Worry Me: Horror Folk/Pop weirdo Grace Sings Sludge returns with new album Life With Dick

Posted by Kells, June 7, 2017 11:26pm | Post a Comment

Back again with another batch of demented home recordings from her very own twilight zone, former Sandwitches and Fresh & Onlys siren Grace Cooper, a.k.a. Grace Sings Sludge, continues to bleed out her uniquely brooding singer/songwriter stylings via Life With Dick, her new confessional LP/CD out courtesy of Empty Cellar Records, thus ensuring that all things strange and amazing haven't entirely vanished from the Bay Area.

Evocative of intimate interiors and a labor for love, or "the weariness of a woman giving in to a love requited" as Empty Cellar so perfectly puts it, the self-produced sound of Life With Dick is neither crunchy nor polished, but seems to teeter on the edge of a reality that alternates between ominous assertion and a sultriness so creepy it'll make you check your six if you dare listen to it alone, headphoned, in the dark (recommended!). Sometimes the vibe tilts toward the otherworldly as raw, layered melodies drift and amble in and out of sonic focus as if attempting to haunt every moment they're allotted—pianos echoing here, guitars heaving there, with now-and-then hallow drum lines (courtesy of Nick Russo) sauntering along beneath Grace’s emphatic vocal clips, plaintive wails, and whispered half-breaths. There is also a pervasive after hours type of jazziness that slinks in and around almost every song, coloring Grace's achingly bare vocals a deep rouge (a darker, redder version of the opening credits for the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show comes immediately to mind). 

For me, the track "U.C.B.", buried on side two, delivers some of the most iconic, or "Grace-ist" if you will,  lyric threads and vocal sincerity found on the album, especially when she croons, "I hate to see you in pain; what kind of chain keeps you here? The sooner that I let you go is the sooner that you go. Back to what you've always known," only to issue the punctuation, "Over my dead body."

Stills from the official video for "A Man Doesn't Want" from Life With Dick, directed, shot, and edited by Grace Cooper

The album's extensive accompanying visuals offer further glimpses into the mire and musings behind the music and, what's more, every bit of it appears to be solely produced by Grace Cooper herself. As with her previous collections of home recordings, the outer and inner sleeve artwork for Life With Dick bears Grace’s own signature scrawls and pen and ink/watercolor reveries, this time in strands and snarls of pale yellow/greens. And, in what I personally hope will be a venture not limited to a one-time gig, Grace went ahead and directed, shot, and edited her own video for the album's lead-off track "A Man Doesn't Want", delivering "wrapped in plastic" realness and then some (see below; NSFW).

Speaking of "wrapped in plastic" realness, given the timing of this release and the consistent thematic and atmospheric similarities between the two, I feel, now more than ever, like I cannot help but associate the looks, sounds, and feels of Grace Sings Sludge with the world of Twin Peaks, a connection made way back when she seemed to be channeling Ronette Pulaski in her 2007 video for "Oh Baby Look". We are so lucky to be getting more official Twin Peaks transmissions and flavors to savor, and, considering all the new music that comes along with this new season, it makes me curious about what other artists could potentially fit into a kind of Twin Peaks song cycle (not that we need yet another arbitrary genre to obsess over). That said, self-control be damned! If you have any thoughts or suggestions regarding artists that could fit into a dedicated Twin Peaks playlist, by all means please do share. In the meantime, let Grace Sings Sludge sings Life With Dick (or any other albums of hers for that matter) take you there.

Bay Area Record Fair, November 6

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, October 23, 2016 07:21pm | Post a Comment

This year the Bay Area Record Fair (aka BARF) brings together the best and brightest in local music from around the Bay Area to the Swedish American Hall on Sunday, November 6th. Their celebration of the local music scene and the people who help make it happen welcomes over 30 independent record labels (Alternative TentaclesMelters, Death Records, Fat Wreck Chords, Father/Daughter, Empty Cellar...just to name a few) providing hours of browsing and buying enjoyment for you! The event is FREE and starts at noon, but you can get a jump on the crate digging at 11:00am with an early bird ticket for just $5! Get those early bird tickets HERE.

Besides browsing the bins and kibitzing with local label folks, there will be guest DJs spinning throughout the day, plus two huge prize packs being raffled off including Different Fur studio time, a U-Turn Audio turntable, Vinyl Me, Please subscriptions, Meze Headphones, SF Guitarworks guitar setup, Pirates Press credit, and more! Check out your raffle ticket buying options HERE. See you at the Fair!

