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Song of the day: Willow Steps’ “Lover’s Recipe”

11/22/2016

There is a lot of noise in music these days – often welcome and well-made. But for those nights when you really need it, there’s a lot of tender folk music happening too.  Oakland based Willow Steps have been sowing these acoustic seeds for barely two years, but are already harvesting some of the more gorgeous harmonies in town. 

Singer and songwriter Jesse Strickman teamed up with vocalist Leiya Mahoney after meeting at an organic ice cream shop where they both worked. “Organic” is an apt term for the music they are crafting as well, and new song “Lover’s Recipe” uses the whole-food equivalent of instrumentation and arrangement (acoustic guitar, bowed acoustic upright bass and a few well-placed percussion hits), with the vocals prominently displayed.

The two vocal lines are more counter-point than straight harmony though – meaning either voice could be the sole melody of this song. They chase each other and lean towards or away from each other much like lovers not sure whether to move forward or run away. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which voice is singing which note because they are so intertwined. Again, this creates in sound that feeling at the end of a relationship (which this song describes lyrically as overlapping with the beginning of another) when you have to painfully separate yourself from a lover. Whose baggage is whose? Whose feelings are whose? 

But it’s the strong emotional impulse driving this song that sells me on it and gets me listening over and over. I love a song that makes me feel something, and this one does. It’s a melancholy and nostalgic feeling, reinforced by its lyrics:

“I’m so sorry
it won’t be easy
I know because that’s been me
I’ve been the past other in this lovers recipe”

The live video performance below, created by Shady Pines Media, highlights this final track off the band’s recent EP A Truth Too Big To See. You can hear the full album here. And if you need a dose of gorgeousness, they will be performing at the Awaken Cafe in Oakland Saturday December 3rd. Get your tickets here

 

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Photos: Wet Treat Packed Mezzanine to New Music

11/10/2016

 

Almost two years ago I photographed Wet for the first time at Mezzanine. It was November 2014 and the NYC trio (now a live quartet with drummer) were touring on their buzzed about self titled EP, opening for Sohn. Like our writer David, who reviewed the show at the time, I was impressed by the raw soul and truth in their set, but it was obvious that they were a work in progress and still coming into their own. If you were at Mezzanine this Friday you were lucky enough to see the blossoming of talent that came with their debut album Don’t You and touring.

Their live show has definitely evolved, compare the photos at the bottom of the post to this picture of Wet at Mezzanine 2014:

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Photos: Andra Day Rises Up at The Fillmore

11/10/2016

If, like me, you are one of the 85% of San Franciscans who voted for Hillary Clinton, this has been a sad week. Personally, I’m broken down. I’m tired. Sometimes there are things bigger than music. Some days you wake up and there is no fighter in you. Every now and then the Spotify plays, the PRmachine, and the music reviews need to pause as we realign our worldview.

I could write about Andra Day’s at times spellbinding, performance at San Francisco’s Fillmore on Sunday night but today that feels inappropriate. At a time when part of America is finding it hard to breathe, when part of the American dream may potentially be taken away from marginalized communities, from women and people of color, I feel like there are more important things to write about (and for better writers to do it than I).

However, in the words of Andra Day’s Grammy-nominated single, we will rise up. We will rise like the day. We will rise unafraid. While it may feel like over 50 million people legitimized hate on Tuesday, we will rise in spite of the mental, physical and emotional ache. We have hope. We have each other. And with that, we will be even stronger than we were before. Music is important, and I hope this motivates many more musicians to put their feelings down in words and create the anthems the country needs. I hope this election result empowers Chole x Halle, the teenage sister group who opened up for Andra Day, to make music that matters to them.

This may not be a day to focus on music, however, it is a day I hope musicians like Andra Day will use for inspiration to create the soundtrack for a generation which is sorely needing hope.

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Photos: Sunflower Bean Treat Fans to High Energy Halloween Set at Rickshaw Stop

11/03/2016

Psych rock trio Sunflower Bean used to be one of New York’s best kept secrets, but over the past few years they have gained a real national following. Friends that went to SXSW this year couldn’t stop talking about their sets. So when I had a last minute opportunity to catch them on Halloween I jumped at the chance, and was not disappointed. 

