Maggie Gently Delivers Very Gay Pop Punk Anthem “Hold My Hand”

With her 2020 EP Good Cry, Bay Area singer-songwriter Maggie Gently addressed and packed away some personal trauma. Healing is a never-ending process, but as evidenced with her brand new single “Hold My Hand,” from her forthcoming Refresh Records debut Peppermint, it was time to move forward.

“Even though there’s some dancey, pop-punk, happy songs on Good Cry, I think that the quality of them all is very sad. It’s dealing with a lot of pain in a bunch of different ways,” she tells Audiofemme over a recent phone call. “I was ready to expand from that moment and show a new part of myself. All this healing is there, and it’s still a part of me and it’s not going anywhere 一 but there’s also love.”

Flushed cheeks and heart-pounding adrenaline trembles throughout “Hold My Hand,” a scratchy indie track which she describes as “my queer crush version” of a pop-punk song. “It’s playful, but it’s serious,” she says, quickly noting she found inspiration from “a lot of lesbian romance novels. Drawing from the truth of all that stuff made this song feel really natural.”

“I’ll try to play it cool or tell the truth, if you want to/I’m not afraid to tell you everything I’m feeling now,” she confides in the song’s catchy chorus, every ounce of fear and doubt melting away like the determined protagonist of an early-aughts party movie “where it’s just this cinematic moment of you seeing your crush at the party, and then all of a sudden, you forget how to breathe and your heart rate goes up,” she describes. “I love living out that fantasy of, like, my band playing at prom night in that early 2000s movie.”

As her debut single for Refresh Records, also home to artists like Cuzco, Biitchseat, Hit Like a Girl, and Jimmy Lo Fi, “Hold My Hand” pops a lid on a new era. During the pandemic, Gently, formerly of the Total Bettys, came to befriend Lost + Found booking agent Kevin Briody, and they quickly began dreaming up what a tour would look and feel like upon her return. On September 30, Gently stepped back on the stage in San Francisco and was quickly reminded how much she loved the art of live performance. “It was such a blast to be able to play live again,” she beams.

Later, she was introduced to Refresh Records founder Josh Higgins, and the two clicked right away. “I heard really great things about the label, and the other bands on the label are totally cool,” she says. “There’s lots of great music coming out, even just this fall, so it was really a fun experience to link up with them and kind of dream and scheme what we wanted this release to look like.”

During the songwriting process, Gently returned to the bright, comforting music of her youth, allowing it to submerge her subconscious mind and thus influence the song’s own shiny casing. “It’s funny how it just seeps right in without you having to think about it,” she says. “With some things, obviously, I make a lot of conscious choices in my songwriting, but in this one, I knew how it was supposed to sound.”

The accompanying visual, self-produced with her girlfriend, was conceived entirely in quarantine. “It’s very homemade looking, but hopefully in a charming way,” she says with a laugh. “We did the best we could, and I used a green screen for part of it.” It culls fashion and motifs from ’90s MTV staples, like Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag;” aesthetically, Gently turned to bands like Slacker and Rocker and their “clowning around party kind of vibe,” as well as the fist-pumping volatility of Avril Lavigne and Sum-41. “I made it earlier on in the pandemic, so I didn’t have any anyone else in the video except for me. So I tried to get that ethos in without actually clowning around with my friends.”

Over lofty electric guitar riffs, Maggie Gently lives wild and free, allowing every awkward glance or unsure touch to invigorate her. “I’m asking you to dance or hold my hand, if you want to,” she sings, a declaration of unapologetic queer love.

“In this moment, I’m looking for queer love and queer romance everywhere. I love seeing the proof of it right now,” she says, before shouting out her current obsession with “Silk Chiffon” by MUNA and Phoebe Bridgers. “There’s something so special about witnessing this, and it still feels kind of special and rare. I really love the opportunity to give my own little spin on it and take this genre that I love and turn it into something gay. That feels very healing.”

“Hold My Hand” is as warm as happy tears on a cheek, the mist of emotion that leaps from some deep, dark well inside your being. It’s authentically Maggie Gently, even as she springs into the glistening sunshine to leave her sorrow back in the shadows. In her willingness to break free, her songwriting has considerably blossomed.

“There’s always this question in my mind: Is it okay to write songs that just feel good and are just cathartic?’ I’m not reinventing how to play guitar. I’m not coming up with a melody that no one’s heard before,” she explains. “But if it feels special and authentic and true to me, is that enough? That’s been the back and forth that I have in my mind, especially when I write more similar melodic songs that feel good. But I know I’m not pushing the boundaries of indie rock.”

“I think [I’ve] come to terms with that and have realized, internally, that it’s okay to write music that just feels true,” she continues. “That’s the most important thing to me rather than something that’s really unexpected or really artful. It’s hard to get to that place.”

Follow Maggie Gently on Twitter and Instagram for ongoing updates.

SPELLLING is a Conduit of the Divine on Orchestral Pop Concept LP The Turning Wheel

Photo Credit: Aidan Jung

“It’s never just a love song.”

So says Chrystia Cabral, the Bay Area-based creative lifeblood behind the critically acclaimed experimental pop project SPELLLING, of what drives her songwriting. “I’m always striving to insert these spiritual questions because that’s what fascinates me to make music,” she adds. On June 25, she released her third full-length album, The Turning Wheel, via Sacred Bones.

Known for her sparse, synth-based musical aesthetic and repetitive, incantatory lyrical style, her quest for spiritual growth has informed her artistic style all the way down to the SPELLLING moniker itself. “I really love theater,” she continues. “The idea of theater, ancient Greek theater, and muses, and all that drama. I’m so into that, I really romanticize it. It goes into my project as SPELLLING, and ideas of rights and rituals and bringing that through the music.”

Thematically, the record deals primarily with “human unity, the future, divine love and the enigmatic ups and downs of being part of this carnival called life.” The title itself evokes the concept of karma, or what Cabral refers to as “the life cycle, and just accepting that reality is this constant transformation.” She had this in mind when she made the intentional creative choice to release the album as a double LP,  split down the middle into stark, separate halves that serve to emulate this constant cosmic balance: “Above” and “Below.”

While Below rests on the dark and eerie tone SPELLLING is best known for, Above takes us to another dimension of Cabral’s artistry with warm, jubilant acoustic elements and pleasantly surprising, ballad-like lyricism. “When does reality stop circulating around itself? When do we reach this angelic state?” she asks, before continuing: “The Above and Below part makes sense with the mood of the songs, but also to communicate the idea of circulation, transformation, odyssey.” 

The elegant collection of twelve songs builds on the bewitching synth-based sound she’s consistently refined since 2017’s Pantheon of Me, evolving in terms of lyrical complexity, sonic richness and conceptual depth. Born largely of the past year spent in isolation, these shifts all serve to signal the exponential potential of Cabral’s creative capabilities. The pandemic forced her to abandon an ambitious September 2020 release date, frustrating in the moment but ultimately a blessing in disguise for how it allowed her the time to grow artistically and transform her demos into layered narratives. “I was forced to listen deeper, and I really focused on lyric writing, and I think that’s been the greatest transformation from my previous work,” she explains. “All the songs on this record are pretty long, over three to four minutes – there’s even a seven minute song. I didn’t ever think I would be writing music this way.” 

While the introspection of lockdown surely contributed to this lyrical growth, Cabral had begun to experiment in her writing for other reasons as well. When I point out the theatrical, choral expansiveness of tracks like “Always” or “Turning Wheel” on the Above half, she reveals that she wasn’t so sure about including some of these tracks on the record, so different they were from her previous work. “That song was written in mind for someone else. I was starting to experiment – I love songwriting, and what about later in my career, what if I wanted to write for other people? Over the summer, alongside working on The Turning Wheel, I was writing songs for other people, like hypothetical other people,” she says. “I started writing ‘Always,’ and I’m like, okay, this is not something I would sing, but I just went with it, and then I got so attached to it, and I was like, well, who else is gonna sing it? I have to.”

She explains that when she writes, she imagines the song as the soundtrack to a scene in a movie. “I try to not get in the way of what the song wants to do, and not insert myself. It helps me to start to create a story in my mind,” she says. “With ‘Turning Wheel,’ the first note I [struck] on the piano, it definitely felt like it was striking something kind of musical, like The Sound of Music or something like that. I just ran with that and that song ended up being about the urge to escape, like leaving the city and living away from all the concerns and demands of living in the city.”

In addition to growing in her songwriting, Cabral took on the ambitious and unprecedented challenge of collaborating with an ensemble of 31 musicians, which helped to build the album’s orchestral hugeness. The resulting record defies categorization. It combines elements of her unique influences, ranging from soul to psych to pop to noise. Ultimately they coalesce into something else, an eclectic auditory adventure that seems to channel the divine. Having written her previous two records almost entirely on her own with just a synth, this fell way outside her creative comfort zone. “Personally I’m a really introverted person, so this process took a lot of courage. It was a big challenge for my personality,” she shares. She notes with humor the irony of taking on such a task right as this period of isolation began, and reveals that the additional challenge of having to conduct so many of these collaborations remotely over Zoom was both a blessing and a curse. 

“It was a lot of back and forth, and that became so hard, where I was like okay, I don’t know if this is gonna happen the way that I envisioned it, which was this ‘in the moment’ kind of thing where we can all be together and improvise, so I had to let go of that and just work with this new mode,” she explains. Ultimately, though, “it kind of played to my strengths where I could work with people more one on one instead of this huge orchestration of people in the same room together, so I’m really happy with how that came together,” she says. 

As she begins the preparations for a live show to accompany the songs, she is exploring how to play with interpretive movement and conceptual art as a way to deepen the thematic experience, citing fellow Sacred Bones artist Jenny Hval as a specific inspiration. Incorporating this exploration of conceptual art into both the live show and the structural organization of the album itself adds another layer of beauty to an already beautiful record, surprising in the depths of its complexity. But then again, with SPELLLING, it’s never just a love song.

Follow SPELLLING on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Mae Powell Savors Sensory Joys with “Scratch n Sniff” Premiere

Photo Credit: Grant Cluff

It already appears that summer 2021 will be unlike any that came before, in terms of the surreality of what we’ve experienced in the last year, the joy that it’s finally over, and the underlying anxiety of when the other shoe might drop. With that arises the need for appropriate new tunes, which is where Bay Area singer-songwriter Mae Powell comes in. Today she premieres the video for new track “Scratch n Sniff” on Audiofemme, off her debut album Both Ways Brighter, out August 20 on Park The Van Records.

