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Thursday, February 22, 2024

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Arts + CultureMusicBay Area proves fertile ground for Maria BC's rough-and-tumble...

Bay Area proves fertile ground for Maria BC’s rough-and-tumble ambient

Secluded Berkeley Hills set scene for prescient warnings, louder drums of their album 'Spike Field.'

If you were lucky enough to catch one of Maria BC’s sets in 2021 or 2022, you likely remember two things. The first is the almost overwhelming beauty of their songs, which settle over any room in which they’re being played like a low-hanging fog. The second is the jarring, canned monologues the artist used as interludes, sourced from a bargain-bin self-hypnosis tape called How To Attract Love.

“I guess the intention was to bring a sense of irony, and also have people turn their analytical brains on in a way,” says the singer-songwriter, otherwise known as Oakland resident Rian Bobbitt-Chertock, who plays a hometown show at Thee Stork Club on Thu/7. “What the hell is this person doing on stage telling me how to love and be in my body?”

Bobbitt-Chertock no longer needs these interludes to engender a sense of confusion. It’s all in the gorgeous but occasionally gnarly music on their second album Spike Field, a vision of a vast and desolate landscape where travelers may need to watch their step. The artist’s delicate songs are besieged by all manner of disruptions: bursts of static interference on “Amber,” spasms of echo on “Still,” the arrival of an incongruously forceful drum kit on “Lacuna.” 

And yet somehow, these disturbances enhance the beauty of their songs by making them feel more real, more dangerous, more reflective of rough-and-tumble life rather than the kind of psychedelic dreamworld to which so much ambient music offers an escape. 

Spike Field is Bobbitt-Chertock’s first album for vaunted label Sacred Bones, known for its wealth of great indie-rock releases and its rather old-fashioned practice of listing the tracklists of its releases on the front cover. It represents an expansion of scale and scope from their 2021 debut EP “Devil’s Rain” and 2022 album Hyaline, and at 48 minutes long, it fills nearly the entirety of a vinyl record. 

“On Hyaline, on the arrangement and production side of things, I was taking more of the approach of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks and stripping everything away to just what felt absolutely necessary,” they say. “For this album I was leaning into the approach of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, then honoring what sticks.”

Born and raised in Ohio, Bobbitt-Chertock originally planned to live in New York after graduating from Middlebury College in 2020. Their partner wanted to live in the Bay Area, and they made the move in 2021. “It seemed like the world was ending, and I was like, ‘I wanna be with you, let’s do it,’” they say. “We’re not together anymore, but I still think it was the best decision ever.”

Hyaline was recorded in Bobbitt-Chertock’s cramped apartment in Brooklyn. For Spike Field, they had an opportunity to house-sit for a family friend living in the relatively secluded Berkeley Hills. The change in environment allowed the artist to experiment with louder sounds, like the drum set on “Lacuna”—and, as tends to happen in the Bay Area, the spirit of the place seeped into their songs as well.

“It had like a view of the Golden Gate Bridge,” they say. “And inside the home, I was surprised to find this beautiful Steinway piano that still had the notes taped on the keys from when my friend was a kid. It was so precious. When I listen to the songs from the new album, I’m immediately transported back to that space.”

Photo by tamara suarez porras

The title Spike Field refers to a proposed method of warning future generations, or even visitors to Earth, of inhospitable sites such as nuclear waste dumps: lining them with rows of enormous, jagged metal spikes, which would stick ominously out of the ground and ideally serve as a universal “keep out” sign.

“This feeling of this distance between the self and others keeps coming up on the album—the struggle to communicate and the imperative to communicate,” Bobbitt-Chertock says. “And all of the ways in which it fails us. We have to keep trying to make ourselves known and to get to know each other in spite of that.”

Bobbitt-Chertock doesn’t seem to have too many problems making themselves known, at least not in the burgeoning world of Bay Area experimental music. The East Bay is a fertile place for young composers and improvisers, and Bobbitt-Chertock counts among their friends and collaborators such luminaries as saxophonist Cole Pulice, singer-pianist Lucy Liyou, and Oakland/Olympia queer doom-metal band Ragana, all of whom have released excellent albums this year.

“People in the Bay Area, especially Oakland, are so welcoming and will do anything for each other and want things to happen for each other,” they say. That’s so, so special, and I think it like breeds beautiful, amazing music that I would wanna celebrate regardless of whether I lived in Oakland.”

MARIA BC w/ Chuck Johnson plays Thu/7. Stork Club, Oakland. Tickets and more information here.

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Daniel Bromfield
Daniel Bromfield
Daniel Bromfield is a San Francisco native and arts journalist whose work has appeared in the Bay Guardian, San Francisco Magazine, Resident Advisor, and various music sites. He ran the SF Rebirth blog, documenting all-ages shows in the Bay Area, from 2010 to 2013. His work can be found at danielbromfield.com

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