LIVE REVIEW: Lydia Lunch Retrovirus @ Rickshaw Stop

The No Wave scene of 1970’s New York City was altogether bowel borne, the sickened spasm of a nihilist made nervous by the violent void of the Lower East Side. It was a pocket of time and space that knew no law nor order. Rather, it was poverty-ridden and putrid, little more than a decaying plane of filth and illness occupied by scum-soaking bums.

Enter Lydia Lunch – No Wave’s mainstay and New York’s bristling brat among rats. A runaway at 16, Lunch fled her family home in Rochester, New York, in favor of the gurgling gutter of NYC, licking the lyrical coattails of Jean Genet, Hubert Selby Jr, Marquis de Sade, and Henry Miller. In an interview for the Women of Rock Oral History Project, Lunch explains that the works of these writers stoked her drive to confront the trials of her own riotous reality, meaning mundanity was no longer a viable existence. Finally, the filth supplied by a sour mouth would be flavored female (although she’d likely contest the confinement of gendered categories).

Unsurprisingly, Lunch’s confrontational energy was highly anomalous among the saluted dudes of the local underground music scene at the time. In fact, many of her younger comrades thought her to be a “teenage terrorist,” with the exception of a few “weird old men,” including guitarist Robert Quine, who collaborated with the likes of Lou Reed, Richard Hell, and Brian Eno.

Thankfully, Lunch would go on to terrorize the masses through many mediums, including spoken word performance, literature, film, and music. A self-described “musical schizophrenic,” she incited delicious din in the ever-seminal No Wave group Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and proceeded to rasp her way through a number of bands over the course of her career: Beirut Slump, 8-Eyed Spy, Harry Crews, Big Sexy Noise, and finally, the live and writhing Retrovirus

Retrovirus is Lunch’s current outfit, along with drummer Bob Bert, bassist Tim Dahl, and guitarist Weasel Walter (also of Cellular Chaos). The self-described “sonic brutarians” recently took the stage at San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop. As Lunch rarely makes her rounds in the United States, I was eager to secure a ticket. My excitement was not misplaced.

Shortly after her stealthy entry, Miss Lunch greeted the audience with her special cocktail of snarl and stoicism, oozing authority and anti-appeasement. What occurred next could only be described as an all-out aural confrontation. Whilst Bert maintained a steady tremble on drums, the fingerwork of Dahl and Walter was at once phlegmatic and panic-ridden. Lunch punctuated their sonic thunder with fierce ease, a seeming conductor to the cauldron of clamor.

Towards the close of their all too short-lived set (“Snakepit Breakdown,” “Afraid of Your Company,” and “Mechanical Flattery” among the highlights), Lunch did not pussyfoot the expectation for an encore. “This is our last song, trust me. You can beg all you want. We’re not doing another one. We have one song, we’re doing that.” And so it was over. Quick and dirty, like a racy romp in one of her Richard Kern features. Despite my desire for another dose of din, the nonchalance of her dismissal proved startlingly refreshing in this age of social masquerade and appeasement sleaze. Don’t waste your cheerleading on this one.


ALBUM REVIEW: Shawna Virago “Heaven Sent Delinquent”


Released late last year, Heaven Sent Delinquent is the must-hear folk punk record from “transgender trickster” Shawna Virago. The album is composed of 10 solo acoustic tales, that true or spun from Virago’s brilliance, give us plot lines to how she got to her current hometown. “These are the stories of my generation – a generation of transgender people who came out long before the internet, before transgender celebrities and reality TV stars … before anybody gave a shit about us,” she writes in a press release.

Based in San Fransisco, Virago has performed as an out transwoman since the early 90’s. The artistic director of San Fransisco’s Transgender Film Festival, she’s an artist of many skill sets, and if you are unfamiliar with her work, Heaven Sent Delinquent is a perfect place to start.

When we hear terms such as “Americana” or “folk music,” we’re often flooded with images of cowboys or Bob Dylan – cisgender men. The year is 2017, and it’s time to hear new stories that are more interesting than that you’re used to in the realm of telling tales with a voice and guitar. With queer rebel heroes, with “flame-colored hair, and rhinestoned suits,” Heaven Sent Delinquent paints the landscape of your mind with a cast of outsiders on road trips and love stories, enjoying escape with whiskey out of paper cups. “Too many of us were runaways, survivors. But we never gave up. These songs are the stories of myself and my friends. How we managed to find each other in an unfriendly world, fought together, loved each other,” writes Virago’ in a press release.

From crashing cars through the gates of heaven in a gender rebellion to calling out a lover’s fear and vanity, Virago’s vivid story-telling abilities and haunting voice are perhaps best introduced on the album’s first single, “Gender Armageddon,” a song penned as a “tribute to the desperate camaraderie of queer outsiders not afraid to punch back against a hostile world.”

Yet don’t stop there. The album slows down to make way for melancholy on “Last Night’s Sugar,” and she’ll strum your range of emotions on the title track “Heaven Sent Delinquent,” an anthem for “outsiders too timid or shackled by family and economics to make it out of the oppressive towns where they were born” Perhaps one of Virago’s most apt gifts on the album is an ability to blend emotions into song as complicated as they sit within our hearts – and not only make sense out of them – but art. Such skills are evoked on “Anniversary Song,” that celebrates love as much as her own independence.

In our current political climate, there’s been a lot of discussion on how to be an ally and the validity and importance of turning pain into art. If you’re looking for a place to start, support trans artists like Shawna Virago, but not simply for her gender, but because her music is dope.

Stream Heaven Sent Delinquent below.

