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Santa Cruz shines on 'Local Musician' compilation CD from Streetlight Records

By David Espinoza

Regional compilation CDs are notoriously lousy productions--just look at all the awful L.A. band comps out. Thankfully, Streetlight Records' sophomore effort, Support Your Local Musician, doesn't follow the well-trod path of so many other comps. With 20 tracks worth of material from unsigned Bay Area bands, the new album is quite a few steps above last year's effort and just as comprehensive.

Though the majority of the bands hail from San Jose (with three from San Francisco), Santa Cruz offers the strongest--if not the most eclectic--competition, with entries from the likes of Sin in Space, the Oliver Brown Trio, the Lowdown, Spike and Princess, Comets on Fire and Robotgod. Just about every shade of underground music is represented (save ska, but hey, no one's complaining), from sludgy industrial-grade metal and shoe-gazing modern rockage to pop-punk (masquerading as emo) and, of course, the Lowdown--which is on its own planet.

Mastered by ex-Ten in the Swear Jar frontman Jamie Stewart (now with Xiu Xiu), the album manages to balance the low-fi angle and decipherable-sounds factor with finesse. Some of the wittiest songwriting comes from Brown, who asks the listener to take a bite of his peanut butter sandwich without any hint of irony.

Cassidy Meijer of Sin in Space deserves an award for penning "Hellfire," probably the best ode ever written about the seedy side of Santa Cruz's underground scene and the need to get out: "You were in the party dancing like animals/I was in the bathroom taking space capsules/Some drunk fuck started up a fight/We did all right; sometimes all right is good enough/Hellfire will melt the gloom and bloom." Santa Cruz and San Jose, however, must both kneel down to San Francisco's Deerhoof, which delivers "God Save the Prom Queen"--a three-minute-and-53-second masterpiece that brilliantly combines experimental noise with '60s vintage girly pop not heard since the Pizzicato Five. Rock on.

Reggae Stew

Just who the hell are Arjun & the Guardians Collective? I'm still not sure, but local dreadlock rasta music never sounded so good. The collective seems to date back a couple of years, and its latest two-CD project, Cave of Brahma, is nothing short of stunning. The product of a number of semispontaneous jams that have taken place mostly in Santa Cruz (other sites include Seattle and the Big Apple), Cave of Brahma is a heavily baked mix of Irie reggae stew, Eastern chanting and rhythms and ambient tribal beats.

Mellow and slightly unfocused at times, the tracks are equal parts belly dancer, stoner, mystic and raver and weaved together so gracefully it's hard to tell when they begin or end. Leading the tunes is vocalist Arjun, who prefers the roots method as opposed to dance-hall--his voice has Ben Harper potential.

What makes the effort particularly unique is the instrumentation, which ranges from traditional guitars to djembes, harmoniums, keyboards and other unspecified Eastern toys. While the trip-hop and Eastern rhythms have successfully been merged by DJs over the past few years, Arjun & the Guardians seem to be breaking new ground by doing it live with reggae. Track 10, a.k.a. "Coding Scripture," for example is a electronic take on Robert Nesta Marley's "Burning 'n' Looting."

Where Da Shows Be?

Dinosaur Jr. meets the MC5 meets Foghat? Comets on Fire hit the Jury Room Friday (June 15) with Subtonix and Glass Candy & the Shattered Theater. Gutter punkers Los Dryheavers play the Wired Wash Café with Uzi Suicide (a reference to Guns N' Roses?), and Last in Line Saturday (June 16). Free Radio Santa Cruz hosts a benefit with Strike Anywhere, the Missing 23rd, Jetlag and Here Kitty Kitty Sunday (June 17) at the Santa Cruz Vets Hall.

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From the June 13-20, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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