Like most psych rock acts, its hard to say you really know them until you see them play live. The riffs are harder and you get to truly experience the way they play off each other, improvise and solo. Monday night’s live experience also had the added element of halloween costumes both on stage and in the crowd, making for a unique energy.

Sunflower Bean Vocalist/ bassist Julia Cumming provides incredible stage presence and harmonies with Kivlen. At one point she got down into the crowd to jam with the crowd dressed in costume as an alien. I already had their album Human Ceremony on heavy rotation, but their live show really made me a fan and slightly deaf for two days. Their number one single right now is probably “Easier Said” but I was blown away by “Wall Watcher.” Check it out below.

 

Before the set I had an opportunity to briefly chat with Nick Kivlen (guitar/ vocals) and Jacob Faber (drums) outside the venue. We talked a bit about the trio’s ties to Long Island, and they couldn’t say enough good things about The Lemon Twigs who they are touring with. The Lemon Twigs set the table for the night with a refreshing 70s sound and a disgusting amount of musical talent from the D’Addario brothers who seem to play every instrument.

I would definitely recommend catching both Sunflower Bean and The Lemon Twigs as they continue their tour, you can find all the dates here. Read More

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PREMIERE: “Phoebe” from Michael Musika + Eric Kuhn, on tour

10/26/2016

A decade or more ago, there was a vibrant house show scene in SF, a regular of which was called The House of Love Cabaret. I saw Sean Hayes there, just a guy and a guitar, and comedy troupe Killing My Lobster tested out early sketches to loving crowds. Another act I first encountered there was a quirky guitar-playing songwriter named Michael Musika. Later, I saw him playing his songs in a corner at a random house party full of drunk 20-somethings and I bought his homemade, handwritten CD for a couple of dollars. I still have those songs in rotation, and “Blue Trampoline” remains one of my favorite songs.

Musika’s songwriting has always been playful and poetic – for 2011’s SPELLS he released an accompanying book of stories and poems – but when he teamed up with drummer/multi-instrumentalist and composer Eric Kuhn (of Eric + Erica) a few years ago for the pair’s first release, THERE IS NO NEED TO NAME THE MOON, the songs soared. This was no doubt partly due to production quality and arrangements, but partly to the magic that is created when creative collaborators find their groove.

While Musika (yes that is his given name) has lived in San Francisco for at least a decade, he’s spent the last year away from the city staring at his own loneliness and documenting his creative process. He is an artist who lives and breathes his art every minute – take one look at the menu bar on his blog/website and you’ll see what I mean, everything is art. At one point a short story of his, read a loud at a more recent variety show, knocked me out of an unconscious existential stupor. That is to say that there is more than just music to Michael Musika. He is a storyteller, maybe a shaman, conjuring something mystic in his music.

“Living in your art” in these DEY days (do EVERYTHING yourself) means that your time for self-promotion (a Herculean logistical feat) is probably not abundant, which is true for Musika. Luckily, his fans, me among them, are devoted. With no fanfare, a pre-order link to his new album with Kuhn, YOU CAN IF YOU WANT TO, appeared in my inbox this morning – set to be released next Monday October 31st.  Recorded mostly in North Carolina, Musika says these are “eleven songs named after girls I used to know” with tracks aptly named – “Tia”, “Anna”, “Indianna” and etc.

“Phoebe” is a playful, poetic song that takes enough subtle turns to please any musical geek while still feeling easy to the ear. It features backing vocals from several local (and formerly local) musicians including Indianna Hale and Erica Fink (the other half of Eric + Erica), and instrumentation by Musika and Kuhn. The lines, “time goes by outside so slowly / as all alone i watch the sun go down / one night a girl yelled through my window / why you always inside looking out / you don’t need to be so lonely” reads like Leonard Cohen and sounds like a summer day on the Santa Cruz boardwalk, complete with Beach Boy harmonies.