Produced by Jason Kick (Mild High Club, Sonny and the Sunsets), the sunny acoustic indie folk evokes the feeling of someone like an Ingrid Michaelson, but updated for a more uncertain era, a little more akin to an Indigo De Souza. She wrote it when an ex sent her an unusual care package on a trip to visit her father in North Carolina a few years ago. “We were being pen pals, even though I was only gone for a week and a half, but we were just obsessed with each other,” she explains. “I think some people would probably [think] this is weird, but part of it was a piece of paper, and he had little circles on it and was like, this is my spit, this is my blood, this is my hair, this is a kiss. Literally had put pieces of himself on this paper.” It reminded her of scratch and sniff stickers, and the entirety of their relationship revealed to her the intimacy of analog communication. “Any time we were apart we would send each other postcards and shit, and it just felt like a piece of that person, because you’re like, oh you touched it! So even though it’s been in a bunch of hands since then, it’s still different than a text or a call or whatever.”

The song feels like the honeymoon phase of a relationship, but tempers it with a very current unease and the need to remain present, a certain brand of cautious optimism. “Clinging to the thought of unattachment because I know that everything will change/But clinging to the thought is still clinging to something/The way that works is strange,” Powell sings. She says this was intentional, that the album is as much about anxiety as it is about love.

“Normally when I play shows, I’m like oh my God, I’m putting everybody to sleep, because there’s a lot more slow songs, or I’ll write about anxiety. And sometimes when you’re at a show you’re like, do I want to hear songs about anxiety right now?” she says. “It’s the start of the second half of the record, and I feel like there’s a lot of contemplation and heavy themes and airing out the dirty laundry, and then you flip the record and it’s like okay, we’re happy! It’s chill! You have to have those moments of joy.”

What really sets it apart is the video itself, an animated short from Santa Barbara-based artist Emily Hoang. It’s all smiling celestial bodies and bright colors and flowers; the lens through which Powell observes her environment is somehow cute but not saccharine. The same way you can judge a book by its cover, you can judge Powell’s music by its visual elements, which adds an extra layer of thoughtfulness and intentionality to the whole package. “I don’t want it to just be an auditory experience, the visuals are super important to me,” she explains, “and I feel like I have a vision of rainbows and cute shit.” It coalesces to transport you further into Powell’s world, where the sun shines and mindfulness mutes anxiety about the future. 

Mae Powell plans to continue to experiment with animation on future videos, something she contemplates as she prepares for the album’s August release. After expanding her three-piece band to a five-piece, including a lap steel guitarist and a keyboard player, she’s preparing for her first show in eighteen months this Saturday, June 26 at the Red Museum in Sacramento. Besides that, she’s just easing herself into the new normal and “trying to figure it all out.”

All in all, she’s just excited for people to finally listen to these songs, a compilation of one-off tracks she wrote and refined over a period of years until she felt she had enough material for a cohesive whole. “Now it’s been two and a half years of the recording release process, plus the year since I wrote the songs, so it feels like old news to me, but I forget that most people have not heard these songs,” she says. “Things change when you share them with people, and I’m excited to have them exist in a world that’s not just like, in my head, or whatever.” Based purely off this small taste, it doesn’t seem like that’s such a bad place to be.

Follow Mae Powell on Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Bay Area Neo-Soul Artist Simha Examines Imposter Syndrome on New Single “Losing Focus”

Photo Credit: Holy Smoke Photography

Growing up in the musical melting pot of the Bay Area, neo-soul singer-songwriter Simha gained an ear for both western and eastern musical influences. He seamlessly weaves elements of the Indian classical music of his heritage with jazz and soul sounds, the result being a lush, ethereal vehicle through which he expresses his emotions. He premieres single “Losing Focus” on Audiofemme today.

The song deals with the idea of “imposter syndrome,” a term that’s entered the popular lexicon to loosely mean doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. Simha says that for himself, it manifested as “feeling like doing music was not really something I was good at.” Collaborating with others in the past has helped keep that feeling at bay, but the pandemic forced him to adapt, to look inward and write alone. Though his imposter syndrome initially saddled him with a bad case of writer’s block, “Losing Focus” helped him dig out of it.

“I ended up writing the whole song by myself, and it was a lot of just sitting with myself, and trying to be as honest with myself as possible,” he says. “I still deal with it…but I think now rather than it being, ‘Oh no, this isn’t good enough, no one’s gonna like this,’ it’s more leaning into it and just saying, well maybe the fact that I feel insecure about this might change something about the way I write, or create something new in the music that might capture a different feeling for me.”

And it worked! The solitary time helped Simha to dig into his roots in Indian classical music in a way he hadn’t before, inviting his mother to play the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument, on the track. Simha’s mother had enrolled him in Indian classical music classes as a child and practiced with him at home, but collaborating together as two adults was a new experience for them both. “Being able to recreate that experience [of making music with my mother] was really important for me, because it pulled me back to the idea that music isn’t just work for me, it’s fun for me, you know? It’s something that really grounds me to my heritage,” he explains. “We were charting new territory together, and it was really fun, because I think she also discovered new things about herself when it came to her creative process and her expression, just this new thing she’s never done before. It was really insightful and really a beautiful process.”

The result is profoundly unique. The tabla rhythms weave in with jazz and soul sounds, all layered under Simha’s smooth vocals and deeply personal lyrics. A lifelong fan of jazz, soul, and neo-soul, he lists Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Lianne La Havas and Erykah Badu as major influences. They all shine through, but spliced with Simha’s beautifully intentional cultural injections it becomes something all his own. 

He’s working on an EP to hopefully drop late in the summer, and seeking opportunities to perform outside under remaining COVID restrictions. As a queer artist of color, he says that the “biggest thing for me on this EP, that drives it, is mental health, and specifically mental health awareness for queer BIPOC in the music industry.” The EP will emphasize these themes, and while he works on it, he’s collaborating with artist Emma Timberlea Brown (who designs his cover artwork as well) and an organization he started with some friends called The Humxn Collective to drop a merch line where 50% of proceeds will go to an organization that connects queer BIPOC creators with therapists in their own communities. “I’m really excited about that because the biggest thing I really want to do with this project is give back to the community that has basically raised me,” he says. “For the longest time, if it wasn’t for this community, I would be so lost. The influences I get, the support that I get, is really through how tight-knit this community is. I can’t stress that enough, and I’m really grateful for it.”

There’s no doubt that Simha’s community plays a role in quashing that pesky imposter syndrome by allowing him to see the beauty he is capable of offering to the world. He notes that “there’s so much amazing art that has come out during this time, which has been inspired by so many different things, so it’s really beautiful.” Simha’s art was part of this, and even if he doesn’t always see it, it matters.

Follow Simha on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Jill Tracy Offers Sonic Archive of Spending 2020 At Home on A Medicine for Madness

Photo Credit: Jill Tracy

Often, Jill Tracy’s music is rooted in a place. For half-a-decade, she has performed at the annual festival Flower Piano in Golden Gate Park’s San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her concerts, known as “sonic séances” would take place amongst the Redwoods, where Tracy would, in some pieces, channel lunar frequencies. The San Francisco-based artist also made three trips to Lily Dale, a Spiritualist community in New York, to record forthcoming album The Secret Music of Lily Dale.

While spending 2020 mostly at home, Tracy (whom you may have heard recently on NPR’s show “Hearts of Space“) recorded and released three EPs and one single. In December, she re-released the work as the compilation A Medicine for Madness: The 2020 Collection. This time around, the recordings had less to do with the specific location and more to do with specific moments throughout a challenging year.

Tracy opened for both Peter Murphy and Bauhaus in 2019, and was planning to release The Secret Music of Lily Dale in 2020, with a tour to follow an album release show in the hamlet. That changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. “I was like everyone,” Tracy says by phone of her life last March. She worried about loss of work and about a disease that was still a relative mystery. “I was going out to get the mail and putting gloves on,” she recalls. “We were just all in a panic.” Her piano, though, provided solace. She recorded herself in the spring of 2020 with no intention of releasing it. 

Tracy had made the music to soothe herself, but as she noticed other artists sharing their creative projects online, she opted to release the personal compositions. “There was a unity, where we felt that we were all in this boat together,” she says. “Although I had never recorded anything in my apartment, and didn’t really know exactly how I would do this, I just felt that the pressure was suddenly off and no one was expecting anything slick and professionally produced.” Tracy released four instrumental pieces in June as Evocations of the Moon: Piano Spells in Lunar Frequencies to Align, Soothe and Restore

It was the first time she put forth an entirely instrumental release, something she continued to do throughout the year. “It just seemed like to add a vocal or write lyrics was unnecessary, that I didn’t need to supply a narrative because everyone out there was going through something profound and devastating, frightening, life-changing, and they all had their own stories,” she explains. “They were living it, so I didn’t need to tell them how to feel.” 

Jill Tracy performing amongst the redwoods. (Photo Credit: David Allen)

A two-song EP, Seclusion 22/Whispers Behind the Glass, followed in July and reflected the summer at home. “I think we all felt like it was just a short term lockdown and we were doing our duty as citizens to help others to not spread this deadly virus,” she says. By summer, though, it was clear that the pandemic would continue to rage and we would continue to maintain social distance. Tracy says her main social activities offline were running her errands. She would get dressed up for the grocery store and the post office, her mask becoming a “fun accessory” to wear out on the town. But, as the pandemic continued, there was a lot of fear and feelings of isolation, which she channeled into her music. 

Then, wildfires hit California. “On top of a pandemic where you’re not supposed to be outside, we were told not to go outside because you couldn’t breathe the air,” Tracy says. On September 9, she woke up to darkness, although it was late in the morning. “I looked out the window, and the sky was this crazy deep charcoal tangerine color,” she recalls, “just like any apocalyptic, sci-fi movie that you’ve ever seen, but worse, because it was real and it was happening all over.”  It was also eerily quiet; the sound of birds that Tracy normally heard was gone. “I suddenly got terrified and I thought, what has happened?” she remembers. 

She started playing music and recording it. “It was it was a direct emotional archiving, when I did this work,” says Tracy. “I just hit record and I played, so you’re getting this direct transference of emotion.” This resulted in three pieces – “The Morning With No Sun,” “Where the Birds Hide” and “Lament in a Blood Orange Sky” – that comprise The Dark Day EP. 

