Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

Blades of Joy

San Francisco’s Melter’s doesn’t embrace the kind of breakneck scheduling that some of their indie contemporaries keep. They’ve rounded up a tight roster of musicians who embody the spirit of their city and keep its pulse clicking, but the trickle of releases is capped at one or two a year. The austerity breeds quality, though, and from Tony Molina to Marbled Eye to Swiftumz, the ranks are filled with the match strike moments from some of the city’s best. The debut from Blades of Joy picks up this tradition amiably, with their eponymous album bleeding noise-pop from its pores, dredging up washes of Felt, and sense memory flashbacks of Galaxie 500 and Chapterhouse if they were further smudged by the sun.

The band swaddles their sound in a soft foam of feedback that won’t break, a fuzz that hesitates just near the edge of oblivion but never quite lets go of its last finger hold on composure. The anticipation of emotional spillover keeps the listener perched and percolating, giving the album a lush and luxuriant tension. They succeed in dipping the kind of jangle-pop that would find itself right at home on Slumberland into the shoegaze deep end of Creation and 4AD.

While they’re working with tried and true brushes, Blades of Joy reinvigorate the bliss that comes from melting their indipop in the sun. The album’s short but sure seven tracks evoke a lost, endless summer. Its the kind that exists without the heavy yoke of responsibility, lived without consequence in a blur of heat and haze and nights that stretch on forever. There’s a feeling that the record exists as either a fleeting moment never to be captured again as the band evaporates as quickly as they coalesced, or it winds up like so many Melters releases as the beacon to guide the faithful to Blades’ doorstep. Either way, burn or build, its a shining debut.



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Pat Thomas – “The Money Guys”

Told you it was a good time for the Bay this week, and here comes your next reason. Cool Ghouls have consistently stunned with their catalog of country-curled psych rock, with not a bummer in the bunch of their three albums. Now the band’s Pat Thomas is striking out on his own and tucking into the AOR shimmer of the ‘70s. He heralds his upcoming sophomore solo LP, I Ain’t Buyin’ It, with the golden glow of “The Money Guys.” The track hinges on the soft-focus horns and cellophane riffs that tied Chicago, The Doobies Bros. and Steely Dan together with late period Tim Buckley.

The track takes down economic inequality and does it while wearing boat shoes. It’s a ‘70s lounge jam critical of the man as played from the hired piano of venture capitalists’ own yachts. No one’s paying attention at the party so you might as well spite ‘em, eh? I’m eager to see where Pat takes the sound on this, too much of a plunge through ‘70s cheese could sink into pastiche, but if he keeps striking a balance between smooth strings and an acid tongue, then it could soar above easy listening.



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Rays – “Yesterday’s Faces”

More excellent news from the Bay Area today, as Rays return with a news of an album this winter. The band’s previous album knocked down a lovable corridor of post-punk that was particularly jangle jostled, bringing to mind the curdled pop of The Soft Boys and the brash honesty of Television Personalities. They show no signs of dropping those jangles from their arsenal on the upcoming, You Can Get There From Here, employing the very same tactics that have thrown their South Hemi counterparts in Australia and New Zealand head over heels for the sonics of past, with a laconic lyrical view on the present. On the excellent first single, “Yesterday’s Faces” the band even touches down in OZ to pick at the shaggy licks of The Clean, then welds them to the urgency of Wake in the ’90s.

Allusions to other bands aside, it’s a crackling track that’s balancing the upbeat tangle of strings with a sighed sadness that sticks like a lump in the throat for days gone past. The keys buzz like bar-light neon and Stanley Martinez’ vocals are flecked with a detached disillusionment that gives the track its bite. The band’s debut showed promise and with this track they’re definitely making good on it. Gonna want to keep an ear out for this one when it lands in November.

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Blades of Joy – “Be Kind”

To be honest, I’ll trust Melters to pick out the best new SF nuggets any day, and they don’t disappoint with news of the upcoming LP from Blades of Joy. Featuring members of Swanox and Dissolve, the band couches jangles in a soft sea of reverb haze, poking at Sarah Records memories and Creation cravings. The label’s gone ahead and done the service of name checking Rain Parade, which sounds about right here. “Be Kind” revels in a kind of orange-pink glow rising off of the water, endlessly rippled and delightfully cool. If the band continues to capture half the pillowy ease of this one, then the rest of the album threatens to be just the Autumn companion I’ve been searching for.



