Or, the Whale prefers a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll
Back in the early aughts, when he was studying for his bachelor’s degree in history, Alex Robins was playing in a punk band. He recalls—with a chuckle—his passion for a decidedly heavier genre of music than the sometimes woeful, sometimes rollicking brand of alt-country for which his San Francisco group, Or, The Whale, is now known.
“I was super into metal in college,” Robins says. “I was like, ‘More solos! More time changes!’”
These days, while he certainly still appreciates “the physical capabilities of humans being able to shred that hard,” you won’t hear an Or, The Whale song featuring blistering Phrygian sweeps and pinch harmonics screaming out of Mesa Boogie half stacks.
Think Santa Cruz is soundproofed by the surrounding mountains, one snaky Highway 17, and that thing called the Pacific Ocean? Think again. A couple of acts have eschewed the confines of small town beach living and taken their big sounds to some big Hollywood spotlights. Congrats are in order to Wooster and James Durbin, two very different acts whose musical pursuits have recently put a star next to our town on the musical map.
Shuffling together a taut rock and reggae concoction that pops with tasty nuggets of suave blues, seductive soul and edgy funk, Wooster took the Ford-sponsored “Gimme the Gig” national contest by storm. Out of 2,500 applicants, the septet led by Brian Gallagher was chosen as one of the top seven finalists to hit the infamous Whiskey A Go Go stage in Los Angeles last month to strut some serious goods in an attempt to win a recording session with no other than Don Was. Though it returned sans a contract, Wooster’s rise in the ranks during the seven-month contest and subsequent Hollywood exposure have added to the local band’s sweltering reputation.
The Huxtables have been around. As in, lots of local bands now DIY-ing it were still diapering it when these guys went from playing their first show 16 years ago—a McKinleyville house party—to dicing up local stages. Somehow, the dust has never managed to settle on the band’s frenetic rock that bounces with more pop than your last illegal fireworks display. And in all these years, the only thing missing in the career of a veteran band that needs no introduction is … a debut album. Say what? You read it correctly: Despite a parade of EPs and 2003’s Fire is Sabotage compilation, The Hux never managed to package one proper full-length CD. None, zilch, nada. Until now. “We’d always been a side project for the first 10 years of our existence, so we never had the drive to get into the studio to record a full-length until three years ago,” says founding bassist AJ Marquez, formerly of Slow Gherkin.
If John Hughes’ film, The Breakfast Club, takes the Saturday morning shift of depicting the angst of a disenchanted teen world, then Art Museums—the wonky flashback pop duo of Josh Alper and Glenn Donaldson sharing guitar and vocal chops—happily picks up the slack for the nightcap, creating a fun and carefree refuge of old-school adolescent solace. A colorful kaleidoscope of timbre, Art Museums paint a lo-fi retro soundscape of pastel pop and bubblegum fun. “It’s a jangle shirt with a post-punk scarf,” Donaldson emails to Good Times. Part ’60s mod wrapped in the magnetic tape of C-86 and topped by twee, Art Museums meld various feel-good jams under the fuzzy buzz of an analog 8-track. “There’s a certain gauze the Tascam 388 puts over the music,” Alper muses, referencing the layer of haze mulling throughout the group’s first full-length, Rough Frame, echoing the D.I.Y. punk mentality of the ’80s. For Alper, the ’80s was a time of musical self-realization. Going to the record store and mining through the vaulted cassette and vinyl stacks was an escape.
The recruits and rumors behind a Disco Biscuits side-project
What does a working musician do during downtime? If you ask Conspirator founder and bassist Marc Brownstein, the words “down” and “time” exist in his vocabulary but never combine into one.
When not on the road with his home project, Philadelphia electronic jam band Disco Biscuits, Brownstein is a father of three and co-chair of the voter registration group Headcount, all while nurturing numerous side projects—one of which is Conspirator, the brainchild of Brownstein and Disco Biscuits keyboardist Aron Magner. Since 2004, Brownstein and Magner have been creating instrumental electronic jams slightly more stern than the playful Biscuits sound.
