These Streets of Hers: Jessica Pratt is All But Owning Her Home Turf

Posted by Kells, December 14, 2012 07:10pm | Post a Comment

San Francisco songstress Jessica Pratt is blowing up. She's on fire. She's on fire and blowing up. Since her debut album of lush, hand-picked folk melodies dropped a just few months ago demand for Jessica's debut, simply titled JP, has become as difficult to keep up with as the multitude of glowing reviews surfacing all over the interwebs lauding Ms. Pratt's ability to make everyone mistake her bewitching, home-brewed folkways for that of retro private press obscurities. If you think this isn't going to be yet another reverent review let me get right to the point: believe the hype.

Like so many jewels that cannot stay buried in the deep forever, Jessica Pratt has risen above the morass of the San Francisco music scene like a diamond atoll emerging from an ocean of acts drowning in their own in reverb, reciprocity, and relative "esoteric" influences. A momentous feat for any solo musician, let alone any woman, struggling just to tread water in the threadbare, barely-there music industry these days.

That Tim (White Fence) Presley launched his label Birth Records just to put Ms. Pratt's record out speaks to the immediacy of her music. It's a sound that cannot help but conjure familiar feelings upon first listen (for any vinyl junkie anyway), and the comparisons are flying. Presley himself has oft been quoted as saying she brings to mind  "Stevie Nicks singing over David Crosby demos" and others have pointed to the way in which her vocal stylings bait and switch Nicks, Joanna Newsom, and Karen Dalton among many others. While we're at it, I'd like suggest the inclusion of Dolly Parton to pinch hit in this approximation game as the fluttery trails Pratt punctuates her lyrical lines with in songs like "Hollywood" and "Half Twain the Jesse" resemble Dolly's vocal filigree.

I have to admit, however, I find all these comparisons tacky and terribly trapped-in-the-90's buzzbin in the sense that any woman that ever flaunted a decidedly "unique" voice back then was appraised by nineties alterna-trinity: Björk/Tori Amos/P.J. Harvey. For me, it's offensive to struggle to assay the impression of a fresh voice with those we already know and love because burdens the emerging artist with the luster, or shadow, of an others' work. While I cannot deny the correlation of Jessica Pratt's magic to that Newsom or any other would-be contemporary, it should be noted that as far as patently "unique" voices go s. Pratt's is just about as unequivocal as they come.

Then there are the songs themselves.

Culled from recordings made over the past five years (which, I hope, means the songs that comprise JP are likely only a small sample of Pratt's acoustic drifts) Ms. Pratt's songwriting is neither cryptic or contrived offering instead informal delivery of personal meanderings whether they seemingly sprung from wakefulness ("Midnight Wheels") or the reflecting upon the changes that come of a passage of time ("Bushel Hyde"). Plus, it's difficult to put into words the comfort that lives within the sound of a track opening up with the punch and click of analogue tape gently purring into "record" mode as can be heard on Side A's "Mountan'r Lower". Taken all together, this record is an intensely satisfying listen through and through (and over and over again - I haven't taken this off the turntable for more than a half-day since I copped my copy back in October) JP will no doubt continue to fly off the shelves here at Amoeba Music just as sure as the cult of Pratt enthusiasts continue to find themselves rapt, downing the kool-aid at first, and with each subsequent, listen.

As of this morning Birth Records announced the arrival of the second pressing and the impending fulfillment of back orders so if you've been waiting to get your paws on some tangible JP -- hang in there kittens! The LP comes packaged with a lovely insert featuring a collage made by Ms. Pratt herself  with a digital download of the full album included so you can roam these streets of hers with her, you know, if you're into that kind of thing.

Get Ready to Get Christmas'd All Over Again with The Yule Logs!

Posted by Kells, December 4, 2012 09:42pm | Post a Comment

It's that most magical time of year again when I connect with a Log or two and get down to Christmas business. I'm talkin' Yule Logs of course! The toast of Chico California's holiday pops, the Yuletide surfin' jingle bell rockers that spin so many party poppin' twists on Christmas (and Hanukkah and New Year's Eve) that I bet Chubby Checker would happily choke on the cheer these Santa babes dish out come "the most wonderful time of the year". With the Yule Logs smack in the middle of their eighth season drummer Jake Sprecher was naughty nice enough to take the time to respond to this year's probing interview for Amoeba Music (where fresh, hot Yule Logs recordings are available for sale and gift-giving).
First things first: Happy Holidays, Yule Logs! What's on your wish list this year?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I will. Spencer (Yule Logs' lead shredder) would like a deviled egg-pomegranate milkshake, Marty (Log frontman extraordinaire) would like a Line 6 alarm clock that only plays phased-out midi files of Steven Tyler’s scat solo on “Rag Doll,” and Kirt (Bass Log) would like to win a date with Tad Hamilton. Me? I just want what every boy wants: A vinyl copy of Electro-Acoustic Music by Ianis Xenakis

With the recent release of your fourth album, Double Live, it seems apparent to me that at least one of you attended the School of Rock, which begs the question: did you graduate? If so, what was your thesis, or theses as the case may be?

