Articles and thoughts by Peter Holslin

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Buckle up: An epic itinerary for North Park Music Thing

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This article, printed in the Aug. 11 issue of CityBeat, won’t be any use to you now, of course. But it’s worth keeping for the record books.

If this year’s North Park Music Thing is notable for anything, it’s sheer ambition. Just look at the numbers: 153 bands, musicians and DJs; 15 venues; two nights.

Now in its third year, the festival (organized by the San Diego Music Foundation, whose president is CityBeat publisher Kevin Hellman) is the biggest local music showcase of the year, featuring two days of seminars with music-industry movers and shakers and two nights of music in bars in North Park, South Park and Normal Heights, featuring small acts, local favorites and a handful of touring bands mostly from California.

But who’s worth seeing? I’ve come up with an epic itinerary to get you through the weekend:


8 p.m.: This one’s a toss-up. Brother duo Writer (at U-31) makes unique, roughly hewn indie rock. Neon Cough (at The Office) offer up jangly pop with saccharine melodies. Street of Little Girls (at Whistle Stop) play epic gypsy-rock with biting lyrics and sugary-sweet vocals.

9 p.m.: If you’ve seen Jamuel Saxon (Bar Pink) more than once, you know that Keith Milgaten’s solo project is never the same twice. Whether he’s manning a laptop as guys covered with white sheets drum ominously on floor toms or he’s playing keyboards with a full band, expect a fevered brand of pop gold with hypnotic synths, Auto-Tuned vocals and dance-y beats.

10 p.m.: One of the best jazz singers in the city, if not the best, Miss Erika Davies (Claire de Lune) has a magnificent, mature voice that flutters fragilely, soars confidently and bends smoothly across registers, augmented with her ukulele and Jon Garner’s lithe guitar. It’s enough to make you wonder why she’d bother playing a local-music showcase when she could be touring Europe.

11 p.m.–midnight: Kadan Club has a hip-hop showcase with plenty of quality MCs, among them the dynamic duo Parker and the Numberman (9:20 p.m.) and the freaky Lady Xplicit (10:40 p.m.). But the highlight is Deep Rooted (11:40 p.m.), local hip-hop mainstays who serve up inspired, cutting rhymes. There’s also an MC battle kicking off at midnight.

12:35 a.m.: Known as much for their sharp suits as their spirited take on folk, gospel and Americana, the gentlemen of The Silent Comedy (U-31) seem to come straight from an older, weirder America. Their latest album, Common Faults, won a San Diego Music Awards nomination. But their live show is another story—one CityBeat writer compared it to a Pentecostal tent revival.

Other highlights: Tape Deck Mountain (U-31, 8:45), Jhameel (The Office, 8:45), Lights On (Whistle Stop, 9:50), Sister Crayon (AC Lounge, 10). John Meeks (Lestat’s, midnight)


4 p.m.: Stop by Tin Can Ale House (1863 Fifth Ave. in Bankers Hill) for a free pre-party with performances by Chairs Missing and Vegetarian Werewolf, two great new local acts. Chairs Missing plays radiant acoustic indie rock, while Vegetarian Werewolf dissects the universe with a keyboard and a boom box.

8 p.m.: Make sure you catch up-and-coming indie rockers D/Wolves (Soda Bar). Lead songwriter Joel Williams happens to be the little brother of the dude from Wavves, but don’t expect irreverent lo-fi from these accomplished young musicians. Their melodious, unpredictable songcraft is undergirded with a killer rhythm section that has the expressiveness of a jazz combo.

9:25 p.m.: If you’re looking for folk music with that indescribably magical feeling, you’ll find it in San Juan Capistrano’s The Union Line (Sunset Temple Room, 2906 University Ave.), with their glistening guitars, rolling drums and haunting choruses. But let’s not forget about the wonderful Chairs Missing (Ruby Room), for whom a clone would come in handy.

10:30 p.m.: There’s nothing quite like the Beach Boys-meets- Captain Beefheart mindfuck of Heavy Hawaii (Soda Bar): disjointed lo-fi arrangements, dissonant rock riffs, ghoulish oohaah vocals that sound like a parody of Animal Collective. I can’t help but feel that they’re on to something.