Wilco guitarist Nels Cline takes on his own trio
I’ve just caught veteran guitarist Nels Cline in a Chicago studio in between takes with none other than Wilco, but, quite frankly, Cline’s biggest project is furthest away from my mind.
Though he’s been best known as the lead guitarist of Wilco since joining Jeff Tweedy’s rotating cast in 2004, Cline’s career stands amongst some of the most prolific musicians ever; he’s recorded with such an array of collaborators that the word ‘eclectic’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. He’s also probably one of the most affable artists around, as our chat confirms, and the experimenter’s jazzy Nels Cline Singers (joined this week by Cline’s wife, former Cibo Matto member Yuka C. Honda) will be descending upon Don Quixote’s this Friday, Feb. 4.
The Dead Kennedys return with punk compassion
In 1980, I came upon the first Dead Kennedys album, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, with my outcast friends and soon discovered that the DKs were a gateway band into a new experience called punk rock. The band played energized, socially conscious songs of hidden histories and political critique, often served up with a twist of humor. Thirty years later, we can still dance to live versions of “California Uber Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia” with the Dead Kennedys, which will be blasting the Catalyst on Saturday, Feb. 5, with The Disciples and Ol' Cheeky Bastards opening.
There was never any question as to what kind of songs Angelina Lemucchi would end up writing. As a child, the 33-year-old singer remembers, “I’d sit in the back of my grandparents’ house listening to Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn.” Growing up with a pastor as a father during a strict religious upbringing, she wasn’t allowed to buy CDs other than gospel or Christian music until she was 17. But she’d always find a way to sneak in some country western crooning, which she says still makes her feel “warm and at home.” Tugging at her ears from an early age, it’s easy to see why that same kind of country storytelling and twanging swagger would make their way onto the debut, self-titled album from Lemucchi’s latest band, Hurricane Roses. Sometimes gently ambling with brooding ballads and other times romping with unmitigated rock swiftness, the six-piece transforms Lemucchi’s cache of personal lyrics—deeply cathartic in nature—into rumbling toe-tappers. This week at Moe’s Alley, on Saturday, Feb. 5, Lemucchi and Co. will celebrate the release of an eight-track CD that she describes is infused with the themes of “discovery, loss and change.”
To say the players in Aptos’ raging psychobilly duo, The Cranks, wear dedication on their sleeves would be a major understatement, overlooking a key detail surrounding the crew of Mike Hilden (guitars/vocals) and Américo Castillo (drums). It’s actually worn tattooed to their sleeve—The Cranks logo sprawled across Castillo’s forearm, leaving no doubt of his hardcore loyalty to the music. “We may not be the best musicians,” Castillo admits, “but no one can do what The Cranks do.” Rattling on a hybrid blend of Mexican corridos, Norteño rhythms, rockabilly rags and hard-nosed, foot-stomping Led Zeppelin rock, The Cranks are six-year veterans to the Santa Cruz scene—having emerged from the ashes of the enigmatic trio, Sapos Muertos. After releasing a second album, The Cranks II, in October (only to rush back to the studio to start recording a third full-length, The Cranks III) the group has solidified its sound of organic, gritty, in-the-trenches roots rock that’s simultaneously perfect for the smoky dim aura of a grungy bar and the down-home warmth of a sunny Sunday barbecue. “We like to play with a lot of roots ideas,” Hilden raps, “but [we] don’t confine ourselves to one style.”
Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird goes loopy in church
It’s kind of appropriate that Andrew Bird hails from the Windy City. If you’ve never heard the anointed expert whistler pucker his lips, it sounds like an eerie breeze through the trees, maybe more akin to extraterrestrial avifauna or solar wind than anything earthbound. One might call them Bird calls.
Forming his mouth more like an instrument than an organ, it’s no surprise that the multi-talented indie darling Mr. Bird is slated for two nights at the Rio Theatre, Friday and Saturday, Jan. 28 and 29.
“The whistling came out of playing the violin,” explained the multi-instrumentalist to online publication IndieLondon in 2009. “The violin is an extremely painful instrument to learn to play and the whistling was so casual. There’s a certain geometry and fluidity to it.”