien Brody look-alike (not in that sad Holocaust movie he was in kind of way) kills it (not in the Shug Knight kinda way).
Afterward, the dashing Dash Speaks took the stage, his first big show since debuting Geography that turned out a palpable response from the audience. His set revealed a layered and brutally honest marriage of his knowledge and curiosity about the world and his location inside (or in some cases) outside that world.
A more verbose style than NSR one had to really be attentive to catch the nuances that tie Geography together. His fourth song, “Tonight” was a fire remix of Lykee Lee’s original. The song is a “day in the life” type of track that addresses his seemingly incongruous nature---the hip-hop head, the intellectual and the party dude---he seeks to reconcile. The crowd threw their hands up and rocked with him as he spit “In the tradition of the delta of the longest river in the lower 48…Like the Russian Army/ soldiers in Grozny/ reading Walter Rodney/ sippin vodka tonic as I’m juiced as BIG prolly/ hoppin out the hooptie / listenin’ to Juicy.” Who is Walter Rodney and where the fuck is Grozny (Chechnya, actually) It’s the perfect verse to sum up his performance --- he goes over your head to chill in the outersphere with the intellectuals in the crowd who get those references but he’ll always come back down to earth to listen to Biggy in a hooptie with his peoples. Some might call it elitism, but I think it’s just Dash Speaks rocking to the beat of his own (remixed electro) drum.
Das Racist (the “Barefoot Contessas” of the night) ambled onto the stage (like Old Man River minus the weariness of being enslaved) with baroque African headpieces and salwark meez’s. In their hands were vats of rice and beans that they threw at audience members. Nah, that was a lie. The dudes danced around the stage like carefree dunces but as they ask in their first song “who’s that brooown”---“what has brown done for me lately”---- those browns’ performance ended up doing a lot.
The eternal Das Racist question: are we heady-white-liberal-arts-graduates "dudes good or are we charlatans," "are we resisting hegemony," and "are we resisting hegemony by listening to them?” Their live show only answered one probing query: they’re unabashedly impervious and they’re never going to answer those questions. Rhyming from their own truths, careful not to fall into the trap of many performers of color having to speak on behalf of “the” community.
Throughout their set the audience was in stitches as they meandered around the stage picking up heavy, expensive sound equipment---much to the chagrin of angry looking soundmen. Their good time was viral, people swaying to jocular, upbeat songs of weighty substance. Their third song of their set, “Shorty Says” best exemplifies this classic Das Racist rule of inserting serious social commentary sneakily via funny beats, sounds and voices. The bearded and (truly) racially ambiguous Victor rhymes “Shorty said I look like Devendra Banhart/ Shorty said I look just like Egyptian lover” and later “Shorty said I look like Osama plus Obama.” Like many of their songs, laundry lists of names made the audience laugh and simultaneously reflect on personal racial and cultural projections. But that’s not what they’re trying to accomplish. If you’d ask them if that was their goal they’d probably say: “Shut up, dude.”
The three groups' sounds are as different as Book T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. Oh wait, identity. They all talk about that a lot. Identity is a strong function of the three acts and though each brings it in a strikingly different way, it's clear to see they are all cut from the same cloth---New York.
“Suddenly it was just me,” said Jannis Makrigiannis, his feet pointed inward, as both hands clutched the microphone like it was a safety vest. In an interview with SFCritic during SXSW, Jannis, better known as Choir Of Young Believers, spoke about his experience as a solo musician after leaving his old group, Lake Placid, in 2006. For the quiet and shy musician it wasn’t an easy transition, and on that particular day felt like a work still in progress.
I have never interviewed anyone like Jannis. As I spoke to him I was worried that at any moment I might tip him over the edge with a question too introspective, prodding a place inside him he’s kept hidden. A language barrier made this even more difficult. “You can have a conversation with a person which really makes you feel alive, or makes that moment stand out and be important for you, but these conversations at least for me don’t happen
every month, or every week, or every day,” he said, but that’s not true with music.