11:30 p.m.: New Mexico (Bar Pink), the new incarnation of much-beloved rock band Apes of Wrath, has a new set of songs that’re pared-down, hard-driving and so awesome that somebody at a recent show felt compelled to pick the guitarist up mid-song and carry him around the room. Seriously.

Other highlights: Hyena (U-31, 10:35), Sleep Lady (Eleven, 10:45), Sleepwalkerz (Queen Bee’s, 11:15), Abe Vigoda (Soda Bar, 11:30), Lord Howler (Kadan Club, 12:30), The Screamin’ Yeehaws (Ken Club, 12:50).

Lineups are subject to change. Double-check schedules at


Written by Peter Holslin

August 19, 2010 at 5:02 pm

They’ve lost control: Mutant punk is a distant memory, but is its cyberpunk vision more real than ever?

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Brock Bousfield of Nero's Day at Disneyland

Considering everything America has gone through recently—two foreign wars, Hurricane Katrina, a devastating recession, a catastrophic oil spill—it’s easy to conclude that we’re living through the cyberpunk nightmare envisioned in From Rotting Fantasylands, the latest album of Brock Bousfield’s solo project, Nero’s Day at Disneyland.

A sci-fi take on Switched-On Bach, Fantasylands combines samples of emotive arias, orchestra hits and jaunty piano lines from Baroque and Renaissance music with the kind of schizophrenic sampled drums, 8-bit electronics and harsh synths you’d expect from Aphex Twin or Squarepusher.

On “In Ailes,” Bousfield borrows vocal samples from a recording of The Threepenny Opera—a 1931 musical critique of capitalism by the Marxist dramatist Bertolt Brecht—playing them in reverse to make disgorged vocal melodies. Over rattling drums and an explosive synth riff, the backwards vocals come across like subliminal social commentary about a society gone mad.

Influenced as much by American Splendor comic writer Harvey Pekar as post-structuralist philosopher Judith Butler, From Rotting Fantasylands is as dark as it is ridiculous.

“It’s a sardonic take on ridiculousness” of today’s society, Bousfield says of his album. “It’s definitely intentional.”

In a way, it makes perfect sense that Bousfield, a softspoken 28-year-old who lives in Oakland, grew up in the suburban San Diego neighborhood of Clairemont. For certain people, the suburbs—with their indiscriminate winding streets and ubiquitous chain stores—can be an incubator for madness and rebellion. As a former member of Beautiful Mutants, a synth-punk band that formed the center of a short-lived “mutant punk” scene in San Diego in the late ’90s and early ’00s, Bousfield knows that all too well.

Beautiful Mutants’ songs parodied the emptiness of suburban life. “I buy the things I need / so I can feel OK,” the singer intones over a jaunty keyboard marimba in one track. “When I’m out of Miracle Whip / nothing tastes quite the same.”

The “mutant punk” scene—inspired by Devo’s idea of “de-evolution,” the idea that humankind is regressing rather than evolving, along with drug-addled sci-fi literature like William Gibson’s classic 1984 novel Neuromancer—was inherently out of control. With their crazy shows and penchant for drugs, the Beautiful Mutants felt like a radical response to all of the things San Diego is known for: the military presence, the conservative political establishment, the nondescript geography of the suburbs.

One show at Gelato Vero is still burned in my mind as one of the craziest I’ve ever been to: As Hide and Go Freak (a band that formed after Beautiful Mutants broke up) played sloppy synth-punk, a wildly drunk couple crashed into a crowd of dancing gutter-punks who looked like extras from Blade Runner. When a skinny guy who went by the name Kevin Von Mutant began playing harsh industrial music from a computer, people started drumming maniacally on random pieces of metal. The floor felt like it would fall through. Anticipating a riot, the management kicked everybody out.

Unsurprisingly, none of these bands got a scrap of media attention. “No one was watching, so you felt like you could just do anything,” Bousfield says.

