San Francisco has always kept the faith. While other local music scenes have moved away from the style, the tradition of guitar-based pop-rock bands and strong melodic songwriting continues by the Bay. The Bobbleheads are the latest carriers of the torch, and they’re doing it with total confidence and scrupulous attention to lyrical and sonic detail. Everything about the group – the ringing 12-string Rickenbacker guitars, the fleet but driving beats, the sweet multi-part vocal harmonies, the joy and love that radiates from their performances – feels effortlessly classic. They put out a record called Automatic Fun, and since 2003, these musicians have always made good on that promise.
Yet fun isn’t all they’re about. There’s a thoughtful side to The Bobbleheads’ storytelling, intriguing undertones beneath the sweet and straightforward melodies, and shadows amidst the West Coast sunshine. Much like the bands that inspired them – from the Beatles to Big Star to XTC, R.E.M., and The Smithereens – The Bobbleheads understand that winsome guitar pop-rock can convey some surprisingly complicated sentiments. Myths & Fables, their latest album, is by no means somber or serious: it contains the same bright, catchy, hook-driven songs that have always delighted the fans of The Bobbleheads. But this time around, the songwriters are grappling with deeper subjects than they ever have before and applying their signature sound to material that leads with its maturity. “I Really See You,” the single from the set, is ultimately hopeful, but it acknowledges the communication problems that all people in relationships face. The Bobbleheads support singer John Ashfield with music that’s at once muscular and meticulous, forceful and engaging, instantly memorable, and maybe even haunting.
Even if you didn’t know The Bobbleheads were from San Francisco from their distinctive Bay Area sound, Fred Gebhardt’s clever and slightly trippy video for “I Really See You” would give the band’s hometown away. There’s no city in America and no smoke machine on earth that can produce fog as cinematic as this. The marine layer decorates every nourish shot in the clip, including the neon lights of a bus stop at night, the alleyways between buildings, and the faces of a young couple out on a date. In keeping with the tone of the video, the two lovers are mysterious: why is the man’s face completely covered with gauze? We won’t give it away, but we will say that the answer is salient to the song’s subject matter – and its sound, too.