Under the Stars is a quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, and a number of other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes, thinking outside the margins.
JAZZANOVA, THE SOUND OF DETROIT REIMAGINED (STRATA RECORDS)
Once again continuing the long hard work of upholding tradition and passing history on to the future, legendary DJ and music historian DJ Amir has partnered up with iconic label BBE and ever-excelling Berlin jazz connoisseurs Jazzanova for a landmark project.
Strata Records’ The Sound of Detroit Reimagined By Jazzanova is a recontextualization of 11 tracks from the Strata catalog using a live band of 10 musicians and producers in Berlin. Whether it’s post-bop, broken beat, house, or even hip-hop, there are few ensembles that can do it so effortlessly.
When asked what does it mean to finally see this project come to fruition with a future live gig at Jazz Cafe in London this upcoming April to boot? DJ Amir remained candidly on point:
“It’s like raising a child and teaching them everything you know and have learned. And to finally witness them become an outstanding person,” the label boss and historian said via email. “It’s like years of blood, sweat, and plenty of tears sacrificed so that you get to enjoy the fruit of your harvest. For better or definitely not worse, you know have done your best.”
Rest assured, this is NOT a “covers” album. Rather a brand-new celebration of the iconic imprint, as Jazzanova’s take on Lyman Woodard Organization’s musical manifesto ‘Creative Musicians’ makes clear from its Afrobeat-inspired horn arrangements, drum track, and syncopated tempo. With remixes from Waajeed & Henrik Schwarz, it’s the proper way to kick off this archive delivery.
You can pre-order the digital and vinyl here.
TINY TELEPHONE PODCAST
Tiny Telephone analog recording studio, founded by local musician John Vanderslice, helped to define a specific sound—one named by Vanderslice as “sloppy hi fi”—that repped the Bay Area from 1997-2020. Much in the same way D&D Studios cemented the standard for golden era ’90s New York hip-hop and Sound City Studios in Los Angeles became the cynosure for late 20th Century garage and mainstream rock and roll.
Tiny Telephone, for 23 years, not only provided affordable hi-fi recording to San Francisco’s independent music community, but it curated an art-conscious charm through analog equipment.
Death Cab for Cutie, The Mountain Goats, Spoon, Sleater-Kinney, Deerhoof, The Magnetic Fields—bands who cooly built their reputation on creating an elusive yet immediately identifiable feeling in the studio, flocked to Tiny Telephone, where Vanderslice and a nucleus of high minded Poindexters constructed that loose yet tight aesthetic heard round the world.
TrueAnon Presents: Keep the Dream Alive is a new podcast miniseries launching 2/2/22 from the TrueAnon team, produced over a two-year period, that states the history of that legendary (and now-defunct) recording studio as told by John Vanderslice, Ben Gibbard, John Darnielle, Daniel Handler, Merrill Garbus, John Congleton and various musicians and engineers who passed through. According to the press release, “it’s a human story about love and loss, the tension between art and commerce, and the joy and loneliness of the working-class musician.” Available February 2 on podcast streaming sites and Soundcloud.
ARTSICK, FINGERS CROSSED (SLUMBERLAND)
Listen, there is a nostalgia gaze, of the heavyweight viscous sort, permeating throughout some of the best shows cable has to offer these days. Cord-cutters or not. Jen Malone, music supervisor behind shows Euphoria, Atlanta, and Umbrella Academy seems to have the golden touch. She’s got those hyper-horny Euphoria Millenials bouncing to Biggie, lip-synching to Pac, and blowing the whistle to Short Dog at parties, in wayward car rides, and during cringe-inducing drug deals. Malone has perfected making the fictional quite functional.
The same goes for her alt-90’s fuzzy needles drops that just keep coming in the addictive break-out show Yellowjackets, where Malone has transported the viewer to a world fully embracing Nirvana, Liz Phair, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins—shit, for Bay Area folks it’s Live 105 (RIP) all over again.
Turns out that prestige soundtrack revival vibe is the ultimate opening act to Fingers Crossed, the upbeat indie-pop expansive debut album from the Oakland-based trio Artsick. As if moving past the alt-’90s sound and into tastes ranging from Vivian Girls to Colleen Green, it’s where inventive pop meets melodic punk-tunes hover over the day like the re-emergence of Karl The Fog.
So the story goes, Artsick was formed in June 2018 when guitarist Christina Riley was feeling “artsick” and her buddy and fellow musician Mario Hernandez offered to play drums and record some songs at his fully-analog Oakland recording studio. Christina’s bass idol Donna McKean volunteered too.
Riley’s songwriting, sparse yet direct, complements the DIY ebullient vibe that permeates through their debut record. Look no further than “Look Again” for stripped-down musical execution, telling and direct vocal delivery bundled with celebratory power trio cohesiveness. Artsick continues this IRT, Bay Area rock and roll renaissance that just keeps bouncing forward.
Fingers Crossed is out now on the forever Bay-Area auxiliary Slumberland Records.
BÉZIER, VALENCIA (DARK ENTRIES)
Multi-instrumentalist Robert Yang’s Bézier project remains a constantly changing synth-wave portal to the past. His most recent mini-album Valencia is a double nod to “sound and scenery while living in San Francisco” and also Valencia, Spain, and “La Ruta del Bakalao” aka “La Ruta Destroy,” the Spanish clubbing scene throughout the 80s and 90s famed for its aggressive and synthetic sounds.
Title track “Valencia” begins with full-on John Carpenter type sonic dread and quickly escalates into 4/4 handclaps, hurried tempo, and flickering accents.
It’s safe to say this release, out on February 18, resembles nothing like the $2000 baby stroller, post-hipster highway of 2022’s Mission District. His brooding melodies and rhythms—”themes of submission and catharsis”—nod to SF’s gay leather bars of the ’70s and ’80s. They seem refreshing in contrast to the Vanilla landscape that has taken over The Mish. At least the music gives us pause, with some nasty bite.
You can pre-order Valencia here.
MAYLEE TODD, “SHOW ME” (STONES THROW)
I’ve been following and writing about Maylee Todd for a couple of years now, and she still remains bewildering with every left turn concluded. This Toronto singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of Filipino descent eternally constructs her own funk-ballads, ’80s revisionist soul-pop arrangements, and synth experimentations without filler.
She remains a constant vessel of original ideas, sounds, and productions.
So to see her signed to the Stones Throw label and roster, with a debut album Maloo, dropping March 4, described as “a collection of science fiction lullabies,” things are about to get existentially groovy on an interstellar funk tip.
Maylee Todd could not do it any other way.
Check her “Show Me” video, conceived, created, and animated entirely by Maylee, for proof.