It’s that time again, or well past that time actually, just 9 days left in this year and i’m really hoping i can come up with 10 releases I find worthy. I don’t know why I’m feeling this way about it, last year I think i did two top 10 lists because there were so many records i wanted to include. This year…not so much. Perhaps it’s because so many of the bands that are making just about everyone else’s lists really did nothing for me. That’s right Kanye, Arcade Fire, Jay Z, Daft Punk, Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells, and many more, you just didn’t move me or even worse, you fucking repulsed me with lameness, stupidity, limp and weak tones in the style of wussy or confounding WTF’s when i listen to something everyone is raving about and really just don’t fucking get it. That happened a lot this year. Thanks Pitchfork, you out-did yourself more than any other internet music repository or forum for blivet-style music writing. For those of you that don’t know, a blivet is a 5 pound container stuffed full of 10 pounds of shit, not unlike most pitchfork record reviews, bloated by pretense and superfluous over-intellectualized hipster bilge. I’d take the blunt, direct and effective and not completely void of humor style of Buddyhead, styrofoamdrone, tinygrooves, getbent, Noisey, and Crack Magazine any day. Check out all of those sites–they’re good.
Wax Idols–Discipline and Desire
I really loved Wax Idols first LP, a garage-y tough and punchy affair with punk rock chops weaving around and through some very astute pop-song structures almost completely written and performed by Hether Fortune herself. With this years follow-up Discipline and Desire we got a very evolved and more group-composed effort that sounds a lot different, showing vast growth and a bold foray into a darker moodier musical realm. It’s meticulously produced and performed showing a band that has gone well beyond what most bands do between their first and second releases, an awkward make or break period of time that Wax Idols skillfully traversed coming out way ahead of the curve. Listening to this record you can sense the collective and advanced knowledge of great musical influences and talking with Hether and reading interviews and keeping up with her very active social media presence, I’m amazed by her archival grasp and devotion to music that was made well before she was born. She composes brilliantly structured pop songs, all hard or edgy enough in all the right places, a quality that I could only compare to one of my favorite bands ever, Wire. Then I read an interview and she names them as one of her main influences. She clearly knows a lot about music and is resolutely driven to create her own. As a multi-instrumentalist, a savvy and instinctual songwriting talent with a relentless drive to throw herself completely into performance, and a flair for being outspoken and aggressive, Hether has delivered her strongest steady flex of pure rock and roll muscle yet. Thats what you get with Discipline and Desire, an authentic unstoppable musical force to be reckoned with.
Thee Oh Sees–Floating Coffin
What is there to say about Thee Oh Sees that i haven’t already tried to say? They are truly unforgettable. One of the most pure and raw genius personifications of everything rock and roll can be that i have ever witnessed. I count myself lucky to have seen them perform too many times to count at the Eagle Tavern over the past ten years. I’m also thrilled that they have traveled and played literally all over the world and have become a massively popular sensation where ever they played. That was pretty much a given, I’ve never seen them be any less than astonishing live and i’m sure they brought the magic on tour. Floating Coffin is every bit as astonishing a testament to their greatness as a record could be, their strongest and darkest release to date, good from end to end ripe with influences ranging from kraut rock to garage rock to heavy psych to drone. They also have a huge body of recorded work and I’m hard pressed to choose even one disc that isn’t great. If you aren’t hearing Thee Oh Sees by now you are really missing out. They will stand as an important part of San Francisco’s rich musical history, in fact Thee Oh Sees just might be the last great San Francisco band. (Insert lament about artists and musicians not being able to afford to live here any more and the steady exodus of some of our best bands relocating as we speak) At a show here in SF last week Thee Oh Sees announced they were going on an indefinite hiatus–not disbanding, but not playing for a long time. I can understand that, they’ve been like the hardest working/touring band for several years straight and deserve a break but I feel sad nonetheless for the void this will leave in our local music scene. Band figurehead and mad genius Jon Dwyer is relocating to Los Angeles and Brigid Dawson keyboardist and vocalist is moving to Santa Cruz, see aforementioned lament as reasons for departure. Sigh.