To close out the year, Tracy recorded one more piece, “Elegy for a Solitary Year,” which is a lament for both lives lost and lives changed. “I wanted to do a piece, not only for the deaths that occurred, but the death of our old selves,” says Tracy, “because of everything that all of us have endured and lost – businesses and finances and just a sense of community and our dreams, our plans for the year.” In the lament, though, there’s hope. In a follow-up email, Tracy noted that the music is also reflective of the revelations that 2020 brought – and the opportunity to “reinvent an entirely new path.”

Follow Jill Tracy on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

July Debuts with Delicate, 60s-Inspired Self-Titled LP

july band kate sweeney
july band kate sweeney

San Francisco’s Kate Sweeney has returned with a new LP after a period of brief hibernation from indie folk band Magic Magic Roses. This time, she emerges with a new moniker, July, but a similar attitude.

The self-titled LP is the epitome of dreamy and delicate with its no-caps titles and bare-bones production. The LP could have slipped into bedroom-pop twee real fast, but Sweeney, who has been releasing music since 2010, brings a maturity to the tracks that are apparent in her vocals most of all. DIY can be great, of course, but sometimes, the music can succumb to the aesthetic. Sweeney, thankfully, knows when to hold back — which, in an album like this, is most of the time — and when to let the cracks show.

The EP starts out strong with “twenty one,” one of the more guitar-heavy songs. The lyrics are simple but effective; “turn on the music/just dance through it” is the main refrain of the chorus. Untethered from the song, some of the most prominent lyrics can seem rather vague, but all strung together and supported by a waterfall early-70s style guitar riff, they manage to paint an effective picture. Purposeful simplicity is the key to July’s success — it’s all been carefully crafted, lending the LP some needed sophistication despite its homemade construction. Though its simplicity may stem from quarantine’s restraints, I have a feeling this was still, largely, the sort of album Sweeney wanted to make.

Track four, “mountains of time,’ is irrevocably sweet, a testament to the positive influence of a partner or friend. “Sometimes when I look at you I think I’m the lucky one/sometimes I think I blew it,” Sweeney sings. “I have wasted so much time/I have wasted mountains of time.” It is by far the most effective song on the album, braiding Sweeney’s thoughtful voice with some equally delicate guitar work. The plaintive lyrics really shine here, employing some summer-of-love style esoterica in a way that does not seem so steeped in the past that it is more of a creative exercise than an album. Overall, July avoids this pitfall, but some the the later songs on the album fall into vagueness, especially when contrasted with “mountains” and “twenty one.”

“lalala,” as its title suggests, is somewhat of a ramble, with no real chorus except the title refrain. What passes for the verses is strong — reflections on a long-term relationship — but the song is too short to sustain impact when the chorus sounds like a demo for which Sweeney forgot to write lyrics. It’s still pleasant, but definitely sounds like it’s missing something with such noncommittal syllables standing acting as placeholder where there could’ve been more depth.

“young” feels a bit meandering as well, mainly due to some chant-like repetition of Sweeney’s favored nature metaphors: “when we were young we were so green/fields, flowers and tall trees” is one of many. It pulls itself together in the middle, however, by putting that repetition to better use with “when we were young we could begin and begin and begin.” It’s a haunting, spell-like refrain, but the rest of it is a little too funereal.

And yet, everything that didn’t work in “young” works on album closer, “set it down,” another flower-circle folk chant. This one really leans in by dropping most of the extensive metaphors and adding in some layered vocals to lead us out on this: “soon the flowers will grow and spread/and cover over everything.”

Overall, the album deserves more than one listen to catch Sweeney’s careful vocal inflections and touching lyrics, and even the songs that didn’t resonate as much for me are still consistent in style and tone. Whether you are a vintage folk aficionado or not, something this soft and reverent is a great lead in to these incoming dark days, when we may need a little reminder of July.

Nketiah Creates a Lush Electronic Soundscape with Mauve


I have to say it: I do not like long albums. If an album goes over twelve tracks, the synapses of my brain will cross and I will be lost in an impenetrable fog. I’ll probably start the album late or end it early upon repeated listens, depending on which half I liked more, and live out the rest of my days in denial that I was, initially, presented with a magnum opus. Long albums have a weight shorter ones do not. It feels indulgent to me, like putting whipped cream and chocolate chips and sprinkles on the pie.

Yet, there are exceptions to every rule. Soundtracks or instrumental albums, in particular, do not have the ability to emotionally or sonically overload me before we get past forty-ish minutes. Mauve, the new electronica album from mysterious San Francisco musician Nketiah, is not only long (fourteen tracks) but hefty, with the majority of the tracks clocking over four minutes. This would be a death sentence for a pop or punk album (or a pop punk album) but on Mauve, it feels lush and earned.

It feels lush because of the distinctive soundscape it creates — close to a movie soundtrack, but not quite (it’s a little too discordant in parts). Like listening to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” or Daft Punk’s soundtrack to 2010’s TRON: Legacy (arguably the warmest and most human aspect of that entire film) there are burst of familiar flavor here, but Nketiah avoids feeling like a retread. Mauve is complex enough to send you places, and some of those places you have certainly been before. Over the course of the fourteen tracks, I was in the future, where an android speaks to me in staccato busts (“Drinks”); I was in the present, where the almost-forgotten experience of party ambiance becomes song (“Aura”); and I was in the past, imagining what the blue, opera-singing alien from semi-trashy sci-fi classic The Fifth Element listens to in her free time (“Open”).

The human voice is largely percussive on Mauve, but not in a beat-box way. It’s not the backbone of the tracks, but just as important and impactful as any other sound, except perhaps on “Shade II” which features snatches of discernible conversation that have largely not been tinkered with.
The most impressive uses of percussive voice are in “Bunk” and “Newform.” The former even uses one of my favorite music tropes: pretending like the song is going to end on some sort of dampened, single buzz of a note before bringing all the noise back at once. It’s the Phil Spector Wall of Sound, if Phil Spector was an immortal android who wished he had a human face. “Newform” is much longer, combining Stranger Things synth-y coldness with moments of warmth that come from a delicate, fuzzed-out effect and choral-like layered vocals that, if you weren’t expecting them, can give some real chills.

It’s not all dark smoky room stuff here, however — the watery fish-tank energy of “Midrain” ends abruptly for the lead-in to “Womp,” which overall sounds like a classical composer who had a little too much E. It’s truly an odd aside for the album, which normally slides from one track to the next more subtly. It’s not unforgivably jarring, however — the Nketiah touch does not particularly like to single out any one sound, and “Womp” is no exception. For another example, the very end of “Balance” reminded me of a ’90s dial-up noise, but I had to think on it for a bit until I was able to clock the memory. Nketiah knows that the impact here comes not from the sounds themselves, but from weaving and stitching them together into some semblance of a whole, one where you can barely see the frays and snags. And the ones you can see — well, there’s still something to be said for the fallibility of a human touch.

Veteran San Francisco Songwriter Floyd Finally Embraces Pop With “Sorry Sorry Boy”

Photo Credit: Renee Jahnke

San Francisco-based alt-pop artist Floyd spent her childhood dressing up like Cyndi Lauper, bouncing around her bedroom with a hairbrush in hand daydreaming of her own flight into rock stardom. Her latest single “Sorry Sorry Boy” has the playful, upbeat attitude of her ’80s idol, with some ’90s flair mixed in. It’s easy to envision Julia Stiles, à la 10 Things I Hate About You, stomping off to the strum of Floyd’s guitar, leaving Heath Ledger confused on the bleacher steps.

“It’s actually hard to write a pop song,” Floyd says. “It’s not as easy as people may think it is. It’s a real craft I would say, it’s a real skill.” It’s a skill she’s been honing throughout her career, shifting like a chameleon with each new band or project. A change of clothing, a new haircut, and some matching chords have allowed her to weave around genres, bending them beneath her fingertips in a variety of projects that even includes a pop country album.

Violin was Floyd’s first musical iteration; she played at her school’s orchestra program in Olympia, Washington, about sixty miles south of Seattle. In junior high school “the hormones hit,” as Floyd says. “I got really heavy into pop music, dumped the violin, picked up guitar, picked up piano, started writing songs. From that, I went into grunge. I just kind of followed the trends because great music is great music, it doesn’t matter what genre it is.” The nearby Seattle music scene provided inspiration from bands like Bikini Kill, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden, as well as style notes. “You couldn’t go to Nordstrom and pick up combat boots. I literally drove to a military base and got my combat boots,” she remembers.

After high school, she packed up and went south to San Francisco, which has been home base ever since. Her first band was a folk duo (think Indigo Girls) called Windowpanes that played in some of the city’s most famous defunct clubs like Hotel Utah and the Red Devil Lounge.  A newspaper clipping from back then touted the band’s biggest get: “Newcomers Windowpanes opens the show.” The headliner was Train. Even though the band was decidedly folk, Floyd mixed it up with a short, box dye black hair. Playing with style and genre came naturally to her and quickly became an important (and fun) aspect of her craft.

“It’s just this really weird mix,” Floyd says, thinking back on the different kinds of music she’s made over time. “And that’s kind of followed me around for all these years because people are like ‘We wanna know who you are. What genre are you?’ Music’s a business; if people can’t figure out how to categorize you, then they don’t know what to do with you. That hurts on some levels, but now with the age of the Internet it doesn’t seem to matter so much because people’s palettes are a lot more eclectic and there’s a lot more opportunity for people to be exposed to all different styles.”

Floyd’s life hasn’t been all music. She got her undergrad in psychology, her graduate degree in applied psychology. Knowledge outside her art is something important to her.. “I learned how to integrate my art into my broader life,” she explains. “I didn’t want to be one of those musicians that I was for a while, where life’s always disappointing you somehow because you didn’t make it as a big rock star. That was a lesson that took some time to learn, for sure. When I meet other artists that are younger than me, when I kinda feel that vibe, I’m like ‘You know what, life is awesome and there are so many wonderful things beyond music. Figure out how to integrate the artist in you into your life so you’re not missing out on all these other awesome things life has to offer.'”

“Sorry Sorry Boy” took fifteen years to finish, beginning as a quick riff she wrote in the back of a cab in 2004. All her recent songs, including her most recent single release “Shine,” were songs she had sitting around on her iPhone. “I’m a terrible finisher of songs,”she admits. Floyd, as a project, got off the ground after she met producer Ed Clare at a songwriting conference three years ago. Along with producer Georgann Ireland, they sifted through her back catalog and pulled out the gems that would make up project “Lucky Number 7” as Floyd calls it. During the writing process, she quickly realized that with this set of songs she was going to go all pop, with no shame and full swagger.

