[here’s the link to my Noise Pop Fest 2014 Spotify playlist for those of you that don’t want to read the post. Jerks.]
It’s been too long since I’ve cast my skeptical gaze at a festival line-up and thought about actually purchasing tickets. This year, San Francisco’s Noise Pop Fest 2014 has certain promise, but also a massive amount of unknowns for an aging rocker like me. Is the all-access badge worth the purchase? Will some young indie rock upstarts renew my faith in music and life? I don’t have the answers, so I’m going to trudge through Spotify, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud to figure it all out:
MONDAY FEBRUARY 24TH
Apparently, someone at Noise Pop was listening in on my prayers to the gods of indie rock and recruited Waters to play. I don’t know this band at all, which makes it all the more exciting to go through my personal checklist without wanting: Big drums? – check. Loud guitars and feedback? – check. Nice harmonies and melodies? – check. These guys could be huge. If they’re not already. I have no idea. I suppose I could look that up. I mean, there’s a scruffy blond dude (with some Neil Young in him) thrashing around playing a Telecaster. Sound familiar? The Tambo Rays have got that polite, post-punk synth and guitar-with-delay thing going on. I’m not being dismissive here – it’s good. So far, this is a pretty compelling bill of people I’ve never heard before. My favorite kind of bill!
Courtney Barnett is a pop-rocker from Down Under. More than that, she’s a clever lyricist whose style and delivery reminds me of Craig Finn of The Hold Steady or even John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Some of the guitar-squalling makes me wonder if they’d be more exciting live than on record, but this is one of those artists (like The Hold Steady and Mountain Goats) whose lyrics are more compelling than the music itself, which isn’t usually my bag. But she’s still got a Hope Sandoval sort of appeal. I would lump Kins into the post-punk category: a sparse-but-compelling rhythm section, catchy girly-man vocals, bendy synths that swirl in and out of the mix… Pretty, pretty thoughtful pop. Fever the Ghost may be the weirdest band on the Noise Pop roster, which is meant with full compliments. “Psychedelic garage pop” isn’t normally this quirky, and it doesn’t usually leave you with a distinct classic rock aftertaste. I will mention the obvious here: this frontman sounds a lot like Jack White, and the guitar playing does too. I get the feeling this is more about these kids growing up on the White Stripes (a concept that makes me feel hella old) than a conscious decision to sound like them, so I’m pretty okay with the obvious similarities. Rich Girls is a strong addition to this bill: reverb-drenched and sparse, they have all the pop sensibility of Best Coast, but a bit more energy.
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 25TH
Lord Huron is the first band to sell out their show for Noise Pop 2014, so I guess you’re out of luck if you’re just reading about them now (unless you get the badge!). To quote myself from the Treasure Island Music Festival Survival Guide: ” Lord Huron has that country/Americana pop thing going on. Earnest. Not TOO sad-bastardy. Fans of My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses will dig.” Night Beds is a perfect opener for Lord Huron. Pretty, soft-but-energetic Americana. [As of 1/16, Night Beds was no longer listed on the NP schedule for this show]
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 26TH
Audion = Matthew Dear going “oontz-oontz-oontz-oontz”.
Papercuts force me to pull one of my formulaic, nonsense descriptions out of my ass: how about sometime-caffeinated, reverb-drenched jangle-pop? Yeah, that’ll do. That’ll do nicely. Vetiver … All I can say is a listened to the same song twice in a row and didn’t notice. Not a strong endorsement. Very polite, acoustic-driven pop. Who called this freak folk?!? I try not to peak at Spotify’s band descriptions, The Donkeys’s description said “Pavement, the Grateful Dead, and CSNY” in the first sentence. Indeed, the first song I listened to sounded like an extended jam outtake from Range Life. To the point I tried singing over it. And then the next song could be straight off of Harvest. These are positive indicators for me.
The Fresh and Onlys have a shimmer and sheen to their songs that says “California” at a reasonable volume and tempo.
THURSDAY FEBRUARY 27TH
Despite the cringe-worthy name, Dude York is probably the strongest act to play during the Bender’s Noise Pop Happy Hour. It’s guitar-based rock. What else do you want to now?!? A Million Billion Dying Suns sounds great on Spotify, but their production could be hiding a monster that comes out and ravages unsuspecting victims during live shows. Whenever a band is drenched in this much reverb and effects, I get curious and excited: these seemingly post-punk shoegazers might rip your head off. And upcoming SF MC A-1 opening up the show? Shit. I’ll show up just to watch the Bender’s staff’s reaction.
Shabazz Places certainly have a unique approach to hip hop. I haven’t spent a lot of time with their recorded work, which I think would put me at a disadvantage seeing them live. No doubt there will be some fanatical devotees at Slim’s, though. Extra Classic is reggae. Mon.
