Music’s high notes, and low ones, too

From TBD Fest to Witch Room’s closure, the year in music made for plenty of glad and sad moments

<p><b>Electronic duo Justice came all the way from France to play TBD Fest in West Sacramento.</b></p>

Electronic duo Justice came all the way from France to play TBD Fest in West Sacramento.

photo by brian breneman

If Charles Dickens were a modern music reviewer he’d have a literary field day with 2014’s musical highs and lows. Locally there were amazing albums and performances but also real losses to the music community in the way of shuttered clubs. SN&R’s music writers, however, are an optimistic lot, finding solid gold even in a troublesome year for venues, all while calling upon local music lovers to step it up in 2015.

Suck it up, Sacramento

1. One door closes, another door opens: Assembly, gone (or is it? I hear some locals are negotiating). Luigi’s Fun Garden? The Witch Room? Gone, daddy, gone. Marilyn’s on K is no more, although the rumor that someone is going to put a “barcade” in that spot fills me with nerdish glee. I blame you guys for not going to more shows, although K Street is kinda weird for locals, and the Witch Room was in a tough location. Suck it up. Support live performance venues.

2. Surfy-licious: Los Straitjackets came to Harlow’s and absolutely smashed it.

3. Power prog-rock: Watching Adrian Belew (ex-Frank Zappa, King Crimson, League of Crafty Guitarists) and his power trio prog-rock the shit out of their show here. Belew was great, but bass player Julie Slick was the absolute truth.

4. Old school hip-hop on tour: KRS-One was dope, Rakim was smooth and Slick Rick da Ruler was just OK (his deejay was phenomenal, however). I would have liked to have seen some locals open more of the shows, though.

5. Music at LowBrau: I love seeing a band there because no real stage equals a party among the people. Also, great chicken schnitzel sandwich.

Dreams realized, loss and a plea

1. TBD Fest: Obvious, but it needs to be said regardless. A super legit, three-day music festival that I could actually bike to? A dream come true.

2. Witch Room: My job gets so much harder once Witch Room closes at the end of the month. We lost many venues this year, but nowhere else had such consistently intriguing shows for less than 10 bucks. Thanks for allowing me to pair nerd rap with sangria.

3. YOLO: With the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, Sophia’s Thai Kitchen and Third Space Art Collective—plus events by KDVS and the Davis Live Music Collective—there were tons of great happenings across the causeway all year. Faves included Caetano Veloso, Jolie Holland, Childbirth and Mother Falcon.

4. Hip-hop at the Crocker: In July, a posse of young local rappers lit up the Crocker Art Museum for a special hip-hop-themed Art Mix party. Such spirit, such camaraderie, such honesty, in such a glorious setting.

5. Radiohead tribute: Ditto above comments, but this time about a massive collaboration between local musicians for the second annual Radiohead Tribute Show at Marilyn’s On K. Sadly, James Cavern said he’s burnt out on organizing the thing. Other participants, consider this my official plea to continue the tradition. Please?

Fix the ordinances, ditch the apathy

1. Goodbye, Witch Room: Witch Room arrived with the ambition to strip away the pretensions of Bows & Arrows, paint it black and bother with only beer, wine and good entertainment at a low cost. It might have succeeded were it not for cutthroat competitors and city ordinances that are as big a bane to live music as local apathy. I’ll miss that booth-view of the stage.

2. For-ev-er: West Sacramento mayor Chris Cabaldon declared October 5 “Captured Tracks Day,” in honor of the five bands from the Brooklyn indie label that played TBD Fest. It smelled of a “these kids gave me pot for the first time in six years, I’m sooooo high right now” declaration, and now it’s a real holiday in Yolo County forever.

3. I enjoyed two local rock albums this year: G. Green’s Area Codes and Darlingchemicalia’s Spun In White. The end.

4. Figure it out already: Sacramento still has no idea what to make of Stevie Nader and Young Aundee, it seems. I’ll just keep praising Nader’s Grit and Young Aundee’s Caveat Emptor until that changes.

5. Enough said: Dre-T’s Sacramentality is album of the year.

Get out, get up front, gimme more

1. Get out, get up front: This year I made an effort to attend more live shows and was rewarded with gut-check sets from locals such as Vasas, the Four Eyes, Soft Science and Knock Knock, as well as touring bands such as Peggy Sue, Dick Diver and Allo Darlin’.

2. No, really, get out: Unfortunately, the loss of Witch Room, as well as Assembly, Luigi’s and Marilyn’s means there are now fewer places to break a sweat with your favorite artist. Let’s all support the ones still trying, OK?