Black Joe Lewis–Electric Slave
With this, his third release, Black Joe Lewis came up with a disc that surprised me by being more hard rocking and moving toward a more garage-rock edginess as opposed to the R&B Soul revue style of his previous efforts. That aspect is still quite present on this record but from the opening chords of “Skull Diggin'” with the gloriously loud, low and distorted rumble of guitar Black Joe Lewis pulls you in to his world of serious hard rock guitar heroics served up plenty funky but firmly harder edged in the axe department. I also love the song called “The Hipster” which leads me to believe that Austin Texas is going through a similar situation as San Francisco, gentrification and an influx of young dickheads every where you go being stupid and annoying. Joe says “Fuck that shit.” to the kids who wanna move into the ghetto. There’s a great long cut called “Vampire” that’s downright Cramps-ish in its subject matter and style, sounds a bit like Creedence doing “Graveyard Train.” It’s almost Shockabilly. Like I said, there’s a real garage-rock vibe to this record. His band features one of most well-placed horn sections this side of King Khan and His Shrines and vocally he can get pretty incendiary, like some of the best soulful blues screamers or even James Brown. Altogether this record is like a really cool party looking for a place to happen.
Fuzz-Fuzz Out of all the records in this list I’d have to say that this Debut LP from Fuzz is my very favorite release of the year. Before it came out in November, the band released a string of amazing singles, some are on the LP and some are not, but all of them hinted that their album would be a monster and guess what–it is! This group is a side project of Ty Segall’s, another former SF resident and musical over-achiever who has released a fuckload of great records over the past few years and with Fuzz he’s taken to the drum kit instead of guitar and he is the vocalist. Charles Moothart plays guitar and Roland Cosio plays bass. I believe these three musicians have collaborated and played with each other a long time in various other projects. With Fuzz something definitely huge and amazing is going on. They hit like a monster, big heavy guitar riffs bust out reminding me of Sabbath and Blue Cheer and Cream and FuManchu and being really stoned. The bass player fills the low-end with muscular deep grooves and drama and it turns out that Ty is a great drummer, showing instinct and a personal flair. When I saw Fuzz play live, Ty looked happier onstage than I’ve ever seen him, singing and drumming blissfully, all smiles. When they get going something very raw and primal completely hits your core, waves of sound move through your body and suddenly you’re uncontrollably head-banging. It all feels natural. Each cut is epic and powerful, some featuring quieter and more subtle instrumental breaks and even some suprisingly beautiful vocal harmonies. But the main attraction here is that indescribable heavy grind that takes over your body, kinda like the best parts of The Stooges Funhouse, those moments when you think, “this might be the the very best that rock music can ever be.” Yeah, they are that good. They also just released Fuzz Live at the SF Eagle from the night that i saw them and it captures the sheer melt-your-face-off dirgey psych-rock trip this trio creates. You need to have this.
Drenge are a two piece rock act from England, where there’s been a few hard rocking british duos cropping up this year, notably Wet Nuns and more recently Royal Blood whom you’ll be hearing about in the coming year. Drenge fit right in with the blues-based-hard-rocking-pair-of-dudes template plus they are actually brothers. I was drawn to them by their chosen cover art (above) and some clever song titles like “People in Love Make Me Feel Yuck” “I Wanna Break You in Half” “Dogmeat” “Gun Crazy” and “Fuckabout.” They are apparently quite loud when they play live and on record the vocalist has a very clear and powerful voice best exemplified in the song “Backwaters,” my favorite on the disc. I will forever be intrigued by bands with two members who make such a huge sound. I also appreciate a sense of humor which this band exhibits a lot of, like their song “I Dont Wanna Make Love To You,” a piss-take of the original Willie Dixon song “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” popularized by Muddy Waters and Etta James and Foghat to name a few. They cleverly take the song to opposite day and a whole new cruel meaning. Another highlight is the scorcher “Lets Pretend” which swells to a crescendo, moving from plaintive to menacing over the course of 8 minutes but seems like less. Overall Drenge’s debut is dark and tough and snotty and well worth a listen.
