Saturday, August 8, 2009

Oakland Culture Events Examiner

My work as a freelance writer moves at a steady pace and I have just been hired to a new position at the Examiner. They are a nationally syndicated newspaper that has hired me to cover Oakland Cultural Events.

Here is the link:

Blog Update

I have not updated the blog in some time but with summer in tow and with new work accumulated over the least year it is time to broadcast to the internet what has been brewing.

I spent a week in the middle of the Joshua Desert on the search to find who the real Clutchy Hopkins is for Shook Magazine in the UK. It was a surreal experience that involved me flying out to Los Angeles and driving out to the desert only to be greeted by an unreceptive relative that dodged my questions about the real nature of Clutchy. I came out to do this piece as a journalist and ended up as a detective writer. Check it out (Print Only)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Darker My Love Profile and Review

Tragedy and Ecstasy

Darker My Love evades a sophomore slump with its new record.

It's not easy being in a band about to release a sophomore record. The much-debated sophomore slump leaves many bands uneasy about the process, the reception, and the results of a second album. Many groups will try and evade such discussions by releasing an EP in between albums, to denote growth and dynamic talent, or will stick to the blueprint of the first record to avoid any sort of backlash from critics and fans. It's a cowardly move for musicians but one that has been on repeat since the dawn of pop music.
Peter Walker

Enter Darker My Love, a rock band whose roots run deep and involve members from both coasts along with the divergent influences that come with the territory. Back in 1998 Tim Presley (guitar/vocals) and Andy Outbreak (drums) were in the Bay Area hardcore band the Nerve Agents, a group whose abrasive live performances are now the stuff of legend (they have involved hospital visits for members of the audience and the band). Outbreak eventually joined the punk rock group the Distillers and left them in 2005 to form Darker My Love with Presley, Rob Barbato (bass/vocals), Jared Everett (guitar), and Will Canzoneri (clavinet/organ) the last to make the fold.

Darker My Love is now situated in LA. The band just released its second record, appropriately entitled 2, on the Dangerbird label. To add to the frustration of releasing and promoting its sophomore record, tragedy recently struck the group when the father of Darker My Love's lead singer Presley passed away. The band was forced to cancel part of its tour with the Dandy Warhols, including a performance at Oakland's Art and Soul Festival. "You know we are all just dealing with it day by day," Barbato reflected. "Tim is with his family right now and we are wishing him the best." The band should be picking up its tour in Minneapolis although plans are not definite yet.

The songs on 2 diverge wildly from the buried shoegaze atmospherics of Darker My Love's first self-titled album, and move more toward pop territory with the assistance of producer Dave Cooley (Silversun Pickups, J Dilla). When asked about the poppier approach to this record, Barbato said, "You know we are all fans of Big Star, the Byrds, the Kinks, we love all sorts of pop music. Melody and harmony and certain structures just move people in a certain way that abstract stuff doesn't. It's not like we don't like abstract stuff, it's just that that's not where we were when we recorded the album."

Darker My Love's sound has been lumped into the shoegaze-psych scene with the likes of Jesus and Mary Chain and Spacemen 3, and with bands like the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It's a facile comparison that makes more sense in reference to its self-titled debut: feedback-laden guitars, snarling reverbed vocals, and lyrics that deal with existential themes (tragedy, love, ecstasy, guilt). Barbato noted the first record was really tape-saturated and was a snapshot of that time but really wasn't a well-thought-out piece. "All of us were broke. That record definitely came from a bleaker perspective."

Although 2 still is awash in reverb and feedback, it also displays a band whose sound is maturing. The reason is twofold: the members of the band are older and less interested in appealing to scene dynamics, and also had the added benefit of working in a top-notch studio with LA producer Cooley. "We wrote a ton of songs, and really took our time with it," Barbato said. "Working with Dave was fun, but you know working with any producer can crush your ego at certain times. You bring them a song you worked really hard on and you'll get a 'Why don't you think about the song this way?'"

