There's the sarcastic rap of Rondo Brothers, the nearly timeless country-folk of Tiny Television, and a lot of other musical territory covered by the artists performing at the festival. These handy biographies — which cover many of the artists performing — should help you navigate the cross-section of Bay Area musical talent on hand.
If you thought a hardworking rhythm section alone couldn't make a name for itself, the Park has proven you very, very wrong. With hip-hop-savvy funk-jazz flair, the Park can back slam poets, jazz singers, soul legends, and straight-up MCs. Just don't be surprised if its talented musicians steal a bit of the spotlight for themselves.
With shockingly on-the-beat delivery and a skittering army of hi-res synths to go above their beats, the Rondo Brothers' playful hip-hop is more clever and less obnoxious than that of 3OH!3. Their pranks are inspired: They remix "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" as breakcore, and cover the Zombies' "Time of the Season" from scratch, building it out of glitch noises and a vocoder. They hold Diplo and Bach in high esteem. Beck should be so open-minded.
GRANT & GREEN SALOON
The kind of guy who unapologetically complains that Christina Aguilera made Rolling Stone's all-time greatest singers list and Erykah Badu didn't, Joe Bagale still believes in the ability to fashion new pop out of soul, jazz, and funk. Unlike computer-loving studio-progressive Jamie Lidell or the clumsier Mayer Hawthorne, Bagale likes to fall back and let the band groove when he isn't needed on songs like the disco-recalling "Mrs. Oh." Now working mostly as an R&B singer, Bagale studied bass under jazz great Ron Carter and won awards for his drumming at age 17 — so you know his credentials are legit.
Swoop Unit's wah-and-horn-knotted funk-jazz sessions are punchy, swathed with ham-and-cheese organ, stone-skipping guitar, and strutting sax solos. With no guest rappers or soul legends on hand to rearrange the pace, they'd better be catchy if they can't be well-connected. And they are — so much so that they make catchiness look easy in jazz. You can't go wrong with a subspecies of Kool and the Gang as summer fare.
Birds & Batteries
The name lists one organism and one manmade power source, so much of the press has taken the bait and dubbed Birds & Batteries "electro meets country." But the band's sound is too natural to boil down to crude genre splicing. It's not the "A meets B" that matters with this quartet, which doubles in size for tours and always includes a pedal steel player, but rather the cumulative effect of its intimate pop. Along with wrenching, dry-throated vocals, Birds & Batteries' signature sound comes via synthesizers, which bubble, blurt, and boil over its moaning tunes.
The Ferocious Few
Like the Greenhornes, Holly Golightly, and King Khan, this duo puts blues in a blender and pawns its record collection in the hopes of scoring a scene where Quentin Tarantino orders someone's extremities shot off. Drummer Daniel Aguilar lays down the beat with echoing percussion and cavernous rattling sounds, while singer-guitarist Francisco Fernandez loves to flaunt his retro authenticity like most blues-fed warriors. Frightening tempos and fearsome energy make the Few's live show like a ride down Highway 61 on speed.
A.B. and the Sea
The irresistible "sha-la-la"s powering the gorgeous "Yellow-Haired Girl" are the first hint that A.B. and the Sea is an excellent power-pop band. Recently relocated to San Francisco from Wisconsin, A.B. and the Sea is finding the West Coast extremely receptive to its '60s jangle and three-part harmonies. Turns opening for the Morning Benders and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros haven't hurt, either.
Clean guitars rarely hit with as much force as this all-female San Francisco trio musters. And Grass Widow stands further apart from the girl-garage pack with its angular lines of attack, dry harmonies, and sober intent. Many garage groups sing about getting laid and getting drunk, but Grass Widow's songs are as serious as they are scathing. That doesn't mean they aren't fun, too.
Mister Loveless' "The Old Pain" has the most dour "doo-doo-doo"s to be heard since Primitive Love Gods' "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand." That takes some doing, even considering the song's title and band name. But think of Ian Curtis fronting a surf band — reverb to oblivion, tempos at a crawl — and you get some idea of Mister Loveless' sound. Just don't be surprised when it works up to some U2-sized choruses.
Sonny and the Sunsets
Doo-wop, country, vintage blues, and hard-worn rock are all present in the heartfelt songs of San Francisco's Sonny Smith, who recently signed to the highly regarded Fat Possum label. A visual artist and writer as well as a songwriter, his bursting creativity comes through in his songs' detailed narratives, evocative imagery, and classic American grooves.