The Living Eyes–s/t:
It’s not much of a record cover but whats inside of this sleeve is one satisfying slab of Australian teen Garage-rock thats catchy as all hell and bounces around in my head all day when i hear it. This record is full of simple charm and skilled musicianship that sounds way beyond their years, as does the retro-fascination with 60’s psych influences and Texas Psych and garage and Australian garage punk from the 70’s as well as other young bands from their home town of Geelong who seem to be navigating a similar musical history and presenting their own unique or modern take on styles of the past that move them. Their name comes from a Rocky Erickson song, if thats any indication for you. How do young people become so knowledgable about music created before they were born? Is it the internet that has 0pened portals of time for their exploration? How ever it is happening, I’m really glad it is because this band has created one of the most smile inducing, hook-infested and pure psych-pop-garage-rock records I’ve ever heard. I think the vocalist provides a great deal of this bands appeal with his gritty and scratchy but higher pitched delivery, although the amazing guitar hooks help a great deal. I listened to this all the way through while writing and there isn’t one song on here that i dislike. These kids have got it going on.
The Future Primitives–Into The Primitive
This trio from South Africa maintains a pure garage-rock aesthetic and have done so with their two previous releases as well but with Into the Primitive something clicked into place making this their best effort to date and a tremendously fun disc. I do have a minor complaint about this record and almost all records that fall under the genre of Garage Rock and that is there are far too many songs about girls, too many girls names and “she’s” “hers” and “babies” flying around in the lyrics. This annoys me because i play music in a gay bar for mostly men and it renders certain cuts sort of inappropriate to play. I know this is a very nit-picking complaint but i’m just saying. The non-gender specific cuts are great enough to forgive the girly ones. The songs bounce all over varied styles from throughout the history of garage rock, a bit of The Cynics, The Lyres, 13th Floor Elevators, etc. but the album definitely has a fresh and current level of energy that could move them beyond the cult-ish realm of bowl haircuts, dark glasses and skin tight black pants from that one section at the record store. Though inspired by the past The Future Primitives are moving ecstatically in the present and looking very much ahead. Its not like countless other bands starting in the early 90’s didn’t dip their feet in the Garage Rock pool and run with it. Now in 2013 it’s clearly still happening, maybe even more and i fucking love it.
I have always pretty much loved this band until they released 2007’s Eras Vulgaris and that record just didn’t do it for me at all. Then the band toured performing their first LP to mark the 10th anniversary of its release and that show was brilliant. This was the band that I knew and loved in full effect and I was so happy to know they hadn’t lost their appeal completely. This year when they released …Like Clockwork, five full years after the disappointing Eras Vulgaris, I was a bit afraid that it might suck. Well it didn’t. This record is a return to much of what makes them great but its also a departure for head Queen Josh Homme who dips into some slower compositions exhibiting a more sensitive and evolved songwriting style that really works here. His vocals also encompass a broader range and new levels of sophistication. But the best parts of this record are the songs that hit hard like “Smooth Sailing” with its dark humorous lyrics and hard rocking funky hooks and “I Sat By The Ocean” and “My God is The Sun.” I keep returning to this record and enjoying it more and more each time. Like Clockwork debuted on Billboards hot 200 chart at number one, a first for the band, and critical acclaim has been forthcoming. I like that the band took some chances on new and different directions and it it paid off with a very solid release.
I almost forgot just how much I enjoyed this first full length release by Southern Californias hard partying hard playing ferocious surf/punk wonderkinds FIDLAR because it came out early in the year. There is a completely juvenile stoner simplicity to their lyrical content, songs about drinking beer , smoking weed, skipping school, skateboarding and calling some girl a whore but the intensity of their playing brings to mind bands way more mature and intense, like for instance the Pixies. Not a lot of bands prompt Pixies comparisons at all in my mind but with FIDLAR I definitely hear it. So did the Pixies I guess when they chose FIDLAR to open for them on their most recent tour. Some people think this band is pretty stupid and immature and they sort of are really, but that turns very appealing when they back it up with sheer, hammering adrenalin pumping ear splitting rock and roll played like it could kill you and make you want to scream along as it mows you down. It’s cathartic and untamed and isnt that a nice couple of things for a band to be? I think so.
