Ex-Mars Volta frontmen find new sounds

Former Mars Volta frontmen Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala

Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala were the masterminds behind The Mars Volta. The band broke up in January and two have formed new groups: Bosnian Rainbow and Zavalaz.

The Mars Volta broke up in January. And considering the last few albums, it’s probably for the best.

For a while, nothing beat the psychedelic, Spanish-tinged prog-rock. In high school, I couldn’t get enough of De-Loused in the Comatorium or Frances the Mute. I remember driving right past my house on a summer night, Volta blasting through my ’88 Acura speakers, not allowing myself to go home until I got through the few acts of Cassandra Gemini.

Led by the high-pitched Cedric Bixler Zavala and guitar virtuoso Omar Rodriguez Lopez, The Mars Volta split earlier this year when Omar wanted to tour and spend all of his time on a new band, Bosnian Rainbows.

Cedric and Omar have gone their separate ways for now, and Omar brings his incredible musicianship and absolute shredding to more low key, dark and beautiful music. Combined with the vocal talents of Terri Gender Bender, ex-Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks and keyboardist Nicci Kasper, they create a sound described as ethereal, yet direct.

The closest music that fits the description is Bat for Lashes, another band that features lush synthesizers, female vocals and layer after layer of atmospheric soundscape.

Cedric has gone his own way too, starting up a new band that couldn’t sound more different. He’s brought along the former Mars Volta bassist Juan Alderete to create a more groove-worthy, classic rock sound.

Ironically, both bands recently toured San Francisco within a week of each other. Zavalaz played Cafe Du Nord on June 21st and Bosnian Rainbows headlined a show at the Great American Music Hall last night, June 28.

I was lucky enough to catch Bosnian Rainbows live last night at the Great American Music Hall, for the second time in a handful of months (the first at The New Parish in Oakland). Lopez’s rapid-fire fingers and deep guitar grooves make him a performer that cannot be missed.

In Bosnian Rainbows, he plays the role of teammate and band member much more than band leader, likely because of the collaborative nature he has mentioned about this group. Omar was basically director of Mars Volta, which tended to mean dictator. The shredding takes a back seat, but is still prominent, and Lopez even lends his voice to a few tracks, something he never did live with the Volta.

Zavalaz, at least on the surface, is the weaker of the two. Cedric is talented, and his omnipresent whines and wild lyrics that thread in and out of Spanish and English lend better to a concept band like The Mars Volta than a straight rock outfit like Zavalaz. I’m eager to see the direction this band goes and whether the sum of the Volta parts is, or is not, greater than the whole.

Stream the entire Bosnian Rainbows on Bandcamp and stay tuned for recordings and more tour dates from Zavalaz.

New No. 1: Macklemore accomplishes range, quality and success with debut album

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Ten thousand hours later, it looks like hip-hop artist Macklemore has found his success.

The smooth-spoken Seattle wordsmith debuted his first full-length in October at No. 1 on iTunes and No. 2 on Billboard in the US.

His album, The Heist, made in conjunction with longtime producer Ryan Lewis, is a medley of sunny sounds contrasted by sobering lyrics that border on profound before going back to the simple sensibilities of, say, thrift shopping.

The video for the platinum single “Thrift Shop”, featuring vintage fur coats and a Delorian, has racked up more than 44 million views on YouTube.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis create a sound that brings up immediate similarities to notable white hip-hop acts Atmosphere and Brother Ali. The collection of 15 tracks lean in all directions: some toward pop and R&B, others toward rap and introspective rock. There is clear influence from underground spoken-word king Saul Williams, who Macklemore cites as influence in a chat with Interview Magazine.

The style of music has been labeled socially conscious hip-hop: lyrics struggle through recovery and trying to make it, but take a break on easier listening like “Gold.”

Wide-ranging in accessibility, The Heist blends everything that is popular in music right now: Drake fans will appreciate the chorus in “Neon Cathedral”, while Rhianna listeners could be easily drawn to the upbeat “Can’t Hold Us.”

Everything else is expert MCing layered with incredible array of musicianship, from horns to banjo to lots of meaningful piano.

Get it while it’s white hot—you won’t regret it.

Kay Kay does No Diggity + more dance favorites

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Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground, a Seattle-based indie outfit birthed from members of the previously defunct Gatsby’s American Dream have been releasing a live digital album of covers. It’s called “Experimeducation” and features dancy, jazzy, multi-instrumental interpretations of ’80s and ’90s favorites like Hall and Oates, Mary J. Blige and Blackstreet. The band continues to add new tracks every chance they get and promise 12 in total:

– DARYL HALL AND JOHN OATES
– MARY J. BLIGE
– JANET JACKSON
– EVELYN “CHAMPAGNE” KING
– BLACKSTREET
– NU SHOOZ
– NEXT
– DAZZ BAND
– KENI BURKE
– TEENA MARIE
– SHEILA E.
– BOBBY BROWN

FAVORITE SO FAR:

“No Diggity featuring Katie Kate”

WHY?