“I think I went through the thing a lot of musicians go through where you’re like ‘Well, if it’s pop you don’t have anything intelligent to say.’ You know what I mean? ‘That’s dumb.’ ‘That’s cheesy.’ ‘If you’re doing pop music then clearly you’re not a talented artist. You’re not legit.’ I definitely went through a bit of that. I’ve changed my ways and grown up quite a bit since then,” she says with a grin. “Sorry Sorry Boy” doesn’t hold back: it’s full of delightful ’90s retro nods, from Floyd’s playful “woos” to lyrics that drip with Lisa Loeb level sarcasm.

“Hey baby tell me can you hear me?/I think it’s time for me to speak/Baby I’m out of patience/You say high maintenance/but I can barely breathe,” she sings against a steady, but decidedly real, drumbeat. Recorded pre-COVID, it benefits from live in-studio instrumentation, something Floyd purposely sought out. “That was an intentional choice on my part because I wanted to be really true to musicianship and rock and real instruments,” she explains. “We actually booked [musicians] out for the two days for the recording. I wanted a real drummer – I didn’t want to use synth drums. I wanted a real guitar player, all of that. That’s a very different thing. You need an actual studio, not a bedroom. You’re not gonna be able to do that in your little room, right?

Intentionality is something she’s focused on right now, making sure everything she puts out has guts, attitude, and positivity. “Life is such a gift. I want to challenge myself to write about things that will inspire others. To write about things that are positive,” she says. She’s determined to be more selective, to take her time with writing because “it matters to me how my art makes people feel. I don’t want to use cliche rhymes. I want to come up with new things. There’s only a few key universal themes; how do you stick within those themes but say it differently and still get the point across?”

It’s a trick writing good pop music – the hook that sticks with you, transports you into a mood, a vibe, a hair flip. “One thing I’ve learned is that if you keep hearing something over and over and over again, regardless of what the world thinks: You gotta do it,” Floyd says. “It’s authentic if you are.”

Follow Floyd on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates. 

Trimmo’s Experimental Electronica Manages both Warmth and Resonance on twin sister LP

Photo via @trimmo_garden on Instagram

Photo via @trimmo_garden on Instagram

DIY and electronica have always gone hand-in-hand. With only a computer and some music software, you can create tracks from basically nothing; you don’t need a good voice, and you don’t need to be good at playing an instrument. But here’s the thing – regular musicians don’t need that shit either. Crap electronica and good electronica are subjective, and therefore eminently debatable, but in some ways, the sloppier you are without the padding of lyrics or vocal stylings, the more likely people will be able to point at all your rough bits and laugh.

I am not really a “chill” music person, both in the personality sense and in the genre one, and generally will gravitate toward discordance and noise. Yet I still know that good electronica that manages to be contained — even repetitive —without being boring is worth its weight in gold.

This is how I feel about San Francisco’s Trimmo and their new LP release, twin sister. The album is a strange entity in many ways. Labeled “gothstep” by its creator, Sean McFarlane, there is something very pasted together about it, with its blurry, inconsequential cover photo “of daniel,” its stalwart reluctance to embrace logical spelling or track naming structure, and a deeply unsettling choice to name track seven “twin sisters” while the album title is the singular. Was this an accident? I doubt it, because in all good, seemingly random things, the chaos is coordinated.

The collage-like tactics on twin sister almost make my head hurt – thousands of hours of sounds and possibilities, the simple random chance of things coming together. “hunt you liek doggie” is the opening track, and also my favorite of the lot. If there was a way to condense the feeling of a long drive home with friends into a song, this would be it. There are vocals here, but they have been looped into a melodious, mantra-like hum that compliments both the acoustic guitar loop and a deeply-felt heartbeat sound that could recreate panic as easily as it could joy.

Overall, the album leans into a more subdued — though not morose — vibe, with the exceptions of “pis,” and “anime guuuurl” which both have moments of thorny roughness that cut through the arrangements like snags in your sweater. Both are songs you really have to be in the mood for, the former sounding like a drugged out 90’s dial-up tone  and the latter a hyperpop song that got ground through the garbage disposal a few too many times.

Trimmo knows how to make a memorable impression even without leaning into roughness. I appreciate the attention paid here to acoustic instruments, which show up in most of the songs as major players; track two, “JUNE24 LIVES IN INFAMYYY” is backed by piano, while the kinda-title track, “twin sister” has a very homey addition of that warm wa-wa guitar sound. “queeen” relies on a syrupy, surfy riff that crashes headlong into a heavy drop of distorted piano and cymbals on “te pwincess,” which immediately follows – given their names, the two tracks seem deliberately paired, even if they feel distinct. The last two songs round out the project nicely – “dri drip (bonus)” is super synth-heavy, and the final track, “not a song” is, of course, the most distinctly traditional track, with soft, largely indiscernible vocals over doubled guitar.

Fundamentally, twin sister is mutable, in its best moments able to take soft, dampened sounds and make them resonant, both emotionally and musically. It’s DIY, it’s experimental, it was surely made (or at least completed in quarantine), and even with the warmth and tenability afforded by Trimmo’s mindful, tender treatment of acoustic instruments, has its rightful place in electronica.

Follow Trimmo on Instagram for updates. 

Y2K Kitsch and Bedroom Rap Bravado Meet on Debut Brujita EP Cyber Angel

@akabrujita on Twitter

@akabrujita on Twitter
@akabrujita on Twitter

While doing my preliminary research for this article, I double checked the meaning of the word “Brujita.” In Spanish, “Bruja” means witch, but a few websites suggested that “brujita” (“little witch”) can also be a term of endearment, like calling someone a scamp.

This is cute, but it’s also unsurprising that condemnation and affection come as two sides of the same coin for a word most frequently associated with the feminine. While a full etymology of the word “witch” in various cultures would necessitate a thesaurus-sized dissertation, for San Francisco’s Brujita, it is an undeniably fitting moniker.

Call it duality, call it contradiction, or call it the devil and (cyber) angel sitting on Brujita’s shoulders pushing around the pen while they write lyrics, but their first EP, Cyber Angel, is at turns bratty and sweet, harsh and soft. This is most pronounced in “come thru” and “vibez.” The latter is one of the EP’s strongest songs, kicking in hard after ten seconds with a beat that sounds like a toy xylophone got drunk at the club in 2007.

Y2k pastiche is a big pop trend right now, and one that is palpable in Cyber Angel, but without some of the single-minded obsession that can make it tiresome. Influences bounce around the EP with beats pulling from various eras: the backbeat on “better than me” sounds like the theme music for a 2010s keystroke game, while its opening line — as spoken by a Siri-like automated voice — makes me feel warm and fuzzy remembering when feeding curse words to text-to-speak programs was the height of comedy. The instrumental of “come thru,” however, would fit comfortably over a scene of intense eye contact in an ’80s romantic drama, which, strangely enough, works for Brujita’s softer side. While “vibez” is a harsh dressing down of a hookup who foolishly wants more, “come thru” is all yearning, a catalog of all the things you say when you don’t really care any longer about sounding desperate. “I just want the best for you and maybe that could be me,” Brujita almost-whispers on the latter. And yet, I couldn’t say I would be surprised if these two songs were written about the same person.

“Duality! Ouroboros!” I yell with my headphones on blast. And it’s the truth; everyone is someone’s second choice, even Brujita. But you’ve got to appreciate the bombast that permeates the majority of the EP. “get glad!” starts with a paraphrased version of a Kim Kardashian rant, replacing “maybe if you had a fucking business” with “maybe if you were mayor.” “Oh my god Mayor Brujita how do you do it?” Brujita raps later in the song. Brujita is creating a personal folklore here, from the concept of running a town of the “baddest villagers” to the self-aggrandizing and sexual bravado on track three, “better than me.”

Gassing yourself up is paramount to pop and hip-hop, so it makes sense for Brujita to do it here, but it makes even more sense taking in to account their appreciation for the hyper-feminine internet aesthetic and their identity as a non-binary womxn. Carving out space for yourself in music while identifying outside of the gender binary necessitates some bravado, but it’s easy to forget the bravery that lives beneath that.

Brujita doesn’t want you to get to caught up in singular notions of  beauty or identity. “Just back it up,” they sing on the EP’s bonus track, “back it up!” “It doesn’t matter what you look like…I’m a lil’ tubby bitch and imma still back it up!” Brujita will make space for themselves, whether on the dance floor, in the town square, or in the heart of an unsuspecting booty call. Little witches, take note.   

Follow Brujita on Twitter for ongoing updates.

Maggie Gently Unpacks the Pain of a Dissolving Friendship with Good Cry EP

Photo by Amayah Media

Photo by Amayah Media
Photo Credit: Amayah Media

“In a little while, there’ll be nothing left for me to unpack,” sings San Francisco’s Maggie Gently on her new EP, Good Cry. Created during the various phases of a friendship dissolution, Gently isn’t trying to convince others that closure is imminent, so much as she’s trying to convince herself, as she works her way through the EP’s five tracks.

In many ways, the EP feels less like five distinct songs and more like a long, rambling letter. This isn’t inherently an issue — I’ve readily expressed my appreciation for concept/single-subject works before — but it does make the best tracks stand out all the more clearly, while pushing the others further into the background.

The lyrics are quite vague — perhaps purposefully so — to the point that you would likely assume Gently was speaking about a former partner as opposed to to a friend. It has been repeated many times over that friendship breakups can be as painful as romantic ones, but such statements are frequently delivered with a sly question mark at the end. Is it really true? Can someone who never called you their romantic partner enact the same hurt as someone who did?

Of course they can, but that voice of doubt is more likely to come from within ourselves as opposed to outside doubters, fueled by the unfortunate concept that any soul-deep pain that doesn’t involve a significant other is not deserving of any real attention.

Why can’t you just get over it?

Gently, in this EP, does not seem to want to, but has taken her wallowing and turned it into something tangible, maybe even cathartic — good advice if I’ve ever heard it. “I always said it would all be worth it/if I could matter to just one person,” Gently sings on EP opener “Every Night,” offering one of the best and most profound examples of Good Cry’s straightforward lyrical style. “Run Away” gives us a bit of a respite from the indie-pop ease of the other tracks, with a folky intro where Gently lets her voice go soft as she sings, “When I wake up I check my breathing/I know that I’m ok without you.” About halfway through, the song makes a jump to rock, even as Gently keeps her voice largely even. While I wish she would really let loose on moments like this, the guitar backing is expressive enough to keep the emotions feeling big. “I used to have so much/and now I’ve got none/and I’m hungry,” she sings on “Normal,” one of those EP’s best tracks and, tellingly, one of the few with a distinct glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel.

