Such a Vision: Grace Sings Sludge's Red Light Museum

Posted by Kells, November 24, 2014 07:14pm | Post a Comment
photo via

There are plenty of divas and dime-a-dozen darlings moving through the vanity fair on any given day, but there is only one Grace Cooper in existence. An artist, singer, and songwriter known in part for her countless collaborations with local visionaries and troubadours aplenty, as well as for her contributions as one-third of the oft celebrated and much missed Bay Area "girl band" The Sandwitches, Grace has lately released a new collection of songs as Grace Sings Sludge, an alias that serves as a monicker for her mostly-solo show, one that is apparently executed entirely on her own terms.

Following up from her past two Grace Sings Sludge releases with San Francisco’s Secret Seven Records, This Time It’s Personal and Last Year’s Friend, this new self-released album, Red Light Museum (via Empty Cellar), is a heady potion of lust, devotion, and darkened encounters that seems to be a more disturbed affair compared its predecessors, in a good way. One bewitching example of this is the opening track, "Difficult to Luv," what begins as an intimate, barely-there rhythmic apparition that slowly slips it's limbs around you, easing into a slow-handed throbbing inquisition for the "Jesus Christ of love" -- see the cattitudes aplenty video for the song, below:

What follows is the equally spooky "Bullshit Ceremony" wherein the temporal, body-rocking aspect of obsessive love is laid bare but not wanting as the song progresses along in semi-minimal strums that seem to meander by measure as Grace's ghostly vocal layers intertwine, crooning, "just making him hate me, as if I wanted him to." Luckily there is a video for this song as well -- a montage that appears to be comprised of photographic images of walls, walls, and more walls in various states of decay, altogether looking like a collection of accidental captures lifted from the spent rolls of some ghost hunter's film archive. It works: 

But the otherworldly ebb and flow, music video in tow, doesn't stop there. Sadly, as if the weight of this evidently already burdened little low-flying record couldn't get heavier, the most recently released video in support of Red Light Museum, for "Such A Vision," is in itself a bittersweet memorial to Grace's close friend, co-star, and director of the VHS-shot visual, Johnnie Roberto Russell, to whose memory it is lovingly dedicated.

And yet the album isn't entirely a cloth woven of sparse distortions, twangy somber refrains, and subtle reminders that this invitation into Grace's most private spaces is not to be taken at face value. That is to say the album seems to have a happy ending, or as happy an ending as possible given the privy confines of its genesis, in that it ends with an affirmation punctuated by a definitive love note.

As with her other Grace Sings Sludge releases, Red Light Museum is presently available as a limited edition cassette, the once and future DIY format du jour, with original cover art by Grace. Each tape is hand-numbered in sharpie and comes with a special small piece of unique, hand-drawn artwork fashioned by Grace herself. Needless to say it here, if you happen see one of these in the wild, like, say, at Amoeba Music in San Francisco, you should totally snatch it up ASAP! 

For more visionary emissions, moods, and emotions à la Grace Sings Sludge, do visit her tumblr page or, even better, get yourself out to one of her rare live performances (would that there was a date to plug) and find out for yourself what kind of singular sensation she is.

Morrison Hotel Gallery to exhibit collection of bygone Stevie Nicks Polaroid self-portraits

Posted by Kells, October 6, 2014 09:45pm | Post a Comment

image credit Stevie Nicks/Morrison Hotel Gallery

Stevie Nicks may have found fame in Fleetwood Mac, but she is nothing if not her own super star, apparently. Concurrent with the October 7th release of her new solo album 24 Karat Gold - Songs from the Vault and her upcoming tour with the fully reunited Buckingham Nicks era Fleetwood Mac line-up, Morrison Hotel Gallery will debut Stevie's 24 Karat Gold photographic exhibit featuring a collection of Nicks' intimate and meticulously executed Polaroid self-portraits created while at home and on the road between 1975 and 1987. The exhibit begins in New York City on October 10th and 11th at 201 Mulberry Street, moving from there on to the Morrison Hotel Gallery Loft at 116 Prince Street for the month of October. Prints will be available for sale through the website, the gallery in Soho and and through Morrison Hotel Gallery's Los Angeles location at the Sunset Marquis Hotel, October 12th to the 21st.

