South by Southwest is again upon us, which means the Bay Area's musicians, rappers, DJs, and experimentalists are filling up their gas tanks and heading south. Our loss is Austin's gain, though, as the Texas music marathon gets a peek at what makes the local scene here so robust. Below are several picks for the action from our region hitting the Lone Star State.
Under the Arp moniker, Alexis Georgopoulos creates ambient electronic tunes reminiscent of Brian Eno's balmier soundscapes. Arp's debut release, In Light, casts a glow as warm as the sunset on its cover using minimalist melodies, electro flutes and strings, and a keen Krautrock sensibility. Arp is music for the mind, as beats are left by the wayside in favor of gentle hums that build the ebullient vibes throughout.
Talk about a band that built a buzz based on true local excitement for its sound. The young Dodos duo (guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber) has absorbed the best ingredients of eclectic indie rock. Their latest release, Visiter, contains elements of Two Gallants' folksy charm, Guided by Voices' pop quirkiness, M. Ward's complex romanticism, and even a bit of Animal Collective's infectious elation. If we were to bet on a San Francisco band going from underrated to hitting everyone's playlists this year, our money is on the Dodos (last year they won a SF Weekly Music Award for best indie rock act) — especially since New York label Frenchkiss has added them to its roster.
The Heavenly States
In 2005, the Heavenly States became the first rock band to play live in Libya. A Libyan-American producer is currently penning a screenplay based on that experience. Given the notoriety of that groundbreaking tour, it's easy to forget that the States also make great music. On their newest record, Delayer, the Heavenly blend of soaring indie pop and earthy country rock once again urges you to drop everything and sing right along.
High on Fire
Guitarist Matt Pike is a god among metalheads. His involvement in legendary heavy-rock act Sleep has earned him a lifetime's worth of respect, but the intrepid road dog isn't one to rest on his laurels. High on Fire, his power trio for the past decade, is only swelling the ranks of loyalists. This act gets right to the heart of metal's most addictive elements. The guitar riffs rip like barbed wire, while the rhythm section of bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel delivers seriously menacing thunder. The group's latest release, Death Is This Communion, is an epic album that declares war.
Comets on Fire frontman Ethan Miller excels in a new direction with his latest
act. Howlin Rain is less about bombastic feedback and blown-out vocals, and more about salt of the earth rock 'n' roll that still breaks a sweat. Miller possesses a powerful, whiskeyed delivery that makes his harmonies with keyboardist Joel Robinow divine. The almighty Rick Rubin jumped at the chance to sign Howlin Rain to American after the band had released only one record. We applaud Rubin's confidence and hope his imprimatur will give this classically soulful rock band's latest release, Magnificent Fiend, the national attention it deserves.
Berkeley's Lyrics Born is a Bay Area icon. The versatile producer and label exec has also taken turns as a skilled MC and vocalist, liberally sprinkling his hip-hop concoctions with juicy bits of rock and soul. Five years after dropping his solo debut, he's back with a new studio album, Everywhere at Once, which features Jurassic 5's Chali 2na and producer RJD2. The album is the definition of live hip-hop, eschewing sampling and synthetic beats for human instrumentation, making this gifted artist's game just that much funkier.
Chuck Prophet has spent the past two decades writing his version of the American songbook with a cracked cast of characters both biographical and imagined. He sets their tales against rootsy tapestries — bits of country, folk, and back-porch blues poke their way into his songs — and has connected with faithful listeners and fellow songwriters alike. Prophet spent the end of last year in the studio with Alejandro Escovedo, lending his talent for penning tales of "true fiction" to the alt-country icon's upcoming album.
From the Beatles to the Beach Boys, from Echo and the Bunnymen to the Kinks, San Francisco songwriter and producer Kelley Stoltz takes cues from some of the highest-ranking members of the pop music canon. His music is a true amalgam of his influences (with some lo-fi Velvet Underground jangle thrown in for good measure), spun with a home-recorded simplicity that makes each of his albums instantly infectious. A true old soul with a giddy live presence, Stoltz is one of San Francisco's premier pop gentlemen.
Scissors for Lefty
The members of Scissors for Lefty have bounded around stages in stretchy red suits and enlivened photo shoots dressed in little more than nipple tape and undies. Even without the theatrics, though, the band would still be one of San Francisco's most entertaining acts. Their uptempo indie-pop ditties are littered with hooks, stitched from the lives of antsy post-adolescence and crafted with avid attention paid to classic hook heroes from Pulp to Prince and the Pretenders.
At last year's SXSW, Wooden Shjips was the name ringing in the ears of writers who dig the drone (including Rolling Stone's David Fricke). The San Francisco band makes skillful use of repetition, using the earthy clay of guitar fuzz, delayed vocals, and motorik rhythms to build an altar for sonic meditations of the psychedelic variety. The "trance" tag on the group's MySpace page is apt, as this is the kind of cosmic debris that makes rock music transcendent.