Com Truise is techno dance stuff. Phantoms is techno dance stuff. I imagine Kauf and DJ Dials is techno dance stuff too. Have fun, kids.
Bob Mould is one of the forefather’s of noise pop. The loud, melodic wall of sound he has churned out over the last three plus decades with Husker Du, Sugar and as a solo artist is on par with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, or [insert your favorite, still-active underground guitar god here]. I’m a little confused by the show details though: Is Mould only going to play his solo album Workbook? He’s got to make with the hits, right? As I listen to this album right now, it opens up with some flanged electric guitar and acoustics… and fake hand claps. Hm. I need clarification before committing to this show.
As you might have figured out, this blog can get pretty stream-of-conscious as I listen to and write about music at the same time. Right now, I’m listening to Bottomless Pit and definitely hearing the 90’s but can’t tell if that’s a good thing or not. They sound like Seam, the Afghan Whigs and some other shitty 90’s band had a colicky baby together. I’m really surprised/disappointed this is a headliner for NP show. Kinski has always been on the periphery of my awareness. Their most popular song on Spotify is a psychedelic, droney, guitar rock song with decent melodies and lots of skronk. I don’t know. Maybe I need a nap. Likening their singer to Lee Ranaldo in my head helped smooth things over a little bit, but unless NP adds someone amazing to actually headline, there are better options. VIR are a wonderful surprise and a welcome addition to the SF Bay Area music scene. I’m not sure how long they’ve been at it, but they are a great three-piece that focus on churning out noise at high volume.
Broods: Most likely to be played during the credits of HBO’s Girls this season. Runner up: ASTR. That’s a job right? Putting songs on Girls? Can I do that? I just found two groups. Pay me.
Mark Mulcahy sounds like very “sunny” acoustic pop on first listen, but his lyrical content is sorta dark. There’s a call-and-response style chorus that is hilariously bad. I usually immediately turn my brain off when I hear the first plucks from some sad bastard’s guitar, but Vikesh Kapool is keeping my attention. This guy is pulling straight from Dylan, Simons, and Cat Stevens. His strong voice seems like a front for sad melodies a la Shane McGowan. Talented for sure, but I have a pretty strict policy about standing around watching sad bastard music, even if it’s fantastic. And this approaches fantastic.
At this point in my research, I have to plead with Noise Pop: Please recruit some more rockin’ bands for Christ’s sake. [Plea answered, it seems. See Waters.]
I don’t know if Mother Falcon is twee or emo chamber pop or some other micro-genre, but I DO know that they stole a really good name from the heavy metal community. Defintely not sad, this band plays precious but energetic pop. You ever see that episode of Modern Family where the nerd daughter ends up being in a band? It’s like that but with horns. Foxtails Brigade is just dreamy and beautiful music. It’s like Ambien for your ears. I could definitely be lulled to sleep by them, but not bored. Kan Waken has an orchestral pop sound that is slick enough to be featured in the opening credits of a James Bond film.
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 28TH
Since there’s a lot of bands to cover, I’m going to steal again from my TIMF blog entry about Real Estate: “[they] have been milking the REM aesthetic for a couple years now, and to an enjoyable result. I’m not expecting them to blow my face off, but stranger things have happened.” They were good to see live, but twice in six months doesn’t need to happen, especially when there are so many other options. Dream Boys describe themselves as a “paisley pop band”. I guess I can see that. They sound preppy. The Shilohs jingly and jangly and not at all something that’s going to keep my attention now or on a Friday night. Fans of indie twang will really like this show.
FINALLY. I come to a band that actually can be described by the words “noise” and “pop”: No Age! This duo from LA is fantastic and truly satisfying for those that search out a loud, energetic show with hooks and noise beating each other over the head.
Cold Cave. I think I’ve hit my limit today. I can tell this electro-gothpop dance party would be fun but I don’t have much more to say… [time lapse] … A day later and I will confirm that this band is good, and probably a really fun time live. Happy Fangs flip-flops between a dance-pop band with a punk sensibilities to a punk band with dance-pop sensibilities. Tween riot grrls, maybe? Lyrically, Happy Fangs makes me feel ancient, but that’s okay. I’m sure they’ll freak the FUCK OUT live.
Bleached is a band that I’ve been mildly aware of, and I like what I’m hearing! Kind of riding that same beach-pop wave as Best Coast but a little more dynamic and noisier? I imagine this will be a sold out show soon. Hopefully not before I post this blog or decide to go.