Are we talking about Jack Black?

No, the "Foghat Principle", but you're right: Jack Black was the School of Rock guy.

There’s actually a real School of Rock right here in Chico for kids like 12 and under. If we are indeed talking about ol’ J. Black, I’ll just say that he peaked in Bongwater, and that it’s been a steady decline ever since. 

While we're on the subject, what sort of educational/learning experience would you say you pass on to your fans?

Spencer usually does his best to educate fans by dishing the straight story on Hanukkah, though I’m not sure how seriously he’s taken due to the fact that the rest of us are godless heathens. 

 This being your eighth season together as "the hardest working band in snow business," one might wonder as to the secret of your staying power. How do you make it work? Is it difficult to keep the wheels greased and rolling on the Yule Logs' rockmobile?

At this point I think it would actually be more difficult to say goodbye to the proverbial rockmobile than to keep it going. Eight years is a long time for any band, and at a point you can’t picture yourself not being involved. I guess it’s like a relationship in that regard, except none of us have ever wept in the dead of night over any Yule Log-related matter. Unless of course you count the time Kirt found out he had to miss that Bieb show at HP Pavilion.  

Would you say the band has changed much over the last eight years?

Well, considering that we were in our early twenties when it started up, I’d say we’ve certainly progressed as musicians. We also had lineup changes in Season 3 and Season 4, which at the time changed some of the dynamics of the band. But for the most part, we’re still a bunch of good time Charlies on the hunt for yet another wheel of cheese. 
 I've heard tale of your annual gig at Duffy's in Chico being the pinnacle of the Yule Log's seasonal showcase. What makes that night the "greatest night of the year" for you guys?

It’s the drunken Valhalla of all Yule Log gigs. Every bit of excess that we indulge ourselves in, or even joke about indulging in, seems possible at the Duffy’s show, whether it happens or not. And I don’t mean that in a weird way—or maybe I do? But in a nutshell, it’s this incredibly loud, wasted, packed-to-the-last-gill local time at the only rock ‘n’ roll bar in town. The whole thing is so incredibly gratifying that it’s almost hard to put into words. In fact, if I had to live one night over, and over, and over again, Groundhog Day-style, the Duffy’s show would be it, hands down.   

As far as your live show goes, what are you most looking forward to this season in terms of your traditional or as-yet-unwrapped Yule Logs performance staples?

Well we strive to take it up a notch every season, with Season 8 being no exception. Spencer is going to get beard extensions that go past his crotch so he can perform nude, Kirt has hired Geddy Lee to play bass so he can focus on his steel cage interpretive dance routine, and Marty doesn’t know it yet, but I plan to shiv him with a pen and then stomp him onstage at our next all-ages show. 

Do you Logs have any all-new holiday hits stuffed in your, erhm, stockings this year?

We’ve got a new one called “Ain’t Got Nothing (On Christmas Day)” that’s bound for hit status. Spencer originally brought the song in as a ballad, but we reworked it into an up-tempo groove in the vein of Otis Redding and old James Brown. We’re proud of it, and it’ll be on our next record come 2013.  

When you're not working on party rockin' Christmas and Hanukkah jams, what do the Yule Logs listen to?

I took a quick poll of the boys’ latest pleasures…
Kirt: Prince Rama Top Ten Hits of the End of the World
Marty: Fountains of WayneSky Full of Holes
Spencer: The Who - The Who by Numbers
Me: Menahan Street BandThe Crossing

I love the cover of Lindsay Buckingham's "Holiday Road" that made the cut for Double Live -- are there any other not necessarily Christmas-ish song you'd consider Log jamming?

We grapple with songs like that every season…some make the cut, and some just fall flat. We tried “Mr. Postman” in rehearsal this year and it just wasn’t coming together in any sort of faux-Christmas way, whereas “Holiday Road” was just-add-water.
We also did the same with “Michael and the Slipper Tree” by The Equals, which we simply changed one word to (you can probably guess which one); it’s become something of a deep-cut favorite at shows.  

In my opinion you guys are probably the most criminally overlooked, sensational seasonal ensemble ever. Considering how much effort you put into keeping everyone's spirits bright, do you all feel like you've yet to un-wrap the ultimate Christmas gift, exposure-wise? What would that be?

I think everybody in the band would answer that question somewhat differently. Chico, despite being a college town, is somewhat isolated and the realities of exposure in a smaller community are what they are. But I for one will remain pleased with everything we do so long as it continues to be as much of a good time as it’s always been, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. 

Aside from all the time and effort that goes into fully realizing each Yule Logs season, what do you dream when you dream your perfect Christmas and/or Hanukkah dream?