“It doesn’t really matter who it is, but if the person is being very open, and honest it will always leave an impression,” he explained. He’s correct. Choir of Young Believer’s has become known for the emotional honesty within lyrics like, “Next summer/ I will return/ I'll be back/ I'll break your heart” from the song “Next Summer” (from the album This Is for the White in Your Eyes). Most of his music is structured pop songs that give listeners painfully honest glances into what feels like private therapy sessions.
I asked Jannis if someone had broken his heart. He tells me yes, and that the lyrics are quite obvious. “When you ask me about the lyrics, it’s a funny lyric to talk about because it’s very simple and it comes from the heart and that’s the best thing I can do.”
“I think that we all need to feel touched, or need emotional activity and I get that far more often by listening or playing music than I do from actually talking to people,” Jannis explained. For any music fan there are songs that become something more than just sounds. We’re reminded of a feeling, a place, or a memory. It’s hard to describe this abstract connection, but it happens.
And how this abstract emotionalism is manifested may be best summed up by Jannis, “A friend of mine who studies at the classical conservatory once told me this music philosophy [that] you divide song writers into gardeners and architects. The gardeners are like something [that] comes up and they’re not controlling it, but maybe cutting it a little bit here and there, but the gardener takes care of it the plants and the plants come up themselves. Then there is the architect where everything, every single brick in your music you thought about and you know why it is put there. So I would be the gardener.”
And then it occurred to me that as we listen to the Choir of Young Believers we all are hearing him tend to his garden, enjoying his flowers, and it’s no longer just him. The shy introvert blooms through his music.
Sleigh Bells "Treat 'Em"
If I held out on talking about Sleigh Bells any longer it might be considered a music crime, or tarnish my REP for neglect! A lot of music bloggers are calling Treats, the group's debut, one of the best album thus far of 2010. Not sure I'd go that far, as we all seem to overindulge these days on synthesizers and indie rock, but nonetheless--we'll let you decide.
School of Seven Bells: "Babelonia"
School of Seven Bells have a new album, and with that, a new dream-pop ballad to gift. “Babelonia” is equal parts embracing and isolating—an immensely movable tune that beckons you to dance alone to the rapturous beat.
Evan Voytas: "ASTRO"
"Meet me up Astso / Because I can get lost," and within the ambient synthesizer noise that waltzes through your brain like riding an acid trip on Falkor's back--"Astro," is that track you press play after drinking too much syrup after a summer BBQ.
A-Trak: "Trizzy Turn"
2007’s Dirty South Dance was a defining release for A-Trak—a tangible example of the pastiche of his DJ sets. So the second edition, which arrives on May 17, will fall somewhere between a victory lap, a look forward, and another excuse to bug out to expertly chosen rap a cappellas sewn onto expertly chosen club music. For “Trizzy Turnt Up,” that means Roscoe Dash and Soulja Boy livening up Claude VonStroke’s “Vocal Chords”. Somewhere, Girl Talk is crying into his headband.
Nas and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley: "As We Enter (Tinie Tempah Remix)"
Tinie Tempah—who’s not exactly the quietest, most obscure kid on the hip-hop block—gets to spit as Nas and Damian Marley look on, heads bobbing, no doubt, to soul-shine horn parps and party-up bass. Someone here seems to be doing a cat impression, too. Not sure who’s responsible for that.
The Black Rabbits - The Black Rabbits EP
The Black Rabbits are a high-energy rock outfit from Ashville, North Carolina. Their debut EP is full of the type of catchy, pop-rock music that is so universal, it sounds familiar even the first go-round. While that might sound like a slight, it sure isn't! Making that type of thing sound fresh and likable, which The Black Rabbits manage to do on each of their five tracks, is no simple feat. There are a few reasons it works, one of which is simplicity. In the same way that The Beatle's early music is characterized by short, flawlessly produced catchy rock and roll beats, so too is The Black Rabbits. Now, they don't sound like The Beatles, but that's the idea. Nothing too grandiose, no conceptual checks written that this 4 piece can't cash. Vocalist Jetson Black has an appealing sound, unique but not polarizing, which is best characterized on the EP's only slow jam, "Painter, Poet, Prophet, Priest". Otherwise, it's the least memorable of the lot. Luckily, there are four other peppy pop-rock tracks to love.
