Under the Stars is a quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, and a number of other adjacent items. We get into it.
There is a certain type of half-assed, false sense of acceptance that hovers over me during these last six weeks of the year. It’s like knowing the dangers of a bacon-wrapped hot dog that I have no business snacking on it. But I buy it anyway. At the devil’s hour. It tastes so good. But once the deed is done, here come the consequences. Enter, grumpy belly syndrome. It lasts for a couple of days, keeping you in close proximity to a cool porcelain toilet.
Not a pretty thing to behold, ya know? But that is what you get. Rolling them bones.
I enjoy the idea of a year wrapping up, big feature films appearing (the good ones, not the Netflix joints shot in Vancouver on a ramen budget), epic live music shows coming to town, and those boutique record releases saved for the holiday time. But the actual business of the holidays can go kick rocks. Pound sand, for sure, Son. It’s exhausting on the wallet. Remember this: Money is what lights up the Christmas Tree.
While we are now free to roam about the earth, those flight and lodging fees have added their own inflation rate. Wall Street knows that people, in general, will pay whatever they need to, in order to make sure the next year does not resemble the last two.
But wait, isn’t this a music column? I didn’t mess up and subscribe to a George F. Will substack, did I?
(No, you didn’t. Yes, it is. Thanks for the reminder. Here’s my point.)
To all my music journo friends worldwide, my fave electronic music artists from NYC to Berlin and back to Oakland, my Bay Area indie jangle-pop post-punk out-there bands. My road-tested fave DJs. My hip-hop heroes and R&B warriors. Essentially my flock and my tribe. Those who live and die by music. Get ready, friendo.
Attending Carnegie Hall’s citywide Afrofuturism festival this February; SXSW in March; Treefort Music Fest later that month; and the Marfa Myths Festival, if it continues this year. Essentially, any music festival you would travel to in a regular calendar year is going to deplete your digital wallet like malware raging high on steroids.
When it was announced on November 1 that overseas travelers could return to the United States, that’s when airlines, hotels, and rental car companies declared, “I gotcha.”
Capitalism enhanced by COVID. Oh, it’s a thing, whole ass mood to the full-tilt boogie, Jack.
So whoever you call upon during the Yuletide season for gifts: Santa, Black Jesus, White Mike, Oprah, Kate Bush, Big Freeda….put in that request for more Cheddar. Ok. Let’s talk about some freaking bands.
Artsick, “Despise” from Fingers Crossed (Slumberland)
Gotta give up a quick golf clap to Slumberland records for breathing new life in the Bay Area jangle-pop scene. Don’t hate me if you don’t think there is a revival happening in real-time. I’m going off what other platforms, not in the Bay are saying. Troll those fuckers. Love and support your local platforms. Cause they keep on disappearing.
Okay. Artsick kinda reminds me of those makeshift bands that used to play Kilowatt in the early ’90s, who looked like they may be rickety, but once they started playing you realized these are veterans in rookie clothing by design.
According to the lore, Artsick was formed in June 2018 when Christina Riley was feeling “artsick” and was writing songs, but missed the inspiration and excitement of collaborating with her old band, Burnt Palms. Christina played Mario Hernandez (Kids On A Crime Spree, Ciao Bella) a couple of demos, and recognizing that “artsick” feeling, Mario offered to play drums and record some songs at his fully-analog Oakland recording studio. Christina’s bass idol, Donna McKean (Lunchbox, Hard Left), loved the songs and jumped at the chance to help her friends with their “artsickness” and a band was born. Unfortunately, we have to wait until January 7 to hear this band live at Oakland Weekender. Fingers Crossed will be released on Slumberland on January 21. Pre-order here.