Occasionally, Gently sacrifices meaning for simplicity, like on EP closer, “Tranquility,” where she asks, “I don’t know if I deserve to feel any better, but I’ll still get serious/Take a look at my resume and cover letter — do I have any experience?” The first minute of the song sounds like it would fit nicely over a montage scene in a mid-2000s rom com a lá 13 Going on 30 (another work that, fundamentally, is about friendship), with a mid-tempo rhythm that sets the listener up nicely for a high-energy finish. It never arrives – not exactly – as Gently leads us out on an unrealized wish: “I wish I’d take a break/from circling round inside of my head again.” It’s so telling that she ends on that word, again. Gently knows it’s not over, at least not in her head — so here we go, repeat button, repeat album, repeat brain.

Despite the fact that Gently never makes the nature of the central relationship explicit in the lyrics, it feels like a disservice to suggest that this EP should be used as universal catharsis for someone in the throes of relational loss. While in other circumstances I would be the first person to say that art is interpretive, blah blah blah, I feel like the context here is essential. It comes down to this: the more accepting we are of the impact of non-romantic friendships on our self-perception, the closer we will get to dissolving those question marks we assign to our own pain — and the closer we will get to burning that letter.

Follow Maggie Gently on Facebook for ongoing updates.

The Bay, Black Lives Matter, and Bandcamp: Local Resources and Ways to Help


Hey Bay Area,

It’s been a rough week. It’s also been, hopefully, a first step in a greater reckoning regarding racial justice, discrimination, and police brutality in America. Black people are suffering even as they are mobilizing, speaking out despite years of attempted silencing, and working their way through each day, the best that they can.

The Bay Area, as always, will play a crucial role in the future of this movement. As much as the Bay celebrates a rich history of political activism, Black music, and Black culture, on the other side of that coin is a painful history of white supremacy and violence against Black bodies.

There are many different ways to contribute to this movement, and a myriad of resources to help you do so. There is no such thing as a definitive list, but here are some local resources to help you get started (or continue) your support.

Support Black artists with Bandcamp

Bandcamp is, once again, waiving its share of sales on June 5th to help artists impacted by COVID-19. Support local Black artists buy buying their music and merch. Also, a lot of artists and labels are preparing special releases for the 5th, with the proceeds going to organizations supporting racial justice. Bandcamp has compiled a list of those here. Also, there’s a big chance a lot of your favorite bands are donating their proceeds from the day. Check their socials for confirmation, and get yourself a t-shirt.

Want to spread the word about your favorite Black Bay Area musicians? Make a playlist of Bandcamp bops using this cool website. There are currently a lot of playlists featuring exclusively Black Bandcamp artists on there if you are on the hunt for new music. Unfortunately, the website does not currently have a native search function, so keep an eye on the “Newly featured” section.

Finally, mark your calendars: on June 19th, and every June 19th hereafter, Bandcamp is donating all of their cut to the NAACP legal defense fund.

Here are some cool local musicians to support June 5th,  June 19th, and every day:

Fantastic Negrito

Oakland native Fantastic Negrito makes funky, soul-influenced rock. His upcoming album title asks the same question we’ve all been asking ourselves every day since quarantine started: Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?

Wizard Apprentice

With a delicate voice layered over stripped-down, variant techno beats, Wizard Apprentice makes intimate music about universally difficult subjects.

Tia Nomore

“i just record when i can and write all the time,” states Tia Nomore’s descriptor, a sentiment which can’t fully encapsulate the self-assuredness of her straightforward raps with a 2000’s throwback vibe.

Kidd AM

Kidd AM is a recent Bay resident, but her commitment to examining the ways that her hometown of Clinton, Louisiana has shaped her musical style can be appreciated by anyone who knows what its like to love, hate, and everything-in-between the complex and brilliant Bay area.


Despite a period of musical silence, SF rapper A-1 is has been slowly moving back into releasing new work, including this excellent single he started working on after the murder of Philando Castile in 2016, but didn’t make public — until now.

Support local organizations working towards racial justice & rebuilding

Check out these organizations working to dismantle oppressive power structures, empower their communities, and spread education and awareness.

Anti-Police Terror Project — Community support, legal referral, police reform/eradication

Bay Area Anti-Repression Committee — education, bail funds

Black Earth Farms — food distribution, food education

Masterdoc of Oakland business who are requesting support — various needs

NLG – Bay Area Chapter — legal defense and support for protesters

People’s Breakfast Oakland — homeless support, food distribution, bail funds

People’s Community Medics — free basic first-aid workshops

Internal work, external change

People who are not Black have a responsibility to their communities — and to themselves — to work towards dismantling white supremacy. There are so many different ways to do this. Work to find the best way for yourself.

Black Lives Matter. Stay safe, and take care of yourselves.

SOAR Leans on Friendship as Foundation for New LP soft dial tone

SOAR by erik oseto

SOAR by erik oseto
Photo Credit: Erik Oseto

The latest album from San Francisco’s SOAR, soft dial tone, is very interested in texture. Sonic texture for sure, like the gentle feedback whine that marks the opening of the album. It took me a while to realize what it reminded me of. When I finally figured it out, I was presented with a very different animal: “Rory Shield,” the opening song from Sorority Noise’s 2014 album Forgettable.

Not that these are the only two songs on earth to start out with feedback, but I think my brain created this word cloud connection because both songs let the noise become part of the song itself, not just to dirty up the tinny smoothness of a studio recording, but to offer a moment of band-geek satisfaction at using the bad noise as the good noise.

The opener of soft dial tone is called “comfort,” but the song is less about finding the thing itself than it is about starting a journey to avoid becoming too reliant on the feeling. “Get out of comfort/welcome to the dirt” sings the band, their voices slipping in and out and in between one another like an ouroboros.

This vocal weaving can be heard through the majority of the LP, and appears to be quite intentional; in the album’s somewhat opaque Bandcamp commentary, the band notes that each member (guitarists Shannon Bodrogi and Jenna Marx, drummer Rebecca Redman, and bassist Mai Oseto) “contributes at least one song to soft dial tone.” Like Carrie Bradshaw, I Couldn’t Help But Wonder: did each member write lyrics of at least one song, or did they independently bring them to fruition with only finishing touches done by the whole band?

“There are common threads that connect each person in SOAR,” the description continues. Going off the album alone, a major connective thread would seem to be a intimate relationship with nature: its easy transition to metaphor, its restorative qualities, and, as mentioned above, its texture.

Nature allows for pain as equally as it does pleasure on soft dial tone. In “corner of a room,” they sing “flat on my back like a stepping stone” before circling back to dirt on the next track, (aptly named “just dirt”) where they wish it upon someone like a poison: “words are just words/dirt is just dirt/but I really hope you eat it.”

“shark skin” is the longest song on the record, and feels very much like its thematic heart. Like “comfort,” the song starts on a note of feedback, but it’s dragged though the background of the track like the wake from a motorboat. Every time it resurfaces, your brain struggles to figure out what it’s hearing, especially when the whole band joins in for supporting vocals that become indiscriminate from the tone itself.

Nature becomes restorative again in “made of gold” which ends on a chant of “paint a statue/put it in a bright room/paint it golden/I feel golden.” This is one of the album’s best moments, where the simpatico of the members — whether musical, personal, or both —  shines though like the sun they speak of.

“ghost” is also an album highlight, with short, poetic bursts that stand out even on a first listen: “bigger than the full moon, you/eat around the parts that bruise,” one of the members sing-songs at the end of the first verse. This metaphor carried me through the rest of the song, which somehow manages to be both intimate and ambiguous, a touching three minutes about feeling like an impermanent fixture in someone’s life. In fact, it carried me through the rest of the album, as the metaphors in the last few songs didn’t land with the same effectiveness.

This isn’t to say the LP loses its grip towards the end; soft dial tone remains consistent throughout, and the delicate layering of the vocals is one that only comes with true collaboration. It’s clear that SOAR is made up of people who recognize their inherent  dissonances, those pesky ones that still exist despite the tight weave of long-term friendships. But if they can make an entire album with this firmly in mind, it’s something we shouldn’t forget as we listen, when even our neighbors seem so far away as to paint the world with impossibility. Perhaps your more ambitious quarantine creative plans aren’t as untenable as you think. Perhaps your friends aren’t as far away as they feel.

Hang in there, ya’ll.

Little Shrine Teases New LP with Premiere of “Sound Barrier” Single

Photo Credit: Ginger Fierstein

Jade Shipman used to be in several Bay Area rock bands, though never as the main songwriter. But after going through a difficult period involving a divorce and the loss of several people she loved, she funneled her emotions into songwriting – and now, as the leader of Little Shrine (featuring guitarist Tony Schoenberg, violinist Ryan Avery, drummer Andrew Griffin, and keyboardist Garrett Warshaw) she’s returned with a sophomore album that showcases those heartfelt songs.

“They were tender and sensitive, definitely not rock songs, and it pissed me off, actually,” she remembers. “I don’t like sharing that side of myself unless I’ve built trust with someone. Yet I felt this weird sense of responsibility to the songs, almost like they were little kids that needed to be cared for. I felt like it was my job to shepherd them somehow, and that I’d regret it if I didn’t.” Following 2017 LP Wilderness, Little Shrine will release The Good Thing About Time on April 17.

The album features the single “Sound Barrier,” which is about “that moment where you realize you have to get out of a situation,” says Shipman. She wrote it after a partner of hers decided to get a pastry and “chill” at a coffee shop instead of meeting her at the hospital when she was sick.

“This song is essentially me saying no to the relationship,” she explains. “Maybe that’s why the chorus repeats three times at the end. Like no, no, and no again. Do I have to yell it? Because I totally will.” The quick tempo and happy-go-lucky tune add humor to the dark situation described in lyrics like, “Each month zooms, we push faster still / The speed of it makes me ill / I pull the eject, your anger reflects, confirming expectations.”

The rest of the album addresses issues that are both personal to Shipman and common to many women, like “I’m a Ghost,” which tackles the toll of emotional labor, and “Lost Potential,” which is about Shipman’s abusive father and how, “as women, we have to worry about pleasing a man to stay alive,” she explains. “To grow up like that, it takes a big toll. That fear of someone bigger and stronger than you, it’s very visceral,” she says. “I spent a lot of time trying to be small and not anger him. I felt like a piece of paper, trying to flatten myself against a wall. It’s taken a lot of work to make myself 3D again. I’m still working on it.”

