By Ian S. Port
By Cory Sklar
By Godofredo Vasquez
By Gil Riego Jr.
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Christopher Victorio
By Ian S. Port
It's not often that a band is so moving and interesting that someone feels the urge to start a record label he always wanted to start, sign the band, and put out its debut album. Such is the case with Postcoitus' Derek Wood and Derek McCall and their recently released full-length, Build Your Own Circus, which has the tender heart of the best '80s synth-pop and the resolute edge and jaded cool of right-this-minute. The Oakland band distinguished itself early on in live performances with showy accessories like costumes and strobe lights, tricks that creatively twisted the "two dudes with gear" stereotype that plagues live electronic music. In the Postcoitus show, those lights are as vital an element as the drum machines, synthesizers, and guitars that are the band's backbone. The simple ingenuity, not to mention the songs themselves, inspired Shawn Reynaldo to start Double Negative Records. Better known as Disco Shawn, Reynaldo DJs for KALX and Live 105 and is a co-promoter of the 9-year-old weekly indie/electronic party "popscene," so it's safe to say you can trust his ears when it comes to discovering new talent. In the case of Postcoitus, inspiration begat inspiration, and Reynaldo's enthusiasm accelerated the creation of Build Your Own Circus and helped inform the overall Postcoitus mission: being freaking hot, at a live show near you.
Sagan is a local experimental electronic supergroup of sorts, currently comprising married team J Lesser (of Lesser, Matmos) and Bevin Kelley (aka Blevin Blectum, formerly of electronic duo Blectum From Blechdom), plus secret-weapon keyboardist Jon Leidecker (who often performs and records under the moniker Wobbly). The trio's music is a layered, wide-ranging sound that runs the gamut from dense blizzards of sonic shards to blissed-out hypnotic atmospherics. The seeds of Sagan were planted in 2001, when Kelley gave Lesser a DVD box of the 1980 miniseries Cosmos by scientist Carl Sagan. Later, local filmmaker Ryan Junell got on board, and last year the group released Unseen Forces, a DVD/CD magnum opus featuring a movie and companion album, bonus videos, and hours of MP3s documenting live Sagan performances. The CD is a haunting suite of loops, digital crunch, gurgles, and bird squawks, arduously compiled in Pro Tools from some 40 hours of live recordings, then embellished with overdubs and planetarium-prog aesthetics. The 39-minute Unseen Forces movie is a whimsical collection of vignettes paying homage to the scientific dramatizations of Cosmos, and has been screened at film festivals from New Mexico to Portugal. Junell left Sagan last December to pursue other projects, but the remaining three members are carrying on. They're working on the group's second album; early demos hint at a kind of melodic glitch-wave, sorta like Aphex Twin cross-pollinated with Gary Numan and Tangerine Dream. The band also has a 7-inch coming out on the Oakland-based 333 label. Sagan rarely plays live at the moment because Kelley (who co-owns a small flock of birds with Lesser) is in vet-tech school, but the band says that will change soon.
High on Fire
Growing up in Denver, Matt Pike was a self-described "little stoner metal kid, a little shit," the kind who snuck into Dark Angel, Kreator, and Possessed shows at the age of 13; learned Tony Iommi riffs on his beat-up guitar; and caused enough mayhem to earn trips to juvenile hall and military school before winding up in the Bay Area in his late teens. Meanwhile, Des Kenzel -- a Connecticut kid weaned on vintage New York City hardcore -- decided in his early 20s to leave the East Coast, throwing his drums into the back of his car and road-tripping until ending up in San Francisco in 1996, flat broke and looking to start a band. So when the pair crossed paths a couple of years later, it made perfect sense to join forces and form the backbone of the insanely ferocious Oakland-based trio High on Fire. Filled out by bassist George Rice, HOF early on established a much more aggro style than Pike's previous band -- the lauded drone-rock, stoner-rock outfit Sleep -- combining the mammoth sounds of Motörhead, Sabbath, and Slayer with Pike's guttural howls and demon-and-battle-ax lyrics to colossally heavy ends on its 2000 debut, The Art of Self Defense(Man's Ruin). Even more monstrous was 2002's Surrounded by Thieves, which marked the band's jump to Relapse Records, purveyor of all things deafening and thrashy. In the summer of 2004, as the trio commenced work on its third album with noted engineer Steve Albini, Rice abruptly quit, but he was quickly replaced by former Melvins bassist Joe Preston. The ensuing sessions resulted in this year's breathtaking Blessed Black Wings, which -- combined with the band's pummeling live shows -- has catapulted High on Fire to the top ranks of the national underground metal scene.
According to its very simple mission statement set forth on its MySpace.com page, San Francisco's Hightower is "3 friends who like to play music and skate together." By "skate," of course, they don't mean putting on tight pants, hitting the ice, and executing triple Salchows, and by "music," they don't mean strumming "Kumbaya" down in the Mission. Living up to their superstrong namesake, Lt. Moses Hightower (as played by Bubba Smith in the 147 Police Academy movies), the three members of Hightower -- Shane in Blood, Dave Fallis, and Jake Japanese -- play powerful, blistering hardcore-metal well-suited for bloody mosh pits or half-pipes. "Witness the blood in the streets from the tower/ We ride on wheels of fire," offers the bloodcurdling bark on "The Force and the Fury," a track from Hightower's beautifully underproduced, self-titled 2004 debut album (on Manbaby Records) that merges the sound of the Meatmen and Sick of It All with the galloping metal stylings of early Metallica. Four years into its career, Hightower may have already achieved its ultimate goal: getting a song on one of Thrasher magazine's skate-rock compilation CDs. But these three dudes don't seem to be easing up on the throttle -- they spent almost the entire summer touring throughout the U.S., and they've got a bunch of local and Pacific Northwest dates lined up through the end of the year. Hightower rules, but don't take it from us, take it from a testimonial left by the band's faraway MySpace "friend," Kevin: "you guys can fucking shred. 3:30 a.m. bowl session. rad show. you guys are always welcome back to rochester."
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