Friday, October 21, 2011

New Release Roundup, Part 2

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2011 at 5:43 PM

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

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This San Francisco duo brought national attention to San Francisco with their 2009 debut release Album, featuring their shimmering brand of guitar rock, which echoed psychedelia, surf rock, punk and other styles without deviating from strong melodies. On their highly anticipated follow-up Father, Son, Holy Ghosts, Christopher Owens, Chet “JR” White and company sound downright gigantic and ready for the world at large.

Lead track “Honey Bunny” is an epic ode to a desired one, beginning as a galloping ‘60s-rock ditty replete with harmonies and surf riffs before becoming a slowed-down detour into dreamy, slide guitar heaven. Just as ambitious is first single “Vomit”, a compelling six-and-a-half-minute tale of romantic pining that teeters between quiet jangle and power ballad territory, ending in an explosion of sound: power chords, Owens’s full emoting, a female soul singer belting it out, clanging organs, etc.

Even the quiet songs like “Jamie Marie” and “Just a Song” are impeccably produced (by the group and Doug Boehm), with the latter tune’s coda full of strings and flutes that evoke mid-era Beatles, as does everything else on Father, Son, Holy Ghost (harmonies, lyrics, instrumentation, general cheekiness). Throughout the record, Owens’s voice is right up front in the mix while still retaining a reticence that draws you in. And while the songs here are not as intense and passionate as those on Album, they show the group working on their craft more than one would think. Apparently, Girls actually care.

Lou Reed and Metallica - Lulu

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The early reviews are true. The new Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration – an odd pairing to begin with – simply does not work. Recorded in a little over a month this spring, Lulu’s inception was Lou Reed playing “Sweet Jane” with the band at 2009’s starstudded Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Anniversary Shows at Madison Square Garden, which was well-received. But that was a beloved Velvet Underground three-chord classic, and Lulu is based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial “Lulu plays” from 1885 and 1904 Germany.

Like 2003’s The Raven, which was based on Edgar Allen Poe’s work, Reed’s lyrics here fit nicely with his career’s societal decay/underbelly motif. Yet despite being an initially interesting idea, Metallica’s accompaniment is jarring rather than complementary. Most tracks begin with the familiar Metallica sound – booming drums, crisp & down-tuned chords – before Lou Reed’s recitation comes in above it all, seemingly freeform in meter. Even more awkward is when James Hetfield joins in – not in any “singing” fashion like we know he’s capable of, mind you, but in full-on thrash-bark mode. Too haphazard, despite the varied talent present. A little more time spent crafting the songs might have helped.

There aren’t really any highlights, but if I had to pick one it would be “Little Dog” merely because it stays with its swells of quiet guitar feedback to serve Reed’s lyrical recitation and doesn’t switch tempos into full-on Metallica mode. On the next track “Dragon”, I couldn’t help but chuckle at Reed’s refrain “Are we nearly dead now?”

Surely Metallica fans will wish the boys had saved some of these riffs for their own next album. But it’s clear that Lulu is by Lou Reed/Metallica, for Lou Reed/Metallica. Kudos to both for following through on a whim. Perhaps it’s the catalyst they both need right now, like David Bowie’s Tin Machine. In that case, I’m curious to see if this shakes anything loose for either icon.

Matthew Sweet – Modern Art

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Although not nearly as catchy as albums Girlfriend or 100% Fun, Matthew Sweet’s last solo record, 2008’s Sunshine Lies was hailed as a welcome return to guitar-driven power pop, with A-list session players like Richard Lloyd in tow again. The audaciously titled Modern Art continues in this vein, but with much better melodies and more stylistic variety.

“She Walks the Night” is a classic Matthew Sweet single, a mid-tempo love song reminiscent of “I’ve Been Waiting” or “We’re the Same”. The anguished, bluesy “Ladyfingers” sounds like an Altered Beast outtake, with its throbbing bass and dark vibe, and the sparse, echoey “My Ass is Grass” reminds of Girlfriend’s quirkier half (Side Two).

Fittingly, Sweet is performing Girlfriend in its entirety this year, and these new tracks will fit nicely in the set. Sweet is an artist who needs no seismic shift with each album; his established palette still delivers.

---David Sason

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Live Review: Ryan Adams - Uptown Theatre, Napa - October 15, 2011

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 10:02 PM

“Per the artist’s request, all bars will close at 9:00pm,” read the signs throughout the Uptown Theatre on Saturday night, assuring us that Ryan Adams is still officially on the wagon. This wine country blasphemy, along with a strict “no cell phone” policy and a 9:15 start to his set, caused some grumbling among the flannel-shirted 30-somethings throughout the lobby. Yet the prolific singer-songwriter proved more than worth it with a career-spanning two-hour solo set of crisp performances and his trademark comic banter.

