You should care about Alex Winston’s show @ The Fillmore 6/9


For a few weeks, I’ve been listening to a lot of radio pop music and yearning for substance. Somehow substance (dynamic, nuanced, well-crafted songwriting) has not been one of the defining characteristics of commercially successful pop music for decades. Today, I got the sonic equivalent of a medium-rare, pan-seared filet mignon delivered right to my inbox: Alex Winston‘s “Careless,” which you can see and hear below. She’s hitting the Fillmore Tuesday 6/9 supporting Neon Trees, and we will be there.

When “Careless” starts, I first think I’ve accidentally clicked on a track from Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories. Then Winston’s vocals hit, and they are full of a reserved emotion, held back as someone who is trying not to say something they really want to say. Cue the curt little smacks on the high hat, which you get from keeping the cymbals tight-lipped, so to speak. (Kate Bush‘s weirdly Baroque-pop “Army Dreamers” comes to mind, wrought with unspoken emotion.)

At 0:46 the whole song explodes open. A tom-heavy pick up lands in a wide, wet cymbal splash. Vocally, all reservations are abandoned, and the emotion morphs into a strong confidence, with a backing choir that has evaded over-production, keeping the feeling of a bunch of friends singing along. This chorus is truly careless, expansive. This chorus rewrites the rest of the song. Now the reserved verses feel like an inhale instead, with the next exhale just a pre-chorus away. Read More

Interview: Caitlin Canty brings gorgeous sparse Americana to Freight & Salvage


The Freight & Salvage in downtown Berkeley is known for its excellent curation of folk, Americana and traditional music. You could just swing by on a Tuesday and be almost guaranteed an excellent show if these genres are your jam. If you were going to do that this week, however, we recommend you swing by on Friday night May 29th instead and catch Caitlin Canty open for Eilen Jewell.

Canty is a Vermont native living in Nashville who brings an unfettered voice and songwriting style that is at once reminiscent of Nicki Bluhm, and distinct from her. Where Bluhm veers towards the rock side of country, folk and blues, Canty steers closer to the folk side of blues and country. Where Bluhm exudes a lightness of heart even in the saddest song, Canty seems to bring a haunting sadness to every note she sings. While combining American genres earns them both the Americana tag, Canty’s Americana seems best suited to the intimate 500-seat Freight & Salvage listening room, which boasts some of the Bay’s best sound by the way. Read More

After Years of Putting in Work, The Knocks are Poised for a Huge 2015


Earlier this month, I was checking Twitter (as I often do every minute of my waking life), and I saw The Knocks tweet that Apple was featuring them in the New Artist Spotlight on iTunes. I found this pretty funny, and I’m sure B-Roc (Ben Ruttner) and JPatt (James Patterson) had a little chuckle as well. For guys that have been putting out music and touring for over five years it must seem a little silly to be called a “new artist.” But even in a world where labels are turning out new 20 year old “DJs” every week, there are artists in the grind working on a unique sound. So far 2015 is looking like it might be huge for The Knocks.

The duo creates electronic music infused with disco licks, funky beats and deep house kicks. Like fashion styles, music is often cyclical, the 80s are back and funk is on the rise. If you distilled the past four decades of dance music into the best elements, what you would be left with is The Knocks. They call it retro-futurism and I guess I can get behind that term. It’s a style they have been perfecting for the past five-plus years and, while the music hasn’t changed drastically from “Dancing With The DJ” in 2010 to “Collect My Love” in 2015, the world is more hungry for the sound.

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Up-and-Comers Life in Film Support The Wombats at the Fillmore this Saturday


We have liked what we’ve heard so far from London’s indie rockers Life in Film. We first got wind of them back in February when they released single “It’s What Happens Next That Matters Most,” and have been anxious to get a glimpse of the quartet here in the Bay Area.

Luckily for us, they are playing the hallowed Fillmore this Saturday with fellow countrymen The Wombats. What’s better than a night of dancing to some of the UK’s best upbeat rock?

While The Wombats have made a name for themselves with tightly produced, quick hitting and high energy rock, Life in Film takes a lighter touch. Their folk, indie rock harmonies give way to long picks of twangy, low-fi guitar. Longing, salt-of-the-earth lyrics draw you in for an experience that feels both new and harkens back to the UK’s musical past.

Check out single “This is War” below and you can grab tickets to see The Wombats, Life in Film and Cheerleader for $20 plus fees here

TICKET GIVEAWAY: 1939 Ensemble live at Elbo Room Monday 5/11


It’s not entirely clear to me how two members of the Breeders are playing a Monday night at the Elbo Room in the Mission; it being a categorically small venue teetering on the edge of dive bar status. But they are, Monday May 11th. Though Kelley Deal’s new band R. Ring is headlining the night, it’s a group called the 1939 Ensemble that I’m most excited to see. A rhythm-nerd’s paradise, the band’s newly released track “Slade” will force you to stare, stomp, and shake your head. How can anyone’s hands move that fast? Call your drummer friends for date night, and if you’re lucky, it’ll be a cheap date … because we have two tickets to give away!  Read More

José González Throws Curve Balls @ Bimbo’s 365 Club


Last Monday and Tuesday, one of San Francisco’s oldest and most storied nightclubs, Bimbo’s 365 Club in North Beach, hosted a rare pair of sold-out shows for Swedish singer-songwriter and guitarist José González. This is his first solo tour since 2008, to support his new record Vestiges and Claws. I’ve been wanting to seen him live for more than 10 years now, so I think I reached the maximum allowable score on the excitement scale for seeing a soft-spoken classical guitarist. Read More

Mastodon and Clutch Show Metal’s Ability to Both Rock and Pull on Heartstrings @ The Fox Theater


On Tuesday April 28, Mastodon and Clutch came to the Fox Theater in Oakland for the Missing Link Tour. Clutch opened the double bill with their punk influenced sounds and Mastodon closed the show with a more traditional metal sounding show, with all the typically intense guitar solos and beautiful transitions.

