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Sunday, June 16, 2024

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Arts + CultureMoviesUnder the Stars: A '70s SF cult synth-punk band...

Under the Stars: A ’70s SF cult synth-punk band is heard again

Plus: Sour Widows at Union Street Fest, Charlotte Day Wilson wows us, Mcstravick x Equipto, more great music 4u

It’s Under The Stars, babe: a quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, opinions, and other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes and thinking outside the margins.

Support your local record stores. The dedicated heads behind them like to eat, too.

Ok, Let’s get into it.

UNITS AND IKE YARD ON DARK ENTRIES RECORDS

Scrolling through San Francisco’s Dark Entries website, you’ll find crates and crates of sound experimentation and, at times, local bands with past reissues. Sometimes we need to remember that this is a record-first town, and Dark Entries is more than capable of providing that need.

Units were a synth-punk outfit formed in San Francisco in 1978, and this local record store now carries a private release of their 1979 hit “High Pressure Days.” It may be a bit pricey at $60.00 (the Dark Entries label is selling the dead stock that the band had in its garage, so the record is as original as you can get), but you cannot deny its landmark Sputnik-type erratic charm. The 2011 remix by Todd Terje put many collectors and lovers of music on the scent. But understand this, Suicide, yes the synth-punk royalty duo, credited Units for being first with that genre clarification.

But even without the accolade, one listen, and you get it. Bay-Area originators, The Units used the new technology for that era and flipped cold, non-feeling audio computer textures into a collage that moves with intensity, giving the finger to the boring flatulated bloated tradition of relying upon guitars.

Pick it up here.

Cult outfit Ike Yard didn’t stick around for long due to a lack of record labels understanding exactly what they were creating from the ether of the streets of New York City. 

Stuart Argabright, Michael Diekmann, Kenneth Compton, and Fred Szymanski combined proto-body music and No Wave blue-eerie chompy vibes. Credit to their use of the Korg MS-20 and the Roland TR-808. Give it a good sniff. Whatcha got? Elements of Chicago, Deeeetroit, and Berlin proto-dance music vertebrae all wrapped up in this bleep, blop, boop symphony of blinking light technology. They were trying to guide a dance floor…. 

But Hold my beer for a second.

Five years later these sounds, a bit more mature for the common ear, would lead an underground electronic revolution.

Their legendary self-titled LP for Factory in 1982 points in so many directions that it didn’t even have a name. But the stones, da onions on these four futuristic musicians?

Ike Yard made Devo sound like Lawrence Welk.

Pick it up here.

MCSTRAVICK, BUTTERFLIES

Equipto has been a mainstay in SF hip-hop since, maybe before, MUNI started handing out late-night transfers. That’s a little fabricated in the estimation, but my point is: He’s seen some things, and performed with many talented emcees, so every time he gets the chance, he’s going to bless the mic with history, lessons, and love.

That’s what elders do. Add to that fact the positive presence of a DJ-producer with the ear, the touch, and the ability to provide that certain audio palette and deliver those aforementioned lessons.

Butterflies, is a self-produced, self-released seven-track album by Mcstravick that features a reflective Equipto and numerous hip-hop talents from all around The Bay, and it is truly something special. 

An album built on love. 

Something that seems to be missing in the larger hip-hop conversation these days… 

I won’t go into detail, but I’m sure you all know exactly what I’m talking about. 

Let’s just say that if you go after a Pulitzer Prize-winning emcee, you will bleed profusely. 

However, Butterflies, with its cultural samples, voices who have passed on, big-hearted beats, and mindful lyrics, is a timely refreshment that quenches the thirst for those hip-hoppers who still seek that boom-bap aesthetic.

Buy it here.

QUIET DAWN, CELEBRATE (FIRST WORD RECORDS)

“Once again, the idea was to make a record that we can dance to, whether we are dancers or not, listen to at home, or on our travels. Celebrate life, love, and the people we love. Celebrate the different cultures of the world – our differences are a strength. Turn negativity into positivity. Celebrate our actions, whether in pain or not. Celebrate our different journeys. Let’s ‘Celebrate’ it right now!”

French producer Will Galland, who records and performs under the name Quiet Dawn, always understood the concept—full picture—in my opinion: hip-hop, house, and broken beat all pay rent in the same building. In the past, he would utilize the Fender Rhodes, delve deep into rhythmic paths, and create something truly sublime, although occasionally a bit too “thinky brain” to quote Marc Maron, if I may say so.

You don’t read a groove, you dance to it.

It seems that a couple of years ago, with the birth of his son, he let go and focused on the task of making people’s asses shake, reintroducing that joyful broken beat noise into the world. And oh my gush, we are incredibly grateful for it.