In the early ’00s, the scene began to fragment when Beautiful Mutants guitarist Nick Galvez died. A month after his death, Hide and Go Freak’s keyboardist died of alcohol poisoning. Soon after that, Bousfield moved to Santa Cruz. “It was just time to get out,” he says.

Today, San Diego’s “mutant punk” scene is all but forgotten.

But Bousfield is still Nero’s Day at Disneyland—the solo project he’s been working on since he was 16— playing sci-fi fugues on keyboards painted neon colors. And as track titles like “Charging Swarm of Mouseketeers” and “Plumes of ATM Sinew” suggest, he hasn’t lost his warped sense of humor about our decaying materialistic society.

Nor has he lost sight of it. Ironically, in his day job he tape-records business meetings and conventions at hotels.

“I get to see people from BP talking amongst themselves,” he says.

Nero’s Day at Disneyland plays with Mincemeat or Tenspeed, Bubblegum Octopus, Take Up Serpents and Nerfbau at Che Café on Saturday, July 31.

This article ran in the July 28 issue of San Diego CityBeat.

Written by Peter Holslin

August 19, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Tireless intellect: As Vegetarian Werewolf, John Paul Labno ponders the universe

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Photo by Maria Maria Photography.

In the year since the breakup of his old band, Grand Ole Party, John Paul Labno’s proven to be an unstoppable force. Along with his girlfriend, Sasha Pfau, he’s the creative force behind indie-soul band The Hot Moon. He plays tenor sax in Mr. Tube & The Flying Objects, a quirky funk outfit headed by Pall Jenkins of The Black Heart Procession. To pay the bills, he serves coffee at Gelato Vero, the café next door to his Middletown apartment. In his off hours, he writes songs for a new solo project called Vegetarian Werewolf.

Recently, the 28-year-old multi-instrumentalist powered through a marathon week: The Hot Moon went into the studio to record their new album, Mr. Tube had rehearsals for a show at The Casbah and he prepared for this week’s solo CD-release party at Tin Can Ale House. But in an interview at his cozy apartment the week prior, he said he wasn’t overwhelmed.

“In a certain sort of way, I feel like it keeps me a little more level-headed,” he said, as he double-fisted soy chai lattés. “I have plenty of stuff to do as it is. Anything going tremendously successfully would only mean more stuff to do.

“Which is fine,” he’s quick to add.

Vegetarian Werewolf grew out of his own restlessness last October, when Hot Moon bassist Jovi Butz and drummer Jason Hooper went on tour with Jenkins for three months. With nothing better to do, Labno sat down to make The Blood Count Step, a 28-minute one-off that’s being released on cassette tape by Factual Fabrications, a small label based in Brooklyn.

The record’s 11 songs were inspired by the high-intensity soundtrack of Nintendo’s Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, only it’s been slowed down to a spooky dub crawl. Recording all the instruments himself, the 40-day endeavor pushed Labno in new directions: He’s taken up keyboards, and he’s singing for the first time.“It’s like a novelty record,” he said. “I wasn’t so sure I could make a record at all—and it turns out I can. So now I’m writing another one.”

Where Grand Ole Party radiated animalistic energy and The Hot Moon oozes soulfulness, Vegetarian Werewolf combines Spartan ingenuity with intellectual curiosity. In “Man and Machine,” a new demo that Labno plans to put on a proper Vegetarian Werewolf debut, he explores the romance between humans and computers. “Evening time, a glass of wine / Time to plug in,” he sings over a beat that juxtaposes a squeaking Sharpie with a clicking typewriter. “Digital world lets him be who he wants / Digital woman loves him for who he is.”

As Labno explains, the solo project works as an engine for his need to make sense of the world.

“Do you accept the fact that things can seem so droll and mundane that, therefore, things are meaningless and there’s so much crap out there that we’re just lost in a confused haze? Or do you keep looking?” he wondered. “I choose to keep looking. I think it keeps me feeling a lot better. I try to keep my picture of the world growing, because I feel like if it gets stuck at any one place, things start to become a lot more difficult.”

Whether consciously or unconsciously, the project seems to capture how Labno’s making sense of his current circumstances.