The Wytches–Beehive Queen and more
Okay, this isnt even an album really but rather a handful of singles this young band from Brighton has put out over the last year and I dig them so much I’m just gonna act like it is an album. They have about 7 or 8 songs out there spread over three 7-inch singles and this band just fucking slays me. “Beehive Queen” is my favorite song of the year as it comes snarling out of some semi-spooky psychedelic swamp sounding surf-y, gothic, grand and grungey with clever psychedelic pastiches and vocals that sounds like an extra frantic Jack White if he were a bit raspier and british. This one song sent me tearing up the internet for all things Wytches I could find and i came up with more here and there like “Digsaw”, “She’s so Far Out,” “House of Mirrors,” and a few more. Look them up on youtube–they have some great videos and lots of live footage. It appears that this band is getting quite the buzz about it, gaining in popularity, selling out shows and possibly coming to the states in the spring. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and wait for a full length this year.
This video is a performance by the legendary punk rock band Frightwig–an all girl SF-based group who were way ahead of their time, pretty fucking scary, and highly influential. They were my very first favorite local band upon arriving to San Francisco around 1982 or so, along with The VKTMS, both of whom i saw at The Mabuhay gardens on Broadway. Both of these bands are playing a reunion show along with a whole bunch of other great sf bands like The Mutants, the Avengers, The Offs (!!!) and more doing a big show for bands who played at the mabuhay gardens. too bad it’s completely sold out, but for those lucky enough to be in on this, it should be an amazing day of music. I cant wait. Many of these bands still figure prominently in my DJ sets, I’m proud to say after all these years, because its only right to support local talent and musically SF has always served up a steady diet of palatable and memorable bands and artists, their records sounding as fresh and dangerous now as they did 20 years ago. Frightwig is just one of the many great bands to pull from the archives. I’ll try to feature a few others in the coming days.
but heres another of my fave tunes by frightwig called “Punk Rock Jail Bait”
and yet another –grunge before grunge was ever born–“American express” listen and learn
I had no idea that in just one afternoon my somewhat gloomy, cynical and jaded outlook on bars and clubs and places and events that gays frequent for fun and music and entertainment, could change. It really did and I couldn’t be happier about that. I had sort of given up on the idea of going to a club or event where all people feel welcome, safe, embraced and free to just be themselves and have some fun and feel like a part of something larger, like a community or something. Uh-oh, I said it, the other “C” word, but I meant it. What I walked into at Hard French was an instantaneous and fun vibe that I imagine could squelch the dour, gloomy or ill-at-ease out of the most hardened of cynics. Admittedly, I’m about a year late in catching on to the magic that is winning this club awards and creating the longest happiest line of loyal fans to form outside of any club on a saturday afternoon in the city. I am thrilled personally that the location is the El Rio, a gay bar that’s been going on for decades but in the past year or so they’ve branched out with some new endeavors that have brought the great indoor/outdoor venue a lot of business and attention. It’s great to see a longtime gay-owned and operated business hitting a new stride by expanding their repertoire, opening up to new ideas and transforming from a quieter mission district gay bar to the monthly host of not only Hard French, but the Heklina hosted drag event Daytime Realness, and The Eagle in Exile. The bar owners and diligent staff should be commended for adapting and growing with these changes and serving with a smile. So you go El Rio, you are rocking the hottest party this city has to offer, and one that feels both uniquely San Francisco and inexplicably fresh. After years of losing bars and venues left and right, neighborhood gentrification pummeling them into submission or out of existence with restrictions and noise complaints and changing permit regulations and all that crap, Hard French is the pulsing party heartbeat that we thought we had lost, and its young and strong and a definite phenomenon . And I haven’t even started to explain why.
First off, I cant say how completely delightful it is to party with the girls again! In just about every venture out to a club or party, it’s truly hard to avoid ending up in a male dominant situation and that is just a fact. Some events verge on a more mixed crowd but in general the scales always tip toward the male side. Hard French definitely has the most mixed crowd I’ve ever seen and it doesn’t stop with the male/female combo. We are talking every kind of mix, and one that really thrilled me was the completely broad range of ages present there. No other club I’ve been to in the city compares on this level and it brought to mind the clubs I’ve been to in the UK where I was always surprised by the age range present. There’s something very healthy-feeling about this, it’s respectful and inclusive and speaks volumes about the basic appeal of this event. There are drag queens, cholas, straight people, trans, blacks, whites, people of all colors and cultures, bears, beards, skirts, bombshells, leathermen, old-school queens, baby-dykes,etc. It was a never ending array of happy beautiful people that gave the term “mixed” a whole new meaning. This diversity is an amazing thing to achieve and Hard French has done it better than any club I’ve ever been to.
