Bliss that bubbles over
The catchy pop of San Francisco’s Call and Response provides warm medicine for the Chico winter
Call and Response makes happy music.
By this, I mean an upbeat and airy blend of bubblegum pop and warm funk carried by lovely harmonies from a trio of female vocalists, Simone Rubi, Carrie Clough and Terri Loewenthal, who play keyboards, organ and bass, respectively. Rounding out the delightful San Francisco-based quintet are jazz guitarist Dan Judd and multi-disciplined drummer Jordan Dalrymple.
The songs off the group’s self-titled debut on Emperor Norton Records (actually, it’s a reissue featuring two new songs and two remixes from Beck’s Midnight Vultures producer Mickey Petralia) are tight, simple and almost uncannily catchy. The lyrics revolve around a world of innocence and play, bluntly extolling the virtues of roller-skating, bubble blowing, stars and sunny days with a barely pronounced romantic longing beneath the shiny surface.
On first listen, the album’s almost sugary enough to decimate a diabetic ward. But as it progresses, you begin to appreciate the passion these musicians share for slick danceable pop, and it becomes easy to fall under the spell of their lean arrangements and catchy harmonizing (surefire hit song “Rollerskate” sounds like Astrud Gilberto fronting the Cardigans).
As one sarcastic reviewer from Pitchfork.com—who found himself hypnotically smitten—remarked, “Rad. I’m fascinated by its love.”
Originally hailing from Santa Barbara, the two classically trained pianists Rubi and Clough and guitarist Judd moved to San Francisco in 1999, where they hooked up with the funk- and hip-hop-influenced bassist Loewenthal. Together, they named the group after the early Gospel mode of call and response and began to foster a maturing sound that brought their favorite influences to the dance floor—everything from the Carpenters and Italian film scores to current electronic folk groups like Air.
After glowing reviews of their debut album on NPR and in the Washington Post (wherein writer Andy Greenwald commented on the best California bands’ “awareness of the unreality of reality"), the group scored big with a successful live stint at the Kindercore 2000 Expo Music Festival in Athens, Ga., earning critical praise and comparisons to everyone from the Mamas and the Papas and the Archies to more recent acts like Stereolab, comparisons the group often gets.
“What the critics draw from isn’t necessarily what we’re listening to,” says Rubi. “Our influences are a little more obscure. The music reflects all the different angles we bring together. Originally, we started out with instrumentals because we didn’t like music that hit you over the head; we wanted to be more inviting.”
Since gaining momentum from critics warmed by its sincerity and pop appeal, CAR has been able to work with such talented producers as Bill Doss (Olivia Tremor Control), whose own Sunshine Fix opens on the current tour. Rubi says her friends from the Mother Hips have also asked about performing some shows together.
Describing the songwriting process, Rubi says the group is trying to conjure a sort of soundscape. This approach makes for a glossy, stylistically manufactured sound on record that one might think hard to re-create on stage. But accounts of CAR’s energetic live performances are overwhelmingly positive. “First and foremost, we’re about creating a feeling or emotion,” she explains.
Rubi says that live the group uses a sampler to add texture and it becomes “a fun challenge to translate the electronic sounds more organically.”
Regarding the state of music scene in San Francisco, she indicates that things are not as bleak as the media portray.
“Rehearsal space is hard; I think a lot of people have resorted to playing in friends’ houses. But in terms of gigs, it’s more happening than ever.”
During some recent shows with the Apples in Stereo and the Minders, Rubi says the group began to seriously question the value of singing songs about bubbles and roller-skating during such times of conflict.
“But then we thought it’s more important now than ever to keep a positive vibe going and get people to lose themselves and dance. It’s interesting to think about the emergence of sunshine pop bands back in the tumultuous ‘60s and how it happens to be coinciding with our music right now. … That night we got even more into it. Now, we’re excited to go back on the road.”
In times of war or winter, sometimes there’s nothing quite like the simple joy of boogying to hyper-catchy pop. And right now, CAR is one of pop’s leading proponents, so don’t miss out when it brings the party to town.