A classic ’90s favorite, the original “No Diggity” was recorded by Blackstreet and featured Dr. Dre. It’s a classic R&B jam and is catchy to begin with. Kay Kay keeps its rendition as smooth jammin’ as ever, complete with snaps, claps, and horns. I can almost feel the freak dancing—er, grinding. (Can you say “Hey oh hey oh hey oh hey ohhh!”)

Katie Kate, an unsigned Seattle badass/wise-ass hip-hopper, has some slick laptop jams and a name fit for a Kay Kay collaboration. She rocks the rap interlude originally done by Dre with more flavor than Flava Flav.

kay kay

Godspeed You! Black Emperor concludes SF residency

Members of the "post-rock" group Godspeed You! Black Emperor played a 5 night residency at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall in between weekends performing at Southern California's Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.

Experiencing the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, it’s hard to tell where one song starts and another ends.

That’s why, shrouded in darkness except for the eery, vintage film reels projected above them, I barely realized the band had started its performance.

It was about 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18 at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall when violinist Sophie Trudeau started tuning her violin, and before anyone knew it, the remaining 7 bandmates trickled on stage one by one.

The band was playing a five night residency in between gigs at the two Coachella festival weekends in the Southern California desert.

Anyone lucky enough to get tickets to the five sold out shows at the Great American Music Hall was in for an intimate and visceral audiovisual encounter.

Fast forward 30 minutes and the crowd woke up, providing the first sounds of applause all night.

It’s almost impossible to classify the music created by three to four electric guitars, a cello, violin, drums and percussion.

But the best description I could come up with is that listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor is equivalent to taking a hair dryer to your ears while blasting Beethoven.

The musicians, with no lights on them through the entire performance, weaved in and out of 20-minute dramatic masterpieces, bending and bowing between the whispers of a single violin string and a cacophony of noise.
The noise was, at times, beautiful and melodic. At other times, it was ear-deafening and just plain frightening.
I felt like I was dreaming, until I woke up on a speeding train heading to nowhere.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, founded in 1994 but on hiatus between 2003 and 2010, derives its name from a 1976 Japanese documentary about a biker gang called The Black Emperors.
The members have a host of interesting side projects as well, including  Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La BandFly Pan AmHṚṢṬA,Esmerine, and Set Fire to Flames.
When a reviewer from Bay Area music blog Spinning Platters caught the band three nights in a row when the band was last in San Francisco in 2010, he had this to say:

Here were not the sunny glories of Sigur Rós, nor the numbing white noise of Mogwai; this was an experience that foretold the end of the world, the beginning of life, and everything in between, with eight musicians sounding like a symphony from worlds beyond.


Check out the SF WEEKLY review for another taste of an obscure, but poignant band.

For a taste of the madness, watch the clip below:

Who I’m excited to see at Outside Lands

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I marked the bands I'm most excited for in blue. The SF Outside Lands website lets you add your favorites to a custom lineup.

San Francisco summer music festival Outside Lands announced the 2012 lineup yesterday.

News has been whirling about the diversity of the headliners for this three-day fest full of music, food, wine and beer: Metallica, Stevie Wonder and Neil Young will be the top-billed performers August 10-12 when it all goes down in Golden Gate Park.

Jack White, Foo Fighters, Beck and Skrillex are close to follow on the lineup.

But for me, its all about the up and comers. The so-called “little guys” (who, these days, aren’t so little anymore).

The mid-sized acts I’m looking forward to: Sigur Ros, Justice, Bloc Party, Explosions in The Sky, Fun.

Beyond that, I’m always excited for Portugal. The Man, Wallpaper and Yacht, three longtime favorites that I’ve seen live before.

Of Monsters and Men, Two Gallants and Thee Oh Sees are also on my must-see list.

In past years, I’ve seen memorable performances from Radiohead, Tenacious D, Portugal. The Man, The National, The Mars Volta and more.

Since Eager Beaver tix sold out super early, I plan on getting mine (and my lady’s) Thursday at 12 PM PDT.

See you at Outside Lands!

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John Gourley, guitarist and frontman for Portugal. The Man at Outside Lands in 2009. (Photo by Daniel Ucko)

Plug into Digitalism

Feeling off? Disconnected? Offline?

Get online and plug in into the future with Digitalism.

They might as well be the German version of a certain French electronic duo called Daft Punk.

These guys offer a little more dance and a dose of surrealism to bring the sounds of virtual reality to your eardrums.

One listen to “Stratosphere”, the opening track on the group’s latest release, “I Love You Dude” and you’ll be saying “I’m in”,  like Flynn in TRON.

The Vibe: Shock therapy

Pair with: Video games

During road trip: Sounds great in a DeLorian

Why RX Bandits’ farewell is not goodbye

Rx Bandits said goodbye in San Francisco on August 7, 2011 at the band's farewell show. The Seal Beach, CA group announced breakup plans earlier in the summer.

It happens to the best of us.

We get tired.

And that’s how it appears the road-weary RX Bandits are after a decade of constant touring.