Why this occurs is a very difficult question to answer. People can theorize and speculate but I’m sure no one will be able to pinpoint the exact reason or sets of contributing elements that create this dynamic. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that it’s all about the music. DJs Brown Amy and Carnitas (and guest DJ Brontez on the day I was there, who tore it up in a very Hard French way during his turn on the tables) have had this simple idea for a long time. They wanted a daytime party on a patio where they could play old soul music, mainly old seven inch singles from what I could see, primarily stuff from the early 60’s, Mowtown, R&B, Northern Soul, girl and vocal groups and some instrumentals. It’s a simple idea and to my knowledge nobody else was doing anything like it. Brown Amy and Carnitas mine this realm and era of popular music with a committed passion and fervor, slinging out gem after gem of pure soul goodness, much of it familiar and classic stuff that everyone knows, some of it more rare and intriguing, all of it extremely brilliantly danceable, and that’s what happens, people dance! It was incredible to notice that everyone on the patio and stage was thoroughly engaged in synonymous groove. Then you start to see the motion creeping up onto the the adjacent wooden decks and you realize that everyone is dancing, people are smiling, laughing, drinking, talking, the sun is shining, they place wooden blocks in the middle of it all for go-go dancers and they’ve got some serious moves and charming attitudes, you start to see more and more people you know until you find yourself thinking, “Everyone is here,” and you note that the DJ is dancing as much as everyone else. The groove and mood is infectious and natural. I don’t think it would be possible for anyone to not enjoy this. In the back corner of the patio Cabure A Bonugli has set up his famous photobooth to take pictures of people and post them online later, and the line is long because he’s been doing amazing work and everyone wants their picture taken by him.
Many times throughout the day as i danced or watched the crowd my eyes would meet with someone else’s across the patio and they’d respond with a smile, probably just thinking that we were thinking the same thing, that this club is the best way ever to spend a saturday afternoon/evening. I can’t recall ever seeing a happier, more friendly or more diversely beautiful crowd ever, and I left there feeling completely effervescent and charged up enough to carry this upbeat mood for the rest of the night. Going to Hard French was a revelation. If you haven’t gone, you gotta.
By name alone its kinda weird that i haven’t caught on to this band until now, on the verge of their upcoming fifth full LP and in existence since 2006. From New Brunswick, New Jersey’s teeming DIY rock scene, this band has put out their first three records and booked all their own shows independently until their fourth record Castle Talk. Their Fifth LP Ugly is due out in April of this year and they have toured with The Dead Weather, Throwing Muses and Dinosaur Jr. Their LPs are now available on Don Giovanni Records and you can find them sharing bills with hot bands like Jeff The Brotherhood, Titus andronicus and Diarrhea Planet. The first thing that grabbed me about this band was the raw unhinged vocals of singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster, 25, who says she listens to Sleater-Kinney and The Pixies. You can really hear the much missed intensity of those vocalizations since Sleater-Kinney disbanded in 2006. Marissa channels this for a whole new generation of fans. But thats not all. This girl can play the dickens out of the guitar, complex gutsy and unique arrangements show her as a natural, if not supernatural talent. She brings to mind a young jack white but where he solidly reigns in a traditional blues-based sense, she embarks on uncharted territory, experimental. even mysterious. You dont know where that guitar line is going but you’re ready to ride. Great instincts prevail through all of these records and i cant wait for the new one. I also cant wait for their upcoming show at bottom of the hill april 24. be there–i know i will.
