Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

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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Oh Sees

Dropping an article doesn’t dampen the clamor that claws up from the very glowing soul of John Dwyer annually. His merry band’s evolved and mutated so many times that who could want to keep track at this point? We’ll shake it all out in the official biography at a later date, right? Down to four players, but using them with admirable precision, they even pull a cameo from longtime member Brigid Dawson on a few tracks here. The band’s taken a page from their kindred demons in King Gizz, kept the double drum attack and let it propel this album like a mechanical heart fed on coal fumes, nuclear fallout, and a bonfire constantly stoked with copies of Sleep’s Holy Mountain.

Last year’s A Weird Exits seemed a hard hill to top, but the band manages to dig darker, twist the knife further into the psychedelic wound and blow this out louder than Thee Oh Sees ever managed. Any lingering remnants of the garage phase of Thee Oh Sees are buried under the soil with Orc. They’re rummaging through the deepest end of the heavy psych costume trunk now and managing to make the squall take on a fresh finish. Bending German Progressive click tracks with metal rumble, breaking down into deep space eddies of calm, then sawing through them with a serrated slice of noise – everything you’ve loved about Dwyer and co. is here, but magnified and swollen to epic proportions and stuffed full of new tricks to boot.

JD has always felt like he’s processed his influences well, and it’s easy to pose that he’s cast a long shadow over several of today’s psych monsters. You’d be hard pressed to find a band working along the garage-psych spectrum that’s not as sick of the comparisons as we all are of hearing them water down John’s trademark Echoplex howl. Here though, he’s taking his own tour of heavy hitters and fitting them in a way that’s pushed this to the top of their 19-odd release stack. Weaving Groundhogs amp shredders through Amon Duul II and Hawkwind atmospherics, they graft the aforementioned Sleep bong-rattlers to towering psych-synth works that make this come off like a double-wide concept album whose theme is sonic destruction. Many have tried to knock the crown from his head, but essentially most just need to come to the conclusion that they’re not even on the same mountain.




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Cool Ghouls

Not all EP’s are created equal, and often when connected with a tour, the word ‘asset’ gets tossed around more than the word release. So, it’s comforting to know that even on a stopgap tape they created for tour, the band still maintains a high caliber of songwriting. Not that I’d call most Cool Ghouls releases regimented, but this has a looser feel than most of their work – delving into instrumental psychedelics to stretch out their stage muscles a bit, but more often, crafting breezy West Coast country psych ramblers that swell with jangles and amber hues.

On the tape’s title track, they’re at their faded AM best, flipping through the kind of private press psych that burns the mind and warms the insides. They’re cycling through their Byrds lineage well, picking from the band’s permutations while hinting at great imitators like The Wizards From Kansas or Sapphire Thinkers and even a bit of Moby Grape as well. The EP isn’t as coalesced as they’ve been on record, but it feels like a way to indulge some influences in a great way. To be honest the loose production suits them so well, it makes me hope that they carry over the general vibe of this into their next proper album. Hard to get a bad bump from the ghouls, and this paints them as ardent ’60 psych fans with deep shelves.


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Flesh World – “Into The Shroud”

SF group Flesh World share another piece of their upcoming album, Into The Shroud, giving the title track a lo-budget clip that belies the track’s driving sheen. The song vacillates between the brittle, anxious verses and the exuberant chorus that breaks free of the tendrils of tension the band lays down throughout. It’s a tough knife edge to walk, but its clear that they’ve come quite a ways since their debut.

It’s fitting that they’ve landed on Dark Entries for this LP, a label more associated with obscure post-punk and synthwave reissues than with new acts. The band feels like they exist in a world of lost maxi-singles found at the flea market on a stroke of blind luck, but packed with the kind of electricity that causes a two year binge to find the band’s roots. Their sophomore LP looks to kick any hint of a slump to the side and act as their springboard to wider appreciation.



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Kelley Stoltz – “Same Pattern”

San Francisco’s secret weapon, Kelley Stoltz, is back with a new album for Castle Face and he’s perfecting his brand of Neu-wave pop. Stoltz has lived a career on the periphery, often appearing behind the boards or in the guest musician credits of lauded releases, while his own never get the full acclaim they deserve. Even with label stints at Sub Pop and Third Man, Stoltz remains a secret handshake for those with discernible taste, but so be it, I guess. This hint of his newest is pulsating with life – motorik, hazy, blissful and buzzing. It’s a step into the ether for Stoltz, who’s often found his way along the garage-pop spectrum. “Same Pattern” is built on a throbbing vein of Krautrock that’s a step in a new direction, albeit fitting to the artist’s greater pop universe.

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Premiere: The Lovebirds – “Ready To Suffer”

San Francisco is full of guitar rock of the jangled variety but rising above the typical Mission fray soars The Lovebirds. They’re packing a satchel full of chiming chords here, but rather than throw a nod to SF’s ’60s roots, they channel College-ready literate charmers and powerpop dandies alike, drawing a line from the Groovies on down to Elvis Costello and Teenage Fanclub waiting in the wings. “Ready To Suffer” flicks at the subconscious, feeling familiar in a way that pushes it out of time, like a lost b-side from the archives of any of those bands.