Last year, he was playing guitar for a band that was hitting its stride, recording an album in Atlanta with Ben Allen—who produced Animal Collective’s landmark Merriweather Post Pavilion—and preparing to go on tour with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But when Grand Ole Party split, he had to start fresh. Today, he writes his solo material in his bedroom, recording songs on his laptop and using his floor as a kick pedal.

In “Light of Day,” another new demo, the chorus might reflect the radical difference between then and now: “It’s so hard to let go of the phantoms we’ve grown used to / Everything I used to know is as a dream.”

He could use a day off, he says. But he’s not gloating. “Whether people like the music I’m making or not, or whether I’m playing to 20 people or 2,000 people or whatever, I’m in my fuckin’ house making as much music as I can every day,” he said. “It’s the same thing I’ve always been doing.”

Vegetarian Werewolf will celebrate the release of The Blood Count Step at Tin Can Ale House on Thursday, July 8.

This article ran in last week’s issue of San Diego CityBeat.

Written by Peter Holslin

July 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Sounds complicated: This year’s soundON Festival will challenge musicians and listeners alike

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Sounds complicated

The NOISE ensemble performing in 2009. Photo by Supeena Insee Adler.

Christopher Adler, a music professor at the University of San Diego who organizes the annual soundON Festival of Modern Music, likes to be challenged.

He’s mastered the khaen, a bamboo mouth organ used in the traditional music of Laos and Northeast Thailand. His newest composition, a piece for a drum set without cymbals, seeks to capture the polyrhythmic improvisation of free-jazz drumming. At the first soundON Festival four years ago, he performed “The Chord Catalog,” a mathematical marathon by the Paris-based minimalist composer Tom Johnson. On piano, Adler studiously played all 8,178 possible chords contained in a single octave.

“It was akin to a form of meditation, almost like a kind of Buddhist meditation—an hour of absolutely focused concentration,” he says. “Not so much a musical experience in any traditional sense.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the soundON Festival is tricky for musicians and listeners alike. This year’s program includes highly conceptual and dazzlingly complex pieces by composers from around the world. Two U.S. premieres look especially brutal: Johnson’s “844 Chords,” which follows a complex mathematical algorithm that makes Terry Riley’s “In C” sound like “Old McDonald”; and Greek composer Nicolas Tzortzis’ “Mnésique,” a seven-minute exploration of memory that Adler likens to seeing your life flash before your eyes during a car crash.

Complicating matters is the fact that members of NOISE, the ensemble performing most of the pieces, live in different parts of the country—in addition to Adler and guitarist / composer Colin McAllister in San Diego, there’s a violinist in L.A., a cellist in Ohio, a flautist in Baltimore and a percussionist in Alaska (who’s sitting out this year)—and they won’t actually sit down to rehearse the pieces until a week before the festival. But Adler, NOISE’s pianist and composer in residence, doesn’t seem worried.

“That kind of music is inherently risky,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how much rehearsal time you have. There’s always this element of danger in it, and that’s part of what we like about it.”

In spite of all these challenges, the festival is designed to make uncompromising music more approachable. Concerts will be held in La Jolla’s Athenaeum Music & Arts Library—with no stage, curtain or backstage, it offers a more relaxed vibe than a concert hall. Rehearsals on the day of performances will be open to the public. Visiting composers will hold pre-concert talks. And at a late-night “Chill-out Concert” featuring the Formalist Quartet, a California string ensemble, audience members are free to come and go as they ponder pieces like Andrew Nathaniel McIntosh’s sublime “Voice and Echo I.”

To hardcore avant-garde listeners, the most surprising aspect of the festival might be that the program mostly consists of traditional notation and arrangements. Back in the ’60s, the late American composer Harry Partch taught SDSU students how to play fanciful homemade instruments with unique tuning systems, and these days, UCSD’s famed Music Department has supported groups like the Bitwise Operators, a self-described “laptop ensemble”—so, in a city with a rich experimental history, aren’t violins and treble clefs old-hat?

