IT’S BRUTAL. IT’S HEAVY. IT’S GOOD. Caspian and Circle Takes the Square | Post Punks finest


Music tends to be a reflection of where a musician lives or where they have been. After Circle Takes The Square at the Rickshaw Stop this past Wednesday night, I get the impression Savannah, Georgia must be the most brutal, passionate and beautiful place on the planet. The three piece, consisting of Drew Speziale (vocals/guitar), Kathleen Stubelek (vocals/bass) and Caleb Collins (vocals/drums) brought an energy from another dimension. They are craft masters, with each song composed dense with flawless musicianship and with every member of the audience attached to each shriek, growl and scream the band spilled from their hearts. With no words decipherable their howls become another instrumentation. Wikipedia names them as the reinvention of Screamo. Unsigned by choice, Circle Takes The Square describes them selves as  “a punk band with reverence for the mystery”, accurate yet so much more and certainly not a mainstreamers cup of tea. By the time the band played their final note I was convinced Caspian didn’t have a chance.

I was wrong.
Battles Win!



Packed to the rafters, with barely any room to shake, the Lower East Side experimental art rock group, Battles, hypnotized the earnest crowd. The band staggered on to the stage, first with Dave Konopa setting up 5 guitar loops, next founding member Ian Williams setting up even more loops on guitar and keyboard with fiery spasms, and finally clearly every one’s favorite member and the worlds most passionate drummer John Stanier completing the trio.

At times Battles’ set seemed to be completely falling apart until it was made clear it was part of the plan all along, as the band would burst into songs such as “Ice Cream and Futura” reminding the crowd how powerful their instrumental tracks are. Battles’ work ethic on stage is unmatched, with every member busier than the last and completely focused on staying in perfect time with the latest loop. At one point drummer John Stanier stood up to give a wave to the crowd and subsequently show off his appearance of having jumped into a pool fully clothed. Read More


Photos: London’s Rudimental at The Regency Ballroom


I remember many (many) years ago I was at Notting Hill Carnival. I was there with my mum and my two sisters. At one point we were lost somewhere down Ladbroke Grove between the floats, the people dancing and smell of food. I was standing there, overwhelmed by the costumes and the colors when my eldest sister tugged my arm to get my attention. We turned and in the distance M-Beat were performing live drum ‘n’ bass. My sister, six years my senior, wondered off to go and experience the sounds up-close, me being very young had to stay back with my mum watching the floats go by as she went to rave in the mid-afternoon sunshine.

Rudimental, hailing from East London, reminded me of that moment last night as their high tempo show had The Regency Ballroom bouncing from wall to wall.

Friday night, San Francisco, was the last stop on Rudimental’s current US Tour supporting the release of, We The Generation, their sophomore album. Number one in the UK, We The Generation feels like a collection of anthems about the realities of life, young love and youthful uncertainty. Read More


Interview: Oakland’s Lila Rose on darkness, collaboration and waking up


Alternately invoking “Goth-R&B,” electronic singer-songwriter types like Bjork, and an edgy dark rock, the music Lila Rose makes on her most recent album WE.ANIMALS. will stop you in your tracks.

Rose relocated to Oakland from Toronto only a few years ago and has found lots of success here in the Bay Area, being named the 2014 East Bay Express Artist of the Year after the release of her album Heart Machines. She’s got a new album now and released a video for her song “This Could Be Ha” last week. It it is dark, intense and wrought with the kind of struggle humans must face both individually and collectively. We caught up with her about the video, the process of making WE.ANIMALS, the importance of empathy, and connecting music to universal imperatives.

“This Could Be Ha” – Lila Rose

SFCRITIC: Seems like coming to California (from Toronto) was a big move for you. What inspired the move, and did you come first to the Bay Area or have you moved around in-state? Read More

The Mynabirds press

The Mynabirds: stupendously good at the Swedish American Music Hall


David Byrne gave a TED talk five years ago exploring the relationship between the changing architecture of venues and the evolution of music — watch it; he’s brilliant — and asking the question, “Does the venue make the music?” Byrne’s answer is an unequivocal yes. Last night at the Swedish American Music Hall, indie-pop band The Mynabirds (Saddle Creek), touring their new album Lover’s Know, could have been a case study for this inquiry; the two distinct styles of songs played fared so differently in the Hall’s grand ballroom. All of them were good, but the ones that fit the venue were stupendously good, and I finally understood the use of the word “bird” in their name, as singer Laura Burhenn’s vocals spread albatross-wide and lifted me a’flight.

The grand ballroom, built in 1907 as a meeting place for the Swedish Society of San Francisco, features dark oak wainscoting 7′ high on every wall, intricate woodwork on its balcony, and is flanked by imposing thrones of a similarly dark oak. The stage is small. The walls are bare. There isn’t much to break up sound, which creates a problem not so much for fast songs, as for fast changing songs, songs with lots of lyrics, or quick turn arounds. Of the Mynabirds 14 songs, about half fit this category. They were good songs, mixing in with their pop sound some classic rock, and bringing to mind Grace Slick, early Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night, and Pink Floyd. There were politics, an ode to California, and there was a little bit of Motown on my favorite of these tunes, “Numbers Don’t Lie.” But, these songs needed a bigger stage and less alive acoustics to let their superpowers out. Read More


Ticket Giveaway 10/16: Aussie Duo Strange Talk’s New Look, New EP and New Single “Jive”


Friday October 16th is a big day for Australia’s electronic duo Strange Talk, it marks the culmination of a period of reinvention for the young act. We want you to be there to hear their new sound on the day release their new EP at Rickshaw Stop. We have two pairs of tickets for this show so your odds of winning are doubled!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
When we last saw Strange Talk here in SF May 2014 they were a four piece indie-synth-rock act, riding a big wave of publicity after having their single “Young Hearts” pushed to millions of Snapchat users around the world. But one hit doesn’t make a band a success, and they were savvy enough to evolve their music and act.

