Late last year The Bay Bridged was approached by Cokemachineglow to jointly put together a Scenecast featuring what we considered to be some of the best music the Bay Area has to offer. Together we sat down with Andre Perry and after several E-mails and many months we narrowed the episode down to 14 great bands. As you will read below, given the wealth of great music from the Bay Area this will be the first Scenecast in a series dedicated to promoting music from the area. Be sure to stay tuned to Cokemachineglow in the future for the other installments in this great series.


Curated by Andre Perry (of CMG) and Ben Van Houten and Christian Cunningham (of the Bay Bridged Podcast)

Several months ago I came up with the idea of continuing Cokemachineglow’s periodic Scenecast series by contributing an entry on the Bay Area music scene. So I teamed up with some of the area’s best music bloggers, The Bay Bridged, and together we put together a tracklist of artists and songs that represent the Bay Area. But given the distance of a few months, all I can say now is: what the hell was I thinking? You see, while many cities would like to claim a diverse scene, San Francisco and its surrounding areas really do represent a vast range of musical projects. It truly is the scene of a thousand faces. There’s so much going on it’s kind of mind numbing: from the indie-rockers, to the noise-rockers, the country folk revivalists, the hippie-folk purists, the garage rockers, the Goth rockers, the minimalist techno heads, the minimalist house heads, the jazzy-house heads, the diva house heads, the drum n’ bass fiends, the electro freaks, the found-sound geeks, the alt. country dudes, the punk marching band enthusiasts, the left-field hip-hop crews, the hyphy hip-hop crews, the post-rockers, the glitch-rockers, the prog-rockers, the dream-poppers and space-rockers, the “we only use recording gear from 1970 and before” rockers, the “we only use recording gear made after 2000” rockers, and the “we’ll mix one or more of the above genres” folks, there’s a lot to take in.

So it seems most appropriate for me to commit to not just one impossibly exclusive Bay Area Scenecast but to a series of them in which I will do my best to do justice to one of the nation’s best music scenes. While New York and L.A. have always been places where musicians go to “make it” the Bay Area remains a place where musicians simply go to develop their craft within a larger community of like-minded creative types. Accordingly, for each Bay Area Scenecast I will work with a different group of Bay Area writers, bloggers, musicians, and/or scene enthusiasts to offer select mixes of the area’s many scenes. Thus this first stab is by no means complete: it’s just a beginning. Behold the first entry in the Bay Area Scenecast series. Cokemachineglow and The Bay Bridged Present: Bay Area Indie-Pop.

1. John Vanderslice: “White Dove”
>From Emerald City (Barsuk; 2007)

Vanderslice has long been a foundation in the Bay Area music scene. His late 90’s band MK Ultra was a local fave but following its breakup, Vanderslice carved out a name for himself. His trademark has always been remarkable production; he crafts crisp and sparkling tracks while retaining a certain lo-fi, analog warmth. Vanderslice also runs the renowned San Francisco recording studio, Tiny Telephone, a space that has served as home for countless indie albums. Additionally, Vanderslice has been an important element in the sound of latter-Mountain Goats, acting as co-producer on some of their more recent albums. “White Dove” comes from Vanderslice’s latest album, Emerald City and is a great example of his ability to pair airy pop melodies with dirty drums and guitars.
John Vanderslice on Myspace

2. Magic Bullets: “Heatstroke”
>From a Child but in life yet a DOCTOR in love (Words on Music; 2007)

1980s British pop deconstructed and reassembled from its individual parts by a hyper-talented group of young people who channel the unpretentiousness of their punk roots into something more pensive and refined. The minimal layers of guitar and keyboard call to mind early Luna alongside their heroes Altered States and Orange Juice, while singer Philip Benson has developed a unique David Byrne-cum-Morrissey yelp-croon with which to affably deliver casual pearls of wisdom. The proof is in the pudding: despite the absence of coordinated outfits or big synthy hooks, the kids dance to this stuff and we’re all better for it.
Magic Bullets on Myspace

3. Thee More Shallows: “Night at the Knight School”
>From Book of Bad Breaks (Anticon; 2007)

Like the cursed phantom whispering to you from the corner of your room, Thee More Shallows have always been weird and hushed. Collections of humming and buzzing keyboards and sweetly textured guitars are poured into their songs while almost abstract and fantastical stories fill the lyrical space. Onstage they are an intimate group, peering into suitcases of analog gear and patch cables, carefully approaching microphones as they hesitantly unfold their words. They also run a recording studio in Oakland, CA.
Thee More Shallows on Myspace

