If ever there were a soundtrack for the violent flush of low-income residents, artists and musicians out of San Francisco, Cold Beat’s Over Me, released last July, would be an appropriate choice. Cold Beat is fronted by Hannah Lew, a San Francisco native who’s survived the transition of her hometown from a haven for creative outliers into base camp for the new tech elite; she might be one of the city’s last punkish holdouts.
With a caustic, poppy backdrop, Over Me‘s lyrics hint at loss and change (Lew’s father died four years ago, and much of the album was written in the aftermath of his death). Songs like “Rumors” course with frenetic energy, thanks to drummer Bianca Sparta, formerly of Erase Errata, and throughout, the album contains doses of outer-space imagery—not surprising, since Lew has said she turns to science fiction and surrealism for inspiration during hard times.
Lew is best known as the bassist for Grass Widow, the Bay Area trio with a sound somewhere between jangly pop and discordant math rock, punctuated by maze-like, off-kilter three-part harmonies. Cold Beat’s sound is more straightforward, though, and Lew’s voice is imbued with a breathy, beautiful strength that brings a shine to her simple three-chord garage rock melodies.
A consummate creator, Lew is also a visual artist and an independent filmmaker whose award-winning work has screened at the San Francisco Video Festival and SFMOMA. She’s also directed a catalog’s worth of visually punchy videos for Grass Widow, Hunx, King Tuff and many other Bay Area garage rock projects. Lew’s video for Cold Beat’s “UV” (above) offers a flickering, surreal spree through chains, candles, and shots of deadpan faces of the band. The result is compelling, especially when matched with the lyrics: “Blindfold my eyes,” sings Lew, “give your sharp knife.”
Play the song on your next jaunt through San Francisco, and you’ll see the city in a whole new light.