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New Music: Yea-Ming, Venus and the Moon and The Side Eyes

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The Bay Area's Yea-Ming and the Rumours have crafted a sparkling album debut.  (Adam Thorman)

A bright new album released on cassette, another recorded on cassette and a daughter paying lovingly energetic tribute to her mom's punk youth. But don't dismiss these three summer picks as wistful nostalgia.

Yea-Ming and the Rumours, 'I Will Make You Mine'

The songs on Yea-Ming and the Rumours’ debut album, “I Will Make You Mine,” are some of the sweetest, sunniest '60s-evoking folk-pop you’ll hear — except for the dark, even menacing bits that unexpectedly peek out of shadows that you might not even have noticed. “Gunshots ring out on the street,” the Bay Area native Yea-Ming Chen sings in the middle of the otherwise bubbly opener, “Where Did Our Moment Go,” a little pathetic fallacy of the lost moment.

“Don’t Be Mean” holds some anxious fear in its rebuke. “When You Were Young” isn’t so much nostalgic as disillusioned. And in that context, it’s hard to see the determination of the title song — the bounciest, bubbliest of the bunch — as not having an element of threat, even before you hear the lyrics describe post-one-night-stand obsession.

Somehow it’s perfect that this is only available, at first at least, in formats old (cassette, via Burger Records) and digital (via Bandcamp), wittingly or otherwise representing the mix of past sounds and current attitudes. But don’t mistake the latter for cynicism or snark, or even irony. It’s observation and reflection, recognition that conflicting ideas and emotions coexist.

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Same, to some extent, in the music. Chen, bassist Anna Hillburg and drummer Sonia Hayden all come from the indie band Dreamdate, as does the basic sound, with new member Eoin Galvin Overall adding guitars (including some subtle slide work). It’s the We Five’s sparkle dabbed with the Velvet Underground’s grime, maybe. And at times it veers into countryesque lilt, accenting the heartache in some songs — but also accenting the hopefulness. Hopeful heartache. That’s the (hopeful?) heart of Yea-Ming and the Rumours.

Venus and the Moon, 'Brother, Son'

If you simply heard there was a singer named Rain Phoenix, without knowing the back story of her life as an actress and sister of Joaquin (and the late River), you’d probably imagine her making music exactly as is heard on this debut from Venus and the Moon, her Los Angeles-based duo with singer Frally Hynes.

Everything from the low-key, intimate sound (they call it “galactic country”) to the album title “Brother, Son” (the songs honor the important males in their lives, past and present), to the spare sound of the performances recorded on a 4-track cassette (given to Rain by River when she was a teen) to the black-and-white cover photo of two Earth-priest figures standing against a rock outcropping says "neo-hippie nature-children."

Well, that’s not a bad thing. Not at all. The giddy joy of “Marry Me” (“Marry me to the song of the wind,” they harmonize over briskly strummed acoustic guitar) is all smiles. “Die Slow” is more ruminative, but with a genteel fragility held together with hope. “Paper Cup” (the song in which the album title is heard) is a sweet lullaby for a childhood gone, but not lost, a perfect mix of sadness and hope (“there was a time you loved yourself,” “everyone knows we’re not on our own out here”).

It’s something of a contrast from the more forward approach of Phoenix’s prior band, Papercranes, and of a much-more-produced 2015 Venus 7-inch single release featuring appearances by Rufus Wainwright and Chris Stills (Stephen’s son). But there’s a closeness to this that’s far more personal and affecting.

Touches of slightly spacey electric slide show up here and there, adding a dreaminess, while “RoundRound” features echoed ukulele and claps behind layered multitracked vocals from the pair, sounding like it’s being beamed in from another era, or another plane. And “Hallelujah” (an original, not the Leonard Cohen standard) ends the set with a melancholy pair of trumpets — Gabriel (and a friend) not calling the end of the world, but just the end of a nice, loving day.

The Side Eyes/Redd Kross, 'Songs that Chargo Taught Us' split single

Remember the good ol’ days when rock and punk were about rejecting your parents’ ways, ideally really ticking them off in the process? Well, kids today ...

Take 21-year-old Astrid McDonald, singer in the L.A. punkish band the Side Eyes. Not only isn’t she railing against her mom, but on the band’s new vinyl-only single she sings a song written by her mom. Well, her mom happens to be Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go’s. And the song the Side Eyes does here, “Don’t Talk to Me,” dates from when mom was around the age her daughter is now, back in the late '70s when Caffey fronted a pre-Go-Go’s trio with drummer D.J. Bonebrake (soon of X) and guitarist Joe Ramirez (Black Randy & the Metro Squad). The name of that band? The Eyes. Yeah, even young McDonald’s band’s name pays homage to mater.

What’s more, the other side of the single is by the veteran L.A. power-punk band Redd Kross, which as you may have already realized features McDonald’s dad, Jeff McDonald, as well as her uncle, Steven. And what’s more more, the song they do is also an old Caffey composition, “Screaming,” a rare one from the very earliest days of the Go-Go’s, notable for the stinging guitar and brusque energy that came to mark Caffey’s famous band’s best work.

Together the songs are presented as “Songs that Chargo Taught Us,” “Chargo” being Caffey’s nickname. Both are sharp, spirited performances, given more meaning for being a deeply loving appreciation to McDonald’s mom and spouse, respectively. It’s wonderful. But seriously, is this any way to have youthful rebellion?

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