Empty Rooms' second E.P. is desperately seeking definition. Even for those who relish drone, it's tough to stay engaged especially during post-rock centerpiece "Twenty," which takes eight minutes to go nowhere. Closer "We've Been Waiting for You," dream-pop with lithe vocals and an uplifting crescendo, hits the mark a tad too late.
Another entry in the blossoming "desert blues" scene, Snakeskin Violin finds Sebastopol's Markus James journeying to Mali for some old-fashioned cultural exchange. The results are inspiring if a tad unbalanced, with James' voice and guitar occasionally drowning out those of his collaborators.
Jessica Cooke supplies vocals (though there aren't many) and JRK just about everything else on this album of predominately instrumental songs. The propulsive, heap-bobbing tracks never feel rushed, but at three to four minutes in length don't wander either, making for dynamic yet focused soundtrack music.
Mill Valley singer-songwriter (and new-age guru) Forest Sun went out of his way to release two albums on the same day. So Nice opens with Ben Harper/Jack Johnson photocopies, but enters more intriguing territory later on. Harlequin is a mellower set of contemplative, country-tinged work.
A three-track EP fit for Goldilocks: one track's hot, one cold, and one medium. Of course, when it comes to the sort of new-wave revival this San Francisco trio serves, hot is always best. That would be opener "You So Brightly Burn," with the Cure, Bauhaus, and Bloc Party all mixed up.
Eight minutes pass before vocals arrive (via a remix of labelmate Thee More Shallows' "Freshman Thesis"), but Oakland producer Odd Nosdam does just fine without them. At every turn, his work is an homage to sound, and this collection of remixes, B-sides, and originals consistently delivers treats most would overlook or bumble.
One could probably get away with claiming the Downfalls sound like Weezer, Local H, and early Nada Surf, but better to level with the alt-rock nostalgists and admit this San Francisco band's mainstream sheen and general lack of edge qualify it for a broader, more forgiving audience.
With roots reaching back to a Southern California kindergarten, a name derived from surf slang (it means "little barrel"), and a debut borne of four years of communal living in the Outer Richmond, the Botticellis seem bound for a well-worn California sound. That they achieve, tempered with Beatles worship and modest experimentation.
There's something profoundly mysterious about Marty Anderson's music. The Fremont native's third album as Okay passes an entire hour without fully revealing itself, yet puts out enough hooks to order another listen. Deranged yet twee vocals between Tom Waits and Mark Linkous wobble atop spot-on rhythm guitar and kaleidoscopic accompaniment.
San Francisco fingerpicking guitarist Lawrence Blatt composed the songs on his second album around patterns discovered by 13th-century mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci. Golden ratio or no, Blatt's spirited performance and technical proficiency speak for themselves.