Goin’ Coconut

Pub date January 14, 2009
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

› johnny@sfbg.com

It was winter-coat weather the night Coconut played music at a release party for a book of Veronica De Jesus’ memorial drawings. After a slide show by De Jesus with a revelation about how the project was born from loss, Colter Jacobsen read a sharp first-person essay about her portraits, those lively renderings of dead poets, movie directors, baseball team owners, and Romanian table-tennis champs displayed on the windows of Dog-Eared Books. Then Tomo Yasuda joined Jacobsen to play some songs. One of them was a quasi-cover of Matthew Wilder’s "Break My Stride" that gave the 1983 white-lite reggae pop hit a heart transplant, allowing the song to briefly race forward before slowing to a near standstill.

Coconut has traveled from a quiet spot to meet you and your ears. The tracks on the duo’s triple CD-R collection, Rain/Cocoanut/Hello Fruity (Allone Co., 2007), form and fade in relation to energy and inspiration. The longest one, "Dubbud Song," might even be composed of the moments between the music: the strums, hums, and drones that briefly take shape and then fall away. There is no need for a vocal on Rain‘s "Blue Umbrella." The guitar sings. On holiday from other endeavors — Jacobsen is a visual artist; Yasuda records solo and plays in Tussle and Hey Willpower; both were part of an earlier group called Window Window and Lets, a side project of Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki — Coconut explores a world of echo at a relaxed pace. Jacobsen and Yasuda are on self-timer.

Now I’m onto another thought: Cocoanut, the silver entry in the duo’s blue-silver-yellow CD-R trilogy, is my current favorite. It might be the way "Tide Sun 7th Generation" layers lolling, rolling acoustic melodies while still leaving room for backward masking effects and other little embellishments. It might be the talky, off-kilter, get-your-goat riffs at the beginning of "Tree of No Tree," before a glowing harmonium harmony arrives to transform the composition into a tango for oddballs. It might be that "Vacation (I don’t want to go to work)" sounds like it was recorded on a warm day in a barn with a makeshift kitchen.

Or it could be the spindly pluck of Cocoanut‘s "Webs on a Grid" and "Evidence," songs that prove Jacobsen and Yasuda are on the sunny side of the ocean on a bicycle built for two. The 101 is a hard road to travel, but they’re ready for excursions into the unknown, so it isn’t completely unsettling when "Webs on a Grid"’s final minor-chord descent is coupled with what sounds like dying stars falling through space. That astral passage and the electronic personality of Yasuda’s too-little-known album For Many Birthdays (Daft Alliance, 2006) make the warp shift to sci-fi dub on Cocoanut‘s final track, "Should I?" — which pushes squares, without the macho math-nerd beat displays — more natural and less surprising.

Back on earth, Jacobsen is inclined to sing for a fine stretch of time every now and then. "Rainbow," a number on Rain, allows him to tease out the difference between a jeweler and a jail man. On Cocoanut‘s "Gannet Song," he blesses the listener with a prankish anecdote. The quiet rustle of his voice moves to the fore on Hello Fruity, where "Human Nature" ponders the meaning of second place in a two-person race, and "100 %" multitracks a godly-and-creamy choir of reassurance into something vaguely unsettling. There is a light sense of wordplay in these tunes that extends to the way other songs’ names ("Sarah Rain," "Rain in Sahara," "Hell O Hello") play off of the CD-R’s titles and each other.

It was T-shirt weather the night Coconut played music at a release party for Bill (Gallery 16 Editions, 45 pages, $25), a collaboration between Jacobsen and the poet-essayist Bill Berkson. Sunlight beamed through the open windows. After playing a set of songs from and beyond Rain/Cocoanut/Hello Fruity, the duo was joined by Berkson. He read a line from the book, and they punctuated it with a brief blast of rhythm or a touch of acoustics. When he reached the end of the poem, it wasn’t the end of the performance — Coconut’s music keeps dancing in and out of San Francisco, and its words and pictures.


With Aero-Mic’d and Elm

Thurs/15, 9 p.m., $6

Hemlock Tavern

1121 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923