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November, 2014
Musical Monday – Be Calm Honcho

Musical Monday – Be Calm Honcho

When I was a kid, we had these family friends who were into a sort of New Age Reform Judaism thing, and when we went to their house for Shabbat dinners, we would have to say one thing we were thankful for. I was never quite sure what to say, and I think I felt some telepathic pressure from my grumpy atheist dad to not be too sincere. Now, with Thanksgiving around the corner, a holiday that has about as much to do with giving thanks as Memorial Day has to do with acknowledging  fallen soldiers, there is a slight chance that you too will be forced to acknowledge something that you are thankful for. But if you’re really reaching for it, really having trouble coming up with that killer one-liner that is going to make your parents sigh with relief and say, “Thank god we didn’t raise a total shmuck,” I suggest giving a listen to Be Calm Honcho’s terrific song “Mean Pack,” a wonderful testament to the importance of co-existing with other people.

Although Be Calm Honcho, a four-piece from San Francisco, can often sound like a rock and roll band, “Mean Pack” doesn’t quite feel like a rock and roll song. Without a distinct verse / bridge / chorus structure or hummable melodies, “Mean Pack,” a three-minute celebration of humanity, sounds more like a motivational speech set to music. Like Talking Heads’ David Byrne, Shannon Harney has a voice that perfectly balances authority with a yelping quirkiness, making sweeping statements like “With people, we are everybody / expansive as the skyline,” feel sharp and poignant. By keeping the rest of the band steady and calm, Harney’s vocal quips really pop and leap. I love when she sings “We’re a mean PACK!” and her voice cracks a tiny bit and you get to hear all of the fun she’s having.

None of this is to say that the rest of Be Calm Honcho isn’t doing a terrific job. The guitar parts alternately chug forward and add little responses to Harney’s one-liners, and Michael Carrera’s epic drum fill right at the beginning of the song is the perfect way to kick things into gear. Throughout the song he adds these cymbals that make the song ebb and flow, without ever straying too far from its steady pace. Towards the end of “Mean Pack” I found my favorite line: “Without people we are a person clean as snow / and gone with the wind.” As we find ourselves stuffing our faces this Thursday, it’s a good thing to keep in mind. As for me, I’m just thankful I heard the song.

“Mean Pack” appears on Be Calm Honcho’s recent LP Honcho Dreams, out now on Crossbill Records. Listen to “Mean Pack” below.

Musical Monday – La Misa Negra

Musical Monday – La Misa Negra

It began with a comment here, a remark there; like the growing whispers of Sauron’s army gathering in the East, or the speculation of the Republicans regaining control of the Senate in the midterm election (debatably more dire). Friends would say, “You need to check out La Misa Negra!” or “What a voice!” But I never managed to hear them until they were recently shortlisted for Oaktown Indie Mayhem’s “Best Song by an Oakland Band” award, for “Por La Bahia.” Then I put it on, and the effect was immediate. The need to dance.

La Misa Negra, or “Black Ritual,” is an eight-piece Oakland band that plays uber-high-energy Afro-Colombian cumbia music. The rhythm section snaps and cracks like a rifle, the horns and accordions shoot pure ecstasy down your spine and into your feet, and lead vocalist Diana Trujillo brings enough joy to these songs that even the most two-left-footed neurotic dudes among us will likely hit the dance floor.

“Por La Bahia” moves along at mid-tempo; a mesmerizing saxophone riff rocks back and forth like a boat, and drum rolls abound. Trujillo sings loud and clear, bringing a terrific melody to the chorus. On the group’s website, they promise “La Misa Negra is not just a band, but a party.” After hearing “Por La Bahia,” along with the other nine songs on their album “Misa de Medianoche,” how could anyone doubt them?

Listen to “Por La Bahia,” and the rest of La Misa Negra’s full-length, below.

Fugitive Waves #10: Dissident Kitchens

Fugitive Waves #10: Dissident Kitchens

Part 3 of Hidden Kitchens World Trifecta with host Frances McDormand: Hidden Kitchens Russia, stories of the role of the kitchen in the downfall of the Soviet Union.

Musical Monday – Jessica Pratt

Musical Monday – Jessica Pratt

Even though Jessica Pratt has left town for the City of Angels, “Back, Baby,” the first single from her upcoming album On Your Own Love Again, has San Francisco written all over it. There’s an overarching sense of heartbreak and loss here, but Pratt sneaks in all of these beautiful moments, and the effect is like walking the Richmond or the Sunset on the foggiest of mornings; like a chapter out of Gary Kamiya’s Cool Gray City of Love. Out of the mist comes these beautiful buildings, places of solitude and tranquility, everything awash in muted tones. It’s not quite clear what qualifies as a verse on “Back, Baby,” or even a chorus; it’s all memorable, each little moment stands alone. “Sometimes I pray for the rain,” Pratt sings in her sweet, slightly off-kilter voice, and then answers herself with some of the best “la la la’s” ever.

Gently, Pratt she leads us forward,stringing her melodies together. We go up and down hills, the fog rolls in and then rolls out. She plays with the pace of her vocal phrasing, she adds in little winks of color with a second guitar. And then at the end, she’s led us back to where where we began.

On Your Own Love Again is out January 27 on Drag City Records. Listen to “Back, Baby,” below.

 

Musical Monday – Yesway

Musical Monday – Yesway

Sometimes mornings can be a bit rushed. You find your way downstairs and have a cup before you look up, notice you’re late, find your coat and grab your hat, and make the bus ten seconds flat! Or, you have to get your chain mail on ASAP because the enemy is about to attack, and you’re just snoozing with your friend! Some mornings just aren’t made for savoring new Bay Area music.

But when it comes to Yesway, that’s perfectly fine: the duo’s intricate tunes are better suited for the hushed stillness of autumn nights anyway. Throughout their recent self-titled LP, Emily Ritz and Kacey Johansing twist mesmerizing guitar patterns and their voices – at once soothing and menacing – around each other into imaginative shapes that dance like flames. And while their interlocking acoustic guitars often flutter and lilt delicately, the occasional addition of thudding percussion and bass offer an added oomf. But even when those instruments add weight and clarity to this sparse music, the mystery persists.

Yesway brings its captivating music to the Independent this Sunday with Mirah. In the meantime, you can listen to their full album here and watch the video for single “Howlin’ Face” below.