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Oh Sees

So, here we are at the crossroads again, another Oh Sees album has hit the table and its time to weigh in. I feel like most of these reviews run down as check in to say: “yeah Dwyer’s still a singular force in garage-psych and we should all be grateful.” There’s always some sonic shift worth noting, though, so here goes. After last year’s double bill, two album exploration of slippery psych, followed by an exorcism of their acoustic roots, the band is charging ahead heavier than ever. Don’t believe me, just check that cover. There’s a demon enshrined in fire. Things don’t get much heavier than that before you break out corpse paint and an organ made of bones. Sonically, Smote Reverser is pulled apart by rhythm, thanks in no small part to the double drum setup of Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon. Naturally, as you can imagine, once you go double drum its time to get serious with the prog touches, and that’s just what the Oh Sees damn well do. They brought in Tom Dolas for some keys on last year’s mellow meltdown Memory of a Cut Off Head but this time he’s going full Keith Emerson with triple stack complexities that burn hot enough to iron that Yes patch on your threadbare denim vest.

To be sure, these touches all set the stage and dress things nice, but what were all here for is the 300-mph wormhole shred of John Dwyer and for that Smote Reverser does not disappoint. There’s plenty of acrobatic string slinging, punctuated by Dwyer’s now trademarked echoplex howl. His riffs bite at the void and dissolve into effects explosions that cascade through the speakers with a molten growl. The record’s not just heavy though, its nimble too – Dwyer plays guitar with a restless soul, seemingly amusing himself as much as us, the listeners. Still this isn’t the one note heavy hammer that the cover makes it out to be. It’s not all dry ice, devil horns and ear damage. While they turn up the screams to hardcore and bring down the heat on “Overthrown,” they just as easily knock the atmosphere down to simmer for the openings of “Last Peace” and “Moon Bog.” The band knows that without time to breathe, there’s no way to appreciate the sweat.

Without question its another quality Oh Sees LP and once more it seems the game is Dwyer trying to outdo himself with each record. So, as with every release that comes hurtling down from the psych asteroid the band occupies this is an essential addition of weight to your no doubt bursting Oh Sees section on the shelf. The heads already know and the rest better catch up or be left behind to soak in the Sulphur smoke trailing behind Smote Reverser.



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Kelley Stoltz

San Francisco’s secret weapon is slipping out his tenth (!!) album on low key label Banana and Louie. Feels like Stoltz has been a part of this site for the better part if its duration and whether he’s behind the boards (The Love-Birds, Rays, Sandwitches) or working as a studio rat (Thee Oh Sees, Sonny & The Sunsets, The Fresh & Onlys) he’s a welcome name in the credits of any release. More important yet, his own mounting discography is packed full of jangled-nerve post-punk and paisley pools of pop that mark him as not only a conduit for others’ excellent visions, but as a purveyor of his own unique strain of pop psychosis. Natural Causes comes fresh off of last year’s Que Aura. a highlight in the songwriter’s late period catalog. While the short, but sweet, nine-cut album doesn’t quite dig in its heels as hard as last year, there are some moments of pure Stoltz on display here.

The record is valiantly attempting to balance Kelley’s love for light-touch jangles and sunshine shimmy with his weakness for a darker side of the ‘80s. “Decisions Decisions” packs up some of his most shimmering strums, while eschewing the darker threads of post-punk that work their way through his pieces. Similarly, he’s huffing a dose of verdant vapors throughout the handclap-infected shaker, “Are You An Optimist.” The album caps off with one of his most fun tunes in a while, the light-hearted jangler, “Rolling Tambourine” – a barrelhouse romp through 60s’ pop impulses. That’s not to say he’s shed the post-punk pound just yet. There’s a post-disco shiver that runs through “Static Electricity” and he adopts a spaced ominousness for the particularly on the nose “How Psychedelic Of You.” When Stoltz wants to bring on the preening intensity, he’s got you more than covered.

For an artist who has released albums everywhere from Sub Pop to Third Man to Castle Face, this seems to come with desperately little fanfare, which is a damn shame. While he’s got albums that outstrip it in scope and style, there’s a lot to love on Natural Causes and Stoltz never leaves listeners without a few hooks stuck in their heads. There’s some great polish on the album and its clear that Stoltz keeps enough of his studio tricks for his own albums. Don’t let this one slip away in the flood of 2018 albums. Kelley Stoltz remains a modern songwriting workhorse and this small collection does little to tarnish his reputation.



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Tony Molina

I continue to be floored by how much punch Tony Molina can pack into about fifteen full minutes of material. His albums are exercises in self-restraint, picking out heartbreaking hooks and using them once or twice before the man walks away leaving audiences wanting much, much more. His songs never sound half-finished though – despite their length – they simply breeze into all of our lives, soften our hearts and flutter on back home to Tony’s power pop soul. Call them indie pop jingles or compact-size singles, but Molina remains a master craftsman of the sort of digestible pop that can be absorbed in full over the course of a state mandated fifteen-minute retail break.