Their story is familiar to anyone who knows the music industry and the factory atmosphere around many up-and-coming groups. Two guys who love to make music, but who get lost in the world label pressure, management and constant touring. I highly recommend you read about their journey as told to Tone Deaf.

On Friday October 16th we get our first taste of the duo as they emerge leaner, dance-ier and perhaps even stranger. The shift allows frontmen Stephen Docker and Gerard Sidhu to focus more on songwriting and production. While I will miss the live instrumentation, I haven’t been able to stop listening to the new E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N EP since I got an early listen last month.

Today we get another new taste of the EP with “Jive.” This is a banger, and really demonstrates how far the group has come. The track has more in common with Justice than anything on 2014’s Cast Away. Check it out below: Read More

San Francisco, CA - October 3, 2015

The Villagers perform first San Francisco headline performance.

Photo Credit: Victoria Smith



This past weekend Dublin Ireland’s Villagers, project of sonic mastermind Conor O’Brien, reminded San Francisco what powerful songwriting can be.

Starting on Saturday night, the band took a break from their tour with Paul Weller and braved it alone for their first headlining show of their latest album Darling Arthmetic in San Francisco at the Swedish American Hall. The all-seated venue was the optimal environment to wrap oneself in O’Brien’s resonant voice. Touring as a stripped down three piece featuring welsh virtuosos, Gwion Llewelyn (Drums, Trumpet, Vocals) and Mali Llywelyn (Keyboard, Piano, Vocals) the band shuffled through top drawer tracks from the Villagers three albums, harmonizing like a finger ringing around a crystal glass — perfection.

The wide eyed audience was then hit with “Becoming a Jackal”, where full crowd participation harmonizing was required, and they obliged creating an environment where no drugs were required to feel the high.
Read More


Song of the Day: Lung and Limbs “Signs Of Life,” Release Show 10/9 at Hotel Utah


Today we get a sneak peak at a new track from San Francisco-based Lungs and Limbs ahead of their official release show next Friday at Hotel Utah.

Here in San Francisco we know that October isn’t too late to release a fun summer jam, it’s actually probably the height of summer for us. Today we have “Signs Of Life” a new light and airy indie rock track with plenty of toe-tapping bass drum, and a repeating vocal hook that will get stuck in your head. The local act is made of of Karina Rousseau, Nick Tudor, Matt Power and Chris Casey. Vocalist Rousseau layers her lyrics with plenty of ‘ohs’ and is playfully mirrored during in the chorus by quick plucks of the guitar. A smooth bass line and synth tones accent the galloping pace of the drums to fill out the sound.

Check out the track yourself and see them live October 9th at Hotel Utah. Tickets are $10 bucks and you can pick them up here.

Photo provided by Breakup Records


Rock n Roll lives! (Slim Twig at the Hemlock)


When I wrote about Slim Twig playing at the Hemlock a few weeks ago, I wanted to see the live show mostly out of curiosity. The new album Thank You For Stickin’ With Twig (on DFA) is a strange, alluring, and massively-sounding production that seemed impossible to recreate live. What I didn’t realize is just how rock n roll it would all be smashed onto the Hemlock’s postage-stamp stage last night — rock n roll all the way through.

Let me set that stage for you:

Immediately before them, as support, was LA-based Jack Name. It may have been exactly their intention – LA Magazine reports that “nonconformity is a central theme in Name’s work” — but I found this band an utter assault on the ears. Decent beats and hooks were drowned by poorly executed guitar wanderings awash in an ear-piercing distortion. The vocals were buried in a similar distortion and barely audible, almost like Name was singing into a drainage pipe from the top of a building while a car alarm and a fire truck passed. Planted on two sides of a card table, looking at each other and never at the audience, with not even a second to breathe between songs, the visual presentation was as difficult as the sound. I could only take a few of these songs without feeling angry, like I wanted to break something. I left after three. Read More


Interview: Lincoln Durham Talks Cigar Box Blues, Mental Illness, and Upcoming Album


Noticing Lincoln Durham unpack his gear, it may be natural to assume five or six other musicians would later man the stage to help play so many instruments. There are nine or ten, maybe more depending on how you count. But surprise hits when no one else exits the Durham tour van (except Alissa Durham, later identified as Lincoln’s tour manager).

After he finishes arranging the instruments to form a central station fit for only one, the power of deduction prevails, albeit late to the party. Lincoln commands all the instruments and often does so simultaneously.

 “I fear being stagnant. From one album to the next, there’s a progression. [Along the way], there are a bunch of heavy, dark parts. I hope people continue to follow me down that path.”
– Lincoln Durham

Oh, that worn, hard shell suitcase is a funny stage prop, you might think to yourself just before Lincoln gives a subtle thumbs-up to the sound board in the back of the saloon. This is how he kicked off his headline show at Bottom Of The Hill this past Summer. Lincoln Durham has shown off his art to San Francisco twice in the last three years, both times at Bottom of the Hill. After he performed in support of Little Hurricane in 2014, Bottom of the Hill had no problems having Lincoln return to headline a show himself. Read More

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