Author Archives: Ellen

Noise Pop 2013: Miner, In the Valley Below, Warm Soda (and Free Energy, sort of)

The night's Jacob Marley moment. We'll explain later. (Ellen Huet/Treeswingers)

That’s neither 1 Chainz nor an Americana Jacob Marley. We’ll explain later. (Ellen Huet/Treeswingers)

The best part of Noise Pop — or, really, any festival — often isn’t the act you come to see but the openers you didn’t even know you were going to love. We headed to Brick and Mortar in the neighborhood of disputed names (is it North-North Mission? The Elbow? Division Heights? Far East Duboce?) Thursday night to see Warm Soda, the local boys about to do to good.

Instead, we found ourselves wooed (and whooped and hollered) off our feet by Miner, a foot-stomping good time of a band from Los Angeles. They’re an adorable family affair — frontman Justin Miner, his wife Kate on various diminutive stringed instruments, cousin on keyboard, brother on guitar and the occasional electro-acoustic banjo — with a genuine joy of being on stage. Sort of like the Lumineers if they took themselves less seriously and were more talented.

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Noise Pop 2013: The Fresh & Onlys, R. Stevie Moore, Plateaus, Burnt Ones

Burnt Ones (Ashley Dotterweich/Treeswingers)

Burnt Ones (Ashley Dotterweich/Treeswingers)

Ed. note: Friend of Treeswingers Ashley Dotterweich very graciously reports back from Bottom of the Hill, with a personal connection to Wednesday night’s headliners. Everyone, say hello.

Full disclosure: The Fresh & Onlys saved my ass once, so I’m predisposed to like them. Back in the spring of 2011 I was finishing up my stint working in Los Angeles on the Natural History Museum’s First Fridays program when our headliner cancelled- the day of the show. Luckily for us, the Fresh & Onlys , by some miracle, were free that night and headed down from San Francisco to play the show and save the day. Last night at Bottom of the Hill, they didn’t disappoint.

Openers the Burnt Ones started off the night like a punch in the gut and didn’t let up. Their lo-fi psych/punk sound left my ears ringing well into the next set, but they set the tone for the rest of the night. The Burnt Ones’ lead singer has a Jagger-esque flair for theatrics, occasionally sliding onto his knees and playing his guitar behind his head, that made seeing them on stage a stripped-down spectacle; put them in big hair and makeup and they wouldn’t seem out of place at an ’80s glam rock show.

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Noise Pop 2013: Jason Lytle (of Granddaddy), Jenny-O, Michael Statis and Will Sprott

Will Sprott opens treeswingers' coverage of Noise Pop, your favorite itinerant San Francisco festival. (Kelvin Tse/treeswingers)

Will Sprott opens Treeswingers’ coverage of Noise Pop, your favorite itinerant San Francisco festival. (Kelvin Tse/Treeswingers)

Ed. note: Today’s dispatch from Noise Pop comes from Friend of Treeswingers Kelvin Tse. Everyone, say hi.

On the first day of Noise Pop 2013, we rolled over to Brick and Mortar to check out a set of four bands headlined by Jason Lytle of Grandaddy fame. Michael Stasis kicked it off with extremely danceable beats and catchy melodies including a song about stumbling onto a Goth party in Oakland in “Land of
the Goths.” Although the room still wasn’t quite full yet when Stasis ended his set, he provided a strong start for the night.

But the contrast between Michael Stasis and Will Sprott‘s music was dramatic. Sprott, of the Mumlers, may strike you immediately as the shy boyish type that struggles internally with questions of the existential sort. His music is of a decidedly different tone and stuck to earnest inquiries about love and heartbreak. While fingerpicking his semihollow body guitar, his bassist laid down an easy groove, and two backup dancers (one rocking shoulder pads) thumped a simple beat on the bass drum and tambourines. But what really pulled the whole thing together was his smooth-as-molasses voice as he crooned crooned classic soul lines like “I don’t want to be free / I just want your arms around me.