Adler doesn’t think so. “It’s almost like the language I grew up speaking, so it’s hard, in a way, not to love it,” he says. “I don’t feel like it’s all used up. People can still write a good novel in English; there’s still good music you can write with good old notes on paper.”

Appropriately, NOISE’s name brings to mind the prescient 1985 study Noise: The Political Economy of Music, in which French scholar Jacques Attali argues that music will eventually no longer be a social tool but, rather, a boundless medium for experimentation. Nobody can deny that today’s musicians enjoy immense freedoms. They can borrow ideas from groundbreaking composers like John Cage or Steve Reich—or they can create their own musical systems. And if they can’t play instruments, they can use computer programs like Max/MSP to create their own sounds. But they still face the challenge of making music that’s intellectually and aesthetically satisfying.

Sound and concept dovetail beautifully in “Shades of Raindrops” by Korean composer Sungji Hong, one piece on the program. In a recording Hong sent via e-mail, Korea’s Ensemble TIMF explore various timbres in E-flat—long-drawn strings, fluttering flute, slamming piano, even some random snapping. The impressionist changes, she explains, evoke the different colors and patterns of raindrops, from light drizzle to heavy torrents.

NOISE assembled the program two years ago, after an international call for scores yielded enough interesting pieces to fill two years’ worth of festivals. Unfortunately for curious concert-goers, though, none of the Europe-based composers whose pieces will be performed this year will be able to attend the festival because of the economic downturn.

Adler is characteristically undaunted.

“In a way, if that’s the worst side-effect of the economy, we’re doing OK,” he says. “We’re still doing the festival. We’re still doing the music we want to do.”

The soundON Festival of Modern Music will be held at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla Thursday June 17, through Saturday, June 19.

This article ran in last week’s issue of CityBeat.

If I Were U: 5/26-6/1

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My first “If I Were U” column for CityBeat. Check out more coverage from this week here and here.

In the clubs

The Melvins (photo by Mackie Osborne)

Wednesday, May 26

PLAN A: Isis, Jakob @ The Casbah. One of L.A.’s most influential metal bands, Isis is always a sight to see, churning out unpredictable sludge informed as much by Pink Floyd as electro-acoustic glitch artist Fennesz. But tonight’s show will be especially monumental—they’re going to break up at the end of their tour. PLAN B: Drew Grow and The Pastors’ Wives @ Bar Pink. There’s good reason this Portland group is getting buzz around the Northwest—the haunting, expansive blues-rock on songs like “Blister” and “Spider” has the breathtaking qualities of Neutral Milk Hotel. It’s enough to send chills down your spine. BACKUP PLAN: Little Brother @ 4th & B.

Thursday, May 27

PLAN A: Frog Eyes, Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band @ The Casbah. Frog Eyes are like the Xiu Xiu of Canada. Songs like “Bushels” and “Reform the Countryside” are freakishly beautiful, their ornate arrangements led by Carey Mercer’s fragile voice. It’s the kind of thing indie geeks obsess over while everybody else wonders why. Thankfully for everyone else, Mt. St. Helens’ jangly rock is way more down-to-Earth. PLAN B: Longstay, Arrows, Pepper Rabbit, DJ Colour Vision @ Beauty Bar. Now here’s an unlikely lineup: Longstay make dainty indie pop (think a watered-down version of the Modest Mouse offshoot Ugly Casanova) while Arrows offer infectious new-new-wave reminiscent of trendy glo-fi acts like Washed Out and Memory Tapes. BACKUP PLAN: The Infamous Swanks @ Radio Room.

Friday, May 28

PLAN A: Spectrum, Pearl Harbor, Heavy Hawaii @ Soda Bar. As much as I love Soda Bar’s quality sound system and cushy booths, the awesome Spectrum—a descendant of the widely influential U.K. psych-rock band Spacemen 3—deserve a bigger venue. I can only hope that their hypnotic grooves and all-consuming sound effects burrow into the soul of even the most distracted bar-goer. PLAN B: Dirty Sweet, Transfer, The Silent Comedy, Apes of Wrath @ Birch North Park Theatre. Ranging from Transfer’s expansive rock to Apes of Wrath’s straight-up rock, this all-local lineup has the makings of a memorable show—even if you have to rock out while seated. BACKUP PLAN: My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Psychotica, DJs Lance Boling, EJ @ Beauty Bar.

Saturday, May 29

PLAN A: Boomsnake, Hosannas, Superhumanoids, Snuffaluffagus @ Che Café. It’s hard to say which band I’d rather see: They’re all doing fiercely unique things with electronics (often mixing them with live instruments), and I expect they’ll all give spellbinding performances. But I’m especially psyched to see how Solana Beach’s Snuffaluffagus will render its intricate, bizarre balladry on stage. PLAN B: Zion I, Kiwi, Rocky Rivera, RRS Feed @ Epicentre. On par with underground hip-hop artists like Talib Kweli and Aesop Rock, Oakland duo Zion I deliver innovative beats and thoughtful rhymes—it’s like what Lil’ Wayne might sound like if he converted to the Nation of Islam. And don’t miss Rocky Rivera, whose languid rhymes are nothing short of badass. BACKUP PLAN: Scarlet Symphony, The Constellation Branch, Lands on Fire @ Tin Can Ale House.

Sunday, May 30

PLAN A: Nas, Damian Marley @ Harrah’s Rincon Casino. Nas and Damian Marley make an iconic pair in Distant Relatives, which came out last week. Pitchfork called the album preachy, but the legendary rapper and renowned reggae artist reportedly have great chemistry onstage as they split the difference between hardened New York hip-hop and sweltering Jamaican dancehall in tracks like “Nah Mean” and “Land of Promise.” PLAN B: D-Pain, Lion Cut, Smile Now Cry Later, Free*Stars @ The Casbah. A rapper who excoriates polluters? I’m there. BACKUP PLAN: Ox Eyes, The Hot Toddies, Dreamboat @ Tin Can Ale House.

Monday, May 31

PLAN A: Emily Jane White, Brothers Grimm @ Soda Bar. I look forward to seeing Emily Jane White, a promising young singer-songwriter whose latest album, Victorian America, ranges between ghostly (“The Ravens”) and wry (“The Country Life”). As for Brothers Grimm, it’s the side project of a couple of smartly dressed brothers who play in a certain evangelically disposed band we covered recently. PLAN B: Monarques, Marquez! @ Tin Can Ale House. Portland’s Monarques conjure images of antique stores and ’50s diners with their retro rock—not exactly my idea of a good time—but I wouldn’t want to miss Marquez!’s rock en español, which we hailed as “stunning” in our local-music issue. BACKUP PLAN: Lady Dottie and the Diamonds @ U-31.

Tuesday, June 1

PLAN A: The Melvins, Totimoshi, Rats Eyes @ The Casbah. In a metal universe composed of categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories, The Melvins have remained The Melvins: Tight, angular and scary. And they’re not slowing down any time soon—their latest album, The Bride Screamed Murder, comes out today. PLAN B: X, A Frames, Christmas Island, Nude Boy @ Soda Bar. No, this isn’t the legendary L.A. punk band. It’s the legendary Australian punk band, whose junky riffs on songs like “Dipstick” and “Suck Suck” are memorable in their own right. Seattle’s A Frames will set the mood with their skuzzy noise rock.

Hypewave: No matter what one pseudonymous blogger says, Neon Indian’s warped synth-pop isn’t just some ’80s throwback

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Photo by Ben Rowland.

Alan Palomo, the 21-year-old force behind Neon Indian, keeps it real: His synths are analog, his lyrics personal, his electro-pop unabashedly sentimental. But since getting catapulted from his bedroom, through the blogosphere and onto Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in a matter of months, he’s wound up at the center of a genre that seems to exist in name only: chillwave.

It’s not his fault. Ever since the term was coined last July by Carles, the pseudonymous proprietor of the pop-culture blog Hipster Runoff, the hype machine has turned “chillwave” into a bona-fide craze. In February, Pitchfork dubbed summer 2009 “the summer of chillwave.” In March, The Wall Street Journal dutifully reported on the trend. In April, MTV elicited backlash from Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino after erroneously asserting that she’s “embraced the chillwave sound.” On Twitter, she raged: “What the fuck is chillwave?????”