The vibe was friendly and easy going throughout the show. Although metal shows may be associated with angry people dressed in black garb, my experience has always been that the shows are pretty relaxed. During the sets, the intensity of the music on stage is so visceral that besides the smallish, yet consistently occupied mosh pit, most of the audience is attentively watching. The music tends to suck up and process all the angry energy that most listeners have at one time or another, leaving the person to enjoy the intricate musicianship and the beautiful surroundings of the Fox Theater.

Having never heard Clutch before, I was excited to see what they would be like, and they were great. Read More

Photos: If You Saw Young Fathers and Mas Ysa at the Independent Saturday, You’re Lucky


Young Fathers rocked the Independent Saturday with Mas Ysa in a show we have been looking forward to for a while now.

First up was Mas Ysa, is the stage name used by Thomas Arsenault. The artist was born in Canada, but went to high school in Brazil, where he began creating electronic music. His sound is refined and carries depth and soul with it. It’s pop music for the melancholy and existential. The energy in his showmanship translated to the crowd despite him being confined behind a desk of audio equipment. Barefooted, and bare-souled he stood on his tip toes shaking the sound up his body and out toward the audience. 

His set consisted of songs from his EP album Worth, released last February. He also performed his newest single “Look Up,” which was an anticipated crowd pleaser. He’ll accompany Young Fathers for most of their final U.S. tour dates, and will be performing with Tanlines for a couple appearances in New York next month.

After a fittingly energetic opening, Young Fathers arrived on stage. Read More

Oakland’s Trails and Ways Releases “Say You Will,” 2nd Single Off Upcoming Album Pathology


I am a big fan of Trails and Waysa local band that really embraces the diversity we have here in the Bay Area. Their music is infused with South American genres like bossa nova, and exudes the warmth of California sunshine. And you have to love a group where every member including the drummer sings.

Today they are giving us a second peak into their upcoming album Pathology with “Say You Will.” Featuring a heavy bass line, a heartbeat and some classic disco Nile Rodgers-esque guitar, it exemplifies the groups ability to blend styles into great music. They recorded and produced the whole new album themselves in their drummer’s bedroom.

Bassist/ vocalist Emma Oppen wrote the song and explains the creative process as follows:

“Two years ago I met someone very special, and had the experience of falling in love in a matter of hours. In my delirium, I imagined making an ultimatum: Say you will, or don’t say anything at all. A few months later, I wrote the bass line in the back of the van on our first summer tour, and made the first demo recording of the vocal melody against the droning fan of a venue bathroom. Silky four-part harmonies open into a dance between syncopated bass, plucky synths, and an insistent, grounding beat. A biting rhythm guitar kicks in at the chorus for a sassy groove you can choose to love forever, or wherever you are in the moment.”

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Oaktown Indie Mayhem releases Yassou Benedict’s “Youngblood”


When I first heard Yassou Benedict‘s “Youngblood,” the first release off Oaktown Indie Mayhem (OIM)’s upcoming compilation OIM Vol: I, I’ll be honest … it wasn’t my jam. It has lurking in it many of the elements of dubstep, (to which only this guy knows how to dance), and I don’t really like dubstep. But – out of admiration for the work that OIM does to support the local music scene – I gave it another listen. And damned if the electro indie  darkness didn’t win me over completely, dubstepping hints and all.

This time, listening, I was shrouded in a lonely quiet. Late night, kid sleeping, wind shaking the hundred year old window frames. And suddenly a bridge opened between me and this song. A wiggling bridge. There is no single, undeterred beat here. The beat shifts emphasis every 10 seconds or so, which creates this feeling of falling side to side, jerking forward, leaning back as the bass tones blast. (This is one of the hallmarks of dubstep.) But bassist and lead singer Lilie Bytheway Hoy’s haunting alto anchors it all. Pushed just the slightest bit back into the mix, her vocals make me lean forward to listen closer, and in so doing, seem to take my hand and pull me along, guide me through the glitches.

While it seems like the heavy feeling of this song is present in their sound overall, from what I can tell, this particular song is something different. “Youngblood” is the opposite of Easy Listening. It is Dark And On The Move, and in my lonely quiet, I felt the urge to pull on a carmine cape and head off for a midnight wander through an abandoned city. A deep, dark, delicious solitude.

More about the band here.

We’ll have more about the OIM compilation in the coming weeks, including coverage of their residency at Leo’s in Oakland to celebrate the upcoming release (June 23rd):

May 21st – Foxtails Brigade, Whiskerman + Perhapsy
May 28th – Jennifer Johns, Waterstrider + Nyx
June 4th – Emily Afton, Yassou Benedict + El Elle

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