Bay Area Record Fair, BARF

Cheers to Our Toast, The Sandwitches' last round

Posted by Kells, June 29, 2015 10:22pm | Post a Comment
lovely photo of The Sandwitches by Rachel Walther

It's been many moons since we've been accorded a fresh platter from San Francisco trio The Sandwitches, and this latest release courtesy of Empty Cellar Records, looks to be their last. Since 2008, bandmates Grace Cooper, Heidi Alexander, and Roxy Brodeur have consistently honed a distinct sound that is, simply put, a little bit old-time country and a little bit roadside oddities rock 'n' roll. Their ability to seamlessly blend twisted yet whimsical girl group harmonies with unfiltered, mood-infused heavy Americana has progressed splendidly with each release, making Our Toast, their third LP, arguably their finest effort to date.

Before you even get your ears on it, Our Toast is a thing of beauty. Housed in very fine packaging adorned with gold leaf lettering and a cover tribute to unofficial 4th member James Finch (painted by Deirdre White), the record itself (on oxblood wax if you're lucky) is sheathed by a printed inner sleeve featuring lyrics on one side (lyrics, people!) and a sad clown band photo epitaph on the other–a testament to the posthumous-ish work within. That said, there is a twinging finality vibe to this record that moves beyond the commemorative qualities of the tangible presentation. It's a feeling that lends suspicion to the pulse of each song like an omen or memento mori. And yet, regardless of any time the Sandwitches' sound has been described as "haunting", there is nothing ghostly about this energy at all. It's as if seven or eight of these nine songs are contending for the ultimate setting in sequencing crown: the last cut on side B, the swan song's swan song seat.

All notions of end themes aside, the album opens on a delightfully lighthearted note with "Sunny Side" waltzing out ahead of the clouds, multiple pianos dancing upright like a tinkling, saloon-corner homage of sorts to the Carter Family's popular porch rocker. From there, however, the mantle descends with "Play It Again Dick", a barometrical indicator of the storm-colored album to come what with its post-Westworld apocalyptic guitar groans grazing the otherwise rhythmic swagger of strums plodding towards what sounds like some kind of after hours personal reckoning, the tumultuous timbre of Grace's insistent vocals coaxing listeners down to the floorboards. The languid tones continue with the tentative stop, drop, and slow-rolling drowse of "Sleeping Practice" which eventually rises to cooing crescendo to converge with more sinister threads of "Dead Prudence", a sonic materialization lolling so cozily in its own madness that when the song plunges into a Badalamentian boiling pool midway through, visions of untold narratives relevant to David Lynch's Fire Walk With Me come immediately to mind.

But this collection isn't entirely lurking between shadows. Buried on side two, locked between the cool, slithering "Personal Hell" and the tenderhearted cadences of "Nothing But Love", lies the album's only barn shaker, "Wickerman Mabmo"–an uptempo, bass-walkin' hoedown shuffle that bucks up the country and western twang for which the Sandwitches are partially known to rousing new heights. Aside from being a standout track, the titular film reference also kind of begs the question: Cage or Woodward? (Either way, someone will be burned.) Still, where previous albums have led listeners along for garden dalliances and seaside vacationing, Our Toast seems slanted with a bittersweet bouquet of intimate inward gazes, forgoing escapist motifs for hypnotic rumination, but not without a hearty dose of charm (as suggested by the ass-cat flower vase crammed to the limit with fuzzy blooms depicted on the album's back cover).

One could only imagine how these songs would unfold in a live setting, and perhaps there will be a show (a newsflash of sorts popped up on the radar hinting at the potential for an August happening). At the very least we can hope for another bill featuring the Sandwitches à la carte as all three ladies continue with their solo efforts. Nevertheless, while the fact remains that the Sandwitches have gone their separate ways, and more's the pity, they've thankfully left behind one final little portal into their weird, wyrd world unhinged for the rest of us to crawl into for a spell, anytime the mood swings.


Sandy Babes: The Sandwitches play Duck Duck Goose!

Posted by Kells, June 30, 2010 03:50pm | Post a Comment
There are many things to love about The Sandwitches and their latest release, the Duck Duck Goose! EP (on Empty Cellar/Secret Seven Records), serves as further proof that these ladies are not only gilding a most devastatingly alluring and emotional totem pole of a discography, but they are also among the very sagest of storytellers, which is, when you think about it, just about as artistically primal as witch's tit in a brass bra. It takes courage to create an album this dark for kids, yet it's not clear if the wee ones are really who the Sandwitches are lulling here. If storytelling, besides being the earliest of mediums in that it's the way cultural and familial values are communicated, parent to child, grants us a means by which we may overcome and deal with overpowering fears --- fear of the dark, fear of the unknown --- then there is nothing cowardly or immature about the eerie compositions that permeate this limited run, one-sided vinyl 12". Clearly the Sandwitches are not about to soften their punches, no matter how bewitchingly thrown.

