CHAMA

chama logo

CHAMA — Hexagono (Falcon Gumba, 2020)

CHAMA applies a garage-band approach to creative jazz, creating music that’s rigorous but just feels fun. The violin-guitar-drums trio met years ago in Venezuela (where “chama” is colloquial for “girl”) and have since reconvened in New York. Having released a couple of EPs a few years ago, they’ve been issuing digital tracks this year on the Falcon Gumba label, run by violinist Leonor Falcón.

On “Hexagono,” CHAMA dips into smart math rock, built on a glitchy phrase that ends with an unmistakable flourish. “Carupano” runs at a cooler temperature on a sly but energetic jazzy groove. And “Kids,” written by drummer Arturo García, puts heavier emphasis on Juanma Trujillo’s guitar, a midtempo chugging followed by slow, bluesy reverb.

Outside CHAMA, Falcón’s creative music output has tracked closer to jazz. Her album IMAGA MONDO, esperanto for “imaginary world,” includes Trujillo alongside bass clarinet and drums, playing music ranging from modernized swing (“Gnomes”) to abstract melodic sketches (“Nymphs and Spaceman,” with multiple overdubbed violins) to an uplifting anthem (“Humanoides.”) A playful violin-viola duet called Peach & Tomato, pairing Falcón with Sana Nagano, operates on a sense of conversational forward motion, adding some electrified sounds for texture.

Trujillo has some output on Falcon Gumba too. El Vecino is a quartet with trumpet; Sferos is a trio with sax and drums that gets into some looser, untethered exploration.

Here are a few more snippets of CHAMA in action.

Inward Creature

Inward CreatureInward Creature (self-released, 2020)

Inward-Creature_LP_Album-Art_Digital-SQ_v24Inward Creature spins giddy but smart pop songs where the musicianship is on point and the ideas are flinging madly from all sides, from the outright absurd to the earnest (I think) pop love song “Carly.” The attitude skews toward class cloud but ranges all the way to sincere singer-songwriter. The genre influences run from metal to lite rock, with an honestly catchy country melody thrown in (“Pull Over to Pray,” which is musically so straightforward it seems out of place).

If you start with “Liar” — where the chorus is “I’m such a f**king liar” repeated eight times — you’ll think you’ve stumbled onto a novelty band. But that’s not the right box for these guys. “Jilly Jolly” is heavy in guitars and mood (the opening has shades of “Dirty Boy” by Cardiacs) and “Everybody Nose” (yes it’s a pun) turns out to be a mini-suite with a serious middle amid the stomping cleverness.

Farther out on the goofiness axis, “My Time in the ’60s” sounds just like its title, musically conjuring up TV game shows and explosive yellow and orange fashions. “Little Things” takes a nursery-rhyme 6/8 melody and packs it to the gills with lyrics for a cute, likable package. “Reptile Tears” is part smart-alecky prog, part skate-punk, part cartoon, with a moody avant-jazz sax solo.

If you’re looking for a more direct link to avant-garde jazz, note that the drummer here is Jordan Glenn. He plays heavy improv in the Fred Frith Trio, artsy folk/prog with Jack o’ the Clock, and jazz in any number of ensembles — and he has an offbeat sense of humor himself. He named a band Wiener Kids and named one of their albums Why Don’t You Make Me?

You can hear the whole Inward Creature album on Bandcamp. But first, you gotta take 2 minutes and hear “My Time in the ’60s.” You just do. And as long as “Pull Over to Pray” is stuck in my head, I might as well try to stick you with it too.

Real Life Rock and Roll Band

reallife-hollerin

Real Life Rock and Roll BandHollerin’ the Spirit (Geomancy, 2019)

Nothing fancy here, and that’s a good thing. Oakland-based Real Life Rock & Roll Band play guitar-guitar-bass-drums rock that feels like sunlight over wild grasslands, filling space with upbeat, fuzzed-out guitars, strong-snap drumming and ghostly vocals. Their album is out on the Geomancy label, which has done strong work documenting some of the Bay Area’s experimental-leaning music (Grex, Surplus 1980, Jordan Glenn).

The music unfolds into extended jams, sometimes with parts made of overlapping polyrhythms, but it can be enjoyed at a simpler level — it’s electric folk descended from psychedelia. Chris Forsythe might be a point of comparison.

“Singing the Freedom of Utopic Space” eventually develops a guitar chime in 5/4 and a keyboard loop in what I think is 15/8. It breaks for a pleasantly quiet, clicking groove in the middle, then ends with anthemic group shouting that reminds me of some of the alt-folk rock from earlier in the 2000s (The Circulatory System? Akron/Family?)


Even though the music is composed, it has a spontaneous feel, like being in the center of an idea that is just starting to unfold. The spinning hypnotic cycles of jangly guitar set you down in a comfortable place and encourage you to enjoy the view. One miscue, for me, is the use of autotune; for a band that describes themselves as “favoring the spirit of the music over the evasive monolith of perfection,” it feels too inorganic.

Take a listen to the ending moments of “Earthbound Phantoms Not Numerous.” The rest of the eight-minute song has played out at this point, shifting into an abstractly flickering cooldown — the band showing off its abstract side — the drops into “There Oughta Be a Law Against Sunny Southern California.” The latter is the album’s de facto single, in my mind — a 1975 Terry Allen song transformed from gritty highway blues to a low-key haze and a thousand-yard stare. Below, I’m including an excerpt of the transition between the songs, because I think it sounds cool, followed by all of “There Oughta Be a Law.” You can hear the whole album on Bandcamp.

Battlehooch Rides Again

Battlehooch plays at Slim’s on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.

BattlehoochHot Lungs (Timberline, 2013)

Battlehooch: Hot Lungs. Click to sample the album on Bandcamp.
Click to sample the album on Bandcamp

Last year, the rock band Battlehooch talked about making their next full-length album their biggest effort yet, and they weren’t kidding. Hot Lungs is a terrific rock album packed with sonic surprises out of all the instruments, a polished take on the sextet’s usual avant-garde take on pop-rock. It’s catchy, driven, funky music that does indeed rock — in fact, it represents the directions I wish classic rock had taken.

As a band, Battlehooch is full of bouncing-off-walls craziness and twisted creativity. Even the simpler songs, such as the good ol’ rock rhythm of “Hope,” are full of creative tricks — a random sitar riff, or jangly rapid-fire guitar playing the chords, or a sudden shift into a minor key. It’s just a two-and-a-half minute song, but there’s a lot packed into it; that’s typical of this band, and they took special pride in loading up these kinds of production goodies on the album.

“Joke” is the standout song here — snappy and catchy, set up around three not-so-standard chords for a mildly sinister sound. I love the way the sax, keyboard, and bass peck out simple, stabbing octaves to outline the melody. “Pickin’ Fields” is another highlight, with its spaghetti-western guitar line set to a fast beat. (That song also has a video that they showed during a Slim’s concert a year ago.)

They turn up the drama for a more cerebral kind of rocking-out on tracks like “Yea, That,” which features a colossal break led by fast, heavy-thumping drums and “Calisteniks,” which comes across as a soaring, serious-rock-anthem kind of song.

On the more pop side, “Seraphim” uses tight harmony vocals, flute, and old-timey piano to produce an upbeat yet serious piece of post-Beatles pop. And funk attitude crops up on “This Patience” and “Organic,” which fill the sound with gloopy bass and spastic synth effects, respectively.

Battlehooch is a find. They’re good musicians and creative songwriters who want to rock out but don’t want to fit into any convenient mold. Hopefully, Hot Lungs, which came out in February, is getting them some well deserved attention.

Interview: Cardiacs Benefit on May 8

I recently talked with Dominique Leone about the upcoming Cardiacs benefit being held at Cafe Du Nord (San Francisco) on Sunday, May 8, from 6:00 p.m. to about 10:00 p.m.  Talked to him on KZSU radio, in fact, right over the airwaves.

Wouldn’t you think I’d put some of that interview onto this blog?

Ha! You’d be wrong! Until now, that is, when a combination of having-enough-time and finally-thinking-about-it has brought you this transcript. I’ll add the edited-down audio later if I get the chance.

If you still don’t know this band — they’re crazed prog/punk, sometimes loopy, sometimes full of big evil guitars, always rocking and mind-numbingly complex. You can sample their output on YouTube and on iTunes, and you can skip straight to the Zappa part of the interview for Leone’s descriptions of the music.

And you should come check out the show, which includes Leone, Moe Staiano, and Amy X. Neuburg. It’s a good cause.

How would you describe Cardiacs? You’re walking up to a friend, and they’ve never heard of this band — who are these guys?

DL: Cardiacs are an English band. They’re originally kind of a post-punky band that started in the late ’70s, although even then they were kind of out there and [had], I don’t know, a little of a circus atmosphere to a lot of their songs. But the energy and the speed and just the visceral activity of a punk band — a good punk band, too. These guys are not holding anything back.

When I first heard them, I was kind of amazed. I actually first heard one of their later albums — that was the first thing I heard by them. They’re one of these bands that — they just kind of turned it up with each record, and by the end, they were really an extremely amazing over-the-top kind of band, in a lot of different respects.

Yeah, and they have videos on YouTube, especially when they do the older stuff — they had a whole stage act going, makeup and everything. Pretty amazing. How did you find out about this band? Because their stuff is hard to find in the U.S.

DL: It’s really hard to find. I actually had trouble finding it when I wanted it. I first heard them from a friend who happened to have some of the old LPs. He thought I might like it, he played it for me, and I was floored.

But when I went out in the world and tried to find it … no record stores had them — this was back in the days when there were record stores, five years ago — so I went online and tried to look for them. There’s not really any place online where you can get them. So, I eventually found my way to the actual distributor’s web site that has a whole catalog, thousands of records, 10 of which are Cardiacs records. I just bought it directly from them. And now, that’s not even available. I don’t think that any Cardiacs records are in print — not because there’s not demand for them, but because Tim Smith, unfortunately, has health problems and can’t run his own business. He can’t take the time and talk to the people that he needs to talk to to get your records out into the world. He’s just kind of bedridden. That’s definitely a big reason why we’re doing this concert.

