In 2016, San Francisco-based Sarah Gagnon formed Hectorine, naming it after her late paternal grandmother. The band has gone through a few line-up changes over the years, but Sarah is now joined by Max Shanley on guitar, Matt Carney on bass, Betsy Gran on keyboards and Laura Adkins on drums.
TEARS, the band’s second album, follows up Hectorine’s 2019 debut with sketches of 70s soft rock production, folk melodies, and deeply lyrical songs that explore love, loss, nature, and the cosmos. A low dark voice carries this ethereal, atmospheric, & art pop-inspired album.
What Sarah Says: “Hectorine is my paternal grandmother’s name. Before she died back in 2015, I told her I would name my first-born child after her. I must’ve been caught in the quagmire of grief, though, because I’ve never wanted to have children, and I still don’t. So when I was thinking about which name I wanted to perform under (because Sarah Gagnon seems a little dull to me for a stage name) I thought of Hectorine, because I was giving birth to something: my music. I wanted to honor the promise I made to my grandmother in the only way that I could.
I listen to a lot of older music, it’s what I love. So it naturally works its way into my songwriting. I feel like I’m paying homage to people who’ve influenced me in the past while staying in the present. Honestly, the songwriting process to me is very mysterious.”
Marshall Hain – Dancing in the City
This song made it to No.3 on the UK charts in 1978, but it was No.1 with me & my friends on our drive to the Yuba River, USA in June of 2021. It’s a positively infectious post-disco number. I’ve included the original album version, which features electric piano, unfettered saxophone, and handclaps on the chorus, but I also recommend listening to the 1987 remix, which is completely over the top in the best way. Apparently keyboard player & vocalist Julian Marshall (half of the Marshall Hain duo) later went on to play keyboards in the Flying Lizards.
Annette Peacock – Questions
When I first heard X Dreams, which is an album title I wish I had dreamed up myself, I think I listened to “Questions” a thousand times in a row. It makes me feel like I’m a detective, and the song is a mystery I’ll never be able to solve. It’s strange & loungey & takes you on a journey you never knew you needed to go on, but now you can’t live without. As many times as I listen, that chord progression blows my mind. In the chorus, she keeps posing the question: “If I could love you more than I do, what could I give you to make me true?” which seems to me like the kind of question that doesn’t have an answer.
Fleetwood Mac – Prove Your Love
I think this is the song that helped me understand the genius of Christine McVie’s songwriting, & also one that made me ask, based off her lyrics, if she’s also a Cancer sun (she is). Heroes Are Hard to Find is not my favorite Fleetwood Mac record, but this is definitely one of my favorite songs of theirs. As soon as she comes in with that melody of ahs, I’m hooked. The arrangement is fairly simple — just drums, acoustic guitar, organ, and the occasional quivering strings to add tension — so her vocal prowess really shines here.
Yoko Ono – Run, Run, Run
This song begins, “I was sitting in the field, feeling the ground, counting the stars as they come out,” & it feels to me like the perfect description of living in the moment on a warm summer night, being in one’s body & in sync with nature & the cosmos, so wrapped up in simple earthly delights that the singer is caught unawares by nightfall. (“Suddenly I noticed it wasn’t light anymore.”) I’ve always loved Yoko’s deadpan vocals, & the keyboard solo in the middle is absolutely divine.
VVD WNDWS – Watch Me
My other favorite Bay Area cassette label besides my own (Paisley Shirt Records) is Glowing Dagger. They’ve already put out a bunch of excellent releases this year, including Deep Time by VVD WNDWS. Both the song & the video are a dystopian cinematic reflection on voyeurism & surveillance fueled by Iso Marcus’ exquisite, often Kate Bush-ian voice & synthesizers, & the Soviet sci-fi footage underlines the paranoia that is both warranted in our world & not, & the freedoms & organic pleasures that we sacrifice for the sake of convenience.
Brigitte Fontaine – Il Pleut
I probably have more Brigitte Fontaine records than any other artist in my collection. I could listen to her morning, noon, & night. I used to get in trouble with my coworkers when I would play her self-titled record in the cafe where we worked. In their defense, she does do quite a bit of screaming on that one. Though it’s still avant-garde, Brigitte Fontaine Est is on the tamer side, though, & “Il Pleut” is such a showstopper of an album opener. There’s infinite drama in that first sweep of chimes against the cello, & then the tinkling of the glockenspiel both contrasts with & complements her rich, nonchalant vocals.
Anne Clark – Poet’s Turmoil No 364
This song is a gorgeous post-apocalyptic meditation on the futility of words in the face of violence. “A poem cannot heal a wound,” Clark says, yet you’ll note she writes her poems anyway. “Poet’s Turmoil” marks the moment that the harder synths & beats of Changing Places yield to a sound that’s slower & softer & accompanied by the haunting guitar of Vini Reilly (of Durutti Column fame). Imagine you’re Solveig Dommartin’s character in Wim Wenders’ sci-fi odyssey Until the End of the World: on side A you’re heartbroken & looking to party your sorrow away in your best futuristic dress, & by side B you’re waking up hungover in the arms of some stranger in a mansion, then wandering through the broken glass in your bare feet.
Judee Sill – The Kiss
I have to admit that I didn’t really get Judee at first. When a friend first introduced her to me, I was fully in my 60s/70s folk exploration phase, but for some reason the music didn’t compel me. But when I heard Heart Food for the second time, it just clicked. The piano, the strings, the horns, the doubled vocals, her simple, devotional, evocative lyrics — it’s a slow & layered burn, but it’s all the more powerful for it. She’s also a master of the bridge — just when you think the song is going somewhere, she takes you someplace else, & that someplace might approximate the astral plane.