Admiral Radley and Social Studies at Bottom of the Hill: A Tale of Two Indie Bands
Fake Your Own Death
February 23, 2011
@Bottom of the Hill
Better than: Starting an indie rock supergroup with your co-workers called the Water Coolers.
Every night at the Noise Pop Festival is a dilemma. The schedule holds a musical embarrassment of riches, but through an unfortunate consequence of the laws of physics, fans can only attend one show at a time. In order to decide what to watch on Wednesday, this writer had to resort to comparing the relative merits of opening acts. Luckily, the competition didn't last too long: after reading that Social Studies, one of San Francisco's most intriguing up-and-coming bands, was on the support slate for Admiral Radley, your intrepid correspondent was hooked.
Lytle unambiguously ran the show in the Grandaddy days, back when they were receiving "Redneck Radiohead" plaudits for works like 2000's The Sophtware Slump, but with Ad-Rad he's a bit player, a multi-instrumentalist who shares vocal duties with Espinoza and Murray. "I wasn't into being a 'bandleader' anymore," Lytle said in 2010. "I'm still a little queasy about the idea of being in a band."
Regardless, Lytle sounded like he hadn't lost a step since the Grandaddy days. Espinoza has a greater share of vocal duties (with Murray sporadically taking lead), but Lytle's easygoing, persuasive tenor entered the conversation frequently. Hearing two distinct voices of indie California intertwine, especially on standouts like their signature track "I Heart California," almost justifies the apocalyptic angst behind their subject matter.
Earlier in the night, we caught Social Studies, a San Francisco four-piece led by singer/keyboardist Natalia Rogovin. In 2010, the group released a beguiling debut full length on Oakland's Antenna Farm Records, Wind Up Wooden Heart. Chock full of wistful melodies all bent into right angles, Wooden Heart showcases Rogovin's porcelain voice and the band's quaint-but-quirky compositions. This band could soundtrack a duchy or a revolt.
There's a definite quality of preciousness to Social Studies' compositions that we've seen taken to a saccharine extreme with, for example, Headlights and more recently Pomplamoose. Social Studies even describe themselves as twee-pop. But just as soon as Social Studies cuts start to sound like itty bitty pretty little ditties, the band engages in what seems like an all-out brawl with indie pop convention: Pow, double time! Zing, crazy guitar solo! Bap, unexpected transition! Just like your childhood comics, Social Studies songs are like a series of cliffhangers, with musical ideas picked up and discarded like retconned origin stories. But like classic superheroes, the band's powers drive cohesive narratives that, in the end, always seem to work themselves out.
The Noise Pop organizers perennially load the festival schedule with a mix of established groups and members of San Francisco's dynamic music scene. We know that many San Francisco music nerds want to optimize their listening opportunities in the short time that the festival holds court in the city's venues. The takeaway from Admiral Radley and Social Studies on Wednesday? When in doubt, check the opening acts.
Scruff Part 1: Lytle (an avid outdoorsman who now calls Montana home) and Burtch may have once made more futuristic rock with Grandaddy compared to Earlimart's folksier compositions, but they were certainly the more bedraggled half compared to the relatively clean-cut Espinoza and Murray. Burtch's face hides behind a Grizzly Adams mane, and last night's image of him playing drums with a cigarette in his mouth the whole time proves that guy's never getting a day job again. For his part, Lytle just keeps getting scruffier over the years, plopping a ratty knit cap over his salt-and-pepper last night and letting his five o'clock shadow flourish into a five-day shadow.
|Aaron Burtch of Admiral Radley|
Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Mike Orme @nescience, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.