She describes “Come On,” another song on the album, as a piece about pushing against the limitations described in those songs. “I almost didn’t put it on the record because I felt it sounded bratty to sing that ‘I want what I want, and I don’t want to say I’m sorry,'” she says. “When I was talking about it with our producer Ben Bernstein, we discussed how a man would probably not hesitate. So I thought, let’s do it. It turns out it’s one of the most fun and freeing songs to perform live, especially as a full five-piece band with Garrett Warshaw on keys and Andrew Griffin on drums. I feel alive and unselfconscious, which is a real antidote to the fear I felt growing up.”

Shipman sings in an almost conversational manner that invites the listener into her inner world, and the music combines standard rock instrumentals with violin, which gives it a folk vibe. All in all, she hopes her music inspires “liberation, people freeing themselves from their patterns and other people’s crap, and really anything that holds them back.”

She’s currently spending her days “singing to the cat” and getting inspired on walks through an empty San Francisco. “The city’s landmarks, like the Palace of Fine Arts or the paths leading to the Golden Gate Bridge, look incredibly different with zero people,” she says. “There’s a surreal vibe, but in a way, the emptiness is a sign of love. Some of that feeling might make it into a song.”

Follow Little Shrine on Facebook for ongoing updates.

White Night Expand the Meaning of “Home” with INGO Remix

On “Home,” the new remixed single from electro-pop duo White Night, there’s a chime-like synth pattern and haunting vocal loops that swell over a percussive drumbeat. It’s classic indie electronica—and in some ways, not a sound that most people would associate with Seattle. Yet, White Night’s singer and violist, Elizabeth Boardman grew up right here in the Emerald City—this is where her musical journey began, and upon deeper listening, you can hear it.

Boardman remembers her parents playing everything from Nirvana to opera around the house, and at just three, she says she “begged” to start piano lessons. “I remember, from a very early age, taking comfort in the distraction and creative wholeness felt in sitting at the piano and improvising your own little songs,” she says. “I started playing viola when I was eight and as soon as I was old enough to join the Seattle Youth Symphony orchestra program, I fell in love with the sweeping romance and drama of composers like Tchaikovsky and Sibelius.”

After completing Garfield High School, Boardman moved to London to study viola performance at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and then later completed her Masters of Music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. It was there Boardman met German-born Willi Leinen, a Classical Guitar student, and the two began dating and making music together.

“Both of us had composed a bit on our own and Willi had been in a couple bands, where as I had only dabbled a little in pop songwriting before we started working together,” said Boardman. “But we both had that creative itch that was a relief to scratch amidst the stiffness and stress of our classical studies.”

Initially, Boardman and Leinen were only able to collaborate virtually, sending musical ideas to each other over the internet, since Leinen had moved back to Berlin and Boardman was still in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Our first songs were put together across the ocean,” said Boardman. “We had our first radio airtime on a German radio station, [and] we hadn’t even played the music in the same room together. We’d only done it long distance.”

Boardman then moved in with Leinen in Berlin, partly to be closer to a major epicenter for classical and electronic music, and to take advantage of the city’s affordable living and vibrant culture. Since, the two have continued to hone the alternative synth-pop of White Night, drawing both on the mood of the Pacific Northwest and the electronic scene in Berlin.

For instance, on the title track from their 2018 debut album, Golden Heart, there’s the sweeping drama of Pacific Northwest scenery adorned with cinematic textures, strings, and a music video featuring many shots from the San Juan Islands. Musically, the track could sit alongside the music of Pacific Northwest indie-folk artists like Damien Jurado, Fleet Foxes, and Noah Gundersen. Meanwhile, another single on Golden Heart, “Money,” has more distinct Euro-pop flavor. A techno dance beat underpins as Boardman speak-sings, “Fancy cars/fancy clothes/what is real/what is fake/Money makes it yours to take.”

This newly-released version of “Home” is the best of both worlds. Originally appearing on Golden Heart, remix duties were handled by their friend, German drummer Hanns Eisler, who goes by INGO. The intoxicating momentum and precision in production ties the track to the vibrant electronic music scene in Berlin. At the same time, there’s also a good dose of the raw authenticity and quirkiness of the Seattle indie folk sound; “Home” brings to mind Northwest-bred Benjamin Gibbard’s work in Postal Service, as well as ODESZA and Feist.

Lyrically, the song explores what “Home” is and there’s a moody tension that swells throughout the track—almost as if the singer is in two places at once. “The song is about the concept of one’s ‘home’ being a collection of memories and nostalgic feelings which are untainted by time. Relationships, individuals, environments and circumstances are constantly evolving, appearing, and disappearing as one goes through life. Home is what we hold still in our minds and in our hearts,” explains Boardman.

The release of this single marks a new period for White Night, who have toured much with Golden Heart throughout Germany and the West Coast of the U.S. since last year. Right now, they are looking forward to writing a new EP, continuing to teach classical music from their home studio in Berlin, and eventually, to getting back out on the road.

“We are very excited to keep songwriting and hone our genre and style before we plan any bigger tours,” said Boardman. “For now, we are back to the songwriting grind-stone!”

Follow White Night on Facebook for ongoing updates.

REVIEW: Lizzo Speaks Her Truth at Final Stop of Cuz I Love You Too Tour

Lizzo press photo by Luke Gilford, courtesy of Atlantic Records.

Midway through the final show of the Cuz I Love You Too tour, Lizzo let the crowd know where she stands on the drama surrounding the iconic line on “Truth Hurts.” From her purple pulpit with golden robes a-flowing, our patron saint of self-love was not mincing words. “Recently I’ve been getting a lot of letters…from past fuckboys.” She then offered any future fools a warning: “Thou shalt not fuck with Lizzo because thou shalt come back two years later, bitch.”

“Truth Hurts” is a resounding hit and has been a huge part of the massive momentum behind Lizzo’s rising star – enough to sell out the first leg of the tour supporting her most recent LP, Cuz I Love You, and extend it two more months, wrapping up at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Sunday. But with this success comes some dispute. Everyone wants their cut of “Truth Hurts,” whether they deserve it or not.

Like a game of telephone, the tale of the traveling lyrics – “I just did a DNA test / Turns out I’m 100% that bitch” – crosses international waters, through singers and producers, reminding us once again that women, especially black women, have to fight hardest for what is rightfully theirs. Lizzo recently gave a writing credit and rightful compensation to British songwriter Mina Lioness, who initially tweeted the line in 2017 (in response to an embarrassing tweet from Demi Lovato claiming her 1% African DNA) and Lioness says that she and Lizzo are on good terms.

Litigation continues between Lizzo and three white male producers – whose names I really don’t feel like giving any more attention to, but OF COURSE two of them are named Justin – and they are demanding 20% of the song’s profits. They claim that the demo Lizzo recorded in their studio, “Healthy” which includes the DNA line, is something they created together, and they deserve writing/producing credit. There’s no doubt that intellectual property and artists’ creative rights matter and are legally, rightfully protected. Today’s collabs though, continue to blur these boundaries. When sharing, sampling, curating is everywhere, where is the line? Well, the line here is money, and the Justins want some.

Lyrics are important and fundamental to the songs we love and remember. 100%. But you know what else is important? Delivery. Ask anyone who’s ever been to karaoke night or watched The Voice. The Justins of the world can keep trying to steal her shine, but right now on this planet, there is no human being delivering more starpower and talent than one Melissa Vivianne Jefferson. All 8,500 of us at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium felt that love on the tour’s final stop. Even for San Francisco, the crowd was noticeably diverse. Humans of all kinds came to worship at the church of Lizzo and we were not disappointed.

Backed by DJ Sophia Eris and her dancers, the Big Grrls, the vibe was loose and playful. The last show of a long, blockbuster tour, their bodies gave us every bit of talent left in the tank. The bedazzled Patron bottle made an extended appearance as did, of course, the glorious diva Sasha Flute. Warming us up with “Heaven Help Me” and “Worship Me,” breaking our hearts with “Cuz I Love You,” and setting some hella clear boundaries with “Exactly How I Feel” and “Jerome,” Lizzo came prepared with her biggest hits. On “Like A Girl,” she added new lyrics, extending the self-acceptance even further: “If you feel like a girl then you real like a girl – if you feel like a boy then you real like a boy – if you feel like neither then, bitch, do you! Do you, period. PERIOD. Do your thing and run the whole damn world.”

She wrapped up the party with her record-breaking bangers “Truth Hurts,” “Good As Hell,” and “Juice,” coming down into the crowd to get closer to us. There were moments where she would pause and catch her breath, visibly soaking it all in, alone on stage in between songs, her brown eyes earnest and open, big smile beaming. It’s been one hell of a ride for this band geek and classically trained flautist from Minneapolis. Six years since self-releasing her first album, Lizzo has arrived and she is just getting started.

Between last-show hugs and tequila shots, she left us with clear goals for 2020: “You know what I realize, at the time when I was dealing with these people, with these fuckboys? I thought I was the problem, I thought it was me. But I’m here right now to let you know – I don’t know who needs to hear this message – it’s not you, bitch. It’s not you. It’s them. You are 100 PERCENT that bitch. We are no longer dealing with fuckboys in 2020, ok? No fuckboys, no fuckgirls, no fuckthems, no fucktheys. We are free from the fuckery, Amen?” To which all 8,500 of her new best friends agreed: AMEN.

PLAYING THE BAY: Nu Normol Embrace Lo-Fi Sass on no love songs EP

nu normal new ep

Listening to San Francisco band Nu Normol’s new EP, no love songs, is akin to having a cassette tape slipped through your mail slot. Peel away the Scotch tape and recycled wrapping paper and you’ll know: you’ve been visited by the spirit of DIY rock n’ roll, conveyed in a conveniently-sized rectangle complete with Wite-Out flowers and nail polish petals.

no love songs by NU NORMOL

Album opener “don’t cry to me” is the stubborn little sibling to the EP’s title, the “I’m serious this time!” foot-stomp after everyone else rolls their eyes. It was only after repeated listens that I realized what it reminded me of — the Donna’s self-titled debut from 1997, where chanting choruses, gleeful cursing, and crackly, distorted vocals were part of the record’s lo-fi charm. All of that gum-chewing, eye-rolling attitude is still there on no love songs, but with a welcome heap of poeticism and lyrical sophistication that comes from having narrowly escaped adolescence. There’s a price to pay/don’t forget, the band reminds the song’s self-indulgent subject, flicking their crocodile tears right back at them like little glittering beads with each chorus.