It’s catchy and winsome. It’s nostalgic for the ’80s. It was recorded in someone’s bedroom. And it doesn’t matter that when the hype tsunami crested, hardly any chillwavers actually knew each other, lived in the same state or considered themselves chillwave.

It’s chillwave, dude—who cares?

Of course, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that this is really just a hoax. Carles invented chillwave (even as he mocked it, offering up alternative labels like “Pitchforkwavegaze,” “Blogrock” and “Forkshit”), only to act as though the musicians themselves chose to be chillwave.

To be fair, though, there’s some truth to the hype. Songs by the likes of Neon Indian, Washed Out, Memory Tapes and Toro Y Moi share a DIY aesthetic, a keenness for synthesizers and drum machines and an apolitical outlook more invested in psychedelics than current affairs. Take, for example, Neon Indian’s “Should Have Taken Acid With You.” Over a dramatic torrent of synths, Palomo’s ingeniously simple lyrics (“Should have taken acid with you / Take our clothes off in the swimming pool”) evoke the innocent longing of Say Anything. Only it’s been updated to fit the druggy lifestyle of the modern-day college student.

But Palomo was never interested in being chillwave (or “glo-fi,” as some like to call it). “My intention was never to tap into some kind of movement or something,” he says over the phone from his sublet in Brooklyn. “I think that’s incredibly pretentious to say, especially when experimentation is just sort of the word of the day and all you’re really doing is trying new songs out.”

The truth is, he wrote “Should Have Taken Acid With You” on a lark. While he was living in Austin, Texas, last year, a date to drop acid with a friend fell through, so he sat down to write her a song. Adding layer after layer of synths, he finished it in five or six hours.

“I sat on it for, like, a month. If anything, I tried to rewrite it as a VEGA song,” he says, referring to his other band. “But it just really wasn’t working out.”

Realizing that his song worked just as it was, he decided to pursue the sound further. “Just one day, I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll try writing these other songs,’” he says. “And in a week, I had an EP’s worth of material. And in about a month, I had an album’s worth of material.”

What came out was Psychic Chasms, a half-hour set of heartfelt yet silly pop songs composed of squeaky synths, squelching bass lines and melted samples. Innovative and infectious, it’s no wonder the album’s become an instant classic: You could just as easily geek out to it while smoking a bowl or blare it in your car on the way to the beach.

Palomo acknowledges that some “chillwave” tracks bring to mind iconic moments from ’80s films—“like that scene in Rocky 4,” he says, “when he’s driving his Ferrari late at night and thinking about his friend dying.” But he isn’t trying to manufacture nostalgia for the pop culture of a decade he hardly lived through. At its core, Psychic Chasms is a personal document, encapsulating all the psychedelics Palomo’s taken and the heartbreak he’s experienced (from the liner notes: “Thanks to all the women who’ve broken my heart. I could not have done this without you”) during the last four years of living in Texas.

But even if “chillwave” doesn’t represent what he’s about, he thinks the recent obsession with lo-fi makes for an interesting statement.

“We have high-definition cameras, and we have everything that looks really pristine and clean, so how are we going to create the distinction for nostalgia 40 years from now, when it’s probably going to look the same way?” Palomo wonders. “You’re able to store all this information that doesn’t undergo any kind of degradation. Recording something on a tape means killing certain components of it that gave it its qualities. Over time, that becomes the quality about it. Having this music, this preoccupation with lo-fi, it’s almost like a swan song for that.”

Maybe, though the swan song itself will be revived in the echo chamber of some future blogosphere.

Neon Indian play with Class Actress on Wednesday, June 2, at The Casbah.

This article was published in this week’s issue of SD CityBeat.

Hamilton’s owner is taking over Radio Room

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Locals Only

Radio Room, the City Heights music venue, is in the process of being sold to Scot Blair, owner of Small Bar in University Heights and Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park.