Seablite, “Breadcrumbs” (Emotional Response Records)
Seablite, a San Francisco four-piece band, loaded to the gills with fuzz, reverb, delay, and songs whose lyrics fade in and out like a sugar rush that never crashes, is back with a new single, EP on the horizon, and a major gig early in 2022. As revealed in The Big Takeover, band member Lauren Matsui explained “Breadcrumbs” and “Ink Bleeds” were recorded in May 2021 “pandemic-style at our individual apartments and practice space. We started with a demo that Andy built a drumbeat for, then we individually added our parts, and then sent the Logic project to the next person to add their parts. This was the first time we had ever recorded separately; usually, we record together as a group. After we finished recording, Andy mixed the tracks.”
Filled with windrush intensity, fierce guitar application, and trademark highwire vocal melodies swirling about the arrangement, “Breadcrumbs” delivers proof and fact, Seablite made proper use of the yearlong pause.
“The video for ‘Breadcrumbs’ was filmed in June 2021. Directed and edited by Chicago-based videographer/editor Jenn Dorn Heard. Jenn gave us a shot list to work off of and with the help of our friends Brian Jackson, Kevin Wood, and Helena Antonowitsch, we filmed all the shots via iPhone in Lauren’s garage. Jenn took all the footage we got and made magic with it,” Matsui concludes. Catch more of that magic at Oakland Weekender and by pre-ordering the EP here.
Howless, “Levels” from To Repel Ghosts (Static Blooms Records)
There is a radiant plurality that never lets up during the time-traveling “Levels” video from the Mexico City-based noise-pop/shoegaze quartet Howless. With big ’80s hair, attitude, fashion, and joie de vivre just leaping from frame to frame, you are taken aback with the synth-wave, Cure-light soundtrack. It’s not what you expect with the VHS playback, right? But completely powerful, in a different direction. I’ve often thought that if human beings realize, at our core, we are truly human first, we’d never be surprised by where our collective interests lie.
I’m obsessed with this band and can’t friggin wait to see what they do next. Releases November 26, pre-order here.
Remy Le Bouef and Electric Squeezebox Orchestra: Architecture of Storms album release November 20
Remy Le Boeuf, the Grammy-nominated composer, and saxophonist, whose music is rooted in the jazz tradition and overlaps into the contemporary classical realm, is having a record release show at The Sound Room in Oakland on November 20. The award-winning artist draws on various influences from Aaron Copland to Charles Mingus. Le Boeuf is also the founder and director of the Assembly of Shadows jazz orchestra. He has worked with a range of collaborators including the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, HAIM, JACK Quartet, Linda Oh, Dayna Stephens, and his identical twin brother Pascal, with whom he co-leads the Grammy-nominated ensemble, Le Boeuf Brothers.
You can purchase tickets here.
Jeff Parker, Forfolks (International Anthem & Nonesuch Records)
Jeff Parker’s Forfolks—a new album of solo guitar works—will be released on December 10, 2021, via International Anthem & Nonesuch Records. The album includes interpretations of Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” and the standard “My Ideal,” plus six original compositions including “Four Folks” (a tune first written by Parker and recorded in 1995) and “La Jetée” (a tune he recorded with Isotope 217 in 1997 and with Tortoise in 1998).
The four totally new original compositions on the album are loop-driven works that marry melodic improvisation with electronic textures. As Parker describes: “I am trying to create a sonic world to wander around in.” The album was recorded by Graeme Gibson at Sholo Studio in Altadena, California (aka Jeff’s house) over two days in June 2021.
The album’s lead single “Suffolk” gets visualized beautifully. Director and filmmaker Cauleen Smith, who translates that sustained sound into real color framing, talked about her video.
“Back in 2018, I invited an intergenerational group of women to help me make some moving images in Noah Purifoy’s Desert Museum in Joshua Tree. The resulting film, Sojourner, contemplates centuries of black feminist mysticism and cultural production. Something about Jeff’s Suffolk reminded me of waking up at four in the morning so that we could catch that sunrise, then napping until 4 pm so that we could be ready for sunset. Our film depended on being sensitive to and present for the orbit of our planet, the loop around the sun.”