Celebrate, his new 11-track album, operates under the pretense, let me entertain you instead of explaining the function. And it’s a corker, Jack. Loose rubbery basslines make the standout track “It’s All About Freedom” move about with jubilation while still geeking off that double-time wood block inner beat.

Weaving between organic and electronic compositions, dipping into hip-hop, dancing around house and truly laying the funk down for the broken beat heads, check the deep heater of a moment “Lost From Light”, featuring Oliver Night from the almighty CoOp Presents crew, he brings 70’s Stevie chord progression in line with that humid London ting. Just popping it all night long.

Quiet Dawn is back at it again, celebrating life.

Pick it up here.

CHARLOTTE DAY WILSON

We’re hitting that time of the year when events keep piling up, increasing the chance of missing out on other events that slipped through the cracks. Priorities, people, keep your Google calendar slim, trim, and without that dreaded shrug emoji entering your decision-making process. But despite all the night markets kicking off in SF, the NBA playoffs (minus the Warriors, dammit Draymond!) packing bars, even baseball popping off, you don’t talk about Blake Snell’s troubles, I won’t remind you the A’s will be playing in West Sacramento next year in a stadium that holds just over 14,000 seats. Yeah, that feels professional, right?

West. Sacremento. 

Yep.

We missed the Toronto-born-and-raised singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Charlotte Day Wilson’s performance at The Regency on May 20, and that’s a bummer, Mang. Cause with just one listen of her debut record for XL Recordings, Cyan Blue, you get the sense this artist, who plays hockey no less (I did say she was from up North) is going to be around for a while in this biz and pick up some hardware someplace down the line.

Between crafting minimal, piano-driven ballads, and arranging moving songs where Wilson dreams of being a queer mother in a world… well actually, our dystopian reality. 

Even the soulful, modernized rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” serves goosebumps and makes hair on the knuckles rise.

Sure there are comparisons to Anita Baker, but hey, yo, Slow Down Sparky, that’s Auntie to you. 

Don’t be so thirsty.

Still, it’s difficult to deny that old soul feel/vibe throughout the record, wrapped around grounded sleek production that supports all of Wilson’s vocal expertise.

Cyan Blue rings the bell, as to say “Attention, we have another one to look out for.”

Buy it here.

ACTRESS

British electronic producer Darren Cunningham will be releasing his new album, Statik, on June 7 through Smalltown Supersound, and it’s a departure.

According to the press release, “Cunningham’s latest studio album is filled with a sense of freedom and stillness.” That’s an understatement. I’m always excited to see how much this groundbreaking button masher will futz with my mind and change people’s perception of what’s new on dancefloors across the continent.

As for Static, I can’t reveal too much since it’s still under embargo as I write this (sorry, I still love saying that flexy shit). I can say this much, though—he may have found the perfect balance between deep bass vibrations and the soothing sounds of the Calm app. And that’s not a diss. Refreshing and, as always, unconventional, hardcore Actress fans will not be disappointed.

One last thing. The fact that the Smalltown Supersound label now includes Kelly Lee Owens, rRoxymore, and Actress feels like a shift is happening right under our ears, and it’s a positive one.

Pre-order here.

SOUR WIDOWS AT UNION STREET FESTIVAL JUNE 2

We’ve been following the band, Sour Widows, with the weed strain name, for a minute now, right?

Consisting of Maia Sinaiko, Susanna Thomson, and Max Edelman, who began their journey as a band in 2017, but all three have childhood connections. Maia and Susanna started as a duo—they both played guitar, wrote lyrics, and sang. After their debut performance at 924 Gilman in Berkeley, they joined forces with drummer Max Edelman, who transformed the duo into a zigzagging slowcore trio of illuminated voices and amped-up guitar squall.

The band remains a core center of survivors. 

Since our introduction to the band, they’ve suffered a series of tragic personal circumstances, including the loss of loved ones to overdose and cancer. As they prepared to enter Oakland’s Tiny Telephone studio in 2023 to make an album partly of songs about navigating those losses, more troubles mounted, including a traumatic breakup and another cancer diagnosis in the family.

Things got so bad they joked that maybe there were signs, a few, that the band should cease.

Luckily for us, they are some hard-headed musicians. Or maybe they knew having engineer and producer Maryam Qudus, who performs as Spacemoth, capturing the session would spin the right type of alchemy into their debut album.

While I can’t say anything, yes this too is under embargo as I write this, I believe Sour Widows has something substantial on Revival of A Friend, from the many years of storms.

Catch them along with chokecherry at the Union Street Festival on June 2 and pre-order their long-awaited debut album here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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