As has been well noted, here and elsewhere, the second album, like the EP that preceded it has softened the crunch from Molina’s Ocasek-era Weezer / early Fanclub leanings. He’s dug out the twelve-string here and has clearly been listening to the most tender-hearted moments of the Byrds catalog. He’s sopping up the tears shed by teens finding solace in Elliott Smith’s oeuvre and he’s still not done with the likes of Norman Blake and the boys in Fanclub’s van. He’s just moved on to their own softer side. On Kill The Lights Molina combines all these influences into a power pop pit stop that’s bittersweet, but blissful, and absolutely one of the most touching albums of the year.

More than a punk in folk’s clothing, Molina has grafted the economical length of punk’s attention span to lush arrangements that are anything but frugal when it comes to production. These are mini-epics of pop squeezed into snow globes and they dazzle with their ornate details. Every time this album comes to an end I find myself turning it back on all over again. The songs on Kill The Lights are stunners one and all and I’m pretty sure this could just be set on a loop and keep a room at attention for well past an hour. Tony might dole out his gifts in small packages, but he’s an argument in favor of quality over quantity to say the least.



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The Love-Birds

In the wake of their Empty Cellar debut single, a sparkling tangle of jangles and clear-sky hooks, San Francisco’s Love-Birds wound up on the radar of a new generation thirsting for guitar’s pop prominence. They funnel the energy of that short-form stunner into an LP that proves they have a deft hold on jangle’s cross-generational evolution – tapping into The Byrds, 12-string history while echoing alt and indie pop hallmarks from R.E.M. to The Flaming Groovies and Teenage Fanclub. They even drag the rudder through the South Hemisphere, picking up nods to The Go-Betweens and The Chills then cold-press all this history down to a record that feels instantly familiar while still coming out fresh as a bay breeze in spring.

While they’re definitely pulling down a full set of sleeves, practically polka-dotted with hearts beating for the past, they swerve the stamp of college-town cover band looking to stun with their ability to belt out “End of the World As We Know It” sans crib-sheet. Instead they’ve bound up the control board glow of late night nineties college radio and, with the aid of San Francisco strummer and legend in his own right Glenn Donaldson, offered up a record that’s intangibly catchy, bittersweet and buoyant. The album captures that feeling when the airwaves were just right and the lo-watt station two towns over came in crystal clear at 12am, letting a few late-night discoveries blossom into lifelong obsessions.

On In The Lover’s Corner, the band feels comfortable picking at songs of love unrequited and scratching the itch of nostalgia that a good many likely have for an era with more to offer than the packaged in amber playlists built on hits rather than heart. The Love-Birds are helping helping further the left side of the dial even as the dial disappears from view.



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The Love-Birds – “Hit My Head”

SF’s Love Birds have been taking a trajectory conducive to my own heart here at RSTB. Following up a stellar first EP for Empty Cellar the band hooks up with longtime favorite Glenn Donaldson to mix their upcoming LP for Trouble in Mind. The first single from the upcoming In The Lover’s Corner jumps off of the jangle-pop springboard, built around curlicues of song that dredge up The Go-Betweens and The Chills, but ultimately it finds its own embrace of power pop as well. The song has DNA from early adopters like The Flaming Groovies and a tougher strain that brings to mind Matthew Sweet during his Bob Quine years. So, if you were to lob a dart squarely at the chart of influences that hook me in, Love Birds are smacking the center every time. Throw in a mastering job from Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and a cover shod in block cut pastels and I’m pretty much sold. Gonna want to watch out for this one in May.



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Flesh World

Seems to be a week for goth stomp around here and Flesh World know how to streak the drawn curtain dynamics with enough jangle and dreampop to give Into The Shroud is own space at the table. Their sophomore album only cements their foray into the sound, proving that Jess Scott’s melange of influences can all sit perfectly alongside one another in a nostalgia daydream. They dip into the jangle-pop that informed here former band, Brilliant Colors, but don’t hang on the genre as a defining trait. Instead, with a new rhythm section in tow, the band takes swooning romanticism and muddies it with hollow-eyed synths and a breathless pound that sweeps away the streaks of sun that try to find their way into the mix.

Though, that’s not to say that Into The Shroud isn’t without its hooks. The title track alone steps out of the haze for a fawning chorus that would almost crack a grin if it weren’t white-knuckling its way through a post-punk deluge. The spring-tight aesthetics pair well with Scott’s exploration of the Bay Area’s gender politics, literary history and musical history each flung into a whirlwind rotoscope and sketched out in shades of black and white.

With their pairing it becomes clear that Scott Moore has proven to be the muse Scott always needed, thickening her sound with a wave of perfectly smeared synth and exploring the darker reaches of her songwriting. With their Dark Entries debut, the band steps up to take a swing at the upper reaches of the ’80s cult pop pantheon and they come out feeling like they’ve connected nicely.



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