Sounds Like: A cheerier Eve 6 or Harvey Danger dragged through the early '60s
Listen To: For Way Too Long Now, Emotion
Grand Canyon - The Hits
One theme of the many music submissions to SFCritic (yep, there are many! And yes, there are some themes!) is "non-traditional" releases. It seems popular in this day and age to not only forgo the more traditional record label route, but to do away with tradition all together. Grand Canyon, out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has done just that. Billing themselves as an "indie/alternative/punk/country/whatever band," they released their debut album "The Hits" (ironic?) on cassette tape (what ARE those, right?!). Well, they sold through all 50 of those right quick, but thankfully the album is also available for digital download, free, on their website. Now, creative marketing ways aside (or gimmick, for all the haters out there). On first listen, it's an interesting album! There are horns and harmonies. It has a solid Western feel, vaguely reminiscent of Johnny Cash. Songs like soaring, vaguely hobo-lament "Hole in My Shoe" beg to be heard in a smoky bar clutching a cold beer. However, there is nothing to be gained from the album's length. The sound is neither distinct, complex, nor broad enough to bother listening to more than a few tracks, enjoying them, and moving on.
Sounds Like: The Hold Steady's less lyrically-gifted cousin from the Southwest.
Listen To: From the Westside, Demons
From where I sit, The Black Keys long ago cemented their legacy as the Greatest Band to Come Out of Akron, Ohio Since Devo. Now, admittedly, the competition for this illustrious distinction isn’t exactly fierce, but following-up on the huge success of 2008’s Attack and Release, their hazy, psychedelic collaboration with Danger Mouse, on top of a critically acclaimed foray into hip hop last year with Blakrock, which attracted the likes of RZA, Mos Def, and Ludacris … ? Easier said than done.
This being the case, I was anxious to see (along with perhaps a few other Black Keys fans) if Brothers – which released May 18 – would be another step away from the gritty, blues-fried sound that made them my special band. Luckily, my concerns were unfounded. What’s so cool about Brothers is that, being the Keys’ sixth album, it demonstrates a maturity that should now come with being produced by The Best Thing From Akron Besides LeBron; the album manages to both pay tribute to the band’s Delta influences as well as build upon their experiments in other genres.
While a little errant pop does shine through, Brothers nevertheless confirms that The Black Keys will remain the torch-bearers of badass contemporary blues – always just a little weirder and muddier than their counterparts, The White Stripes. Fittingly, the album kicks off with the rolling, catchy “Everlasting Light,” which features guitarist Dan Auerbach singing in distortion-soaked falsetto, punctuated by doo-wop back-up singers and revolving glam guitar that would make Marc Bolan (of the great T Rex) proud as a weird, British peacock.
From there on out (with one or two exceptions), Brothers is permeated with the retro, swampy feel of 70’s-era Chess B-sides – or more accurately – the Muscle Shoal sound. To record their newest effort, Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney headed down to an obscure town in northwestern Alabama to record at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, once an underground mecca for R & B and rock artists, seeing the likes of Aretha, The Stones, Wilson Pickett, and Paul Simon, pass through its doors.
If Brothers is any indication -- Muscle Shoal has some good voodoo. Sure, the album sounds slick in places, and Danger Mouse returns for collaboration on the cinematic pop anthem “Tighten Up” and, yes, there’s some whistling. But, the hazy and heavy Black Keys are back. “Black Mud” and “The Go Getter” will have you thinking you’re doing heroin with Robert Plant and Albert King.
So, for any of you Black Keys blues purists out there, don’t worry – the chewy bump of “Howlin’ For You” (along with the album cover’s homage to Howlin’ Wolf’s 1969 “The Howlin’ Wolf Album”) and “Ten Cent Pistol” will leave plenty of grit in your teeth – and assure you that there’s enough blues to go around.