Musika + Kuhn are hitting the road next week with a few shows around the Bay Area (see below) and beyond. Eric + Erica co-headline the tour. Expect these shows to be intimate and quirky, and to give you all the feels. Pre-order YOU CAN IF YOU WANT TO here, or wait for it be everywhere in a few days.

Mon Oct 31 – Oakland, CA – The Hatch – 8pm
Fri Nov 4 – Santa Cruz, CA – Bocci’s Cellar w/ Hod Hulphers – 8pm
Sat Nov 5 – San Francisco, CA – Amnesia ***Loving Cup Presents*** w/ Bob Thayer – 8pm
Sun Nov 6 – Petaluma, CA – Ernie’s Tin Bar w/ Camp Bud – 5pm

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The 1975 light up San Jose Event Center

10/25/2016

English band The 1975 made a stop at the San Jose Event Center at San Jose State University last Tuesday as part of their 30-show tour across the US, Canada and Mexico. The show was bright, meandering, playful and had some of the best lighting displays I’ve seen since Laurie Anderson came to Berkeley in 2012.

Every time I agree to cover a show in San Jose I swear I’ll never again sit in 90+ minutes of traffic at rush hour. But then … another great one pops up and I find myself bathing in brake lights. Working through the strange maze of SJSU’s parking garage, I met others who have traveled even further to this show – Oakland, Walnut Creek, San Ramon. Some had been camped out in front of the venue since noon in hopes of the best possible general admission position. In all around 5,000 of us packed the center.

The band came out strong with their eponymous track and lead singer Matthew Healy looking like an emo prince: hiding behind layers of too-big clothes, sleeves hanging far below his hands, curly hair flopping as he bounced around, red plaid pants. The large stage spread the band out, but the lights brought them together. Three risers, four columns, and a huge LED screen across the back – at times all working together to create the visual impression of a single flat screen on which the band was displayed in cinematic silhouette. Read More

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Song of the Day: The Knocks Bring the HEAT with Help from Sam Nelson Harris of X Ambassadors

10/21/2016

If you are at all familiar with NYC-based act The Knocks, then you know that all summer they had a new single that has been lighting up live shows, but its release has been delayed due to industry roadblocks. Today the wait is over as Ben Ruttner (Ben Roc or BRoc) and James Patterson (JPatt) finally unveiled “HEAT (feat. Sam Nelson Harris).”

2016 has been a big year for The Knocks as over a half-decade of work has started to show real dividends for the guys. When I first interviewed them in 2014 they talked about how the electronic industry spends too much time chasing musical fads instead of just making good music. The Knocks focus on creating high energy music that takes cues from everything from deep house to disco to funk. What seems to give their music an edge is the hundreds of hours they have racked up DJing in clubs all over NYC, and their early investment in their own Heavy Roc Studios nestled in New York’s Chinatown. If real people don’t want to get down to a track whats the point of recording it?

With dedication to the craft has come increasing success. Just this year in SF they sold out three weeknights at The Independent and played for a monster crowd at Outside Land’s Twin Peak Stage. Currently they are playing sold out stadiums in Europe as openers for Justin Bieber.

“HEAT” is a testament to another one of The Knocks’ strong suits, the ability to find and elevate amazing collaborators. They are one of the great connectors of the NYC music scene, and chances are if you like an indie or upcoming act from New York they have spent some time with The Knocks. For example The Knocks actually signed St. Lucia to their first record deal and helped propel them to a headlining act and have recently been working with Wyclef. With “HEAT”, they team up with Sam Nelson Harris, who is best known as the lead singer of X Ambassadors and has one of the best voices going in the pop world. Fans might  also remember Sam from earlier single “Comfortable.”

With “HEAT,” we hear the honey of Sam’s voice which has made X Ambassadors a mainstream hit paired with the unmistakable production quirks and dance floor energy that make The Knocks one of the best live electronic experiences going. If you want to see “HEAT” live they will be at SNOWGLOBE in Tahoe for New Years, and will probably have a few SF dates announced around early 2017.

