Solar flair

Pub date October 13, 2009
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer

SONIC REDUCER How to compare beat heads and pop pachyderms? Honestly, if I was given a buck for every time some discriminating music listener told me that this year’s Treasure Island Festival lineup looked much more exciting than Outside Lands’ bipolar program (Os Mutantes? M.I.A.? Was Dave Matthews’ mom-rock presence dampening your fiery fun?), I’d be buying a round of Tecate and bacon dogs for every Mission hoodie hovering near the 22nd Street cart.

Treasure Isle is still a bifurcated fest — but it’s a much more pleasing mixture than Outside Lands’ recent attempt to stir Deerhunter seriousity in with the breasts and boobies that casually tail Black Eyed Peas. Saturday remains devoted to dancier waters; Sunday, to rockier shores — a Coachella model harnessing the pleasures of the dancefloor as well as the ambition of art rock. This year’s slyest move is the way Treasure Isle has inextricably tangled up performers like Girl Talk and Dan Deacon — artists who tap the integrative energy of fans who wanna get in the act, climb onstage, and live the dream that once could only be gleaned at warehouse shows and small, sweaty underground spaces. MGMT is the only curious inclusion on Saturday’s bill: wouldn’t they feel more at home on Sunday, amid the twisted, folkier folk with a mangled psychedelic ‘n’ orchestral bent, à la Grizzly Bear, Vetiver, Beirut, and Yo La Tengo?

Not to take anything away from Flaming Lips, whose new double album, Embryonic (Warner Bros.) dovetails savagely yet sweetly with the noise-ier power-points of YLT’s Popular Songs (Matador). And by the way, the Lips have done it again. Namely they’ve found a way to get born once more, just as they have so many times before during their unexpectedly lengthy lifespan — one that vrooms from the indefinable psych-punk of Oh My Gawd!!! (Restless, 1987) and the Alternative Nation pop of Transmissions from the Satellite Heart (Warner Bros., 1993) to the sci-lab experiments of Zaireeka (Warner Bros., 1997) and the back-to-the-future head-space of Soft Parade (Warner Bros., 1999).

This time the Lips look to the planets, randomness, and ’60s utopian rock as their guides for a way to reformulate the old acid formulas, retexturize the beast, and rethink the punk, now finding its latest bright, blistering incarnation in raw blasts of in-the-red, zippered noise and bristling shit-fi grind ("Convinced of the Hex") and immaculate bachelor-pad space-rock decorated with Voyager-like transmissions of mathematician Thorsten Wormann holding forth on polynomial rings ("Gemini Syringes").

If At War With the Mystics (Warner Bros., 2006) went to battle against the forces of religious fundamentalism intent on waging a War on Terror without, Embryonic harnesses the struggle of the child within. Its rough, fragmented brilliance evokes the acid-laced forebears like 13th Floor Elevators, more polished proggists such as King Crimson, generational retro-futurist kin like Stereolab, and free-floating panic-rock innocents such as Deerhoof. Shh, don’t talk to me about the incoherence of Christmas on Mars, though Embryonic falls into the same continuum. It’s a dispatch from the outer edges of nightmares, where "Your Bats" wings its way into the jittery, shattered, shaky guitarism of "Powerless," before accelerating into the motor-psycho rev-ups and -downs of "The Ego’s Last Stand."

The combo continues to make a sonic spectacle of stumbling and falling with grace and gore, trailing bloody rags, hand puppets, balloons, star charts, and tinsel in its wake: "Aquarius Sabotage"’s fairy-dust power skronk and "See the Leaves" apocalypso crunch embody the perfectly incendiary collision between crap-fi with Pro Tool-y tweakery. Embryonic makes the rough endings and hard births embodied by ’09 more weirdly glorious, if not a little easier. *


With Flaming Lips, MGMT, Girl Talk, Yo La Tengo, and others

Sat/17-Sun/18, noon–10:40 p.m., $65–$249.99



Back from a collapsed long and quality time with Qui, sometime-chef David Yow steps away from the frying pan and into the fire. Sat/17, 9 p.m., $25. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF.


It sounds like a joke — but it’s so not, when M. Ward, Conor Oberst, Jim James, and Mike Mogus, the dudes who aren’t afraid to reveal their soft, pale folkie underbelly, get together. Sat/17, 8 p.m., $39.50–$45.50. Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph, Oakl.


The so-called "loudest band in New York" takes it up a notch with their tasty Exploding Head (Mute). With These Are Powers, All the Saints, and Geographer. Sat/17, 9 p.m., $12–$14. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF.