Oakland

VIDEO PREMIERE: Plattenbau - Security

Will Shenton

Where most in the pantheon of retro, VHS-style music videos go for an understated, DIY aesthetic, Plattenbau's latest uses it as a canvas for vibrant, kaleidoscopic visuals. While the lo-fi tracking fuzz remains as a nostalgic filter, the colorful geometry that cascades around the Oakland duo is utterly mesmerizing, especially when coupled with the propulsive industrial beats they've become known for.

Taken from their forthcoming EP, Endless, "Security" indulges in a long simmer before boiling over. Opening on nothing but deep, driving synths, we're shortly treated to Megan Biscieglia's restrained, almost whispering vocals. Over the course of the song, her voice expands and recedes, occasionally bursting into soaring cries before retreating back into intimate, conspiratorial tones.

Throughout, the manic distortions of worn-out videotape take on vivid colors and textures, adding layers of dynamism to irresistible effect. "Security" is a piece that surprises both lyrically and visually, bringing new life to an already riveting track.

Endless drops June 5 on Glowing Dagger.

REVIEW: Tune-Yards - I can feel you creep into my private life

tune-yards-i-can-feel-you-creep-into-my-private-life-artwork.jpg

Laura Kerry

When facing a challenging political climate, music often falls into two different camps: escapism or head-on confrontation. Tune-Yards’ new album does both.

The group’s first album in three years, I can feel you creep into my private life responds to the current moment. More specifically, it is a response to two very of-the-moment—to an almost comical degree—experiences that Merrill Garbus, the duo’s frontwoman, had in the past year: a DJ residency that catapulted her into the world of dance music, and a six-month workshop on what it means to be white in America at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland that fostered a better understanding of her “participation in racism and white supremacy.” The result is an exuberant album that is equal parts danceable and politically engaged.

The first of those two sensations to come across is the former. Starting with the opener, “Heart Attack,” Garbus and her collaborator Nate Brenner build a track that with its clapping percussion, sputtering melody, funky bass, and variations of the four-on-the-floor rhythm, impels the listener to move. Here, Garbus poses her message in fragments of more abstract and personal imagery (“Let me speak / Let me breathe / Oh, let me be”). Here, as in many other places on the album, the sound and feel of the music—a more focused and beat-driven version of Tune-Yards’ signature energetic freneticism—outweighs the content of the lyrics. While this has the effect of slightly muting the message, it also means that the listener is hooked by the time they start to consider meaning. There’s also something sneakily transgressive about propelling an audience to dance unsuspectingly to music with political motivations.

While Garbus couches much of her social justice bent in glittering pop and an introspective gaze, it occasionally pierces through the surface of I can feel you creep with clear—and sometimes clunky—force. On “ABC 123,” a song whose simple balance of bouncy bass, buoyant percussion, and catchy melody make it one of the clearest and most fun on the album, the artist swings between loftiness (“Sitting in the middle of the sixth extinction”) and intimacy (“I want so badly to be liked”), ultimately addressing the audience directly with the cheer, “No abstentions! VOTE.”

Like the call-to-action on “ABC 123,” the  most straightforward of the political lyrics on the album can feel jarring, like a blunt wack across the head in contrast to the rest of Garbus’ deft deliveries. On “Colonizer,” for example, when she sings over a deep bass in a voice scratchy with effects, “I use my white woman voice to tell stories of travels with African men… / I cry my white woman tears carving grooves in my cheeks to display what I meant,” it feels downright uncomfortable. It’s hard to tell whether that discomfort comes from confronting my own complicity in the privilege that Garbus sings about, or if it stems from the feeling that a white woman acknowledging “white woman tears” in song still calls attention to herself in the problematic way that crying—and subsequently broadcasting—white woman tears does in the first place.

According to Tune-Yards' new album, though, beginning to disentangle that kind of discomfort is a necessary effort. It’s important to recognize and talk about it. And, in the midst of that effort, Garbus offers, you can always dance.

TRACK REVIEW: Sun Kin - Under Standing Waves

Laura Kerry

At its start, Oakland-based band Sun Kin’s “Under Standing Waves” is all new-age reflection. Beginning softly, the song emerges with ethereal synths reverberating quietly as echoing vocals sing with restraint, “She has gone to bed just in case you come to mind / Her will to fight’s at rest until she wakes up after the night.” As new instrumental voices join in the first 30 seconds, the song becomes increasingly spacey and abstract.

The pure abstraction doesn’t last long; soon, earthy bass and drums enter, grounding the track in a funkier, psych-rock feeling. As new sounds emerge, they progress further in this direction until singer Kabir Kumar—now sounding clearer than he did in his opening croon—escalates into a poppy yowl that asks, “Can you FaceTime?” Set against strange, otherworldly synths, even this intrusion of a contemporary and concrete image doesn’t fully escape the reflective haze. The line comes across as a play on words, as likely to be interpreted as “can you face time?” Even when talking about an app, it remains in the realm of abstraction.

The song’s sounds also remain, for the most part, mystical. Despite the grounding elements and the clear vocals, the overall effect in “Under Standing Waves” is a floating, unearthly feeling; its momentum comes from alternating buildups and releases, and not pop structures. In the span of five minutes, Sun Kin takes you on an intriguing and transcendental journey.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Perhapsy - O, Su Yung

Will Shenton

When people say "DIY," it can bring any number of things to mind—most commonly in the music biz, four dudes playing lo-fi rock at a donation-supported show in somebody's basement. But the latest video from Oakland artist Perhapsy, aka Derek Barber, takes the acronym to a new, endearingly weird level.

In it, Barber's fantastic single "O, Su Yung" serves as the score to a kind of triumphant ghost story. We follow Su Yung, a fearsome but lovable spirit that goes to battle with a clan of anthropomorphic dinosaurs, in a loose homage to early Mortal Kombat games. However, for the visuals, Barber embraced an even more simplistic style than that of an early-'90s video game: hand-drawn stick puppets, plastic toys, and gore made from red jello.

The video is playfully rough around the edges, with Barber's distinctive illustrations and deadpan cameos providing a nice counterpoint to Perhapsy's somewhat melancholy sound. When it comes down to it, he writes happy music that sounds sad, his own goofy optimism as irresistible as the layered guitars. "O, Su Yung" is a perfect encapsulation of that nostalgic joy.

REVIEW: The Tambo Rays - Recharge

Will Shenton

I've always had a soft spot for the effervescent, glimmering sheen of pop. There's something innately appealing about music that doesn't require you to think too much, opting instead to grab you by the reptilian parts of your brain and drag you onto the dance floor with its energetic hooks. And yet, after more than a handful of listens, it can often feel hollow, the lyrics and structure lacking the substance to have much staying power.

With their sophomore EP, Oakland group The Tambo Rays have delivered five tracks that artfully sidestep those pitfalls. Recharge—an aptly titled record for a number of reasons—builds truly infectious songs atop a rich emotional foundation, chronicling the struggle of founding band members Brian and Sara DaMert after their father passed away in 2015. In so doing, the music embodies both a tribute to their perennially optimistic dad and their healing process itself: "finding passion and opening the heart to love more."

After the fairly ebullient opener, "Yes and No" ("Can you feel the energy / Moving through your body?"), "Always Down" is the first track to hint at this underlying melancholy. The lyrics are an affirmation of support, a promise to always stand by someone's side regardless of how crushed they might be by depression and pain. "And I'll always be there for you / Situations unknown / And I'll always be there for you / To take you where you want to go to," DaMert sings in the build to the chorus, which concludes with the encouraging line, "But we aren't lost now / We found the love."

"Wrong Turn" and "Nothing to Lose" build upon this theme, balancing vulnerability and doubt with statements of defiant optimism ("Sometimes sorrow if swallowed it grows / But I find if I love the sorrow it goes"). And like the rest of the EP, both couch their emotionality in fantastically catchy songwriting.

But it's the strength of the closer, "Get It Right Now," that really ties the room together. If not the strongest song on the album, it's certainly a personal favorite, and something about its tone seems to integrate the best parts of the preceding tracks into an eminently satisfying conclusion. "Pick up the pieces and relax your mind / Pick up the pieces and create your life / We hit the floor naked all alone ... So get it right now," the chorus implores, seeming to shake off any lingering sorrow and embrace the promise of the future, as an irresistible synth line winds its way between the vocals.

Recharge is a rare album, one that's simultaneously easy on the ears and hard on the heart. The Tambo Rays have proven their ability to write captivating earworms that resonate well beyond the superficial, and in the process, it seems, they've found the catharsis they needed to heal and grow. Evocative and wonderfully listenable, I can't recommend it enough.

 

Be sure to catch The Tambo Rays EP release show with Cave Clove and Star Parks at The Night Light in Oakland this Friday, 7/21.