Cooley's production, as well as the benefit of experience and more time to record, helps deliver surprising results on 2. The guitar work is fleshed out and more driving, the dronier aspect is more measured and used sparingly, while the vocal harmonies are tighter and the drums are more muscular. This is shown especially on songs like "Two Ways Out," an infectiously catchy pop nugget à la Guided by Voices, that has a definite crossover appeal to radio. Barbato and Presley's vocals snake around a circular guitar refrain that serves as the backdrop to a stately drum rhythm, and monotone vocals that eerily expresses the ennui of city life that if something looks familiar, then something is wrong. 2 is ultimately a record that values space, and when asked what he wanted to achieve with this work, Barbato quickly and without hesitation remarked, "clarity."

East Bay Express

September 10th, 2008

Lumerians Profile and Review

Retro No Retro
Oakland's Lumerians reject the old classifications of music to come out on their own terms.

In an industry that relies on easy classification of a band's sound and image to effectively market it to its desired audience, Oakland up-and-coming band Lumerians are a hard sell. "We don't really want to be seen as a retro or a genre band," insists bass player Marc Melzer. With the advent of the blogosphere that has created new micro-genres at a dizzying pace, Lumerians' self-titled debut record, recently released on the Subterranean Elephant imprint, has many critics scratching their heads. Some bloggers have already tried to refer to them as "psych rock." But in interviews, members seem bemused at such talk. "We are not trying to re-create the '60s and '70s psych-rock sound," Melzer clarified. "We like the exploration aspect of psychedelic music, but really, Miles Davis' Bitches Brew record is more psychedelic to us than the Electric Prunes."

The band's ambivalence about being pigeonholed is understandable considering that the members came from disparate music backgrounds — from playing in electro-industrial bands, to working the noise-punk circuit, to metal, to '90s indie rock. They started as a duo in 2005 with guitarist Jason Miller and sound engineer Tyler Green in a Berkeley apartment, consisting of guitars, keyboards, and a drum machine. "We soon realized the use of a drum machine was a really bad idea," Miller said, laughing. Green was then hired at Recombinant Media Labs in San Francisco, the home of Asphodel Records, and this is where the band rehearsed and began to evolve.

"I had just gotten back from a two-year art residence overseas and heard these two guys playing downstairs at Asphodel and I was electrified," recalled drummer Chris Musgrave. "I said to myself, whatever is going on down there is good." Musgrave, who had already cut his teeth playing in many metal and punk bands before, was added to the group shortly thereafter. They wrote songs and rehearsed, but still felt something was amiss. The addition of Melzer on bass proved to be the missing component they had been looking for. "I had really started off as a guitar player but really I'm a much better bassist," he said. Melzer had been a member of the now-defunct Cincinnati band, Radiolaria, a four-piece that had been courted by Matador Records and earned comparisons to Stereolab.

At the bass player's Temescal home recently, the band sipped bourbon and ate pizza while debating music. "We don't really think any one take of our music is a definitive one," said Melzer. "We are always expanding on the songs, and live you can't expect note-for-note what you hear on the record." Their take on music and the industry is skewed, due to their long history within and around the scene and also their divergent talents in other areas. Most of the members are established visual artists in their own right: Musgrave has had his digital video art shown in galleries in the US and Europe, while Miller has worked on films as a screenwriter and director, and Melzer's recent video work for Obscura Digital includes working on a public art project sponsored by Google.

It's this kind of visual approach to music that is largely evident in the results of their first release. In the propulsive first track, "Corkscrew Trepanation," a Vox keyboard riff driven by tight lockjaw drums and an insistent meticulous bassline give way to surreal lyrics based on ancient trepanation surgeries. Although the record has a disjunctive approach that brings to mind William S. Burroughs' cut-and-splice method, the songs are all tightly wound and cohere around a central theme or sound. "Orgon Grinder," which may be the only track on the record with appeal to a mass audience and features the ethereal female vocals of Lovage Sharrock, doesn't sound out of place next to "Olive Alley," a track that couples Musgrave's hushed vocals with a Vietnamese jaw harp. The polymorphous nature of the record is an attempt at a fully immersive experience, and its effect is that of watching a Jodorowsky film.

At a recent show at the Uptown in Oakland, Lumerians played a set of songs culled from the record but also showed another side of the band. With newly recruited percussionist Luis Vasquez, adding an extra layer to their sound without devolving into jam-band gimmickry, and vocalist Hannah Brady, who's now working with the band on its next record, Lumerians appeared poised and confident in their delivery, with tight polyrhythmic percussion, two keyboards that played counterpoint to each other, and guitar work that made use of elaborate effects pedals. The crowd responded with approval to the new material with more vocals, added percussion, and a less self-conscious approach. The show also featured the work of local video artist Cosmic Hex, who complemented the cinematic quality of their music with deft synchronization of sound to image that recalled the Daft Punk concerts that have electrified audiences in the last few years.