It certainly doesn’t holler fresh-faced kids about town, that’s for sure, but that’s to the band’s credit as scholars of their influences. Add to the quality tunes some mix n’ master duties from RSTB faves Glenn Donaldson and Mikey Young respectively and this is a tight package and prime introduction to a band to watch.




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Grace Sings Sludge

Grace Cooper gathers storm clouds again for another midnight collection of her terminally haunted songwriting. Cooper’s work with San Francisco’s off-kilter folk group The Sandwitches laid the groundwork for her solo excursions under the Sludge moniker, and she’s been steadily conjuring up the woeful weeping of the lacerated heart ever since. The songs on Life With Dick, exist in a diorama of overgrown mansions, damp mossy undergrowth and barren basements that bounce her sadness right back at her from all directions. Cooper’s production is sparse and purposefully stripped back to let the sound flicker like the only candle in a room drawn off from strangers. Its somewhat heartening when she’s not alone and plucking, but no less full of the ghosts of the past.

On those tracks she ropes in the washtub thump of drums and a weary swing that feels like she’s stepped up to the mic at last call, growling and boiling her way through a set no one can take their eyes off of. Atmosphere is everything on Life With Dick, the air alternating between oddly parched and overly humid, as if the sputtering machinations of a malfunctioning air conditioner control the mood at any moment. Mind you, though, that Cooper is in full control of every smokey note here. The record is no happenstance of resources, she’s created this dark, Lynchian world and we’re set into it only to realize that her lounge has no doors. We’re locked in with Cooper’s sadness and it’s as captivating as it is contagious.




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The Total Bettys

San Francisco’s Total Betty’s are a country-tinged rock band masquerading in the skin of a garage-pop combo. Though they’ve picked up ranks at the always lovely Lauren Records, they’re skewing more grown up than many of their roster-mates and even their own name checked influences (Bully or Charly Bliss). In actuality the band lands closer to the catalog of Rilo Kiley, finding solace in Jenny Lewis’ wink laden pop docket, before she truly embraced her wandering country soul. The Total Bettys dig into the faded comfort and driving heart of Rilo’s indie past. More so, singer Maggie Grabmeier has a knack for hooking her thumbs into self-deprecation delivered with a touch of honey that can’t help but dredge up comparisons to Lewis.

Repeated listens open this up, not into the jangled garage nugget that it’s perhaps intended to be, but as a bittersweet summer road trip companion that pines for loves imagined and lost. Grabmeier acts as wing-woman and shoulder to lean on, delivering lyrics with a wry humor that’s handily packed into hooks that aren’t outsized, but rather sneakily subtle and seeping into your consciousness through the slight crackle of production that comes on like AM static. As a debut this feels like its just a peek at what Grabmeier and the band have at their disposal. With a larger scale production they could completely shake that garage tag (not that there’s anything wrong with it) and reach for lush hills that give her songwriting a bit more gravitas and still keep feet moving. Certainly a band to keep an eye on as the years click by, but this is lovely on its own merits.




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Rank / Xerox

Circling the complete opposite side of the spectrum from David West’s latest Rat Columns LP, which appeared here earlier in the month, Rank/Xerox dives into the claustrophobic chest pains of post-punk. This EP is a scant four songs but each of them are packed with a sense of paranoia and pain that paints a bleak picture of an artist running from some form of truth, be it internal or external. Rank/Xerox have, in the past, facilitated some of the darkest moments in West’s catalog, barring maybe his work with Total Control. After a rather long hiatus since the band’s 2011 LP, it’s good to see them storming back without any thoughts on softening their approach.

From the title-track opener to the lingering grind of “Deletion” the trio bends bone bitten anxiety into a nervy dance with plenty of threats hidden behind it’s teeth. Jangles to popped veins, West is one of the masters of what makes the underground of the ’80s still vital and worthwhile today. M.Y.T.H. is proof that small packages with no room for error can level just as hard as any full length out there.




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Tim Cohen

Tim Cohen is a prolific voice in the American lexicon of indie rock. Tell me I’m wrong and I’ll slap you twice. Between his output in Fresh & Onlys, solo, and as Magic Trick he’s pretty much always got something dropping on your doormat and the stark reality is that its rarely not worth a tug at your ear. On his latest under his own name, the first time he’s operating as such since 2010, he’s side-stepping his usual pop hangouts once again. The last time he donned his own name and threw it on the marquee of an album cover was for Captured Tracks’ Laugh Tracks, an album that became a springboard into his output as Magic Trick. As that band has taken on its own humid life, it seems that his given name is the preferred moniker for tonal temerity.

On Luck Man he doesn’t take on his usual pop pastures of love, fate, and loss, instead enacting a series of character sketches that take on odd diorama lives of their own. Its a move that could seem like it might invite a discordant album, but Cohen, being Cohen isn’t a typical pop purveyor and his idiosyncrasies have always been the heart of his songwriting. He’s able to lasso the three a.m. anxieties and empty belly feelings and grind them into the kind of satisfying sonic sausage that other songwriters would fumble with self-importance. The songs inhabit lives of their own, still imbued with Cohen’s moody musical sea changes, but hanging their through line on the gnawing raw nerve of bruised confidence amid stark surroundings. Cohen proves that whichever name he puts at the top, the listener is in for a dose of darkness served with just the right ripple of earworm vibes.


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