The EP vacillates interestingly between tones; “warrior for hire” sounds like a 70’s war protest song with its soldier’s march riff, while “manhole” is the sort of song you find yourself muttering as you do chores around the house. The band, which includes new drummer Shavi Blake (replacing EP drummer John Kolisnekow) and punk band veterans Lizzy P. and Alice Choe on lead guitar and bass, respectively — sings it with a hypnotic, detached quality, the almost sole lyric  not gonna give you my love anymore — repeating itself into oblivion, like when you say a word so many times it loses meaning.

“don’t wanna go home” is a standout, the bratty beginning jumping into a cover of The Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B,” thoroughly enjoyable in this new iteration of woman-fronted grungy rock. And in a surprising heel-turn to folk, “little black hole” closes the EP on a sweet note, albeit with some cutting lines (is my sensitivity threatening?). As the only song written by Alice Choe (all others were written by in collaboration with EP recorder and mixer Lizzy P.), it’s no surprise that it’s also the little black sheep, but Nu Normal’s willingness to jump from genre to genre shows a band looking to expand and experiment.

Follow Nu Normol on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING THE BAY: Sleepover Balances Musical Influences on New Self-Titled EP

sleepover sf new ep

The self-titled debut EP from Bay Area band Sleepover starts with the kind of intro you would expect to hear on a Best of the ’50s compilation album. Take me with you, begs lead singer Pakayla Biehn on the cheekily-named “Lullabye,” the instrumentals slowly racking up in intensity before diving into a snarling pit of punky menace.

This is the general sentiment of the EP, which is a fun mix of ’90s grunge, ’70s rock songstress, and modern punk (with a little do-wop thrown in). The ’70s influence is felt most strongly on “No Place Like Home,” which makes a “California Dreamin’” reference within the first thirty seconds before slowly building to a killer chord progression that makes me feel like I should be at a tailgate party wearing corded bellbottoms, burning my nose in the sun.

EP closer “Let Me Go” sees me at an impasse — on one hand, it pours some ice water on unrelenting high intensity since the latter half of “Lullabye,” but on the other, the repetitive chorus is a little too much of a Jefferson Airplane throwback to end the EP as strongly as “Lullabye” opened it.

Would have died a hundred times/to trade her fate for mine, sings Biehn on “Let Me,” a evocative line with the kind of specificity I wish was embraced more throughout the song. Not that receptiveness is automatic anathema — it’s quite effective on “No Place,” especially in the second half, where Biehn’s vocal stylings are supported by yet another great riff, as well as the loopy, yellow-brick-road associations with the song title itself.

The dreamlike quality and soft/rough vocals of Biehn — who, incidentally, I think could make some serious magic with Thank You Come Again’s Izzie Clark — are quite effective and appealing overall, especially when she keeps her feet firmly on the ground, allowing her to go toe-to-toe with the EP’s crunchier moments. A great example of this is when she cries you can’t go back again on “No Place,” her voice ever so slightly distorted before the song moves to highlight the riff. Clearly, the band has good instincts when it comes to mixing together their variety of inspirations and influences — but I do think they are the most successful when one does not overpower the others.

The band — Biehn, Gabrielle Tigan on rhythm guitar, Lauren Diem on lead guitar, Cindy Yep on Bass, and Jack Douglas on drums — tagged themselves on Bandcamp as “dreamgrunge,” which might seem like a bit of an oxymoron. However, what is a dream other than distortion and discordance, two paramounts of grunge? Either way, Sleepover knows what they are about, even if there are a few kinks left to iron out.

Check out the band’s Instagram for updates.

PLAYING THE BAY: Sour Widows Want You In On Their Townie Vibes

photo by Lynn Torres

Sour Widows are here to educate the big-city people on the art of slowing down. “[Our music] has this lackadaisical, small-town vibe to it” says Maia Sinaiko, singer and guitarist for the three-piece Bay Area band. This can certainly be said of “Tommy,” the preview single for their new EP, which invites the listener to meander between the warbling vocals of Maia and fellow bandmate Susanna Thomson. Their two voices almost break as the song reaches its punky crescendo and plunges into the sort of brokenhearted entreaty that precedes a post-breakup hair-dying montage: Are you gonna be the one I think of?

I had the pleasure of speaking to the whole band last week to get some insights on the new song, their Bay Area roots, and what’s next for Sour Widows.

I had to ask about the band name, of course. “It’s a weed strain,” Susanna tells me with a laugh. “We just thought it sounded really punk.” But as is the power of most throwaway jokes, it stuck, and now they love it. “We’ve like, matured into it,” she says, though I still sense a smile in her voice.

This theme of “maturing into things” comes up often, from performance style to lyric creation to cultural history. Having started out as just “two guitars and two voices,” according to Maia, the band has already lived a few different musical lives. Now, they have the welcome challenge of thinking about lyrics and guitars as the initial building blocks rather than the finished project. Even the oldest songs on the EP, created long before the addition of drummer Max Edelman, have gone through enough of an evolution that Maia can confidently say “they are Sour Widows songs now.” Two of the songs Maia wrote were conceived more than a year ago, and when I ask what it’s like to perform them now, they say the songs feel “less specific to a time and place in my life and more like an emotional journey.”

The band chose “Tommy” to preview the EP for similar reasons. While they were looking to release a top-down roadtrippin’ song with “gooey summer vibes,” they also felt that “Tommy” perfectly encapsulated what they were trying to accomplish overall; music that was intimate without feeling restrictive; cathartic, but still contained. “Bedroom rock,” they call it. “It’s a nod to the kind of intimacy that we like to write about,” says Susanna. “Bedroom could mean sleepy, it could mean dreamy… it could mean weepy, too, like you go to your bedroom to cry [laughs] or just to feel alone…I think it kinda captures a lot of the emotional parts of the music well.”

The three friends have known each other for years, something they think makes them stand out when performing. “There’s a long-term, loving, townie vibe that you experience on stage when we play together…and it feels really good when people notice that,” says Susanna, inspiring a surprised laugh from Maia at the use of “townie.” All three of them cite their experiences growing up away from the central Bay Area cities as having been integral to the development of the musical styles. Whether they grew up fully outside the Bay, like Susanna, or in a Bay suburb, like Max, their experiences creating music without a lot of outside influence allowed them to marinate within the relative quiet of their respective adolescent lives, planting the seeds of that bedroom rock intimacy that shows up during the first half of “Tommy.” Max especially expresses an appreciation for this isolation as enabling him to figure out what he wanted to hear and play in his own time. And while Maia says that after a year of performing, they are starting to feel less like like outsiders to the Bay Area music scene, it’s clear to me that the band has no plans to altogether abandon the softness that brought them together in the first place. On stage, they occasionally find themselves slipping into that quieter place, even if it’s not apparent on the outside. “It’s kind of like we’re in our bedrooms, like, jamming together,” Max says.

Their ease with one another is apparent in the photos they host on their Facebook page, a series of sunny snaps of the band embracing, all three sporting bright eyeshadow. Maia, discussing the band’s relationship with the word “queer,” cites how the band presents themselves aesthetically as an important facet of their connection with that identity, from choosing photographers to tour mates. “I think it really is important to me that people know we are a band that includes that identity and represents that identity, and it’s made a big impact on what bands we feel conformable playing with how we organize our tours,” they elaborate. “I think it’s allowed us to connect with a really amazing network of people in the Bay and also across the country… it’s helped us feel safe and secure in a different way.”

The band is clearly energized when talking about the future, excited to build upon their touring relationship, looking to put some of that collective performance energy into more collaborative lyrics and arrangements. Max hints at lots of new material that was influenced by the tour, where they got a chance to “[see] where the scene’s at, what we wanna do, what we don’t wanna do.” The other two echo this sentiment emphatically. It can be hard to create with friends, much less tour with them, but the fact that Sour Widows only gain more creative drive as a result of their friendship is a heartening testament to their love and respect for one another – not only as musical collaborators, but as human beings.

Sour Widow’s next single, “Pilot Light,” premieres September 13th, with a release show the day after. Later this month, catch them with Hot Flash Heat Wave and Jasper Bones at The New Parish in Oakland on August 30th.


press photo by Dave McMahon

San Francisco’s The Y Axes latest album No Waves addresses anxiety – both personal and existential – with humor, nostalgic synths, and the kind of emo spirit any ’90s kid can respect. The band has a strong a visual component to its live performances, and we get to see some of that in a surreal new video for one of the album’s standout tracks, the wistful but energetic “Moon.”

In the video, bandmates Alexi Belchere (vocals), Devin Nelson (guitar / vocals), Jack Sundquist (bass), and Paul Conroy (drums) dream of leaving earth and watching it from afar, though they spend most of the time in bed, with subtle projections lighting up their faces. Belchere’s voice penetrates the darkness, her lyrics “I wish I was born a planet / Or a comet / Just me alone with the moon and space” matching time with the driving beat. She’s searching for absolution in obliteration, a shift in perspective that makes the drama on earth seem small and insignificant. Though she grapples with angsty feelings, the video – and the music – stay pretty light-hearted, breaking the fourth wall by its end to pan out on an epic pillow fight, the perfect release of all that internal struggle.

Watch our exclusive stream of “Moon” and read our interview with the band below.

AF: Alexi, you and Devin met at San Francisco State University over a decade ago. The Y Axes still live and work out of San Francisco. How has the city changed over the years?

ALEXI: The city’s changed completely into a San Francisco-style theme park. Superfically, it’s all there, with the Castro, Upper Haight, and Mission districts still standing, but behind every door you’ll find a pour-over cafe with neatly sanded reclaimed wood counters, and in front of that door is a homeless person in a sleeping bag curled up in a ball who can’t go inside for a glass of water.

Musically, we can always count on new bands forming every year. I can go to an awesome show every night, and I feel like the sense of community in the SF music scene is stronger than ever. Maybe it’s because the cost to live here is so high that if you’re making music you either put your whole self into it or you quit, so the musicians that are here are fiercely connected through that shared experience.

AF: How has the band’s music changed during that time?

DEVIN: Though the production quality has increased dramatically from album to album I think the core thesis of the music has remained the same. We have always strived to make fun cool pop music with a little bit of a hidden progressive edge but I think we’ve managed to refine the presentation.

AF: Y’all carry yourselves as a band with a sense of humor. How does that translate to your onstage personas? What can a fan expect from a live performance?