The Soft White Sixties make Friday a really hard day to choose what to do. Their glam-infused ass-shakers are right up my alley. There’s no way this band sucks live. Their riffing and soloing and breakdowns demand stage theatrics, or at the very least long hair swaying over humming guitars. Fans of glam rock, garage rock, and the more rocking moments of southern groups like the Black Crowes will appreciate this. Openers NO (Los Angeles) immediately come off as post-punk devotees, and I predict at least one of them will be wearing a Joy Division tee on stage. Good stuff, nonetheless. I realize that this huge bus full of critical energy I’m careening around corners has thrown more than it’s fair share of bands under the bus for “sad bastardry”. Sometimes I can pull my head out of my own ass long enough to enjoy some soft, pretty, atmospheric music. Cannons and Clouds have about a 70/30 mix going for sad-bastardry/rock. So, I guess my EARs are at least out of my ass, and would enjoy some of their set. Hopefully, they punch it up a notch or two live, or focus on the more rockin’ material. The She’s pack a lot of bubble gum and hand claps into each song. Pure garage pop delight.
Throwing Muses just put out a new album?!? Does it have two amazing songs on it like The Real Ramona did?!? I jest. There’s three amazing songs on that album. I’m sure the Jewish Community Center will be packed for this show. With people over 35.
El Ten Eleven have a lot of listens on Spotify, which tells me that I am missing the boat on this band. So far, the band is noodly, instrumental, and a littly proggy. It’s good. How good? I don’t know. This could depend on the crowd. I could see people freaking out. I’m not sure where I’ve been, but this band has put out five albums in the last seven years.
SATURDAY MARCH 1ST
Real Estate. Again. But this time with Dominant Legs opening, a band who has completely confused me. They are almost good. I don’t know how else to say it, and I don’t want to call them bad. Their funky chords and danceable rhythms recall Talking Heads or even Prince at times, but devoid of the sweat or hooks. Totally eighties.
No Age again! Personally, this looks like the show to see. As I listen to Cheatahs for the first time, I’m hoping that their “pretty chords over power chords” approach isn’t just one song… The vocals and slightly dreamy sound remind me of a more laid back Swervedriver. Yes. Second song confirms my initial thoughts. GRMLN will be opening the Saturday show for No Age, and are a perfectly energetic, post-punk outfit with pop hook sensibility. Their earlier material approaches what I would consider “twee” with out actually know or caring to look up the definition), but the latest album has them off the decaf and encouraging listeners to pogo their way through the show. This may be on the top of my list, but that can change with more band announcements. [This show is DEFINITELY in my tops for Noise Pop]
Dr.Dog is a band I respect but have fallen out of love with. Their live shows are great. I’ve seen them a handful of times and their energy is fantastic. Their righteous, shabby-chic Americana pop has started to get a way from me a little, though. I actually encourage people that like this band or that style of music to see them. I’ve just worn them a little thin for myself. Saint Rich offers more of the same: righteous, anthemic tunes that maybe have a little bit of glitter in their hair from listening to some Bowie and T. Rex. Moses Sumney wins the award for best name of any act, as far as I’m concerned. This is where I will make an important distinction, not everyone toting an acoustic guitar is a sad bastard. Moses Sumney has an amazing pair of pipes and plucks away with the best of them. This is lush and emotional acoustic balladry bordering on R&B.
Mikal Cronin and the distorted pop that put his latest release at the top of many year-end best-of lists will be playing The Chapel, making the Mission (along with No Age) the place to be this night. The shambling tunes and harmonies of Old Light are as laid back as anything Pavement ever produced, but with more Neil Young influence than Lou Reed. If that means anything to anyone, great. But Old Light continue to pour on the Crazy Horse, so I’m pretty happy. Vertical Scratchers remind me of Enon and John Schmersal’s vocal delivery. Another good thing. The only song they have on Spotify is definitely enough to get me interested in this band. [note: this is a new Schmersal band I was not aware of!!! Score!!!]
Free Salamander Exhibit [the name] makes a lot more sense to me now that I know this band contains members of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. The group produces theatrically absurd heavy metal with asynchronous breakdowns, odd time signatures, ridiculous choruses, and quirky noodling. This show will truly be a treat for the Zappa, Beefheart, Faith No More, and Mr. Bungle fans out there that also appreciate heavy metal. Lasher Keen has… a flute. And a very medieval, electric ren fare/ LARPing sort of sound going on. Which makes me not want to research opener Listo at all. Sorry.
Mark Kozelek is ye olde king o’ the Sad Bastards. Fortunately his rule was brought about with true skill, an ethereal voice, and lyrical prowess. I won’t pose as a superfan, but I know that people freak out for this gentlemen, and I can understand why. His songcraft is second to none of his peers. The big question is: could I stand and stare at him for 90 minutes or more? I may try.
Updates will come as NP makes more announcements!