 I dream of a snowy cabin someplace wooded that resembles Tahoe but may or may not actually be Tahoe. Octagonal living room, sunken from the kitchen by three or four steps, with a fireplace and windows from floor to ceiling and divided only by support beams. I’m married, with children, drinking coffee on the deck in my robe while listening to Nat King Cole, pondering whether to drive the ‘69 Coupe or ‘70 El Dorado to the market for hot chocolate. 

I don’t know what the other guys’ dreams are, but they can’t be as good as that.     

I'd say that's legit. Thank you so much for your time Jake!

For Yule Logs tour dates go here and for a veritible avalanche of Yule Logs music videos 'n' things see below. Get ready to get Christmas'd!!!!

What's In My Bag with The Fresh & Onlys' Tim and Shayde

Posted by Kells, November 16, 2012 05:29pm | Post a Comment

The Fresh & Onlys, besides presenting in name one of the best bandtonym-worthy word combinations, are without a doubt one of the most pimped-out live performers reppin the Bay Area these days. Currently on tour, and they tour a lot, The Onlys pack plenty of dirty raw party rockin' vibes into every sweaty show. I'd go so far as to say they bring a guaranteed good time to any venue; unadulterated fun at it's most arrested stage of development. What's more, the minds that inform the Fresh and Onlys' sound are like rich wells of music knowledge, deeply dug and flowing wide. I can say this with a certain degree of confidence having known and worked with three quarters of the band off and on for many, many years. That being the case, as happens with colleagues of any sort, their opinions on all things music, film, Amoeba or otherwise have abutted, aggravated, enhanced and influenced mine over time. It's one of those really good things about the working-at-Amoeba experience that I wish we could share more easily. But I suppose that territory best captured and exposed via our What's In My Bag video vignette series.

But before we get into that, get into this:

A lovely, pastoral portrait of the boys in pastels, looking petal fresh and Easter Sunday garden party pretty in contrast to the live-action, imagery of sloshed, sudorific revelry, above left. Say what you will about the Fresh & Onlys workaday aesthetic, they clean up nice. And though Fresh & Onlys frontman and guitarist Tim Cohen is caught trashing Amoeba SF's Hip Hop section in the video below (for the record: tending said section used to be his responsibility) and bassist Shayde Sartin's picks skewed towards "white guy rock" and his years spent living in Florida on the day this little scene was recorded, I cannot speak more highly about these two dudes' astronomical taste levels when it comes to music, nevermind their particular genus of dusty, road tested rocker species. BUt don't take my word for it, find out for yourself -- check out the video below:

Happy Birthday Amoeba Music San Francisco!

Posted by Kells, November 15, 2012 11:23pm | Post a Comment

Today Amoeba Music San Francisco turns fifteen years old! Fifteen, that awkward age where all associations with mom make for endless trials of embarrassment and your kid sister's crack attempts at one-upping your status as "family favorite" are just, ya know, not cute.

To celebrate the occasion tributes were made and obligatory pizza pies and butter creme sheet cakes were enjoyed by staff and regulars, not a small number of whom contributed to an immensely successful pot luck style lunch comprised of porchetta sandwiches with cole slaw, eggplant mango sushi, wild rice and mushroom pilaf, vegetable curry, savory meatballs, chips and homemade salsa, cinnamon-y apple crisp, coconut milk rice pudding, ginger snaps, and succulent peanutbutter fudge. Although we refrained from transforming the info counter into a champagne fountain (there's always next year kids!) we managed to keep it classy and sassy for the greater good with plenty of good fellowship and cheer. Happy 15th Amoeba SF! Keep on truckin'!

7" Fix: Violent Change - Suck on the Gun EP

Posted by Kells, November 14, 2012 10:32pm | Post a Comment
Say what you will about the confluence of punk and pop music, the truth is it doesn't suck.

Well, okay, so what even if most of it does suck eggs, local SF punkers Violent Change straddle the void between the punk as fuck and the pop rocks with adroit elan. In an as yet unpublished interview, Violent Change frontman and brainchild "Gladys" describes the VC sonic experience as the Sex Pistols meets the Bee Gees. And, after taking their Suck on the Gun EP for a spin, I'd have to say I agree though I'd map the distance between the Pistols and the brothers Gibb assessment with a little Revolver era Beatles, especially that "I'm only Sleeping" song, doused with the studio version of "Alcohol" by G.B.H.. Add to that some classic Damned jams plus a hint of Vic Godard & the Subway Sect a la "Make Me Sad" and you've got some good-ass, never-say-die punk rock stock.That Violent Change is obviously informed by highly commendable musical tastes and a natural inclination toward the aural obtuseness that comes with the whole basement/bedroom recording routine is a ultimately good thing, all of this ultimately evidenced by the record. Thus (duh!) it's my current favorite new four-song 45. I talked to a guy who bought this on sight the other day because "the safety pin letters look cool" -- don't they though? In any case, bands with an eponymous theme songs pretty much always totally rule.

Suck on the Gun is out via Melters Records.

G.B.H. - "Alcohol"
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