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.


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.

Local SF Bands Unite for Blaze Foley Record Release and Tribute Show!

Posted by Kells, January 25, 2012 04:49pm | Post a Comment
Blaze Foley's songs have been celebrated and covered by so many notable Country and Western heavy hitters like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams, John Prine and Lyle Lovett that one could hardly say the man's work has gone unsung. However, despite his music being some of the best, most hauntingly honest and soul-stirring country yarns ever spun, his true voice and vision have long gone unheard and under-appreciated by mainstream Country audiences. This Thursday night at Amnesia will certainly prove to be something of a comeuppance fest for fans of Foley's works in the form of an album release and tribute show featuring a fresh & hot line-up of local San Francisco artists curated by Secret Seven Records. This is going to be the kind of show that feels balanced on choice cosmic alignment and I have a feeling that several impeccable answers to that silly old "what becomes a a legend most?" question will be provided as the night progresses.

For more info on Blaze Foley check out the Secret Seven record release profile here, read about his biography Living In The Woods In A Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley by Sybil Rosen here and check out info on the documentary film, Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah, here. There is also a special episode of the Astral Maps podcast dedicated to the works of Blaze Foley, featuring a guest appearance by Greg Gardener - the man behind the curtains at Secret Seven records, here. Incidentally, if you ever just want to talk it out concerning your esteem for lost country greats, all things Blaze and/or outlaw country in general be sure to seek out Astral Maps podcasters Andrew K. and Sterling the next time you visit Amoeba Music in San Francisco, feel free to let 'em know I sent ya!

Here is the trailer for Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah. Do come out and spread love for local musicians as they celebrate the life and work of Blaze Foley - it's going to be a phenomenal show!

Blaze Foley documentary trailer

Get it Girls! The Sandwitches: New Single, New Videos, New Tour!

Posted by Kells, November 16, 2011 05:20pm | Post a Comment
Ever saunter past that dive-y drag joint on 16th between Mission and Valencia and find yourself wondering just what is up, er, goes down all night and all day at Esta Noche? Devotees of local darlings the Sandwitches caught a peek of the ladies' very own savory stage show à la Noche in their new Ryan Brown directed video for "In the Garden" -- the lead off track for this year's stellar full-length LP Mrs. Jones' Cookies (brought to you by the fine folks at Empty Cellar Records) -- featuring more than a few fab familiar faces of Amoeba Music SF. Work it out, ladies, werrrrrrrk!

This vid release comes hot-off-the-heels of another stellar Sandy jam: the girls' new two-song 7" single "The Pearl" (out on Hardly Art) dropped last week, a video for the b-side "Benny's Memory Palace" also having just been released, and with Grace and Heidi embarking on a Sandwitches European tour it would seem that our little hometown trio is poised for some long-overdue appreciation and recognition. From here on out let there be no mention of their beginnings as back-up singers (even if it is, tsk, one of the better aspects of them Fresh & Onlys). Come get the single (it's naught but $4.98), enjoy the vids (try not to over-ogle) and, if you can, get off your duff support the Sandwitches' local color-stories as they paint the Old World gold this November. Sophia McInerney's video for "Benny's Memory Palace" follows below:

Band Crush: Earth Girl Helen Brown

Posted by Kells, June 3, 2011 01:30pm | Post a Comment
Bewitched at the drop of a needle, "nomadic psychedelic folksinger" Earth Girl Helen Brown owns my heart...

A customer turned me on to this jam as I was ringing up his purchase, the debut record from one of the fictitious artists associated with Sonny Smith's 100 Records project. Considering that more than a few of my favorite bands began as an inside joke (like the Sugarcubes) or some similar spontaneous venture (hello OOIOO) the scheme beneath Earth Girl Helen Brown's Story of an Earth Girl six song EP (on Forest Family) would be easy to miss if it weren't for the intergalactic, martian-love blues that color this collection of stellar musicianship --- a pleasant oddball mix of doo-wop, (earth) girls in the garage, Muscle Shoals soul, and a heady dose of feminine mystique.

"I Walked All Night" - Earth Girl Helen Brown

Captained by Heidi Alexander of the Sandwitches, with sandy sister Grace Cooper also on board along with a crew of SF local hitmakers (including Kelley Stoltz, John Dwyer and Sonny Smith, of course), this infinitely enjoyable record sets the bar way high for future endeavors. Limited to 500 copies on 10" white vinyl, Story of an Earth Girl dredges memories of some of my past loves and style crushes circa 80's (an obvious influence?), 90's (Meryn Cadell's "The Sweater"!!!) and all points beyond: xoxo!

"Story of an Earth Girl" - Earth Girl Helen Brown