With Brothers, it’s clear that Auerbach and Carney have been soaking up plenty of Curtis Mayfield and classic soul – and that they’re trying to teach old sounds new tricks. With great singing by Auerbach and the best drumming by Carney yet, I think it’s working. But, then again, I’m just a janitor.
11.5 out of a 13 possible carrots … or a “B+” if you wanna be a dick about it.
I had this brilliant plan all worked out. Friday night in San Francisco. A friend from the East Coast in town. Our plan was to head to two shows in one night. Walking across Death Valley in the middle of the summer this was not. But, for city life, it was a somewhat ambitious plan. Anyways, first, we were to hit up Slim’s to see Fun. at 10pm. Then immediately after that, we planned to catch a short ride to see The Most Serene Republic (at 11pm) and The Annuals (at 12pm) at Bottom of the Hill. At worst we’d miss about 20 minutes of The Most Serene. At best? We’d get all three! Music! Yay! Drinks and concerts and jokes--who could ask for more right? And (assuming you are somewhat familiar with San Francisco) to top it off, the distance between the two venues is relatively nothing, which would make it all the more possible! Not so fast…
My friend and I were, to put it mildly, excited about Fun. We’ve been following the band’s front man, Nate Ruess, since our freshman year in college (where The Format played a show on our dorm’s lawn…COLLEGE!) and each live show has been just as good as the last. I wish I had some more creative way to describe why our enthusiasm was, and continues to be, so high, but the band’s name does it all the same. After an hour and 15 minutes of head-bobbing, foot-stomping, smiling and chorus-yelling (not to mention a lil’ beer drinking), only then did we realize that we’d have to book it to catch the second half of The Most Serene Republic. Not a hard feat, especially considering the fact that Slim’s is located on what seems like a taxi highway (11th and Folsom). Whether you are there at 2pm on a Sunday, 3pm on a Wednesday or 6am on a Friday (been there!) chances are you’ll be able to hail a cab in minutes. Well, we decided to walk the six blocks (my estimate) to find out that it was more like 12. And yup, you guessed it, that pushed us past 11:45, leaving us having time to see exactly zero of The Most Serene Republic. I did, however, get to see them leave the stage. WA! WA! WAAAAA!
While I fumed on a beer, upset that I missed my favorite dreamy pop from The Most Serene I found solace in the fact that I was about the see The Annuals, who at one time seemed like they toured continuously and now seem like they’ve ceased all cross country movement (it might have something to do with a forthcoming LP and the recent release of their new EP, Sweet Sister). The 6-piece (maybe 7….it was getting late?!) North Carolina-bred band did not disappoint. Their sound if you haven’t heard it, is equal parts acoustic guitar, dueling drums, keyboard and bass all brought to a bake by rising rhythms, a great voice (not to mention distinct), talent all around and hopeful/thoughtful lyrics. Let’s just put it this way: if you at all like melodic indie music (and I do!) it’s exactly the band you want to hear at the Bottom of the Hill. The band’s recent LP, Such Fun, served as the meat of the set, though a couple of songs from the new EP got its turn. And thankfully, they played a few of the older songs- most notably the best song of their set, “Brother."
I’m just saying: the plan was totally legit. I just didn’t really take into account the possibilities of encores and/or drinks. Here’s to planning ahead of time a night of Most Serene and Most Serene alone.
Frightened Rabbits @ The Fillmore, May 19th, 9pm ($22.50) The Scottish band is signed to Fat Cat Records, and their bio reads "They record in bedrooms, cupboards and kitchens. Anyone can be in Frightened Rabbit. They have played some live shows in this city, but want to meet people from other cities, in order that they can come and blow into tubes when they play live. Lets keep pop music alive by getting it out of that dress and into a sweater." Now why would anyone want to scare them?
Man/Miracle @ Milk Bar, May 20th, 10pm ($5) The SFCritic and Betterpropaganda posse will be heading to Milk Bar Thursday to support our buddies at Terrorbird Media. Don't know Terrorbird, they're just one of the baddest Bay Area music labels--no sweat, now you do.
