Hometown heroes, ’90s love and earplugs
SN&R music writers reflect on experimental successes, rooftop shows, and all things #SacramentoProud
Music is such a subjective art form. One person’s furious love for death metal is another person’s obsession with experimental jazz. A common thread—at least among SN&R’s music writers—is a passion for Sacramento’s ever-evolving sound and vision. Venues come and go. Bands form and, inevitably, break up. Always, though, the beats go on. Following is the requisite 2015 recap, which includes sonic obsessions local and otherwise.Good things in the 916
So. Much. Music: Many excellent releases from local and locally-tied artists this year. Among the former, I was particularly impressed by Jacob Golden’s powerful Invisible Record, Zac Nelson’s experimental pop album New Once, DoofyDoo’s sprawling opus of sample-based art via The Tourist, Dog Party’s debut on Burger Records Vol. 4, Sea of Bees’ joyful comeback Build a Boat to the Sun and Joseph in the Well’s lushly orchestrated self-titled debut. Among the latter, Tiaras and Sister Crayon absolutely killed it.
Too. Much. Music: And, of course, there were many excellent national releases. While most critics will be arguing about Kendrick Lamar vs. Adele, my personal faves were those from Florence + the Machine, Courtney Barnett and Leon Bridges.
Best new place to see live music: Last year, we were all lamenting the closure of so many music venues. This year, we got the Warehouse Artist Lofts rooftop. Unfortunately, shows don’t happen often enough, but when they do, they’re free, well-curated and full of the best possible vibes.
More gatherings: We got a few new festivals this year, including First Festival, Sac PorchFest and City of Trees. Hopefully they’ll return, but in the case of City of Trees, in a different fashion. That one-day affair—as well as, for the first time, Aftershock Festival—took place at Gibson Ranch, an ill-equipped harbinger of awful traffic. Something, anything must be done to help remedy that pain next year.
Teamwork: When Witch Room closed, sound guy Drew Walker threw one last blowout party featuring 20 local artists. Walker recorded the whole thing and eventually put out a corresponding 20-song compilation. It remains a lovely encapsulation of the Sacramento alternative scene—and, somehow, one of the only ones.
Best remix album: Meow The Jewels. Rap duo Run the Jewels took its second full-length—the best album of 2014—and remixed it using cat sounds. It’s surprisingly fantastic, and not-so-surprisingly surreal. “Creown (The Alchemist Remix)” has to be one of the best (and weirdest) tracks of 2015.
Best concert tour: The “Weird Al” Yankovic Mandatory World Tour. I saw Weird Al in Bend, Ore., instead of Folsom for reasons too long to go into here. Incredible show: Costume changes, props, video interludes, insane crowd work. And, of course, hit parody tunes stretching from the late ’70s to 2015.
Best new album by an old band: The Selecter, Subculture. The Selecter is the best of the 2 Tone ska bands of late ’70s-era England. The band’s newest album, Subculture, embodies everything that made 2 Tone so wonderful: upbeat, catchy dance tunes with timely political statements.
Best local album: DoofyDoo, The Tourist. This is one behemoth of an experimental record. It’s actually a collection of 15 EPs, each one centered on a different city. It’s a really weird mix of samples and improvised off-the-wall music. Confusing? Just go get the album and spend the weekend listening to it.
Best album: Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly, and Sufjan Stevens, Carrie and Lowell. A tie, these are two phenomenal records for two totally different reasons. To Pimp A Butterfly is a densely packed, dizzyingly creative jazz-rap album that speaks on the complex subject of being black in modern-day America. Carrie and Lowell is a simple, quietly personal album dealing with the death of the singer’s mother, who left him when he was just a young boy. One of his best.
—A.C.Earplugs (mostly) mandatory
Shocking mess: Bad sight lines and abysmal wait lines, awful early afternoon opening acts and major parking problems—many felt duped by this year’s Aftershock Festival. Although successful on a commercial scale, myriad details need to be worked out before the next one.
Still got love: The raucous Sonic Love Affair returned from the dead to open a show for Mudhoney and the Troublemakers in mid-October. It was so loud, many fans’ ears are still ringing.
