It's been a while since I've lived by the semester schedule, but looking at all the college kids hunting for places to live around town, I'd say it's back to school time in the Bay Area. Fall isn't just the season of staring at chalkboards, though: It's also a busy time for live shows and new releases. Bands scramble to tour before the weather gets nasty, and labels push out the last of their rosters before the end of the year. So this week I'm combining two important September bookends (music and classrooms) into one column. Below is a syllabus of local acts getting high marks around town.
Course description: One good thing about the loveless: They have the dreamiest soundtracks at their disposal. San Francisco's Girls (not to be confused with Seattle's the Girls) craft songs for alternately getting crushed out and crying yourself over it already. On "Hellhole Ratrace," the duo of Christopher Owns and Chet JR White moan sweet mash notes like, "I don't wanna cry my whole life through, no I wanna just laugh in two. So come on and laugh with me." It's a track that would make Spiritualized's Jason Pierce proud: what with the crooning, the sleigh bells, the ache that breaks with such beauty (but, unlike with Pierce's lesson plans, there's no Jesus Christ or hellfires here). The rest of the group's romantic repertoire is littered with broken dreams and fixed longing, from the shoe- (and girl-) gazing ode to "Lauren Marie" to "Lust for Life," a jangle pop list of required materials (suntan, boyfriend, beach towels) for a healthy heart. There's good reason Pitchfork and Spin have taken notice of these boys ... er, Girls.
Field trip: Girls perform on Friday, Sept. 12, at the Hemlock.
Instructor: The High Decibels
Course description: Slam poet Duke Johnson and hypeman Chief combine the textbook grooves of hip-hop, blues rock, and country punk for a sound that's unlike any other in this region. The duo, which records with a full live band, sounds like Kid Rock reimagined as backpacker rap, and its self-titled debut leaves the fun in funky. The MCs adopt a Southern drawl when they call Miss Cindy a "sexy little thang" on the song titled in her honor, while "That Dude" scrambles lyrics and scratches vinyl behind a story about the hardest-spitting dude of all. The High Decibels recently climbed to #6 on the CMJ hip-hop chart, and their songs are getting spins on Seattle's influential indie station KEXP. Not bad for two homegrown motormouths.
Study this track: "Duke Gonna Get 'Em" does the bravado boogie with style, building hype with groovy guitar riffs and the order to "Get loose, go ahead and do it." (Show how well you follow instructions when High Decibels perform Oct. 9 at Element Lounge.)
Course description: Cali-proud MC Keyd is a multilingual educator, dabbling in myriad languages to deliver his lessons on being a Golden State warrior. "The Effects of the Purple" is written in the key of weed, as the rubber-tongued lyricist parts the clouds of smoke long enough to double time his rhymes about taking hits. "Today" is his "international collabo," and a definite block party starter, with guest singer Seilaesencia giving her sultry counterpoints in Spanish over Latin guitar samples and hip-shuffling beats. She adds fire to his laid-back delivery style, and their lingual intermingling is damn sexy. On "Haterz," Keyd turns his words into weapons, threatening violence (and belly laughs) to MCs who think they can school him on the game.
Extra credit: Earn points if you've been to Keyd's hometown, which he lists as "Hay$tack, California."
Instructor: The Fresh & Onlys
Course description: The lo-fi fuzz coating the Fresh & Onlys' MySpace offerings really makes you long for the day these gems are available on vinyl. The band's material already sounds like the long-lost psych nuggets collectors pay gold to own. Black Fiction's Tim Cohen has resettled into this new band with Shayde Sartin, Raphi Gottesman, Wymond Miles, Heidi Alexander, and Grace Cooper. Here he's prophesizing about a psychedelic apocalypse ("Nuclear Disaster") with echoing vocals and harmonica solos. Or on "Come Dance with Me," he repeats the title's offer, his pleas buoyed by simple instrumentation like xylophones, flutes, and quiet guitar drones.
Further study: Cohen is also part of 3 Leafs (www.myspace.com/3leafs), an experimental group featuring a ton of cool local players (Diego Gonzalez, Josh Pollock, Warren Huegel, and Chris Cones) that leaves more tracers in your brain than a sheet of acid.