Broken Bells @ Regency Ballroom, May 21st, 8pm ($37) The super duo of Danger Mouse and James Mercer (The Shins) are not playing around--they're taking shit over. Unfortunately, the Regency Ballroom is a shitty venue, but well worth seeing one of the most talked about, praised, and exciting bands of 2010. Did I mention The Morning Benders are opening? Damn.
Horse Feathers @ The Bottom of The Hill, May 23rd, 9pm ($12) The indie-folk band sound like an old dusty record your grandfather listened to and forgot about, and not in the prehistoric way that cottage cheese becomes blue cheese and is still "delicious" to some people. That makes sense, think about it.
Plants and Animals @ The Independent, May 25th, 8:30pm ($12/$14) It’s not easy to label the kind of music Plants and Animals make, but it’s easy for it to feel instantly familiar. Maybe that’s because they record to tape, and their records sound like they could have been made in 1972. But for all their analog warmth, it’s also impossible to deny how raw and recent the songs sound, and harder still to find anything else that sounds quite the same.
The first thing people notice about Brother Ali is that he’s a white albino rapper. To ask him about this fact completely ignores his life, his struggles, and the experiences he’s witnessed. With his last album The Undisputed Truth, Ali delved into these experiences like his failing marriage and being homeless, providing one of the rawest personal narratives in recent hip hop albums. With his new album Us, Ali now looks outside himself, trying to understand American society discussing slavery, rape, and race. His messages are not preachy, but insightful, encouraging, and entirely what hip hop needs. SFCritic took a moment to speak with Ali, about his story and ours.
SFCritic (SFC): You’ve put a lot of emotions and truth in each of your tracks. Do you ever worry you’re being too honest?
Brother Ali (BA): No. As soon as Ant and I started working together, I adapted the approach to be as open and honest as possible.
(SFC): Do you ever hold anything back?
(BA): Yes, I hold back things that I think may hurt the people close to me. I have a code where I don’t put other peoples’ business in my songs that I think can hurt them. I put all my business in my songs. I’ll tell you about marriage that broke up, but I’ll never tell you about all the crazy stuff my ex-wife did or continues to do. No matter how I feel about her, that’s not right for me to voice for that reason.
(SFC): Compared to your earlier work, this new album, along with “Uncle Sam Goddamn,” has a lot more political conscious messages. What changed? Was there a particular event or person that motivated you to go in this direction?
(BA): Anytime you start talking about people and the way the world affects people it can be considered political or conscious. All my music is personal, it’s not political. It feels political, because there is some politics in it, there is a bunch of people. We talk about something personal that rings true in a bigger group, that stuff feels political, but none of them were intended to be that.
To me political [sounds like] I’m telling you what needs to be changed in the world, or I’m telling what law needs to be passed, or I’m telling you what you need to be doing different, and that’s not it at all, this is just how I see things.
(SFC): With artists like you and Eminem proving that anyone can be an amazing emcee, do you think race is still a factor in being accepted as a true emcee?
(BA): Nope, I don’t think it ever was. I have no patient for white people whining about not being accepted in hip hop.
(SFC): I’m not just talking about Caucasian. I’m thinking about Latin, or Asian. I’m talking Big Pun, Fat Joe, and Jin.
(BA): I’ve never seen that as being real. In terms of having trouble being accepted for your ethnicity in hip hop. If you’re dope, people are going to embrace and accept you. It’s always been like that. The second Pun came along he was accepted, and Joe was already accepted and there were other Latin dudes way before that.
(SFC): On “Breaking Dawn,” there is a point where you say, “Them folks having singing like this for years,” what is the importance to you that people understand this music legacy? Is it intended to explain to your typical audience, or to show you understand to the audience you hope to gain?
(BA): I’m not trying to gain an audience with anything I do. I don’t do anything to appeal to these people, or any particular demographic. I mention it on “Daylight,” on Undisputed Truth, there are a lot of people that never listen to rap until they feel they can identify. That’s fine. On a certain level I understand that.