What's on the horizon for the group? They have plans to release a 7-inch this year and are currently working on their next record, which they say will use a wider sonic palette by implementing new recording techniques, Vasquez, and Brady. Initial listening indicates that old fans will not be disappointed while still having something to look forward to. "We just want to make music that speaks to people," said Musgrave, "something they can really get lost in."

East Bay Express

June 11th, 2008

Live Review: Dirty Projectors at the Independent

Dirty Projectors at The Independent
By Oscar Medina
Photos by Christopher Musgrave
April 11, 2008

The Brooklyn avant-pop outfit Dirty Projectors brought their art damaged pop tomes to the Independent last night to promote their latest record “Rise Above,” an album that has confounded critics and listeners alike with it’s oblique combination of disparate strands of musical DNA, referencing everything from Congolese pop to the work of Gustav Mahler to early R n’ B and Soul.

What began for lead singer/guitarist David Longstreth as an encounter with an empty cassette case of Black Flag’s classic “Damaged” record turned into the basic building blocks of “Rise Above.”

On stage, The Dirty Projectors emanate an affable, casual simplicity that in no way resembles the music they make. Playing a set culled largely from “Rise Above” and the earlier EPs, their songs veered from operatic-tinged math rock, to afro-pop, to a wildly skewed take on indie-rock.

The Dirty Projectors, for all their musical cross-referencing that can easily come across to many as simply post-modern posturing, actually do in fact ROCK. In listening to the record one can be easily deceived into believing that their live show would be the equivalent of an soporific art school exhibit but it is quite the opposite.

For the unabashed mess that many may call their music, their live show is an exhilarating exercise of balance and proportion, pathos and energy. Songs careen forward and sideways, tease out subtle movements between the vocal counterpoint of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian, and the latticed guitar work of Longstreth. Longstreth resembles a young wiry David Byrne, clad in a black hoodie and dark jeans, his left hand would spasmodically work up and down the neck of his guitar, emanating modal guitar squalls that intersected with Brian McComber’s frantic drum rhythms.

The crowd responded well to the Projectors’ sudden and wild explorations into the less structured side of their songs. Why ? Well, for all their forays into post-punk avant garde jam suites they would return to form with plaintive pop harmonies and structured melodic hooks.

The impressive part of their process is that the music remains staunchly inventive, their curiosity is palpable as evinced by the fact that you can never really predict where the songs will go. What may start off as pleasant gossamer indie-pop, will suddenly move into clanging industrial no-wave yelps, all within the same song and done in a way that sounded as if mixing these things were the most natural thing in the world. Usually bands that play the genre-bending card either compromise the original sources, or fall into the trap of xeroxing their influences so that it prevents any form of original musical expression. The Dirty Projectors have found a way to eschew both traps by simply not caring; but by simply allowing the songs to breathe naturally and take themselves where they need to be taken.

Live Review: Autolux with Wooden Shjips at the Independent

By Oscar Medina

Autolux, a rock trio from Los Angeles whose meteoric rise in the music community has been an oddly puzzling one, played to a sold out crowd at The Independent on Thursday. Autolux started as a couple friends who holed up in their rehearsal space, record an EP of fuzzy shoegaze pop that harkens back to ’90’s’ bands like Ride and Sonic Youth, get notice from famous producer T- Bone Burnett and record an album to critical acclaim. It’s been over three years since Autolux released Future Perfect, an album that in spite of its overtly retro underpinnings and not immediately noticeable qualities, compel everyone from NIN to The White Stripes to ask them on tour. The sold out show at The Independent implied that many in attendance on Thursday were anticipating new material, and on this Autolux delivered last night. Diminishing returns ? Maybe.

Autolux came out on stage, and delivered a set that was largely taken from their Future Perfect record with five new songs from their next record slated for this year. The one thing that you cannot pass over in talking about Autolux live is female drummer Carla Azar. First off, she is one very hot lady who can wear a low slung silver dress, sing and simultaneously out play any of your favorite rock drummers. Her presence is an obvious asset to the band, not just because she is a girl who can play drums, but because she plays the drums with the graceful precision of a veteran.

