PLAYING THE BAY: Psych Rockers Cellar Doors Take a Ride on Self-Titled Debut

COLUMNS|Playing The Bay
Cellar Doors play a show at Milk Bar, with projections by Mad Alchemy. Photo by Tyler Loring.

Hello Audiofemmes! I’m Sophia, your new Playing the Bay columnist. I am: native Berkeley garbage, a sweet-n-sour enthusiast, and a novice mosher. Got some good bands for me to check out? Let me know on Instagram @norcalgothic

My first listen of Cellar Doors’ self-titled LP started on a city bus ride home at ten pm, and I can’t help but think that was the perfect introduction. The album sat alongside the rumbles of the engine like an old friend, and as I got deeper into its opener, the velvety “City Girl,” the hum and coo of the bus slid into the song like a backing instrumental.

Some of my strongest ties to music have been created in moments of transition. A song will get me from block to block; an EP from neighborhood to neighborhood; an album from city to city. So it was only fitting that, sitting there on that hard plastic seat with my legs swung up on the rail, I felt Cellar Doors could certainly provide the proper soundtrack for this City Girl to drag her tired self from A to B.

Hailing from San Francisco, Cellar Doors are Sean Fitzsimmons, Miki Rogulj, and Jason Witz. Heavily influenced by ’60s and ’70s psychedelica, they make woozy rock with a modern edge. Like a lot of psych rock, Cellar Doors enjoy letting the sound win; frequently, the vocals weave in and out of layered instrumentals – most notably heard on “Prism,” where Fitzsimmons’s voice seems to sink into a quicksand of drums and cymbals. On “Sirens,” he pointedly implores us to “look around you/listen to the sound.” For me, this approach is most effective when they seem to really have something to say in return for our silence.

On “Frost,” the bridge sidles into what appears to be an electric string instrument solo. Not only does this bring some focus to a dreamy, disconnected song, it’s an example of what ties together the album’s best tracks: “City Girl,” “Silhouette,” the lovely “Heroine,” and album closer “Wild Heart.” They are the most lyrically focused (possibly about the same person), and as much as they lean into the good-natured muddle of shoegaze and playfulness of psych, they feel distinct and effective, especially with the addition of smart choices like the tinkling percussion on “Heroine.”

Looking at the cluster of adjectives I’ve used to describe this LP, I wouldn’t hesitate to say this is an album of ease. This is not in regard to what I’m sure was an exhaustive process of creation, but more so about the feeling of listening to the album itself. While the songs don’t move from one to the next imperceptibly – in fact, I believe some care was taken to let those seams show – they have a warmth reflected in the amber-tinted ambiance of the LP’s cover.

The cover snap is, serendipitously, of a hallway – another moment of transition. I feel this sense of movement in the band, as they work to find the balance between old influences and modern instinct, and I look forward to seeing what remains when their tired selves, too, make it all the way to point B.

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