But if you’re brand new to hip hop, don’t start judging it, don’t tell me I’m the greatest emcee of all time, don’t tell me I saved hip hop because that’s not what it’s about. When people embrace us, people like me, Aesop, and Slug, as a way of saying, “I hate rap, but I like you,” well that’s crazy--because I love rap.
(SFC): What I’m trying to ask about with “Breaking Dawn” is that the track suggests that this is a historically black musical culture, and it seems that you’re paying ode…
(BA): I’m sorry to cut you off, but that song is basically my story. I used singing, and class and the race divide as a way of telling that story, and those are elements. I learned hip hop within the hip hop world. Hip hop has gotten to that point where people listen to hip hop and appreciate it that are not from the hip hop world, traditionally.
That song is about more than that, it’s also about feeling rejected and wanting to be accepted. Once you get up close to that group, you realize they’re not doing any better than you are. It’s about inclusion and exclusion, and wanting to be accepted. You realize this isn’t any better than what I had before that’s really what I experienced with the race thing. People think that it’s so different, that the experience is so different, they trade benefits for losses, and everything comes at a cost.
(SFC): Will hip hop ever have a female or gay Rakim?
(BA): Well definitely the female is an issue. You were talking about ethnicity in rap, and in my mind that has never been an issue. In my mind what really is a problem, we have such a deficit of strong female voices. To me, that is something we need to focus on. I got someone to sign to Rhymesayers. I took Pslam-1 on tour with me. I tried to do my part where I can. I feel like the space is open, someone could really come along and be that person.
(SFC): In an interview with HipHopDX you talk about “Breaking Dawn,” and you mention the importance of talking about these issues. How and where do you think we can create a dialogue on race between races in the
(BA): It just has to be really open, based on love, respect, being human and getting to the truth that the truth is better for everybody. That is kind of what I tried, and hope to give an example of that on this album. I just wanted to be human. I tried to do that by talking about people I know from all different walks of life and experiences, and talk about them just as human beings. You don’t really know what race or nationality people are in those songs. I hope you just feel that they’re human and their struggling, and I love them.
Brother Ali will be performing At Slim’s Oct. 17th, w/ Evidence and Toki Wright
For more information, see the full article at SF Station.
About halfway through their set during a break in the rocking, The Besnard Lakes’ rhythm guitarist gleefully proclaimed, “I’m pretty wasted!” Without missing a beat, the band’s lead singer, Jace Lasek, repeated the happy lil’ phrase with the same enthusiasm, the only difference being that he held up his drink to salute the audience. The crowd cheered as they'd likely to do after a band member (of any sort) admits to their drunkenness. And as often as I’ve heard that phrase (or something like it) yelled into a mic, none of them were as successful as the ones uttered at The Independent on Monday night.
While the phrase might have been cliché, it certainly was not a detriment (or excuse) for their set. In fact, it achieved the opposite; I can’t believe anyone can play that material, as dense as it is, while absolutely hammered. Their state of mind (or lack thereof) wasn’t apparent at all as the Canadian indie/shoegaze rockers slashed through material from their newest album, The Dark Horse Are The Roaring Night, while sprinkling in bit of …Are The Dark Horse (the full length released in 2007) and one song from Volume 1 (their first full length).
While the entire set was evidence of the band’s ability to produce and play first-rate songs, no moment could touch their performance of “Light Up The Night” (first song of the encore)- which is one part electric guitar solo, two parts thumping rock and four parts harmony (led by the husband-wife duo of Lasek and his wife, Olga, who is the band’s talented bassist). And while no other song came close to that melodic gem, the four piece made sure others still tried. The opener, “Like The Ocean, Like Innocent," got the surprisingly sparse crowd (where’s the support for the eastern Canadian bands SF???) into the fold quickly; you could just see the evolution from toe tapping to head-banging throughout the 8+ minute ballad. Quickly following the first track from …Are The Roaring Night, were “Chicago Train” and “Albatross," two of the band’s strongest songs, both live and in the studio. And, let’s not forget their two most popular songs- “Disaster” and “ For Agent 13”- which were both followed up by a warm and enthusiastic applause from the diverse (age!) crowd.