Photo: Bob Patterson

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Wet Release New Songs “The Middle” and “Turn Away” Ahead of Mezzanine Show 11/4

10/21/2016

Indie electronic trio Wet has blessed our Friday with a couple of new tracks. For those unfamiliar with the Brooklyn-based group, its brand of electronic pop drips with emotion, often using sparse tracking and haunting, melancholy lyrics to evoke strong feelings. Wet released Don’t You, its debut LP earlier this year featuring updated recordings of some earlier singles and new music. Yesterday The Fader debuted even more new music for 2016; singles “The Middle” and “Turn Away” ahead of the upcoming show at Mezzanine November 11th.

Wet recieved a lot of early buzz when they released their self-titled EP a few years ago, and have grown into this initial recognition. Every time they release music, you can hear a real evolution in the production and every time I see them live they become more comfortable in their own skin. “The Middle” does a great job of showcasing singer Kelly Zutrau’s vocal range, from her unmistakable rich, husky midrange to a falsetto that cuts through the synths and echoing beat.

“Turn Away” is about as close to a ‘banger’ as you will get from an act like Wet. Besides the deep ebb and flow of the bass, my favorite feature is the syntax and delivery of the lyrics. The vocals add another layer of percussion with each syllable.

Wet is touring now and is supposed to be featuring some cool new lighting at their shows. Tickets are on sale for Wet with Demo Taped Friday November 11th for $22 plus fees and you can get them here.

Photo Bob Patterson, Outside Lands 2016

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PREMIERE: Cave Clove recalls the past with “Bid for Power”

10/18/2016

Cave Clove has been working towards the sound of their forthcoming album sound since 2011 when guitarist and lead singer Katie Colver began collaborating with drummer Kenda Kilkuskie. Now expanded to a four-piece including guitarist Brent Curridan (Travis Hayes / Lords of Sealand) and bassist Alisa Saario, the band has evolved beyond their Americana jumping off point. Way beyond.

Colver’s voice evokes Beth Orton, Tracy Chapman and Joan Baez, and she wields the living-ghosts of these powerful performers with grace through throw-back arrangements all across the self-titled album. “Bid for Power” in particular, which SF Critic is pleased to premiere, sounds like a portrait of mid-seventies R&B and soul, complete with jangly guitars, a sick bass line, lyric references that sound personal but echo political, and drum patterns that would have been at home on an Al Green track. This is a sound that suits the band well.

Catch them on the road soon up and down the coast – including a (((folkYEAH))) event December 1st at The Starline Social Club in Oakland. The album is set to be released November 4th.

11/12/16 – Star Theater – Portland, OR (supporting The Jaezabels) – Tickets
11/14/16 – Barboza – Seattle, WA (supporting The Jaezabels) – Tickets
11/16/16 – The Treehouse Cafe – Bainbridge Island, WA – RSVP
12/1/16 – The Starline Social Club – Oakland, CA (((folkYEAH!))) Presents: w/ Kelly McFarling & The Donkeys) – Tickets

Press photo by Ginger Fierstein
Write up by Annie Bacon / @anniebacon

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Anne-Marie Does It Right at Rickshaw Stop

10/11/2016

Anne-Marie performed her first solo U.S. gig in San Francisco on Friday night at the Rickshaw Stop. The small but passionate crowd soaked up each and everyone one of her songs. The London-raised singer looked taken aback when the audience started singing… screaming her lyrics back to her.

She was bursting with joy throughout the night, each cheer and chant from the crowd drawing more smiles and energy from Anne-Marie and her band. New songs were enjoyed just as much as the more familiar hits, “Gemini” and her latest single, “Alarm”. While shouts for an encore were left unfulfilled, those in the audience were left bubbling and satisfied after a fun set from a singer defining her own sound. Let’s hope she has a few spare songs up her sleeve the next time she visits The Bay as the love for her music appears to be starting to grow on this side of the pond.
 A few pictures from the night below.

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