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Although he’d become a well-oiled machine with his versatile band the Cardinals over the past several years, the North Carolina native delivered a stunning set all by himself, his acoustic guitar or piano accompanying his well-preserved voice. The post-Cardinals Adams was a hit with the sold-out crowd, right from opener “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” a fan favorite from his 2000 solo debut Heartbreaker. Next was “Ashes and Fire”, the title track from his solid, understated new album, whose tracks fit nicely with older live staples like “Let It Ride” and the haunting “I See Monsters”, which benefited from the Uptown Theatre’s perfect acoustics. Piano ballads like “My Blue Manhattan” sounded gorgeous and fragile in the art-deco landmark building.

The intimacy of the venue (which has quickly made it a new North Bay favorite) also led to Adams constant banter about the “mass exodus” at certain points during the show, even inspiring an impromptu ditty about “alt-country refugees”. As usual, just before he became too annoying, Adams would launch into a song, reminding of why we were all there.

A few songs in, Adams joked about having played all songs thus far in the same key, and by mid-set the show did lag a bit from lack of variation. Things picked up toward the end of the set with a piano version of the rarely performed “New York, New York” from 2001’s Gold. The power chords translated surprisingly well, making it one of the evening’s highlights, along with a well-received encore with opener Jason Isbell, formerly of the Drive-By Truckers. While it reminded us of the singer-songwriter’s gift for group dynamics, the latest round of Ryan Adams Solo is certainly a success.

---David Sason

Setlist is here.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Press Democrat: "Hundreds Turn Out for Occupy Santa Rosa"

Posted on Mon, Oct 17, 2011 at 10:20 PM

Those who returned home from Occupy Santa Rosa on Saturday and checked local media coverage might have been perplexed at the Press Democrat's featured top story online. "Hundreds turn out for Occupy Santa Rosa," read the headline, accompanied by a photo of a small crowd in front of City Hall.

I scratched my head, too. I'd been there right at 2pm, when the event started, and it was so crowded I could barely move. The crowds spilled out onto all four corners of the intersection. There were easily thousands of people there, right from the beginning. What the hell? Was the photo taken at 1:30, while people were setting up, I wondered?

Then I checked the timestamp on the article: 1:56pm. Meaning yes—a headline had been written, a photo had been taken, and an article reporting on the event had been posted before the event even took place.

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Sadly, this practice is all too common in the internet age of journalism. Here's why: Google's algorithms choose search result rankings based in part on which news article is posted first. Therefore, news outlets and blogs will often preemptively post a story with nothing but a headline, tags, and minimal content, just to be first in line. Who cares if the facts are wrong? Writers can always add to or change the text later, and in the meantime, the permalink keeps its place in search rankings.

The Press Democrat headline stayed in place for several hours, leading commenters to state the obvious: "Hundreds? Try thousands," and, "Were you even there?" (In this, I can only sympathize with Kent Porter and Paul Payne, both respected PD veterans who were likely pressured by an overzealous editor to turn in the story and photo ahead of time.)

The headline was eventually changed, of course—at 2,750 people, Santa Rosa's attendance was sixth-highest of all the "occupy" events in the entire country on Saturday—but the "hundreds" figure stayed up all afternoon, plenty of readers saw it, and the Press Democrat looked very, very foolish.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Talking With Elected Officials at Occupy Santa Rosa

Posted on Sun, Oct 16, 2011 at 10:50 AM

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Gary Wysocky, Santa Rosa City Council

Why did you decide to come down here today?

This is democracy. It’s democracy.

This is also your turf, basically, City Hall.

Yeah, I’m an elected councilman, and it’s my responsibility to see that the nonviolent protest stays nonviolent.

Do you think it’s interesting that this protest is happening at City Hall, where city workers have seen their pensions and benefits under attack?

All workers have had their pensions and benefits under attack. They’re just the latest. You know, I’ve been quoted as being against some of those very same benefits and pensions, but only because it’s breaking our budget and there are certain elements that haven’t had to make any sacrifices. There’s a lot of people hurting out in our community, and in communities across the country. We have to start realizing we have to take care of each other.

What’s your overall feeling about today—positive?

It’s positive. I hope that folks who are coming out for the first time can sustain this, because elections matter. When I started community organizing, I realized that we can have the facts, we can have the majority of the people in the room, but if we didn’t have the majority of the people behind the dias that are actually voting to make the decision, it didn’t matter. And that’s the lesson here. We have to stay focused, stay on top of our electeds, and stay on top of the political process.