Given that many of the songs recorded for this new album were written between 1969 and 1987, this exhibition presents a fitting glimpse into the clandestine musings of an artist at work. "I always hoped that there would be some kind of an outlet for them," Nicks says of these images. "When I started looking back at these songs I wrote years ago to select what I would record for my new album, I began to look at all the Polaroids I had taken during that time. For every love affair I had, there are pictures. "

For all their timelessness, however, Nicks stresses that these images should be treated as a medium removed from the common selfie of the smartphone age. "I don’t consider this series of Polaroids “selfies”, she explains. "I don’t think there’s any comparison between digital and Polaroids. There’s just something about Polaroids and the film that felt so special." Indeed.

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Fleeting Phases: Falling for Once and Future Band

Posted by Kells, September 28, 2014 07:25pm | Post a Comment

Sheesh, it's been a minute since I've thrown my two cents into this here pot and I've got a lot of pennies to spend. So far, 2014 has been a damn good year for new music and I would like, if I may, to take you back to May when a local band dropped one hell of a debut EP for the ages.

Seemingly fixed somewhere between derivative approximations recalling the Crimson courtiers of Progressive Rock and master multi-part harmonizers of yore like, for example, maybe Wishbone Ash or Bubble Puppy, it could be said that Oakland's Once and Future Band has calculated dead reckoning in waters more well known than uncharted. However, this assessment is flawed. Roughly two minutes into the sprawling eponymous opening track of their debut EP, Brain, when lead vocalist, guitarist, high synth-sayer, and man behind the dream Joel Robinow (of Howlin' Rain, also wearing an exceptionally well designed OAFB tee, right over there) sings, "everyone knows ‘cept yourself that these phases are fleeting, time to take stock and face up to the path life is leading", it's time to give up and give in. The nearly nine minute saga advances not unlike said fleeting phases, progressing along most unpredictably in stone grooves, lucid pulses, transitory textures, and ascending arpeggios, executed with a passion for sound and vision so palpable that any trifling comparison made to apparent forebears would seem a dull and heartless pursuit. Considering the first track alone, it is clear that this band possesses something of a sonic timelessness, a quality that perhaps gives some credence to wanton Steely Dan-ish, CSNY et cetera Classic Rock banalogies, but is rather more a result of a fortuitous confluence of unabashed creativity and masterful musicianship. Fact: these guys make music magical, fanciful, adventurous, and valuable -- every second worth the effort. Once and Future Band simply rules. And they would still rule even if Rick Wakeman had said "no" to Yes.

bomb-ass OAFB poster by Ale Leonelli of Studio Gogogoch

The rest of the record rules too as it is teeming with appeal. Extra special gold stars are due in part for  overall multitude of tight vocal harmonies and Phil Manley's contributions as well as for the triumphant guitarmonizing solo and soaring synth sendoff that launches "Heavenly Bodies" into full orbit, closing out the album with a full on spacial delivery rather than sticking the landing. In the meantime, I'm hoping these fleeting phases are enduring and indicative of an eventual full length LP from OAFB, provided that the trio, Joel along with drummer/recording engineer Raj Ojha (also of Howlin' Rain) and bassist/co-guitarist Eli Eckert (Drunk Horse), can take stock and face up to their professed impetus for convening in the first place i.e. "performing and recording Joel's massive library of songs before they are lost to the ages after the Great Hard Drive Crash of '12".

Whatever the future holds, I am presently enjoying this EP more than ever.
There is something rather seasonally correct about these far out and fantastical extended Psych/Prog jams. They pair perfectly with Fall, particularly the brisk Autumnal awakening that follows Summer's September last stand. I've been rockin' this sweet baby on the hi-fi all summer looking forward to the satisfaction and propriety of listening to it come Fall. Which reminds me, if you're looking to catch these guys live, I suggest holding out for their upcoming Halloween show at Amnesia. OAFB will be sharing the bill with SF local Black Sabbath cover band extraordinaire, Bobb Saggeth. Which also reminds me...