4. Audio Out Send: “Calling on the Girl”
>From Sharpen the Hours (Three Ring; 2008)

These four lads have quietly shifted their weight around the Bay Area scene for five or six years, emerging periodically to drop an album or an EP on us. To wit: After releasing 2003’s …Or Does It Explode, the band hibernated for a couple years, recording an album, then throwing it out, and finally settling on a seductive, if anemic, four-song EP. Next to Vanderslice, they might be the nicest guys in the Bay Area, as eager to play prime indie venues like Bottom of the Hill as they are to cozy up to East Bay coffee shops and stun crowds who come for caffeine but are instead floored by a wall of space-pop worthy of Pink Floyd comparisons. Audio Out Send have spent considerable time in the shadow of their college buddies Rogue Wave, which is a shame because these guys possess the same kind of melodic catchiness, but unlike Rogue Wave, Audio Out Send doesn’t pull punches when it comes to getting all gritty and in your face with their sound.
Audio Out Send on Myspace

5. Papercuts: “Judy”
>From Mockingbird (Antenna Farm; 2004)

You’d think Jason Quever was in his prime in the ‘60s but no, this guy, a former Portland dweller, is alive and kicking in the first decade of the 2000s. His Papercuts project is an achingly beautiful homage to the vintage sounds of the sixties, sporting a handful of songs that seem to count the Velvets’ “Candy Says” and “Stephanie Says” as their key source material. The Cult of Quever is only heightened by his infrequent and slightly uncomfortable live performances. He winces as he considers the microphone, squinting as if to render the audience into an unintelligible blur. The point is: Quever is a studio hound but not some guy with brand spanking new gear. A former Papercut revealed that Quever’s gear is figuratively held together with batches of Scotch tape: old mixing boards with wooden siding, immaculately preserved instruments from past eras, and nothing but tape, tape, tape! The results of Quever’s dedication to vintage sound often results in mesmerizing and dreamy pop nuggets.
Papercuts on Myspace

6. Scrabbel: “All the Things We Have”
>From 1909 (Three Ring; 2005)

Make awesome music and then disappear. This seems to be game plan for San Francisco’s Scrabbel. You might not have trouble running into Scrabbel mastermind Dan Lee at various shows around town but, seriously, when you ask him about a follow up to 2005’s pop gem 1909 all you’ll get is a laugh in your face. Go talk to his label, Three Ring Records, and you’ll get are a bunch of shrugged shoulders. But I guess when your last album is this good, we’re willing to wait. Mixing elements of pure pop with eccentric instrumentation and electronic flourishes, Scrabbel is certainly one of the best indie bands in San Francisco if not the most prolific.
Scrabbel on Myspace

7. Tartufi: “Mourning’s Wake”
>From Us Upon Building Upon Us (Self-released; 2006)

One might wonder how a band flexing an eight and half minute track might sneak itself onto an indie-pop podcast? It’s the endless hooks: they just don’t stop. Armed with a drummer, a guitarist, and a series of loop pedals, this SF duo keeps it hectic, building voice upon voice, guitar upon guitar, and noise upon noise, all the while pulling you in with a sinister hook or a sensuous harmony of sounds. Roll down to the Mission and catch Lynne, their guitarist / bassist / vocalist / loopist, casually serving up Tecates and Coronas at institutional watering hole, El Rio (as popularized by Vetiver in “Down at El Rio”). Her laid-back and cheery attitude can be misleading. This duo approaches their show and their recordings (often produced by Citay and Fucking Champs’ Tim Green) with relentless energy. The secret to their success: getting rid of extraneous band members. After running through the dead weight of old drummers and half-assed guitarists, Tartufi found that their power is in the minimalist construct of two. Yet their sound is anything but minimal.
Tartufi on Myspace

8. The Velvet Teen: “Gyzmkid”
>From C*m Laude (Slow Dance; 2006)

A lot of people, I think, just don’t get the Velvet Teen. Sure they are Radiohead enthusiasts (isn’t that a good thing?) and yeah they like to undermine your expectations with each successive album but at least they’re fucking trying. 2004’s criminally overlooked Elysium remains a classic and genre-bending piano album while 2006’s schizophrenic C*m Laude has some gems as well. These boys officially represent the Santa Rosa sector of the Bay Area. Hiding out in the lush hills of Sonoma County they tinker away on their progressive sounds, occasionally emerging in San Francisco to share the music with the masses. Call them the recluses, the mad-scientists of the scene, turning their backs on the hustle and bustle of hipster city life in exchange for intense wood-shedding and bottles of wine.
The Velvet Teen on Myspace

9. The Dodos: “The Ball”
>From Beware of the Maniacs (Self-released; 2006)

Meric Long, one half of the Dodos, has been wandering around San Francisco’s music halls for sometime now, a youthful wunderkind of sorts with obvious and immense musical talent. His connection with drummer Logan Kroeber has resulted in a proper band, the Dodos, who, in a few years and two albums, have established themselves as one of the nation’s most daring acts. The Dodos strike a perfect balance between the intimacy of folk songwriting and the energy of percussion driven rock. Yet Kroeber’s beats are far from straight-ahead: they are rhythmic roller coasters, taking us up, bringing us down, and shape-shifting as Long moves from lyric to lyric.
The Dodos on Myspace