ALBUM REVIEW: Fresh & Onlys “House Of Spirits”

Fresh & Onlys

Fresh & Onlys

House Of Spirits, out June 10th on Mexican Summer, is the newest release from San Francisco psych-rock janglers The Fresh & Onlys, is a study in subtle kookiness. Fronting vocalist Tim Cohen, who wrote many of the songs on this album alone on a ranch in the Arizona desert, has a voice that seems inherently gentle and intimate. His ear for wistful pop harmonies–with golden arpeggios to match from guitarist Wymond Miles–often place this group squarely in the sphere of indie endearingness that reaches backwards towards nostalgia, not forwards towards absurdity. That was the very much the case on the group’s last full-length, 2012’s Long Slow Dance, an album brimming with romantic earnestness and stellar pop songs. But House Of Spirits is a little different.

Though the melodies don’t often give way to Cohen’s more experimental songwriting tendencies, they’re a shade spookier than par, and–especially in the first few tracks–dwell distinctly in the province of dreams. Album opener “Home Is Where?” begins innocently enough, with sweetly plodding piano chords and a quiet vocal line whose lyrics are sort of extolling the comforts of being home and knowing where you belong, and then all the sudden the song derails with the line “There is something that is off, for example there’s a bowl full of eyes on the floor.” It’s more than an impeccable instance of dream logic, this track also sets the bar for surreality. Anything is fair game, essentially, on House Of Spirits: there will be twists, and you will not be able to see them coming.

According to Cohen, all of House Of Spirits represents a search for home and the disorientation of not recognizing a place that should be familiar. However, the record’s back half takes place in waking life, as opposed to in a dream, and the kookiness gets a little watered down once the images of bowls full of eyes and stewpots full of hearts succumbs to conscious thought. The album ambles onward into daylight, and loses a lot of its sharpness. The affectionate “Ballerina” would feel more at home on Long Slow Dance, and even so, the track lacks passion. Next, though the repetition of the melody over horns on “Candy” offers a coolly sinister ending, it’s otherwise a one-dimensionally sunny song. The lack of curveballs in the latter tracks is all the more disappointing because we’ve been set up to expect twisting and turning, and we keep waiting for the song’s sinister side to poke its head up from underneath the surface. Only on the last cut, “Madness,” do we return to the disoriented search for familiar territory that kicked off House Of Spirits. Experimental, distorted guitar parts flood a gentle vocal line, reassuring lyrics give way to spooky echoes, and all the music melts into noise, and finally silence. At no point is “Madness” as catchy as “Home Is Where?” or the album’s three frontloaded scorchers– “Who Let The Devil,” “Bells of Paonia,” and “Animal of One” –but it does belong to the same surreal, imaginative dreamscape.

House Of Spirits will be out via Mexican Summer Records on June 10th. The New York Times is streaming the album in full, and you can check out “Who Let The Devil” below via Soundcloud:

VIDEO REVIEW: Cold Beat “Mirror”

Cold Beat

Cold Beat 2

Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, I can happily say that the summer has unofficially begun, and if you are like me, then you are probably gearing up your Summer ‘14 Spotify playlist. Heads up: it would be incomplete without the likes of Cold Beat, who released a video for their delightful new track “Mirror” yesterday.

Although front woman, vocalist and bassist Hannah Lew has been on the scene for a while now, San Francisco-based Cold Beat is a newborn band, with only two previous singles under their belt: “Worms” and “Year 5772.” Still, what we have heard thus far is a clear indication of the band’s sound – combining retro fuzz guitar with misty vocals and sugar-sweet melodies.

“Mirror” plays as neat and tidy, retro surf pop. Right off the bat, it opens up with an inviting two-part guitar section. While one guitar takes on the fuzzy strumming section, the other picks away at an instantly catchy melody that immediately opens up the song. Throughout “Mirror” the interplay between the two guitar parts can be heard, coming to a climax in two brief back-to-back solos. The first, a distorted guitar laying hard on the whammy pedal, adds some needed intensity to the track, while the second, a melodically picked section, breathes more air into the song and further relaxes the track.

Lew’s vocals enter into the mix early on. Although her misty, breathy voice is more suited for soprano, where she normally resides, “Mirror” requires her to occasionally fall down into her lower register, where she is clearly less comfortable. The imperfections in her lower register actually add to the charm of the track, providing a more personal tone by offsetting the pop perfection.

The video for “Mirror” was directed by Lew herself, and unsurprisingly, it falls in line with the beachy, sunny theme that Cold Beat has already adopted. The video begins with Lew playing the bass in front of a giant clam shell with waves crashing in the background. This image, which is projected on an old TV screen, zooms out, and we see that the new image is inside another TV, which is next to the drummer.  Then we zoom out to find out that she is also in a TV world that the guitarist is watching and playing along to. Throughout the video, the members of the band interact with each other in their own worlds, using the televisions as mirrors into each others’ universes, each imbued with a kitschy nostalgia. From the ‘90s era television set to the cheesy special effects (from aforementioned giant clams and box TVs zooming around to rooms decorated with paper stars), the whole video manages to come off as charmingly vintage.

Much like “Worms,” “Mirror” has us totally anticipating Cold Beat’s debut album, Over Me, which will be released on July 8th via Lew’s label, Crime on the Moon. As if she weren’t busy enough, Lew is also set to release a compilation album San Francisco Is Doomed, featuring contributions from artists such as Thee Oh Sees, Mikal Cronin, Erase Errata and Scraper. San Francisco Is Doomed is out June 21st.

Cold Beat – Mirror from Renny McCauley on Vimeo.