March 2008

Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Rivercity Seven/Sidewinder Stitches Time

Rivercity Seven is a strange band, and I mean that as a compliment. The group seems to have come from the Frank Zappa school of music without boundaries, exploring the limitless possibilities of rock & roll. With its slinky rhythms and prog-rock electronics, “Sidewinder” had me thinking of a bastard hybrid of Shriekback and King Crimson. But the snake reference in their album title is quite apt as the band continually sheds its skin. (Perhaps they should’ve used a chameleon instead.)

Unlike most groups with a yen for prog, Rivercity Seven aren’t afraid of having fun. “Hector the Inspector” is a joyous ode to early ’80s New Wave with its Devo-like quirky keyboards and spoken-word dialogue a la Flash and the Pan (remember those guys?). “Guantanamo Blues” has to be a homage of some sort to the late Warren Zevon because of its uncanny resemblance to “Werewolves of London,” especially the piano. “Time Has Come Today” echoes John Lennon’s rocking solo work, namely “Instant Karma!” This is a very creative bunch, like several bands rolled into one. Add these tunes to your iPod, and you’ll think they’re from different artists.



Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Skin Contact/The Fine Line

Skin Contact is the name of Kevin Breidenbach’s project and not a band by any means. On this six-cut EP, Breidenbach unites elements of both techno and industrial music to achieve the most infectious grooves. Although it’s an experimental process, the results are far more accessible than you’d anticipate; this is not some cold Kid A construct. Much of this is designed to move – and make your feet follow. On that level, it certainly works.

The title track has a claustrophobic, icy opening that eventually gives way to stimulating, pulsating synthesized rhythms a la Depece Mode. I’m not sure if Breidenbach was consciously riding on the Mode but that’s who I was reminded of. No doubt that Martin Gore would find it enjoyable. “Under the Skin” and “Nerves” are more aggressive, closer to the industrial bump and grind of Front 242 but without much of the heaviness. “Slipping” finds Breidenbach flirting with pop without giving in to it while “Collisions” engages the ears with its hypnotic drum and bass beats.


Reviewed by Julian Wilson

M.C. Mars/Letz Cabalaborate

M.C. Mars is to San Francisco as Lou Reed is to New York. In other words, he belongs to the city, knows its every buried secret; after all, would you expect less from somebody who’s been a cab driver for 30 years? Mars has seen and heard it all. Like Reed, Mars writes unflinchingly of drugs and kinky sex and the damage done – in this case, the spectre of AIDS always hovering like a black cloud. Combining hysterically funny spoken-word segments with straightforward yet lyrically sharp hip-hop, Mars sounds nothing like a man who is pushing 60. Yes, you heard me; he’s no spring chicken.

But age brings experience, and Mars has lived a lifetime of memories to share with us all. The bitingly funny “Bob the Fertilizer Salesman” is about a businessman too cheap to pay for a decent hooker so Mars takes him to a crack neighborhood wherein twenty bucks can get you oral sex. Unfortunately, the drug-hungry whore is so ugly that Bob refuses to pay anything more than $5. When she’s insulted by his offer, he throws her out of the cab. You’ll find yourself laughing until it’s over, when you realize that Mars is making a statement about how society uses the sick and needy as garbage, abandoning them to their misery once we’ve gotten what we wanted. “I believe in the dignity of human life,” Mars says on “TV Humor.” Keep that in mind as you listen to the rest of the album, and you will feel the force of Mars’ socio-political messages.


Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Jam’g/Just (Because)

There can never be a shortage of rappers, and unfortunately many of them are awful. Ever since hip-hop became Big Business, everybody’s aunt and brother thinks they can slip on the gold chains and become the next MTV sensation. Once in a while, though, you will encounter an artist such as Jam’g who actually has an artistic vision clearly his own.

I’m hesitant to peg this into the “alternative rap” category because that would imply the music here is quirky and somewhat uncommercial. Nevertheless, much of Just (Because) wouldn’t be served on your hip-hop menu. For example, the deceptively titled “Let’s Party Tonight” attacks the misogyny often found in rap lyrics and in the scene as well. Imagine those video-vixen sisters getting together and coming up with a girl-power rant, letting the boys know that they aren’t just flesh but souls with a heart who ache for emotional fulfillment. Pretty brave stuff coming from a male hip-hop artist, if you ask me.

Jam’g combines messages of morality with the prequisite party tunes. “Life in San Quentin” shows the other side of crime, the price one pays for being caught doing the stupid shit that sadly kids get involved in. But there’s no preachiness here. The lyrics give you a dose of reality, showing that there’s more to hip-hop than guns, gold, and girls.

Reviewed by Julian Wilson

David Hicken/Goddess

Pianist David Hicken crafts New Age music with a soul. Not that the genre is the emotionless stereotype that detractors have often presented, but it does have its share of cold, detached efforts and robotic execution. With Hicken, emotions are the heart of each composition, especially on the elegant Goddess. A quick scan of each track will immediately reveal (if it isn’t obvious to you) that this CD has a unifying theme, a tribute to the various goddesses from culture to culture. What inspired Hicken to write a unique soundtrack for each one is a mystery that only he can answer. All we can do for now is savor the beauty contained within.

Goddess is an ode to loveliness. The hauntingly pretty “Lakshmi” drips with rain-soaked melancholy; its gorgeous melody paints strikingly vivid imagery of water and tears. “Kuan Yin” and “Sarasvati” are dreamy and reflective, the latter gripping a darker undertow. “Sekhmet” is probably the standout on the disc, featuring some of Hicken’s most incandescent piano playing. It is smooth and ethereal, making you want to gaze at the stars. Goddess is poetry in motion, the sounds of nature as interpreted by a gifted musician whose imagination drinks from the evening skies.