Chris Heaney, one of Radio Room’s five co-owners, said they agreed to sell the venue because maintaining it wasn’t worth the money. “It was just a lot of work for breaking even,” Heaney told CityBeat.

Blair said he plans to make Radio Room more of a bar, “so it’s not just a band carrying the night.” Under his ownership, the bar will open earlier in the day, bands will play four or five nights a week and there will be a more diverse lineup compared with the current focus on punk and metal bands. He will also make some “cosmetic changes,” he said. “I like aesthetics, and we’re going to have some cool things for this bar.”

The sale is in escrow. Ownership will officially change in July, Heaney said.


On Wednesday, May 26, old-school rockers Glory will reunite to perform at Anthology’s “Legends of SD Rock,” a benefit for the California Music Project, a nonprofit that organizes youth music fellowships. Glory vets Jerry Raney, Jack Butler and Jack Pinney will also perform with their bands, The Farmers, Private Domain and Modern Rhythm. Also that night, gay nightclub Rich’s will hold “Monster Ball,” a benefit for the American Red Cross, featuring DJ Kiss. On Saturday, May 29, Oakland hip-hop duo Zion I will perform at the Epicentre in a benefit for the Shirt the Kids Foundation, a San Diego-based charity that aids impoverished children in the Philippines. Filipino rappers Kiwi and Rocky Rivera and California DJ trio RRS Feed will open. Also on Saturday, at Humphrey’s Backstage Live, local rockers Mama Red and Hugh Gaskins will perform at Rock Against MS, a benefit for the National MS Society.

At SOMA on Friday, May 28, metalcore bands Comes the Horsemen and Tragedy and Triumph will herald the release of Horsemen’s new album, Fragile Masks, and Tragedy’s new EP, The Ground Beneath Us. Lower Definition, Casino Madrid, Vanguard, Deadbeat Nightlife, Lindbergh Skies and City Delivered will also play. On Saturday, May 29, jazz saxophonist Ian Tordella will perform at Dizzy’s with his quartet and NYC guitarist Jeff Miles to celebrate the release of his new album, Magnolia. That night at Lestat’s, Emersen will play a show for the release of their new CD.

Night Moves

Our semi-regular guide to after-dark events we’re either crazy about or just really looking forward to.

“Dub Dorado” @ El Dorado: Joseph Maldonado (aka DJ Headshake) says the hip Downtown bar has rented out a “huge ass sound system” for the launch of a new event hosted by San Diego Dubstep that celebrates earth-shaking bass music. Expect spastic breakbeats from L.A. duo Camo UFOs, crunked-out rhymes from L.A.’s MC Whiskey and heaving wobble bass from locals Austin Speed, Osal8, Mr. Biggs and Headshake. Wednesday, May 26.

“Enrique Experienced” @ Glashaus: Shameless self-promotion alert! Celebrating the second anniversary of his Nightgeist column, Enrique Limón will unveil original works by artists who re-imagined his most memorable columns. But I’m not hyping this just because Enrique has pestered us nonstop about it—I’m looking forward to DJ sets by Miss Lady D, The Office Twins, Miss Toats and Da Perv, and I’m eager to see what The Burning of Rome keyboardist / singer Adam Traub will do with a mandolin. Saturday, May 29.

“Jivewire” @ The Casbah: This semi-regular dance party couldn’t have a more intriguing lineup. There’s a rapper who excoriates polluters (D-Pain), an electro dance act sporting the most fabulous lion mane this side of the San Diego Zoo (Lion Cut), a pop star in the making with an amazing voice and catchy beats (Smile Now Cry Later) and a silly group with a ballad about a “double-flush deuce” (Free*Stars). Sunday, May 30.

Deadmau5 @ Hard Rock Hotel: Speaking of intriguing acts, how about a DJ who offers up trance-inducing, robotic techno while wearing a huge Mickey Mouse mask? Leave the psychedelics at home for this one. Sunday, May 30.

Click here to read the whole feature, published in this week’s issue of CityBeat.

Written by Peter Holslin

May 26, 2010 at 8:56 am