[As noted above, all Cardiacs records are now available on iTunes.]

Why don’t we talk a little bit about Tim Smith’s condition.

DL: Well, first of all, we want to help him take care of himself. Tim Smith had a stroke [following a June 2008 heart attack] and ever since then, he can’t perform. He can’t sing, he can’t finish the record that — at least a part of the instrumental track is already done. He can’t put his vocals on top of that. So all we’re doing with this benefit is: Try to raise a little money, try to help him take care of himself, and hopefully help him get back to a position where he can finish a Cardiacs record or at least help make his catalog available, help live out the rest of his life in a manner that’s not bedridden — that’s healthy, [where he] can enjoy what he’s created.

Now, this is obviously not “normal” music. Which is good! — “not-normal” in a good way…

DL: Speak for yourself!

… But in putting together a benefit, finding people and bands to play this music — I’m imagining it was pretty difficult.

DL: It’s tough finding people who A) know the tunes at all or B) can play the tunes. We were just talking earlier today — I schedule more rehearsals for this concert than I would normally schedule for a regular show with my band. And we’re only playing, like, two songs. It’s gonna take that much focus and shedding to get them down.

I’m playing a song called “Dirty Boy,” which is kind of — I mean, I would say it’s the greatest Cardiacs song, or one of the greatest. It’s an epic tune, but unfortunately, with a chord change every measure. For about eight minutes.

We’re gonna try to pull that off. We’re gonna try to do it. The other one — I’m actually not decided [on] what other one we’re gonna do, so you’ll have to come and see.

How many bands are involved here?

DL: It’s changing every day, but at the moment, I believe there are seven bands involved…? I actually need to consult with Moe, because Moe is the one sending me the band updates. But I know, myself, of seven.

That’s pretty impressive, just finding that many people who already know the band and/or are dedicated enough to know the songs.

DL: Thank you.

A lot of comparisons come up when you read old reviews of this band. They talk a lot about Frank Zappa, a lot about Captain Beefheart. Do you find those valid? Do you find that an accurate way to describe the band?

DL: Eh, not so much. I mean, Frank Zappa — he’s one of these guys that, in some way, you can see his music applying to Cardiacs because, if nothing else, it’s hard to play. And the tunes themselves are certainly unorthodox chord changes, unorthodox melodies.

But there’s not a lot of soloing. It’s really more of a band thing. It’s all about the actual composition as opposed to — when I think of Frank Zappa, I think of composition, but I also think of 20-minute-long guitar solos, and that doesn’t really happen in Cardiacs. More apt would be something like Devo, early Devo-ish kind of stuff, where it’s definitely coming out of post-punk and new wave, but also deranged — it’s like a deranged art band. That’s more similar to what I’d say Cardiacs is coming from.

Now, their last stuff — it’s — I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s kind of like if Queen had been a punk band. [My chosen example, below, isn’t all that punky, but there’s some Queen-ness.]

Everything’s overdriven, everything’s these huge epic productions, and just — everything’s turned up into the red. It reminds me a little bit of a Zach Hill kind of energy, except that you have these four-part harmonies and these circusy melodies. It’s definitely music that’s hard to play, in some cases hard to listen to, but it’s awesome, and it’s just this huge high. That’s what Cardiacs is. This huge glowing high. That’s what’s hard to pull of, and that’s why we’re going to try to do it.

I guess we should point out, too — the band has two distinct phases. They had saxophone and xylophone early on, for a very circusy sound.

DL: Yeah, and they still have, on their later records, some saxophone stuff. But I think their earlier records were a little bit more loopy as far as the marimba playing and the jerkiness of things. A lot of that’s down to when it was happening. There were a lot of herky-jerky-sounding bands in 1978.

Yeah, I guess you could call it two phases, because by the ’90s, everything had certainly become a little bit more — I don’t even know how to describe it. Like this sun mushroom. Jagged-edge, post-punk, really wiry kind of music.

(For more info: Cardiacs.org and Cardiacs.com. And click the photo below for a nice 2007 review by The Dreaded Press.)


Pink Mountain: The Return Of

source: myspaceThe rock/noise colossus of Pink Mountain is playing at Amoeba Records for free tomorrow, July 15, at 6:00 p.m. in San Francisco. Woo hoo!

They’ve also got a new album they’ll be pushing with a mini-tour: a July 16 show at the Hemlock Tavern in SF, followed by shows in Portland and Seattle.

Pink Mountain is a quintet, a supergroup of local/ex-local improv folks plus Sam Coomes of Quasi on vocals and keys. They put out one album in 2006 that was just fanatastic: Big washes of guitar spinning dark psych rock or spiky noise, with jazzy sax twiddlings and thick synthesizers. They’ve appeared live a couple of times since then, and I’d always hoped the band would get together for some more recordings. Yes!

You can hear their sound on the Myspace link above, or at The Bay Bridged, a local-music blog, where you can also see a nice big picture of the new album’s cover.