The Seal Beach, California group is known for its transformation (see: evolution) from a late ’90s ska band to a four-headed beast of a band playing spacey, prog-rock with reggae and Latin influences.

At the height of the group’s career, RX Bandits played a trio of shows in New York and San Francisco, devoting each night to a full album performance of the band’s last three: The Resignation, …And The Battle Begun and Mandala.

Then, a few months ago, the band said they’d be calling it quits.

After 16 years and 7 studio albums, Rx Bandits announced on its website the following:

“Dear friends,
We would like to express our love and appreciation for all that you’ve done for us and how much a part of our growth you have been. We have all mutually decided that this summer will be our last tour. We love each other and love you all and hope to see you at the shows.

Much love & respect,
Rx Bandits”

When I heard the news, I was shocked and saddened. I’ve been following these guys since I saw them open for Reel Big Fish at the Fillmore in San Francisco around 2004.

The political messages about peace, not war, call and response sing-a-longs, extended jam outs, frenetic guitar noodling and improvisational drum solos are just a few of the

———- that make the bands’ live show a true performance.

I made it out to two shows on the band’s farewell tour — The Catalyst in Santa Cruz on July 30, where Berkley’s Facing New York opened and the FINAL PERFORMANCE at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco August 7.

The Regency Ballroom was a the perfect opportunity for the band to bring out the big guns — a two-piece horn section to beef up older tracks. Both shows were packed, but the energy and emotion in San Francisco was over the top. Each cord resonated just a little extra for both the band and the crowd.

There were no goodbyes, just “I’ll miss you”s and the four members hugged, held hands and bowed at the end of a high-energy, two-hour set.

With a group of such talented musicians — Matt Embree’s powerful croons and free-flowing guitar licks, Steve Choi’s flying fingers on guitar and keys (and sometimes drums), Chris Tasgakis’ tight rhythms, and Joe Troy’s bass grooves — its apparent that the great music these guys play together will not cease.

The four core members have been playing together so long (more than a decade), they’re basically brothers. Choi insists in interviews that this is not the end of RXB, just the end of touring.

Not to mention, members of the group are distinctly connected to rising independent record label Sargent House, which they helped form in 2006.

Embree already plays solo as Love You Moon, and has started a new project called ME & LP, which is sounding oh so sweet.

Check out ME & LP – Bonnie Says (No Shitty Ride) below:

Embree and Tsagakis also have a Sound of Animals Fighting-esque project called Biceratops, and Tasagakis plays in a group called Technology.

Other projects from band members include Apotheke and Coke vs. Bill. The group’s involvement with Sargent House will keep them fresh as they continue to collaborate with bands like current touring partners Zechs Marquise.

Here’s to the end of an era…can’t wait to see what comes next.

  • (Editor’s note: It worked out pretty well for Gatsby’s American Dream, a popular Seattle indie band that broke up in 2006 and went on to form Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground, Wild Orchid Children, Search/Rescue, RedRedBlue, Keith Ledger, Zero Cool, Razia’s Shadow, Princess Dinosaur, Places and Numbers and TickTockMan)

VIDEOS FROM TWO OF RX BANDITS’ FINAL SHOWS:

RXB “Only For The Night” @ The Catalyst in Santa Cruz 7/30/11

RXB “Hidden Track” @ The Catalyst in Santa Cruz 7/30/11

RXB “Drum Solo” @ The Catalyst in Santa Cruz 7/30/11

Openers Facing New York play “Me and My Friendz” @ The Catalyst in Santa Cruz 7/30/11

There goes the neighborhood: LA Times’ Brand X says goodbye

Yet another news publication has bitten the dust.

Its not quite the headline-breaker like Rupert Murdoch‘s recent folding of the News of the World, the 168-year-old British tabloid that has received allegations for hacking into the cellphone of a murdered schoolgirl.

But, the free, LA Times-owned, weekly arts, entertainment and culture magazine known as Brand X has been a staple in the Los Angeles youth scene for a few years.

And by youth, I mean the twentysomething hipster population that has taken over spots like Silver Lake, Echo Park, Eagle Rock and West Hollywood.

Its strongpoints, at least to me, were extensive reporting on the rising Los Angeles craft beer movement and its coverage of the indie music scene.

There is, however, a silver lining. The Los Angeles Times Media Group also announced in a memo that it will be expanding its roster of community newspapers.

I interned at Brand X (formerly thisisbrandx.com, the site was taken down July 8th) when it was still Metromix Los Angeles (formerly la.metromix.com, folded into the Times, then morphed into Brand X). This was back in 2009 and was my first of three journalism internships after college.

I was really going to miss the weekly tabloid, as I’m moving (back) to the Bay Area in a few days.

But now, everyone will miss this fun and edgy guide to what’s what, who’s who and what’s happening in LA.

I’m sure it was only a matter of time.

Best of luck to Deb Vankin, Alexandra Le Tellier and the rest of the staff with their new roles at the Times.

More information check out LA Observed‘s coverage.

One of my first non school-related publications was on Metromix.com in 2009. The short blog contribution is below:

Published on Metromix.com in 2009.