Did you worry that it might be a liability for you politically to show up today?

That’s not why I’m serving. No, I’m serving so we can have a change. So the next generation can have a shot at an American Dream. Because they don’t have it right now. They don’t have it. The income disparity keeps getting bigger and bigger, and the powers that be just seem to want to pit us against each other. That’s why I’m serving, If I lose an election because I’m here, well, I can’t think of any better reason to lose an election.

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Michael Allen, State Assembly

Why did you decide to some down here today?

Actually, I’ve been coming to all the occupy events. Because I feel that people are absolutely on the right track. I do think, though, that people have to focus on getting a publicly financed electoral system so that we can drain the money out of politics. I think also we need to do something about the situation where corporations have been determined to be people, because essentially it creates a very unnatural situation where all the power gravitates toward the top. If this is a democracy, and we still have the vote, now’s the time to change things before it’s too late. Someone told me yesterday, “Michael, I don’t want to live in a plutocracy.” And I said, “I think we’re already there.”

How’s your feeling about today? Do you have hope for the future of this movement?

It’s positive, and I agree with a lot of the speakers that it’s good to be angry, but you have to harness that anger for something constructive. But it’s good to have that energy, because that anger should be the energy to say, “I want to work on this particular cause to change things for the better.” That’s what we have to do.

You’re no stranger to things like this, but did you worry at all that this might be a liability politically to be here today?

No. That’s not who I am. I’ve never minced words about who I am and what I stand for.

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Susan Gorin, Santa Rosa City Council

Why did you decide to come down here today?

How could I not come down here today? I came of age in the ’60s, and it’s about time that people in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County are angry. We in local government have been feeling this pinch for a number of years. The public blames the workers, and the pensions—it’s not that. It’s a collapsed economic system. We know where it started, and I think it’s really important that we direct our energies in correctly identifying that we want to see some serious fixes in our banking system and economic system.

Do you think it’s interesting that his is happening at City Hall, where worker’s pensions and benefits have been scrutinized?

I think the people coming to City Hall are not complaining about the workers, they’re in solidarity with the workers. It’s just unfortunate that we have events going on in Juilliard Park today, events going on in Courthouse Square, which is our free speech zone. If there was not an event in Courthouse Square, it would have been there. But the folks here today are not angry at City Hall. They’re not angry about the pensions. They’re in solidarity with the workers. This is a visible statement, but it’s not against the city, it’s not against the county, it’s not against government.

Did you worry at all that your presence here today might be a liability politically?

No. No. First of all, I feel a sense of responsibility, because I am a member of the city council, and I wanted to make sure that the crowds were orderly and respectful. And clearly, that was a message that was communicated effectively by the organizers of today’s demonstration. So I wanted to just make sure that the people were not making messes that city workers would have to clean up. And I wanted to join in, quite frankly, and share the frustration of so many people about our failed economics, right here, right now.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

New Release Roundup, Part 1

Posted By on Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 3:06 PM

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Hysterical

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Proving their triumphant Outside Lands performance was no fluke, the Brooklyn/Philly quintet return with their strongest melodies and most danceable songs since their beloved 2004 debut. This is a welcome change after 2007’s disappointing Some Loud Thunder, where frontman Alec Ounsworth and the boys seemed embarrassed of their gift for bouncy pop-rock gems, shrouding the songs in bad reverb and fake lo-fi aesthetics – a clear reaction to their shimmering/scintillating debut. Throughout Hysterical, Ounsworth’s voice sounds less nasally and more impassioned with a hint of desperation, adding inherent high drama to most songs, especially the title track and “Ketamine and Ecstatcu”, which sounds like a lost Echo and the Bunnymen tune. Not much musical variation except for the orchestral-acoustic curiosity “In A Motel”, but that’s what the next record is for. For now, it’s good to see such a promising group with their mojo back. Here’s me clapping my hands and saying yeah.

Nirvana – Nevermind (20th Anniversary Deluxe and Super Deluxe Editions)

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While Nirvana’s seminal 1991 classic is certainly worthy of the industry’s now-all-too-common “deluxe edition” treatment, this release suffers from the ubiquity of the bonus material in various official and unofficial releases. 1990’s “The Smart Studio Sessions” and 1991’s Seattle Halloween show have been mined endlessly by fans since the band’s abrupt 1994 demise. The “boombox rehearsal demos” are mildly intriguing, yet too grating to appeal to non-fanatics. Best of the Super Deluxe Edition are Butch Vig’s rough “Devonshire Mixes” (the tracks before Andy Wallace’s mixing), which offer a slightly edgier take on the album to partly appease those turned off by the original mix’s polish. The original album itself is just as catchy and rocking as ever, so your best bet is the 2CD deluxe edition (which includes all the original b-sides).