Fittingly, the band also talked of Brian Wilson. To no surprise of anyone who has heard the vocals/harmonies on any one of their songs (though “Disaster” and “Light Up The Night” might be the best examples), The Besnard Lakes are surely influenced by the former Beach Boys' front man. While they talked of their excitement upon seeing him during a solo performance in Montreal some years back, it was quickly apparent that they were somewhat disappointed with the man who has indirectly helped them achieve their distinct sound (with equal parts homage and originality). Their concern seemed to stem from the fact that, despite his songwriting genius, he had slowly turned into a man who can only read from teleprompters and feign happiness and excitement at the thought of old hits. If their performance at the Independent was any inkling of their talent and their ability to put on a solid live show, The Besnard Lakes don’t have anything to worry about…no matter how many whiskeys are downed before hand.
Last month, that state of Arizona passed SB 1070, which gives police and other state authorities the jurisdiction to request proof of citizenship from anyone on the street. Internationally, musicians have been the loudest vocal opposition.
While a similar law was passed federally in 1986, the new Arizona law is particularly troubling on many levels. In a border state with 30% of its citizens identifying as Latino, stopping people who “look illegal” is subjective.
Additionally, Arizona is home to the nation’s most megalomaniacal sheriff, Maricopa County’s Joe Arpaio, a man prone to humiliating publicity stunts. Arpaio is probably best known for requiring inmates to wear pink underwear and volunteer to work on public chain gangs. No surprise, Arpaio, who has already been stopping Mexicans on the street he thinks look illegal, is a huge proponent of the new legislation.
Other states, private citizens, and celebrities have begun boycotting the state in opposition. The loudest critics of the bill— musicians.
Cypress Hill, hot on the 4/20 release of “Rise Up!” have canceled their May 21st Tucson show, explaining the decision on their website:
“In a show of resistance to the criminalization of immigrant communities and in opposition to SB1070, recently signed into Arizona legislation, Cypress Hill has elected to cancel a performance scheduled in Tucson for May 21, 2010. This decision was made in an effort to show support and solidarity with those, undocumented and otherwise, being directly affected by this unconstitutional "law". Cypress Hill recognizes those living in the struggle for their basic civil rights. Rise Up!”
Colombian crossover pop-star Shakira was so distressed by the law that she flew to Phoenix and had a sit down with Mayor Phil Gordon and other legislators. “In my opinion, it dulls human and civil rights of citizens and non-citizens,” she said. Shakira’s effectiveness as a diplomat is still up in the air.
Other musicians, from Ricky Martin, Linda Rondstadt and Will.i.am have interjected their opposition into the debate through Twitter, news conferences, and music award shows.
In a show of just how partisan the political climate is these days, other states and localities are rushing to pass their own similar legislation. Perhaps they should postpone the passage of such laws until the cultural and economic blow facing the state of Arizona can be fully assessed.
Popular Tucson Latino radio station KCMT “La Caliente” just canceled a popular music festival “Tusa 2010” in fear that its musicians and concertgoers would be targeted under the new law. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom officially has the City boycotting any involvement and travel to Arizona. The American Immigration Lawyers association canceled a 300-person conference at the Scottsdale Marriott. The U.S. Travel Association has been practically begging people to travel to Arizona, “it is inappropriate to punish the men and women of our industry who have done no harm to others.”
True, but boycotts aren’t about punishment, they are about manifesting change.
Join the fight, here.
Fuck Bottoms @ The Great American Music Hall, May 12th, 9pm ($16) Their new album, Tarot Sport has unbound possibility and lucid cohesion; a cerebral pilgrimage that refines, crafts, explores and develops the experimental aesthetic of last year's critically acclaimed debut, Street Horrrsing.
