Archive for February, 2011

Heroes in the Healing of the Nation
February 24, 2011

Zion I and the Grouch

Heroes in the Healing of the Nation

Z & G Music

Zion I and the Grouch, two of the bigger giants in hip-hop, first collaborated five years ago with Heroes in the City of Dope.  The members of Zion I have been playing to bigger and bigger crowds since they began over ten years ago in San Francisco, the Grouch started performing with the underground stars Living Legends within a year of his first solo record.  Both have incredible discographies that are considered some of the finest in indie hip-hop.  Thematically upping their ambitions from “city to nation,” their sophomore release together has all the elements that give each so much their first release together so much acclaim and more.  Heroes in the Healing of the Nation is THE example of how the genre’s collaborations should work.


Released:  March 22, 2011


The King of Limbs
February 24, 2011


The King of Limbs


Radiohead has been a staple of alternative music for over two decades.  Since their inception in 1985, Thom Yorke and his accompanying band mates have again and again shattered molds and pushed boundaries.  Their previous release, In Rainbows, pioneered the “pay-what-you-will” business model, allowing customers to download for whatever price they found reasonable (including $0), to great success.  With The King of Limbs, Radiohead has returned to the old model of distribution, but that may be the only step back the band takes with the new record.  With it they somewhat return the their roots, shying away from the mellow, laid-back styles of In Rainbows in favor for that creeping, insidious-sounding  influence that so invaded the band’s earliest singles.  The sound is tuned perfectly to Thom Yorke’s melancholic, eerie, drawn out vocals.  The King of Limbs holds the band’s records for longest time between studio albums and shortest length.  The 37 minute playtime may be another shortcoming, but the precision and fine-tuning it allowed for more than make up for any perceived negatives.  The sense of completion present in their latest release measures up to any past record.  The band also sounds more complete than ever before, now that Thom Yorke has his own solo output for his electronic different-than-normal-Radiohead to premiere on, which makes for one eclectic, established sound present throughout, which is almost a first for the act.  The King of Limbs is first and foremost a fan-pleaser, and it’s still another standout release from alternative music’s favorite band.


Released: February 18, 2011

Revival Sessions
February 18, 2011

Family Business music has been working behind the scenes in Chico and Northern California for seven years working on expanding the careers of our best local musicians and producers while bringing some of music’s biggest names to the area.  Founded by local artist and Chico School of Rock teacher, Hap Hathaway’s (whose classes cover DJing/mixing, hip-hop production, songwriting, culture and origins) first release, Agronomy… A Study in Cultural Practices.  Opened in 2003, Hathaway’s Family Business “has been on expansion mode ever since.”  Family Business music has had its hand in staging and providing equipment for some of Northern California’s biggest shows, including C-Rayz Walz of Def Jux, 2Mex of Visionaries, Tech9, Souls of Mischief of Hieroglyphics, all often with favorite local act The Resonators opening.

Hathaway is also on the board of entertainment for Wild Mountain Productions where he promises that Concow’s next Wild Mountain Fair “really should be a huge show, we plan on having headliner artists all three days and DJ’s every night for the late nighters.”  Catch further Synthesis issues for more information on that event, happening this June, 25th through the 27th.  ß take out if I’m too far over word count

Recently Hathaway and his Family Business music label have pooled their resources and influence with one KRS-One’s the Temple of Hip-Hop.  Since the Temple of Hip-Hop’s 1996 inception, it has been a major driving force in the genre’s culture.  Embracing the positive aspects of the hip-hop lifestyle, the Temple of Hip-Hop encourages artists, producers and everyone else to spread the aspects of their culture, to write more socially-conscious songs and promote the play of the more socially-conscious songs on the radio.  With the same goals and love of the music, this match can only mean good things.  And that first good thing isn’t too far away, with the first event of their upcoming monthly “Revival Sessions” happening this weekend at Café Culture.

The greatest part of this union is the bright future it’s creating for Northern California’s hip-hop.  With the Temple of Hip-Hop’s built in network of artists, producers and fans we will see more and more up and coming artists as well as current hip-hop legends playing alongside local musicians at their monthly “Revival Sessions” events.  Add Hathaway and Family Business’ friends at Chico’s music hotspot Café Culture for a provided venue and we get “a unified hip-hop movement here in Northern California unlike anything that has ever been attempted.”

The “Revival Sessions’” goal is simple, to create a monthly hip-hop event open to all ages in order to, as Hathaway describes, “…keep the positive aspects of our culture alive and thriving through true tribal style gatherings of hip-hoppers, built by hip-hoppers, for hip-hoppers.”  Each month we will see a collection of performances by artists from around the country accompanied by local hip-hop and break dancers.  Also featured in each month’s event is an open mic session for anyone who feels inspired and a piece or two from the local The Now School Movement, “a collaboration of the area’s freshest DJ’s and illest MC’s.”

