After touring as a solo singer-songwriter for two years, frontwoman Isul Kim teamed up with Anthony Petrocchi, Steve Muscatell, and Tim Guandalini to form alt-rock/pop group Song of the Siren. Kim is still the focal point, with an elastic, expressive voice capable of evoking an array of moods and feelings. Her backup is solid, but not outstanding.
Crown City Rocker Ahmad proves he can manage just fine on his own with this solo debut. While the whole batch is worth hearing, he's at his best when blending contemporary backpacker hip-hop with old-school flow and soulful, sample-based beats - as in standout "If I," a summer mixtape-ready triumph.
Fans of Seattle's Blue Scholars should be down with local crew Rising Asterisk, a two-guy, two-girl group billing its sound as conscious Filipino hip-hop. Asterisk's debut full-length thrives on vintage flavor, with modern infusions of R&B vocals and peppy rock and jazz samples. The batch is hit or miss, but when it works, it really works.
The second this record opens with a fiery banjo- and fiddle-fueled hoe-down, you know you're in for something good. The feeling never lets up across 52 spirited minutes, as Oakland's Stairwell Sisters (five of 'em, to be exact) play a mix of gorgeously arranged traditional Southern pieces and contemporary string- band fare. You can just almost smell the straw.
The long-awaited official debut from 26-year-old San Francisco singer-songwriter Ryan Auffenberg gives fans exactly what they crave: contemplative, insightful Americana. His voice is warm and silken as always, yet somber enough to sell the quieter moments. Production, engineering, and drumming from Tim Mooney only reinforce Auffenberg's talent.
Ultralash, née Oakland's Kerry Walker and friends, explores the meeting point between trip-hop and indie rock on this creatively unleashed third album. Foamy Lather's full songs are interspersed with snippets and broken little pieces of sound, much like a Sparklehorse record, creating a multi-faceted, fascinating listening experience.
Progressive rock lives on in the hearts of these three guys from Berkeley. Wisely forgoing the heavy, technical spectacle of Dream Theater and the uncompromising sprawl of King Crimson, they favor a more intense and yearning approach. Fans of Live, Tool, and Muse will recognize the cues and perhaps even latch on to some of it.
B'nai Rebelfront's salacious introduction should have clued us into what would happen when R&B singer Bilal descended on DNA Lounge on a recent Sunday: "Ya'all get ready for Bilal," said Rebelfront, a characteristically nonchalant rock singer in a black wifebeater and fedora. What came next was the real coup de grace: "He's gonna make us all ejaculate, and shit, with his vibe."
Lead guitarist and songwriter Micah Charlot's work with Richmond-based psychedelic/neo-classic rock band IWORI is the other side of the worm hole from Rock n' Roll Is Disco, the cult classic he recorded in the '80s on the Alternative Tentacles label with heavy-metal funk band Part Time Christian. IWORI, a name given by the group's conga player, Maurilio Gonzales, means "fire at the center of the earth" in the Nigerian Yoruba language. Charlot translates that fire into fearless lyrics, pairing classical literature references with screaming Hendrix-like runs. IWORI's tight band includes drummer Ben Krames, Gonzales on congas, Kev Choice on keyboards, and Curtis Ohlson on bass (Ray Charles' long-time bass player.) IWORI appears at the Rockit Room (406 Clement St., San Francisco) tonight, June 18, at 9 p.m. - Andrea Pflaumer
After growing up punk in San Francisco, then fronting Oakland math-rock act One Step Shift for eight years, Dylan Champagne descended to his basement for some do-it-yourself, acoustic solo recording. He's naturally adept at low volumes and his new work holds considerable promise.