10. The Lonelyhearts: “Ntozake Nelson”
>From Dispatch (DIY… or Else/Three Ring; 2005)

The Lonelyhearts write perhaps the best bumming-you-out music in a scene with some great downer rock. Feel-bad stories are a dangerous gamble, but this synth-folk duo makes the melodrama work through characters and situations that ache thanks to a keen eye toward domestic and personal strife. Perhaps put more simply: When their characters express hurt, it’s palpable and it’s tragic. Add a talent for hushed melodies and sparse compositions and the result is winning music for a foggy, almost naturally melancholic region. Perpetually delayed by work/life commitments and months spent in different time zones, the group’s next album hopefully arrives later this year. (Ed. Note: Andre tried his best to keep the Lonelyhearts off this podcast but the Bay Bridged roughed him up and tied his skinny little hands!)
The Lonelyhearts on Myspace

11. Film School: “P.S.”
>From AlwaysNever (Amazing Grease; 2003)

Simultaneously putting the pop back in shoegaze and restoring elements of noise to pop music, Film School may have relocated to Los Angeles but they still remain hometown heroes in San Francisco where they formed roughly ten years ago. A story in adversity, these guys – especially band leader Greg Bertens – have powered through various lineup changes and hype waves (and crashes) to remain a glowing example of how perseverance and focus will keep your indie band alive for the long haul. You look into Greg Bertens’ eyes and you can see that he’s damn tired. But when you look at his face the guy is still smiling. And he should be: Film School’s haze of delay and feedback, while daunting at times, never lets us forget that underneath that blanket is a handful of dazzling pop hits.
Film School on Myspace

12. The Hot Toddies: “Motorscooter”
>From Smell the Mitten (Asian Man; 2007)

The Hot Toddies’ “let’s just get drunk and play!” posturing suggests they don’t give a damn about the music but that’s just part of their performance. Beyond the cocktails and ironic prom dresses these four ladies have nothing but taste and talent. They’ve culled together the best parts of surf-rock, girl-group pop, Velvets’ guitar licks, and a day-glo penchant for mushroom tea into one of the Bay Area’s most energetic rock n’ roll parties. With those blaring sunshine harmonies, it would seem that, on the surface, all of the Toddies’ songs are taking the piss, but when you realize that they’re just terrible tales of misguided shags and false drunken romances and that they’re all about your life, you kind of wince a bit. ‘Cause when they sing: “I’ve got a new friend, his name is Motor / We used to dance in the summer, in the backyard,” they’re not talking exactly talking about a new Vespa.
The Hot Toddies on Myspace

13. Port O’Brien: “My Eyes Won’t Shut”
>From The Wind And The Swell (American Dust; 2007)

The earnestness begins with the band name, the Alaskan port where Van Pierszalowski’s parents first met, and continues through to the songwriting, which draws from Van’s (and now his bandmates’) summers spent working on a salmon boat in Alaska. That setting, long hours of hard work spent in isolation from the real world, provides a backdrop for the band’s meditations of life and love, mixed with a loose but energetic blend of honest folk and American rock. It might be disarming to cynics, but they’ve developed a compelling live show that has taken them cross-country (supporting Rogue Wave) and to the British festival circuit, thanks to championing by folks like Conor Oberst and M. Ward. The band’s poised to take the next step with blogs already afire over the release of All We Could Do Was Sing, their first studio album, which comes out this month.
Port O’Brien on Myspace

14. The Harbours: “Lonely Heart”
>From Second Story Maker (Stab City; 2006)

Ah, Miguel Zelaya, the Americana-tinged pop star of San Francisco. Slipping from Zeitgeist to the Phone Booth to shake hands and share drinks with just about everyone in the Mission, this former member of the Bay Area’s forgotten greats, The Headlands Band, is perhaps the most endearing guy on the scene. He’s always down for a beer, some laughs, and a hearty discussion of The Band. His music tightens up the psychedelics of Kelley Stoltz while loosening the tight R&B grip of Spoon’s groove. Zelaya wandered up to San Francisco from San Jose several years ago and since then, his music has focused heavily on the concept of “The City” – who it attracts, who it repels, the romances it creates, and the loves it destroys. It wouldn’t be unfair to posit the oeuvre of the Harbours as one passionate love song to the Bay Area. And while he’s at it, he’ll leave you with a handful of melodies that you’ll be whistling on MUNI or BART on the way to your job.
The Harbours on Myspace