Rooftop rocking: Locals Buff Clout played a blistering set of frenetic punk and rock-tinged fare to open one of the first WAL rooftop soirees back in May. Although the show was limited to only 50 patrons due to legal capacity constraints, Buff Clout got the party started right playing its guitar-driven experimental rock mix.
Rhyme pays: Local rapper and longtime member of the Cuf, emcee N8 the Gr8 brought his trio out to Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub and burned the house down with a spirited set of uplifting hip-hop.
Tribute time: A longtime tradition of great outdoor shows continued at Swabbie’s earlier this Summer with AC/DC tribute Riff/Raff. Mike Barnes, who sings for the group and books shows at the Garden Highway destination, put together one helluva bill that included the Who tribute act Whoville, which drew upward of 500 people to a place known more for its fish tacos and Bud Light offerings than music. Kudos.
—E.J.Everything Sacto, ’90s and awesome
#SacramentoProud: Lots of love this year for Sacramento (and Sacramento-ish) acts such as Sea of Bees, Sister Crayon, Vasas, Bright Faces, Buildings Breeding, Two Sheds and Knock Knock.
Hello, music: Though I’m still mourning the loss of Witch Room, it’s good to applaud venues that keep on keepin’ on despite the “it’s complicated” nature of live music. Props, in particular to Third Space Art Collective, the Hideaway Bar & Grill, Colonial Theatre and the Bike Kitchen. Plus, mad love to the Sac LadyFest organizers and all the rad KDVS deejays who keep me company in the car.
Reunited: Two of my favorite acts hit the road this spring: the Replacements and Sleater-Kinney. The ’Mats delivered raw, messy magic and S-K was more kickass than ever.
That ’90s show: Some of my favorites this year were heavily influenced by grunge-era music: Courtney Barnett (Nirvana, Liz Phair), Speedy Ortiz (the Breeders), Chastity Belt (Sleater-Kinney), Girlpool (Liz Phair, the Breeders) and Joanna Gruesome (riot grrrl meets shoegaze pop). Plaid flannel, cabernet-red lipstick and Doc Martens forever.
Can’t stop, won’t stop: Albums in obsessive rotation included Courtney Barnett’s super-smart Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, Beach House’s super-sad Depression Cherry, Lana Del Ray’s super-stoned Honeymoon, Dick Diver’s super-catchy Melbourne Florida, Best Coast’s super-millennial California Nights, Chastity Belt’s super-biting Time to Go Home, Sleater-Kinney’s super-tough No Cities to Love and Ryan Adam’s super-perfect take on Taylor Swift’s 1989.
—R.L.Murdered drum kits—what?!?
Local excellence: Sacramento’s own put out quite a few good albums across the shredded-guitars-and-murdered-drum-kits spectrum, from the stomping and shamanic Battle Hag’s EP to Will Haven’s noise opus Open the Mind to Discomfort. Add to that Cross Class’ hardcore beast Minimum Rage, Psychosomatic’s classic thrash Clicking Sound of a Hammer Pulled Back, the emergence of Defecrator’s bestial death EP and Graveshadow’s symphonic Nocturnal Resurrection, and you’ve got a solid splatter of sound. My local fave? Unanswered Hymns by Chrch, a bold vision of misery that garnered high marks in Best of 2015 lists from metal blogs across the country.
The end: Speaking of end-of-year lists, it’s astounding how many bands on them toured through Sac at some point. Bell Witch, Kowloon Walled City, False, Cattle Decapitation, Ufomammut, Primitive Man, Thou, The Body and many more stopped here in 2015, meaning we’re in a special position to see what’s up-and-coming in a way that may not be fully appreciated—yet.
Some nonlocal favorites of 2015: Bell Witch, Four Phantoms; Sabbath Assembly, Sabbath Assembly; Christian Mistress, To Your Death; He Whose Ox is Gored, The Camel, The Lion, The Child; Disemballerina, Poison Gown; False, Untitled; Ghost, Meliora; Iron Maiden, The Book of Souls; The Goddamn Gallows, The Maker; Spectral Voice, Necrotic Doom; Khemmis, Absolution; Lucifer, Lucifer I; Oneohtrix Point Never, Garden of Delete; Pissgrave, Suicide Euphoria.