The interplay of vocal harmonies between the different members added a nice touch to a band that is very much focused on the instrumental qualities of their sound. The fuzzy rumbling bass lines of Eugene Goreshter and the feedback drone of Greg Edwards combined, are much louder than one would think from a three piece. They played many crowd favorites, including “Here Comes Everybody”, “Turnstile Blues” and “Sub- Zero Fun” but it was the new tracks that everyone was excited to hear. They played five new songs that to my ears sounded much like their old material, but was more vocal driven and relied less on the more experimental aspects of their work. It was a competent set that rocked in all the right places, but there was no encore, which did make you leave feeling something was amiss.

Local psych rockers Wooden Shjips who have received some recent notice over their self titled record and some obscure 7’s flying around the record sphere, treated the crowd to an infectious kraut- psych assault that threatened to knock out eardrums. The band’s set up was a basic one; bass/drums/keys/guitars, but there was nothing basic about how they used their instruments. Drummer Omar Ahsanuddin and bassist Dusty Jermier would lock into a motorik groove that teetered on the edges while guitarist Ripley Johnson and organist Nash Whalen added splashes of paint onto the sonic palette. The band looked the part of the music; long shaggy hair, beards, old boots and ’60’s’ attire that made them look like they walked out of a desert after a vision quest. Much of their set was instrumental and jam-oriented, this can play itself both ways in two different types of people. Speaking with local band The Cemetery Party one of the members called out their set as “too jammy” while the other member in the band said ” I really like what they are doing with the long form groove”. The Wooden Shjips live are trying to recreate to a certain degree the experimental sets of The Velvet Underground and they succeeded much of the time. However, their set did have some missteps, especially at the beginning and at the end of their set, where there was a certain lull on the part of the players and it felt like they were playing by numbers.

Overall, in spite of both bands competent to even above average sets, they could not convince the crowd to move very much. Rock shows are not operas but from the crowd’s response I might as well have been watching Don Giovanni. Which goes to show that music alone does not make for a compelling performance.

SF Weekly

February 4th, 2008

Live Review: Corneluis at Fillmore SF

By Oscar Medina
Cornelius @ The Fillmore
Photos by Christopher Musgrave

Think of Daft Punk’s live visual and auditory performance and you have an inkling of what you missed in not seeing Cornelius at The Fillmore this weekend. Cornelius, aka Keigo Oyamada, is an avant-garde/electro rock band from Japan that has been making experimental, lush, exploratory rock for more than a decade. They have been a stalwart centerpiece of the thriving Japanese avant-rock scene, and Friday’s night’s mind-blowing audiovisual performance proved why a genre as misunderstood and maligned by the masses can convert even those with the most populist taste in music.

A massive curtain shrouded the band’s presence as Cornelius hit the stage and playfully began a set that drew hollers from the crowd and an unveiling of a light and video stage that looked like something from Pink Floyd’s The Wall Tour. A gigantic video projector, chimes, bells, so many electronic synths and gadgets that someone must’ve run up a large tab on their Guitar Center account, and light beams emanated from the back of the stage.

Light and video shows have been done in rock ‘n’ roll since someone first took a hit of LSD and listened to his favorite band. The difference in Cornelius’ case is that the videos themselves work as a necessary counterpoint to the performance. The video content consisted of everything from migratory birds flying over a city, stop-motion animation graphics, walking fingers that look like humans, and mash-ups of every imaginable pop culture reference from Sesame Street to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s no wonder Cornelius mentioned that his inspiration on this tour was to create a rock performance of Disney’s Fantasia.

The band members were all dressed in dark pants, white button-ups, and skinny ties that made them look like Japanese exports at a 1970s Downtown NYC art show. We were treated to a 90 minute set that drew largely from his latest record, Sensuous. For being tagged as experimental rock, Cornelius definitely has a pop sensibility that has gained new fans while still retaining the atonal dissonance that keeps hardcore devotees around.

After what had obviously been an amazing performance, the band’s encore brought the house with a classic from their early discography, “Point-Counter-Point”, a chugging indie-Kraut hybrid. As we walked into the crisp SF night, the satisfaction palpable in the air, and the knowing glances from other attendees just confirmed what had obviously been a special night.