Most essential of all is the Live at the Paramount DVD, which presents video of their full Halloween ’91 theater show for the first time ever. It’s thrilling to see the power trio on their last tour of small venues, just before platinum status (especially for those who missed their SF show at the Warfield five days before this was filmed). With a sparse stage design comprised of a single solid color behind the group and a few searchlights, Nirvana's performance stands on its own, justifying all that hype two decades ago.

Real Estate - Days

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This New Jersey quartet’s 2009 eponymous debut was full of wistful, care-free jangle pop tunes that reminded the garden state has just as many gangly undergrads as guido juiceheads. On Days, the band repeats the formula for the most part, again providing a droning, Velvets-y beach day alternative to Jack Johnson. “Municipality” is one of the only selections with any noticeable variation, with its slightly more complex structure and subtly mournful guitar riff and piano accompaniment.

Singer-guitarist Martin Courtney seems aware of this on “Younger Than Yesterday”, which also features a welcome touch of musical progression/dynamics. “It took me all summer long, just to write one simple song,” he sings, “there’s too much to focus on, clearly there’s something wrong.”

This album is a slight letdown after two years, but the world can always use a good dream-pop band, and Real Estate does it well. They’re still a band to watch (for now), but they need to realize that summer just ended.

Sonic Youth - 1991: The Year Punk Broke (DVD)

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Director Dave Markey’s ramshackle super-8 chronicle of Sonic Youth’s 1991 UK tour gets the remaster treatment for its 20th anniversary DVD release, but it’s hard to tell since it retains its half-charming/half-frustrating grainy punk aesthetic. On second viewing, one wishes for more traditional, clear footage of the Goo-era performances, but the film still serves its original purpose as a glimpse at Nirvana right before superstardom and the rest of the college/alternative rock scene (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., etc.) on the cusp of the impending media spotlight. The highlight of the extras is a Q & A session with Markey, Sonic Youth and J. Mascis from a 2011 screening in which we finally learn the hair-metal origins of the film’s title.

Wilco – The Whole Love

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After 2009’s Wilco (the Album) saw the group rebounding from its wholly bland predecessor Sky Blue Sky, healthy expectations were at least back (if not exactly high) for their next album. Like The Album, The Whole Love is a mixed bag that shows off the Chicago group’s various mastered guises, from country balladeers to kraut-rock groovesters and rootsy American rockers. And while the up-tempo numbers are enjoyable (especially the organ-driven clap-fest “Standing O”), the lasting impressions are born of the softer numbers such as the Beatle-esque “Sunloathe”. One highlight is the gorgeous “Black Moon”, an Elliot Smith sound-alike that ends with a stirring orchestral accompaniment never before heard on a Wilco record.

Stylistically, The Whole Love sounds at first like 1999's Summerteeth, but these new songs’ immersion in lushness and strings (without the usual tension and dark undercurrent) is something new for the group. Jeff Tweedy and crew inhabit the ballads deeper than before, which is as worthy a use of the players as the quirky rockers and extended jam fodder. The 12-minute closer “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” is a haunting, whispered acoustic guitar/piano number that features Tweedy’s most intriguing lyrics in years. It’s the best song on the album and a positive sign that we may eventually get Tweedy’s very own Nebraska. Hopefully the next Wilco album will pick up where this track leaves off.

--David Sason

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Author Event: Antonia Juhasz, author of Black Tide, appears in Sebastopol

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 11:47 AM

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Last April, Antonia Juhasz, author of Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill, traveled to London where she spoke critically about British Petroleum at the corporation's annual shareholder meeting. She was accompanied by five representatives from the United States, including the head of the Louisiana Shrimper's Association.

"We still have waves that roll in and oil rolls in with it. We stick a stick in the sand and there's still oil there," Juhasz told members of an audience that included the CEO and the Board of Directors of British Petroleum. Health and environmental provisions promised by BP still have not surfaced, more than a year after the horrendous 210 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, Juhasz told Democracy Now last spring. This is a serious, ongoing and devastating disaster in the Gulf Coast region, the director of Global Exchange argues in Black Tide. Her book details the ongoing mess and lack of accountability by federal and corporate entities that continues to decimate an already devastated region. See Antonia Juhasz speak about the very real possibility that disaster on the magnitude of the Gulf Oil Spill will happen again on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Community Church of Sebastopol. 1000 Hwy 116, Sebastopol. 7pm. 707.575.8902.

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