As mentioned, the first “Revival Sessions” event will happen this weekend on Saturday, the 26th at 8:30 p.m. at Café Culture.  Come to be treated to hip-hops rich “living tradition of oral history and dance, the original global languages.  There will be singers, rhymers, dancers, DJ’s, graffiti art live and an open MC circle so there will truly be something exciting for everyone… This is real hip-hop.”

100 Lovers
February 17, 2011


100 Lovers


When DeVotchKa released their epic fourth album seven years ago, How It Ends, they burst into the indie playground in an unexpected way.  The profound title track “How It Ends” had a major influence in both music and entertainment in general, appearing in trailers, commercials and films for years after its release (including the trailers for Everything Is Illuminated and Gears of War 2 as well as scoring the independent film favorite Little Miss Sunshine).  Yet time has passed and as we have seen with too many bands, many don’t make it gracefully past that magnum opus.  But DeVotchKa proves again they aren’t slowing down.  While nothing has had the same magnitude as How It Ends, their newest release 100 Lovers builds perfectly on that melancholic, longing sound so expertly mastered in that fourth release.  No, 100 Lovers certainly is nothing new for the group.  But with their incredibly unique sound that combines traditional Romani, Greek, Slavic, Bolero, Mariachi music with American punk and folk roots and the only sound like them is, well, them.  So while they may have fallen a little stagnant in comparison to their fourth album, their newest release stands out in form from most modern “indie” records.  It’s a noble release for a band that has more to live up to than other acts its size.  And a great addition to any fan’s collection.

Released:  3/1/2011

James Blake
February 17, 2011

James Blake

James Blake

A&M Records

Almost a decade after the dark, heavy bass lines of dubstep first made their way to the imaginations of the London’s best and DJs and producers, dubstep has quickly grown into one of the most popular and infectious styles of dance music in the world.  James Blake is one of the newest and youngest (only 22 years) producers to that growing army, bringing a mellow, soft singer-songwriter edge into the heavy electronic beats.  Recently highlighted in BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll, it’s widely recognized that Blake is one of the most unique and talented producers in the genre.  Sometimes pinned as “pub-singer meets dubstep,” in his debut self-titled release James Blake we find Blake borrowing pages from other mainstream electronic musicians; that is using his own voice rather than samples to make interesting and electronic fused pop-sensible rhythms.  This dubstep producer’s gentle piano touch, melancholically distorted vocals and clever beats allow him to stay away from the stale, purely bass heavy “waah-waah” dubstep that’s infiltrated everyone’s playlist.  When it’s done we have the studied delicacy of classical musicianship coupled with the infectious, mesmerizing rhythms of dubstep and UK garage.  If you are interested in the direction dubstep is going or want something quiet to compliment those gigs of speaker-blowing basslines you have stored, James Blake is a good bet.  Just don’t expect an Excision or Rusko sound-alike here, this is something new.


Released:  2/7/2011

Stars Have Shapes
February 3, 2011

Exploding Star Orchestra

Stars Have Shapes

Delmark Records

Chicago has long been known for being home one of our both hottest and most unique music movements in the country.  And then from those multitudes of unrelated but booming genres, we find Rob Mazurek.  Regarded as perhaps Chicago’s best and most well known artist, Rob Mazurek has spent the last twenty years in the city’s highlight.  Over those years Mazurek has continued to refine and explore his craft, transitioning flawlessly between avante-garde electronica to free form jazz and back top progressive rock.  Six years ago Mazurek created Exploding Star Orchestra with the intention of blurring those genre definitions even more.  Though classically identified as jazz, Stars Have Shapes incorporates all elements from all of Chicago’s scenes, resulting in what first sounds like a jumbled mess of noise and feedback.  At times it’s hard to even tell there is a song in the background, as often as the horns and clarinets give way to unintelligible static and intermittent feedback mid-song.  But I find myself transfixed, and as soon as I go to adjust my speakers the tracks once again burst into harmonic sounds and recognizable instrumentation.  Now is when I will stress that this album is not at all for everyone.  Lovers of the freest expressions and avante-garde styling’s will find themselves at home, but I know most won’t find those same levels of appreciation.  But if you are at all curious, believe me that it is good, very good.  Stars Have Shapes is certainly a one of a kind release from one standout scene.


Released:  9/21/2010

The Strangest Thing We’ve Ever Seen
February 3, 2011

Clouds On Strings

The Strangest Thing We’ve Ever Seen

Independent Release

I’m always wary before reviewing a local release.  It’s hard to be totally honest in a town like this where it’s still small enough where you might know a member or two in the band.  So imagine my relief when I first listened to Clouds On Strings’ sophomore release The Strangest Thing We’ve Ever Seen to discover that here is a quality example of strong local music.  Self-labeled as the always slightly vague “progressive rock,” Clouds On Strings’ unique and instantly appealing sound is not one any local music lover should miss.  Formed in 2009 by five Chico State music majors, they have quickly gained both critical appreciation and small fan base with their first release For You, For Me, For Sake of a Dream during that summer.  Catch them around town and grab a copy of both releases; I think you will be glad you did.


Released:  12/16/2010