Thee Oh Sees–Carrion Crawler/The Dream: With this, Thee Oh Sees second LP of 2011, we find the local heroes and figureheads of the whole garage-y international underground rock scene delivering their most powerful LP yet. This disc is like a promise fulfilled by San Francisco’s best band. Like their incredible live sets, this record hits hard immediately and sustains an intensified drive that burns a groove in your consciousness and could leave you with your chest heaving, sweaty and a big grin on your face. I love this band and i love the expansive production qualities and the expanded line-up (a second drummer , Lars from The Intelligence, was added, and dual drums are always exciting). Carrion Crawler/ The Dream marks a huge step forward for a band that’s in constant motion already. If you dont like this record you must be dead. great cover art too.
Ty Segal–Goodbye Bread: Yet another local artist who releases so many records it’s hard to keep up, but with Goodbye Bread he really hit home. I think its his best release to date. Bookended by his other big release this year Singles 2007-2010 which debuted on CMJ chart at number one, it’s been a banner year for this prolific singer/songwriter who is finally getting the attention he so rightfully deserves.
Hollie Cook–Hollie Cook: There are few records that quite simply made me so happy to hear and play besides this debut disc by a young artist whose father just happens to be Steve Cook of The Sex Pistols. Holly was an honorary member of the reformed version of The Slits who toured briefly before Ari Up’s untimely demise of cancer. Holly quit school to become a Slit and that is so cool! With this disc she employs a very roots-y traditional ska/reggae/dub sound peppered by some true all-stars of the genre(Prince Fatty, Horseman) in production as well as players in the band. Her cover of “Walking in The Sand” is lovely (listen below)
Great video too. This record is an under-noticed gem that deserves your attention.
Grace Jones– Hurricane Dub: Originally released in 2008, Hurricane saw its domestic release in 2011 as a double disc, including a dub version of the original disc that takes you right back to the dub glory of the famous Compass Point Sessions. The second disc is immaculate bass-heavy effects-laden stoner dub brilliance and a perfect reminder that her entire musical body of work needs no justification. She’s an original and a genius, hands down.
Moon Duo–Mazes: Another amazing local act, two former members of Wooden Shjips, who actually moved to colorado recently so i guess they aren’t local anymore, have released a ton of records as Moon Duo. They create long delicious psychedelic jams with basically organ and guitar and their songs never fail to get a rise out of the crowd when I DJ. They have numerous releases out and none of them have disappointed. Listen below
Le Butcherettes–Sin Sin Sin: On the basis of mainly the incredible star-power of band figurehead Terri Gender-Bender and her live performance opening for The Stooges in December, this record is in like flynn for my best of list. Angst, anger, feminist theory, Tolstoi, wearing cute dresses with bloody aprons on stage, being an edgy, even frightening performer, trading off guitar and keyboards, incredible vocals, astonishing beauty and fearlessness. This act has it all in spades. She is one of those “I’ve seen the future of Rock and Roll…” Dave Marsh moments for me this year.
Disappears–Guider: This band has a powerful grinding chemistry, a grand sum of all its parts that reflects a huge sonic creation full of depth nuance and monument. They just fucking rock. Even the 15 minute long final song never muddles or gets boring. It’s like a feast that never ends, a huge rock and roll dynamic that now features Sonic Youths drummer.
Pow Wows–Nightmare Soda: I heard this Canadian band’s LP rather late in the year but its been figuring in to my list of favorites with out question as their incredible songs grab me by the balls in a way that true rock and roll should. They’ve got a real unhinged and natural lust for the dirty fun we crave, us followers of the devils music.
Wax Idols–No Future: Another local group in a year with locals figuring prominently in my list. Thats gotta be a good thing. This disc really took my by surprise with its adeptness and the ability to hit on a number of different styles dead on. It has pop sensibility, punk rock angst, garage rock aplomb, post punk archness, no-wave minimalism, all-female line-up, and a Wire cover! Then I learned they were from Oakland!
“… it’s just something that makes you feel alive. It’s just like, it’s something that’s human… Rock ‘n’ roll is like an attitude, it’s not a musical form of a strict sort. It’s a way of doing things, of approaching things. Like anything can be rock ‘n’ roll… You just know it when you see it. I mean, writing can be rock ‘n’ roll or a movie can be rock ‘n’ roll. It doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with music. It’s just a way of living your life, a way of going about things.” -Lester Bangs