DEVIN: We are a band of awkward weirdos and our stage persona is a band of awkward weirdos powered up by music. We try very hard to simulate the quality of our recordings in a live setting while still bringing the energy. We love playing and I think that translates pretty well to what we do on stage. Also we have cool projections that add a visual component!

ALEXI: I feel like individually we can be silly but as a band we don’t have much of a sense of humor, but because of that we’re like all each other’s straight man. I tend to tell some quick stories in between songs if I need to stall for time, and life is so ridiculous that they can feel like jokes. “This song is about feeling so crushed by the weight of the world you can’t get off the floor” usually gets a laugh. Maybe it’s because there’s something knee-jerk funny about talking about that kind of stuff.

AF: Can you tell us a bit about the themes on your recent album No Waves?

ALEXI: A lot of No Waves focuses on looking inward in response to outward struggles. Songs like “The Gap in Between,” “Another Timeline,” and “Empty Space” are about anxiety and self-doubt. Songs like “How We Begin,” “One of Us,” and “Nevertheless” are about coming to terms with the horrors of the world around us – honestly, they’re contemplations about coming to terms with my own privilege, how on an individual level I must use it to amplify and lift others up.

AF: What is your favorite part about performing as a band?

ALEXI: I feel truly honored to play with such talented and passionate musicians. On stage, I can’t help but get absorbed in what everyone else is doing – watching Devin do a solo or thrashing around, watching Jack simultaneously grooving and headbanging, and watching Paul nail a particular fill, it always gets me pumped. My favorite thing about performing personally is connecting with people as they sing the lyrics back- that’s a dream come true for me.

AF: How do you see The Y Axes evolving in five years? Are there any goals you have as a band or projects you’re dying to work on someday?

DEVIN: I think the main goal at the moment is to expand our touring. We would love to play in places besides the west coast but haven’t reached the point where we can afford to just yet. Maybe we will blow up or maybe the economy will shift to better support art so we can quit our day jobs. Regardless we are committed to making stuff happen on this front!

7/31 – San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Shop
8/02 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza
8/03 – Portland, OR @ Kelly’s Olympian

PLAYING THE BAY: Thank You Come Again Find Potential in Contrast On Debut EP

The debut EP  from San Francisco-based band Thank You Come Again occupies an interesting space between old-school rock n’ roll and something newer and more intimate. EP opener “Creature” starts us off with a grungy guitar riff that takes its time burrowing into one ear before the rest of the instrumentals join in. A few seconds later vocalist and guitarist Izzie Clark enters, delivering her lines with the  gentleness of someone singing a bedtime song. I’ll love you till the end of time, she assures. But I’m feelin’ off today.

“Creature” is my favorite song off the EP, with a soaring chorus that takes full advantage of Clark’s throaty voice. Her strength as a vocalist comes from her ability to make key lines feel distinct, small moments of storytelling that create layers even within simple lyrics. In “Creature” Clark manages to sing however temporary, understand you have my soul with a palpable sense of tenderness even as the chorus projects utter exhaustion, Clark throwing up the white flag when she realizes that she can’t save someone from themselves. “Creature” starts its final quarter with a high-energy guitar solo reminiscent of The Donna’s under-appreciated Allison Robertson before Clark lets out a spirited “Woo!” in what feels like a homage to female-fronted rock groups of years past.

EP closer “Anza” takes this thread and runs with it, Clark belting out her best Janis Joplin, letting emotion break crests and troughs in her voice. The chorus sees Clark begging for the attention of a “wild woman” while rolling out a thinly-veiled sexual metaphor that fits in nicely with the nature imagery in the rest of the song. Below it all is an ethereal siren song of distant oohs that proceed the chorus.

Because of choices like this, I assume that Thank You Come Again’s quartet of Clark, Danny Lomeli (guitar), Julian Paz (bass), and Steven Sessler (drums) see the potential in contrasting Clark’s moments of softness with the table-upending power of a good guitar riff or grinding solo, as exemplified in “Tall Boy” (also the EP’s preview single) which very literally takes dips into a bare cymbal-and-guitar sonic valley as Clark bemoans watching calls go unanswered on someone’s phone, her voice slowly rising in anger. “Tall Boy,” like “Creature” also has a lot of fun with the guitar solo, a layered slow-burn that incorporates the slow/fast/slow instrumentals of the rest of the song.

“Taking It Off” is an interesting one, a song that starts with what sounds like an ending before becoming something else entirely, a claustrophobic account of desperation for someone to see you free from artifice even when you know it will leave you too venerable. It grew on me with repeated listens.

I look forward to seeing what this band will do with the narrative room afforded by a full-length album. Based on this EP, I hope they take the opportunity to lean into the strengths of “Creature,” where they let Clark and the instrumentals color the lyrics. While I appreciate the old-school theatricality in the lyrics of “Anza,” Clark has the chops to enrich the sound without it. As a new band, Thank You Come Again is still working on finding balance, but they have more than enough energy to carry them along for miles.

Follow Thank You Come Again on Facebook for upcoming events.

PLAYING THE BAY: Madi Sipes & the Painted Blue Find the Beat of a “Heavy Heart”

Credit where it’s due to Madi Sipes & The Painted Blue for maintaining a consistent aesthetic. The album art for the last few singles look like snapshots from the underground parlor of a lovelorn 1940s tattoo artist who hasn’t skipped a day of adding her beauty mark in the last 10 years. Their latest, “Heavy Heart,” features the same boudoir red-and-blue lighting as the previous follow-ups to their 2018 full-length debut Privacy, but this is the first snap in which a body actually appears, wrapped in comically large chain to represent the weight — both emotional and (seemingly) physical — of romantic attachment.

On first listen, melancholy oozes from the opener, but there is a palpable energy and odd optimism in the lyrics that undercuts the moody guitars and tinkling 80’s piano. Sipes’s voice is deep and rich, sliding through harmonies and call-and-responses in a way that makes me question if this was production magic or if Sipes is, simply, a sort of musical hydra who can create her own chorus of smokey-voiced clones at will.

Its previously-released b-side, “I’ll Be Ready When You Are,” starts out with a very Marvin Gaye-esque riff that carries a hint of the song’s more sensual leanings, despite an early switch to more low-key piano backing. It certainly works in tandem with “Heavy Heart,” but the latter’s more complicated production and glam guitar solo allow Sipes and her bandmates Nick Cunningham (bass, synth) and Caleb Koehn (drums, sampling), to elevate the tune to a more modern place.

This is a sensual piece of work, but the sense of coolness is steadfast, both literally (I love Sipes’s immediately recognizable voice) and sonically. The tones are bright, the beats like the gentle back-and-forth of pool waves. Listening feels like stepping into open space, even with the intimate lyrics.

West Coast residents will have plenty of chances to bask in the band’s sultry neon glow as they embark on their “Daze Off” tour; see dates below.

6/27 – Reno, NV @ Pignic Pub *^
6/29 – Davis, CA @ Sophia’s Thai Kitchen *^
7/2 – Portland, OR @ Strum PDX *^
7/3 – Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Back Bar *^
7/18 – Las Vegas, NV (House Show) *^
7/19 – Los Angeles, CA @ Silverlake Lounge *^
7/21 – San Diego @ The Holding Company*^
7/24 – San Francisco, CA @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall *^
7/25 – Sacramento, CA @ Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub *^+

* w/ @animalsintheatticband
^ w/ @cuginomusic
+ w/ @rivvrs

PLAYING THE BAY: MUSH Delivers “A Night of Black Magic” with Maya Songbird and Ah Mer Ah Su

Last week I traversed to Jack London Square for the second show of’s summer concert series, MUSH. With the goal of highlighting the diverse sounds of the Bay Area music scene, MUSH promises a small outdoor concert experience a stone’s throw from the Jack London square eateries and nearby bars.

While still has a few wrinkles to smooth out in terms of running multiple outdoor sets, whatever was lost in technical translation was made up for by the intimacy of the show. For the first half hour, DJs spun their favorites as a small crowd gathered, perching on a set of yellow bleachers or curling up on jackets and blankets on the grass.

Castro District native Maya Songbird started the concert off with with a determined chant for us to get up and dance, setting the mood for her high-energy catalog. Her beats are straightforward and insistent, with clear funk influences. My favorite part of her set was definitely the last few songs, when everyone in the audience got on their feet to bop along. The most notable dancer in the crowd was headliner Ah Mer Ah Su, who had been watching from the grass for the entire performance, cheering on her fellow songstress and gleefully chanting “slut, slut, slut!” at Maya’s request during “Regal Slut.”

This moment stood out for me as something one is rarely privy to during a larger show. Performers may thank their tour mates or bring them on stage for a song or two, but watching Ah Mer Ah Su cheer Maya Songbird on, at one point twerking freely on her picnic blanket while the rest of us huddled together, not yet warmed up enough to dance, seemed to exemplify the goals of this concert series — to elevate Bay musicians and strengthen the community of performers and listeners alike — more than anything else I saw that evening. That, and the very cute moment during Ah Mer Ah Su’s set when she declared, as she and Maya are both witches, that it was “a night of black magic.”

After Maya Songbird finished, my friend and I meandered to the docks while another DJ took over. We stayed there, enjoying the last gasp of golden hour, until we were drawn back by an absolutely rousing remix of “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton. A few minutes later, Ah Mer Ah Su started her performance.

Based in Oakland, Ah Mer Ah Su sings over electronic beats not unlike Maya Songbird’s, but with a more soulful, introspective lyrical approach that touches on her experience as a black trans woman. Ah Me Ah Su is more guarded as a performer than the exuberant Maya, but her stripped-down vocal delivery provided more than enough venerability. Her voice is powerful, and while her instrumentals don’t require a full band, I found myself dreaming of horns, violins — whatever would take the drama to a next level. “Perfect” and “Powerful” were audience favorites, the former an ode to letting go of the impossible expectations we place on ourselves, the latter an examination of the concept that the only thing we reliably have control over is our reactions.

The idea of control — losing it, desiring it, letting it go — seems to be a prevalent theme in Ah Mer Ah Su’s music. She established this early on with “Klonopin,” a slow building lament of drug dependency that builds into a layered chorus of schoolyard-like rhymes that served as one of her first singles. Sang at the concert with a new arrangement that will back an upcoming dance performance, I can only imagine how powerful of an experience it is to be able to revisit old works and adjust them to more accurately represent who you are now — or who you wish you could have been when you first created them.’s summer concert series continues every other Thursday through June 20th.

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

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.