3. We got this: Speaking of which, the latest inauguration of the TBD Fest was proof that Sac can represent. So many good acts—the War on Drugs, Blondie, Diiv, Kurt Vile, et. al—and so many people getting dusty down in it. Gimme more.

4. Uh-huh, this: One of the best moments in 2014 music came from the oft-snarly New Pornographers singer after Playboy posted a tweet about Neko Case “breaking the mold of what women in the music industry should be.” Case’s pitch-perfect response: “Am I? IM NOT A FUCKING ’WOMAN IN MUSIC’, IM A FUCKING MUSICIAN IN MUSIC!” Amen.

5. Obsessive-compulsive listening: Many great albums this year, but ones I returned to repeatedly arrived via Courtney Barnett, Cayetana, Kevin Morby, Benjamin Booker, Azealia Banks, June Gloom, Diiv, Peggy Sue, Angel Olsen, Jessica Lee Mayfield, Jake Bugg, Allo Darlin’, Dick Diver, Jen Cloher and FKA Twigs.

James Franco’s eyes

1. The Dirty Heads, The Sound of Change: This month marks 35 years since the Clash’s London Calling proved non-Jamaicans can blend reggae with punk, rock and pop in a way that doesn’t completely suck. Today, a bunch of American bands are still exploring the musical branches connecting reggae, hip-hop, pop and rock. This record and the ones that follow accomplished this. The highlight on this one is “Franco Eyed,” a new euphemism for “getting high” (named after James Franco’s perpetually glossy eyes, apparently).

2. Rebelution, Count Me In: Rebelution is probably the biggest name in the Cali reggae-rock game right now. The strongest track on this, the band’s fourth full-length, is the classic roots-reggae anti-love song “Counterfeit Love,” which boasts solid songwriting and a sweet saxophone solo.

3. Matisyahu, Akeda: Matisyahu’s second album since shaving his Hasidic Jew beard, this one’s still quite religious, and named after a Torah passage about the binding of Isaac. The album features an enormity of interesting textures, taking the listener through pop-rock, reggae-rap, old-school instrumentals with ancient instruments, prayer chanting and more.

4. Cisco Adler, Coastin’: Cisco Adler probably got his laid-back vibe from growing up in Hawaii. Now a Los Angeles resident, he crafts mellow, uplifting reggae-rock, mostly with acoustic guitars, catchy choruses and unabashed pop sensibilities.

5. Snoop Lion, Reincarnated: Technically this album was released in 2013, but it took everyone a year to figure out the album wasn’t just a gimmick, and it spent hella time on the Billboard Reggae Albums chart this year. It’s also ceaselessly entertaining to listen to Snoop reggae-rap about cantaloupe, pineapple and mango.

Greatness is within

1. Greatness comes to Sac: While some people like to complain about major-label acts not coming around frequently, they often neglect the greats that stopped off in our cozy bars in 2014. To list a few of the incredible metal bands to grace our city: Ghoul, Yob, Atriarch, EYEHATEGOD (multiple times), Down, Wayfarer, The Body and Iron Reagan. Both times Tony Foresta, singer for Iron Reagan and Municipal Waste, played Sac in 2014, he couldn’t shut up about how much he loved our city and its moshing idiots. We love you too, Tony.

2. But true greatness is within: It wasn’t just outsiders making us look good. Local promoters have consistently busted their asses to keep our scene chugging and bands keep putting out honest, groundbreaking music to feed the machine. This is the first year that I really started going to shows in Sac, and my reward was getting to see new acts like Church and Cross Class strengthen our city’s doom and hardcore scenes, respectively. I’ve been especially grateful to catch Plague Widow, Battle Hag, Black Majik Acid, RAD and Valiant Steed this year. A few of my favorite releases from local bands in 2014 include the shredding, gonzo devastation of the new XTom HanX release, Posers from Space, the atmospheric skull-crushing beauty of The Funeral Mountains by (waning) and the incredible blackened grind of Killgasm’s A Stab in the Heart of Christ. There are so many bands I’m leaving out, and clearly I’ve focused on a narrow (but thriving) scene. Many thanks to every local band, venue operator and organizer out there for a fantastic year. Let’s make 2015 even more neck-wrecking.

3. The Messiah is here: I had no idea who D’Angelo is. I was painfully ignorant. But then Black Messiah dropped and now I’m very happy to be a Johnny-come-lately. Listen to it.