Tempo No Tempo @ Milk Bar, May 13th, 9pm ($5) Our buddies at Epicsauce will be hosting their weekly Thursday show at Milk Bar, which will this week feature the Bay Area’s Tempo No Tempo. The group released their debut LP Waking Heat last fall. Recently scaling down to three members, the band re-invented their sound and approach stripping away the more predictable pop elements of their past EPs, which received considerable praise by the likes of Pitchfork and IHEARTCOMIX.
Starfucker @ Rickshaw, May 14th, 8pm ($10) Starfucker is back to being called Starfucker, after being called Pyramidd for a while. This Portland combo is a little psychedelic, a little punk disco, and a lot of charming. Short, sweet, and as unapologetically campy as their first [release], Jupiter finds the group continuing its mission to make indie boys and girls dance unabashedly to synthesized beats.
Ben Folds and Kate Miller Heidke @ The Warfield, May 16th, 8pm ($32.25) Ben Folds should, and is a house hold name at this point. Known for his stage antics and killer piano skills, the man has been a fixture in music for the last decade. Recently, SFCritic saw Kate Miller Heidke, the Australian pop (operatically trained) singer perform at SXSW. If she doesn't impress you with her voice, she'll definitely take the piss out of you with her humor.
Shout Out Louds/Freelance Whales @ The Great American Music Hall, May 18th, 8pm ($17) The pop-punk, indie rock group from Stockholm comes to San Francisco. After each band member took a break from the group to journey their separate ways, they have now returned to complete their third album which was recently released. Meanwhile, Freelance Whales are one of those buzzed about bands at this years SXSW, and are also worthy of a listen.
On Saturday night big brother Microsoft reached out to San Francisco hipsters with a free "secret" Yeasayer's show. Supporting the company's new phone "KIN," several shows were scheduled in San Francisco and New York. Though "KIN" is obviously not "kin," the event's hospitality (free drinks + lots of loving) would lead you to think otherwise.
As Microsoft attempts to saddle up with PBR branding, plaid "vintage" shirts, and everything "generation awesome" (that's us), the actual practicality of the phone is unclear. It allows you to take photos, and tweet them easily--can't you do that already? The phone's "About Us"eerily reads, "We saw how you talk, tweet, and post in real life," so they clearly are stalking us, "Then we designed KIN to communicate as naturally as you." The truth is I talk awkwardly, which is why I write. If things go to plan KIN will replace your siblings, and be a better listener too. Here at SFCritic, we might be receiving some promotional examples, and will happily let you know if the phone does indeed allow you to communicate better than your Aunt Sally.
Over 2,000 people Facebook RSVP for what was about 300 spots (which, after press was really like 250). We're not brushing the dirt off our shoulders, just forewarning you if you intend on hitting up one of these events in the future. On the day of the show the location and time was announced. Eager fans waited in a line (6pm Facebook messages started going up "I'm in line!") prior to doors opening to the public (8pm).
Yeasayer greeted an ecstatic crowd, some already dancing. Like their new single "Ampling Alps," sounds of indie-psych-rock rang through the night. Fans were definitely passionate, but the band seemed a lure--as an equal distribution of fans lined up for free drinks, while other danced, creating a cycle of drink line, drink, dance that repeated until one's vouchers were exhausted.
The Dead Weather's new album, Sea of Cowards, set to be released on May 11th (tomorrow), has been in the SFCritic's rotation thanks to our friends at Filter. The super group of Alison Mosshart (of The Kills and Discount), Jack White (of The White Stripes and The Raconteurs), Dean Fertita (of Queens of the Stone Age) and Jack Lawrence (of The Raconteurs and The Greenhornes), debuted last year to much critical praise and excitement. The group did not fail expectations. This is ROCK! music, not rock music. The constant raging guitar chords, screams from Alison Mosshart and thumping bass on Sea of Cowards definitely gets your blood going, if not albeit agitate you (whether for better or worse). While we continue to listen, we thought to ask your thoughts on their single "Die By The Drop" (featured below) or the album?
The Dead Weather: "Die By The Drop"