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Christopher Owens’ “Lysandre”


San Francisco sweetheart Christopher Owens is growing up, which is why he left his band Girls. But his first album on his own is about being terribly young, which might be why it came out charming but mostly immature.

Lysandre, out this week, is a 30-minute wistful sigh that recounts a short-lived, sudden, naive love with a girl Owens (or the narrator) met while on tour. She’s an ethereal creature, never speaking but embodied only in a recurrent theme, a Renaissance-sounding slow waltz riff.

Here’s where Lysandre gets a little heavy-handed as a short album with a story: Lysandre’s theme shows up tacked on at the end of several tracks, played by various incongruous instruments, as if to remind listeners that hey, this album has a theme. During the first trip through the album, the melodic repetition makes for a comfortable, familiar feeling; by the third, it’s a little obvious and cloying. And when odd track “Riviera Rock” spends its entire length turning the theme into a beachy instrumental jam, it’s really hard not to hate-hum the tune to yourself as you fall asleep.

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Andrew Bird’s “Hands of Glory”

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I definitely went through a pretty serious clay-modeling phase.

That phase meant afternoons of sculpting little animals and 8-year-old imaginative miscellany out of colorful clay. And the weapon of choice when it came to making, let’s say, a furry monster or a bowl of noodles, was this:

It’s actually a garlic press, which to this day I’ve never seen used on garlic. The press, more importantly, bestowed upon the presser a magic touch with clay. A quick squeeze, and your amoebic lump emerges as crisp, winding ropes.

Keep that in mind when you sit down to listen to Andrew Bird‘s  latest EP, Hands of Glory, released last week.

It’s ostensibly a companion piece to his earlier 2012 LP, Break It Yourself, but it’s much more an album of old made new, of Bird squeezing material through the garlic press into lilting melody lines and his own lyrical, arching phrases. Spaghetti à la Bird, made of another cook’s pasta dough.

Half the tracks are covers, a couple are revamps of his own work, and the first and last are re-imaginings of each other. For full appreciation, really, the album should come with annotations or footnotes for each song. But it doesn’t, so get ready to take some notes of your own. It’ll be worth it.

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Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2012 Recap

Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional plays at the Arrow Stage Friday afternoon in, hands down, one of the “hardliest” parts of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. (Ellen Huet/treeswingers)

At the 12th annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, you could listen to acts all weekend and never hear a banjo.

Of course, it would take a little wrangling and stage-hopping, but it’s a testament to the widening range of style at San Francisco’s famously free festival in the park.

Twelve years ago, local 1 percenter and amateur bluegrass player Warren Hellman asked the legendary Hazel Dickens to play a twangin’, string-pickin’ concert in Golden Gate Park–then dubbed Strictly Bluegrass. But this weekend, many of the major forces behind it were now smiling down from above instead of from the stage: Dickens, Hellman, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson all passed away in recent years. (Though they did manage to grab a little stage presence–their illustrated faces hung from the backdrops of several stages.)

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Charlotte Gainsbourg’s “Got to Let Go”

Summer-spirited songs always come with a layer of haze on them. In the case of Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s “Got to Let Go,” it’s a hot haze with a Hefe Instagram filter thrown on there and another filter on top just for the hell of it.

Gainsbourg always had the gamine charm that American singers covet, and she’s here to show it off. The ditty itself is slow, simple and cheekily off-tune, and each time it drags its feet with a hapy smile, Gainsbourg’s lilting French accent nudges it along. It’s something easy and grand out of an uncomplicated tune. She hands us two versions — one a pared-down take on the other — so there’s no excuse. Sit back, follow her advice and let go.

Charlotte Gainsbourg — Got to Let Go (feat. Charlie Fink of Noah and the Whale) (download)

Charlotte Gainsbourg — Got to Let Go (Live at Motorbass Studio feat. Connan Mockasin) (download)