San Francisco is a tough town for live music because there's just so damn much of it. Between the top-tier touring acts selling out huge venues and your best friend's cousin's band you've been guilted into seeing three times despite their being terrible, sorting through the chaos of the city's live music scene to find a happy middle ground is no easy task.
This column is an attempt to solve that problem for you. We're going to take it one week at a time.
Ryan Lynch seems to have a knack for being in the right band at the right time. He played guitar for local indie-poppers Magic Bullets just as their Smiths-like melodies started becoming the soundtrack to everything loved by people who love the same things as 13-year old girls--The O.C., Gossip Girl, Twilight, etc. He then took a gig in Girls, a band that quickly became the biggest indie success story to come out of the Bay Area music scene in years.
Now it may be time for Lynch to go for the trifecta. His newest project, Dominant Legs, is definitely worth the hype that accompanied his previous two. Together with Hannah Hunt, the duo makes brilliant pop songs with just enough electronic flourishes to keep things interesting without overwhelming what's truly important in the music--the effortlessly catchy melodies and Lynch and Hunt's charismatic boy-girl vocal interplay.
There was a brief period in the middle of whatever we eventually decide to call that weird/sad/surprisingly self-aware decade that just finished when, whenever a sensitive, young indie-rocker wanted all the attendant street cred that came from "going electro," they'd called Jimmy Tamborello. Tamborello added all the necessary bleeps and bloops to Ben Gibbard's emotional peens to turn the Postal Service's 2003 album Give Up into the soundtrack for the fantasies of a million teenage boys that, if they stop taking their anti-depressants, they'd totally get to make out with Natalie Portman.
Or, at least Iron & Wine's cover of a Postal Service song did that.
Anyway, after the Postal Service's success, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst attempted to replicate the feat by recruiting Tamborello help on his 2005 album, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, however the law of diminishing returns applied. Not that there weren't some great songs on that record ("Arc of Time" for example), they just happened to be the ones whose bleeps and bloops were programmed by long-time Bright Eyes contributor Mike Mogis.
Dntel is Tamborello's full-time gig and, while some of his famous buddies (like Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis) occasionally show up, Tamborello's soft-touch electronics are what take center stage. Tamborello marries over-caffeinated IDM beats with lugubrious synth pads and lush, swirling melodies. The result is more or less what would happen if Aphex Twin's Richard James decided he wanted to make music that would not only entice every lady in the club to go home with him, but also stick around in the morning and cook breakfast together.
Metal has nothing to do with nasty-sounding electric guitars or 16th note double-kick drum assaults or incomprehensible, throat-shredding singing that sounds like a jet engine caught in a garbage disposal. True, those things are very often signifiers of "metal," but metal is more of an aesthetic attitude than a specific set of component parts--San Francisco-based trio Judgment Day is living proof.
Judgment Day plays something called "string metal," which is a brand of instrumental hard rock that vacillates between moody introspection and some of the nastiest shredding this side of Dragonforce. Anchored by the interplay of brothers Anton and Lewis Patzner, who play violin and cello respectively, Judgment Day represent the unholy union of conservatory trained classical virtuosity and heavy metal at its head-banging best.
Since Judgment Day works so well, its stands to reason that metal can be made with any set of ingredients. Hell, I bet you could do it with a kazoo, a keytar and two ukuleles.
(Warning: The Huffington Post in no way condones playing metal with a kazoo, a keytar and two ukuleles. Please do not attempt)
If you're the type of responsible, young gentleman who can regularly be found watching stoney cartoons on TV at 1am (don't be too proud to admit it), you've probably heard to a lot of Bonobo's music without even knowing it; Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block has used Bonobo's songs in a number of their commercial bumps.
The pairing is unsurprising because Bonobo (a.k.a. Simon Green) makes music that's perfect for hazy, late night head nodding; it's interesting without being intrusive, psychedelic without being difficult and laid-back without being sleepy. While Green's songs are decidedly downbeat, with an emphasis on repetition and gradual changes, his overall oeuvre displays a restless sonic curiosity with one song drawing from neo-soul, another from downbeat IDM and another sounding more like a cut-and-paste jazz performance--all without losing the signifying markers of all belonging to the same artist.
Bonobo often performs with a full band, transforming his nominally from-his-bedroom-to-your-headphones recordings into a hypnotically visceral live experience.
For their second annual All Shook Down Music Festival, SF Weekly has gone out and put together a serious lineup: Crystal Castles, The Blank Tapes, Richie Cunning and J. Boogie's Dubtronic Science to name a few.
When most people look at that lineup, they probably think, "oh man, I wanna see Crystal Castles." This is because Crystal Castles has discovered the magical formula of making music that sounds like it was composed on Mario Paint but sung by a leader singer who is such a bad-ass rock star that the United States had to raise the debt ceiling to in order to keep her under control. (I'm like 90% sure that's what that whole debt ceiling debate was all about).
The thing is, most people could not be more wrong. The band they really want to see is Battlehooch. Battlehooch is a local six-piece who all met at U.C. Santa Cruz. Their songs sound like The Unicorns covering Parliament-Funkadelic or Frank Zappa fronting Pavement.
This is a band who opens shows with a cover of Faust's "Picnic On A Frozen River" and transforms the avant-garde German weirdoes' early 1970's jazz pastiche into a drunken frat-party sing-a-long without losing a single iota of the smirking appreciation that what they're doing is patently ridiculous and it's hilarious they're getting away with it.
They are, quite possibly, the single greatest underground band in the Bay Area. And you should probably get there early to see them.