Tiny Television is unflashy, even by indie-rock standards. Jeremy D'Antonio's "countrypolitan folk songs" are pure No Depression: He sings about loneliness in a "basement by the sunset," with lengthy pedal steel and banjo moans and sighs woven throughout. With murder ballads and songs about heartsick waiting, Tiny Television's music is a dusted, busted look back in time.
Like Cat Power or Low, Odessa Chen's off-in-the-distance duets with herself sound intimate, even hymnal. But if Iron & Wine's Sam Beam can make a name for himself as a surprising festival staple (often with two drummers on hand), why can't Chen? Haunted, frozen ditties like "Snow Angels" — which is led by a cello — aren't quite party music, but explore a little atonement in the afternoon. And anyway, Chen puts down her Sylvia Plath to run through the sprinklers now and then.
The Oakland Faders
Many turntable DJs spend so much time perfecting their scratching technique that they don't even put it into practice over beats. Not so with the Oakland Faders, who cleverly tether disparate elements — like the simmering organ line and flute-and-strings psych-soul that go into their menacing anthem, "We the Oakland Faders." With beats this good, you almost hope their scratching is just a stage.
Oakland's Santero is ambitious for an artist who sees himself asat least part reggaetón. But then, most reggaetón artists are not ordained Santerían priests. Having absorbed the music of New Orleans and Havana through the '80s, and attained the highest honor of his religion before making his own music, Santero aspires to be the socially responsible answer to Calle 13. With warm Latin percussion, call-and-response female choruses, and sudden interjections of salsa brass and jazzy vibraphone, he's more musically adventurous than your average Latin hip-hop group, too.
Boca do rio
San Francisco's psych-garage scene is bursting out of control these days. The incandescent Ty Segall is at its summit, thrashing about with such rough, pencil-sharpener sonics that spiritual forefather Jay Reatard sounds like the Hives by comparison. Segall's latest album, Melted, is a barnburner recently released on the classic Memphis label Goner Records.
This psych-folk band spreads joy from the opening moments of "Careful with That Hat," from its Dead Oceans debut, Dream Get Together. Full-choir vocals and cheesy twin-guitar leads skyrocket from the seven-piece, yet it rocks as jauntily as Phoenix and uses space as effectively as Fleet Foxes. All Citay needs is its own retro movement — maybe Blitzen Trapper needs a tourmate?
Personal and the Pizzas
With their tasteless-but-excellent name, penchant for defacing classic album covers, and claiming their sound boils down to "one Ramones riff + one Stooges riff + really dumb words," Personal and the Pizzas are just cruising for a Brian Jonestown Massacre namecheck. But dressing up as punks is always more fun than dressing up as hippies: "These brass knuckles are gonna break you down/Gonna pop you in the mouth," goes one catchy chorus over a driving beat. Anthem "I Don't Wanna Be No Personal Pizza" is either a rebellion against themselves, a commentary on loneliness, or a coded request for an extra-large pie. It's fun any way you take it.
A garage-rock band without a gimmick is either a noble or a damning thing, depending on whether you consider lo-fi production a conceit or '70s leather jacket affectations ridiculous. But the music of power trio Bare Wires feels more like it was crafted on the couch than among gasoline cans, so consider it a living-room rock band. Bare Wires' members aren't slackers trapped at their folks' houses, they didn't forget to write heart-slaying hooks, and their tempo changes would capsize Wavves. Under the scrutiny of stage lights and beer goggles, they could even pass for Spinal Tap with all their hair.
THE CHURCH KEY
Mozaic deals in stark minimalism and the shortest sounds you can program into the memory of the human ear — bleeps, squirts, claps, pops, and, of course, beats. The San Francisco DJ's tracks wrench, hallucinate, and tickle. They're haunting and creepy, yes, but alluring as well.
Ghosts on Tape
Ryan Phillip Merry's influences for Ghosts on Tape read like a stoned beatmaker's shopping list: "Lots of drums. Spliffs. Dub ... Chicago house ... tropical plants. ... Zoning out." Between the distant vocals of "Midnight Moves" and the backwards-sample rainfall of "Rainbow Arabia," you could slot his music as the Burial of booty bass. And as with the best dance music (and stoners), he excels most when evoking foreign places, as in "Mogadishu Night Life." All that's missing are the tropical plants.
The Jazz Mafia All Stars
Crystal Monee Hall
All Shook Down Music Festival