It's time to draw a line in the sand. It's time that we made it official and declare that you can't be a real music fan if you don't buy physical releases of music.
Sure, you might have a pretty awesome collection of tracks on your computer or smart phone, but to quote Marc Weinstein, co-founder of Amoeba Music, "Buying an mp3 is kind of like buying a postcard of a Picasso painting, as compared to buying a really fine print that looks like the original." The equivalent of a fine print of the original in music is the physical release; it's a copy of what the artist truly envisioned. And if you truly care about that musician's art, you'll buy it in the form that they intended and treat yourself to the full experience.
Feeling guilty now for only pre-ordering albums on iTunes? Good. Now take that guilt and use it as motivation to buy these releases from Bay Area bands and support them in their endeavors. Though the list skews toward local punk and indie bands, we feel that these groups are doing something you need to support.
Musk - s/t
Buy a copy
This is the inspiration for this very article. These noisy swamp rockers from Oakland have released an album that's so trashy and rockin' that it holds up its own against albums by Pussy Galore (and Jon Spencer's other bands), early White Zombie and even former Bay Area buzzsaw songster Ty Segall.
But the big reason why music nerds should take note is the rubber latex "special cover," each handmade by singer Rob "Vertigo" Fletcher. A play on the Necronomicon as depicted in film series The Evil Dead, the cover is a thick sleeve with teeth, pimples and a small face protruding from its flesh-like encasing. All of the covers that have been made (about 125) have had custom paint jobs, making each one a singular work of art.
Crime - Murder By Guitar
Buy a copy
This is a piece of San Francisco history. Crime was one of the first punk bands to start up in San Francisco and like many of the groups from the first wave of punk, they were far from being proficient at their instruments but they had a great look. Scratch that, they had THE BEST look for a punk band: police uniforms.
Crime's early singles were harsh bursts of primitive rock and roll that, to untrained ears, sound like the band couldn't decide if they wanted to be avant garde or pop. Playing a concert at San Quentin State Prison and having Sonic Youth cover them in their heyday cemented Crime in the "underground legends" category, which meant their first records could fetch hundreds of dollars.
But that doesn't matter any longer, because now for just $17, you can own all the hits and a bunch of unreleased tracks -- including a single recorded by Huey Lewis (yes, THE Huey Lewis) -- on one LP, complete with beautiful black & white photos of the group in perfect poses all around the Bay Area (the poster included is a great shot of the group on Alcatraz). If you are a fan of Crime, this is worth every penny.
Cold Beat - Over Me
Crime on the Moon
Buy a copy
This recommendation is purely about the music on this album. I saw them recently and it was like the Ramones were playing shoegaze -- just one big burst of jangly guitars and ethereal vocals. It made me feel young again (though I am only 34), and I couldn't help myself from jumping up and down a lot of their set.
This album has been a wonderful substitute for re-living that live experience, though the buzzsaw guitar, full-bore indie rock (heavy on the RAWK) is measured on this release. Instead of the feel of a sweaty live show, you get atmospheres of all kinds -- goth, twee, punk, cold wave, new wave -- you name it, though all of it anglophile. Like Big Star did with the Beatles, Hannah Lew and crew write their own songs but wear their many influences on their sleeves, and that, like with Big Star, that can be exactly what you want.
Icky Boyfriends - Live in San Francisco
Buy a copy
These guys, the Icky Boyfriends, might be the least accessible band on this list, but that doesn't mean they're not the greatest thing on the planet. The Icky Boyfriends are the future of rock, after rock has been forgotten by the mainstream. Then when people try to imitate this lost primitive art, they'll realize the best stuff has bitchin' riffs, wild drums and an obnoxious singer.
Produced by Sacramento studio wizard Chris Woodhouse, this is a recording of the band, long defunct but reuniting for a few shows last year, playing a rowdy set at San Francisco's The Eagle, which was captured on a Tascam 388, a device equivalent to two 4-track cassette recorders smashed together. The sound is as live and raw as it gets, and it's one of the best documents of a sweaty rock show since the MC5's first LP.
The Aislers Set - Terrible Things Happen & The Last Match
Buy a copy
As I said in my article about The Aislers Set back when they reunited for a short tour to promote the reissues of their albums, these guys were criminally overlooked back in the day. But if that reunion show was any indication, it appears the masses are catching up.
Listening to the band's first two albums, Terrible Things Happen and The Last Match, it's pretty obvious why this group's popularity has continued to grow. Each song is chock full of earworm melodies, but the tracks never sound anything but unique to the band's main songwriter, AV Linton. Pick these up and see what all the fuss is about.
Life Stinks - Portraits 7"
Buy a copy
It's not a full album but just a single, and its packaging is far from innovative -- a simple black & white picture sleeve featuring an indecipherable image -- but the two songs on this platter are MUST HAVE. Life Stinks are San Francisco's most misanthropic band and these two jams are perfect examples of their nihilism-laced, bare-bones punk rock. Their sound harks back to the roots-of-rock art damage of proto-punk bands like the aforementioned Crime and Cleveland's Electric Eels. Life Stinks' riffs and melodies are as catchy as the songs of their predecessors. Don't agree? Listen to the b-side of this 45, "Sweep It Under The Rug," after pounding a few beers and just try to keep yourself from singing along with a snotty sneer.
Hobocop - Half Man, Half Cop 10"
Buy a copy
Like many amazing groups that made their name in the underground music scene, Hobocop is a band that sadly didn't have a proper release until after they broke up. I was lucky enough to catch these guys live once before they split ways a few years ago and to this day that performance stands as one of the best sets I've ever seen. Just a guitarist, organ player and a stand-up drummer (Cody Blanchard from Shannon & The Clams), these guys played high energy, blues-based garage rock, much in the vein of former Bay Area rockers Thee Oh Sees; and they could blow the roof off any joint. Buy this if you like good times and real rock 'n' roll.
The Residents - Santa Dog 2x7"
Buy a copy
This is another important artifact from San Francisco's strange musical history, from even before early punk bands like Crime were stinking up the streets. This double 7" from 1972 is The Residents' first musical offering and, according to lore, is what convinced them to become a band. The group's naivete is on full display, but its catchy-quirkiness still sounds fresh several decades later.
Originally released in a small run -- about 500 copies -- and given to close friends of the band, local reissue label Superior Viaduct has re-created the original package as accurately as possible, so now you can purchase a copy without giving up an arm and a leg.
There must be a ton of records that I missed and I would love to know what they are. If you have your own suggestions, please list them in the comments below.