Duck Duck Goose! begins with the cooing, protracted "Stardust" --- a lush and dreamy original number that at once lives up to the descriptive "heartbreaking acoustic lullabies" label affixed to the record sleeve. In fact, it is a lullaby so heartbreaking that it seems meant to comfort a terminally ill child fearlessly into eternal sleep: "nothing to fear going into darkness/ we'll be nearer to each other." What follows is the first of two aural vignettes (the reprise closing out the recording, accordingly) wherein the echos of ghostly rounds of duck duck goose are played against the sound of nursery rhymes tapped hastily on a distant spectral piano, thus upping the spook-factor enshrouding the sessions captured for this EP, achieving an overall don't-even-think-of-exploring-that-abandoned-school-house vibe. Then "Rock of Gibraltar," a haunting cover of a Tim Cohen song that appeared as a bonus track to the excellent Two Sides of Tim Cohen album, segues into a impressionistic rendition of the bravest little Disney tear-jerker of all time, the Oscar nominated "Baby Mine" (check out the video below) . If you haven't settled down snugly into the darkness by now, or at least stopped the record to call your mom for love's sake, the Sandwitches' own "Song of Songs," another sweet 'n' simple ballad (yet less heavy than the preceding pieces), lights the night with its own slow burning wax and wick. It's enough to remind one of what it feels like to be a child, a young person guided though his or her terror by comforting voices and lilting melody. And when the ghosts appear again the heart is less anxious, the mind less afraid.

Duck Duck Goose! is a far cry from the jaunty shoreline jams "Back to the Sea" and "Relax at the Beach" that shine on the Sandwitches' How to Make Ambient Sadcake LP. Little similarity can be drawn from these recent forlorn lullabies to the delightful weirdness of "Beatle Screams;" the b-side on the "Back to the Sea" 7" single; or the more girly, coy or downright romantic strains of "Tarantula Arms," "Kiss You Feet," or "Crabman" that make the aforementioned debut record so essential and addictive, worthy of repeated listening in all kinds of weather. However, Duck Duck Goose! seems to be made up of more intimate and saturated textures than any previous Sandwitches record, like the watercolor artwork depicted on the album's sleeve --- a medium more inherently allusive than the rigor and realism of oils; the brush and the stoke may be the same but the wash this time is rich enough to drown in, willingly.

Duck Duck Goose! was recorded and produced by Wymond Miles (Fresh & Onlys) and the initial pressing is limited to 500 copies, available now at Amoeba Music San Francisco.

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7" Fix: The Cairo Gang "Holy Clover"

Posted by Kells, May 28, 2010 10:08am | Post a Comment

Will Oldham, or Bonnie "Prince" Billy, as he often styles himself onstage and on wax, seems to have naturally great taste when it comes to singer-songwriter types native to or otherwise rambling through the backwoods and beachheads of Northern California. Of his latest collaborations I've taken a shine to the Cairo Gang or, more specifically, the vocals and guitar styling of one Emmett Kelly & co. --- lending a little of this and that to a handful of recent BPB albums as well as offering gentle listeners something on the side with the release of their 7" EP Holy Clover (out now on Empty Cellar Records).

Each of the four songs captured here recall proper feelings of seasonal impermanence and the sort of wisdom-beyond-one's-years that many modern singer-songwriters attempt to brew but seem to have trouble getting just right. Kelly (besides having a fabulous name) is blessed with a voice that not only pairs remarkably well with Oldham's wood-smoked yet crystal-fragile vocals but suits the well-crafted folk/rock vibes his band lays down (I've always thought Oldham's voice, while folksy, was more country than rock), especially when he lets loose in "Get's Me Back" on side B --- a jam with stellar guitars (Kelly is joined here by Chris Rodahaffer) sounding something like America high-fiving Neil Young with an echo of Kyle Field's (a.k.a. Little Wings) sentimental Soft Pow'r glowing 'round the edges. On the whole this little gem plays languid and pale in a light what shines one of the best of Bonnie Billy's partners in crime. Below is a little clip of Emmet Kelly and Will Oldham performing "Midday" (the A side to the 7" that accompanies the Bonnie "Prince" Billy & the Cairo Gang Wonder Show of the World CD and LP) --- their "Afternoon Delight," as it were --- in a Brooklyn basement.

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