Despite the nagging sense that Amber Asylum's neo-classical concoction of angelic vocals and suggestively sinister strings could at any moment break into all-out metal, Bitter River is a profoundly calming, almost meditative experience. The metal hunch is not far off: producer and multi-instrumentalist Kris Force worked for years with Oakland experimental group Neurosis.
Opener "Roots" applies the Pixies' loud-soft-loud dynamic to an all-acoustic palette, shifting three times from a quiet, nearly lo-fi verse to an amplified, exuberantly strummed chorus. "Our House" isn't Talking Heads, but a cute, whimsical number the Moldy Peaches could've written. And this Oakland duo's emotion-drenched acoustic indie-rock only gets better from there.
At the Nomad Café (6500 Shattuck Ave., Oakland) on July 11. 7:30 p.m., free
The beat may be the basis of all hip-hop, but it rarely takes the spotlight. Sean Christian attempts to right that wrong with this collection of fully fledged beats giving equal room to treble (high hat, claps, synth, even live flute and sax) and a fat, booming bottom end. Oakland's D. Nok, Zumbi of Zion-I, and others lend their voices among a trio of instrumentals.
Celebrity gossip site TMZ.com reported minutes ago that pop singer Michael Jackson has died after suffering cardiac arrest at his Los Angeles residence around noon this afternoon. He was fifty years old. ABC News reports that Jackson was not breathing and had no pulse when paramedics arrived. He was rushed to UCLA Medical Center while CPR was performed, but doctors were unable to revive him. The news comes just weeks before Jackson was schedule to perform a series of fifty sold-out concerts at London's O2 Arena.
Roberta Flack and a teenage Michael Jackson sing "When We Grow Up," from the 1974 children's film Free to Be... You and Me.
Stand-up bassist Ribak, a Berkeley native, has made a name for himself and his band in recent years through steady gigging and a sophisticated, swinging sound. Ribak's originals work as well in bars and restaurants as they do in churches, and the mood remains fluid throughout the trio's third record. Freed from any cerebral constraints, his jazz commands a life of its own.
At Yoshi's (1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco) on June 30. 8 p.m., $12
Janie Oliver's lead vocals warm, chill, breeze, shower, and stream through the music like a climate unto themselves. Fortunately, the band is just as adaptable, building upon a hybrid framework of lounge, soul, and electronica with easygoing, late-night grooves culled from dub, hip-hop and more. An impressive first effort from a fresh San Francisco trio.
Through collaborations with a range of underground artists from the early '80s to today, all punctuated by brief disappearances, folk-punk songwriter Meri St. Mary has accumulated a bit of mystique. This serves her new work well - personal songs like "Tropical Fish" and "Ashes," delivered with a mix of mystery and charisma, persist long after their melodies fade.
No hablo ingles, no hablo ingles, Oakland deejay and emcee Santero flaunts in "Ochosi." The native Guatemalan makes no secret of his heritage throughout El Hijo de Obatala, fusing Latin rhythms and instrumentation with kick drums, high hats, and snares. The record tells an urban, modern Latin American story that's as booty-shakin' as it is emotional and intellectual.
At Shattuck Down Low (2284 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) on June 26. 9 p.m., $7
There's something about the harmonica, especially in folk music, that slays the soul. Bob Dylan knew it, when he'd leave his words hanging for a harp solo, and so does East Bay singer-songwriter Andy Mason, whose pop sensibility and troubadour personality are bridged by infrequent but beautiful harmonica swells throughout this solid sophomore effort.