Now, I'm not one of those folks who habitually shucks and jives about "you had to be there and you missed it" shows and performances, but great balls of almighty hellfire, if you missed the life-giving world premier (and very likely only performance?) of the devastatingly funky all-Betty Davis cover band FRONTBUTT (featuring OAFB's Joel Robinow on keys and all five members of Bobb Saggeth) you done bungled bigtime, bra. It was so very major.

All FRONTBUTT photographs below by Gabriel Wheeler.

Go see Once and Future Band. Buy their record at Amoeba. If FRONTBUTT ever plays again don't miss it.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot! While you're down here you should totally check out this What's In My Bag vid featuring Joel Robinow + Garrett Goddard + Ethan Miller = Howlin' Rain!


Joanna Newsom and the Magical Tour of 2004

Posted by Kells, March 21, 2014 04:20pm | Post a Comment

Joanna Newsom with Kevin Barker at Old Ironsides, Sacramento CA, July 10, 2004. Photo by Alissa Anderson.

Once upon a time, or nearly ten years ago, a couple of bands combined their like-minded pursuit of music, travel, and kindred jamming and took to the road for what would later be known as the "Magical Tour of Two Thousand and Four" or The Family Jams, as revealed in Kevin Barker's tour documentary of the same name. Perhaps a more accurate description of the happening would be to say that it was an extended jaunt comprised of artists caught in Devendra Banhart's orbit at the time -- an Earthbound constellation of celestial talents that, for better or for worse, birthed the term Freak Folk. Though the documentary captures intimate performances and would-be private moments of many hearts and artists, the camera focuses mainly on Banhart, Vetiver, and Joanna Newsom.

Now, I count myself among the throng of ardent Newsom devotees and I am as eager as a Belieber for a new J. New joint to drop already (as established here). Clearly I am not alone in abiding the ever intensifying prospects for this fabled 2014 release as the as yet unknown record has made it onto countless lists of this year's most anticipated albums. The recent revelation of this tour doc, depicting so much naked joy and tragedy, has effectively lessened some of the aforementioned tension while simultaneously making the wait feel so much more acutely unbearable. Want some? Included below is a heavily edited two-part look at the doc published by some super fan concentrating on all Joanna-centric scenes. These fixed vignettes center attention on Newsom touring in support of her first full length album, Milk-Eyed Mender, capably rendering the bigger picture of The Family Jams into a hushed setting within which an emerging singer-songwriter heedlessly stakes her ecumenical claim to fame surrounded by a loving "family" of friends. Plus, within the first few minutes of the second video a portion of the song composition for "Cosmia" is revealed during a late night harp-stringing hang out with friends, providing those of us that care about these things with a brief encounter with the genesis of Ys.

Part one:

Part two:

Fantasy March: Campaigning for Genre Awareness

Posted by Kells, March 10, 2014 02:20pm | Post a Comment

This month at Amoeba SF we're forging a fellowship for Fantasy genre awareness and appreciation! Given the recent release of Numero Group's most excellent "one comp. to rule them all" collection of Dungeons & Dragons inspired pre-Heavy Metal underground Rock, Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles, and the impending Game of Thrones hype-a-thon building up to the premiere of the HBO show's fourth season on April 6th, we figured the month of March could do for a heady dose of Ice and Fire-fueled cinematic dream-fasting -- a visual poultice with which the reality-weary may allay their workaday woes, watching. Do keep an vigilant eye out for our Fantasy endcap at Amoeba SF featuring golden genre gems like these from the nineteen-eighties:

Dragonslayer (1981) in which a young wizard's apprentice (Peter MacNichol of Ally McBeal and Ghostbusters 2 fame) must kill a virgin-snacking dragon to save the King's daughter who has been chosen by the kingdom's lottery system as the next sacrifice in line to keep the beast's appetite for destruction at bay.

Ladyhawke (1985) concerns the cursed lovers Captain Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer, who also starred in the similarly fantastical Flesh + Blood) and Lady Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) who, punished for their love, must suffer his becoming a wolf by night and her taking the form of a hawk by day. The two together, with the help of thief Philippe "The Mouse" Gaston (Matthew Broderick), attempt to overthrow the corrupt Bishop of Aquila in order to break the spell.

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